Training and LCHF

by The Fat Professor, Grant

Here’s an interesting letter I received over the weekend.  This raises loads of the queries for anyone who is training for an endurance event and is eating low carb healthy fat.

My view is: eating and training interact to a huge extent. You can’t change one without the other. It’s always been my view that the advantage of LCHF is that you can double your ability to oxidise fat as a primary fuel source. This is awesome because;

  1. You’ll rely less on carbs, which produce more oxidative stress – so you’ll recover faster, have better immune system function, and you can finish long easy workouts feeling invigorated, not smashed.
  2. You’ll have access to a much bigger fuel tank (fat) – so endurance will be better and you become more or less “bonk proof”.

The downside is that may not always have what it takes to be really fast – you’ll probably need to use supplemental extra carbs strategically to get the best out of yourself. You’ll also have to have the discipline to go easy when you are supposed to go easy. Many weekend warriors struggle with this concept as going out on a smash fest with their mates is fun. I advise people to pop their ego in a brown paper bag on their way out the door to the long training session.  That way, you can get the most out of your body without trashing it. Racing is racing, training is training. I cover all of this in What the Fat? Sport Performance, but there is more detail required to answer Johnny’s questions.

Jonny’s questions and my answers show how all this plays out practically in marathon running and training for a busy person.

Hi there,

Since an interview I listened to with Prof Schofield on Marathon Talk in the UK, I have purchased both books and find it all extremely intriguing and thought LCHF would definitely be worth a go. However, I do have a few questions. I know you do not give personal advice, but I want to give you my background – and to help things work, would appreciate some guidance on my queries.

Me: Good stuff and thanks for listening and reading so intently.  It’s a complex business of adjusting rating and food concurrently.

I am 42 and took up running 6 years ago. I have since completed 10 marathons and love the long distances. I have worked hard and achieved two sub 3 hr marathons, the most recent being in April 2015 (2 hrs 57 mins). I have now decided to not focus on times and try to work on moving up to the Ultra-marathon distances and off-road marathons. I did my first off-road marathon in June 2016, I have another next month (August) and I am hoping to do my first off-road Ultra (approx 65 km) in September 2016. 

Before I started LCHF, I ate lots of carbs (everything basically), had a very sweet tooth (took 2 sugars in my tea, probably 7 cups per day) and my running training mainly consisted of 4 runs per week to make up my planned weekly mileage. The runs usually were a long run (with stages at marathon pace), a tempo/lactate threshold run, an interval session and an easy run (the slowest I ever did would have been at about 5 min/km pace). I would have completed between 55 and 80 km per week (never went above 80 km). (I hope you like how I am changing everything to kms for you as I usually work in miles 😀 ).

My IBS had been getting worse recently so after listening to the interviews and reading a bit online, I was in the right frame of mind and jumped straight in to the LCHF way. I started about 30 days ago and I am really enjoying it. I have lost nearly 5 kg  – about 75% of this was in the first week. (I put on 4 kg once when marathon training!) and I am getting there with the understanding of it all. I am still learning and was probably eating too many carbs but I have been trying to aim for about 50 – 75 grams a week. I don’t think I could go much lower as I would be wary of not eating enough fruit. My carbs all come from fruit and veg. I have not had any sugar that I am aware of, which is a major achievement for me. I do feel full most of the time, but still need a snack sometimes to get me through.

I have a very busy family, work, studying and running life so I am still working on my eating but think I have a good idea of what to do. Probably not eating enough fat at times as I not always sure how much to use and I am wary of eating too much.

I think this is quite a typical outmode. Moderate weight loss, improvements in gut issues, and generally feeling good.  But…questions!

My main questions are to do with eating and training for my running. I have read the sports performance book but I am still not clear on the advice. I do realise that everyone is different, but I would greatly appreciate some feedback.

As I said above, I have a particular training programme for my running, so it is the change in this that concerns me. From the book, it suggests ditching threshold/lactate runs and just doing long endurance runs at 65-75% max HR and then high intensity intervals. Can I please get some clarification on this?

