Each long distance race adds to the amount that can be learned about ketosis. It’s one thing being in a ketogenic metabolic state for daily living but the entire theory is abruptly put to the test when applied to athletic events. There is a form disbelief that appears to accompany results with ketosis, perhaps due to a lifetime of being brainwashed to expect the opposite. Each positive result reinforces the reality and value of ketosis and slowly you can feel a true paradigm shift taking place.
It takes a lot to push aside a lifetime of cultural conditioning and beliefs. Science at its very best only gives us an approximate model of the world and every theory (or fact) is provisional – until replaced with a better one – that makes prediction more reliable and accurate. Those who fervently believe in current science and “conventional wisdom” are often entrenched in progress stifling dogma without realising it – effectively making a religion out of science and scientific authority. Real science is about change, curiosity and learning – endlessly. “Ketosis” is a prime example of where conventional wisdom and connected commercial interests combine to stifle progress and understanding. The current advances in privately funded nutritional science in this particular area are however quite stunning. There is a lot to learn here. Meanwhile to help to deal with all the unanswered questions people are taking to experimenting for themselves – with their own bodies – and with only a few basic guidelines to go by the results are impressive. I have no pretension of contributing anything new of specific value here other than confirming (or otherwise) the real value of ketosis when experienced for myself. There is so little known about this subject however that anyone messing around with it is likely to stumble upon new ideas.
One objective for the Drômoise race was to start the race in a measurable state of ketosis. For all the previous races I’d not eaten enough fat to be able to register a strong ketosis levels prior to the races. My 9€ Chinese breathalyser however only shows up a reading from 1.7 mmol/L and “nutritional ketosis” is already happening at 0.5 mmol/L. This morning, for once, the meter was reading 0.01% BAC (1.7 mmol/L) so that confirmed strong ketosis. I’d also consumed a breakfast cooked in loads of coconut oil and eaten coconut oil treats with my coffee. Supplementing MCT oils (found in Coconut fat) would provide an exogenous source of ketones along with those being produced by the body. More than ever before carbs were strictly avoided in preparation for this race.
For consuming during the race there was a supplement made up from blending desiccated coconut powder into a cream, diluting it with water and then adding a small amount of zero carb stevia for sweetening. Some low carb blackcurrant and apple puree was also added for flavouring. The idea was to make the mix tasty to encourage the eating of it during hard exercise – where eating is very difficult. The mix was fluid enough to be delivered though a drinking nozzle and kept in a small drinking flask. I carried about 350 grams of this in total during the race but found when in action that it wasn’t sweet enough and only managed to consume perhaps 30 grams altogether. It wasn’t liquid enough either. More experimentation is needed.
The idea here is to have a supplement that will directly provide ketones once the Medium Chain Triglyceride oils are processed in the liver – and a low level of carbohydrates to compensate for carb-debt in the body and to stop the body from consuming its own protein (muscle) to create glucose to replace and stabilise basic glucose levels. This is an uncertain area though because I know that adventurers Ranulph Feinnes and Mike Stroud – when they walked across the Antarctic – taking blood samples every few days – ended up with stable blood glucose levels so low that nobody had previously believed this possible – by a large margin. They were on a ketogenic diet getting 75% of their calories from fat – though they hadn’t quite realised this). That was only a short while ago – in 1992/3 – so it demonstrates the absolutely astonishing ignorance of the medical world in this extremely fundamental area.
During the actual race – after about 3 hours I drank some Coke – a small amount – and repeated this at two more feeding stations – to deal with carb debt and to add caffeine for improved fat metabolism. I didn’t eat anything during the race (almost 6 hours) other than the small amount of coconut supplement mentioned. In all very few calories of any kind were consumed during the event.
Immediately after the race my BAC was at 0.02% (3.4 mmol/L) and it has stayed there constantly since (48 hours and counting) – even after eating some pasta at the post race lunch. This consistency once again proves that carbs can be eaten to address a carb-debt without causing the person to come out of ketosis. (It’s only the concept of “carb debt” that needs to be questioned – and whether accepted stable minimum glucose levels are really ideal) The most benefits from ketosis are supposedly found at between 0.5 and 3 mmol/L so with me reading 3.4+ mmol/L this was clearly in weight loss territory from fat metabolism. The keto-adapted body (about 5 weeks of adapting now) gets more efficient at producing ketones during fat metabolism and also specifically the right sort of ketones for muscle use – those which break down through respiration into acetone and can be measured with a cheap breathalyser unit.
