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Ultrarunning and Fueling on Whole30

I have had mixed success with fueling on the Whole30 Program.  

Below I recount my personal experiences running long distances on this diet. I based my evaluation on three major runs: 44 miles at Bull Run Run, a 21-mile training run dubbed Kerry's Death March and a 50K race at Capon Valley. 

First things first: I would not recommend racing in the first 14 days of the Whole30 program. Almost everyone experiences very low energy and lackluster workouts during this period as the body adapts from using carbohydrates to fueling with fat.

Let's start by analyzing my DNF at mile 44 of Bull Run Run 50 Miler. It fell on Day 28 of my Whole30. While my body had adapted to using fat as fuel, I believe the diet itself was not to blame, rather, I failed to properly carb-load in the days leading up to this race.

The Carb-Loading Fail. My meals for three days prior to my race (by pure accident) included almost all low carbohydrate vegetables: 

  • Spinach 
  • Asparagus 
  • Brussels sprouts 
  • Jicama 
  • Zucchini 
  • Tomatoes  
  • Salad greens

I should have been adding fruit to my meals and eating high carb veggies such as:
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Beets  
  • Parsnips 

What I Used as Race Fuel. Below is my race nutrition. My energy was steady all day.
  • A blend of sweet potato puree, applesauce, apple juice and coconut milk 
  • a couple handfuls of dates
  • half a banana 
  • LARABARS (5 or 6), Lemon and Cherry Pie flavors 

The Good. Here's what I noted about how I felt during Bull Run Run vs. typical past ultras.
  • I never felt like I was bonking. 
  • No bloating or sloshing. In fact, I can't remember a race where my stomach felt better.    
  • Even energy throughout the day. It was different than the sugar "highs" I used to get on gels and junk food - but notably, the lows that accompanied them were also absent.

Alkalinity and Acidity. If you scroll down to the bottom of this discussion, you'll find some interesting answers on severe cramping during endurance running. Based on the pain/sensations described, this is exactly what I experienced during Bull Run Run. I've never cramped that badly before, to the point of being unable to walk. 

In short, my low carbohydrate intake left my pH too low going into the race. That resulted in horrific cramping - and nothing I ate or drank during the race could have remedied that. The die had been cast.

Success on Kerry's Death March Training Run. KDM is a wonderful and very tough 20+ mile loop in Shenandoah National Park. It has significant climbing and is ideal for Laurel Highlands 70 training. I completed this leisurely-paced 5+ hour run and felt AMAZING all day long, with steady energy throughout. In addition to the fuel I used at Bull Run Run, I ate a burger in a lettuce wrap at Elkwallow Wayside. It's possible this additional protein and fat contributed to my overall success.


Middling Results at Capon Valley 50K. I ate sweet potatoes like they were going out of style in the two days leading up to this race. I added dried apricots and cranberries to my fuel quiver, and I ate some bananas and orange slices at the aid stations. Again, I'm not certain my results here can be attributed to my diet alone. I had pain in my right hip during the entire race as a result of a new climbing technique I implemented at KDM. Furthermore, my legs were still fatigued because I hadn't tapered. In the last miles, when I'm usually raring to get it done, I did a lot of walking and frankly didn't care a bit about my time.
We Are All An Experiment Of One. My ultrarunner friend Katie (read her Whole30 report) has had really strong runs using the sweet potato puree + applesauce + coconut milk blend. Katie PR'd by an hour at Bull Run Run (she was on Day 28 of the Whole30, like me). She has gone from mid-packer to making the podium at a couple of races. Keep your eyes peeled for It's up! Katie's ultra fueling post to learn about all of her fueling secrets.

Hubz had several great training runs and his recovery after hard efforts was amazingly quick. He remarked several times in amazement that he had little or no soreness after seriously tough runs. However, he bonked hard just past the halfway point at his 100 mile race this weekend and was not able to recover. Furthermore, while his energy was good and steady up to mile 50, it differed significantly from energy he got in the past from his Gatorade + Carb BOOM! mix. Even before he bonked, he said he "just didn't have another gear."   

In Conclusion, I feel unsatisfied with my evaluation of the Whole30 diet on just three big runs.
I will continue to experiment with my ultrarunning fuel as well as the ratio of fat + protein + carbs in my daily diet.
I'll tinker with the sweet potato blend, adding more coconut milk. I'm going to try using gels again and a few new products. Does anyone have a non-sugary fuel they use with success?


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