September 2, 2013
Ben Greenfield Podcast on Combining Low Carb And Extreme Exercise – The OfficialResults Of The Great Ketogenic Ironman Experiment –
Ben: [00:00:00] Folks, Ben Greenfield here, Sunday afternoon, one week after Ironman Canada. My family is headed out the door to go to the grocery store for a little while, so I figured why not sit down and make this the perfect time to fill you in on all the nitty-gritty details of what happens when you combine low carbohydrate intake and a ketotic diet with extreme levels of physical exercise and an attempt at above average physical performance in something like an Ironman triathlon.
If you’re not a total triathlon nerd or Ironman geek or whatever you want to call us, no worries. You’ll kind of pick up a ton from today’s episode because we’re really going to dig in to just active individuals in general and what low carbo and ketosis can do to your body, looking at this any close one case study of kind of what happened to me the good, the bad, the ugly, the good times and the bad times.
I’ve also got Facebook questions from many of you that sent in Facebook questions. I’ll be answering those during today’s episode. I will be going over the full blood results and WellnessFX panel that I took over the twelve weeks of testing. I’ll be also be telling you why I did not end up doing the testing with Talking20.
Finally, a few other things that I’ll be kind of going in today’s report is an update on because I’ll give you spoiler right here. I qualified for Ironman Hawaii. I’ll be going into what the plan is, going forward into that and whether I’ll be continuing with this type of protocol and pretty much everything else that you’d ever want to know about low carb ketosis performance, et cetera. So put your propeller hats on because we’re going to get all nerdy.
I have no co-host. I have no special sexy music, I have no voice over girl, I have no dancing panda bears. It’s just me sitting here in my board shorts on a Sunday afternoon recording. What do you think? Are you ready to do this? Okay, so here we go.
Big picture overview ketosis. I’m not going to sit here and give you a lecture about exactly what ketosis is but the 30 second elevator pitch is this. When you are burning fats as a fuel, they’re being fed into a specific cycle in your body called the Kreb cycle. One of the things that happen when fats are being fed into the Kreb cycle is that a by-product of burning fatty acids during the Kreb cycle is called the Cidal CoA. Your body will take the Cidal CoA and convert that into ketones or ketone bodies. Now these wind up circulating in your blood stream. They are used preferentially as a fuel by your brain, and they’re also something that you can measure. You can measure them in your breath. You could measure them in your blood. You could measure them in your urine.
The idea is that you’re not necessarily in ketosis to burn ketones as a fuel even though your brain will burn them as a fuel. You’re really in ketosis to burn fats as a fuel and ketones are just a consequence, kind of the by-product of that.
Why would you want to do it? Well, first of all like I said just to mentioned, ketones are the preferential source of fuel by your brain. Your brain loves to run on these little guys. So you get increased focus and mental alertness. It’s one of the reasons why you have a guy like Dave Asprey recommending you do like his Bulletproof coffee in a fasted state in the morning.
One of the reasons that works so well, it just transports a bunch of fats into your brain and keeps you in that state of kind of using ketones as a fuel source for your brain. So you get that focused. So that’s good if you’re a CEO or a hard charging athlete or a soccer mom or anybody else who wants to be able to think very well during the day.
A few other advantages are that you train your body how to be very metabolically efficient and how to burn fat as a fuel, as a very preferential energy source which comes in very handy during a long endurance event like an Ironman Triathlon, for example.
Now, finally I would say that the third kind of biggest win for me, for ketosis is just the fact that you wind up consuming fuel sugars. So not only do you sleep better and feel better after you crossed the finish line in something like an Ironman triathlon but you also in the whole build up just something like that or not creating a lot of the reactive oxygen species and advanced glycation, [00:05:00] end products and inflammatory kind of consequences of burning high amounts of sugar as a fuel. So those would be the advantages of using something like ketosis for an ironman build up.
Now the potential disadvantages would be a) if you like Italian food, life sucks for you after twelve weeks and it certainly did for me when it came to me wanting to eat carbohydrates at certain points during the past twelve weeks leading up to Ironman Canada and not being able to, especially I can remember one very memorable occasion when we wind up at a fancy Italian joint that was like all local organic fare and they had this pickled pizzas filled with local pastured eggs and arugula, and Parmigianino cheese and I had a bottle of sparkling water and I had like a couple of boiled eggs and some butter and yes, nasty stuff. So that’s one disadvantage, just a mental disadvantage.
The other potential disadvantage is your thyroid. We’ll talk about your thyroid in a second but carbohydrates and glucose are necessary for the conversion of thyroid into its active form. And so if you are combining in a lot of carbohydrate nutritional activity with low amount of carbohydrate intake, your thyroid could potentially take a hit. So that’s another potential disadvantage.
And then a final potential disadvantage would simply that you are walking around with lower levels of storage glycogen than you would normally because your body is simply having less carbohydrate to fill those glycogen storages. Sure you can make some glucose and get some storage glycogen out of your protein intake. Some evidence would show you could also potentially get some glucose and get some glycogen made out of the yellow that’s called the glycerol backbone of fatty acids. But ultimately you’re going to have a little less storage carbohydrate to play with.
Many, many folks who do ketosis the complaint is that once you get into that red laser hot, high intensity effort without having glycogen levels that are not quite so topped off may come back to haunt you if you are trying to sprint or lift something heavy and do so over and over again, over the course of something like whatever; an ultra-marathon or an Ironman triathlon or something along those lines.
So question is, let’s takes all those advantages and disadvantages and just put them to the test in this big and equals one twelve weeks of experiment. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past twelve weeks. So let’s look at how things shook up, shall we.
