Written by Christopher Kelly
Oct. 6, 2017
Christopher: Hello and welcome to The Nourish Balance Thrive podcast. My name is Christopher Kelly, and this week I've got something slightly different for you, not me but one of our clients and good friend, Ryan Baxter, recording an interview with Dr. Tommy Wood specifically on the topic of nutrition for obstacle course racing. Now even if you're not an obstacle course racer, I think you're going to get a lot out of this interview. Ryan also mentioned some of the testing that he did and how important that was for knowing whether the changes he was making to his diet and lifestyle and training were working. It's now possible to predict some of that data by using a machine learning algorithm that I developed. Head over to our website at nbt.ai and spend seven minutes clicking on some radio buttons and we can predict some of the testing that Ryan did. Now, over to the podcast.
Ryan: Hello, everyone, my name is Ryan Baxter and I have the pleasure to be joined by Dr. Tommy Wood. How are you doing, Tommy?
Tommy: I'm great, thanks.
Ryan: Cool. So Tommy is the Chief Medical Officer for Nourish Balance Thrive. Am I right in saying that?
Ryan: An incredibly smart guy in other words. I've been working with Nourish Balance Thrive now for about eight months. I started working with them at the end of my race season last year when I just was not feeling well. I was tired all the time. I was not sleeping. I had very low sex drive. My performance in training and racing was starting to decline. So I went to my primary care physician and told him what I was seeing, and the only thing he was concerned about was my testosterone. He tested that and it came back "normal" to him and so he had [0:01:43] [Indiscernible] and that was it. I knew something wasn't right, so I was determined to figure out what that was and eventually came across the good folks at Nourish Balance Thrive, Tommy and Chris and Amelia. I've been working with them, like I said, for a while now. They're getting me back on track. They ran a whole bunch of tests that came back and showed various different things.
One of the key pieces that we talked about in evaluating my case was my nutrition. At the time I was following a pretty low carb, if not ketogenic diet. I think I was probably in ketosis most of the time, although I wasn't necessarily testing my ketones all the time, and that was contributing to some of the problems I was seeing. So as I started to recover -- oh, and I think Tommy had a very famous quote when he was looking at my -- [0:02:33] [Indiscernible] -- when he was looking at my test results and my nutrition. He said, "Just get this kid some carbs," I think was what you said.
Tommy: Something like that, yeah.
Ryan: Something along those lines. It's basically eat more and get some more carbs. Obviously nutrition plays a huge role in our sport, in obstacle course racing. So as I've gotten back to training now, and I've been training at a gym called "The Loft" here in Tilton, New Hampshire. We have a private Facebook group with members there, and the topic of nutrition comes up quite often and frequently, as one might suspect. I thought it will be a good idea to talk to Tommy on behalf of the team and ask him a few questions around nutrition and how that relates to obstacle course racing in general and get some advice from people who are in the know. Before we get into any questions, I just want to give Tommy the opportunity to introduce himself and tell us a little bit about himself, his background, et cetera.
Tommy: Sure. Like you said, I'm Chief Medical Officer of Nourish Balance Thrive. Currently my day job is a senior fellow at the University of Washington and Seattle, and my background is varied in multiple types of athletics, basically starting in my late teens then continuing. I mainly rowed as an undergraduate. I studied Biochemistry at Cambridge. I continued to row and then coach as well. I was head coach of my medical school boat club at Oxford. Then as I transitioned away from rowing and I went to work as a doctor, I then dabbled in a few different sports. I've done ultra endurance racing like [0:04:12] [Indiscernible] and triathlons and ultramarathons. I've done power lifting. I've done CrossFit. I haven't actually ever done an obstacle course race.
Ryan: That's too bad.
Tommy: Actually maybe I did one. I did one, but I'm very familiar with the demands that it involves. Equally, when I speak to you, Ryan, or I hear about your story and similar people, I've been in a very similar situation myself where I've overly restricted, I've been very particular about the food that I eat thinking that it needs to be a certain thing in order to be healthy and similarly saw the same dips in my performance. This was five to ten years ago, trying to juggle, at various times, either trying to juggle training for rowing with medical school or trying to train for a 24-hour Iron Man distance, off-road triathlon whilst working as a junior doctor in Central London. The stresses definitely add up and then affect the way your body functions and the way you function in life outside of training and racing. So this is definitely something I've been through myself and then that hopefully makes it much easier to guide people through it because I've managed to work my way through it myself and then you pick up tips along the way as well from other people you work with. So, as well as having an academic background, having a varied athletic background helps bring that all together.
