The journey from carb dependency to being a fat adapted endurance athlete

Stuart's been a client of mine since November 2017. In this blog he's going to share what his experience has been going from being a carb dependent athlete for a very long time to meeting me and having his nutritional world flipped upside down. Enjoy!

Stuart MacAdam:

In 2013, 17 hours and 100km into the Sri Chinmoy 24-hour walk, I collapsed into a lawn chair, utterly exhausted.

“C’mon Stuart, keep going! You’re doing well” one of the support team members for another runner yelled, clapping me on.

It is just one of those challenging moments I thought. Get up! Small steps. Rising once again, I fumbled around the track one more time. Sinking into the chair for a second time, the reality hit home: I had run out of energy. Another five hours passed before I got up to try and cover some more ground before the 24 hours was up. Snacking on potato chips, marshmallows, Powerade, Party Mix lollies and pretzels during the event had backfired big time. My goal of walking 125km in that time was shattered.

It would be a long time before I was able to acknowledge why I ran out of energy because I made the same mistake a few months later with the Two Oceans Marathon. This time it I snacked on chocolate bars, Powerade and jelly beans. I was hoping to finish the event in under five hours. I finished more than 30 minutes over the goal time I had set for myself.

The pursuit of excellence in any endurance sport requires an incredible level of focus and dedication. There are plenty of early mornings and a lot of late nights. You make a lot of sacrifices in other areas of your life to get better. Despite all the pain, suffering and discomfort you feel during training and the event, you realize at the end of each event just how lucky you are to have been through it all. You learn more about your ability to endure, persevere and deal with setbacks than you would learn doing anything else.

You also learn quite quickly whether the nutritional plan you have been following during your training and during the event has been a resounding success or a spectacular failure.

Preparing for the 24-hour walk next October, I knew I needed to change my diet and quickly.

Julius Ceaser said, “experience is the teacher of all things.” I needed a nutritionist who not only knew about healthy eating but also someone who had a passion for endurance sports; someone who had run longer distances and gone on hikes for hours/days at a time and could use that experience to develop the best nutrition plan possible for me and my goals.

It just so happened that a mutual friend of ours shared this card two days after I started looking.

 
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I had a look at Laurel’s Facebook page, website and read a couple of her blog posts. After having a good chuckle at her husband’s guest blog post -which you can read here – I signed up for an initial consultation with her. She didn’t have age or experience on her side…but you must have faith that you are making the right decision. Working with a younger person, you get someone that is more willing and eager to try new things.

Before we sat down for the consult, I was required to map out what I ate over a three-day period. Without going into all the details, let’s just say that some of my indulgences included Tim-Tams, Weet-bix and One Square Meal bars. Yes, three and a half years on, I was still heavily reliant on sugar to fuel my endurance endeavors.

Laurel is a vibrant, enthusiastic and compassionate person. Her philosophy of “feel as good as you look” rings true. I immediately connected with her and enjoyed the approach she took in understanding my goals and developing an effective nutrition plan rather than a DIET.

There were two options Laurel presented and she was not going to push me one way or the other. I could have continued with an upgraded carbohydrate-based approach. Or, I could look at becoming a fat adapted athlete. Eating lots of healthy fats, moderate protein, but scaling back significantly on the carbs. It sounded like a huge adjustment for someone who had relied mainly on sugar to get through events.

When you are in an endurance event and you start getting cramps from something you ate or drank, you give it up straight away. There is no time to phase it out, otherwise, your performance dips and you might not even finish the event. I tended to look at this new diet in the same lens. There wasn’t going to be a transition phase. I needed to transform into a fat adapted athlete immediately.

Once Laurel sent me the notes, it was pretty much go, go, go.

The first week was phenomenally difficult. I didn’t quite realize how much of my diet was reliant on carbohydrates. It didn’t help either that most of what was sold at the supermarket was also primarily carbohydrates. After the first week though, my body began to adapt.

Every day or two, Laurel would check in to see how things were going; how was I feeling? What were my energy levels like? Was I facing any challenges or difficulties? It’s moments like this when you realize that you’ve made the right decision. Because the value Laurel adds goes so far beyond her nutrition advice. She is one of your biggest supporters and will encourage you to keep at it, especially in that extremely difficult first week. For those who have struggled with comfort eating and are overweight, this makes a massive difference.

I have really noticed a change in my energy levels, which are a lot more consistent throughout the day. This new way of eating has given me the increased confidence to take my training and performance to the next level. After a while, the cravings for sugars and carbs disappear too. Well, except for the One Square Meal Bars. Those things are delicious.

It has been awesome working with Laurel. She is so passionate about all things nutrition.

If you want to adopt a healthier way of eating, chat with Laurel today. As the great author, Paulo Cuelho once said: “One day you will wake up & there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”

A few months back I took Stuart on the Tongariro Crossing hike as part of one of his training sessions.

Start to finish: 22km, 854m elevation gain completed in just over 5 hours. Included in the time were tons of photo ops and very few food breaks. It's amazing how much more the  human body can do with an intentional nutrition and recovery plan tailored to specific goals!