Wow, Boston was not what I was expecting at all this year. Seeing the high temperature from last year, was more thinking that it was going to be somewhat warm. And I love hot weather. Alas no. Here is a recap on my day and nutrition. (more…)
With all what went on in the Bay Area with the fires, I didn’t feel super compelled about telling my Ironwoman story. Who wants to know about this, I’m no elite, not that young anymore either so who would care. But then I remembered that I always like to read blog about Ironman stories good or bad, it’s always a pleasure and a nice distraction. So here it is, your distraction for today. Warning though there will be some TMI moments, so beware!
This is going to be a more personal blog. I don’t always blog about all my races but this was an Ironman so a little bit more interesting since I obviously don’t do one every month, or every 6 months or every year (but that might change). Also I think that you will find that the nutrition part is very interesting, so let’s start.
I reported a while back on Metabolic Efficiency (ME), how it works and its effect on health and performance. Metabolic Efficiency is the body’s ability to burn more fat instead of carbohydrates for the same intensity. It is trainable with nutrition (75%) and training (25%). In that earlier post, I had also given an example of two athletes and how different they were and how that would impact their racing nutrition. Today I would like to talk about one athlete that went through a Metabolic Efficiency training and how it impacted her.
I have heard it all from endurance athletes:
“I felt great on the bike but then my stomach started bothering me on the run”
“I totally bonked”
“I had to stop at the porta-potty five times”
“I did not feel like eating at all”
“I had never tried that bar before and it was disgusting”
“I had to slow down because of a cramp”
“I bought Dura-Ace components so it could save me a pound of weight”
“I was light-headed and ended up in the medical tent”
“I missed my goal by 2 seconds”
“I’m tired all the time!”
Do some of those sound familiar to you too?
Whether it is gastro-intestinal issues, blood sugar imbalance, body composition goals, training adaptations optimization, this is what a Performance Nutritionist, like me, can help you with. (more…)
Disclaimer: this was “only” 50k so it does qualify barely for an ultrarunning event as it is longer than a marathon. BUT it is also a very hilly course and had over 6000 ft of total ascension. It was absolutely beautiful with ocean views, forest runs and brutal descents. Here is a course overview.
It really took me a long time to write this post I know. I do not think that my story is particularly interesting or even worth sharing as an average middle age-grouper but sometimes I like to go a little bit more personal and share with the world my bigger accomplishments
I just remembered to write this post, when the other day I was watching a lecture on Nutrition for UltraRunning. As traditionally recommended*, the lecturer was suggesting 6-10g/kg day and during the race 90g/hr. She claims that your gut can get used to it and that will give you the best performances. She obviously has not heard of Zach Bitter, Tim Olsen, Nikki Kimball or myself (LOL!). Here is how I did it. (more…)
This post was first published in the Run Experience in a slightly different version.
*Metabolic Efficiency is too long so let’s call it ME. Metabolic=metabolism and efficiency, well we know what it means. But the two together? How can your metabolism be efficient.
So here we go:
What is exactly Metabolic Efficiency?
It is the capability of burning fat instead of carbs for the same intensity. You can train your body’s metabolism to use more fat at higher intensity exercise so that it results in glycogen sparing and be more efficient. Glycogen is the sugar reserve that you have in your body and is in limited quantity. Does it make more sense now?
How do you achieve that?
Training: The more trained you are, the most able you are to burn fat. In fact there was a recent study that showed just that. They took 9 pro athlete and 9 recreational athlete and compared for the same RPE their performance. They actually consumed the same amount of carbohydrates, the same amount of lactate was produced but guess what the pro athletes were much faster because they burned 3 times as much fat as their counterpart, so more energy generated from fats for same RPE. So they were faster for same RPE.
Gender: Women are usually better at burning fat. Yes, for once we have an advantage. Maybe it has something to do with us carrying babies and having to rely more on our reserve to grow life when food is restricted.
