WELCOME TO Chapter 14 of BEYOND TRAINING: MASTERING ENDURANCE, HEALTH & LIFE, IN WHICH YOU LEARN how to customize your diet to your unique body and goals, along with…
…10 important items to include in a plant-based, vegan or vegetarian diet, 2 essential elements that aging athletes need, 3 reasons exercise can make females fat, 5 ways to fuel your kids the right way, 6 steps to fasting properly, and 3 big benefits of ketosis.
News flash: for some of us, nutrition isn’t simple.
We have varying dietary preferences. Our bodies change. Our internal biology fluctuates. We have little tweaks we want to try. We’re a special unique snowflake. We’re a crazy biohacking guinea pig.
We’re the people who spend 37 minutes at the frozen yogurt store carefully analyzing and choosing which toppings to put upon our tiny dab of gluten-free, animal-friendly vanilla kale, low-carb yogurt.
Whichever category you happen to fall into, today you’re going to discover exactly what to do if you have an extremely active lifestyle, but fit the description of:
-Vegan (or vegetarian or any other variation of a plant-based diet)…
-Aging (e.g. falling in into the master’s category for whatever sport or event you’re in)…
-Female (sorry guys, but there are a few unique aspects of the female body I suspect you’re aware of)…
-Young (nutrition actually is different for children and adolescents)…
-Fasting (if periodic calorie restriction gets you excited)…
-Ketotic (if you never met a carb you didn’t hate and dig ketosis)…
Of course, as usual, feel free to leave your questions and comments below the post, and let me know if there’s a category I “left out” that you’d like to see included!
As we thrash through the ocean chop, hammer our bike cranks for hours on end, repeatedly pound our flesh on hot pavement, and hoist large amounts of weight overhead, do we actually need the meat, milk and eggs of animals to maintain and restore our amino acids, vitamins and minerals – or can we get all our performance and recovery needs from plants alone?
In my blog article “How To Be Extremely Active And Eat A Plant-Based Diet Without Destroying Your Body”, I dig into the omnivore vs. herbivore debate, lay out the argument of both sides and reveal the diet regimen of a variety of plant-based athletes from ultraman Rich Roll to aging endurance athlete Dr. Bill Misner.
But my purpose in this chapter of the book is not to argue for or against veganism, vegetarianism or some variation of a plant-based diet, since that can of worms could easily fill an entire book. Instead, I just want to ensure that you’ve got what you need to do things right and avoid body and brain damage if you decide you want to combine a plant-based diet with high amounts of physical activity.
This wouldn’t even be a topic in this book if it weren’t incredibly simple to setup a plant-based diet in a manner that creates gaping nutritional holes. Common mistakes found in athletes who make the switch include not eating a wide variety of colors in whole plant food, not eating enough calories, and not supplementing with vitamins, fatty acids, amino acids, minerals or micronutrients that are notoriously missing from a plant-based diet.
The fact is, it is very easy to eat poorly on a plant-based diet. You can gorge on ice cream, Twinkies, Taco Bell, Domino’s Pizza and McDonald’s milk shakes all day long and call yourself a vegetarian. And vegans can stuff their faces with chemical-laden, processed meals like fast food french fries, potato chips, and “fake meat” products like veggie sausages, bacon & burgers all day long, and still technically be eating a “plant-based” diet. Granted, many of these same mistakes can also be made on an omnivore diet but it’s harder to create deficiencies when you’re including meat, fish and eggs compared to only plants.
The top 10 strategies you need to include if you decide to go plant-based are:
- Eat real food. Avoid plant-based Frankenfoods such as fake meats, textured vegetable proteins and processed soy products. Soy contains digestive irritants and digestive enzyme inhibitors such as lectins, phytates and protease inhibitors. Granted, most of these problematic compounds can be rendered mostly harmless through fermenting soy and consuming it in forms such as miso, natto and tempeh – but you should avoid popular processed foods such as soy milk and tofu. Soy also contains high levels of goitrogens, which are compounds that inhibit the thyroid’s ability to utilize iodine correctly. This could lead to hypothyroid problems if you have a high soy consumption. Finally, soy contains plant estrogens in the form of isoflavones which can raise your estrogen levels and lower your testosterone levels (Barrett). So women with estrogen dominance or men and women with testosterone deficiencies shouldn’t be including soy in their diet.
- Avoid high intake of inflammatory omega-6 vegetable oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, or margarine. Instead, use coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil or macadamia nut oil (9). At the same time, increase omega-3 fatty acid intake from algae-based DHA supplements such as EnergyBits and get some ALA from ground chia seeds, hemp seeds, or flax seeds.
- Supplement with vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is critical for a healthy heart and skeletal system and is notoriously deficient in a plant-based diet (27). I highly recommend a vitamin K2 supplement at about 100mcg per day, along with generous amounts of natto (which incidentally goes well with avocado, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil for a nice breakfast).
- Supplement with Vitamin D3. If you want to keep your bones and teeth strong, and give yourself adequate hormone and steroid precursors, I recommend 35IU of Vitamin D3 per pound of body weight (8). This could be tough if you’re a strict vegan, because most supplemental vitamin D3 is derived from wool, and most vegan versions contain vitamin D2, which is a far less potent form. Garden of Life Vitamin D3 is one of the few vegan D3 brands out there.