You don’t have to do this, but I think this works quite well for maximum benefits with the least physiological damage.  You stay focused and easy on long runs and therefore burn fat, recover faster and the immune system works better. The HIT work gets almost all of the benefits of threshold training without the same physiological damage (because its about half the duration or less).  In saying that I do threshold work, but usually add extra carbs before this so that I have enough glucose on board to deliver the session I want. The result is more physiological damage and more immune system damage- but if you are training to race then these are probably a necessary part of it. You can’t always see your running as healthy if you want to race.

If doing four runs a week, is that the long run, interval run and then two easy runs to make up the mileage?

Sounds like a fairly moderate training plan to me.  Not that many hours.

How therefore do I train at marathon pace? I am aware from the book that my top pace may drop, but how do I get this back without doing lactate threshold runs?

As above, yes you might either add an interval session – say 6 by 1 km at marathon pace, even 8 of these, or say 5 by 1 mile. Or at the end of a long run do 40 min at marathon pace. As I said earlier it’s my view that you add extra carbs and achieve this. The HIT and easy divisions are important and cover the bulk of training except lead up to a race which might be last 4-6 weeks.  You will need some specific threshold and race pace work in this phase. At least that’s what we think works best in combination with LCHF.

As I am doing off-road marathons, the routes involve hills so my previous thoughts would be to train and run long trail runs to involve hills. How do I incorporate this into my training now as including hills in my long runs increases my HR to greater than 75%?

Walk up the hills and wear a HR monitor. In one of four long runs just ignore the HR and run up. This is effectively the same as the threshold session above and I’d add extra carbs for this. Look, I’m a bit faster than you and I walk up hills all the time, even in off road races and still manage to beat most of the guys who feel they have to run up everything. Walking with a HR of 170 BPM is still the same demand as running with that HR!

This strength of purpose and will to walk when you need to is so overlooked in running.

Should I increase my carb intake leading up to the interval sessions?

Yes as above, just in the meal before training works for me, some people prefer the previous night to have some extra carbs as this can have the added benefit of getting to sleep faster (some people get sleepier with extra carbs).

With the long runs at <75% max HR, I assume I do not need to increase carb intake as the plan would be to use fat as the energy source?

Correct – I advise going on these long easy runs fasted. If you are efficiently burning fat you can probably supply about 900 kcal/hour from your own fat which should be enough to keep you going at an easy pace.

If I do a long run which does increase my HR to >75%, e.g. in a marathon race, should I therefore increase my carb intake leading up to that run?

Yes definitely in the whole day before and the morning of are a good idea, don’t go crazy and still eat whole food.

I apologise for all the questions, and I am also aware of the need for self-experimentation, but I really want to make this work and would greatly appreciate being pointed in the right direction at this stage.

I have loved the books and I am loving the way of eating. I have yet to notice obvious health benefits apart from weight loss but I am assuming that will come as I become more fat-adapted (which I assume will take longer due to my carb intake).

Thanks for the inspiration to take this journey. I just hope to try to encourage others to do the same and the best way I can do that is by showing them what I have achieved and what has worked (or not) for me.

Kind regards,
Jonny Graham

Northern Ireland

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Amy Styles says:

    Awesome! Very insightful and helpful – I love the part about being ok to walk uphill its always a mind battle to bring yourself to a walk 🙂
    Thanks Team.

  • Sarah says:

    Great Q&A you answered the same questions as I had about Marathon training and going to the Ultra distance, and especially the question about when to eat carbs before a hard session or race. So excited to have read the book after listening to MT as well and 2:57 at London 2016!! What about a podcast??

  • James Gillies says:

    That makes for a really interesting read and I intend to apply the principles to long distance cycling. Think it will work nicely.

  • Tanya says:

    Thanks for sharing, really enjoyed reading and learning. I’ll never do a matathon but look forward to longish runs that are enjoyable.

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