The most immediate interest for me however would be the start of the race – with the ketosis level being higher than previously. Until now ketosis (and or daily intermittent fasting) – or poor ketosis levels and poor keto-adaption - had cause me to feel at least psychologically quite a lot of difficulty getting going in every event and in training. It’s all quite tricky to sort out due to the number of variables so a lot of experimentation is needed. Competition is the perfect backdrop for this experimentation because the appropriate motivation levels are guaranteed.
I slept peacefully overnight right next to the race registration and post-race reception area in a camping car park. There were big police signs forbidding ordinary (estate) cars from parking under menace of being towed away – but correctly I assumed this aspect of the growing European Fascist Police State would be suspended for this particular weekend. The location was perfect and everything went like clockwork the next morning during registration and preparation.
Getting to the race start was another story! The start had combined all the 119 km and 147 km racers and all the hundreds of cyclotoursits in the same place – in very narrow streets. What a mess! Eventually an official cleared a way through the mob for us and we at least got onto the right street for the start – but I was right at the back. The only alternative would have been to have gone there an hour early and just wait – but that was an even less appealing option. The solution to dealing with the timing issues for the start used by the organisation turned out to be incredibly stupid. It took about 5 minutes to get all the racers through so they used the median time as the start time for everyone. The positive side of this is that you would place in the results exactly in the order that you crossed the finish line – but it also meant that the starters in the front had 2.5 minutes deducted from the real overall time and those at the back had 2.5 minutes added – plus they were not able to get access and the protection of the fast pelotons near the front without destroying themselves in an almost useless attempt to catch up – which is exactly what happened. The simple solution in this sort of situation is to have a rolling start with a control car neutralising the event until out of town on the wide open road. Matters were worsened by the leaders having priority start numbers in the first place – so even if the timing chips were used at the start when individuals cross the start line (as they usually are on non professional events) the leaders would not have suffered.
My attempts to recover some ground at the start led to the first 10 km being covered at an average speed of 36 kph despite it being a gradual climb. The only way to make this possible is to hook onto a small bunch of fast guys who are passing by in their attempts to recover some ground too. Once you accelerate to stay with them then the drafting takes over – but all the same your heart rate will remain very high and even when drafting this is pushing the limits. Right from the start there seemed to be a better keto-adaptation, or a better level of ketosis because this start felt like it used to when I was consuming carbs and experienced that addictive “carb buzz”. Energy levels felt good and strength felt good. After about 13.5 km we were getting into the first and biggest climb of the day - the Col de Pennes - and so I resigned myself to losing touch with the fast group that I’d been using to reel in hundreds of cyclists and several large pelotons by now. Transitioning from rolling to steeps always seems to present me with much greater problems than most people – so I watched the others disappear up ahead while my legs were sorting themselves out. My heart rate was close to maximum – around 169 to 172 bpm (max is 176 bpm) for nearly all of the climb. When the legs got going then I sped up, caught up with and then overtook the guys who had dropped me – and just kept on going reeling in hundreds more on the way up. Anyone planning a race strategy properly would not attempt to sustain close to maximal heart rate like this – but when you have no choice due to an atrocious start then there is not much left to lose. I was however also curious to see how the body would cope with such effort levels over a long race. While burning ketones you don’t generate lactic acid – and the heart prefers ketones to glucose. If there was little lactic acid produced then keeping this up for another hour wouldn’t be too detrimental – other than perhaps just some muscular and general fatigue. There were photographers on the Col some distance before the summit but even by then, going by the timing of the photograph, I’d overtaken roughly 2/3rds of the people in the combined races to place about 1/3rd of the way through the entire pack. That would definitely cost me later on.