Ryan: Cool. Just for everyone's knowledge, can you just talk a little bit about the goals behind Nourish Balance Thrive and what you guys do there?
Tommy: Yeah, of course. Basically, Nourish Balance Thrive was started by Christopher Kelly who is, he was a software engineer by training, computer scientist, and was also an elite-level mountain biker. Basically, he did all the things that athletes are told to do in terms of the way they should eat, and he trained the way that athletes are told to trained, and he basically got really sick. He couldn't function and had many symptoms similar to yours, lots of gastrointestinal symptoms as well, gut symptoms, gut problems, and basically again figured out that his primary care physician and the gastroenterologists couldn't help him at all really.
So he figured out himself and then started out a company with another pro mountain biker, Jamie Kendall-Weed who is a primary care physician herself, and his now wife, Julie, who is a food scientist, has a Master's degree in Food Science. Basically, Julie figured out various aspects of his diet. They trained in certain types of more holistic medical process. He trained to be a functional diagnostic nutritionist, and they teach you various things about various medical tests. Some of the stuff they teach you are great, some of the stuff they teach you aren't and then you slowly figure out stuff over time.
Then after a year or two, basically through me talking to Chris, pestering him, I heard him on podcast, he brought me on board and we've been building and expanding from there. Now we've worked with over a thousand athletes of all levels, so people who just want to perform a little bit better, weekend warrior types, up to we have people who are training for the next Olympics cycle who will almost certainly appear at the Olympics. So everybody in between, anybody who has a performance goal, we can almost certainly help them. We generally don't find problems we can't fix which requires a nice scenario to be in.
Ryan: Yeah, you guys are absolutely great. Let's get into some of the questions. Diet and nutrition can be a lot like politics and religion. People get stuck in their ways and they believe certain things are true, and trying to convince them otherwise or even convince them to try something, not even just give it a chance, can be quite tough. So when you work with athletes and you tell them, well we need to change this piece of your nutrition, and you probably see a lot of resistance from them, how do you overcome that and how do you go about convincing strong-minded people that they might need to change something about their nutrition and it might be hindering their performance?
Tommy: Yeah, there are three levels of answer to this kind of question. The first one is it's very interesting, just like you mentioned, that everybody agrees that there are experts in the world who have trained in a certain thing and are good at a certain thing, and they're the people you go to for advice, but when it comes to food and nutrition, everybody already thinks they're an expert. I don't really know where this has come from. I know plenty of scientists, loads of scientists, great researchers, and they figured food out. You don't need to tell them about it because they figured out just by the fact that there's no one near their field. Anyway, that's my very quick [0:09:05] [Indiscernible].
Actually, I guess when you're talking to people, it's very important, at least for me, to mention or frame it in a fact that there are multiple ways to skin a cat, right? Everybody will have their own way to eat optimally for them, and that could be very different from person to person. That will depend both on what their body is telling them and then what their brain prefers. Everybody has a preference for whatever reason, and that's fine. You can definitely work within those boundaries. If you are somebody who is trying to help somebody change their diet, are strict in your own views, it does actually make it much harder because as soon as you try and force something upon somebody then their immediate reaction is to pull back and say, "No, you're wrong. I'm going to double down on my own thoughts." Then it's very difficult to open a dialogue.
So I think the first thing to do is basically be very open, start discussion. There are 10, 15 diets of various different types that I've either used with people or recommended to people, depending on their scenario, lots of different things you can play with. So if you start a discussion rather than telling somebody what they need to do, I think that definitely helps open the door. For us particularly, we don't often have people who resist diet changes actually and mainly because when they come to us, they've listened to us on podcast, they've read blog posts in various spheres, other people have maybe mentioned us. By the time they come to us, they've committed to work with us. They're actually very willing to do what we suggest because we get good results. So that makes our lives a little easier. When you're then actually just talking to somebody in the street and they haven't engaged mentally with that process then that's much harder, so we make that a little bit easier for ourselves.