First of all let’s talk about the actual training leading up to the race itself. I’m going to put a link where it is shown on BenGreenfieldFitness.com that accompany this post. And the title of this post is Combining Low Carb and Extreme Exercise: The Official Results of the Great Ketogenic Ironman Experiment. Good luck typing that one into the handy-dandy search box right on BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Anyways, you’re going to find it.
In that article, I’m going to put a link into the exact training protocol that I followed for the final thirty days leading up to the race. It will give you pretty good idea on the kind of stuff I was doing.
Now for me, I was following a very minimalist training program. If you’re familiar with my writings, my teachings, the programs that I write, you probably know that because I like to spend time with family. I like to work on my career. I like to do other hobbies like play my guitar and play tennis. And I simply like to have a little bit more time left over to play with. I make the choice to use a lot of like bio hacks and high intensity interval training and extreme isometrics and very short intense workouts in my personal build up for something like ironman.
So you’ll see as you go through that training protocol that I train about eight to ten hours a week leading up to Ironman with the exception that I had a couple of weekends that were heavy. So I have one single twenty mile run that I do leading up to the race. Now my other runs are to sixty or ninety minutes in duration as far as like my weekly long run. I had two bicycle rides that were a hundred miles in duration. And the rest of the bike rides were primarily indoors using my handy-dandy hypoxia indoor trainor which kind of simulates altitude and puts you in oxygen deprived state or else using my SufferFest indoor cycling videos or else going out and doing high intensity cycle trainings outdoors.
And then the swims were just kind of when I could get into the water before or after some weight lifting sessions at the gym. Most of my swims are twenty to thirty minutes in duration. I’ll swim twenty/thirty five meter repeats doing some hypoxic sets with those two using basically a snorkel [00:10:00] with a special cap on top of it that restricts oxygen so a lot of little bio hacks.
I talked a lot about these bio hacks in my book that I have been blogging around the website, Beyond Training. You could go over to BenGreenfieldFitness.com and do the search for “underground training techniques” and you would find a lot of the same topics that I used. And you could also follow that link over to my little personal blogs where I logged some of my training sessions. And again that link is www.bengreenfieldtri.blogspot.com. I also put a link to it in a show notes for this episode but it’s called Insider Sneak Peek into my last month of minimalist training before an Ironman triathlon. I am later on today going to be posting a very similar post where I’ll play you exactly what I’d be doing leading up to Ironman Hawaii as well, and just very similar short swims, short bikes, short runs, short lifts, mostly intense stuff.
So that was the training protocol leading into this race. I never once really felt issues with glycogen depletion or ketosis keeping me from getting into that zone 4, zone 5 effort, keeping me from doing hill sprints, keeping me from lifting heavy weights, keeping me from going all out from a bike. Now the exception to that is that, of course, when I rolled up to the starting line of Ironman triathlon, I had no clue what it would feel like trying to go hard at the end of a long day when the body was really in a true state of glycogen depletion. Let’s face it, when you’re in the middle of an average working out week, your glycogen level is generally really aren’t as exhausted as it’s going to be when you’re trying to say like run a fast half marathon at the end of nine hours of exercise.
Okay, so there’s really a little bit of a blue sky there. But I can tell you right now as far as like the average training, sixty to ninety minutes a day including some high intensity interval stuff almost every day or weight lifting almost every day, no issues in terms of performance in ketosis when it comes to those type of efforts. So that was the build-up going to this thing.
Now there was also a series of blood test that I did going into Ironman Canada. For twelve weeks I tested blood. I also tested breath ketones and I tested blood ketones. So I used what’s called an ACCUCHECK blood monitor, a fingertip blood monitor that I got off of Amazon to test my morning and occasionally my post workout, my afternoon and my evening levels of ketosis. And if you want to know actual numbers, I was generally anywhere from about 0.5 up to around 3. That’s the minimal list in terms of the actual levels of ketosis that I stayed in by following this low carbohydrate protocol.
And there are a few times when I would finish up a very long training session. And I would test my ketones and they wouldn’t be that high. They’d be very, very low. This may be something that if you attempt to do an experiment like this or you try this type of diet, you may run into. And the reason for that is you’re simply using up all your ketones. And you kind of pushed yourself to that point of just extreme, basically extreme metabolic use where ketones are simply all used up.
Dr. Peter Attia, a big shoutout to him for his blog posts on ketosis over at eatingacademy.com that has pointed this out before and certainly something that I come across, was that there are a few times where I knew based off on how I felt that my body was in ketosis but the actual blood level didn’t show that.
So breath tests are easier than blood test. They’re qualitative. They’re not quantitative; that they’re made by a company called Metron. They simply give you yellow or purple depending on whether you’re in ketosis. They’ll show purple not in ketosis. They’ll show you yellow. I use those bad boys every morning. And I can tell you that nearly every single day I was able to maintain ketosis with one exception in that I had about six weeks and kind of a stumbling point where I just stayed a bunch of carbs when I was like an afternoon barbecue type of event. It took me about a day and a half to get back into kind of that false state of metabolic efficiency, that false state of ketosis. So this was not cyclic low carb that I was doing. This was not cyclic ketosis. This was just full on low carb the entire twelve week build up leading up to Ironman Canada.
Now due to my levels of physical activity, for me low carb, the amount of carbs necessary to allow me to feel okay but still stay in that same ketosis, one that being right around that 75 to a hundred grams of carbs on kind of like an average training day like a 60 to 90 minute training day. [00:15:00] And then on some big days where I’d go out and do like a hundred miles bike ride or you know like that day where I have a 20 mile run on those days, carb intake got no higher ever than 200 grams but will kind of push in around that 150 – 200 gram range so that gives you some number so that you may have the idea in terms of the amount that I was taking in.