- Get Vitamin A. Vitamin A is crucial for healthy bone tissue, vision and hormones, but plants only contain beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A, but at a very inefficient rate (29). You need to focus on enhancing this absorption as much as possible by eating beta-carotene rich foods with fatty meals (i.e. have your beta-carotene rich foods with olive oil or avocado), attending to any of the gut issues that you’ll read about later in this book, and getting adequate iron and zinc, which help you convert beta-carotene into Vitamin A. Cooking beta-carotene rich foods also helps to increase absorption. Beta-carotene can be found in concentrated amounts in a variety of foods including sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash, collard greens, cilantro, fresh thyme, cantaloupe, romaine lettuce and broccoli.
- Properly prepare grains, legumes, or nuts. As you learned, fermentation can render soy more digestible (28). Similarly, you can neutralize many of the anti-nutrients and mineral binding compounds in grains, legumes and nuts by learning how to properly soak and (if desired) sprout and ferment them. Here is a useful soak time chart for most grains, legumes and nuts.
- Maximize iron absorption. Non-heme iron is the form found in plant foods, and it’s less bioavailable than the heme iron in meat (21). But you can increase iron absorption from plant-based foods when you consume them in the presence of Vitamin C (similar to consuming beta-carotene rich foods with oily foods). Combined foods such as swiss chard, spinach, beet greens, lentils, beans, and quinoa with foods high in Vitamin C like tomatoes, bell peppers, lemon juice, strawberries, oranges, papaya, kiwis, pineapple, or grapefruit. You should also moderate tea or coffee consumption, since these both reduce iron absorption.
- Use iodine. Plant-based diets are notoriously iodine deficient (25). Sea vegetables such as nori, kelp and dulse are the best natural sources of iodine. Check out the website Main Coast Sea Vegetables, where you’ll find many more iodine sources that you can easily read about or order. Also consider taking supplemental iodine, such as a daily dose of liquid iodine, at about 6mg per day.
- Take vitamin B12. Nearly every study conducted on vegans show much higher rates of B12 deficiency than omnivores, with elevated homocysteine as a result (homocysteine increases blood clotting and raises your risk of heart disease) (2). I recommend a highly absorbable liposomal Vitamin B12, at about 10mcg per day.
- Supplement with taurine. Taurine is an amino acid found only in animal foods, and it is crucial for brain development, healthy blood pressure, blood glucose stability, fighting free radicals and protecting your vision (23). Your body can indeed make it’s own taurine from a combination of other amino acids, but this can be very hard for vegan athletes to pull off in adequate volume (20). There are vegan taurine sources out there such as NOW Foods Vegan Taurine Powder (trust me, it’s a much healthier alternative to Red Bull), and I recommend using 1 gram per day.
Those are the biggies.
If you want a little extra bang for your buck, my recommended performance-enhancing supplement stack for hard-charging vegan athletes also throws in 2-5 grams per day of Creatine, 250-500mg per day of L-Carnitine and 1-2 grams per day of Beta-Alanine.
So in addition to including the strategies above, what does “doing it right” actually look like when it comes down to brass tacks? Here are a couple real daily meal examples from successful endurance athletes…
Rich Roll, ultrarunner and author, who I interview in the podcast episode “Some Of The Craziest Superfoods You’ve Never Heard Of“:
Pre-Workout Morning Smoothie: Kale, Beet, Chia seeds, Hemp seeds, Maca, Orange, Flax Seeds, Vega Whole Food Optimizer
Post-Workout: Coconut water, and cold quinoa with coconut or almond milk, berries & Udo’s Oil & Hemp seeds
Lunch: Salad with mixed veggies & vinaigrette or brown rice, beans & greens, hemp seeds
Snacks: Vitamix with brown rice / pea / hemp protein, almond milk, cacao, almonds, walnuts.
Dinner: Lentils over brown rice w/ beet greens & avocado, arugala salad, sweet potatoes
Dessert: Coconut milk ice cream, Chia seed pudding
During workout: On bike – coconut water, Vega Sport, Hammer Nutrition Perpetuum. On run – coconut water, Vega Sport, Hammer Nutrition Heed.
Dr. Bill Misner, Ph.D. nutritionist, alternative medicine practitioner, and top Master’s runner who I interview in the podcast episode Everything You Need To Know About How A Plant Based Diet Affects Your Performance:
-Breakfast: Oatmeal, ground flax, psyllium
-Lunch/post-workout: spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, sweet potatoes, and fruit (Bill eats a total of 200-300 grams whole plant foods a day)
-Dinner: Kale, black beans, asparagus, more fruit (Bill allows approximately 3 hours of “grazing” to eat a huge evening meal!)
Based on the success of plant-based endurance athletes like Rich Roll and Dr. Misner – and also Scott Jurek, Brendan Brazier, Hilary Biscay, and even UFC fighter James Wilks (who I interview in the episode “Training & Diet Secrets of a Vegan UFC Fighter”), it seems anecdotally possible to eat a plant-based diet right and avoid many of the potential deficiencies and health risks.
But I’m not personally taking any chances.
I do not eat a plant-based diet, nor do I endorse it.
As you learned in the previous chapter, I eat a high-fat diet, and this is incredibly difficult to maintain with plants only. Unlike the gut of a gorilla or a ruminant such as a cow, the human gut is simply not large enough to turn vegetable matters into fatty acids at an adequate rate for ideal metabolic and nervous system health. This is one of the reasons why most traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as bone broths, fish and shellfish, land and water fowl, land and sea mammals, eggs, milk and dairy products, reptiles, and even insects. In many cases, the whole animal is consumed, including muscle meat, organs, bones and fat (with the organ meats and fats preferred). And that’s just hard to replicate with kale and bananas, no matter how many vitamins and supplements you take.
