I’ve been hearing a lot of stories lately from people in the low-carb athlete community who tend to adhere to an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to diet and exercise. They hear that low carb …
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 145, of Running Lean. My name is Patrick McGilvray, the weight loss coach for runners and today, all or nothing is not always best. So I’ve been hearing a lot of stories lately from people in the low carb athletic community, who really tend to adhere to an all or nothing mentality when it comes to their diet and how they exercise.
So they might hear that low carb is a good way to go. And so they’re like zero carbs all the time. And that’s how they do it. And that’s kind of what they’re putting out there in the stories. They’re telling you just about no carbs, no carbs, no carbs. They might hear that training in the fasted state has certain benefits, which I’ll be talking about that in a minute, and it absolutely does; but then they do all their workouts fasted, no matter what, all of them all the time.
So today, I want to address these principles, these beliefs that I think some people have, because I think it’s important to understand when the all or nothing approach should be embraced and when it should be avoided. So in this episode, I’m going to explain why all or nothing is not always best, especially when it comes to nutrition and exercise for the endurance athlete.
So when should you use fuel for workouts? When should you add carbs around those workouts? How much fuel, how many carbs? What types of carbs? These are all great questions. And they require more information, they require more context, you can’t just answer these questions for everyone the same way because we’re all different. Everyone is different.
And we each need to figure out the right formula, right for what is going to work for you as an individual. It’s like building the perfect recipe around fuel, fuel timing, the types of exercises, you’re doing your exercise intensities, your rest, recovery, all that stuff matters. And it’s all different for each person, there’s not one recipe that’s going to work perfectly for every individual. This is why I do what I do. This is why I’m a coach.
This is why I work one on one with my clients to help you figure out the right recipe to help you figure out the right recipe that’s going to get you to your fitness goals, get you to your weight loss goals and help you improve your health overall. The only way to figure all this stuff out is really by kind of trying some things, seeing what works and then of course correcting right it’s trial and error.
And having a coach there to guide you through this process every step of the way is going to make it so much easier. So if you’re looking for that guidance, the support, the encouragement that you get from a coach, the motivation and the accountability apply to join the Running Lean coaching project. To learn more just go to runningleancoaching.com/apply. I would love to have you join me in my unique weight loss coaching program for runners the Running Lean coaching project where the project is as always you.
Alright, so let’s get into this all or nothing approach here. Okay, and why I’m talking about this today is because I’ve been hearing a lot about people that embrace the low carb approach to endurance sports. And I love this approach. Obviously, I talk about this all the time. And they also talk about fasted workouts and they and they talk about doing all of their workouts fasted all the time.
And when I hear these things, when I hear people talk about zero carbs and carbs being bad and you have to avoid all carbs all the time. And when I hear about people doing all their workouts fasted all the time, it kind of makes me cringe just a little bit. And maybe I’ve kind of promoted some of this by talking about how I’ve done a marathon.
Well, actually I’ve done like two marathons and 50k all with zero calories fasted just to say like, hey, you know, you can do this right? You don’t need carbs to run, you know, it’s kind of fun. I tried to prove a point, you know, but maybe people think that this is like, the only way to go and it really isn’t. Okay. So a low carb approach to endurance sports does not mean zero carbs.
And training in the fasted state at times doesn’t mean you have to do all of your workouts fasted, and it doesn’t mean that you never fuel for anything. Okay, so I wanted to talk about this today and really kind of shed some light, especially in these two areas, when it comes to nutrition.
And the low carb approach, I want to make sure we understand that there are times when you will want to use some strategic carbohydrates to fuel your workouts and, and then adding fuel for workouts and not necessarily doing everything in the fasted state. Now, there’s benefits to doing these things to doing a low carb approach, or kind of a zero carb approach at times. There’s also benefits to training in the fasted state at times. But it doesn’t mean we do it all the time.
And it doesn’t mean that we never use carbs or never use fuel for our workouts. So I want to make sure that we get a better idea of when it’s okay to do these things. And when it’s okay to experiment with adding in some fuels, and especially adding some carbohydrates to help improve our performance to help improve our fitness. Because they’re not, as you know, carbs are not the enemy.