I'm closing those little reminders from my computer popping out in front of me.
The next thing that I wanted to go into now that I have explained to you what I was taking in are those blood results. Now this was tested annoying. I tested every week with a company called Talking20 blood test every single Tuesday religiously. Tested my blood through them. Found out about 11 weeks in that the FDA halted their ability to run blood spot cards so I have a bunch of results kind of in queue that I was not able to get. Now fortunately I also used the company called WellnessFX and I had three different performance panels done with WellnessFX during the course of this build up to Ironman Canada. I was able to get those results and see what happened as far as those results were concerned.
Now I am posting those over on a show notes for this particular episode of bengreenfieldfitness.com. You are going to notice a few different things when you go through those results. If you happened to have pulled up in front of you I’ll walk you through from the top to the bottom the things that you should pay attention to.
First of all my total cholesterol is somewhat high then this will be from my latest values. These values would have been measured; these would have been about seven days prior to racing Ironman Canada. My total cholesterol was at 237 but my HDL was at 138, Triglycerides at 38. That’s an extremely high HDL count and an extremely low triglycerides count – very favourable profile with my very low density lipoprotein cholesterol being extremely low. My LPa being extremely low and those both being much more indicative of potential heart disease risk compared to say like just looking at total cholesterol.
So fantastic lipid profile you’ll notice that something called AppleB is slightly elevated. Now it is very rare for me to ever see AppleB not be elevated in active individuals with high levels of total cholesterol. AppleB is just a part of your protein particle. I’m not going to dig too deep on the science on this. You can go to Wikipedia page for AppleB and knock yourself out, if you like.
But ultimately what comes out to is that when to total cholesterol is as high as you tend to see kind of a typical low-carber ketosis person, Paleo diet whatever you want to call it. AppleB levels do tend to be more elevated than what to be expected in a general population. What you’ll see there for me is that my AppleB levels were 87. I have been testing my body in a rested state, in a well fed state, in an exercise state and exhausted state for two years and I have never found AppleB to be below 80 ever.
I have tested many healthy individuals with high cholesterol. Even people who aren’t doing cross fit and Ironman stuff like that and they almost all have high levels of AppleB. So I think that in a state where total cholesterol was brought on by healthy high levels of fat intake, that high levels of AppleB are not something that we can point and figure out as being a red flag. It is simply for me…I’m a practitioner for WellnessFX, I’ll literally looked at hundreds of different bio marker results and it is extremely rare for you not to see AppleB kind of 80-90 range.
So working your way down through the rest of my panel you’ll notice that my general inflammatory markers HSCRP are very low. I stand a very low state of inflammation surprisingly even though I have generally I have high levels of cortisol hormone, I do a good job preparing and recovering from my workouts. So I don’t have high amounts of inflammation with the one exception that if you do look at my WellnessFX results you’ll do notice one huge spike of inflammation that was a test taken two days after a back to back half Ironman and Olympic distance triathlon so low inflammation.
My blood glucose is low. I like to see that between 80-90 for a fasted glucose. I am on 86. My insulin levels are actually a little bit low but they’re about 2.7 and generally having some low insulin levels is good. My Hemoglobin A1c, I have a snap shot of my average blood glucose levels is good.
[00:20:00] Now all of my hormones are generally sort of okay until you get … you’ll notice a few things. Testosterone ranges on borderline low and sex hormone binding globulin which tends to bind to active hormones like testosterone in your blood stream and keep them from being in free and active form that is very high.
Now in an athlete who is beating themselves up consistently, doing something like Ironman triathlon like what I am doing it is pretty rare to see really, really high testosterone values. However, those sex hormone binding globulin values are very high, higher even than what I tend to see in a lot of crossfitters and a lot of Ironman triathletes whose profiles that I look at.
Now, what would be the reason for that be? Well, there is a lot of research out there that shows a direct correlation between high cortisol levels and high levels of sex hormone binding globulin, and if you scroll down to my cortisol levels you’ll see that those are extremely elevated.
When a body is in a fight or flight response, it tends to bind up your sex hormones in your blood stream and keep them from free and active form, shift a lot of cholesterol, and hormone and steroid precursors towards cortisol formation and away from testosterone formation and that’s what you are seeing in my blood panel.
That is not necessarily a consequence of ketosis. That is a consequence of the fact that I am – on paper I am the CEO of three different companies. I am working, pardon my expression, I am working my ass off- while also training for Ironman triathlon. I am trying to juggle a lot of balls at ones.
Now, it is simply the case until I decide that I am not going to put my body through this anymore, that I am not going to say trying to train for Ironman simultaneous to writing a book, to doing these podcasts, to running all my companies to everything else that I am doing. I am probably not going to experience normal stabilized cortisol levels until I get to that point.
Now, what you need to understand as I am saying all of these is that I am on paper very healthy. These are not values that are concerning from a risk of death or a longevity stand point. These are issues. These hormonal issues that I’m pointing out are issues that are simply keeping me from looking, feeling and performing at my absolute best. So those high levels of cortisol and high levels of sex hormone binding globulin are both results of lifestyle stress and exercise stress that I am putting myself through. But that’s not all. The story goes a little bit deeper.
I have also suspected that because I have tested multiple times for high cortisol. I have tested multiple times for sex hormone binding globulin, my testosterone has been for three of four months – kind of borderlined a little bit lower than I like it to be that there maybe a little bit of gut issues at play here as well. So about half way through this ketogenic build-up to Ironman Canada I got a test from a company called breathtests.com for something called small intestine bacterial overgrowth or SIBO, which is a condition that actually flies underneath the radar but it is an imbalance of flora in your gut which specifically the bacteria in your upper GI tract tend to be overgrown. It can be an issue for people who are eating thousands of calories a day which, big surprise, I’m doing as an Ironman Triathlete and many other people who are marathoners, extreme athletes, crossfitters etc. are doing as well.
