Does Eating all the Fat help us to Run Faster?

sarah cuff Run Faster Leave a Comment


Ditch the carbs… Eat all the fat… And get faster?! Sounds a little backwards, right? Not necessarily. Fat-loading (followed by carb loading) has been shown to be a great method to help us run faster, and run stronger… Two things we’re all trying to do as runners, right?!

Historically as distance runners we’ve been told to eat carbs and more carbs… And don’t get me wrong: carbs are our muscle’s primary source of fuel. Our muscle’s LOVE carbs (I mean, how can they not – that Cherry Berry Recovery Shake is SO delicious?!!).

The thing is though, our muscle and liver glycogen stores tap out at about 2000 calories – definitely not enough to get through a long, hard workout where you burn through your stores pretty quickly (faster than you can keep up with on-course nutrition). However, when it comes to stored fat, we have tens of thousands of calories saved up. Even the leanest of runners has upwards of 40,000 fat calories stored! And here you thought fat was the pesky enemy! Quite the opposite actually. 

As many posts here have previously outlined, eating 65%-80% of your calories from fat in the days before a race (followed by a strategic carb load), you can train your body to more efficiently burn fatty acids for fuel, thereby preserving your body’s glycogen stores. For some, this obliterates the proverbial wall; for others, it pushes it farther back; and for most, it enables us to run stronger (and therefore faster) for longer.

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This brings me to…SeaWheeze 2015. August 15. Half Marathon. I was doing this. I was giving this a try. Granted, logic would indicate that this method of pre-race nutrition would be more suited for super endurance events (marathons, ultra marathons and longer distance triathlons), but since I know that everybody is different and what works for one person doesn’t work for the next, I wasn’t willing to experiment before my BIG focus race in Eugene, Oregon in May (remember the one where I BQ’d? Yeah no… I wasn’t willing to try anything new-fangled before that). And since it looked like plenty of others had experienced success with fat-loading for the half marathon, I picked one that I had been training to go fast but that I wouldn’t have been devastated if for some reason my fat-loading experiment knocked me out.

August 2 was day ONE. My shelves were stocked with eggs, coconut and olive oil (extra virgin please), coconut milk, avocados, organic ground beef (no lean in this shopping cart), chicken thighs (with skin), leafy greens, wild salmon and enough hemp hearts and chia seeds to overflow my Vitamix. Mysteriously missing were my beloved bananas, tart cherry juice, hummus, Mary’s crackers, Ezekiel toast and oatmeal. Seemed awfully backwards to me. I just about pushed the cart into the back alley behind Whole Foods and started again… With the banana aisle.

Image 2And that’s the thing. You have to really be READY for this to work. I’d tried this crazy fat loading thing before and failed miserably both times: once ahead of the Rock n Roll Vancouver Half Marathon last fall, where I lasted 3 days with no recovery smoothie before I cracked and the second time before Scotiabank Half Marathon this year in June… Where I proudly managed 1.5 days before I ended up hiding in my kitchen scarfing down Mary’s crackers like were being discontinued.Never being one that gives up completely, this time I was determined to tough it out. It’s gotta get easier after all right?

I made myself my delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs in coconut oil, topped avocado and a handful of almonds (ya know…for some extra fat) and then headed out for my run. What could possibly go wrong right? Maybe not wrong, but what did happen was that I felt like I had zero energy, felt like my legs were a million pounds and my breakfast was sitting like a lump in my stomach. Oh yeah… Great strategy.

But I’d been forewarned that this most likely was going to happen. So I stuck it out. Salmon salad with olive oil for lunch; and coconut oil, kale and grass fed ground beef for dinner. Check. Day 2… Repeat. And with cashews jumping around in my belly, I headed out for yet another epic struggle of a run. So far, I was not personally convinced, BUT I’d read enough literature and knew enough to NOT give up yet!!!

Day 3 rolls around… And I felt like I’d just spent the past 6 months in a desert because I’M SO THIRSTY!!!!! And have to go to the bathroom SO MUCH!! What gives?!?! I have to say, it was rather inconvenient. That’s when it hit me: it was WORKING… it was actually working. My body was burning through its glycogen stores since as I was not giving it any from my diet and with it I was shedding the 3g to 4g of water stored up with every gram of glycogen. I had a slight headache and low energy feeling, which made me realize WOW… I really was carb-addicted. That experience made me realize that you can become addicted to even healthy carbs.

ImageBut then something really funny happens on Day 4. I woke up, and made my Fat Bomb Smoothie Bowl (super yum, by the way), headed out for my run…and I felt fine. Just like normal. I sailed through the run. My headache is gone.

Track Saturday rolls around and I was scared. Because how was I supposed to run fast on a diet of coconut oil and almond butter? And Coach had a big workout of 5- one mile repeats all at a sub-7:00 pace (that’s speedy for me). So I went out and just CRUSHED the workout!! Before I knew it, I’d made it through 10 days of 80% calories from fast and not ONE banana or date had crossed my lips! Days 11-13 I followed a menu of high, clean carbs which is standard eat2run pre-race protocol. I headed to bed the night before race day, with a belly full of carbs, ready to race and curious as to how this was going to turn out.

Race day dawned an absolutely PERFECT running day: overcast, damp (but not raining) and cool. I toed the line and BOOM! Off I went…. And here’s how it all played out:

I have NEVER, EVER (not in 10 years of running) felt this strong during a race. I pulled up to my pace group from 6 minutes BACK (long story…) and then PASSED them! The entire second half, I would just find someone ahead of me, reel them in and pick them off… With what felt like minimal effort. I was having an absolute BLAST out there. Then I looked down, and realized I had only ONE km to go! And not only was I on pace for my goal of sub-1:40, I was way ahead of it! The race passed in the blink of an eye and I crossed the finish line in 1:37:51 to celebratory high fives from four people at the finish line who said they tried to keep up with me but couldn’t! I was sold. I had trained my body to run faster and stronger and so it did. I had fat-loaded to push the wall so far back that I never even saw it!

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I am ecstatic over the major PB (another goal crush for sure) and I’m also pretty convinced the fat-loading protocol can work well for the distance runner. But I was sure to celebrate post-race the best way I know how: with an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and carb-rich Cherry Berry Recovery Smoothie (with extra banana of course).

Train Smart, Rest Well and Race Strong… and Run Happy!


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