Finally, the extremely low cholesterol levels that I’ve personally seen in the blood labs and biomarkers of plant-based athletes who I’ve advised gives me a bad feeling about potential for long term health risks, especially with regards to the brain and nervous system. As Primal Body, Primal Mind author Nora Gedgaudas discussed at my Become Superhuman event, those with cholesterol under 200 do more poorly on cognitive tests than those over 240, and this perhaps why vegetarians and vegans have been shown in studies to have the smallest brains – even less than those eating the SAD (Standard American Diet). Low cholesterol also increases overall risk of death, increases stroke risk, increases cancer risk, compromises immune function, increases depression, increases suicide risk, increases Alzheimer’s risk, increases Parkinson’s risk, increases kidney disease risk, and increases sickle cell anemia risk. (13).
So in a nutshell, while I don’t personally advise a 100% plant-based diet (especially if you’re very physically active) you can at least mitigate the potential damage by utilizing the strategies you’ve just learned.
2 Essential Elements That Every Aging Athlete Needs
As you age, your body experiences structural and functional changes that increase your need for specific nutrients. Inconveniently, at the same time, your ability to absorb and utilize specific nutrients begins to decline. And if you happen to be taking any medication to deal with health conditions that have creeped up as you age, these can interfere with nutrient absorption or deplete your body of precious nutrients. Because of this, your daily requirement for many nutrients increases as you age.
Two specific nutrient considerations to take into account as you age are:
Bone density declines which age, especially if you’re sweating out minerals heavily while engaging in high amount of calorie utilization – as is often the case with aging endurance athletes. As you age, you also secrete less stomach acid, which makes it harder for your body to absorb calcium (33). This is the reason why (at least in America) the recommended calcium intake for seniors is about 20% higher than it is for younger adults.
But I’m not a big fan of popping calcium pills, which have actually been shown to increase your risk of a heart attack (probably due to calcium deposits in your arteries) (5). Instead, you should consume a high variety of calcium rich foods, such as full fat raw dairy, sesame seeds, sardines, collard greens and spinach. Combine these foods with intake of minerals and vitamins that will assist with calcium absorption and improve bone density, specifically magnesium (400-600mg/day), Vitamin K2 (100mcg/day), and Vitamin D3 (2000-4000IU/day). The latter is especially important, since vitamin D3 particularly tends to be more deficient in seniors.
Due to age-related muscle mass loss (sarcopenia) and decreased hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, your protein needs go up as you age – unfortunately at the same time that your ability to absorb protein decreases (14). For aging athletes, this means that the 15% protein requirements discussed in the previous chapter may need to be elevated to as high as 25% – preferably in conjunction with a good digestive enzyme such as Caprazymes and a hydrochloric acid supplement such as HCL with Pepsin consumed immediately prior to meal. As you get older, nutrient density needs increase, so since fatty foods are generally more dense, I recommend making these increases in protein intake at the sacrifice of carbohydrates.
Finally, I think that Dr. Bill Misner (the plant-based senior endurance athlete mentioned earlier this chapter) is onto something when he says he takes several hours to eat dinner each night. The more you chew and the slower you eat, the more likely you are to absorb vital nutrients from your food. While I’m necessarily saying you have to spend your entire night preoccupied with dinner, you may find that you simply need to eat your meals more slowly as you age.
So what qualifies as “aging”? I’ll admit the description is a bit murky. If you’re in the master’s category for any sport, event or competition, you probably qualify. If you find yourself losing muscle mass more quickly or get tested and your bone density is declining, you probably also qualify. Heck, McDonald’s will give you a senior discount as long as you’re 50 or older. Ultimately, age is a slippery concept to define, but is perhaps best left in the eye of the beholder (would you believe that Art De Vany, pictured below, is 73 years young?)
3 Reasons Exercise Can Make Females Fat
In my podcast episode, “Why Women Gain Weight When Training For Endurance, And What You Can Do About It“, I respond to a question from a woman named Lisa who writes in and says:
“I have a question about weight gain during marathon training. I’m a 28 year-old female training for my fourth marathon in June. I run anywhere from 50-70 miles/wk at the height of my training and I eat very clean. I also lift weights 2-3 times per week. I’m 5’6″ and around 130 lbs. Whenever I train more intensely for marathons I end up gaining about 10 lbs. I don’t think this is all muscle and I don’t think it is due to overeating since I track my food quite assiduously and usually end up about 700 calories in the hole every day. I’ve become concerned about this weight gain and was tested for hypothyroidism (which was negative). When I mention my weight to physicians, they seem dismissive since I’m not overweight. Is there any way to explain this weight gain despite these steep calorie deficits? I ate a low-carb and high-fat diet for about a month in December when work prevented me from training at all, and I ended up losing 10 lbs in a month, then regaining it almost immediately once I resumed my training. I’ve been able to make massive time improvements despite this weight gain, but it leaves me feeling bloated and large in my “normal” clothes. I’ve heard of several others (mostly women) gaining weight during marathon training and I’m wondering what the explanation for this could be, especially when the person is OCD about calorie intake (as I have been).”
Lisa is not alone. This is a huge problem among athletic females, especially those engaged in endurance exercise or chronic levels of high training combined with calorie depletion.
