Ultra Endurance Athlete Starting Out


(Nathan Toben) #1

Hello all.

I’ve been reading the forums every night this week as I start Keto and thought I’d lay out my circumstances and intentions in hopes of minimizing the amount of mistakes I will most surely make embarking on this endeavor.

I “workout” 50-60 hours a week. That is right. 50-60 hours. I am a food courier by day and by morning and weekend I am an ultra trail runner. My runs are aerobic (right now) and my work delivering food on bike is variable aerobic/anaerobic.

Biking = 36-40hrs/week.
Running = 12-18hrs/week.

These variables are fixed and so any suggestion to “do less,” while I appreciate any advice, will fall on deaf legs.

I am 7 days in to my first honest foray into fat adaption.

I am 5’10, 165lbs, 15% body fat (according to this scale in my house which is probably off by ±2-3%). I have been a food courier for 2 years and an ultrarunner for 4 years having completed 1 50k, 2 50-milers, and 4 100-milers.

My 100-mile PR is 21:57:05 set on a 96deg at altitude.

My interest in Keto stems from the fact that I am 33 years old, single, truly in love with endurance and I want to commit to my health more substantially to change my body composition so that I can soar down mountains and ascend with greater ease. THere is no better feeling in my life than that.

So. I have been eating about 2% carbs, 70-75% Fat and 20-25% protein. Needless to say that with my workload and this macro breakdown, I have been bonked all week. Headaches for the first couple days, mental fog for the next couple and it still lingers, and both my runs and my shifts on the bike are suffering. This I expected and I am more interested in making an expedited transition to fat adaption rather than a protracted one with slightly better training/work.

What I want to know from you all is just what advice you have for someone in my scenario. I’d really appreciate it if you respected that the running and biking are fixed variables and maybe if you could put yourself in my shoes, with your wisdom and experience, and tell me what you would do so that I am nourishing my body, aiding in adaptations, and gradually moving towards lower body fat %. How should I reintroduce carbs?

My current foods (eggs, oils, meats) are very plain so to help kill off bacteria left over from the sports nutrition of my last 100-miler. I am not of the mind to fuel with fats during my events. I will continue to do my overdistance runs training with complex carbohydrates but my meals before and after will be very low carb or zero carb. That said, for this adaption phase, I will withhold from those race fuels for the next month or so as all my miles will be at MAF (aerobic) paces.

For someone with my workload, I imagine if I am properly fat adapted, my system may be able to utilize well-timed carbs up to 100-200g carbs/day and stil remain in ketosis. At least this is what I have gleened from the limited amount of stuff I can find.

I am just also grateful to have found you guys and read your stories of progress and transcendence. I am also a person in recovery and have found that when I remove sugar from my life and start to fuel on ketones, my mental sobriety increases noticeably. Just a side note there.

Anyways, hello. My fellow trail runners call me Steep. I’m keeping calm…and I’m all ears!



(Adam Foard) #2

The ickyness you feel in the first week is probably due mostly to electrolyte imbalance. You need more sodium, potassium, and magnesium in keto.

You may want to revise the idea or carb loading for races after you’re fat adapted, the science says it will hurt more than help.

Some good resources:

The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance https://www.amazon.com/dp/0983490716/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_GpzsBbNZ67HSW

(Alec) #3

Some ideas:

  1. It will take a few more weeks to become decently fat adapted. Just ride through it, you will get there.
  2. Doing MAF training will help to ease you through it, good thinking.
  3. My advice re using carbs is to try doing some long runs with just fat and see how you go. You could use some carbs: some can make it work well, some can’t.
  4. Re salt: you need lots more on keto than on SAD, and with your activity regime, you need double or treble the rest of us, especially in the heat. Keep your electrolytes high/very high. This will also help to get through the keto flu. Keep your salts up.
  5. I know you want to lose bodyfat and lean down, but don’t be surprised if that doesn’t happen straight away. I think it is important that you do not undereat. You need calories and lots of them. Get healthy first, let your body decide when it wants to lean down.
  6. If I were you, I would be taking in at least the top end of the range of protein, if not slightly above. But most of your calories should come in fat.
  7. You won’t stay in ketosis by eating 100-200g of carbs, but if you burn that off in an hour or 2 on a long run, you won’t be out for long. But don’t worry about being in ketosis, that’s actually not that important. What is important is becoming fat adapted, and burning fat for fuel.