Small intestine bacteria overgrowth is associated with hypercortisolism. It is associated with lower levels of testosterone. It can affect your thyroid hormone. There are some pretty significant issues at play when it comes to something like SIBO, the only way to really knock it out is to go through like a cleanse that involves natural antibacterials or if you wanted to opt for regular antibiotics, you can use something like that: juices, cleansers like oil of oregano, golden seal extract and things of that nature combined with low levels of calorie intake. Low levels of stress in the gut in general. So I’ll have to wait until the off season and actually fit something like that but that is one of a potent 1 – 2 combo, stress plus SIBO that would cause the kind of issues that you see in a profile like this.
So you have probably have heard of me talk about this on a podcast before but whenever you are seeing hormone issues don’t just look at stress, don’t just look at lifestyle, don’t just look at diet, look at the gut as well. [00:25:00] I do some pretty extensive gut testing. I don’t have parasites. I don’t have many other issues going around my gut aside from that small intestine bacterial overgrowth. Really interesting test, by the way. You just glucose solution and do like 12 breath measurements over the course of three hours and it is really interesting and you can order the test at breathtests.com. If you are eating a lot of calories and doing a lot of training, it could be something that you’d look into.
So anyways, I can kind of went into that segue, as I was talking about reproductive hormones, testosterone and sex hormone binding globulin and then also cortisol, but you’ll also notice thyroid. Extremely concerning value for me is my very low levels of total T3 and my nearly non-existent levels of T3. These have been accompanied, these values have been accompanied by me feeling colder, a lower tolerance from a lot of cold open water swimming that I am doing. A little bit of wearing away of my nails on nearly every finger on my hands and a general feeling of tiredness in the afternoon, basically what you’d call low T3 syndrome.
I will put a link on the show notes to actually a very excellent article that Chris Kresser over at chriskresser.com has written about low T3 syndrome, some of the things that can cause that and in addition to some of the gut issues that I just got done talking about, you should know that T4 is converted into its active form in T3, in your liver, in your gut, in your skeletal muscle, in your brain, in the thyroid gland itself and like I alluded to earlier in this podcast, you do need trace levels of carbohydrate in order for that to occur.
You can look at the population like the Inuit who really don’t have any carbohydrates at all and they don’t all have low T3 syndrome. They are eating a lot of organ meats, sweat bread and liver, things of that nature. About half way through this protocol I started to include a lot more of those type of compounds in my diet, along with intake of iodine, selenium from brazil nuts, sea vegetable and things of that nature, but still, it appears in fighting an extreme uphill battle trying to maintain constant levels of ketosis. Never going out of ketosis and still having my thyroid levels be normal.
I’ve talked to some other folks at other forums. They’ve had some issues with thyroid hormones as well, and as for me this is a little biggie because it affects my quality of life. It makes me concerned about the potential severity of low T3 syndrome and in a long term outcome for chronic disease potentially downstream. I could go out and say, okay I am going to take thyroid hormone or I am going to out and desiccated thyroid or try to put a band aid over this thing but ultimately, the fact is that I can fix the issue with thyroid by giving my body on the days where it needs more carbohydrate, more carbohydrate.
If I am going put my body through the unnatural high levels of physical activity that is Ironman triathlon, then it is looking according to these lab values like I really do need to make sure that on those days where I am digging really deep, where I am completely exhausting those carbohydrates stores that I actually do give my body a little bit of extra carbohydrate.
Now the other thing that you’ll notice is I mentioned is some about T4-T3 conversion takes place in the liver, you’ll notice a lot of my liver enzymes appeared to be elevated, as well. Now liver enzymes are something that in any active individuals, if you are to go out and test yourself, you’re going to find that your liver enzyme will be slightly elevated. In this case, I don’t take a complete rest day before I go on with the test. I probably would go weightlifting or went on a bike ride or something the day before, but you see my liver is kind of beat up. Now part of that again is due to the thousands and thousands of calories that I am having to take in and to support something like Ironman triathlon, combined with heat stress and gut stress and everything else that happens when you are training.
But this may also be an issue with the thyroid as well, as simply one of the organs as responsible for that T4 to T3 conversion is potentially a little bit inflamed. Now again this returns to an issue very similar to the small intestine bacterial overgrowth issue and that is that this is something that could be fixed by simply stepping back, relaxing, recovering, spending to anywhere from four to six to eight weeks just not stressing out the body over again. As I have been stressing it out for [00:30:00] almost ten years now.
That’s what we’re looking at. That may seem like a lot of time to some of you. But I know there are many of you listening in who beat up your bodies every day and who have been doing it for a long, long time. The lesson here, so far, with these blood values that I’m getting at is twofold. First of all, you need to give your body a chance to rest and recover. Sometimes, it’s going to go above and beyond what I’ve been doing, which is 1 recovery day a week. It’s going to involve a total detox period of time during the year.
For me, this upcoming January, I’ll be taking four weeks where I completely cleanse my body; don’t take in a lot of calories in general. I’ll be using a lot of natural antibacterial herbs. I’ll be using my juicer quite a bit, my blender quite a bit. I’ll basically be cleaning up my body trying to get rid of SIBO, heal my liver, dump these cortisol levels back down, and essentially hit the reboot button on my body.
As you can see, there are some issues here. Everything that I’ve mentioned to you are the type of things that I tend to see over and over and over again in active individuals and some of them, in myself, are even more pronounced than I tend to see in the average person, especially some of those thyroid values that I mentioned that you’re looking at. I suspect that is because I’ve been staying in this strict, anal constant state of ketosis during this entire build-up.
