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Daily Archives: January 19, 2014

Eating to Fuel Endurance Training and Long Distance Races

An interesting perspective on endurance fueling indeed…

Mother Nature's Diet

A subject I am often asked about is ‘what is the best food to eat for marathon training, ultra-marathon running, Ironman training’ and so on. I have lots of friends involved in endurance sport, and I have a reasonable amount of experience myself, and there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about fuel for endurance sport. Personally, I have been in long distance endurance events with far more experienced runners than myself and seen them fail and drop out because they ‘got it wrong’ with their fuel, yet in my own experience, such problems are entirely avoidable most of the time.

This post will explain:

  • Why complex carbs are not the best fuel for endurance races
  • Why complex carbs are not required in great quantities pre-race (carb loading)
  • Why gels and bars are not the best fuel to consume during a race
  • How to be ‘a fat burner’, not ‘a…

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The Easier, Softer Way…

A common saying in recovery describes attempting to recover from alcoholism doing as little as possible to attain the desired result:  A happy, productive and full life.  At first glance it may seem a bit childish, probably because it is, but let’s not throw stones because it also happens to be human nature.  We look for the easiest, softest way.

This gets deep and can be used in a lot of ways, so please stick with me a second…

It may be tough to grasp, the concept of recovering from alcoholism, but it isn’t easy.  If you know how deeply the depravity can go, if you have seen exactly how sick someone can get, you might get a hint of how tough it can be to come back from that.  We only have to change everything about who we are and how we live and how we think.

To begin with, if we’re really fed up with the old life we take to the process pretty enthusiastically.  When we get to the tough stuff though, taking stock of who we are and why we do what we do, fear tends to get in the way.  Fear comes in the form of many unanswerable questions.  A few related to jail or prison, whether or not we’ll be forgiven by those who matter, and the general shape of how things turn out, just to name a few.  Add to the fear, the desire to “get to the good life” and the actual work of getting there can take a back seat in the hope that it’s not all that necessary.

Without getting too deep into it, this is “looking for the easier, softer way”:  How can I get the most out of recovery (or life) with the least amount of work.  In terms of cycling, say I want to race…  I enter my first race and get dropped.  Rather than actually training in a manner that will bring about the results I want, I attempt to get to where I want to be using half-measures.  The next month I enter another race and stay on but finish at the back of the pack.  While I have improved, I’m holding back from putting in the work needed to compete.  So I go back to the drawing board and change my diet a little bit and lose a few pounds.  My results don’t change, but I’m not so wiped out.  Back to the drawing board.  Now I decide to start hitting the gym…  You get the idea – rather than go all in and train like I mean it, I try to win with as little effort as possible.  Now, I can guarantee you racing a bicycle is an order of magnitude (or nine) easier than getting sober.

Now, let’s look at the easier, softer way in terms of something that affects a lot of people:  Fitness and losing weight.

This is where living a life of recovery really helped.  In terms of weight and fitness, for nine months out of the year, for more than 12 years, I gave running, cycling and swimming everything I had and it paid off.  Hindsight being what it is, I certainly tried for the easier, softer way when it came to the diet, but never the fitness.

Now here’s where this gets fun, and we’re going back to recovery to give this some heft:  Once all of the half-measures are used up to no avail, generally we’re left with pain (I’ve been there).  I no longer have my escape or the good results to continue with a happy life.  At this point, one of two things happen:  We either start drinking again or we throw off the half-measures and give it everything we’ve got and recover.  This is why recovery from addiction is so hard and winners so few and far between.  Statistics show about 3% who attempt recovery make it to five years – you can imagine how few make it to 20.  There are exceptions to the rule though – Dawn Farm (the treatment center I went to), last I knew, enjoyed an 85% success rate for those who complete the program.  The difference?  Well, partially it’s time.  Dawn Farm’s program is 3-9 months while the standard center is 28 days.  The rest is all about half-measures.  Dawn Farm accepts no half-measures.  They give you what it takes to make it and then make you use it or they boot you (or they did when I was there).  Most treatment centers just poke around the edges hoping that you get it.

Now apply that principle to weight loss and fitness.  The question that begs an answer is do I poke around the edges with half-measures or do I give up the fight and embrace a healthy lifestyle?  If I choose to poke around the edges, if I apply half-measures, at best I get partial results, a lot of consternation and pain.  On the other hand, if I shed the attempt to hold on to the old lifestyle and embrace the healthy with everything I’ve got, I get the results I was looking for from the beginning…

In other words, giving it all I’ve got from the beginning is the easiest, softest way.

Please don’t take this post as advocating a specific diet – especially vegetarianism or veganism.  While any diet has its enthusiasts, I eat an enjoyable, no sacrifice diet and according to my doctor, am the model of health.