In my response to Lisa, I explain why many female athletes gain weight or become unhealthy – and it is due to a combination of three factors:
1) Excessive cortisol (22). As the body churns out cortisol in response to repetitive training stress, sodium retention and subsequent fluid retention and bloating occur.
2) Progesterone depletion (6). With excessive training stress, the body shuttles precious levels of the hormone precursor pregnenolone into cortisol production instead of progesterone production (the “pregnenolone steal” pictured below). Since progesterone facilitates the utilization of storage fat for energy, this decreases the body’s ability to tap into it’s own fat for fuel.
3) Estrogen dominance (32). Estrogen is a hormone which promotes cell division, cell growth, and in excessive amounts, formation of fat tissue. Estrogen dominance can be created by stress, poor sleep and mineral imbalances (in addition to some of the other factors you’ll learn about in the lifestyle section of this book). Of course, all three of these issues are magnified with high amounts of training. In addition, since progesterone protects against the “pro-growth” effect of estrogen, the drop in progesterone and rise in estrogen creates a weight gain double-whammy.
So if you’re a female athlete training long, hard or heavy, and you don’t want to simply stop training, what can you do about this?
In addition to implementing every single one of the stress control strategies you’ve already learned about, as well as eating a higher-fat diet to allow for adequate steroid and hormone production (16), you should include the following nutritional strategies:
1. Decrease exposure to all estrogen-raising factors in your diet, including excessive amounts of coffee (I recommend no more than 2 cups per day), unfermented soy sources such as tofu and soy milk, non-organic meats, commercial dairy sources, sugars and starches.
2.Help your liver deal with excess estrogen through natural detoxification. This can be accomplished with 2-3 cups of green tea per day, high intake of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, adequate fiber consumption (e.g. a daily kale shake).
3. Use a supplementation protocol that allows your liver to naturally detox high levels of estrogen. In addition to paying close attention to the upcoming gut cleanse and detox chapter, I recommend you:
-Consider progesterone cream or sublingual progesterone under the supervision of a medical practioner or someone well-versed in The Wiley Protocol, which is a custom-tailored form of form of bioidentical hormone replacement.
-Use a source of hops, such as Integrative Therapeutics AM/PM Perimenopause Formula, which Dr. Sara Gottfried recommends in my podcast episode entitled “The Cost Of Being A Bad-Ass – How To Cure Your Hormones”.
-Use a natural anti-inflammatory high in curcumin, such as Phenocane (I recommend 4 caps per day).
-Use the detoxification compound Di-indolemethane (DIM) at 200mg/day.
The high amounts of stress to which you’re exposing your body are actually training it to store fat, lower metabolism, and retain water, but all of the above are at least ways you can mitigate the damage.
Of course, the opposite scenario can ensue as well in female athletes – a loss in body weight accompanied by a drop in bone density, a loss of your period and severe hormonal depletion.
This is a scenario I most often see in women who have been living like Lisa for a long period of time, and eventually hit the wall with adrenal fatigue and complete energy depletion. The low progesterone continues, but is matched by an eventual drop in estrogen, drop in cortisol and hormonal fatigue.
In this case, when chronic levels of training are combined with low calorie intake, your liver and adrenals get “tired”, you become insensitive to important hormones like leptin and insulin, your sleep suffers, your body weight drops, and you begin experiencing low-thyroid symptoms and menstrual dysregulation.
In other words, you become skinny-fat.
This may sound sexist or unfair, but compared to males, females are simply less capable of “running from a lion” every day, day in and day out, so if you’re going to fight your biology and try to do it anyways, you better do a excellent job eating adequate calories, detoxing your liver, and getting as rest, recovery and sleep as you can. By caring for your body with high amounts of nutrient dense foods, getting lots of sleep and implementing all the important recovery tips that I outlined in Chapter 8, you can keep many of these issues from occurring, but you must listen carefully to your body because especially as a female, you are fighting an uphill battle.
Interestingly, another strategy women can use is to rely upon the fact that there are significant gender differences in fuel selection during exercise (18). For example, one of the most common methods used to determine how much fats and how many carbohydrates you use for energy is a measurement called respiratory exchange ratio (RER), which measures the ratio of carbon dioxide produced to oxygen consumed. A lower RER means higher fat metabolism, and a higher RER means higher carbohydrate metabolism. Studies have proven that during low to moderate intensity exercise women have a much lower RER (burn way more fat) when compared to men.
This could possibly be one of the reasons why as the time of exercise becomes longer, female performance tends to become closer and closer to male performance. When corrected for distance, the time “gap” between a top female and male Ironman triathlon finisher is much smaller than that between a top female and male 100m sprinter. Apparently, because of your naturally higher capabilities to burn fat as a fuel, you ladies are good at going long.
So are there any practical fueling or training tips that can be fleshed out from this fact?
While there’s no research to back this up, I highly suspect that women will gain a great advantage in maintaining long term training health by:
A) limiting the volume of extremely high intensity, carbohydrate utilizing “exhausting” training sessions (such as Crossfit WOD’s, long track sprints intervals or tough workouts such as Tabata sets) to just 2-3 days per week maximum – especially if engaging in other longer, energy-depleting, stressful training sessions such as triathlon or marathon training. Since women are even better than men at fat oxidation and endurance, their focus should primarily lie in strength, power, speed, mobility, and balance, with limited amounts of high-intensity metabolic conditioning and fat-fueled long aerobic sessions.
