As runners, we’ve been told over the last 40 years or so that the only way to fuel for running is with carbohydrates. Loads and loads of carbs. Eat lots of carbs every day, carb load the day …
My name is Patrick McGilvray, and I’m an experienced marathoner, ultra runner, Sports Nutritionist, Master Life Coach, and weight loss coach for runners. I’ve dedicated my life to helping runners just like you properly fuel your body and your mind. So you can get leaner, get stronger, run faster, and run longer than you ever thought possible. This is Running Lean.
Hey there, and welcome to episode 216 of Running Lean. My name is Patrick McGilvray, The Weight Loss Coach for Runners and today, an alternative way to fuel long-distance running. So as runners, we’ve been told over the last 40 years or so that the only way to fuel for running is with carbohydrates, carbs, loads and loads of carbs.
Eat lots of carbs every day, carbo-load the day before you run, carb up in the morning pre-run, consume ample carbs during your run. And then of course, you’re gonna want some carbs for recovery after your run.
This has been the standard approach since the 1980s. But it’s definitely not the only way to do things. The thing is, this approach just doesn’t work for everyone. Some people like me gain a lot of weight eating all those carbs regardless of how much we run. So in this episode, I offer an alternative way to fuel long-distance running one that doesn’t cause you to gain all that weight in the process.
But first, I know I share a lot of information here on the podcast about nutrition, weight loss, and improving your running. If you’re new to the podcast, it can probably feel a little overwhelming. And you’re like I don’t even know where to start with all this.
And if that sounds like you, totally cool, I got you covered. I created a free training. It’s about an hour long. It’s a video that you can watch, you can check it out anytime it’s called 5 Simple Steps To Becoming A Leaner Stronge Runner.
In this video, you’re gonna learn the basics of nutrition, strength, endurance, and mindset, all these things that are geared towards you the long-distance runner. So if you’re ready to get leaner, and if you’re ready to get stronger, if you’re ready to become the most badass version of yourself that I know you are, then this free training is exactly what you need to get started. Just go to runningleancoaching.com and click on Free Training.
Okay, so let’s talk about an alternative way to fuel long-distance running. Why do I want to talk about this today? Because I keep hearing from runners and I keep reading articles online and social media posts for runners that talk about eating all the carbs.
And I’m like, gosh, are we still talking about this? Since the 1980s, the carb-loading approach has been the gold standard, so to speak for runners just eat all the carbs, and you’re going to find that most coaches teach this approach.
Most experts, quote-unquote experts, teach this approach. When I got my running, coaching certification, when I went through my coaching certification program, I was taught this approach. And this approach is fine. And it does work for some people. But it doesn’t work for everybody.
For some of us, like me, eating all those carbs caused us to gain a lot of weight in the process. You know, and I’m not against having carbohydrates. In fact, I think using carbohydrates strategically for running is a great tool.
It’s a really good tool that you have in your tool belt, why not use the carbohydrates as fuel, especially for the higher intensity stuff or races? But eating all the carbs all the time, is what we’ve been taught and it just doesn’t work for everybody.
You know, I’m one of those people that is very sensitive to carbohydrates. You know, I eat carbs and I gain weight. And so if I just take this standard approach to fueling for long-distance running, I ballooned up 40 more pounds, 50 more pounds, whatever.
You know, I’ve shared this before where I was training for ultra marathons, I was running all the time, I was doing a ton of mileage and gaining weight in the process. You can’t outrun the wrong diet, right?
So for me the all carbs all the time approach while I loved it. Who doesn’t love eating carbs all the time? Oh, pizza, sure. Ice cream. Yep, that’s going to, I mean, I’m a runner, so I gotta eat this stuff. Right? Spaghetti all the time. Like I was just I was eating tons of bread and pasta. And sugar, like this was my diet. You know, it was like a 90% carbohydrates, you know?
And I just kept gaining weight and gaining weight and I was like wow, even though I was running a ton, you know, I was training for ultra marathons and running ultra marathons regularly and then gaining weight in the process does not make sense, right?
You are supposed to lose weight when you start training. Well, the wrong diet won’t allow that to happen, right, so the wrong diet will cause the weight to continually stack up. So for me, this this all carbs all the time approach is one that I tried, and it just didn’t work for me.
