A lot of people make the assumption that if you’re a low-carb runner, it means you don't ever eat any carbs at all. But this simply isn’t true. There’s a time and place for carbs in your diet, …
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 148 of Running Lean. My name is Patrick McGilvray, the weight loss coach for runners today, determining your carbohydrate tolerance. So a lot of people make this assumption that if you’re a low carb athlete, that means that you don’t ever eat any carbs at all. And this simply isn’t true.
I’ve talked about this before, here on the podcast, there’s definitely a time and place for carbs in your diet, but you need to understand how carbs affect you as an individual, before you start piling all those sweet potatoes onto your plate. Okay, we all have differing levels of tolerance. When it comes to carbohydrates.
Some people can handle more than others without any negative side effects at all. Others need to keep their carb intake fairly low, or they experience all kinds of issues. And I’ll talk about that in a minute. Carbohydrates are not bad. But understanding how you tolerate them can definitely prevent a lot of the common issues and a lot of the negative side effects that a lot of people experience.
So here today, I’m going to explain the importance of determining your carbohydrate tolerance, so that you can lose weight and prove your endurance and basically achieve all of your health and fitness goals. And for a lot of people figuring out how many carbs is going to be right for you as an individual is challenging. It’s kind of confusing.
And this is why this is a big part of what I do as the weight loss coach for runners. So we’re not only going to focus on how many carbs you’re eating, but we want to focus on the timing of those carbs as well. We want to make sure that you’re getting the best bang for your buck, so to speak, without any of the issues that come along with increasing carbs in your diet.
So it’s not an all or nothing kind of thing we need to figure out, we need to do a little bit of experimenting, we do a little trial and error. And we got to figure out what is the right plan, what is the right sort of recipe for you around workouts, how many carbs the timing of your carbs. But listen, having a coach there to help you make sense of all this and help you figure it out. It’s just like hitting the easy button on all this for you.
Okay, and this is my jam. This is what I do every single day. So if you’re ready to just stop struggling and hit that easy button, I’m here for you. Okay, to learn more, just go to runningleancoaching.com/apply fill out a short application, you and I will get on a call and we’ll see if the Running Lean coaching project is a good fit for you. I would love to have you in my unique weight loss coaching program for runners, the Running Lean coaching project where the project is you just go to runningleancoaching.com/apply to get started.
And if I sound like I’m a little nasally today, it’s because I have had this head cold for like 10 days now. And I rarely get sick. The last time I was sick was at the beginning of 2020 before COVID I probably had COVID at the time, but I haven’t had any kind of head cold or anything since then. And this one has been lingering. And it’s kind of I’m ready for this to be done because it’s driving me crazy. Not only do I sound nasally, I feel like my head is still going to explode.
I’m trying not to take any medication. I did that for a few days at the beginning. But that stuff just messes me up. And I feel like I just want my body to fight this off and do what it needs to do naturally. But one thing about this is that for about a week there I completely lost my sense of smell and taste. And I did a COVID test because I was like man, I think I probably have COVID because I had a fever and, you know, coughing and lost my sense of smell and taste. Tested negative for COVID. So that’s not what it is. It’s just a head cold that is really messing with my whole system here.
So, this past week again, though, the reason I’m bringing this up is because this past weekend, we’re here in Cincinnati, we had this festival called the Coffee Fest. And it was, it’s one of those things where we have lots of festivals here in the summer, you know, we have, and they’re all revolved around drinking, right? They’re all about wine tasting and beer fests. And or, you know, we have Oktoberfest Cincinnati, which is really popular here. And it’s just a bunch of junk food and beer.
And finally, there’s something where I can go and actually enjoy. This is my jam. I love coffee, I love good coffee, I drink very high quality coffee, I grind my own beans. And I’m very particular about coffee. And I’m like, this is going to be perfect. So I got these tickets. And I’m like, man, I hope I can actually taste some of this coffee, and showed up at Coffee Fest, and I’m walking around the different vendors and, and trying their coffee and trying to smell it.
I like I could not smell or taste anything. I mean, nothing at all. And, you know, I felt bad because I was like, man, I would really be enjoying this. If I could smell or taste any of this. So much of taste is is through your nose, right how you smell things. So I’m at this beautiful place with music playing. It’s a beautiful place. All these amazing coffees around, I’m tasting the coffee. And they’re explaining to me the different notes of citrus and floral and cocoa.