B) engaging in moderate amounts of low volume movements throughout the day, including walking, standing workstations, gardening, and easy, aerobic sessions fueled by high amounts of fat intake from coconut or MCT oil, nut butters, etc.
C) eating enough carbohydrates to support normal fertility and health, without any excessive emphasis placing on fasting or constant ketogenesis. As I alluded to earlier, you can this article “Carbohydrates for Fertility and Health” by Stefani Ruper if you want more details on this.
Finally, if you want to understand more about how where you are at in your menstrual cycle changes the way that you feel and perform during exercise, I recommend reading book “Running for Women” by author Jason Karp, who is also interviewed in this Endurance Planet episode on female athlete fueling.
-The impact of the menstrual cycle on hydration, body temperature, metabolism, and muscle function…
-How and when to train during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause…
-Avoiding the risks of the female athlete triad—disordered eating, osteoporosis, and menstrual irregularities…
-How to use sex differences to your advantage…
Finally, ladies: be cautious with fasting and a resist the temptation to focus on keeping your body in fat burning mode through long periods of time spent in caloric restriction. You’ll learn more about fasting strategies for females later in this chapter.
5 Ways To Fuel Your Kids The Right Way
If you’re reading this, you may have very active children or perhaps you plan on having athletic kids in the future. When it comes to healthy fueling for kids and especially what children should eat during exercise, there’s quite a bit of confusion out there.
The fact is, kids are not just little adults, and growing children who are strenuously exercising have several defining physiological characteristics that make them different than the rest of us. There are are 5 ways that active lifestyle nutrition should be different for kids and young active individuals (up to age 16).
1) Athletic girls can succeed on lower carbohydrate intake than athletic boys. This should make sense based on what you’ve already learned about the different nutritional needs of females in general. In large nutritional surveys that have been done on young athletes ranging from 12-18 years old, the carb intake of female athletes tends to be on average 3-4 grams per kilogram of body weight lower than male athletes. What this means is that from an observation standpoint, females intuitively can consume less carbs during actual training (which should not be taken as instructions for females to eat lower carbs than guys in general).
Here’s the rub though: the approximate level of carbohydrate intake that is currently recommended as appropriate for a young athlete is about 4 grams per kilogram in girls and 7 grams per kilogram in boys. With 2.2 pounds in a kilogram, that means a 90 pound young female athlete would be eating around 165 grams of carbohydrate daily, or about 650 calories of carbohydrate. Wowza. That’s hardly low carb or “ancestral”. Instead, I simply recommend that if you have or if you are a young female athlete, you err on the side of chia seeds, nut butters and coconut oils vs. energy bars and gels.
2) Compared to adults, fat is the preferred exercise fuel in young athletes. In most studies, exercising children have shown 10-40% higher fat oxidation rates compared to exercising adults. As you’ve already learned, very well trained exercising adults (such as Ironman triathletes) or fat adapted athletes show these same high fat oxidation rates. I’ve always wondered whether children’s higher rates of fat oxidation is simply due to the fact that culture hasn’t yet messed up their metabolism with years of chronic sugar intake. Once again, I suspect that fueling children with avocados, coconuts, nuts and seeds and other healthy fats may yield just as satisfying results as filling them up with candy and energy bars. So now you know that female children naturally burn fats better than male children, children in general burn fat better than adults, and females adults burn fat better than males adults.
3) Compared to exercising adults, exercising children burn lower amounts of storage carbohydrate, but higher amounts of carbohydrate from food sources. So rather than tapping into the body’s own carbohydrate stores during exercise, children tend to rely more upon carbohydrate sources from food. This is due to children having lower levels of the enzymes responsible for breaking down muscle carbohydrate to fuel, and is probably some type of carbohydrate conservation mechanism that leaves more storage carbohydrate available for a child’s growth and development. While you might think that this should mean you make sure a child has some carbohydrates in addition to fat available during a training session or race, this may not actually be the case, as I point out below.
4) During exercise sessions 75 minutes or less, eating carbohydrates does not appear to give any extra performance advantages in young athletes. As you learned earlier, children burn fat more efficiently than adults, and it appears that during exercise, this increased fat oxidation serves as a mechanism to stop any drop in blood glucose. Children’s bodies literally have the ability to downregulate the pathways responsible for converting carbohydrates into energy during exercise. Interestingly, free fatty acids, which indicate available fats to burn during exercise, increase in children during exercise, indicating a very strong ability of children to mobilize fat stores for energy and possibly even use energy sources that have higher amounts of fat. Once again, this shows that for exercising individuals who are under the age of 16, it may be beneficial to choose fat-based energy sources rather than sugar, and that shoving Oreos into the face of a young soccer player may not actually doing them any good. Incidentally, this also makes me wonder whether this mechanism may also partially be due to the fact that kid’s simply haven’t yet been messed up from a typical Westernized diet high carbohydrate intake – and perhaps in a more natural setting, these carbohydrate conservation and fatty acid utilization mechanisms might actually stick with us into adulthood.
5) Regular adult sports drinks may not empty fast enough from a child’s stomach during exercise. In both children and adults, higher exercise intensities slow the rate at which fluids and fuels will pass from the stomach into the intestine, which means that less fuel is absorbed and utilized. However, this occurs to an even greater extent in children who are exercising at higher intensities, and the maximum amount of fluids (either water or a sports beverage) that a child can absorb per hour in these conditions will be approximately one bike-sized water bottle (about 20-24 ounces). So don’t overhydrate children during exercise if you don’t want them to get a notorious side-ache.