The early morning decent from the Col de Pennes was chilly and I was glad to be wearing the windbreaker that we had been presented with from the race organisers as a memento. My arm warmers were pulled down to the wrists by now – easily done because having lost so much weight they fall down by themselves anyway. I need to get a new pair and go down a size from medium to small. Carrying momentum over from the climb I went on the attack during the descent and even though the roads were very narrow managed to squeeze past the more cautious types. Very few cyclists can judge a good line in a turn and it’s shocking to watch them from behind. They just don’t have a visual pattern or the right feeling to follow. Eventually I was overtaken by a good descender and then just stuck on his tail – his lines were good and he judged the road surface very well too – anticipating and compensating for gravel and dampness in the shade. I’m happy to tail someone like this downhill but hate getting stuck behind a clown who gets it all wrong and is one step short of an ambulance ride. The second ascent began soon after at about 1 hr 20 mins (km 34) into the race, lasting until 2 hrs 35 mins (km 57) – Col des Rousetons - and from the start of this climb I was not going to push anything like as hard – keeping my heart rate during climbing at around 160 bpm. What was surprising however was that this was still possible after having spent around 40 minutes on the first climb with a heart rate averaging close to 170 bpm. 161 bpm is still red-lining above anaerobic for me so other than the descent practically all this time had been anaerobic and without eating any carbs. Anaerobic activity is supposed to burn 70% glucose so there is something far wrong with standard theory here. A good chunk of this time had even been spent red-lining the heart. When you burn ketones you don’t produce lactic acid and nobody seems to know what to call this state (at least I don’t know) – but it seems to do an excellent job of replacing the aerobic/lactic threshold/anaerobic system. During this second climb although I was still working “anaerobically” this drop in output caused a lot of stronger people to start to overtake me – but there was nothing to be done about that.
At the Col des Rousetons at 2 hrs 35 mins into the race with most of the time spent climbing I stopped at at feeding station to refill water bottles and to drink a few small cups of Coke. There had been a cheerful band playing at one of the earlier feeding stations but this one was quiet. Knowing that the body was in significant carb-debt I also knew that this wouldn’t affect ketosis. So far nothing had been anything. The next two hours would be the most uncomfortable – with a feeling of general struggling.
After the descent from the Col des Rousetons there was a plateau where a small peloton formed and we covered about 8 kilometres fast against the wind by rotating the lead constantly. This was taking us close to the separation point for the two courses at 77 km. Once again on arriving at a steeper section the transition was not happening automatically for me so I had to let the group go – although it fragmented anyway at this point. Most people went straight on for the short course and once again I found myself isolated when branching onto a long course. The next climb up to the Col du Fays and then the Col de Rossas (87.5 km) would take until 4hrs 02 mins and all of this climb would be in isolation with some strong headwinds at points. About one kilometre from the summit I was overtaken by a young woman but couldn’t stay on her tail. I realised that I could actually keep up but didn’t want to extend my effort level so high. By now my working heart rate had gone down to around 155 bpm. This is still supposed to be anaerobic for me – so even though the speed was not competitive at all by now I was still able to work relatively hard. There was another feeding station at Valdrôme (km 94) after the descent from those twin cols and once again I stopped to fill two completely empty water bottles and slug down some coke. I’d tried to eat some coconut mix from one of the flasks I was carrying but couldn’t get it to come out easily enough – and it didn’t have an attractive texture or taste so I gave up on that by the time I reached this feeding station – perhaps eating about 150 grams in total. There were many people out in the small villages cheering, clapping and encouraging us all. In this tiny village there was a musician singing “la Bicyclette” and playing an accordion – same as Christiane does – but not quite as well! Taking the road again I just missed a small peloton that didn’t stop at the feeding station and ended up on a gradual descent, solo once again and having to pedal to keep up speed.
Arriving on the flats and a much straighter main road there was someone ahead at km 100 who had dropped out of that peloton and when I passed him it was clear he had stopped due to cramps. He had just mounted his bike again as I went past and so next thing I knew he was behind me drafting. This was number 708 – Yannick Aunette – who then worked in rotation with me for the next 5 kilometers up a “faux-plat” against the wind until we arrived at the final major climb of the day to Lesches-en-Diois. Before starting this climb – at exactly 4 hrs 29 mins I noticed that I was feeling a lot better again. This resurgence has been happening at around 4 hrs 30 mins now in several races – but I have no idea why. For the final 1 hr and 20 mins my speed increased and never once dropped back down – exactly as it had done at Marseilles a week earlier. It’s as if the fat burning system suddenly ramps up to another level altogether. I let Yannick pull away ahead at the start of the long climb to give my legs time to make the transition and then at about 4 hrs 45 mins I just stepped on the gas brining my speed up to between 18 and 23 kph. Yannick was quickly overtaken but held on behind me for most of the remaining 5 km to the top until losing it near the end. However there was another feeding station there where I’d stopped so he caught me up and we left together for the descent- once again having drunk a few glasses of coke.