Carbs are not evil, carbs are not bad. Yes, the types of carbs you use does matter. And I’ll talk about that in a minute. But just remember that all or nothing is not always best, okay, and all or nothing is definitely not how we need to do, how we need to do all this stuff. Okay, so I just want to shed some light on this so that we can be successful and do it in a way that can support us.
And we can add some carbs and add some fuel and not have to do all this stuff. Totally fasted or unfasted, or zero carbs, it’s not a zero carb approach, I’ve never really talked about that being the only way to go, okay. So, all these things matter. And I kind of touched on this at the beginning here, all these things depend on you as an individual.
So being fat adapted just means it kind of means different things to different people. And being a fat adapted athlete is going to look different for somebody who maybe they’re training for their first 5k. And so they’re doing like a couch to 5k program and they’re just getting started with running. And they’re doing most of their runs at a very low intensity, a very low heart rate. And they’re losing weight in the process. And they’re feeling amazing. That might be a great place for someone to do a lot of workouts fasted and to really not dip into the carbs too much, okay.
But if you’re somebody who is, you know, training for your fastest marathon, and you’re trying to qualify for Boston, and you’ve got to shave, you know, 15 minutes off your marathon time, your intensity level is going to be high, your training is going to be high. And for higher intensity levels and longer training sessions and more intense longer training sessions especially, you will absolutely want to fuel for those things.
And you do not have to do those things fasted. So being fat adapted means different things for different people, we’re all a little bit different. We have to accept and acknowledge this. And then all these different differences in our goals in our training levels and our fitness levels in our gender like men and women need to feel a little bit differently for these things. So all these things matter.
And we have to look at this as an experiment of one and you’ll hear me say this probably 10 times today, because an experiment of one is always how we approach all of this stuff when it comes to changing your diet, losing weight, getting faster, you know, getting stronger, we all have to do this and play around with some things and figure out what works best for us. Okay, so first I want to talk about carbs.
So the first principle that I kind of hear people get into is, you know, oh, low carb, that means no carbs, zero carbs. And as athletes, we can use carbs. And we can time our carbs around our workouts and it’s not going to kick us out of fat burning mode.
It’s not going to, you know, ruin what you’re doing here and it’s not going to mean you’re starting from scratch. I’ve heard some people ask that question where Oh, you know, ate some carbs. Does that mean I’m not fat adapted anymore? It’s like no, absolutely not. It doesn’t mean that at all.
Getting fat adapted means you’re burning fat really efficiently. you’ve trained your body to burn fat efficiently as athletes and especially if you want to increase your performance and increase your fitness. It’s a good idea to use some carbs and time them around your workouts and improve your metabolic flexibility, you want to be metabolically flexible, you want to be able to use both carbs and fat as fuel efficiently. Why not?
Why would you just rely on fat as a fuel source? Fat is a great fuel source and, and you can really get really efficient at burning fat even at higher intensities, but we don’t have to use just fat as fuel, we can absolutely use carbs, okay. So if your goal, again, you’re gonna, you want to crush your fastest half marathon, different phases of that training cycle will require you to increase your carbohydrate intake, especially around those workouts, you know, and maybe even on a daily basis as your training cycle increases.
So if you’re, you know, if you’re doing the lower carb approach, and your goal is to lose weight, and you’re probably in that 30 to 50 grams of carbs a day kind of mode, or whatever, and that kind of works for you, you know,if your intensity is increasing in your workouts, and you’re really crushing some more intense harder workouts, you might be in that 80 to 100 grams of carbs, a day kind of mode, you know, and, and it’s not going to kick you out of fat burning mode, and it’s not going to impair your performance, if anything, it’s going to give you that extra gear, when your intensity increases.
So initially, we do want to keep our carbs low and get fat adapted. And then over time, we want to start to slowly kind of ramp up our carbs, as your body responds positively to the changes, you want to ramp up your carbohydrate intake, depending on the intensity levels of your training. And this does not mean that we’re going to just go crazy and eat, you know, just you know, whatever you like to eat, that’s like pure sugar and junk food, like we’re not talking about that.