Now, as far as a few other things that you may notice on this test, almost everything else looks great. Almost every parameter is back up where it’s supposed to be. A few weeks ago, I had tested low for white blood cell count. I had tested low for iron. Frankly, all I did was I started taking in astragalus extract and started eating red meat more frequently. That brought my iron, my ferritin, my white blood cells, everything coming back up into the land of the living. So that was an easy fix. Again, it’s one of the reasons that we test and look at things like this.
Ultimately, the takeaway from the blood work is that you need to — If you’re going to be eating the thousands of calories that are necessary to sustain your body for something like an Ironman triathlon or an extreme feat of physical performance, accept the fact that you’re going to do some damage to your gut and you’re going to do some damage to your liver and you need to pick and choose a period of time during the year, during what you’re just going to give yourself complete recovery and not stress those organs at all. That’s the first thing we can take away from this.
The second thing we can take away from this is that I’ve never seen my thyroid values this low. I’ve been testing my body for a long time. Really, the only thing that has significantly changed is that constant state of ketosis, not even going cyclic low carb, not going cyclic ketogenic, but just constant state of ketosis. Because of those values and because of where they’re at, in my build-up to Ironman Hawaii, which is five weeks away, I will be allowing myself ad libitum carbohydrate intake as much as I’d like to eat for two days of the week. I’ll continue this low carb profile on my lower intensity or my lower volume days of the week. But on those big days, I’m actually going to go out of my way to eat white rice and sweet potatoes and yams and things of that nature. Okay. That is the geeky blood work for you.
Now, before we jump in to the questions on Facebook, let’s talk about the race, about the race nutrition, and everything that happened during the race itself. First of all, the race nutrition, I state in that low carb ketogenic state all the way going into the race. My pre-race dinner, I had basically my morning smoothie with the exception that I had about 25 grams worth of white rice in the morning. That was simply because my wife was cooking up some rice cakes and eggs for the kids. I grab the chunk and had a rice cake. It was kind of a speed bump at that point. Definitely, did knock me out of ketosis. Then, the rest of the day was low carb with the exception that in the evening, I had four sushi rolls. That was another 25, 50 grams of carbs or so.
The day before Ironman Triathlon, the day before Ironman Canada, I had about 75 grams of carbohydrates. I woke up that morning in a state of ketosis. I had Bulletproof Coffee for breakfast before the race. What that means is that I took 1 cup of dark, black coffee. I blended it up with two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of MCT oil. I added a little bit of cinnamon. I added a touch of coconut milk. That was it about two hours prior to the race.
Now, compared to my old days of oatmeal and sweet potatoes [00:35:00] and yams and honey and everything else. This was completely new for me. Going into a race, burning purely fat as a fuel. Nothing at that point all the way up until the swim aside from my normal supplementation protocol, which consists of something called oxaloacetate, which is another supplement that I get from Dave Asprey, which helps to convert lactic acid into glucose more quickly, which is kind of nice because obviously, I’m not taking in a lot of exogenous sources of glucose so having oxaloacetate on board to assist with that conversion is nice. I take in that supplement. I take in some Chinese adaptogenic herbs to help with focus and de-stress. I take in some antioxidants. I get those from LifeShotz. I get the adaptogenic herbs from TianChi.
What else? Took in a little bit of fish oils, fish oil package with astaxanthine because I don’t wear sunscreen on race day. I just overdose with astaxanthine basically. I take about 6 to 8 milligrams of astaxanthine, which is a natural skin protectant, so no sunscreen on race day. Then, I’m trying to think if there’s anything else that I took in prior to the race. No. That’s it. Colostrum. Colostrum reduces your gut permeability when you’re exercising in hot conditions and so I take in colostrum from a company called Capra Colostrum or Mt. Capra prior to the race. All those go into the body about 40 to 60 minutes prior. Then, I’m off to the races. Now, in this race report, I’m going to put a video at bengreenfieldfitness.com that shows you the exact nutrition that I was eating during the entire race once I came out of the swim.
In a nutshell, it was the equivalent of 1 serving of SuperStarch, which is a very slow released carbohydrate per hour, mixed with about 1 tablespoon of MCT oil, about 5 grams of amino acids, a little bit of Vespa, which is more amino acids from a wasp extract, which is just super sexy and cool and helps you to go all day long like a wasp flying. Then, finally, the last component is something called X2Performance, which contains pretty good amounts of D-ribose and disodium ATP, two things that help you regenerate ATP fairly quickly in the absence of carbohydrates. My entire fueling scenario laid out for the race was based around the idea of staying in the state of metabolic fat-burning efficiency, okay? Not doing the Gatorade, Powerade, glucose, Coke Gel, bar, anything like that. It’s just all.
Basically, I dump all that stuff in a blender. You’ll see. Just go watch the video because it will really be self-explanatory. Then, it goes, I’ve got one down, two bottle on the bike, another bottle waiting in special needs, one flask on the run, another flask waiting in special needs for the run. That’s it. Just that liquid fat-burning fuel basically. Did the swim. Frankly felt like a million bucks turn the entire swim. I swam around 58 minutes. Didn’t even feel like I worked at all. Will definitely be repeating the scenario of consuming Bulletproof Coffee prior to that hard Ironman swim.
I felt like my brain was tuned. I felt like my body was tuned. Highly recommend that scenario so that worked really, really well. Swim self-experiment a success. Had some pretty good surges in the water a few times or I made some passes. Did some sprints. Had, of course, the initial all-out 400-meter sprint that you always go through at the start of one of these races. No issues with feeling that blah, bonk hitting the wall, or whatever that you might get with ketosis. Okay.
