I am currently nursing an injury, but there is actually a good thing about that. In Spring of this year I decided to change my training method going to use the MAF method. MAF running is running based on your heart rate and a certain target heart rate. But this is not all about it. MAF running is also getting your body to be in the fat burning zone and to tap into your body fat as energy source. Theoretically you would never have the need to refuel during a long run because with body fat you carry an endless source of energy with you – compared to glycogen/carbohydrates. Even if you are not overweight or have barely any visible body fat, you’re probably still carrying around up to 80,000 fat calories. However, most runners don’t use body fat as fuel because their bodies are not used to burn fat for various reasons.
Our diet is a major reason why we are not fat-adapted. Too many simple carbohydrates destroy our ability to tap into body fat as a source of fuel. Long distance runners who are not fat-adapted run on about 1,500 calories stored in the glycogen stores and during a marathon those glycogen stores are easily depleted. As a result, you either might bonk or hit the wall or you have to rely on added simple carbohydrates like gels to get through the race distance. This is really just a high level description of the problem. The MAF method helps you to a) stay in the “magical” fat burning zone and b) if you “re-educate” your body to use body fat as fuel at the same time you can suddenly run longer and need less carbs.
Well, I trained based on the MAF method, but I failed to really re-tune my body to burn more fat. I was not seeing the results I was supposed to see … that is until now because I injured myself. Why is that you might ask? Well, I am injured and I am optimistic to be healthy enough for my upcoming 50 mile race, but when I injured myself my fear was to gain weight because of being inactive. For me that would be like adding insult to injury. I know all the basics of what diet changes I would have to make to follow the MAF method in regards becoming fat-adapted and to work I went. When I injured myself I had about 3.5 weeks to go before my race. I was already eating fairly clean, but I was still eating way too many carbs. Now I was going in all the way – making the necessary changes to transition to a fat-adapted diet.
I will describe the details of the diet in a different posting, but know for now that I cut out all processed foods and anything with added sugar. I also stayed away from starchy vegetables, too. Instead of drinking a bottled Starbucks Frappuccino in the mornings I made myself a bullet-proof coffee with Kerry Gold Butter. Instead of having a sandwich I used large lettuce leaves to make a wrap. I bought Bulgarian-style yoghurt at Sprouts and indulged on that one. I really like the taste of it, but it might take you a little bit to get used to it. I am eating plain Avocados as well as smoked Salmon and eggs. Of course there is a whole lot more, but the main takeaway is that I am eating a lot of fatty foods, but only healthy fats. This diet change also allows you to eat as much as you want. There is no calorie restriction in place, but of course you should only eat until you are comfortably full – not stuff yourself like a Turkey.
The first 3 days my weight stayed put where it was, but then it began dropping. I noticed first in my face that I had lost some weight and the scale confirmed it, too. Within the first 10 days I lost about 5 lbs. of weight. As I was already eating fairly clean before I did not have any side-effects when cutting out carbs and sugar. Some people report strong cravings and headaches, but fortunately I did not have anything like that. I am following recommendations from a book called “Always Hungry” as well as advice from Mark Sisson (book: Primal Endurance) and of course advice from Phil Maffetone – the inventor of the MAF method. Don’t think this is some sort of diet, it is a lifestyle change really. First you re-train your body to use fat as the main source of fuel and then you slowly re-introduce a limited number of carbs and sugar until you find the healthy balance that stabilizes your weight where it needs to be. Combine this with the MAF method for running and you will never have to use yucky gels or GUs again and ultimately you can run longer and faster.
Right now my running is a bit limited due to the injury, but I am hoping that all this will turn into something really good soon. By the time my 50 mile race starts I hope to have lost a bit more weight and that my body really uses fat as the main source of fuel when running. After the race I want to really give my body time to heal and to recover and then start training again. I hope that the weight loss compensates a little bit for the loss of fitness and me missing 2 important long runs at the end of my training.