We’re talking about using real whole foods, sources of carbohydrate and some slow burning carbohydrates in order to improve your running performance. So remember that, you know, when we this whole low carb approach is to help regulate blood sugar, it’s to help, you know keep your blood sugar from from spiking and crashing, to keep your insulin levels normal instead of because when your blood sugar spikes, insulin spikes, and then you’re you’re in that fat storage mode, you know, you’re burning, you’re burning the sugar, you’re burning sugar and you’re storing fat and we need to get blood sugar normal.
We need to stop the spikes and crashes in the blood sugar, stop the spikes and crashes in the insulin levels so that your body can start burning fat instead of burning all the carbohydrates that you’re eating. Okay. Think of this like a fire. I love this analogy. So sugar, it’s like kindling, right? It burns first. It’s the first fuel source your body will use. It burns very quickly. But it’s not sustainable. It depletes rapidly and then you’re left with nothing. Okay? So sugar’s like kindling, it burns quickly, it burns first, but it doesn’t burn very long. It’s just it’s boom, burns and it’s gone.
Whereas fat burning is like the logs you put on the fire right, it takes a little bit longer to get going. But once it’s burning, it’s going to last a very, very long time. And to achieve this log burning to achieve the fat burning, we need to get rid of the sugar and the refined carbs and the processed junk food and the carbage, I like to call it, and we need to get into the fat burning, we need to get into the log burning.
And once we do that, you will have steady energy and you will have plenty of energy to fuel your you know lower intensity workouts especially at the beginning, okay, but that does not mean you never use any kind of carbs to improve, okay. And again, what we’re after is metabolic flexibility, the ability to burn both types of fuel sugar and fat very effectively.
Humans are really good fat burners, we’re, we’re naturally good fat burners, it’s our natural state of being. And we’ve just gotten away from that state. This junk food is processed carbohydrates, the carbage that we’ve been eating, it now makes up over 50% of the calories that we consume here in the United States. And that number is rising every single year. We’ve become a nation of sugar eaters, and therefore sugar burners.
So we’re not burning fat naturally anymore. And we’re gaining weight and you know, experiencing all kinds of metabolic issues and diseases and you know, obesity and all these other things, right? So we all were talking about doing things like lower the carbohydrate intake, get rid of the junk food, get rid of the garbage and start eating real whole foods. Doesn’t mean zero carbs. It does mean we will ditch a lot of the problematic carbs But we want to use some types of carbohydrates and time them around our workout so that we get the benefits of the added sugar intake from the added carbohydrate intake.
Because when you’re burning fat efficiently and when you’re exercising at a higher intensity, you’re going to burn through that sugar that you’re taking in, you’re going to burn through the carbohydrates that you’re fueling with pretty quickly. And then you’re back into fat burning again. Okay, so it’s not like you just like, oh, you’re just always burning sugar or always fat, you’re always burning both, right, but at different levels, different intensities, okay.
So when you increase your exercise intensity, you might also need to increase your carb intake. And this is where most people kind of freak out a little bit, right, they’re like, oh, my gosh, no way, I don’t want to eat any carbs, I’m gonna kick myself out of fat burning mode, I’m gonna be fat adapted, you know, low carb, low carb, zero carb.
But listen, don’t freak out, there’s a way to do this in a way that it’s not gonna really affect your body’s ability to burn fat, you can still burn fat and burn sugar at the same time, okay, if most of your training is done at a low heart rate and a lower intensity, then there’s not much of a need to add carbs as fuel, you can continue to burn fat efficiently.
And if you’re just doing some, some lower intensity stuff, lower heart rate stuff, you’re gonna be fine, you can improve your fitness, you know, you can get a little bit you know, stronger as a runner, and you can get a little bit faster, and that’s going to be fine. But if you really want to make some gains, you want to improve fitness, you get stronger, get faster, workout at higher intensities, higher heart rates, then some strategic carbs around those workouts will give you the energy that you need to improve and to and to go a little harder.