Of course, everything described above refers to exercise-based fueling for kids. So what about the regular daily diet of a healthy child? Aside from slightly more snacking to support the extreme activity levels and screaming metabolism of a growing child, there’s really no difference between my recommended diet for children and the way that I recommend adults eat. At the time of this writing, our 5 year old twin boys’ daily diet is usually:
Snack: Raw nut butter on rice cakes
Lunch: Avocados, olives and sprouts, with a protein such as a boiled free-range egg or sardine.
Afternoon Snack: Fresh raw fruit or berries with soaked nuts.
Dinner: Broiled fish with rice or sweet potatoes slathered in grass-fed butter, and a side of veggies.
Before bed, our boys also take a kid’s liquid multivitamin from Organic Life (label pictured left), which includes omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, a full vitamin spectrum, and DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) – a substance naturally produced in small amounts in the brain that supports improved mental focus and neural growth.
And what about birthday parties and desserts? Don’t worry – we don’t completely deprive our young ones of sweets. I’d recommend you surf over to my article “How To Create a No-Guilt Birthday Party Meal For Your Kids, or You” to see how your kids can have their cake and eat it too.
6 Steps To Fasting Properly
You already learned about the many benefits of using fasting as a recovery strategy in Chapter 8.
The fact is that from an ancestral standpoint, food always had to be hunted and gathered, and was never as readily available as it is in our modern area. Our body is actually programmed to allow our digestive organs to take a much-needed rest – whether on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Unfortunately, in an age of affluence where food is ubiquitous, our digestive systems rarely get that break, and are instead being constantly worked with high intake of food. No matter how healthy or nutrient dense the food, it can still be stressful on the digestive system to be constantly tapping into your body’s precious energy stores to break down, digest, absorb and assimilate a never-ending onslaught of food. In the same way that continuous living with no sleep is stressful to the human machine, continuous eating with no breaks is stressful to your metabolic and digestive engines.
In nature, fasting is often observed. A snake will refrain from eating for several weeks after gulping and swallowing a mouse. A dog will often laze around the house for an entire day without eating. But we humans are often not so smart or controlled.
Just think about what happens when you get sick, such as coming down with a fever. Your own body often forces you to take a break from eating. This allows your body’s energy to be directed towards cleaning house, producing mucous and increase immune system activity, rather than squandering energy on digestive work.
The benefits of caloric restriction are often missed by the hard charging athlete who rarely takes an easy recovery day and is constantly fueling their body. After all – when you’re training heavily, you have a fine line to walk. On the one side, you need to give your body enough nutrients to allow for adequate hormone formation and cellular repair and recovery, but on the other side, you need to give your digestive system an occasional break to allow for the many health and life-extending benefits of calorie restriction (31).
So as an athlete, how should you implement fasting without engaging in so much calorie restriction that it becomes unhealthy?
While the goal of this chapter is not to give you a thorough treatise on the matter of calorie restriction and fasting, I’m going to give you my top six steps to successfully implementing calorie restriction without damaging your body. If you want more, then I would recommend you read the most useful book on fasting for athletes that currently exists, which is written by the brilliant Dr. John Berardi and can be downloaded as a 100% free online manual at Precision Nutrition by clicking here.
Step #1 – 12-16 hour daily fast: The most practical and effective fasting strategy used by myself and the athletes I coach is a 12-16 hour fasting window for every 24 hour cycle. For example, you can eat dinner at 8pm, then eat nothing until breakfast or an early lunch sometime between 8am and 12pm the next day.
Step #2 – skip the fast on high volume days: On high volume days, such as an Ironman triathlon training weekend that might involve several hours of exercise on both Saturday and Sunday, don’t fast. Just eat when you’re hungry. The risks outweigh the benefits of calorie restriction combined with high volume exercise. This goes hand-in-hand with the concept of also allowing yourself slightly higher carbohydrate intake on big training days or big blocks of training days.
Step #3 – don’t do hard or long workouts fasted: An easy morning swim, run, bike ride or body weight workout session that follows an overnight fast is fine. So is a short 10-60 minute hard interval training session, assuming you listen to your body and you’re able to maintain your goal intensity, recover well and eat a big breakfast afterwards. However, any workout that is A) hard and longer than 60 minutes or B) easy-to-moderate and longer than 2 hours should not be done in an overnight fasted state. This is a quick path to overtraining and unhealthy levels of self-cannibalization.
Step #4 – some foods are OK to eat when fasting. There are several foods that will allow your body to maintain low levels of blood sugar and low levels of insulin, but allow for adequate energy levels and even enhanced fatty acid utilization during a fast. By consuming these foods, you can also lower the amount of hormonal or metabolic stress you may experience when combining fasting with high levels of physical activity. These foods include: MCT or coconut oil, essential amino acids or branched chain amino acids, coffee or green tea (including Bulletproof® coffee), and spirulina, chlorella, greens powders or greens supplements.
Step #5 – every once in a while, do a 24 hour fast. Every one to two months minimum, choose one day on which you’re not going to exercise at all and you’re simply going to clean out your body and allow for enhanced cellular autophagy (basically, clean-up of your body’s junk). This is especially important for athletes who are eating thousands and thousands of calories per day. This occasional complete day of rest for your muscles, your adrenals and your digestive system can be incredibly therapeutic.