On to the bike. The bike is very difficult in this race at Ironman Canada. It’s one of the more difficult bike courses that I’ve been on. It’s very hilly. Coming out of the water where I came out of the water meant I was out there with some pretty competitive cyclists. It was a legitimately true hard bike course. It wasn’t something like Ironman California done in Florida.
Now, I’m getting loopy. Wasn’t like Ironman Florida or Ironman Arizona or one of these really flat bike courses like it was legitimately hard. I ended up biking 5 hours and 10 minutes. I got stronger and stronger and stronger as the bike went on using that exact fueling scenario that I did not stray from one bit. By the time the ride was over, I think I’d ridden myself into third place age grouper and had one of the faster bike splits on a day, period. Again, that fueling scenario worked beautifully. [0:40:00] I will absolutely repeat that exact fueling scenario for something like Ironman Hawaii. Highly recommended so that worked very, very well. I felt like a million bucks on a bike. I had to make some passes. Had to dig deep on some hills. Definitely, went up in a bike by Zone 4, Zone 5. Threshold heart rate many, many times during that race on a bike splits felt great. No issues there and just really felt stronger than I’ve ever felt in Ironman with that bike ride. Chalk another one up for the minimalist training and a ketotic state for the metabolic efficiency component and the mental focus component for sure. Both of those panned out very well. Very, very well.
On to the run. First part of the half marathon, I’m not quite sure what I ran. It should’ve been close to about an hour and a half for that first half marathon. I don’t have that split pulled up in front of me but ran at a nice steady, even clip, nursed my flask the entire time with, again, my UCAN SuperStarch, my MCT oil, my amino acids, the X2Performance, and the Vespa just all blended up in that flask. Felt great. Ran that first half marathon. I actually ran farther than that. [0:41:20] about the 14-mile mark, I saw my wife and said, “Hey, babe. See you in 80 minutes.”
This thing is going well at that point. I think I was still third place over all age grouper and kind of having the race of my life. It felt absolutely great. About mile 13 in an Ironman triathlon, and this is my advice to my more advanced Ironman triathletes who I coach and it’s what I do myself, that’s about the point where I recommend that you pull the trigger. You go to the pain cave. You start to go anaerobic.
That last half marathon is kind of where — It’s do or die. It’s really what breaks a lot of people, too. I just got and say I was having the race of my life. You hear that over and over again. I was doing great. For some people, it’s then until I got to the marathon. For some people, it’s until I got to that last half of marathon, whatever. That’s where a lot of people start walking. Shortly before I saw my wife and shouted out to her, I started to dig. Started to get into the pain cave. Started to tell myself, “Okay. This is going to hurt.” That’s the point where I started to count to 100 over and over again. Just the end of a long day and you’re going fast.
The last time that I had to pull that trigger was going through the Energy Lab, Ironman Hawaii a couple of years ago. Traditionally in the past, I have turned to sugar at that point. Well, traditionally in the past, I’ve actually turned to sugar. Long before that, I’ve been using sugar the whole time usually until that point. This was different, of course. I was doing the metabolic efficiency thing, staying in that state of ketosis.
I pulled the trigger and crashed hard. Crashed really, really hard, okay? This was the first point in the whole race where my body felt way different than it’s ever felt before in any Ironman triathlon where all of a sudden, it was sleepy time. I want to take a nap right now by the side of the road. Fortunately, I’m a nutritionist so I read a lot of race reports to talk to a lot of athletes. I identified hypoglycemia right away. That took me a good 10 minutes to get to the first aid station, where I was able to start to fix the issue. It took another 10 minutes after that before the sugars were hitting my bloodstream. Basically, I had to chug about a half liter of Coca-Cola. Had to switch to pure frigging sugar. That’s an important lesson. That kind of where you’re at the end of a long day. You are completely glycogen-depleted. Okay. Fully glycogen-depleted. No doubt about it at that point.
That is the point where if you’re going to try and do this extreme feat of physical endurance in a state of ketosis, that is the point where taking in or beginning to take in exogenous sources of sugars makes sense. Frankly, when I go down and do Ironman Hawaii in five weeks, I will probably start closer to about the 10-K mark of the marathon, taking in the Coca-Cola in gels. Pure sugar. Once 20 minutes went by and I had made it to an aid station, gotten that Coke in my system, given the blood sugar a chance to come back up even though you never fully recover from a bonk. I was back in the land of living and went on and ran. Like I said, it took me about an hour and a half to run the first part of the half marathon, took closer to an hour and 50 minutes. Okay. Huge non-negative split there to run the second part of the half marathon. That was because of that bonk. That was because of that complete loss of blood glucose and sugar. Okay. Lesson learned.
[00:045:00] If you’re going to go into Ironman, you’re going to try ketosis or something like that. When you get to the point where you’ve decided that you’re going to go anaerobic and it’s not going to be a surge on a bike, it’s not going to be a 30 to 60-second effort where you’re suddenly going to go in and go hard for that brief period of time when it’s go time, when you’re like, “Okay. Next hour and a half is pain cave time.” That’s where I’m pushing close to threshold going very, very hard, close to full in carbohydrate burning. That’s the point where the exogenous sources of sugar and beginning to switch to taking those in make sense.
Huge lesson learned there as far as what you need to consider. If you’re going to train, do something like this in a state of ketosis. Okay. That was what happened on the marathon. Now, I continued on, ended up with a 9:39 for the race. Technically, without that crash, I should’ve been closer to my actual goal, which was a 9:20. Easily lost a good 15 to 20 minutes with the whole bonking scenario, but still qualified for Ironman Hawaii. I think I was 25th overall out of several thousand participants. Had a great race for the most part and crossed to finish line. Felt good. Slept like a baby that night like 9 hours, which is a first for post-Ironman. Usually, I’ve got a sugar and caffeine high that’s going on for really long time.
