In today’s competitive world of low cost convenience, I think we have lost sight of the essential link between diet and physical activity. Take a car for example: if we fill it with the correct gas and oil but fail to hit the pedal, than the car remains static, eventually loosing battery power and rusting away over time. On the other hand, if we put the pedal to the medal but ignore what gas and oil the car requires, then you can expect a break down before reaching your destination. The same basic concept goes for exercise and running. If we eat healthy and train poorly than our goals become distant even potentially causing injury. On the contrary, if we train properly but eat unhealthy, reaching our ultimate goals will require much more work. The two are intertwined and the right combination will lead to our ultimate success as a runner. It will lead to amazing outcomes and growth, not to mention improved health and an admirable physique. For ultra runners in particular, fat is our friend. It morphs us into well-oiled machines and provides a near infinite supply of energy if metabolized efficiently. Yes, fat is our friend and here are the reasons why.
Fat, Sugar, & Calories
Did you know that on average our body contains 160,000 calories and only roughly 5,000 are stored as sugar? So when we “hit the wall”, the brain is actually shutting the muscles down in order to conserve sugar for the nervous system. The human’s nervous system requires sugar to function leaving you up a creak without a paddle on race day if metabolized ineffectively. Fortunately, there are approximately 130,000 calories stored as fat and by training our metabolism to burn fat as it’s primarily fuel source rather than sugar, energy becomes everlasting and so do our possibilities on the big day.
Fight Or Flight & Sugar
Three words: fight or flight. According to the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center, the phrase ‘fight or flight’ “describes a mechanism in the body that enables humans and animals to mobilize a lot of energy rapidly in order to cope with threats to survival.” Additionally, this quick rapid energy comes primarily from sugar. If we are running fast, stopping, refueling with sports drinks and gels, running faster and so on, then we are simulating a fight or flight pattern. Basically, we are mimicking our ancestors who were hunting and gathering for their survival for approximately… well, for the entire human existence. However, when you burn fat as your primarily fuel source, your pace is much more moderate, far from a fight or flight state, which causes less refueling during an ultra marathon, ultimately leading to longer miles and a more manageable experience.
Exercise & A Fat Burning Metabolism
It takes time to achieve such a desirable change from within. While training, the majority of your time should be spent running in a comfortable aerobic state. A heart rate monitor works well to regulate this, but you can also figure this out without a heart rate monitor. If you can run at a pace where you can carry on a conversation, then you are running in a comfortable aerobic state. Personally, during my own transitional training period, I felt sluggish, tired, and hungry. But I kept pushing farther & farther while moving faster & faster. I eventually pushed the limits where I ran a 50k with no food or water. Zero intake for 31 miles! This obviously took much more than a change in diet; however, if we ignore the advertisements that persuade us to purchase unnecessary supplements and listen to our bodies which ultimately craves the recipes provided by Mother Nature herself, and if we push past the concrete beliefs created by big business as we begin living on our own terms, then we have taken one giant leap towards becoming one sizable fat burning machine.
Eat For Efficiency
Greens, greens, and more greens in addition to a habitual consumption of good fats like omega 3’s would be an adequate start towards an efficient fat burning metabolism. An ideal menu from a highly efficient fat burner would consist of water, vegetables, nuts, salads, oils, vegetable soups and fish. If this efficient fat burner consumed grains, then the grains would be low-starch. If eating greens through whole foods seems like a difficult avenue to take at first then try substituting with a green food powder. Preferably one labeled as high in “alkalinity”. This will help fight back against our hectic and acidic lifestyles bringing more life into our bodies, creating energy through our day and through each new training run. Furthermore, it’s just as important to keep sugar low during our runs as it is throughout our days. Although our body requires sugar during an ultra marathon, it’s still possible to keep it at a minimal level. My fueling techniques are not perfect as I find myself consuming more fruits than I’d like. Personally, I just ran a 116 mile ultra marathon across the entire state of Florida, fueling with water, coconut water, fruits, almonds, and vegetable broth and subsequently, taking first place.
Sugar, Sugar, and More Sugar
As a society we’ve become addicts to sugary processed substitutes that we label as “food” taking our consumption to excessive amounts. Add that to our limited sleep, overuse of caffeinated beverages, plus the pesticides and preservatives we consume through processed foods and we put our bodies on one slippery slope to discomfort and disease. Next, from the effects of a poor diet we are being clinically diagnosed with diseases as we attempt to mask the symptoms with a magic pill when the root of the cause was never rationalized in the first place. We keep treating the effect instead of dealing with the cause which encourages us to continue on consuming an abundance of sugary proccessed foods. Moreover, as we take a ride on the blood sugar roller coaster we rely more and more on them holding each and every fat as the culprit. It’s a vicious sugary cycle! If we understand its affects, then we can take corrective action and bring our running to new and healthy places.
Enough is Enough
After 2 years of ultra running it seemed that every race led to an upset nauseated stomach. I loved running and reaching these unimaginable distances but every single event left me extremely nauseous towards the 25-30 mile mark. Nausea would intensify haunting me for the remainder of the race. I would then find myself curled up on the coach shortly after. When reading various articles in regards to how to eliminate nausea like drink a soda or take a salt tab, I thought to myself, why am I reading up on how to cure nausea? That is, I’m becoming nauseated for a reason. A better question would be, why do I become nauseas? And how do I prevent it from happening? If my body is becoming ill consistently than there must be a reason why. I reject the notion that it’s from running such long mileage. I believe we as human beings have only accomplished a very small portion of our true capabilities. So after trial & error and some pattern recognition I took a chance and eliminated all processed foods from my diet, naturally reducing my sugar intake in the process. This included both during races and not during races and the results were immediately achieved. In addition, if nausea persisted during a race I would then drastically reduce my sugar intake. It’s amazing how sometimes the answers are right in front of us. Since the norm was sugary sports drinks and gels, my brain was programmed to only except this as a fueling option. But ultra marathons are not normal. So why should I fuel normally? Between the countless gels, energy blocks, and sugary sport drinks, not to mention the amount of carbohydrates I was eating within a 24 hour period, it was no wonder that my stomach hurt. Better yet, with this type of fueling habits, nausea was a near guarantee. It was a sugary explosive massacre of a diet and my stomach was the victim. Shortly after, my perception changed dramatically. Our food grows in a natural form so why shouldn’t they be eaten in a natural form? Furthermore, diets began to make little to no sense to me. Why would we “diet” when we are not eating naturally to begin with? If we always eat our food in a natural state, then no special diet is ever needed. It’s not a diet change but a life style change that’s needed.
Man had 3 evolutionary discoveries that changed how we would live our lives forever. Fire, the wheel, and…. the drive-thru window. Yes, the drive-thru window. Overtime, this convenience has contributed to the normality of a high sugary and acidic lifestyle as it created convenience in replace of consciousness. But if we can take advantage of our potential energy, that is, the fat already stored within our body’s, we can then take advantage of a near infinite supply of energy, and slow and steady like a coal fire burning, we can move forward through a new way of training that will not only change the way that we run, but it will also change the way that we live our lives. Remember, even with the relatively greatest diet on earth, those miles will never run themselves. There is no magic formula besides putting in those long miles moving forward with inspired drive and determination. But through those paths less traveled its beneficial to pick up a friend or two along the way. For ultra runners, fat is our friend and one you can certainly depend on.