Thursday 31 July
At last a day without rain! This July must be one of the wettest on record in the Alps – pity that wasn’t the case during the winter when excessive precipitation was desired.
Due to a combination of working on clearing weeds and trees last weekend and the bad weather I’ve managed – even in the month of July – to miss an entire week’s cycling. This session would be a long one of 115km to get back into it properly. It’s strangely hard to get back on the bike after a week off. In fact it’s disturbing how easily an exercise routine can be forgotten and quickly be relegated to the back of the mind.
Intermittent Fasting – Ultra Endurance Workout
Perhaps my main concern for today was that it would be the first “ultra endurance” (over 4 hours) workout since adopting a daily intermittent fasting program. Monday had been a full day without food spanning 36 hours and from Tuesday evening a daily fast of 12 hours was being employed – as it was all the previous week. This has noticeably reduced my cravings for sweet things and all foods in general. In effect it has modified my appetite. The concern is however that the nightly - 8 pm to 8 am – fasting which empties the liver and muscles of glycogen (as it is intended to do) – might cause negative issues on a long workout.
So! What happened?
It was my best workout around this circuit for several years. Perhaps most of that outcome can be attributed to weight loss of course – but the last time going around there in June on the back of a full day’s fasting (separated by one full day of recovery) was the exact opposite, leaving me struggling badly for energy all the way – and that was without any intermittent fasting going on.
The intermittent fasting seems to have removed the tendency to be dependent on sugar, not just for appetite but for energy in general. Perhaps by cleaning out the glycogen every day – this encourages the fat burning system, in particular “Ketosis” to function better. This was also week 11 of my whole day fasts so perhaps there has just been a general evolution or adaptation regardless of the intermittent fasting – but the appetite changes didn’t begin until daily intermittent fasting began.
Chi Cycling – Lower Back
The demanding physical work of clearing land at the weekend had left me with a very sensitive lower back. A few years ago cycling would have aggravated this into a problem but now it only helps. The key to this of course is the Chi Cycling coordination and I was looking forward to it as a therapy for the back. Yes, it worked! There was no backache on the bike and it helped the overall recovery markedly. I have had back surgery three times but left all that nonsense behind me over 25 years ago as I learned to deal with such complex “management” issues myself. In effect I’ve never missed a day’s work on the mountain in 25 years even through the harshest of winters. There is a permanently compressed sciatic nerve in my lower back – with blocked circulation of spinal fluid – but it acts a a sentinel which helps keep me alert and managing the back properly. Awareness levels necessary for managing such issues are hard won but invaluable – protecting the whole body and all the joints especially in the most demanding and extreme situations.
Ketone Supplement (Coconut Oil)
One new additional factor added to this day’s workout was supplementation with ketones – in the form of two tablespoons of pure organic coconut oil. The brain can use two fuel sources – glucose and ketones. Coconut oil is nature’s richest source of ketone’s – Medium Chain Triglycerides – and is around 50% lauric acid – with another three similar ketones (fatty acids). The idea of supplementing is to supply alternative fuel to the brain and muscles and produce a glucose sparing effect to make the sugar last longer. Bonking happens when the brain runs out of energy so this is potentially a tool for tricking the brain into holding off from shutting down the system – bonking – or “central fatigue” as it is more technically referred to. In addition, when the body is trained for endurance events then fats are burned during effort in a higher proportion than for untrained people – maxing out at around 65%VO2max for trained athletes. Supplying additional ketones to supplement those that will be slowly produced from the body converting its own fat stores seems to make sense.
Having fasted all night the workout was delayed starting until mid afternoon so there would be time to backload a little on carbs. In this case lunch was rice and a massive nutritionally rich salad. The evening meal the day before had also been wholegrain organic rice with mixed beans and nuts. Added to the rice this lunchtime were two tablespoons of melted coconut oil. In addition to being rich in ketones the coconut oil is also very rich in vitamin E and antioxidants and the fatty acids are actually beneficial to the heart. “Virgin oil” – first cold pressing of fresh organically grown pulp – might be expensive but it’s incredibly pure and odourless (though I generally can’t smell much anyway).
Coconut oil (two spoonful's per day) is known to markedly improve brain function in those suffering from Alzheimer’s and is known to improve thyroid function – which is a key factor in metabolism. When overweight people supplement with coconut oil they are reported to specifically lose abdominal fat.
The oil also makes a perfect synthetic chemical free skin care cream and doesn’t break down in high temperature cooking. It’s definitely a seriously overlooked “superfood” – due to early misunderstandings that led people to mistakenly believe that it’s high saturated fat content was bed for heart disease.