Essentially, for the most part, I would chalk up the entire great ketogenic Ironman experiment as having been a success but having done a number on my thyroid and also taught me a lesson about the point that which you can’t go anaerobic and expect to be able to maintain that for a long period of time. They’re on something like a ketotic Ironman. Those are all of my random thoughts. Now, I’ve got some questions from Facebook that I want to go over.
Before I get to those questions, and I think I’ve already answered a lot of them in my race report so far, I want to tell you that I qualified for Kona, but I’m definitely going to need your help. This is not an inexpensive endeavor. What I’m going to do in the show notes to this podcast is put a link to where you can donate to support the podcast. By donating to support the podcast, you’re going to directly be putting some coins in the coffer and tossing some bucks in the hat to help me with the plane tickets.
I mean, it cost freaking $200 for just getting my bike there and back, a hotel, just everything that goes into getting to Kona. It cost me $800 to even register for the race. If you guys can help me, I would truly, truly, truly appreciate it. I mean, whatever, $10, $15, $20, whatever you want. I’ll put a link there in the show notes where you can donate, but just from the depths of my heart, please help me out with the whole Kona thing because it’s going to be spendy for me to go race Ironman World Championships. I promise lots more cool reports like this and more self-experimentation and all that jazz, but please help me out a little bit with that. I’ll put a donation link right there in the show notes for this particular episode over at bengreenfieldfitness.com. I would truly, truly appreciate that if you can help me out with that.
That being said, let’s review some of these Facebook questions. Welcome to my life. I haven’t actually looked at any of them. I am going to see them for the first time along with you so let’s see what we got here. Sam over on facebook.com. Sam says, “Can you comment on how you felt mentally throughout the race compared to your previous low carb approach to Ironman racing? Were you in the zone more, calm, or leading up to it, mental fog after?”
Sam, hopefully, I’ve already hinted to that and answered your question. The feeling of mental superiority, especially with like the Bulletproof Coffee prior to the swim and the focus on the bike and even for the first half marathon of that run, just to focus. Never having a feeling of not being present just because we know that the brain is burning ketones as its primary source of fuel. That was definitely a true difference that I noticed.
Now, Sam also says, “Was your practice with your nutrition enough?” What Sam is referring to is the fact that that whole fuelling blend that I described to you, frankly, I avoid engineered fuels like the plague. I hate them. I don’t like to [0:50:00] eat SuperStarch and X2Performance, and all that stuff. They work great, but I’d rather eat raw seeds, raw nuts, chia seeds, rice cakes, just all these real food blends that you can get, but they’re not aerodynamic. They don’t carry well. They don’t work when you want to go fast in an Ironman triathlon.
I ended up practicing about six times total with that race day fuelling scenario. I find that for most people, about half a dozen times or so when you run 4 to 8 run in that range practicing with whatever fuel you plan on using on race day is adequate. That worked just fine for me. Zero gut distress on race day. Let’s see. Adam says, “What did you learn in the race that you’d do differently next time?” Already went through that. He says, “How did your body feel halfway through the marathon by staying in ketosis?” Already went through that, too, of course.
“How does your body feel only doing a few long runs in training?” This is a good question. Yes. I did one 21-mile run in my build-up to Ironman. Everything was 60 to 90 minutes from my long runs, with the exception that there was actually one run thrown in there when I took a group of guys up to Ironman Canada and we did some training together. I got lost. I ended up running about 17 miles so I had one extra-long run in there that I didn’t plan on, but felt great. I would say that my levels of soreness post-race were just slightly higher than what they normally are. I definitely felt a little bit more in like my Achilles and my IT bands and my knees the next day. I also got 11 weekends with my kids that I wouldn’t have normally gotten so easy, easy tradeoff for me as far as that’s concerned and felt fine during the marathon. Aside from that, that loss of sugar at that certain point.
Let’s see another question. How many cups of Bulletproof Coffee did you drink before the race? One. It was just 1 large mug so that’s it. How many shots of X2Performance did you take in during the race? Basically, it came out to 4. I try and take about 1 shot of this X2Performance stuff, which is that D-ribose disodium ATP blend. I try and plan to take in one of those every 2 to 3 hours during the event so I dumped four of those into my pre-race blended solution and just blend it that up with everything else just because I wanted to have everything really concentrated and be carrying as few bottles as possible.
Let’s see other questions. What brand of electrolytes did you use that you blended in your fuel to keep it from clumping? I’m glad Adam asked this question because this is something I forgot to mention. I used electrolytes during this race. Now, I have not used electrolytes in the past five Ironman triathlons that I’ve done, including Ironman Hawaii. I do not believe that electrolytes help to keep you from cramping. Many studies have shown that the body’s able to maintain normal plasma levels of sodium and electrolytes in the absence of electrolyte intake for up to a couple of days of exercise.
However, and I learned this from you UCAN SuperStarch themselves, when you add electrolytes in with their SuperStarch, when you add some extra salts from whatever, Himalayan C Salt or any of these electrolyte tablets or capsules or powders out there in the market, when you add that stuff in, it keeps the SuperStarch from its notoriously high ability to clump. I use the brand of electrolytes called Athlytes by Millennium Sports. Just what it sounds like and I put 30 of those. I literally opened the capsule and dumped 30 of those, which I think came out to right around — It would’ve been close to, I think, about 10 to 12 grams worth of electrolytes in there in that fuel blend. I did make it a little bit salty. Again, electrolytes don’t hurt you. It’s just like it’s one thing you don’t have to go to your way to take in unless using something like UCAN SuperStarch in which case it turns out that it actually does a pretty good job keeping it from clumping.