And to have that extra gear that you need to hit those faster times and hit that PR, okay. And it doesn’t mean that you have to go and start downing all the gu’s and gels and sports drinks that are laden with high fructose corn syrup and all this junk, right? There are fuels that are specifically made for the fat adapted athlete, and there’s brands like Muir energy, and that’s M-U-I-R, there’s S-fuels, there’s you can and these all make products that have slow burning carbohydrate fuels designed for the low carb athlete, so check out those brands, but really, we’re talking like 12 to 20 grams of slow burning carbs per hour might be enough to give you that little bit of an extra edge that you need.
You know, 20 grams of carbs is like a medium size banana, this is not a lot of fuel we’re talking about here, okay, so don’t freak out about this too much. But consider trying some carbohydrates around your workouts and see what works for you. Again, we’re all different. This is an experiment of one, try it and see how it feels and how it works for you.
If your goal is just to lose weight, if you’re just interested in losing weight, you’re not interested in improving your running or running longer, then stick to the low carb approach. You know, again, it doesn’t mean zero carbs, but just stick to the low carb, you know, nutrition regimen. Keeping in mind that, you know, some people will require slightly more carbs than others. And everybody’s a little different, you know.
In talking about like pre menopausal women versus postmenopausal women, pre menopausal women will probably need a little bit more carbs, especially around certain days of their cycle. I’m actually going to put together a podcast on this topic and just kind of talk about how women are different from men and how they require a little bit of a different approach when it comes to nutrition and around fitness.
Because you guys men and women are different, did you know that we are very different and we all have some slightly different needs. And I’ve been really doing some research on this lately. And it’s a fascinating topic to me. And I’m learning a lot about how women respond differently to dietary changes in intensity levels, changes in their workouts and things like that.
So we can all do this, we can all kind of maintain that kind of a lower carb approach. But we don’t have to do it with zero carbs. Okay, so when it comes to carbs, especially for the endurance athlete, all or nothing is definitely not always best. Adding in some carbs as fuel around your workouts is recommended for most people for most low carb athletes.
Especially if you want to improve your performance, okay, you can still maintain efficient fat burning, you can still lose weight, you can still prioritize fat as that main fuel source you still get to those, those logs that you’re burning, okay, but you’re just adding in a little bit of kindling to help get things going. Okay. And you’ll burn through the carbs during your workout.
So you’re not going to be like storing a lot of extra energy as fat or anything like that. Okay? So for the first sort of all or nothing, zero carbs versus some carbs, definitely, you know, give it a shot, try fueling some workouts and see how it goes.
The other all or nothing mentality is around fasting and whether or not we should be doing all of our workouts in that fasted state. And I’ve just seen a lot of people talking about this lately. And I wanted to really clear this one up too, because I think there’s some misconceptions here as well.
So, fasting, the way I’m talking about here is basically when you train in the fasted state, meaning you haven’t had any kind of fuel, any food at all, really no calories, for, you know, typically like 4 to 12 hours prior to working out. So let’s say you typically what most people do is they eat dinner, the night before they wake up in the morning, it’s been, you know, 12 hours, since they last ate, they might have a cup of coffee, and then they go and do a workout that would be considered training in the fasted state, they do a workout, they don’t use any kind of fuel.
And this is pretty, pretty effective. You know, this is a good way of ramping up, the fat burning is a good way of getting your body fat adapted. So fasting has lots of benefits and training in this state has many, many benefits, right? And please understand that fasting this way is like super normal and supernatural, it’s just kind of our natural state as humans.
One of the things I’ve heard recently, which I think is really fascinating is that the human body is designed to process digest, metabolize about two meals a day, you know, one to two meals a day is about all that we’re really supposed to be metabolizing because our pancreas can’t work more than that. And our liver has issues if we are processing more than that.