There are some people who are resistant to changing certain things sometimes and then what becomes really useful is having test results. It could be something you see in the stool test, something you see in the urine test that suggests that maybe somebody really should try eliminating gluten or dairy. Those are very common food allergens and very commonly can irritate the gut of athletes. Some people eat them just fine and I would definitely not tell everybody to stop eating them. It's a very personal thing. But if you have some results and you see a number, it's red because it's outside the normal range or it's not what you want it to be, then that gives somebody something to hang on that they then can think, hang on a second, here's some real hard data, and then I can make a change around that. So that's how we approach it. If you start very open, the people we get often are willing to do what we suggest and then when they see results, they're willing to continue with it. But if there are some risks there then test results and actually having a scientific or a hard basis for why you're suggesting something, that really helps.
Ryan: Yeah. For me, the testing was a key indicator for me because, like Chris, I am also a computer scientist, so I'm very analytical and like having hard data to look at. When I saw -- like I mentioned, I was low carb and in ketosis -- when I saw my blood work come back and my insulin was unmeasurable, it was just a clear sign to me that it probably shouldn't be that low. I could probably eat more carbohydrates. I just had my blood work done again and even now, even now that I'm eating more carbohydrates, it's still pretty low. I think it was at 1.5, still below 2, and so it's still a sign that I could probably still eat more rice. So having that hard data there is good for me at least, for my [0:12:50] [Indiscernible]. I agree that, at least for me, the testing piece is always a key piece to changing my mindset about how I should be fueling my activity. Also from an individual basis, measuring your athletic performance based on what you're eating too, if you see changes, if you eat a certain way before doing a workout and you perform a lot better, that's probably big motivator for most athletes to get them to change the way they're eating.
Tommy: I completely agree. You can do this based purely on a mindful approach to how you eat and train. You eat a certain way. You train a certain way. You really think and analyze about how that then made you feel. You can obviously go too far in that but I know Chris will tell you -- this has definitely been the case for me in the past -- that you think you know how you should be eating or training and so even if you don't feel good afterwards, you're just going to ignore that feeling because you think you're doing the right thing. So it really takes some time to sit down and think, okay, well I ate this, how did I feel afterwards? Or I trained this way, how did I feel afterwards? If that continuously makes you feel less good or makes you feel sleepy or grouchy or whatever in the period of time afterwards then you have to be honest with yourself and say, "Okay, maybe that's not what I should be doing."
If you really do approach it that way and really have a mindful approach to the way you feel after you eat and train particularly then I think you really can navigate through that. But it's also very easy to think that you've got things right and then just ignore all the signs. So depending on the kind of person you are, it may work well, it may not, but we definitely would suggest that people approach their eating and training that way and then if you really can't figure things out or you still continue to feel bad despite what you think you're doing right, then obviously testing can be really helpful.
Ryan: Yeah, the brain is quite powerful. We tend to override a lot of things. I felt crappy for a very long time and just told myself it was fine. You don't realize how bad you feel until you start to feel better.
Ryan: That's a powerful thing. What do you think or what are your ideas behind how athletes and particularly obstacle course racers, what should their nutrition look like, day to day? Do you have specific things that you think work for a lot of athletes, certain macronutrient recommendations, that type of stuff?
Tommy: Yeah. I think for most people, and most obstacle course racers included, a mixed diet is definitely going to give you the best result. By mixed, I mean, includes protein, fat and carbohydrates. In terms of where they actually come from, my one recommendation usually when it comes to food is that you should just eat real food. It's going to sound simple but it can become tricky when people think about it too much. It basically just means you get whole single ingredients and you cook them and you turn them into food. For some people that's a skill that they need to learn. For others it comes very naturally. But if you start with those principles then it makes it a lot easier and that includes removing most refined carbohydrates, so things based on flour particularly but then also refined fats. People, when they remove carbohydrates, they get into a low carb diet, they tend to throw in loads of coconut oil and butter. Those things are fine but nutritionally, they don't have a lot other than just calories.