And I’m just like, yeah, I was just going to take your word for it because I can’t taste anything at all. It’s such a bummer. But my sense of smell and taste are coming back, I can definitely smell things now. And my taste is coming back. And I love food too. I love to eat. And eating food has not been extremely enjoyable. To me, it’s just been like, I better eat some food because I need the energy to, you know, get through my workouts and such. But it was nothing that I could taste at all.
So what a weird experience to go through, I’ve never had this before, I’ve never lost my sense of taste and smell like that before. So I don’t recommend it. I’m just gonna be honest with you. It’s no fun. But I’m getting through this, but I’m hoping that, you know, by the next time I record my next podcast, I will sound so nasally but um, I’m about apologizing, you’re just gonna have to deal with it for right now. Okay.
So here’s what I want to talk about today. I have been talking to a lot of runners, and you know, a lot of people are into this higher training cycle, you know, higher training parts of their training cycle, because we’ve got all of our fall races happening these days, you know, New York Marathon is, you know, about 10 days away. So a lot of people are talking about training and you know, how there may be increasing carbs, or we’re having these conversations in our client calls and our coaching calls about how to match your carb intake along with your training. Okay.
And for everybody that I talked to, it’s a little bit different. We all have a different tolerance for carbohydrates. Okay. And I want to explain, first of all, what this means, like what does it mean that you can tolerate, quote, unquote, like tolerate carbs or not tolerate carbs? You know, I’ve talked before that a lot of people have some level of intolerance.
For carbohydrates. I think the human body in general, has some level of intolerance for carbohydrates, and some people are more susceptible to that than others more sensitive to that intolerance than others. Okay? So when I talk about tolerance, what I’m really talking about is how many carbs you can eat that you can ingest without any negative side effects.
So we have to make this assumption that to some level carbs are somewhat toxic to the human body, okay, they have an element of toxicity, and it’s very much like alcohol, when you think about it this way. Alcohol in small amounts is slightly toxic to the human body, but is it really very harmful? I mean, you can argue why this might be harmful, even in small amounts.
But from a metabolic standpoint, even in small amounts, carbohydrates do have an effect on the human body and there’s some negative effects of carbohydrates on the human body that I really want to address here today. Because when we talk about whether you can tolerate more carbs or not? We need to be looking at these negative side effects that a lot of people experience when they are eating a high carb diet, or moderate carbohydrate diet.
Okay, now, a lot of people means that the majority of people have some sort of intolerance to carbohydrates. And they experience one or more of these negative side effects that I’m going to talk about here in just a second. But at higher amounts, all of these things get exacerbated.
Okay, and so in higher amounts, people experience more of these issues, and people experience them and in greater degrees, okay, so some of the dysfunction that I’m talking about here are things like bloating, inflammation, blood sugar spikes, and then crashes, weight gain, the inability to lose weight. These are all side effects of carbohydrates, carbohydrate intake, sleep issues, chronic stress, incessant hunger, cravings for more carbohydrates, sugar cravings, brain fog, the inability to think and concentrate, gas, constipation, diarrhea, high heart rate while exercising, the inability to recover quickly from harder workouts.
Endurance issues where your endurance just tanks, you know, you’re out there running and you hit the wall. Things like irritability, grumpiness, anxiety, depression, these are all symptoms of high carbohydrate intake. And of course, there’s a bigger list of things that will happen as a result of, of years and years of high carb intake, we start to get into metabolic diseases.
But these are just very common, these are not weird one off things I’m talking about here. These are all very common side effects, very common symptoms of carbohydrate intolerance. And a lot of people experienced these side effects, especially when they’re ingesting carbs and higher amounts, okay. And as we get older, we become even more carbohydrate intolerant, meaning that as we get older, we probably most of us can’t handle carbs like we did when we were younger.
So lowering your carb intake is going to be especially helpful and beneficial for the aging athlete if you’re in your 40s 50s 60s and beyond, okay, so really, determining your individual carbohydrate tolerance is going to be key to you, not just becoming a fat adapted runner, but also to help you to become the healthiest and fittest human being that you can possibly be.
Alright, we need to figure out what works for you from a carbohydrate standpoint, if you want to be the healthiest person that you can be. Okay, so let’s look at one common scenario. A common scenario would be somebody that is interested in losing weight, and I talked to so many people who are runners who are trying to lose weight and having a hard time with it, they’re struggling with it.