Exercise mode: You burn more fat running than cycling because running is much more a whole body exercise, you recruit more muscle but at a lower intensity for each one. While cycling put a high demand on your legs muscle primarily. That is why you can get away with eating less during running compared to bicycling even when you burn much more energy.
Fasting: When you are fasting your body burns more fat because of lower insulin in your body. Insulin is known to shut down fat metabolism towards carb metabolism.
Age: As we get older we are better at burning fat. Yes really. Maybe that is why older athletes often shine in ultra endurance events.
Day to day nutrition: And that is the big one. Do you boat load carbohydrates on a daily basis or do you fuel mostly on fat? If you fuel mostly on fat your body will adapt and burn more fat. Even if on race day you decide to carb load because you want to go long and fast (and carbohydrates are necessary to do that), this effect won’t just reverse, you will still burn more fat and be able to spare glycogen. This has tremendous consequences on health and performance.
How can you measure your metabolic efficiency?
You can go to lab and get hooked on a metabolic cart. It is a machine that measures the oxygen that you breathe and the carbon dioxide that you exhale. Using an algorithm, it can tell you how much fat and carbohydrate you are burning while on a treadmill or a cycle ergometer.
From there you can derive your caloric needs during training and racing at different paces. As you increase intensity, you will start burning more and more carbohydrates.
Here are two examples on the treadmill with two different athletes. Important to note that both of them report similar RPE for similar speed:
This athlete has a crossover point between 9 and 8.5 min/mile, meaning that they start burning more carbohydrates passed the 8.75 min/mile mark.
In this second example, this athlete has no crossover and is still burning more fat at 7.5 min/mile. Interestingly, this athlete burn mostly fat at rest. Do you think that she needs to eat carbohydrate when working at her desk?
Two totally different pictures. Let’s do a little math and take the 8min/mile mark.
72% from carbs
500 kcal/hour or 125 g/hour of carbs
Approximately 30% comes from plasma glucose (from a classic paper by Luc van Loon et al. 2001)
87 g/carbs per hour
Assuming 300 glycogen reserve, that is 3.5 hours of fuel.
34% from carbs
208 kcal/hour or 52 g/hour of carbs
Approximately 30% comes from plasma glucose
36 g/carbs per hour
Assuming 300 glycogen reserve, that is 8.3 hours of fuel.
OK, I know, this might be an oversimplification. One caveat of this calculation is that as duration increases your body will naturally start burning more fat. Also we have reserves of fat stored in our muscles, the more fat burning you have the more you store. These reserve also can get depleted which leaves you with your bodily reserves which, as you know are pretty unlimited even for the leanest athlete. How easily are those reserves accessed though? It can be more challenging.
Overall this is just to show you the advantage for endurance events. There are other advantages such as health, minimizing bonking, minimizing GI distress and also less acidosis because less lactate produced.
Does it work for everyone?
Most people report feeling great when they train their body to burn more fat: less sugar craving, less bonking, less eating during training and less GI distress. Does it work for everyone? Everyone is different and you might reach a point where lowering carbohydrates too much is too low (unless ketosis is what you are looking for). Listen to your body! And remember that you still need some carbohydrates for long endurance event or even short and fast races, so timing is key! Consult with a good sports dietitian or nutritionist to know what works for you.
PS INprove.ME : the IN stands for Isabelle Nadeau and the ME for Metabolic Efficiency. You can always inprove.me. Get it? Get it?
Hi! This is a long post and I apologize. If you are only interested in the nutrition you can skip my jabbering and go directly to the relevant paragraphs. That is fine with me!
When I started triathlon 10 years ago, I never wanted, never thought I would do an Ironman. Its too crazy, too much, too hard, not good for your health. So then why did I decide to do one? Just that: it’s been 10 years and I had to try one, no choice. Plus my kids were getting bigger and I had quit my job, so no more excuses. Because let’s not underestimate this Ironman, it is a lot of training!
In order to be successful I hired a coach, JD. It was so valuable I cannot say the least. He really kept me healthy during the whole process. The training was hard for sure. I had to remember to eat well (of course) and sleep a lot (more challenging).
