Running on Fat …

Back in my marathon days (30+ years ago) I remember reading a prediction that it wouldn’t be long before women were beating the men over the magic distance of 26.2 miles. The logic was very simple, fat is an excellent fuel, fit women athletes carry more fat than fit men athletes therefore women would be better over long distances than men once they matched the men in training.

So far it hasn’t happened, fastest man – Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya 2:01:39 fastest woman Brigid Kosgei also from Kenya 2:14:04. Getting on for 10% slower.

At about 9 calories per gram fat is an excellent fuel trouble is for endurance sports the body is very happy burning glucose and glycogen even though they pack only 4 calories per gram. Stores of glycogen exist in muscle and in the liver amounting to about 600 grams. In ball park figures that’s about 2400 calories for a marathon requiring about 2600. A runner can expect to absorb 50 to 60 grams of glucose from the gut per hour which easily makes up the shortfall.

So fat burning doesn’t really get into the equation during an elite marathon. If it did even the thinnest male athlete has enough fat to go the distance.

Glycogen is king. Glycogen replenishment happens faster after a carbohydrate rich meal. What are the implications for the athlete following a keto diet? Depends who you ask. According to Harvey, Holcomb & Kolwicz the keto athlete is operating at a distinct disadvantage although it is an excellent diet for weight loss.

Dr Caryn Zinn on the other hand is more optimistic …

while Professor Asker Jeukendrup sums up what is known but leaves the question open. That article is well worth reading.

Fat oxidation rates are on average 0.5 grams per min at the optimal exercise intensity. So in order to oxidise 1kg of fat mass, more than 33 hours of exercise is required! Walking or running exercise around 50-65% of VO2max seems to be an optimal intensity to oxidise fat. The duration of exercise, however, plays a crucial role, with an increasing importance of fat oxidation with longer exercise.

There is no doubt that the reforming couch potato can successfully lose weight and burn fat at moderate rates of exercise on a keto diet. Fat around the middle is as much a handicap as lead in the saddle bags. VO2max is the upper limit of your ability to burn fuel a good measure of your fitness. More precisely it’s milliliters of oxygen consumed in one minute, per kilogram of body weight (mL/kg/min) at sustained maximum effort. In other words get the kilograms down and the VO2max goes up without any extra training.

Fast After Fifty …

If it seems that my obsessive compulsive personality is fairly obvious in my writing I am put in the shade by Joe Friel, founder of Training Peaks, elite coach and author of a number of books on training for endurance athletes. I have just read one of those books Fast After Fifty. He was 70 when he wrote it and I suspect the title should have been This is how I’m Gonna be Fast After Seventy. It’s an informative read and some of his wisdom will find its way into my training regime.

In the first chapter we learn what age does to you and it ain’t pretty  …

To go on churning out fast times in the pool your shoulders have to stand up extremely well and you need a remarkable tolerance of the view from the waterline of the inside of a pool. At least it’s weightless.

The runner on the other hand has to absorb their body weight as it hits the ground over and over. Quads and calves work to absorb momentum even as the muscles extend – eccentric contraction. In cycling muscles shorten as they contract – concentric contraction – and suffer less fatigue as a consequence.

At first glance things look pretty good for the cyclist but that graph only goes to age 64! But it seems that the niggling little injuries are fewer – just don’t come off your bike and sustain the big ones.

As well as a prescription for training Joe encourages weight lifting and discusses recovery strategies, sleep and diet.

A very worthwhile read, I recommend it.

But once again the research is into the persisting older athlete. There is little to indicate what the reforming couch potato can expect to achieve in his or her later years. No good looking backwards for answers. Before the boomers took up jogging older folk were expected to take it easy, nothing too strenuous. We are pioneers.


A Day of Rest …

Today is a rest day. I am itching to get on the bike but my will power is strong. Rest days are very important.

The temptation to ride is even greater in the midst of the Covid-19 epidemic. I have no idea when the government will lock me in my house and drive me screaming up the wall. The routes that I ride around home are deserted at the best of times, the perfect place to exercise in isolation.

