Can you run long distance without carbohydrates? That’s crazy talk, right? Well, not so much.
In March I will reach the 20 year anniversary of being a runner and for all but the last 6 of those years, I worshiped at the altar of carbs (bread, Gatorade, energy bars, etc.) as the necessary requirement to run long distances. But since I’ve switched to Paleo to reverse my Type 2 Diabetes almost 6 years ago, I’ve still been able to run and bike long distances with next to zero carbs prior, during and after exercise.
Let me use this post to provide evidence that you don’t need carbs to successfully participate in endurance exercise.
I’m currently training for the Ville To Ville Craft Brew Relay Race in April where a 6 person team run 75 miles from Asheville, NC to Greenville, SC and this will be the 2ndyear I’ve done it. This race amounts to each member of the team basically running 2 10K’s with about 5 hours in between and this is not easy!
Last year when I was training for this event I convinced myself that on the days when I trained hard (especially on days I ran twice) I needed to add back carbs to give me enough energy to complete those long, hard runs. I noticed that although I ate carbs and my blood sugar levels did spike following that meal, they quickly came down during the run as my body cleared the glucose. Because of my prior running experience, I thought that I ‘needed’ these carbs to tackle the tough exercise regime but this year I’m going to try something else.
Instead of loading up on carbs before a run, I’m going to load up on fat and let that fuel be my energy source to see if I can get through this training (and the race) without the carbs.
Today I put this theory to the test as I was due to run 6 miles and instead of eating a breakfast that had carbs, I doubled up on the fat. Today’s pre-workout meal consisted of 4 eggs, 3 pieces of bacon, 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise, ½ cup of cheddar cheese, a 1/3rdstick of real butter (from grass-fed cows), onions and tomatoes. That amounted to about 50 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbs (all from the onion and tomato) and 75 grams of fat.
Full disclosure, on an average day I eat 150 grams of protein, <25 grams of carbs (all from vegetables) and 150 grams of fat. So this pre-workout meal is not too much out the norm for me but the fat content was higher than my normal breakfast.
Well, what happened?
I am happy to report that I had no issues with cramps or muscle fatigue during the entire run and I actually felt like I could’ve run longer. I only consumed water during the entire run and recovered from the run with a quick meal of ham, mayo and a dill pickle.
You can see the workout summary from my Fitbit below.
Also, you can see from my Continuous Glucose Monitor that my blood sugars stayed within the normal range all day and there was a sharp decline during the workout.
Fat is an incredible energy source but when we default to eating carbs, our body first seeks to use glycogen but that is only a temporary energy source and that is why I used to have to continue to replenish it with Gatorade, energy bars or other high carb foods before I was Paleo. But fat is a deep well of energy that doesn’t get depleted quickly and is perfect for low intensity, long workouts.
I will continue with my ‘no carbs’ training ritual through race day on 13-APR-19 and will report back on any findings.