The bicycling part was the most difficult for me as it takes the longest. So far in my life, I had done lots of 60-70 miles bike rides and also lots of bicycling tours but never above the 80 miles mark in one day. I had a lot of work to do, or so I thought. But JD had me do only four rides that were 80, 90, 100 and 90 miles. That’s it.
The running came in a little bit more easily because I’ve always been a runner first. However the longest run I did was only 19 miles with lots of hills which would prove to be much more difficult than the flattish marathon at the end of the IM.
Swimming felt fine, as I had done over the distance several times.
Even with all that, I was not feeling too confident that I would be successful because how can you run a marathon after 112 miles of cycling and 3800 yards of swimming? However I trusted my coach as he said I was ready so I tried not to worry too much.
The Ironman was up in Whistler and we decided to drive there in 2 days. I actually thought that driving was a great idea especially if you have someone driving for you. What better than doing nothing for 8 hours with feet elevated on the dashboard. I had been feeling pretty tired but after that drive up and minimal training apart for the treadmill in the hotel gym, I was starting to feel back in the groove of things.
As soon as we got there we went for a swim to Alta lake, where it was going to start. The lake was beautiful and the temperature was perfect (70F). I had brought a sleeveless wetsuit just in case but I did not think I would need it at that point because the weather forecast said it was going to rain. The swim in the lake was great and freshwater is always so nice to swim in, except for the leeches…My husband told me that the swimmer that had gotten out just before me had one stuck to his leg. Nice. And then my son tells me: Mom you have a leech on your ankle! I jumped and looked down, it was only a leaf. Gosh. What can you do if you have a leech stuck to you during the race? That’s enough to drain your blood by the end of it.. I did try not to think about it, anyway it’s always better than being bitten by a shark.
The next day I went for a short bike ride. By then my legs were really feeling fresh! What a difference as I had been training on tired legs a lot. The road were also wide and well paved. I was finally getting excited.
On the Saturday I did a quick swim and run and started preparing all my transition, special needs bags and nutrition needs. Wow, it’s like planning a wedding. I had a list of all the things to do, where to put them. Then I had to go drop my bicycle at the lake via the shuttles with all my bags except for the nutrition. I was getting a little nervous then. Fortunately I saw my friend Erika in the shuttle bus so that gave me a break from my thinking brain. I spent the rest of the afternoon prepping nutrition and relaxing. We went out for a good dinner. I did not stuff myself, had chicken veggies and potatoes, very safe. Oh and some dessert too that we shared amongst everybody. And a non-alcoholic beer, because I like the taste.
I had set my alarm at 4:00AM, was planning to get on the first bus at 5AM ish. The start was at 7AM but I preferred that since I did not know what to expect. Of course I was awake by 3:00 and could not sleep anymore. Been there, done that so I know that one night of bad sleep would not impact me that much. I got up and made a super strong Bulletproof coffee. I don’t drink coffee regularly so when I drink one, it’s party time. Just that was making my day already (see earlier post). For those of you who don’t know what a bulletproof coffee is, it is coffee with butter and MCT oil (medium chain triglyceride), it is a type of fat that gets readily absorbed and metabolized pretty quickly, and in your brain too. It is derived from coconut oil. With that on board I started to get ready, I also prepared my pre-race smoothie which I would start drinking an hour before the race start. It contained some almond milk, cliff organic food pouch: banana, mango and coconut, some peanut butter, 2 scoops of plain UCAN superstarch and a little whey protein and that is about it! Nothing to weighty.
One of the thing I felt ready for was the swim. But I forgot about the MASS START. The coach told me don’t go in the middle and of course this is where I was. I thought I was in the front, but no. I could see Erika, she was right there at the front, she is a fast swimmer and I thought I should be fine where I was. NOT. It was terrible. I could not swim freely for the whole first lap and I had to constantly find holes and ways to not get kicked. It is only after the first lap that I started feeling that I had more space. But even though just to be safe I stayed pretty far from the buoy. As a result my total distance was 4600 yard and normally it is 3800 yards. Rookie mistake number 1! I don’t know how accurate these Garmins are. My watch said that my pace was 1:34, which would have been a little fast. But overall it took me 1:12, I was a bit bummed but the swim is such a small portion that I did not let it get to me too much.