One blessing of the restrictions is that  my travel budget is available for repurposing. That computer my bike was lusting after is now in reach. An alternative reading of that sentence would be – The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt was on special and I bought it. I suspect it was on special to knock down stocks prior to release of something even more desirable but hey.

So here is the written version of an unboxing video. It came in a box and I took it out.

It’s quite easy to set up using the app which you download on your phone. It talks to a variety of peripherals such as a cadence meter, heart rate monitor or power meter. Did I mention that my bike was very keen that I should get a heart rate monitor and I got the Wahoo Kickr?

I now have speed, distance, time elapsed and heart rate displayed on the front page of my very aerodynamic and light weight Ellemnt. This is a minor reorganisation from the default settings and easily achieved. The screen is tiny but these metrics are quite legible. A couple of button pushes bring you to the maps page. This is where the screen size limits functionality. Street names are not given. If I were lost I would reach for the phone  in my pocket before trying to plot a route on the Bolt. Having said that I wouldn’t want to be riding around with an iPad on my handlebars.

Turn by turn navigation can be set up prior to a ride in Strava or elsewhere and downloaded to the machine. I haven’t used that feature. I understand that the route  can’t be modified en route.

After the ride the Bolt talks to the app on your phone which will talk to Strava if you wish. It’s a bit different from dealing with Strava direct – you don’t get to name the rides or decide how private they are. Within the Wahoo app you can review your speed at any point, see where you were in a climb at that moment and check your heart rate. It gives a nice breakdown of how long you spent in the various heart rate zones and provides an approximation of the calorie expenditure. I like it.

The Kickr is easy to use. It’s a chest band monitor. You wet the two areas that pick up the signal and fasten it round your chest, just below your nipples for boys, just below the breasts for girls. Mine has stayed in place very nicely. I think the extra information this gives makes planning your training much more purposeful.

Which is much more than I would say for a cadence meter. Yes there is probably an ideal cadence but this varies from moment to moment depending on conditions. In the long run you will change gears by feel. Anyone who gets back from a ride and pores over their cadence needs to discuss the issue with a psychiatrist – in my humble opinion.

On the other hand every serious bike racer these days uses the power meter as the most accurate way to measure their effort and plan their training. It’s also the most expensive of the monitors. I have not yet succumbed.


Progress Report …

We are two weeks into the Low Carb diet. Gayle has been cooking up a storm. Some of the food is less than exciting but most is delicious. Some is quite exceptional given the inclusion of previously shunned fats.

We haven’t been able to bring ourselves to eat dead animals so have to be thoughtful about our protein, eggs and cheese are in after that it’s tofu and nuts. Ground linseeds help with the omega 3s. Vitamin B12 comes from a pill.

I was losing weight before starting the diet. Three kilograms in the three months since I bought the bike. Two more kilograms have gone in the past two weeks along with 2 inches off the belly. No cravings, hunger satisfied. Not a calorie has been counted. I’m drinking a lot and peeing a lot, sure signs of ketosis. My confidence is high.

It feels as though athletic performance has suffered a bit, perhaps more for Gayle than me. We have been able to keep up a pretty high volume (by our standards anyway) 343 km in the past 14 days. I skipped this week’s long ride in favour of a more modest distance. I think we are getting through that now as we start to burn fat as our energy source.

Every diet that I’ve tried has worked … for a while. The promise from this one is that it will go on working. We will see.

Low Carb High Fat …

Get ready to read a lot of packets and do a lot of home cooking.

What’s in?

Meat, seafood, eggs, full-fat dairy, above ground vegetables, nuts, avocados and in moderation dark chocolate, berries and dry wine.

What’s out?

The bottom layer of the food pyramid!

Starches (including bread), sweets, processed meats, low fat or sweetened dairy, high sugar fruits.

