Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My nutrition - what works for me

I have been thinking of posting about nutrition and what works for me and recently on Twitter I was asked that very question, so here goes.
NB: This is what works for me, it is a work in progress, but it is working and I am seeing big improvements.

I ran a marathon in April 2011 (link here). Beforehand I had a lot of people telling me not to set a time goal and "just enjoy it". To that end I ran 5 days a week and also did S&C too. The night before I was at the "pasta party" and filled up on all things carbs. The big day came along and I set off with a few hundred others. The first half I took it pretty easy, at a pace slightly slower than usual. Then when I got to around the 32k mark the wheels fell off. Despite taking on gels every 45mins from the start I had zero energy and had to do a walk, jog, walk to the finish line, even on the downhills. I was having stomach issues towards the end too, as I was trying to catch up with the rate I was using glycogen, which is not going to happen while you are still exercising.
I knew there was something I needed to work on in the magical realm of nutrition. One question that kept coming back to me was, "So how many grams of carbs do I need for the race/workout?".
In November 2011 I happened to be in a local pharmacy and saw that they were advertising for food intolerance tests. They took a blood sample, sent it off and two weeks later told me I was/am yeast intolerant (full details in this blog post). As a result, I had to cut out anything that contained any form of yeast. So I decided that gluten free was a good fit and started making my own GF bread and using GF pasta (it tasted horrible!). Then, after three months completely off yeast, I tried going back on "normal" food, but I started having stomach issues, feeling bloated, blocked sinuses etc. That prompted me to go back to yeast free/GF. This time I decided to go completely off bread and pasta though, as it just wasn't worth the hassle!
By this time the question came back - just how many grams of carbs do I need?
I can't remember how, but I ended up finding the excellent, albeit short, book "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance". On the evening I finished the book I decided to give low carb/high fat a go. For the next two full weeks I felt like crap. It was like a cross between a head cold and a hangover, for two weeks solid, every minute of each day. I wasn't aware at the time, but I was going through withdrawal symptoms and changing from being mainly carb fueled to fat fueled. After the two weeks, I started feeling better. My training did take a performance hit, but after another couple of weeks this improved again and was at least back to normal.
I had started to move away from only running races and into cycling and short adventure races, up to around 6 hours. I initially didn't know what kind of food to bring on these longer races and fir the first one I brought a low carb protein bar, along with a bag of almonds & walnuts. Looking back I'm pretty sure that all they did was give me confidence, I didn't need them for anything else. That race lasted 5hrs 30mins, give or take. The next race I only took the almonds and walnuts, but had very few, less that a handful. That race took me 6 hrs 30mins and apart from the nuts I only had water.
So then I decided I wanted to run a marathon, as you do. I trained for and ran the Tralee marathon in March 2014. I had no time expectations, but was *interested* in beating my previous time. Details of the lead up and how it went are on this post, but suffice to say that even though I had to limp the last 5k I still got a 16min PB, with NO carbs and only drinking water for the race.
This year I ran the Dingle AR (link here) and despite inconsistent training and a tough mountain hike I felt great on only water again. That was in June, and four weeks later I cycled the Ring of Kerry 170k charity cycle, the details are here.
I'm not trying to tell you that I'm amazing or anything, because I'm very much a "middle of the pack" runner/cyclist.
I have middle to long term plans, that I'm planning to do next year and it's caused me to take a detailed view of my nutrition once again. On that basis I'm working with a Nutritionist, none other than the excellent Emily Maguire of LowCarbGenesis, and discussed my plans and am now working on reducing my carbs to a maximum of 10% per day. So essentially I will be in nutritional ketosis (NK).
It's not easy. I don't eat any sugars or grains and little fruit etc, only a small amount of berries. If your liver has sugar going to it, it doesn't know if it came from pineapple, bananas or candy floss. The result is the same, an elevated blood sugar level.
I also find that I'm recovering faster. I do still get DOMS of course, but they don't hold me back from training nearly as much. For instance, At the start of July I took the Friday off work and went to an early morning CrossFit session, then drove to Killarney. The next morning I cycled the Ring of Kerry. On Sunday I drove home and went for a run. No issues, no lack of energy. I just didn't feel like cycling for a few days!

Let me know if you have any questions. Link to my Twitter on the side bar.



  1. Great post Eoin! It's always good to read about other peoples journeys along the nutrition path, we all have slightly different reasons for changes however we often also have a common reason - to feel better.
    I've just started using an app to track my intake as I'm eager to drop the extra weight that loaded on in the last few months and I'm finding that once I have some numerical boundaries around carbs it's much easier for me to keep them between 50 and 100grams a day as opposed to just guessing that I'm doing alright. We'll see how I do, it feels better to have a target anyway.

  2. Very interesting post Eoin, and has given me an inclination to have a more in-depth look at my nutrition.