I may have a few more ideas later. But that’s enough for now. Good luck.

(Nathan Toben) #4

Thank you all for the advice so far. I put some Himalayan salt in my bottles today for my trail run and it was good. Physically I did not feel too bad after the initial lead legs warmed up and I got the blood circulating. But mentally I have very little motivation.

I did manage to do 3 sets of a calisthenics strength routine and feel proud I managed to do that despite each movement feeling much more difficult than when I was eating carbohydrates.

It came out to be about 2hrs of working out today. I did this fasted but then had a +2k cal lunch to break my 19hr fast. I don’t intend to do intermittent fasting very often for the adaptation phase but today it just happened.

I am tracking my calories and macros just to make sure I am doing this correctly and whenever I do that, there is an itch to end the day in a 500 cal deficit but I am going to take your advice and not worry about how the calories fall for the first few weeks, but rather, eat to satiety and make sure my fat is 80% -ish of my total calories and my carbs are < 20g a day.

I have the pee strips and often times they do not show ketones but I think that this is because I do not have excess ketones and am using them for energy instead.

Weight today is 166. Mood is even but not noteably “up”. I feel like I am retaining water despite having ample electrolytes but I trust its just my body in a holding pattern as its waiting to see what exactly my little schemes are for it ;). Keeping calm…

(PrimalRhino) #5

Not an ultra runner, I’m barley a runner. I dabble in endurance events. I do “GORUCK”, military inspired team oriented events 12-24+ hours/20-50+ miles. For me electrolyte balance is what was holding me back during training. Cramps and sluggishness. Extra salt, magnesium and potassium to fit your needs. It took me a couple months for things to level out. I currently take magnesium supplement daily and potassium after heavy training days or events and use salt heavily in my diet. My next event is this Friday night, Los Angeles GORUCK Heavy Operation Red Wings (the Lone Survivor Memorial).

(karen) #6

This is coming from someone who isn’t currently active, so take it with grain of salt. Well, take the grain of salt anyway, that much I know for sure. :grin:

Do you do any other form of cross training? Your activities are both strongly focused on legs/gluts. I’m wondering if one way of reducing body fat and upping muscle would be to focus a bit on core, arms chest, shoulders or upper back - probably won’t do squat for your chosen activities, but might be low hanging fruit in terms of body composition.

(Adam Foard) #7

Maybe get in touch with @Carikate ?

(Nathan Toben) #8

Yesterday, I ran in the afternoon and felt 5/10 energy-wise. The one positive from it was that I did not feel much stress after 90 minutes of moderate running. Also if I rev my pace even a little into the anaerobic range, I can feel the wall where carbs used to take over and so it keeps me running aerobicaly.

Afterwards, I came home and ate some eggs and meat in MCT oil and took a 2 hour nap. I woke feeling groggy but also feeling like I hadn’t run that day. The temperature was dropping outside and the sun was setting, so I put my shoes on and went for a light 4 mile run. The last half mile felt the easiest of the whole day.

Afterwards, I ate some lamb and eggs, I think I ate at a caloric surplus last night but my appetite is still kind of stressed out and all these foods are very calorically dense so it seems easy to eat +2k calories in a meal

Today I ran for an hour before my dog started overheating. I felt about the same if not a shade better than the day before. My weight is fluctuating a lot. Yesterday I was at 165 and today I was at 171. Probably constipated and retaining water with all the salt I am eating.’

Does all this sound normal-ish? Is it normal to gain some weight, perhaps get some bloat, sleep more, feel slightly more even with each passing day? I’m hoping my appetite falls in line with my energy expenditure. I do feel the sharp edges of my binge tendencies rounding out some.

Day 8 adapting. Lots of doubt but putting my attention towards relaxing, putting my feet up, preparing for the big work week ahead and just keeping on.

(LeeAnn Brooks) #9

Yes, it’s very normal. Since Keto is diuretic, you will notice weight fluxuates a lot more than on a typical diet. Watch for trends vs day to day changes.