I do like people to eat nutrient-dense food as well as food just targeting their calories. With that as the basis, the main recommendation would be, assuming that you don't have a specific body composition goal, if you have a load of weight to lose or you have some kind of health problem then these things will change, but in general I think most people should eat something like 120 to 160 grams of protein a day in three or four meals. When those meals come and how far apart those meals are can be very individual. For an obstacle course racing athlete, I will suggest starting at something like a gram of carbohydrates per pound of body weight a day. Although that could easily go up. Then the rest, coming from fat and that fat will be in fish and eggs and meat and nuts and seeds and wherever else you like to get your fat from. It's kind of a very rough framework but if you stick within that then I think it's very unlikely that you're going to go wrong.
Ryan: So just to clarify a couple of things, when you say you want people to stay away from, or not stay away from, but not go overboard with things like coconut oil and butter and stuff like that and you want more nutrients in the calories that you're eating, would you rather see them eat something like -- they're looking at taking in some fat -- would you rather see them eat something like an avocado as opposed to a mound of butter? Is that what you mean by that?
Tommy: When you frame it like that, it seems like an obvious answer but, yes, absolutely. Like I said, I have no particular thing against butter or coconut oil, but just there are very few scenarios where that should be a major calorie source. Because other than fat, there's not that much in there. You can talk about all the great stuff in grass-fed butter, and I'm using myself. I had some with my dinner last night. That's absolutely fine. I have no issue with that. It's just when something becomes a major -- if you think about the basic Western diet, almost all of the calories come from wheat, soy and corn in some guise or another, be that soy oil or they have soy protein, and then wheat in flours particularly, and then corn could be as sugar or could be as ground up to flour or all the various things you can extract. Those three things make up at least 70% of the calories of the American diet.
As soon as you basically just spend all your time eating one thing, usually you're going to cause problems. You can shift over to what you think is a better diet because you've reached your carbohydrates, but you could easily just do the same thing and just focus on fat sources that don't have very many nutrients in either. So, be varied, don't have all your calories come from one thing, particularly something that has had a lot of the other nutrients removed out of it from whenever it was a real food, if that makes sense.
Ryan: Yeah, definitely. You brought up a specific ratio of carbohydrates there when you said you think people should eat, what was it, one gram of carbohydrate per…
Tommy: A pound, and that's, for a high-intensity sport like obstacle course racing, that is like a minimum. I definitely don't think that people should -- I give a number because people like numbers but -- because I always get asked for numbers, so then I give a number.
Ryan: Yeah, I'm one of those people.
Tommy: But for you, Ryan, that could easily be two or three times that, and as well as for members on your team, so definitely increase from there. That's like a minimum value.
Ryan: Sure, and just to clarify because I always find that people just assume this and maybe they don't understand it. When you say, eat one gram of carbs per pound of body mass, are you talking about net carbohydrates or total carbohydrates?
Tommy: Yes, so net carbohydrate. I'm not particularly worried about fiber. This will also [0:20:22] [Indiscernible] on the Nourish Balance Thrive podcast. In the US, obviously you have your total carbohydrate that includes fiber and then your net carbs which carbohydrates that your metabolizing can affect essentially your blood sugar. In other places like in Europe and in the UK, fiber is a separate value so you don't need to make an adjustment there but, yes, net carbs.
Ryan: Interesting. I wish they would do that in the US.
Tommy: Just make your life so much easier. Interestingly, if somebody is struggling with a real metabolic health problem like severely obese, type 2 diabetes then some people would tell you to focus on total carbs rather than net carbs. But in this scenario, athletes trying to perform better, then net carbs is what I'm talking about.
Ryan: Okay, cool. On the subject, you brought up both fat and carbs in your last answer, and recently I came across a couple of videos that Chris Masterjohn had posted last week on fueling athletic performance with carbs versus fat. I think this is the number one hot topic debate when it comes to athletes and what they eat. Either you eat carbohydrates to fuel your performance or you eat fats to fuel your performance. You probably focus on one or the other. He had a lot of scientific data in the videos that he had posted, and a lot of it was stuff that was kind of over my head but some of it was not. He brought up a lot of good points. At the end of the day, he says, if you're going to be doing intense activity then you need to have carbohydrates. You can't just be fueling with fat. Now it sounds like based on your last answer, you agree with what he is saying there that we need to be -- if you're an obstacle course racer or you're doing some type of intense activity like obstacle course racing that you need to be eating carbohydrates as well as fats. Is that basically your opinion as well?