By the time I was out of the water, it was raining hard! I went to get my bag and then remembered about the wet suit strippers. Where were they? Found them got that taken care of and went in the changing tent. That is one nice thing I must say about Ironman, is the changing tent with all the volunteers that help you get dressed. I had decided to change completely and since it was raining I was hesitating on what to wear: wind breaker or no windbreaker: no windbreaker because I was feeling warm (bad decision). Fortunately I stashed it in my pocket just in case. 12 minutes transition! mmm, need to work on that one. Rookie mistake # 2
It was raining hard on the bike. I thought, it is going to be a long day of wetness, first moment of darkness but swooshed that thought away. I was hoping that the forecast was going to clear a little bit later like the weather forecast was saying. On the first 10 miles, I got cold very quickly and was shivering. I hope I don’t get hypothermia, I thought. Pedal faster to warm-up, I said to myself. And so I did, but it did not work that well. Remember that wind breaker? That is when I stopped and put it on. Even though I was all wet under, it still warmed me up. I could see the pros coming back from the first turn around on the other side and some of them were actually quitting already because of the bad weather…Well that does not look good. However I managed to warm up. The only thing is that my wind breaker is not really aerodynamic and was acting more like a parachute. Not good. Rookie mistake # 3.
When I got to the special needs I was happy to have dry socks there. I finally removed my windbreaker because the temperature was raising and it was no longer raining. Then the boring part started: dead flat for 30 miles. Ugh. That was hard for me. I don’t have a TimeTrial bike and my position is not optimal and it was not comfortable. Which made me thought that after this I need to get a real Time Trial bike or quit triathlon because this sucks. That was my dark moment number 2 but I managed to pushed it away and focused in the moment. That meant thinking that I had to go pee badly and was not going to pee on the bike. Really people? Who does that? Mind you I was already wet. The sad part is that at every aid station there was a long line at the porta-potty. Fortunately I eventually found one which was at the other side of the road and was free!
Then I saw Claire and Erika coming back on the other side and that motivated me to keep the pace. Finally we got to the hills. Yeah! You must think I’m crazy but I was so happy to get out of aero position just sit really straight and push up and up. I was feeling really good at that point, knowing that the bike was going to end soon and that after an uphill, there is a downhill. My legs were getting tired but not too bad. Seven hours and I was done, better than anticipated with those hills!
At least I got the nutrition right!
I got my first dose of UCAN approximately 1:45 hours into the race. I had in it some MCT oil (2tsp) and BCAA (3g) to complement and I would have that every 1:45 or so. I also was eating quarters of BonkBreakers every half hours if no UCAN and alternating with some peanut butter and honey. I really felt good with even energy.
I was really happy to finish the bike and get into the run. Was trying not to think that I had to run a marathon until Claire reminded me as we were finishing the bike together (thanks Claire, shut up Claire, you are still my friend though!)
Again, I got in the changing tent for a complete wardrobe turnover! Applied bunch of anti-chaffing everywhere and was ready to go. The volunteer was so encouraging and she told me she was going to be at the finish to tell everybody it was my first one. How nice!
I started running with Claire and saw my family on the side cheering me on. So nice to see them. In my head I did the calculation: 20 aid stations divided by 4 equals 5. I can still do math! OK, let’s focus on the first 5 ones, first one quarter. I would run like that pretty much the whole time: run to #1 as fast as you can, walk, have a sip, eat maybe and then repeat and start over for the next 4. That got me busy. Walking at each aid station also breaks it up and helped avoiding cramping and injury and really it does not change your time that much if you walk for 10 seconds. My pace was pretty even for the whole race but did slow down a little bit as time went on. Oh and no I did not see any bears. 4:26 marathon, pretty far from an open one but I’ll take it!
