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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?


The Whole 30: Feeling Incredible

My life has changed. I feel like a new person since going on the Whole30 Program. Click the link to read about what the Whole30 diet entails, this post is long enough already.

Why Do This? I've been "leaning" Paleo for awhile now. I have several ultrarunning friends whose brains I've been picking. Honestly, I thought the Paleo diet was just a little over the top. I figured I could eat healthy but still have my homemade bread, good cheese and Ben and Jerry's in moderation.

Well, there's the rub. I could not. Sugar had me in its clutches. Day after day, I failed at resisting its siren call. I failed completely at moderation.

The tipping point was when I discovered that my good friend Kris had done the Whole30. Now, Kris is a Wisconsin girl. She loves her coffee with cream, and good cheese, and she's not one to follow fads. She had nothing but great things to say about her results. 

A week later I took the plunge. It was only for 30 days, for Pete's sake!

Below I share my observations and results. Please excuse my rambling style. I tend to get carried away when I talk about it.

I sleep incredibly soundly. It's kind of like going under anesthesia.
No more mid-afternoon slump. In fact, I have an inordinate amount of energy. I may have to quit coffee, because even 2 small cups in the morning is revving me up!

My moods are steady. No more crankiness. I'm more even-keeled, more patient. Same with Hubz.

Lean. It's not a weight loss diet, but within the first week I noticed I had lost inches from my stomach, where it usually is the last to go. Over the 30+ days, I lost nearly 10 pounds. Oh, and I never, ever went hungry.

Seasonal allergies have improved. A few times I had a bit of a runny nose, but it was a far cry from the sneeze-fests and nasal drip misery that I often have this time of year.

Stronger fingernails and toenails that grow much more quickly. 

Nose breathing vs. mouth breathing. I breathe almost exclusively through my nose now, even when running. Hubz had been a mouth breather since being diagnosed with asthma as a teenager. No more.

Food tastes better. My taste buds have changed. Every meal is exclaim-out-loud tasty. The flavors I couldn't taste before are singing. Before the Whole30, Hubz detested coconut and I didn't care for almond butter.

Some female stuff went away which I was really happy about. Ladies, if you want the gory details email me and I'll pass them along.

Overall Feeling of Well Being and Happiness: I didn't have any aches, pains or injuries so I don't have any dazzling testimonials like my friend Katie, whose year-long shoulder pain and chronic eczema disappeared, but I SIMPLY FEEL AMAZING. 

Kombucha is delicious. Experimenting with new spices, vegetables, meats and sauces was exciting. Through the Whole30, I've discovered many outstanding new favorite recipes.
Was It Hard?
Actually, no. Perhaps because Hubz and I did this together, it was a thrilling, shared adventure.
Once I committed to the plan, I really didn't miss, crave or get tempted by anything. There was one morning when someone made toast and it smelled like the most delicious food ever. But honestly, that was it. 

Additional Thoughts:
The toughest part was resisting deeply ingrained habits, like wanting to crack open a beer on a warm, sunny day and lounge in the backyard. On the other hand, I didn't find it hard to go to our post-run Tuesday night pizza joint and order steak instead, and drink club soda with lime. Putting my drink in a nice glass helped me feel like it was still a treat.

I had serious reservations about how hard it would be to quit milk/cream in my coffee so I started drinking it black about 4 days before officially starting. That worked alright, but then I discovered coconut milk. Blend some with a small amount of coffee, voila! Delicious and full of good fat!  

Hubz, in his own words:

1.) I like a program that expects you to follow it verbatim with no room for cheating, mistakes, or excuses. Screwed up? Start over.
2.) Starting on Day 3 and continuing through about Day 7 or so, do not keep any loaded weapons in the house. I'm just sayin'.
3.) I had to force myself to eat for the first 3 or 4 days. No appetite.
4.) Eating large amounts of healthy fats does not make you fat. It makes you skinny. Go figure.
5.) For the first 7 to 10 days, don't expect to have much energy. I had to drag myself to the gym during this period and once there, I spent considerable time just drifting around.
6.) Don't be surprised if you find yourself in front of a pastry counter just staring. Just don't touch.
7.) I love coconut milk with a small shot of pineapple juice.
8.) Hair - think I grew some new ones topside. Not many, but who's counting?
9.) Nails - less brittle.
10.) Sardines, spaghetti squash, and Marinara sauce is NOT breakfast. But it can be Meal 1.
11.) Don't snack - I'm still working on this one. Don't count calories. Eat 3-4 squares a day - protein, fat, veggies, small amount of fruit - every meal.
12.) Club soda in a rocks glass looks like corn liquor...once the bubbles are gone.
13.) Peeing. Apparently the prostate gland is a big fan of the Whole30 program. Don't be surprised if you get a call from your local firehouse asking you to ride shotgun on the pumper truck.