You know, I also found that I would crash and burn during long-distance events. And I’m like, what’s going on here, because I’m using all the fuel. You know, I’m taking all the gels and I’m eating, I’m pre-loading with carbs and do all this stuff. But I keep crashing and burning and mile 18 to 22 of a marathon, you know.
And I was like this, this isn’t working, like there’s got to be a different approach here. Okay. And there is, there are, there is an alternative approach, there are probably multiple other approaches that you can take.
But there’s one specific that I want to talk about today, one that doesn’t require eating all the carbs all the time, and one that doesn’t require you to gain a bunch of weight in the process, if that’s you.
And listen, if you’re the kind of person that can eat all those carbs, and not gain any weight, and it works really well for you, then keep doing your thing. Keep doing that. My hat’s off to you. But if you’re somebody that’s like Patrick, that really doesn’t work for me, then listen up, because here’s the different approach you want to take.
You want to get yourself fat-adapted. So we’re talking about this concept of fat adaptation. Fat adaptation means that you train your body to burn your stored body fat as fuel for long-distance running.
When you stop eating all the sugar and all the carbs constantly, you give your body a chance to tap into your stored body fat as fuel. So the way this works, essentially, is think about your different fuel sources in your body as like a fuel tank, and the top layer of that fuel tank is what’s gets burned first.
And that top layer is going to be sugar, essentially glucose, glycogen, that kind of stuff. So that is going to be burned first. And as long as that’s available, that is what’s going to be constantly burned. Okay.
And so the concept, but behind all carbs all the time thing is like you want to keep that top layer of the tank filled at all times so that you’re constantly always burning that. The problem is that when you run out of that, maybe you get to mile 20 of the marathon and you just haven’t done a good job of keeping up with the amount of carbs that you need for that event, or you haven’t trained yourself to metabolize carbs that to that extent.
That top layer of the tank is going to run out and then you’re going to crash because you don’t, you don’t have access to that lower portion of the gas tank, which is the biggest portion, I’m going to say it’s probably like 90% of that gas tank is going to be your fat stores.
But you don’t have access to that because you haven’t trained your body to use that fat as fuel, like the pathways are not there. So what happens is that when you stop eating the sugar and the carbs all the time?
You start to train your body to use the alternative fuel source, the fat stores the stored body fat, you know, we all eat some, you know, we all eat food and some of that energy that we consume gets used towards working muscles, some of that energy gets stored as fat to be used later as fuel.
The problem is we’ve just gotten so far away from using our stored body fat as fuel, it’s kind of like we just constantly put wood on the woodpile, but we’re never burning the wood it just keeps stacking up that’s our fat stores just getting bigger and bigger.
So when you train yourself to tap into those stored to your stored body fat as a fuel, now you have this like almost unlimited fuel source for running. So that’s the concept of fat-adaptation, you’re removing the sugar and the carbs that that initial, like, let’s say 10%.
And I’m kind of making these numbers up but just think of it like you know, we only have the capacity to store like 2000 calories as of energy as glucose but we have our body fat can can store hundreds of thousands of calories of energy as stored body fat, so just know that yeah, it’s probably like 10% and 90%, something like that. It’s probably more like 99 and 1% or something okay.
Anyway, so we want to get ourselves fat-adapted we want to be able to adapt to using that stored body fat as fuel. Okay, now, people hear this and they’re like, oh, that’s crazy. That’s just some weird fringe thing, it’s probably a fad, and it’s gonna go away.
Listen, we’ve been doing this for millennia, as human beings, we’ve been doing it for more than millennia, for like millions of years. Fat Burning is our natural state as human beings. You know, we store some of that energy we consume as body fat, and we use it when we’re not eating.
This is the way the human body is designed, you know, there’s periods of feasting, and there’s periods of fasting during those periods of fasting, we should be tapping into our stored body fat as fuel. Humans are really good at this, we are naturally really good at using fat as fuel.
And we’re naturally good distance runners like we used to be hunter-gatherers, we used to be a persistence Hunter, so we would, we would chase down prey, and we would outrun them not from a speed perspective, but from a time perspective like we would, you know, cut an antelope out of the herd or whatever.