About 30 minutes in I had a dose of UCAN again, with some EAA in it that is it. I also sipped on a Peanut Butter GU gel for an hour . No too much fat not to upset my stomach and anyway I did not feel hungry at all at that point and had good energy. Of course my legs were tired but I guess it is normal. I was only drinking water to thirst at aid station and having salt pills for what it is worth, research is not clear on this one yet! At the special needs I was feeling really thirsty fortunately I had put a Perrier can in my bag and gulped half of it which totally quenched my thirst. I don’t know what it is, but the combination of bubbles and slight sodium is just wonderful. At that point I was suppose to take another dose of UCAN but instead I opted to start coking it up. I never drink Coke but this is when I do it because there is always a place for sugar and caffeine! I also started having broth as it was getting cold when it started pouring again.
Hurray, the finish line! I was getting so pumped up and started picking up the pace, I still had it in me. But the villain course designer had us do a zig and a zag in the village before heading to the finish. When is that going to end? Nevertheless, I was so happy and smiling at everyone. I saw my family at the end and high fived everybody at the finish line. This is as close as I’m going to feel like a super star, red carpet and all but definitely not looking too glamorous.
3x27g UCAN orange flavor: 330 kcal, 81g of carbs
1×1.5 scoop plain UCAN: 135 kcal, 33g of carbs
4 tsp BCAA, 2.5 g/tsp
6 tsp MCT oil: 200 kcal
4 Tsp peanut butter: 400 kcal, 28g of carbs
8 tsp honey: 160 kcal, 40 g carbs
1.75 Bonk Breakers: 473 kcal, 58g of carbs
1 GU gel: 90 kcal, 22g of carbs.
app 0.75 can, not too sure about that one: 120 kcal, 30g of carbs
also some salt pills and caffeine pills.
Total: 1908 kcal, 145 kcal/hour and 292g/carbs and 22 g/hour. This is actually pretty good for me and even on the high side as at those pace I am more of a fat burner but since it was my first IM and I did not experience any GI issues at all, why not?
According to my Training Peak files and Metabolic Efficiency data, this is what I burned during the race: 287g of carbs during the bike, 150 g of carbs during the run and let’s say 30g during the swim. 467 g total. Bout 70% comes from glycogen reserve or the equivalent of 300 g. That is pretty close to what I would have stored in my legs. Of course, this is just an approximation and it is important to remember as the duration increases your body start burning more fat, so I probably burned less than that. I still have a lot of work to do if I want to go faster. But what counts at the end is that:
I am an IronWOman!
I really want to thank everybody who supported me. My husband, my children, my coach(es) and all my friends. I was really touched and surprised by all the support I got on in the form of messages and phone calls. Thank you!
In part 1, I discussed on how a low-carbohydrate diet seems to be healthier. But remember that there are no real definition of what is a low carbohydrate diet. For me, based on the research paper that I’ve read, RDA levels and our paleo ancestors, I would put the threshold below 35% or for a 2000 kcal diet, that is about 175g of carbs per day. To be honest I’m not even there and my diet usually fluctuates between 80g and 160g. The majority of my carbohydrate intake comes from fruits (2 servings per day) and dairy, while potatoes and rice and whole grains, I eat more rarely, mostly when my training is either high intensity or longer. Oh, and I forgot to mention wine and dark chocolate…Am I suppose to tell you that?
But what about performance? We all know that carbs are necessary to perform well, especially at high intensity. Carbohydrates in the form of glycogen is our reserve for when the lion attacks and we need to run fast! So when we are out of glycogen and our blood sugar drops, we fatigue. Carbohydrate are so wonderful that when we swish a carbohydrate solution in our mouth, it has been shown to improve performance, even for 1 hour events when carbohydrates are not really needed. On the other end, other studies have also shown that training with low glycogen or carbohydrates on board activates mitochondrial gene expression, which in turns will improve training adaptation.