Most people that listen to this podcast are probably people that fit into that category. Right? Right. So if you’re a runner and you struggled with your weight, then this is, you know, a pretty common scenario. Okay, so let’s look at what changes you might make and how to get a feel for what your carb carb tolerance might be.
Okay, so let’s say you have been eating that standard runner’s diet that I’ve talked about in the past the standard runners diet is the all carbs all the time diet hits, where your your carb loading basically every single day, you’re pre fueling with carbs, you’re fueling during running with carbs, your post fueling with carbs. And you have it in your head, you can just eat anything you want at any time because you’re a runner.
So I call this the carbterian diet. And you might be sick of doing that and that’s not working for you any more. So you stop doing that, okay? And you decide, okay, I’m gonna, I’m going to try this Patrick, I’m gonna I’m gonna adopt a low carb approach here, I’m gonna, I’m gonna adopt a low carb diet, I’m gonna stop eating all the carbs and like you say, and I’m going to try and lose weight.
You know, your goals might be to lose weight to improve your body composition, you know, to lose fat weight, gain muscle weight, improve your endurance, you, you want to reduce inflammation and all those things, right? So you have these very specific goals, and you decide to go on a quote unquote low carb diet.
And so you might decrease your carb intake to like 100 to 150 grams of carbs a day. And this may not seem very low to most people. But most runners are probably eating between 5 and 800 grams of carbs a day, you heard me correctly, 5-800 grams of carbs per day, then remember, the dosage determines the poison, right.
So eating a few grams of carbs a day, not a big deal, but 5 to 800 grams of carbs a day is gonna have a significant impact on your metabolism and on your health in general. And I did a little bit of research into this and looked at what traditional running coaches recommend, and traditional running coaches will recommend from a carbohydrate standpoint, two and a half to four and a half grams of carbs, for every pound of bodyweight, you know, to kind of depending on where you are in your training cycle, but the higher end of this is so crazy.
So for somebody like me, so I weigh about 180 pounds these days, okay? For me, if I’m at that, you know, four and a half grams of carbs, for every pound of body weight, that is 110 grams of carbs per day, that the traditional, you know, conventional wisdom will tell you is appropriate, right. And I used to eat this way, I did.
And it was amazing. Like, I loved eating all those carbs, like I was like, bring it on, you know, I was training for ultra marathons and running several marathons a year and several ultra marathons a year. And I was gaining a lot of weight. Until you know, after a few years, I realized that I was 40 pounds overweight, and I was like this is stupid, like I can’t keep doing this, I can’t go on this way.
Like there has to be a different way of doing this, right. So just keep in mind that 100 to 150 grams of carbs a day, is pretty low compared to where a lot of people start out with this thing, okay, so you reduce your carbs, you’re down to 100, let’s say you’re about 150 grams a day, and you’re like, you know, I’m feeling better, my inflammation is going down, I don’t feel so bloated all the time, I’m feeling pretty good. I like I’ve got pretty good energy all day long, like, I’m actually losing a few pounds too, you know, so you stick with that approach for a while.
And then after some time, your weight loss might kind of stall out. So you hit a sort of a plateau. And maybe your endurance, so your running isn’t really improving much, right. So at that 150 grams level, your body is probably still relying mostly on carbs as the main fuel source, right, so you’re really not tapping into your own stored body fat as your main fuel source, you’re still relying on carbs, you might feel better, you might lose some weight.
And this may be a place where you want to stay and totally fine if that’s what you want for yourself, okay? Fat adaptation, probably not going to happen at this level of carbs. Okay, in order to get fat adapted, you have to reduce your carbs. And we’ll talk about that in a second here. But if you’re okay, like just with a lower carb approach, and you’re at that level, 150 grams, something like that, you still get to eat a lot of food that maybe you have always eaten, and it’s pretty easy to do, and pretty easy to maintain this.
Great, that’s a good place for you to be, then stick with that, if that works for you. Okay, but if you really want to get fat burning kicked into gear, if you want to become fat adapted as a runner, meaning you’re burning mostly fat instead of sugar, then you you’re going to have to drop the carb intake, okay, if you really want to get weight loss moving, you’re going to have to drop your carb intake, you know, you might be better suited in that 50 to 100 grams per day range, something like that, okay.