Also, I know I said I’m no where near your league, but to give you an idea of how the adaptation phase works, I’ll give you a Little’s if my experience. Before starting Keto I was regularly running 4miles 3-4 times a week. The biggest reason for me starting Keto was I wanted to begin to train for a half marathon. I did one 2 years ago and it was brutal, so I wanted to find something to give me more endurance. I thought Keto would be the answer. By week 2, everytime I tried to run, I would feel so heavy and my legs would go to jelly. I could only muster a fast paced walk for 2 miles on my workouts. That’s how much I had digressed. Around week 4 I was finally able to start running again, but only up to 2 miles. Like you said there was a point where you could feel where you normally wouldn’t have carb take over like a “wall.” I would feel the strenght just drain from my legs and the jelly feeling come back. I’m convinced I was running the 2 miles on what was left of the glycogen stores and once it was gone, I could actually feel it leave my muscles. One week 5 I ran a 5k and I was miserable. But that was also the turning point. I started building up little by little from there. I still had a couple weird days where I hit a wall early on, but for the most part I was adding miles almost every run. I can always tell as soon as I wake up too if it’s going to be one of those days. My whole body feels run down. Luckily it’s pretty rare now.

Anyway, I just hit 11.6 miles for my long run, so well on my way to my half marathon goal.
I really wish I could work towards a full marathon, but I’ve decided to put that on hold till my son is out of school as I can barely carve out the time for training as is right now.

Maybe some day. You ultras really inspire me.

(Nathan Toben) #10

THank you @Anniegirl9! It is reassuring to hear journeys paralleling my own. 11.6 miles is awesome. I bet the extra boost of pinning on a bib and the cheers of the crowd and you will have an extraordinary day out there.

Yeah, I think that keto is coming from taking a hard objectivist lens on my life and goals. For the amount of activity I fill my life with, and how much of it is low-intensity, plus being prone to substance-dependency such as alcohol, drugs, sugar, pleasure of any kind, the steady-state mentality of ketosis and the reduction in inflammation and oxidative stress is the right fit for me in maintaining my health and lifestyle for years to come. One day at a time though. I trust there will come a run when I feel present and comfortable in my body but right now I feel heavy and sluggish, like I am taking two steps backward in order to go one step forward. But sometimes things have to get “worse” before they get “better”.


Hi Steep! Sounds like you are doing so many things the right way, specifically doing tons of research. I found that to be the most helpful - just reading EVERYTHING I could find, trying what seemed like it would help.

The electrolyte issue for us (ultrarunners) is HUGE! Getting enough salt, magnesium and potassium with high volume training is a must. I run between 120 - 180 miles per week, and if I get off on my electrolytes, I can still get a bit wonky (almost 9 months in).

Secondly, it took me way longer to get truly back to my original level of training comfortably than I’d heard it would, and even now I’m having to tweak my carb intake to make sure I can recover from long runs (I have an earlier post about this).

But, despite all of this, keto (with adaptation for high volume training) has been so amazing helpful with inflammation and energy stability that it has been worth all the extra effort.

Best of luck with your efforts, and keep us posted. :blush:

(Nathan Toben) #12

@Carikate oh man, awesome. High mileage runner superhero, I would love to ask you some questions along the way. I hope your training is going well.

Instead of waking at 5:30am this morning to get in the usual run and sauna before my bike courier shift, I slept in. Last night I overate but I have no indigestion and don’t feel too bad about it this morning. I do need to wait until I start to feel hungry though today so I am curious how long a fast that will become. Not going to try and push how long I go without food, just going to let it happen.

8hrs15mins on the bike today (including time in-shop when it slows between lunch and dinner). I hope to be useful to my co-workers, kind to the customers and when I get snubbed on tips, just take a deep breath, keep calm and pedal on.

(Nathan Toben) #13

Day 9 here. Notes on yesterday’s shift: 44 miles logged + stairclimbing/walking/standing

  1. Noticeable decrease in cortisol. Linked to change in diet? Linked to conscious de-stressing strategies?
  2. More in touch with even aerobic effort throughout my shift.
  3. Greater sweat rate. Saltier sweat.
  4. After eating a lot the night before, I waited for signals of hunger, and upon even a glimmer of hunger, broke fast with 3 tablespoons olive oil and 6 small boiled eggs, salted. This was at around 2pm (14hr fast). This actually tasted nourishing and filling and hunger subsided until dinner time.

I ate well last night but then went back for seconds and am paying for it a bit this morning. Although, when I would do this with simple carbohydrate-rich foods, I would experience a lot of bloat whereas this just feels like I am over fueled. I like what the ketoconnect duo say about the boiled egg test. A good strategy to check in with myself and find out if I have had enough to eat is ask myself, “would I eat a boiled egg right now?” I think if I had taken a deep breath and asked myself that last night, I could have recognized that I was sufficiently nourished and did not need to go back for more. It’s also expensive to overeat and I am hoping that gradually I will find that keto will supplement my ambitions to budget better.