So the systems of the human body are naturally designed for eating a couple of times a day, and that’s about it. So fasting is really a natural state, again, burning fat and fasting very natural states for humans to be in, okay. But we’ve gotten away from that. We have to, you know, adhere to this three meals a day, plus eight snacks and dessert, you know, it’s like we’re eating 13 times a day or whatever. It’s ridiculous, right? We don’t need to eat that often. Right?
But so fasting, working out in the fasted state just means that you’re working out without added calories without fuel for that workout. Okay, so it helps you to get fat adapted, it helps you to stay fat adapted helps you to burn more body fat, no fuel coming in, means your body is prioritizing that stored body fat as fuel.
And the low carb approach and fasting like this and doing workouts in that fasted state all help to maintain the blood sugar like I mentioned earlier, they help to keep the insulin levels down, help to prioritize fat as fuel will help you to tap into that stored body fat as fuel. These are all amazing benefits of working out in that fasted state.
You know, the fasted workouts also help improve your fat burning efficiency. And even at higher intensities. So for most normal carb adapted athletes, you know, they’ll burn fat up to about 60-65% of their VO2 max and then they kind of start prioritizing just carbohydrates as fuel, they need carbohydrates fuel.
But as fat adapted athletes, we can actually push our fat burning up into the 75, 80 90% range. And there are some elite athletes who even go above 90% and fat burning, so 90% of their VO2 max. So this is like, massively cool, right? This is massively cool because we can not only burn fat at the lower intensities, but we are also really good at burning fat at the higher intensities, okay, so this is going to help you improve your higher intensity running is going to indefinitely improve your endurance more fat burning means you’re just going to be able to go longer without bonking, which is super amazing.
And then also training in the fastest state helps to improve your hormonal responses. So more adrenaline gets produced when you’re working out in the fasted state, which means you can go a little bit harder. It’s almost like a performance enhancing tool, you know, and then more growth hormone gets produced to help you recover faster from those workouts.
So this combination of you can go harder and recover faster is pretty awesome. And then people are like, well, yeah, so I want to do that all the time. But here’s the thing. Is it necessary or is it a good idea to always do all of your workouts in that fasted state? Yeah, there’s some great benefits to doing it. But it isn’t necessary to do it all the time.
So, I recommend people definitely train in that fasted state to build the fat adaptation and to really get efficient at burning fat. Okay, and this could take a couple of weeks or a couple of months. Again, we’re all an experiment of one. Everybody’s preferences are a little bit different. Some people love training in that fasted state, some people just don’t, they just don’t like doing it doesn’t feel good. I’ve heard people that kind of get sick when they train in the fasted state, they need some fuel, okay, great, then you’re the kind of person that would benefit from some fuel, okay.
But if you find that you, your workouts, maybe you’re taking a hit like you’ve hit a plateau in your fitness and you’re not improving, maybe you’re not getting faster, maybe you’re not recovering as quickly. Maybe your heart rate isn’t where you want it to be, it’s staying super high, you might want to consider adding in some fuel for your workouts, you know.
But I do love the idea of doing kind of the bulk of your training, especially at the beginning, in this fasted state, when you’re trying to get fat adapted, it just helps you to get through that initial phase, that first phase of getting your body trained to burn fat more efficiently. It really helps with that whole process. Okay?
So it’s a good way to begin, but it doesn’t mean you have to do it all the time. So how do you know like, when it’s time to add some fuel to your workouts, keep track of your workouts, log your workouts in a log or journal. Maybe you use an app. But you know, look at things like heart rate, pace, how you felt during that workout recovery time, you know, how long does it take you to recover? And then don’t be afraid to just try some fuel and see how it affects you.
Everybody’s a little bit different. So you got to try something and see if it works. If it does, great. If not, then try something else. And what kinds of fuel are we talking about here? Well, I just mentioned using carbs as fuel, so that’s always an option. But it doesn’t even have to be carbs. Because when you’re fat adapted, you can take advantage of using exogenous fat as fuel so fat that you eat, you know, fat and protein actually can work pretty beautifully as a fuel source.