For me, I tend to stick with a pretty low carb approach most of the time. And then what I do is I add carbs around certain workouts or when my training load increases. And this works really well for me. And one thing I need to say right here is like we don’t need to be tracking these grams of carbs every single day, for the rest of our lives. That’s not what we’re about here.
We do want to get a feel for where we are, and then we can start to use our intuition and eat the kinds of foods that we know will work for us and avoid the kinds of foods we know don’t work for us. Okay. And that’s a big part of what I do in my coaching with people as individuals as we get to this place where All of this just becomes intuitive for you. And it just becomes how you live your life.
Like I understand what I can and can’t eat, I understand how many carbs I’m eating without even having to enter anything into an app or track any of my food. I know what I’m doing. And I know how to add extra carbs around certain workouts, or when my training load increases, to give me a little bit of an edge, and to help me with that higher gear with that higher intensity training. So that’s a beautiful place to be and, you know, if you want help with that, I can help you get there.
Okay, but just understand that, for the most part, I tend to stick with a pretty low carb approach most of the time, okay. So I do something that’s probably more like a low carb, keto carnivore type of diet, okay, I’m probably in the 20 to 30 grams of carbs total for most days, right, this is really low. And a lot of people don’t like doing this. They don’t think it’s sustainable, or they think it’s too hard or too restrictive. Like, that’s fine. But I love it.
I feel amazing when I’m super low carb like this. But then around certain workouts, I’m going to add 20 to 40 grams of carbs. So on days, when I up my training, and I have a really intense workout, I might be in the 50 to 75 grams of carbs for that day. But here’s something that’s interesting is we have to earn our carbs. Okay?
So you earn your carbs around high intensity workouts or longer workouts, okay. And, like I said, there isn’t exactly some right number that I’m shooting for. Because I don’t really track this anymore. I go about how I feel, and what I need for this particular workout that I’m about to embark on here.
Okay, so I tie my carbs around my workouts. And this is key, you have to understand this, because during a high intensity interval session, for example, I’m going to burn through that sugar that’s in my system pretty quickly. So I may raise my blood sugar by eating some carbs, but I’m essentially going to burn through that sugar very, very quickly during that workout. So I’m earning my carbs for that workout.
And then my blood sugar comes back down the rest of the day, and I’m back into that total fat burning zone again, right, and I’m back down into that, you know, keto, carnivore, whatever you want to call it, right, I don’t really have a name for that, because I don’t really track ketones and things like that, right.
So just understand that you gotta earn your carbs, and we want to time them around our workouts, okay. And lower intensity workouts basically require fewer carbs, because you’re staying in that fat burning zone, right? Usually, that’s gonna be zones one, two, and three, even, you can even get into zone four, and still be burning a lot of fat if you’re an experienced fat adapted athlete.
And I know that there are some elite athletes out there, you know, top of their game in the world who are burning mostly fat still in zones for even in the zone five, like this is like up to 80 90% of their vo to max, they are still burning mostly fat, which is amazing, which is so so amazing.
But for most of us, you know, we’re going to be into that zone one, two, and three, possibly a little bit into zone four, okay. But for those higher intensity workouts or workouts that are going to be, for me, maybe longer than two, three hours, I’m going to add more carbs to help me defend against that glycogen depletion. And just to keep my glycogen levels high, so that I can continue to perform at the level that I want to perform at.
So it doesn’t take much for me during a long workout. It doesn’t take much in the way of carbs during long workout for me to get the fuel that I need. And for me to experience that little burst of energy and a little bit of rocket fuel.
So for me, I might be adding 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrate fuel per hour, which is totally sufficient for me. There are some athletes who, like you know, talked about Zach Bitter in the past, elite ultra marathoner, right? He does something more in the 40 to 50 grams of carbs per hour. And he’s running these world record paces like he’s trying to set a world record for the 100 mile or something like that, right? This is not something that I’m going to ever have to worry about.
Okay, so, my guess is you probably won’t either, which is fine, but it’s interesting that he only needs 40 or 50 grams per hour and he can still perform as one of the top ultra runners in the world. Okay? So, for me, and I’ve experimented with this for years, I know what works for me, I know what works for me and my goals.