Recommendations for performance
Currently the recommendations for optimal performance stands at 8-10g/kg daily of carbohydrates. If you do the math, taking me as an example, that would be 560g or 2240 kcal of carbs. Basically on a day where I exercise for 1.5 hour at moderate intensity that is my whole calorie intake for the day! Ten bagels, here you go. OK, I’m being a little bit facetious but if you look deeper into the litterature, these recommendations are for athletes who actually spend a lot more energy per day such as Tour de France cyclist or someone who exercises 5+ hours per day. I would probably fall in the 6 g/kg/day or 350g carbohydrate per day with my 1.5 hour of exercise. That is still a lot and I consume less as mentioned earlier. These recommendations stems from research that is not wrong in essence but we need to look at how it is done. First of all these studies are done with athletes that use carbs as their main fuel, they are not adapted to a lower carb, higher fat diet and if they are, it is not for a long time. Even if you adapt for 5-6 days you don’t get the full benefits of athletes who have been going at it for a long time, as you will see below. So basically what the researchers do is that they take an athlete, have them exercise for however long and then measure glycogen after the exercise bout. Then they look at how much carbohydrates are needed to reestablished normal levels. The thing is if you don’t use as much glycogen because your metabolism oxidizes a lot of fat instead of carbs then you’ll need less to reestablish current levels. Does that make sense? In essence they are not wrong, you will need that amount of carbs if you are a high carb burner, but if you burn more fat probably not.
Actually the research is starting to take off in the low carb high fat department. Let’s look at the preliminary results of the FASTER study. They looked at two different elite athlete cohorts participating in ultra-marathons. One was on a high carb diet (60%) and the other one was at 10-12% in carbohydrate. If you look at the difference in fat oxidation between the two cohorts, it is huge! The HFD oxidized 50% more fat than the high carb. How long did it take them to get there? You have to have mitochondrial adaptation, higher intramuscular triglyceride (fat) storage, changes that do not happen overnight even if your fat oxidation per se can increase very quickly because of a change in your diet.
Now let’s look at what are the requirements during races. It is on average 1g/min of carbohydrate or 40-60g/hour. It is not reported per kg because the limiting factor is our gut, above that level carbs do not get absorbed very well. However, you can train your gut to absorb more carbohydrates to a certain extent. This is definitely too high for me and on average during triathlon and other events I’ll have about 20g/hour of carbohydrate with some proteins and fats for longer events.
And then for recovery the suggestion is 0.8 to 1.2 g/kg with some proteins, the sooner the better, within 30 min. to 2 hours. Again this seems a lot to me for a 90 minute session of exercise. But as sessions get longer and harder this is not a bad place to be if you can add at least the same amount of protein in there.
And now that I’ve shared with you how I use carbohydrates compared to the requirements, how is my performance in all of this?
For the Half-Ironman:
On the bike every 30 minutes: 1/4 of Bonk Breaker protein
at 1.5 hours on bike: 2 scoops of UCAN*, sipped for 20 minutes
at 2 hours on bike: 1 shot of espresso, 80 mg caffeine
at the beginning of run: 2 scoops of UCAN
1 hour into run: 1 shot of espresso with caffeine (See my blog on caffeine!)
*If you are not familiar with UCAN, it is this slow release corn starch that enables to maintain steady blood sugar.
Total calories: 630=114 kcal/hr
Total carbs: 121g carbs=22g/hour
For my last Olympic, I just had a packet of UCAN for the whole time, and that is it simple: 132 kcal, and 13g/carb per hour. Of course in all those strategies I make sure that my reserves of glycogen are full by having appropriate meals the day before and a breakfast or snack before the race. Again I’ll use UCAN in a shake with 5g protein and some fats an hour before the race starts. In comparison I used to have 30g/hour of maltodextrin and other sugars and would totally bonk on the run. Maybe if I could have ingested more carbs I would have done better but I just could not stomach it.
So what is the difference between now and then is that I am now more metabolically efficient! Of course I did not go at it by myself and got the help of Dina at eNRG Performance. In my next blog, I will talk about testings you can do to know how metabolically efficient you are.
Talk to you soon!