And they might be able to outrun us in the short distance, but over time, like over hours and days, we would run them down to where they just would die of exhaustion. You know, poor antelope. I know, but good for us, because now we have this nutrient-dense meal that would that would sustain us, you know.
So the human body is designed to use that stored body fat as fuel during those times when we didn’t have the other food coming in. Okay. So to say that, oh, you have to consume all the carbs, all the pasta, all the bread all the time, just to be able to run?
That’s actually the new thing. That’s actually the weird fad thing that we’ve only been doing for the last 40 years or so. Right? I mean, isn’t that interesting that people look at this fat-burning thing. And they’re like, oh, you know, that’s not the way you should do it.
And I’m like, well, listen, we’ve been amazing runners for millions of years as humans and we never had to eat all the pasta and bread and gels and stuff like that. Why now? Should we have to do that? Okay.
So not only is it not a fad thing, or some weird approach, like there are elite runners that have adopted this approach for years and years and years, and they’re at the top of their game, you know, I’m gonna mention a couple of them here.
And I’ve talked about these guys before on the podcast here. And there are countless others too, but these guys just are kind of like the top, you know, the top 1% or whatever. Jeff Browning. He’s an ultra runner. He’s finished nearly 200 ultra marathons in his career. He’s had over 40 career ultra marathon wins 29 of those at the 100 mile plus distance, making him second in the world for the most 100 mile wins in history.
Ranked seven times in the top 10 of ultra running magazines, North American Ultra Runner of the year, ranked third in Ultra running magazines, North American Ultra Runner of the decade. He builds multiple, multiple course records, including the Moab 240 course record, and he is a low carb, low carb, high-fat kind of he takes that approach to his training.
You know, he’s very vocal about his fat-burning approach, his fat-adapted approach to ultra running, you know, he doesn’t consume all the sugars and all the gels and all the pasta and all the carbs. All right.
And another one that comes to mind is Mike McKnight. He’s an ultra runner. He specializes in the 200 mile distance. And he posed several wins every year for different events. He’s kind of known because he ran 118 Miles while consuming zero calories, zero calories. He ran 118 miles. He was just relying on his own stored body fat for fuel and he’s a pretty, pretty lean guy. You know? He’s amazing.
And I actually tried this, I was like, hey, you know, I’m gonna I’m gonna give this a shot. I didn’t do 180 miles but I did two marathons and a 50k ultra marathon on zero calories just to say like, Oh, can I even do this? Yeah, I could do it and I was fine. Really no problems whatsoever.
And then of course, there’s Zach Bitter. He’s an American ultramarathon runner. He specializes in the 100 miler distance and he’s done like over 60 ultras. He’s known for his low-carb diet, which he uses for training and racing nutrition. He had the record for the 100 miler. One point of 11 hours, 19 minutes and 13 seconds. I’m gonna say that one more time because that is a crazy number, he ran 100 miles and 11 hours in 90 minutes. That’s insane.
He’s the holder of the 12-hour American record at 104.88 miles. He claims the 100-mile and 12-hour world records at the Six Days in the Dome event in Milwaukee in 2019. Competed for team USA world 100 Kilometer team three times.
So these are guys, these are just some of the guys who are benefiting and their, their elite athletes who are at the top of their game. And they’re taking this low-carb approach to distance running. They’re not consuming all the carbs all the time. Yeah, they do use some carbs for their events.
And they’ll tell you, you know, you can check them out, or their websites, check them out on social media, they have podcasts and stuff like that, you can totally listen to what these guys say. And they’ll tell you they do like maybe, you know, 30 to 50 grams of carbs per hour for these events, which is not a lot. But they’re not eating all the carbs all the time. They’re taking this fat adaptation approach to running and it’s working really, really well for them. Okay.
Another thing to consider here is that if your goal is to lose weight, then this is a great way to lose weight. Because listen, if you want to lose weight, what do you got to do? You have to burn a fat, right?