For me, I can keep my carbs super low, increase them around workouts, add some carbs during some higher intensity or longer workouts. And, and I know what to do when I’m in these situations, and I and I just intuitively know how to keep things working for me, okay, and I know what to do when things aren’t working the way I’d like them to work.
Okay. So for example, a couple of months ago, I, I hate even admitting this, but a couple months ago, I fell running through on the sidewalk and tripped over a big crack in the sidewalk. I was not even paying attention. I went down hard, blamed up my knee, so my knee was all swollen. And for a couple of days, I could run still, and I was like, oh, I think I’m gonna be okay. But it just got worse and, and I really had to cut back on my running because any running at all hurt my knee like crazy.
And I’ve done this before, in the past, both my knees are kind of messed up from falling down. Especially trail running. You got to avoid those roots and rocks and stuff when your trail running makes it a much more adventurous type of running for sure. But so both my knees are a little bit jacked up. But you know, it’s not enough to keep me from running, you know, I get some pain every now and then. But not a big deal.
So these last 60 days, though, I have not been able to run without a significant amount of pain. Now, the pain is getting better. And I can actually start to increase my mileage. But in the last two months, I’ve run around 30 miles total. And I was getting closer to around 30 miles per week before I fell. Okay, so anyway, because of this, I’ve had to really lower my cardio, you know, I’ve had a lower my, my running, not exercising as much. And I just know intuitively that when I get to this place where I am having some periods of inactivity, or I’m not able to exercise, then I’m gonna just drop my carbs to like zero basically, right?
So during this period, these last 60 days, I’ve been very low carb, keto carnivore-ish, right. And, and I feel really good, I feel lean, I’m not gaining weight, right. And as soon as my weekly mileage went from that 25-30 miles a week down to like three to five miles a week, because that’s about all I can handle these days. I just decreased the carbs, I just dropped the carbs altogether, basically. Right. So I’ve been focusing more on weight training more elliptical rower to get that kind of endorphin rush that I love from running.
And I’m getting better, my knees feeling better, my runs feel much better. There’s much less pain, not quite where I want to be. I was scheduled to do a half marathon this fall, I had to cancel because I can’t do it. There’s no way I can run that far right now. Without my knee just like going ballistic on me here. So for me, I know that when I get into these places where my training intensity goes down, so does my carb intake, I feel really good.
And then when I increase my intensity again, those carbs will go back up again, in order to make sure that I am like I said, defending against that muscle glycogen. And then I’m giving my body the energy that I need to crush those harder workouts. All right. So this is what I want you to do. This is all an experiment, okay? There’s no right or wrong way to do this. There’s no magic number that is perfect for you or for everybody. It’s all an experiment, okay?
And it’s a fun thing to do. Like we get to play around with this. You get to decide what you want to do for yourself. As long as what you’re doing is working for you. You’re feeling good, your inflammation is down, you’re losing weight, running is improving, your endurance is improving. You’re not experiencing the inflammation and bloating and all those side effects that I mentioned. Your body composition is improving.
Sleeping is good, your energy levels are good. Brain fog is lifted. All those things are happening then you’re doing it right. And I don’t care what that number is for you. Okay, listen, we’ve been doing this low carb approach to our diet as human beings for like two and a half million years of evolution is always the way we’ve done it. We were never a high carbohydrate society. So this is just getting back to our roots. This is just getting back to the natural order of things as human beings, okay?
So first of all determine your goals, what is it you want for yourself? If you want to lose weight, you want to improve your running, you want better sleep? Do you want more energy throughout the day? Do you want all those things? So determine what goals you want for yourself, make some changes, try it for a while, track your progress and see what works for you. And then look at your results. Okay, is this working or not? What is working, what’s not working.
And look at all these different metrics you know about weight loss and your body composition, sleeping and energy and all these things, right. And if you’re noticing things aren’t working the way you want to change something, you know, maybe add more carbs or drop your carbs lower. You know, experiment with this, have fun with this. It’s all a fun experiment, right?
And basically, you’re just going to rinse and repeat this process until you feel like you have a good handle on what works for you. And that’s what this is all about. Determining your carbohydrate tolerance means that you get to decide what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. Okay, and as always, if you want help with this, I’m here for you. We’ll figure it out together. We’ll put together a plan. I’ll help you stay on track, we’ll hit that easy button, and together we’ll crush those goals. Okay. That’s all I got for you today. Love you all, keep on Running Lean, and I will talk to you soon.
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