The Workout – and Sugar and Amino Acid Supplements
Pre-workout I’d been a bit ill with a headache and explosive bowels so it was going to be slightly hard to know what symptoms to come would be from this or from the actual workout. I had also started to supplement correctly (twice per day) with specific amino acids to start building up levels in the body for the upcoming race on Sunday. (Citruline Malate, Arginine, Taurine plus Vitamin C and D-Ribose (riboflavin))
Climbing the Cormet de Roselend I was able to avoid dropping below 2nd gear despite wind in places. Until now this year first gear has been obligatory. The climb was physically strong and psychologically enjoyable the whole way. Perhaps the week off from training contributed to this effect as accumulated tiredness levels would have definitely dropped. At the top I stopped for some photos with my new tiny Sony DSC WX350 20x optical zoom compact camera. It’s small and light enough to carry on a bike without feeling it at all. In fact a couple of times I panicked thinking it might not be in the pocket. The images look great and dramatic – but those posted here are post-edited with the great “Neutralhazer” filter added to Photoshop (Brought to my attention by Paul Evans).
After the descent to Beaufort there was a bit of a headwind to work against all the way to Albertville. If anything the mildly headachy feeling from before the workout was clearing – but pushing against the wind seemed a bit uncomfortable. It’s the only point during the session where I felt a bit under par.
The rest of the workout felt fine with highs and lows of energy at unexpected moments. That’s usually a sign of things going well. I stopped for water at three public water spouts along the way – just carrying one bottle on the bike. Along with the water I had 180 grams (dry weight) of sugar mix – 2 maltodextrin to 1 Fructose, with multi-vitamin-mineral, L-taurine, D-ribose, caffeine, sea salt and organic lemon juice. This is about 50% of what the body can process and use over a 4 hour period. I kept the sugar supply to 50% because this was not intended to be a workout at maximum intensity – due to the need to recover for the Bourgui race on Sunday.
From about the 80 km mark I was starting to get deep leg pains. This is the sort of hurt that has positive developmental effects in the long term – unlike cramp – which is simply debilitating. It was impossible to determine the real cause of the leg pain – Pushing higher gears? Low carbs due to intermittent fasting? Ketones masking low carbs? I suspect it was the use of higher gears. The final climbs from Moutiers to Aime were all carried out using the large 52T dual camber chain ring. Until now none of those climbs were possible using that chain ring – so bigger gears were definitely being used. At no point was there a serious energy or motivation dip.
On stopping at the end there was a deep leg ache for about half an hour – similar to how it often feels at the completion of a tough race. Recovery however was good – eating promptly after the workout and there was no trouble sleeping. Next day (Friday) I was able to run 12.5 km without feeling particularly tired – passing the 10 km mark comfortably in 55 mins.
Eating immediately after the workout was an essential element for commencing carbohydrate loading for Sunday’s race. There is about a 30 to 60 minute window after a workout where eating can restock a maximum amount of sugars back into the muscles – and after that it’s too late. At least 3 days are necessary for carbohydrate loading and in reality exercise should be being reduced by this point. Bad weather had not allowed this program to be strictly followed. Cycling over high altitude mountain passes in bad weather is not recommended – they were literally white with fresh snow a day or two earlier. On this day, with the sun out I was able to climb and descend with only a cycling jersey and no windbreaker. (Though I had one in a pocket just in case the sun disappeared behind clouds)
Carb loading has proven somewhat difficult as my appetite seems to have diminished with all of the fasting. I’m basically on a vegetarian (plant nutrition) program. Perhaps the one thing that’s kept me on track here is organic red grape juice – which is incredibly sweet and an effective natural way to carbohydrate load. Even just a few weeks ago this juice seemed like pure nectar and I could guzzle it by the gallon – along with dates and anything else sweet. Now all that sweetness is slightly repulsive. Saturday will have to be a massive wholegrain (épeautre) spaghetti day to make up for it all. From Thursday until Sunday the intermittent fasting has been stopped to allow for carbohydrate loading.
I’m currently reading about the possibility of using chronic ketosis for enhancing athletic performance. This involves so-called “keto-adaptation” over a period of 3 to 4 weeks of either fasting or high fat, very low carbs diet. The science looks good but at some levels it seems to lack credibility. There is too close a relationship for my liking to the “Atkins” fad diets – which are clearly not nutritious. So far I’ve found no serious evidence of any successful elite athletes who perform in a genuine state of ketosis. Perhaps they use low carbs or fasting at some point and then either backload carbs before or even during competition – but nobody seems to race purely in a ketosis state. With this in mind my current intention is to remain on course with the use of intermittent and one day fasting along with carbohydrate backloading and supplementation – adding only ketone supplementation from coconut oil.