We’re not talking about weight loss, we’re talking about fat loss. So you have to burn the fat. If you are burning the fat, you are losing weight. And it’s really hard to burn the fat when you’re on that super high-carb runner’s type of diet, right?
Because of the whole fuel source prioritization, you know, you’re going to burn through the glucose first, then you’re going to tap into the fat but you gotta like, You got to eliminate that top 1% or whatever of your fuel tank.
So if fat burning is the key to weight loss, which it is, wouldn’t you want to do it? It that makes fat burning the priority? Yes, you would. When you eat for fat-burning, you’re running improves your endurance and improves and you lose weight in the process. Right?
So if you’re somebody who is interested in losing weight, this approach might work for you, it may be something you want to consider. Okay, and and listen, when we talk about a low-carb approach to fueling a low-carb diet, a low-carb, you know, nutrition approach; a lot of people think, you know, you’re talking about keto, or doing no carbs or carnivore or something like that.
No, it’s not about that. It’s about finding the right amount of carbs that keeps you burning fat, while also helping you’re running because carbs are helpful for running, right? You don’t have to be Mike McKnight and do the zero-calorie thing. But it’s cool that the human body can do that, you know.
That’s fat-adaptation. And it’s most impressive, like what that guy does, right? And by the way, this guy is not fat, right? You don’t need a ton of body fat, to be able to use your own stored body fat as fuel.
Even the leanest of athletes can benefit from fat adaptation as an approach. Okay, so this doesn’t mean that you’re never eating any carbs, you can still eat some carbs. I use carbs for fuel, and I encourage my clients to use carbs for fuel, but we prefer like whole food sources of carbs, you know, we might be talking about bananas or sweet potatoes or rice or something like that, right?
And obviously, everybody’s a little bit different. And you have to kind of experiment with what works for you. But there’s, there’s tons of great options just from the natural world like and sticking with whole food sources of carbohydrates is great.
Now I get it that when you’re in any event, like you can’t carry a bunch of sweet potatoes or bananas with you. I mean, it’s just really not that convenient. But what’s cool is that there are a bunch of brands out there that cater to the low-carb endurance athlete, and they have entire product lines that are geared towards helping you fuel for running while maintaining that fat-burning state.
So like Hammer Nutrition is one you can use. S-Fuels, Muir energy, and there are a bunch of other brands out there and new ones coming out all the time. So that’s a very encouraging thing that there are companies out there that are that are gearing their product lines towards the low carb endurance athlete. Okay.
Now, just like I said, at the beginning of this podcast that the high-carb approach isn’t for everyone, just like that, like the fat-adapted approach probably isn’t for everyone. So I’m not going to come out here and say that everybody should do this. And everybody will benefit from this.
Some people do really fine eating all the carbs and the sugar and the gels, and they never have to worry about gaining weight. And if that’s you, that is amazing. That’s definitely not me. But if you struggle with losing weight, and you love running, then this might be the approach that you want to try.
You know, the only way you can tell if it works through you, or if you enjoy it, or if you can do this as a lifestyle as to give it a shot, you might see the weight start to come off, you might experience running feeling easier than ever before.
You might see your energy levels are better all day long, no more afternoon crashes, you might begin to think more clearly be able to focus and concentrate better. And as always, if you want help with any of this, you can always reach out to me you can go to my website runningleancoaching.com.
Every day I help runners get fat-adapted, lose weight, improve their running performance and make all this a lifestyle. So whatever approach you take cool, but it has to be something that is sustainable for you. Because if it’s not sustainable for you, it’s not going to work because this stuff takes time.
You know, if you want to lose weight, and you want to improve your diet, improve your nutrition, improve your running and your nutrition for running specifically, then you’re gonna have to take a little bit of time to figure out what works for you. And it has to be something that you can do sustainably long term, right?
So I work with my clients, we work together to make sure whatever they’re doing is something that they can do on their own like for good, or it’s not about quick fixes, but lifestyle changes, right being fit and healthy isn’t a destination we’re trying to get to. It’s how we live our life. Okay. Consider the fat-adapted approach. I think it’s amazing. It works really well for me and countless people that I work with. Give it a shot. You never know. That’s all I got for you today. Love you all, keep on Running Lean and I will talk to you soon.