#8: the wasting away diet…..ultra-endurance nutrition

Christian Bale infamously lost 63 pounds for 'The Machinist.' CLICK PIC for more actors who have lost/gained weight for their roles.
Christian Bale training
for an ultra event?

“the trick is to keep losing weight until your friends and family ask you if you’ve been sick. then you know you’re within 10 pounds. if they start whispering to each other, wondering if you’ve got cancer or aids, you’re within 5. when they actually do an intervention, you’re at race weight.” 

actual post from a triathlon forum, obviously in jest (perhaps too close to the mark with the endurance crowd).

In our business, we get a lot of questions about nutrition, dieting and the like…….what’s the best diet?  Is it safe to cut carbs?  How about eliminate them? Should I go vegetarian? How about low-fat? and on and on it goes.  After more than a decade of searching out the answers, listening, learning, coaching clients and paying attention to the details, we’ve amassed a respectable amount of knowledge in this area, and we’ve had some fun successes along the way (more to come on that soon), the one thing that sometimes leaves me scratching my head is how many people struggle with the concept of energy balance….you know, the eating version of the first law of thermodynamics……that energy cannot be created nor destroyed…..that whether the goal is to maintain, gain or lose weight, the first step has to be energy balance.

Unless the energy “going in” gets pulled out (more accurately….converted to another form): heat, electrical, chemical or perhaps KINETIC (i.e. MOVEMENT), it’s not going anywhere…..ever.  This sounds pretty simple, and it is……but don’t confuse simple with easy……it’s definitely a challenge to maintain the balance, but it’s not all that complex.

If there was ever a good example of this law in action, it is someone training for an ultra-endurance event.  After the holiday madness and getting back into the swing of things training-wise, and since it’s an area that can either make or break your training, I decided to do what all nerds do…..GET DATA!  I started logging my meals and training efforts last Sunday to see where things were shaking out……A lot of work, but I had 2 first hand experiences last year that make it totally worth it.

When Jersey heat lays the smack-down, go Pavlovian:

In NJ State Tri (an olympic distance) the heat was intense (the water was 88 degrees and it got worse from there) which made fueling a major challenge that I didn’t want to overcome……and I paid for it.  I pushed a little bit too hard on the bike and stopped taking in calories…..and thus, a hot, crampy, painful 10K run capped off an otherwise “by the plan” race……MISERABLE, plain and simple.  No other way to describe.

Oh, I learned my lesson.  For my 1/2 Iron +/- 90 days later, I dedicated myself to a very specific nutritional plan and even wore a second watch repeatedly reminding me (you’d be surprised how foggy your brain gets in the midst of these things) with an annoying beep to take in some fuel and hydrate every 20 minutes…..and I did, like clockwork.  That race had its own challenges for me…..but nutrition wasn’t as big of one….post race I was tired, in a needing a nap sort of way….but I felt fine…..the nutrition was KEY.

But that’s race-day…..what about training nutrition?  

The sum up is pretty simple….Eat more bird man….

If you want to read the more detailed breakdown here you go….but I warn you, it’s not pretty.

After dispatching “el wingador” for sure

SUNDAYAte “normally”, even had a Peppermint Mocha Latte (which along with Oreos, Twizzlers, Coca-Cola and DD Boston Creme Doughnuts, has made the long list of junk items that I could easily go Joey Chestnut on) and wound up about 340 calories short.  Almost perfect if I’m going to achieve race weight.

MONDAY: I ate like a pig (consisting of 8 “seatings”, including some popcorn and a “beverage” while watching the Auburn and Oregon go back and forth) and came in just about balanced….75 calories down…..maybe a little too close the balance point, but no worries, it’ll shake out OK, right?

TUESDAY:  I had one of those really busy days where I just couldn’t find the time to eat…..1350 calories consumed……3233 burned.  A deficit of 1883.  NOT GOOD.  This is the easiest way to tell the body to conserve and hold on to energy……i.e. conserve fat.  Need to focus.

WEDNESDAY:  Another busy day…..but was able to get in some decent fare.  -490 calories…..not perfect, but manageable.

THURSDAY:  Eating is becoming a job…..I know, poor me.  I love to eat so won’t complain about having to do more of it, but keeping it healthy and not being tempted to “eat whatever man, it’s gonna burn off anyway” takes some discipline. Consumed nearly 2500 calories, which for an average day is on the higher end for me…….the problem is I burned nearly 4200.  Deficit of 1700….ouch.

FRIDAY:  I’m walking in the door almost 4500 calories down for the week….which is more crash and burn than bringing the body down for that soft landing.  Probably would’ve been another bad day except after my exciting Friday night (swimming laps) I had too many of Lindsay’s industrial strength Margaritas…..+1050 calories.  Not exactly the nutrients my body was craving you can be sure.

SATURDAY: 3 hours on the bike and 30 min run means a lot of calories burned.  Quality was passable, although not stellar……and I came out to 2700 which was was big eatin’…….but I was still 2050 down on the day.

SUMMARY: I was +/- 5500 under the energy balance point with about 12 hours of dedicated training time through yesterday (Saturday).  This is a bit aggressive given my goals. For me, the bottom line is that focusing on training alone is simply not enough…..fuel has a HUGE role to play.  I need to be more aggressive with my intake than I have been.

When I look at the more detailed views, which is one of the very cool features of our coaching interface, it’s not just calories I need to focus on (it never is), but it’s been a real eye opener as to the true impact of this type of training volume on my system.  

For me, my protein needs to come up, my carbs down and my fat & fiber about the same……..which means I can’t go out and make fast food my “official training partner”…….so starting next week, it’s another area to keep an eye on.

Quick training update:  Had a good week.  Got most of my hours in (had to cut short on the long bike in order to fit in my brick and the pool closed today 15 minutes before I was done) and I obeyed my body long enough to put the cranky knee back on solid footing……now to pace the ramp-up enough to not awaken the beast again.

Peace, love and get all you can, Big Apple (Walt ‘baby’ Love),

Mike E.