Today: 2hr run + 30 minutes sauna + 4 sets calisthenics routine + 9hrs15mins courier shift. Phew.

Gonna need to check in with myself a lot today to make sure I am letting go of stress and carrying on so that I don’t bring that home with me tonight and sabotage my adaptations. I am eating probably way too much protein even for my work output and I hope that I can be more moderate throughout the day and then do the boiled egg test after eating mindfully at dinner tonight. Bringing salt shaker to work with me like a weirdo to stay on top of electrolytes ;). Journaling this helps and hope it speaks to someone else.

How are other high volume keto athletes doing today?

(Mike W.) #14

How do you know that you had a decrease in Cortisol?

(Nathan Toben) #15

@MiKetoAF just anecdotal observation that I had more heartrate variability and felt more chill and patient throughout the day.

(Todd Allen) #16

Those impedance scales don’t measure bodyfat %. They calculate it. It probably required knowing your age, sex and height. Then it measures your weight and computes the result based on tables of typical body composition for people of your sex, age and height. The impedance factor plays a small part and not enough to overcome the biases of the other factors if you aren’t statistically average - and as an ultra marathoner you probably aren’t. If you want to know your bodyfat % use a better method such as dexa or hydrostatic immersion.

(Nathan Toben) #17

great point @brownfat. I live on $15/day, are either of these, the dexa or hydrostatic immersion, something I can have done for free? If not, it falls outside of my interests and I am ok with my scale being a few percentage points off. If I get closer to race weight/composition then I might be motivated to do so so thank you for sharing that. Maybe there is some free/payed study at the university near me that I could opt for and get some free scans in the process.

(Todd Allen) #18

Price varies widely but typically cost $35 to $125. I’d think it is possible to get a free body composition analyses through a University study, I know a couple local Universities to me have the equipment, but you’d still have to get lucky to have them be running a study that you qualify for and want to participate in.

The second best way would be to use a tape measure or bodyfat calipers and a calculator such as here:

(Nathan Toben) #19

How does this look for a full day of running and biking? Too much protein?

Running = 90mins
Sauna = 20mins
Biking = 44miles
Calisthenics = 3 sets of 9 movements

It is not reasonable to try and figure out exactly how many calories I burn a day what with hopping on and off the bike, running staircases, variable intensities, heat, humidity, working in a hilly town etc. but a MFP conservative estimate is: 3,200 calories burned from exercise. This is typical for most days for me. So though the quantity of macros in grams appears to be a lot, I am actually even if not in a bit of a deficit for the day. Just trying to figure out how to set ranges for myself when my daily caloric burn is 3000-4000 calories?

@Carikate, what is your take on this nonsense?

(Nathan Toben) #20

Trusting in you guys’ advice, yesterday I brought my salt shaker and bottle of olive oil with me to work.

In the morning, I ran trails for about 90 minutes carrying two bottles of salted water. After easing through lead-legs, my body felt relaxed and my mood felt fine. My running form strangely seemed to feel more visible to my running mind and I was able to engage certain muscles that I often have a hard time locating in my gait cycle.

Then I got in the sauna for 20 minutes and noticed both an increase in sweat rate and heavier sweat droplets when compared to a few weeks ago.

Then throughout my shift on the bike, I kept my effort levels relatively even, spinning easy gears but not slacking by any means. At around 2pm, I took a few tablespoons of olive oil, some boiled eggs salted. Then at around 4-5pm, more olive oil. Then at around 6pm, one last hit of olive oil.

After my shift, I picked up a few things from the grocery store. Almost always, I cannot help myself and snack on something on the drive home from work and then sort of snack INTO dinner and snack after dinner or go back for seconds. Potentially as a result of staying on top of my fat intake throughout the day yesterday, I did not snack at all. I got home, unpacked, showered, swept the kitchen and put the laundry in, and then slowly made dinner, sat, ate dinner, watched “The Magic Pill” and then felt wonderfully sleepy and went to sleep. Overall yesterday was a big success for me.

Still unsure about how much protein I should be taking in. I hit 30g carbs yesterday but it seemed to be a natural result of eating to satiety with a caloric burn of 2050/cal (BMR) + 3200/cal (exercise) in the day.