Orthodoxy would have it otherwise …

The acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges (AMDR) are 45–65% of your daily calories from carbs, 20–35% from fats and 10–35% from protein. (

Ancel Keys is a goliath of the orthodoxy. His rather sketchy epidemiologic research into diet and heart disease pointed the finger at saturated fat as the cause. In 1977 a US Senate Committee issued the Dietary Goals for the United States which became the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The American Heart Association was on board but Philip Handler, President of the National Academy of Science had this to say,

What right has the federal government to propose that the American people conduct a vast nutritional experiment, with themselves as subjects, on the face of so little evidence?

Heart disease hasn’t gone away, obesity and type 2 diabetes have soared.

There is a great deal of inertia in that orthodoxy but it is slowly crumbling under the onslaught of evidence. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with getting your calories from fat. It satisfies hunger without sending insulin levels through the roof. For some of us it may be the best option, at least for a while.

The way to plan your meals is simple. First pick your protein source aiming for roughly 1.5 grams per kilogram of your reference weight (life tables previous post). Next add a couple of serves of above ground veggies. Finally some fat stuff like avacado or nuts.

So that could be a chunk of meat with the fat on and two veg. Sounds just like the meals my mother used to cook and there weren’t many fat kids around back then.

There are any number of resources online and a shelf-full of cook books at the shop. Look for keto or LCHF, checkout Low Carb Australia on Youtube.

It is powerful stuff and it will change your biochemistry. If you are on anti-hypertensives, anti-diabetic agents including insulin, pregnant or breast feeding medical supervision is needed.


Picking and Choosing ..

Chances are the short term goal is weight loss but for all of us the long term goal has to be a healthy diet. What would be the properties of an ideal diet? For starters as it were …

  • macronutrients -protein, fat, carbohydrate in the right proportions
  • micronutrients
  • taste good
  • hunger satisfied
  • ill effects avoided
  • weight maintained

I would love to have you refine that outline, hit the comments.

The first problem is to know what the ideal balance of the big three would be. A varied diet of whole foods will supply the micronutrients unless of course you decide to leave out the dead animals in which case some supplementation is needed. Most food tastes good. Get thee behind me hunger. Ill effects are everywhere, beware the FODMAPS, gluten, emulsifiers maybe everything. And the holy grail – weight.

Next thread a passage through the evangelical adherents pushing various species of diet with missionary zeal.

Should we aim for the diet of our hunter gatherer forebears, a wholegrain version of the agricultural diet or is the industrial diet the go? Is it really that hard?

Here now is the fortune cooky guide to dieting …

What do you need to achieve? If you are at peace with your diet and your weight you are doing fine. Enjoy. By at peace I don’t mean defiantly refusing to be fat shamed. Do think of the future and keep off the processed foods. I see real foods and home cooking in your very long future.

Two or three kilos too many? Is that all? I envy you. Any of the weight loss diets will shift that. Transition to a whole food regime add some exercise to stay on track. The warning has been sounded though. Step on the scales once a week.

Under weight? Especially in the older age group … have a chat with your doctor.

And now it’s all about me. And maybe you.

The fat is packed around the viscera. The tape measure has spoken. Business as usual means a descent into diabetes, hypertension, ischaemic heart disease and kids enjoying their inheritance too young to manage it wisely. Why surrender?

The body can burn glucose or it can burn fat. When it’s well it can burn a mixture but generally one or the other . When there is insulin resistance fasting insulin levels stay high. Fat cannot be metabolised. Your diet is relatively high in carbohydrate. On any day when calories in equals calories out your weight stays the same. On days when you are behind on the intake your brain tells you to catch up, insistently. You do. Go over on the calories and you lay down some fat. Your weight can only ratchet up. Insulin resistance is in the driving seat.

So lets burn fat and the only way to do that is to curtail the carbs.

LCHF stands for low carb high fat. Protein stays mid range at or about 1.5 grams per kg of reference weight. (That’s the weight from the life insurance tables not the weight you are now). The pancreas will not be working so hard, gluconeogenesis will top up the glucose, the brain will be running on ketones, birds will sing and the sky will be blue.

Ideal Weight Tables

Metropolitan Life Insurance 1959.