Just before getting to the feeding station there was a little boy at the roadside and he called out “What’s your name?” in French of course. Behind him was a small group of kids and once that had the name they would all shout “Allez Ian, Courage!” etc. One of the little boys made me laugh when he shouted “You remind me of my dad!”. Yannick took the lead on the way down and he was going for it – but his line wasn’t too great. The hairpins were quite sharp and some were blind too. Eventually he got it wrong on one and did a “tout droit” braking in a straight line right to the far apex of the corner. Fortunately he anticipated this and didn’t crash. It was good for me to slipstream and recover from pulling him up the climb. At the bottom Yannick described the descent as like being on a mountain bike – which was not far off the truth. Only a few seconds later he was hit by cramps again – exactly the same type of cramps that were affecting me earlier in the season – so I understood this issue relatively well. His cramp was on the inside of the right upper leg and struck when he started to use the muscles again for pedalling after the descent was over. I slowed down to encourage him and told him to keep moving but only push very lightly on the pedals – I wasn’t going to drop him so he could take the necessary time. Once the worst was over I told him to slipstream me until he was sure that it was gone. There was a lot of fast road ahead but with faux-plats and headwinds so we would both benefit greatly from working together – as much for the morale as for the legs.
My main goal now was to complete the long course in under 6 hours – so it was going to be a close call. We had no idea where our overall placing would be. Now all the courses had joined back together so we were rapidly catching people from the 119 km course and the cyclotourists. We couldn’t tell now if we were catching anyone from the 147 km course. We worked well together with me using my restored power to pull up the hills and defend against the headwinds and then Yannick relieving the pressure from me by taking the lead on all the descents so we could keep up a high speed. On the long flats we managed a good rotation that was completely spontaneous and worked very well. The final 10 km was averaged at 46 kph but we couldn’t catch a peloton ahead that we had been slowly gaining ground on – there were just too many of them sharing the work that despite our best efforts they remained out of range. When we arrived at the finish line I knew I was stronger than Yannick but didn’t want to turn that into a race between us so I just eased off and let him take the line – making no difference whatsoever to the result at this stage of the game. We had ended up doing almost 1/3rd of the entire course as a team and thankfully that was the case because otherwise we’d both have slipped back a lot. Yannick needed the motivation to get up the climbs and some protection from the headwinds and I needed the rest on the descents to recover. Had the “afterburners” not switched on at 4 hrs 30 mins then I wouldn’t have had the strength to do this. There must be an explanation for this phenomenon but like most things to do with metabolism and nutrition there is no sensible relevant information out there. The science in general is complete rubbish and clearly motivated by commercial interests and not by intelligence or genuine scientific principles.
Surprisingly, despite being strong for most of the race my placing was 171 out of 205 - (59 in age cat. out of 71).
Actual time 05:56:57
Official time 05:59:18. (At least they let me remain under the 6 hours!)
Very annoyingly, both myself and Yannick who had also started near the back both had 2 mins 30 seconds added to our actual time of crossing the start line – due to the stupidity of the organisers giving an average single start time for everybody. That makes a difference of anything up to potentially 20 places so it’s a seriously stupid system. Those starting at the back are already handicapped by having to work much harder to catch the field of riders – which is almost impossible. Being philosophical about it all it doesn’t really matter of course because it’s all about having a great workout – but motivation is the key here and issues like this can’t really be ignored. Almost 4 hours were spent at supposedly anaerobic levels of activity – so I couldn’t have done much more than that. There were no cramps and no bonking – despite being in ketosis and the only carbs being involved being a few glasses of Coke. My BAC was 0.01% (1.7 mmol/L) before the race and 0.02% (3.4 mmol/L) immediately after (it is still at 0.02% 48 hours later). Either I’m no good at long distance racing or the others – starting advantage aside – were very much fitter and have much greater mileage in their legs. I suspect that Yannick had a similar or lower level of training – hence his cramps problem. He was 9 years my senior however and he was tempted to blame his cramps on that – but I know that cramps have no bias in that respect.
