After the Chicago Lakefront 50 Mile, I received quite a few requests to write a post on recovery techniques I used in the twelve days between the Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile and the Lakefront 50. To be honest, a lot of what I did was similar to what I have been doing for some time now, so I will link to a few previous blog posts that may be helpful. With that said, I do have some concrete reasons that I believe my recovery was faster than normal.
Those of you who follow my blog closely know that I have been practicing a diet that can most simply be described as high fat, low carb, and moderate protein. This type of protocol is known as Optimized Fat Metabolism (OFM). Here are a few places you can learn more about this:
- Blog Post: Evolving Diet and Sample Day
- Blog Post: High Carb vs. High Fat
- Interview with Ben Greenfield on Endurance Planet
- Interview with CasePerformance
When I started this protocol, I noticed benefits nearly right away. Things like better sleep, less inflammation, faster recovery, more consistent energy levels (no midday crash). However, if you research becoming “fat adapted,” you will find that individuals who lived a high carbohydrate diet for many years will likely take upwards to two years to fully “fat adapt.” Because I began OFM protocol in early 2011, I am just shy of my two-year anniversary, and I believe my body is now beginning to be fully adapted. And not only because of my recovery: I've also felt a lot more consistent during 50-mile races, even when I consume carbohydrates as fuel during the race itself.
My personalized OFM approach can be characterized as macronutrient cycling. While my protein intake fluctuates little (typically 100 to 150 grams per day), my carbohydrate intake can be anywhere from 5 percent of my total calories to 50 percent, depending on where I am in my training cycle. When I am in full recovery mode after a race, I drop my carbohydrate intake as low as possible. On the other hand, my carbohydrate intake is around 20-30 percent of my total calories when my training is ramping up in volume and intensity, and in the final 36 hours before a race I allow it to climb to 50 percent at most.
All carbohydrates are not created equal. I don’t eat grains; I think the way grains have been engineered in the past several decades has made them hard on digestion and the likely cause of many of our broken guts. I also stay away from lactose, simply because my body doesn't seem to digest it very well. Commercial dairy producers have removed the enzymes in dairy that help our bodies break down lactose. Since our bodies cannot produce these enzymes on their own, this results in bloating and indigestion. I will drink raw milk if it's available, but I don't go out of my way to get it.
My primary source of carbohydrates is vegetables. I usually opt for non-starchy vegetables, but when I am looking to raise my carbohydrate intake I do eat carbohydrates from starchy sources, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, or rice. Another source of carbohydrates I use is fruit. I try to focus on melons and berries, as they are less apt to spike insulin, but I do eat things like apples, pears, and peaches from time to time.
After protein and carbohydrates, the rest of my calories, of course, come from fat—often more than half my daily calories. Just as with protein and carbohydrates, I pay close attention to the types of fats I consume. I take in approximately 50 percent of my fat as saturated fat. In recent decades, saturated fat has gotten a bad rap—but it is shameful science that has led to that. I don’t feel the need to defend saturated fat here, because many respected scientists who are much wiser than I have debunked this myth many times. If you're interested in learning from them, check out the resources list at the end of this post. The remaining 50 percent I try to make mostly monounsaturated fat, with very little coming from polyunsaturated fat sources. The polyunsaturated fat sources are a recipe for inflammation, especially when a diet is low in omega-3 fatty acids, so I avoid them for the exception of the occasional snack of mixed nuts or nut butters. A few go-to fat sources I enjoy include: coconut milk, coconut oil, butter, animal fat, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and cheeses (full fat, to avoid lactose).
One of my favorite dishes to eat is a mix of vegetables (mostly greens) with fresh calf liver, bacon, and sour cream. I sprinkle Himalayan sea salt, pepper, turmeric, and macca root powder on top. This dish provides a perfect blend of animal fat, animal protein, and organ meat, a combination that has shown promising benefits in recovery. I definitely ate my fair share of this dish during recovery between Tussey and Lakefront.
NOW Foods is a nutritional supplement company with countless offerings. My favorites include: spirulina, Fruit and Green PhytoFoods mix, CoQ10, yucca root, and vitamin D3/K2. These help with things like an improved micronutrient profile in my diet, sharper brain function, reduced inflammation, and better bone health. I believe a healthy lifestyle allows you to get the nutrition you need from your diet, but with training volumes exceeding 25 hours a week at times, supplementation allows me to better meet the demands I put on my body—and help with recovery.
Xendurance is a supplement that buffers lactic acid up to 15 percent (supported in double-blind, third-party studies). Vespa helps force my body to more efficiently utilize fat as fuel, sparing muscle damage. It does this with unique blend of wasp extract and amino acids (visit Vespa's website to explore science behind this). I take three Xendurance tablets every morning and every evening, and I usually take a few extra on the nights leading into a race, as well as the morning of. Also on the morning of a race, I take a Vespa Concentrate when I wake up, and then a Vespa Junior at the start line. During the race, I usually take a Vespa Junior every 90 minutes or a Vespa Concentrate every two hours. Typically, I use more Vespa Junior if the race is quicker in pace.
When I have my diet dialed in really close, supplement intelligently, and get adequate sleep, my recovery pretty much takes care of itself. I just listen to my body for muscle soreness and tendon tightness, and when the soreness and tightness is gone, I get back to training.
Yeo WK, Carey AL, Burke L, Spriet LL, Hawley JA. Fat adaptation in well-trained athletes: effects on cell metabolism. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2011 Feb; 36(1):12-22.
Volek, J, Phinney S. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance. Beyond Obesity LLC. 2012 April.
Masterjohn, Christopher. "Beyond Good and Evil - Weston A Price Foundation." Beyond Good and Evil - Weston A Price Foundation. The Western A. Price Foundation, 10 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
Attia, Peter. "My Personal Nutrition Journey." The Eating Academy. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.