Okay, so remember, we burn sugar first, and we can burn like fat that we get in our diet and then we kind of burn that stored body fat. So if we you know, don’t have carbs coming in, we’ll be able to take advantage of the some of the fat that we’re getting in our diet so we can actually use some fat as fuel before a workout.
And this might be as simple as putting MCT oil and heavy cream and some collagen in your coffee pre workout. That’s it. Like that could be how you fuel a workout. And remember all the brands that I mentioned above Muir energy, S-fuels you can they all have products for like pre workout, for during a workout, for post workout, they have bars that have fat and protein, you could do an hour before workout, they have drink mixes with fat and amino acids and electrolytes that you can do during a workout they have kind of a gel product that you can use during longer training runs.
And you could do those, you know, maybe they have 12 to 20 grams of carbs, you can do one every hour or so you know, and all these products. Again, they’re designed with the low carb athlete in mind, they’re designed to keep you in the fat burning mode to still prioritize fat burning, but give your body that little bit of extra energy that you need for those longer runs are those more intense workouts. So fat is fuel is a good approach and it’s something that you definitely want to try. And you might find that a little bit is all you need.
Okay, so again, like when should you start adding fuel and stop doing all your workouts fasted, again, just kind of play around with when you if your training is starting to tank a little bit or if you’re plateauing. But if you’re training for something like a marathon, and you’re up to 12 to 15 miles and you’re doing those fasted and you’re feeling pretty good, you might want to try you know, going forward from that point on, you might want to try fueling and see how it goes for you and try a couple of different products.
Try a couple of different fueling approaches, because here’s the thing, you don’t want to wait till race day right to try to fuel for your race. If you’re deciding you’re going to use fuel on race day. Don’t wait till race day to experiment with it; you have to play around with it ahead of time. You have to practice fueling strategies during your training, right? Nothing new on race day ever. Okay?
So that could be where you decide that feeling might be a good strategy for you. workouts that are over 90 minutes is a benchmark a lot of people use when they start to choose like maybe the fat protein combo for for the most part. And then as your intensity increases, your carb intake should increase as well. So the fuel sources, the carbohydrate, fuel sources can increase as your intensity levels increase, or even if you’re going super long, maybe you’re training for an ultra 50k 100k 100 miles, something like that, you’re definitely going to want to have, you definitely asked us fuel for something like that. And that that approach is going to be very different from what it looks like for, you know, fueling for a half marathon or something like that, right.
So, when it comes to fasted training, just remember, all or nothing, not always best. And really, what we’re going for with all of this is metabolic flexibility, we want to be able to burn both fat and sugar very effectively, right, we want to train our bodies to burn both fuel sources really well, so that we have the ability to use both types of fuel and improve our running, improve our fitness, improve our strength, improve our intensity, and become the badass runners that we know we can be okay.
So to do this does not mean that we have to do everything, all or nothing, it doesn’t mean we have to do all our training fast, it doesn’t mean we have to do zero carbs, it means we can use proper types of fuel and, and train fueled and, and use carbs in a very strategic way to help us and not hurt us. It doesn’t have to kick us out of fat burning mode, it doesn’t have to, you know, ruin what we’re doing here, right?
So, and as always, if you want some help with any of this or all of this, apply for coaching you and I will work closely together, we’ll put together a personalized plan for you. I’ll help you stay on track so you can achieve those goals so you can achieve your weight loss goals, your fitness goals, we can do it all cool. Just go to runningleancoaching.com/apply and I’ll see you over in the Running Lean coaching project. Alright, that’s all I got for you today. Love you all keep on Running Lean and I will talk to you soon.
If you’re a runner and you’ve been struggling to lose weight or you keep losing and gaining the same 10 pounds over and over again. Or you’re finally ready to get to your natural weight and stay there for good this time then I have something you will love. I’ve created a powerful new training just for you called running lean for life. You’ll learn exactly how to transform yourself into a lean fat-burning running machine. So you can run without bonking, lose weight without calorie counting and develop the habits required to make it last for life. To get this free training right now go to runningleanpodcast.com/leanforlife and start your transformation today.