Why I quit dairy...
Most people who follow my blog already have an idea of my nutritional approach to endurance training and racing. In short, I follow a cyclical approach where I use carbohydrate strategically at low levels compared to traditional endurance protocol--on average, I range from 5 to 30 percent carbohydrate intake depending on where I am at within my training cycle. I aim for 5 percent on full on recovery periods and upwards of 30 percent when peak training and racing, which typcially includes 20+ hour training weeks. It took me a while to dial in those ranges and identify what works and when.
Within any nutrition approach you have a large variety of options. I always smile a bit when someone refers to any approach as restrictive, because when you really look at the vast availability we have in food choices, whether you are raw veagan or primal there are tons of options--especially when you focus on what you can have as apposed to what you cannot.
I was thinking about this early in the year when I had some health issues. Nothing to worry about in the grand scheme of things, but ultimiately I had some failed dental work that had been initiated back in my college days. Frustrated with the path I had been on in the realm of dentistry, I sought out a natural practitioner, who was very enlightening and informative in why root canals fail and how they are misdiagnosed, which is a different story for a different day. Through the storm of dental visits, I had a tough pill to swollow. Quite literally, actually... I had to go on a two-week stint of antibiotics. I am not pro-antibiotic by any means, but really didn't have a whole lot of options based on where I was at with my failed root canal.
By now I am sure you are asking, "What the heck does all this have to do with dairy?" I am familiar enough with how antibiotics work, so I went in knowing that they would indeed wipe out my tooth infection, but at the cost of also wiping out all my good bacteria. Simply put, it was open house in my body for new bacteria to move in and set up shop. I took this pretty seriously, so dialed things in during and after the antibiotics as to hopefully encourage strong gut flora to take hold.
I believe I did a pretty good job of this. Even so, I was personally shown how much your gut bacteria, and messing around with them, can affect you at a metobolic level. While on the antibiotics I gained about 10 pounds! I was and still am not entirely sure why, but having done a few dives into the role of gut bacteria and their effects on hormones, weight managegment, etc... I can't say I was super shocked.
After getting off the antibiotics, my weight started to balance back out for the most part. Throught the process, I got really interested in food intolerances and how they seem to range from person to person. I did a few deep dives into some of the various elimination protocols, most noteably Whole30 and Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). I was quite intrigued and wanted to take a really close look into my own tolerances. I definitely started a bit ahead of the game, as I had already identified foods that I don't do well with, so relatively speaking I had a shorter list of foods that could be potentially unnecessary or at times a hinderance.
I don't think I was even ten days in and I started to notice some things that I valued. I was enlightened. I must have had at least some inflammation hanging around--perhaps some in relation to the antibiotics--but nontheless in that short time I dropped approximately 3 pounds. My goal wasn't to hit a specific weight, or even to lose weight past the anitbiotic spike for that matter, but rather to feel as strong and energetic as possible all while learning more about myself. In fact, I was eating more than before the experiment. My assumption is that there was some inflammatory processes at work here, because it wasn't a gradual loss, and I certainly wasn't starving. Also, I felt about as strong as I ever have in my training and noticed that my lower legs were less "puffy" after hard efforts or traveling to higher elevation. This was interesting to me, because traditionally a really hard effort at elevation would leave me a bit more stiff and swollen the following day or two.
At this point, I was thinking: Why would I want to even reintroduce any of the foods that I had elimated!? Another noticeable thing I experineced was how deep I was sleeping. I've traditionally been what I would call a "good sleeper," in that since switching to a higher fat diet I could typically get to sleep easily and knock out 8-9 hours a night. It's hard to describe, but during this protocol I began to feel like I was sleeping a lot deeper during those hours. I would wake up in the morning and feel like I had been completely knocked out. Like the neighbors could have been banging on a set of drums and I would have slept right through it.
So I got to the end of the 30 days and somewhat reluctantly decided to reintroduce some foods I had abstained from during the experiment. I didn't necessarily want to mess with something that was working so well, but I am intrigued enough by self-experimentation that I had to know. The past year, most my dairy intake would come from raw hard cheeses and occasionally some organic heavy whipping cream. I strongly oppose commericalized dairy products and already knew I didn't react well to them, so I brought back some hard raw cheddar. The next day, I felt a bit off. My legs didn't feel as "poppy" or smooth as they had the past month. I also noticed a bit of swelling in my ankles. That was enough for me to go back to the no dairy at all approach--even at risk of not being allowed back into my home state of Wisconsin.
This was a compelete n=1 experiment, so I ask readers to not take it wrong. I don't have any personal agenda against eating dairy. It works great for some. I just don't happen to be in that group. What I hope this encourages, is taking an honest look at what you are eating and not being afraid to see for yourself what works best. What works for one doesn't always work for the next.