Step #6 – be careful if you’re female. Many women find that fasting causes sleeplessness, anxiety, and irregular periods, among a myriad of other hormonal dysregulation symptoms. Once again, this may seem sexist or unfair, but it seems that men simply do better heading off into the hills to hunt, gather or fight in a state of calorie restriction – while the same scenario sends many women into a complete metabolic downspin. There is a very good article about this called Shattering the Myth of Fasting for Women: A Review of Female-Specific Responses to Fasting in the Literature (Ruper). I highly recommend you give it a read if you’re a female and you want to try fasting. I’ve personally found that when it comes to maintaining health and hormonal status for the female clients I train, the complete 24 hour fast described in step #5 is far more effective than daily intermittent fasting. And if you are female and simply cannot resist the idea of daily intermittent fasting, at least implement the extra nutrient steps I outline in step #4.
I’m often asked if I personally implement intermittent fasting, and the answer is yes. Since I finish my workouts around 6:30pm, I personally eat dinner around 7pm, have a snack such as coconut milk with protein powder around 8pm, then generally don’t eat breakfast until around 10am the next morning, at which point I’ll usually make a high fat kale shake or have some Bulletproof® coffee. This is my standard practice 5 days per week, and then I generally just eat when I’m hungry on the heavier training volume weekends.
3 Big Benefits of Ketosis
A lot of people are confused by the term “ketosis.”
You may have heard that ketosis is a “dangerous state” for the body to be in. But ketosis simply means that your body is using nearly 100% fat for energy. Ketones are molecules generated during fat metabolism – and that can be fat from the avocado you just ate or fat from the adipose tissue on your waistline.
When your body is breaking down fat for energy, most of the that fat gets converted into ATP energy. In that process, ketones are produced (10). When people eat fewer carbohydrate, or you dump lots of fats such as coconut oil into your body, your body turns to fat for it’s primary energy source, and generates lots of ketones in the process.
Some of those ketones, including “acetoacetate” and “beta-hydroxybutyrate” are used directly for energy. As a matter of fact, some of your body’s organs, such as your heart muscle and your kidneys, actually prefer ketones to glucose. And most cells in your body, including your brain cells, are also able to use ketones for much of their energy.
There are various definitions of what actual constitutes ketosis from a quantitative standpoint, but blood, urine or breath ketone values above 1.0mmol are generally considered to indicate a state of ketosis (and during exercise, I’ve seen my own body reach levels as high as 7.0mmol).
So why do some people think ketosis is a bad thing?
There are two reasons. One is the assumption that if your body is burning a lot of fat for energy, it must not be getting enough carbohydrate. You already learned in the previous chapter why this is a flawed hypothesis, and why the body can actually create lots of energy with relatively low amounts of carbohydrate intake.
The second reason people think ketosis is a bad thing is because there is dangerous condition called ketoacidosis that can develop in people with type 1 diabetes, and this is sometimes confused with normal ketosis (17). People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin, and this can result in extreme and uncontrolled ketosis, with such a severe accumulation of ketones that the pH of the blood is decreased to the point at which normal metabolic function cannot occur and serious health consequences ensue. But this is not a risk if you don’t have type 1 diabetes.
As an athlete, why would you want to be in a state of ketosis? There are three primary reasons:
1) Metabolic superiority of using fats as a fuel.
Dr. Peter Attia is one of the world’s leading experts in combining ketosis and exercise, and he really gets into this concept of metabolic superiority of ketosis in his excellent blog post on “Ketosis – Advantaged or Misunderstood State?“. In that post, he explains how being in a ketogenic state vastly enhances your lipolysis (fat burning efficicency), your aerobic capacity and your muscular endurance, including significant increases in aerobic power and efficiency in several groups of elite athletes (e.g., Olympians) across multiple physical tasks maximally stressing the aerobic system. I encourage you to go read his post to dig into this information more thoroughly.
For these very reasons, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has been investigating ketogenesis as a secret weapon for boosting soldiers’ mental and physical performance under battlefield conditions (7). Why? Because as a soldier’s blood glucose drops, they became confused and sometimes ended up shooting their own side. So they tested a highly ketogenic fuel source on rats and found it boosted physical and mental performance – and the rats became much healthier, lost body fat, had lower levels of triglycerides (fatty acids) in their blood and lower blood sugar levels, with zero harmful side-effects. That same fuel is now under development for soldiers. However, things will need to be more complex and refined than simply giving them canteens full of Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) oil, since research has shown that pure consumption of MCT oil can result in significant GI distress and diarrhea. Most successful athletes who are implement MCT‘s are combining it with things like whey protein, superstarch, honey or some other glucose source, or amino acids (such as my personal Ironman triathlon “Endurance Pack” below).
2) Mental Enhancement
Being in a state of ketosis is also a brain-hacking technique that goes way above and beyond smart drugs. Ketones are an potent source of fuel for your brain neurons, and when you’re ketogenic, you have higher levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor and an enormous upregulation in brain neuron regeneration, focus and mental acuity (once you get over the “hump” of those first 10-14 days of making the fuel switch to using strictly fatty acids as your primary energy sources). If you want to learn more about why ketones are a a high power brain food, listen to this “Marvel of Ketone Science” audio interview.
3) Health and longevity advantages of controlling high blood sugar.
In the previous chapter, you already learned about the dangers of constantly elevating your blood glucose levels. Ketosis simply takes the concept of high fat dieting to a more extreme level, and rather than implementing the 20% carbohydrate, 65% fat, 15% protein approach, a ketogenic diet actually brings carbohydrate calories down to 5-10% and fat calories up to 75-80%.