Trevor says, “What are you going to do different next time for Kona?” Trevor, I’ll run about the first 10 K in Kona staying with my SuperStarch fuel and everything. Then, as soon as I get to that turnaround on Alley Drive. I think it’s right on 5 miles in or so. I will switch to ice cold Coke in gels. I will be a sugar hound the rest of the way. My apologies to my poor ketogenic state at that point. That is when I will [00:55:00] nip any bonking in the bud. Other than that, wouldn’t change a darn thing. Let’s see.
Andrew says, “Given your half Ironman speed, which is 118, I think a 315 marathon is very possible. Do you think that drop in performance in the marathon is related to your lack of volume?” No, Andrew. I can guarantee you that if I would’ve like I know my body. If I bonked, it was pure. I literally wanted to just lay down by the side of the road and sleep. My muscles were fine. My lungs were fine. Everything was fine. I simply ran out of glycogen and so what I would change is that I would simply be taking in sugar earlier and more often during the actual marathon. Not during the bike ride, not during the swim, not during breakfast, not in the week leading up to the race, but just more exogenous source of glucose during that marathon.
Thomas says, “Are you considering adding cold thermogenesis to your protocol?” Thomas, I’ve been using it for 12 weeks, full body’s immersion several times a week along with cold showers, the use of my coolfatburner.com vest, the use of my compression gear with cold. I do it for the cardiovascular benefits, for the pain killing benefits, for the recovery benefits. Been doing it. Won’t stop doing it. With the only exception being in the build-up to Ironman Hawaii, I will take all the magazines and journals that I get every week and rather than reading them on my patio which I normally do, I will put them in my backpack, take them to my local YMCA, and read them in the sauna. That’s how I heat acclimate: I read in the sauna. Okay.
Frank says, “What aspects of your ketogenic training will keep you this winter when you focus on muscle building as opposed to triathlon performance? Will your normal cyclic low carb training look different in terms of carb refeed days?” Here’s exactly what I’m going to be doing, not only in my buildup to Ironman Hawaii but afterwards, is like a lifestyle diet. I will continue to eat low carb, high fat diet. I won’t be anal about whether or not I’m in a state of ketosis. I think that that takes some of the enjoyment out of life. Eat Italian food when I’m at Italian restaurant. For the most part, I will stay in that low carb, high fat state, with the one exception that on any day during which I’m asking my body to go into a state of glycogen depletion and to exhaust itself.
For me, that means any day where I’m exercising for longer than about 90 minutes, okay, I will not deny my body carbohydrates if I feel like eating carbohydrates, which is something I’ve been doing for the past 12 weeks. The reason that I won’t do that is a) because of the loss of personal enjoyment of eating and b) because of the hit that it appears to have put on my thyroid.
Let’s see. Somebody’s questions are repetitive so I’m going to skip over them. Ryan says, “How quickly can you fall out of ketosis and re-enter ketosis? Can you ever consume too much fat on a ketogenic diet?“ Ryan, to get adequate protein in an exercising individual, you’re really never going to be able to eat more than about 80 percent fat in a ketotic diet. For me, I averaged about 70 to 80 percent fat, around 10 to 15 percent protein, and around 5 to 10 percent carb during my buildup to Ironman Canada.
If you’re taking in much more fat than that, you’re simply not going to be, by the rules of math, getting enough protein in unless you’re eating a lot and a lot and a lot of calories. How quickly can you fall out of ketosis and re-enter ketosis? For me, usually, when I commit to something, I commit hard so I really didn’t — I fell out of ketosis once. It was a Saturday night. By Sunday evening/Monday morning, I was back in ketosis. For me, it was about a day and a half to get me back into the rigmarole of ketosis.
Let’s see. Any other questions? I think I’m just making sure because there’s a bunch for me that I’ve already fully covered in my report here. Okay. Question-wise, I think that about wraps up most of the questions. Hopefully, it gives you guys an idea of what I’m going to do in the build-up to Hawaii, too, and some of the things that I’ll change, both during the race and then the build-up leading up. Essentially, the main thing’s being that I will go cyclic ketogenic instead of full ketogenic. I will also be taking in sugars earlier in the actual during the actual marathon for this event, for Ironman Hawaii.
[00:60:00]I will also be posting a few links for you in the show notes that accompany this episode. I will be posting for you my exact training routine that I’m going to be following leading up to Ironman Hawaii. I am going to be posting all of the WellnessFX results along with some photos from the race, some finish line photos, some cool shots, stuff like that if you want to see how I carry my fuel on the bike, et cetera. I’m going to be posting a video for you of the exact fuelling scenario that I used for the race and how I mixed it all up. Then, finally like I mentioned, I’m going to be throwing — Well, actually a couple of things are going to pull into the Chris Kresser article on the low T3 syndrome, and some of the research on high sex hormone by antiglobulin and high cortisol, and some of the reasons that those tend to be elevated and why he sold those on my labs.
Then, finally, I am going to put a link. If you guys want to help throw a few bucks in the hat to give me the Ironman Hawaii, I’m just going to put my podcast donation link in there for you. If you can just help out at all, that is freaking awesome because not inexpensive affair to go race the Super Bowl of triathlon, but you can certainly help get me there.
Anyways, that about wraps it up. I’ll put lots of resources for you over at bengreenfieldfitness.com. I hope that was helpful. Until next time, until the next premium podcast that we do. I wish you the best in life and the best in your performance.
Keep in touch. I don’t even know how to end the podcast without my trusty sidekick, Brock. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to play any music or play this thing out. There you go. Go have fun with the rest of your day. I’ll catch you later.
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