Red Line 23% 01:20:21
Anaerobic 44% 02:36:56
Aerobic 22% 01:20:15
Fat Burning 8% 00:29:02
My serious red-lining had been on the first two climbs and as expected this biased my heart rate averages over the race, slipping from averaging around 170 bpm on a straight line (graph) down to about 147 bpm towards the end. I normally train at around 152 bpm so this is still quite amazing and a phenomenal endorsement for ketosis. It was clear from the start that sustained red-lining would have to be paid for – but the negative impact was temporary and not too deep. Somehow – even though average heart rates continued to decline as a result of this – my power actually increased. That’s the part I don’t understand here. The final hour and a half along with my new partner were enjoyable – mentally, morally and physically. Any relative dip and hardship in the middle section was rapidly forgotten. After the race I felt a deep tiredness in my legs that I’ve only felt once before – the week before after the “Bosses du 13” race. Mentally I was fully alert and fresh so the 3 hour drive home after lunch was absolutely no issue. There was no tiredness when driving. Sleeping at night however was a bit restless and the following day there was a deep general tiredness. Now, almost 48 hours later (and still deep in ketosis) I already feel recovered and fresh.
Amazingly, despite my background both academically and professionally in navigation I believed that I was going around the course in a clockwise direction – but it was anti-clockwise! Realising that after the race removed quite a bit of confusion! Thankfully the roads were almost totally empty of traffic and the organisiation and signalisation were excellent. I’ll be back! Despite the toughness of the long courses and large amounts of climbing, thanks to ketosis I’m starting to really enjoy and look forward to them. Before ketosis I used to only find them demoralising.
Analysing the overall situation regarding Ketosis I found that three main points emerged which I have posted as questions on the personal bog of Dr Attia. Here is a copy of the comment that is currently awaiting moderation…
I assume you have your reasons for not specifically answering my previous question about what supplements you would now choose to use during training session – given the (positive) effect of exogenous ketone (or more accurately MCT) supply. (Peter Attia’s blog post was regarding ketone supplementation Exogenous Ketones)
I have a few observations to add. Bear in mind that I am supplementing both ketones and carbs in low quantities when training or racing.
You appear to be correct in that any carbs consumed during an event – at least when consumed a few hours into the event – do not impact ketosis. You describe this as being due to a “carb debt”. (I have measured approx 1.7 mmol/L before a competition and 3.4 mmol/L after despite eating carbs) Reading about the Ranulph Feinnes/ Mike Stroud 1992/3 expedition to be the first ever to walk unaided across the Antarctic however raises a question mark over the “carb-debt” idea. The two adventurers – in a bid to reduce their carrying weight ended up with a high concentration of fat for their food – which I calculate to have provided 75% of their calories. They were burning over 11,000 Kcal per day – every day for 6 weeks – measured using radio isotopes. They took blood samples every few days. By the end of their trip their blood glucose levels were so low they would normally have been dead at 0.2 mmol/L. When the readings were analysed the medical experts initially thought they were simply in error – but they were not.
My point is this: What is a “Carb-debt” when the body can apparently normalise to 0.2 mmol/L? Would it not be better to aim for this than feed a system (with carbs) that assumes 4 mmol/L minimum is “normal” and necessary?
During cycling competition I can maintain an anaerobic level for over 4 hours with much of this apparently “red-lining”. So if I’m now not actually burning carbs and burning ketones instead then is this actually correct to call this “anaerobic” in the sense of being 70% carb burning – which it now clearly is not?
At almost exactly 4 hours and 30 minutes into an event – no matter what I’ve been doing in terms of effort up to this point – there is an effect like a switch being thrown that brings a strong resurgence of energy. This doesn’t affect heart rate but it allows much more power to be accessed without a raise in average heart rate. So far once this has started it remains constant until the termination of the event – from two to three hours later. I have absolutely no idea why this happens – but I can almost set my watch by it because the timing is so precise.