Many people find that they experience all three advantages described above even when cycling in and out of ketosis, such as eating a 10-75-15 diet on weekdays and then implementing a higher carbohydrate intake of 20-30% on the weekends. I’m not aware of any evidence proving that cycling in and out of ketosis in this manner is harmful, but to reach a state of ideal ketone utilizing and fat burning efficiency, it may be necessary to stay in a state of ketosis for months and even years on end. Dr. Jack Kruse discusses this concept in the podcast interview “How To Live Like A Polar Bear And Eat Like A Great White Shark”.
So in practical terms, what does a ketogenic diet actually look like?
At the time of this writing, I’m personally implementing a 12 week strict ketogenic diet. Below is a sample of my daily intake. The basics are 50-75g carbs on an easy day, 75-100 carbs on an average training day, and even on a hard and heavy training day, no more than 150g carbs. I also consume lots of medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil and MCT oil to keep medium chain triglyceride fat levels elevated so that my body relies primarily upon those fats as a fuel.
It’s important to understand that for most people I do not recommend calorie-restricted ketosis – in which you simply cut calories to the point where your body has no choice but to dip into it’s own fat as a fuel. While this can be a useful strategy for a sedentary individual to lose weight, it can be especially stressful on an athlete’s body. Instead, the example below is high-fat, high-calorie ketosis.
-Mid-morning: Tea, kombucha, decaf coffee, or sparkling water.
-Lunch: Another high fat kale shake, or a large spinach salad prepared with extra virgin olive oil, avocado, olives, walnuts, and sardines.
-Pre-Workout Snack: A cup of coconut milk or 2-3oz MCT oil. Depending on the length and intensity of workout, small amounts of protein powder can be added, but since protein is readily converted into glucose, this should be consumed in moderation only and only very close to the actual workout.
-Dinner: Grass-fed beef, liver*, sweetbreads* (yes, that would be thyroid gland), wild salmon, etc. with roasted vegetables. Depending on the volume of the day’s workout, small amounts of carbohydrates or a glass of red wine may also be included with dinner.
*Why is it important to include organ meats in a strict low-carb, ketogenic diet? In a podcast discussion between Chris Kresser and Chris Masterjohn, there is an important anecdote from Weston Price’s book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.
“For the Indians of the far North this reinforcement — (this is referring specifically to reinforcement of ideal hormonal status for fertility and healthy — “this was accomplished by supplying special feedings of organs of animals. Among the Indians in the moose country near the Arctic circle a larger percentage of the children were born in June than in any other month. This was accomplished, I was told, by both parents eating liberally of the thyroid glands of the male moose as they came down from the high mountain areas for the mating season, at which time the large protuberances carrying the thyroids under the throat were greatly enlarged.”
This makes good sense, since carbohydrates are necessary for proper thyroid activity (specifically conversion of T3 to T4), and also because high concentration of free fatty acids can actually inhibit proper thyroid binding to it’s cell receptor. So while organ meats are actually good for everyone, it’s actually even more important for someone eating a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet to go out of their way to eat organ meats up to several times per week!
Websites such as USWellnessMeats can be used to order organ meats if your local organic farm can’t get you things like sweetbreads and liver. If you’re not a fan of the taste or don’t have time to prepare these foods, you can also use liver and thyroid supplements, but you need to be very careful with the source of dessicated liver and thymus gland. Standard Process thyroid is one decent option (at around two tablets a day) and Argentinian, organic dessicated liver powder is also a good option. NOW Foods dessicated liver powder is good for this, at 1 rounded tablespoon per day.
I personally eat a liberal amount of sweetbreads one to two times per month, and then one to two times per week, I soak liver in lemon juice or milk, dredge it in pastured eggs and almond flour, and then fry it in butter. When combined with sauteed onions, mushrooms and a touch of red wine, this is a fantastic meal that is incredibly therapeutic to a fat-fueled body!
While a ketogenic diet can certainly be successful for moderate levels of physical activity, it remains to be proven whether or not it can actually be successful for maintaining very high levels of performance in extreme endurance sports such as Ironman triathlon. As I mentioned, at the time of this writing, I am personally conducting a The Great Ketogenic Ironman Experiment, in which I’m implementing a 100% ketogenic diet during a 12 week build-up to Ironman Canada. I’ll be posting results at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, so you’ll be able to discover whether or not ketosis works for this type of goal in an N=1 experiment.
Congratulations, you made it through!
Hopefully, you’re now just a little bit more equipped to make the right dietary decisions if you or someone you know falls into any of the categories you just learned about, and still wants to lead an extremely active lifestyle without sacrificing performance and health.
Of course, no matter which diet or nutrition strategies we choose, many of us first need to heal our digestive system and get a clean gut. So in the next chapter, you’re going discover everything you need to know about hitting the reboot button your gut and detoxing your body.
But in the meantime, leave your questions, comments and feedback about vegans, females, fasting, seniors, kids, ketosis, and customizing your diet to your unique body and goals below!
LINKS TO PREVIOUS CHAPTERS OF “BEYOND TRAINING: MASTERING ENDURANCE, HEALTH & LIFE”
Part 1 – Introduction
-Preface: Are Endurance Sports Unhealthy?
Part 2 – Training
–Chapter 4: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 1
–Chapter 4: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 2
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 1: Strength
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 2: Power & Speed
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 3: Mobility
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 4: Balance
Part 3 – Recovery
Part 4 – Nutrition
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