Tommy: Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I'm amazed that this is still a discussion. I understand why people want to become [0:22:26] [Indiscernible] if they say, "I want to go to a more low carbohydrate type diet," I completely understand why people do that, but if you look at the true data on whether being very low carb or ketogenic actually makes you go faster in any sport, that evidence is pretty minimal. That doesn't mean that it's not important. There are plenty of people who perform very well eating that kind of diet. They're usually long distance, aerobic type athletes, Iron Man, ultramarathon, and that's great. But even some of those do occasionally eat carbohydrates around training, depending on their training intensity.
We know that if you want to perform in a sport, you need to fuel for the activity that you're doing. If you're doing glycolytic, high-intensity sprinting, multiple rep weight training, you need some carbohydrates to fuel that work. That doesn't mean that you can't perform better with fat as a fuel source at a given level of intensity. We've definitely seen that people who become fat-adopted or low carb, they can definitely use fat at a higher intensity level, but there will always be a point where the top end, the fastest sprint, will still need carbohydrates to fuel their performance.
Even in very low carb athletes, they still need muscle glycogen to fuel up performance. They just use it for something slightly different. But you can see even in people who eat only fat as fuel source, they store muscle glycogen and they use it just as fast as people who eat carbohydrates if they're doing long distance endurance exercise. So you need that glycogen. Particularly if you're doing high intensity work, you need to eat carbohydrates. That also doesn't mean that you can do high intensity work whilst eating a low carbohydrate diet. You can still do that. You just won't necessarily perform quite as well. So there are so many ways to approach this topic, and people can definitely watch Chris Masterjohn's videos. They are almost always excellent. He can go through all the science. In summary -- I've rambled a little bit here because my coffee hasn't kicked in yet.
Ryan: That's fine.
Tommy: But in summary, if you're going to do high intensity work, eat carbohydrate. It's pretty much as simple as that.
Ryan: Yeah, and as Tommy said, you can -- I've proved positive -- you can eat a ketogenic diet or a very low carb diet and do obstacle course racing. I did it. I did it for an entire year. It's just going to take a toll on your body because your body is looking for these carbohydrates. It's part of the reason why my testosterone was so low. It was because my body said, "Well you don't need to reproduce or anything. You're not even making babies because you're not eating enough food or the right kinds of food." Part of the reason why my thyroid hormones are out of whack and stuff like that. It's possible to do it. You just need to -- if you do decide to go that route and you try a low carb diet, just be, like Tommy was talking about earlier, be mindful of how you feel. If you start to feel crappy and you start to see things change then maybe it has to do with your diet. You should probably take action before it's too late. Right?
Tommy: Yeah, definitely. So for anybody doing this kind of mixed intensity, high intensity sport; a mixed diet in its most traditional sense, as in you eat all macronutrients, is definitely going to be the best approach.
Ryan: One of the things that I think is particularly useful for -- so, obstacle course racing is unique in the fact that we have various distance types of races. A lot of people focus on either short, intense type of athletic adventures where they're sprinters or they're doing maybe shorter triathlons, et cetera, or focus on the longer events here. They're marathoners. They're doing Ultra Events. They're doing Iron Man distance triathlons, et cetera. So you can either focus on one or the other, right, and you can tailor your diet to that. But in obstacle course racing, we have a lot of different linked events. We have events that are, anywhere from a 5K distance, all the way up to something that lasts 24 hours. So there are some advantages to being able to use both types of fuel or having metabolic flexibility.
It might be a good idea, and you can let me know if I'm off-base, Tommy, on this, is spending a time during the year, focusing on fat adaptation. You maybe eating lower carb but keeping the intensity low in your workouts and doing more aerobic style training to up-regulate the fat oxidation and then shift over. When you shift over to more intensity in your training, introducing the carbohydrates and teaching your body to use both fuel sources efficiently so that you can jump back and forth between these different types of events, whether they're short events or long events, because they're typically mixed in throughout the year, your race season. Does that make sense at all, Tommy?
Tommy: Yeah, definitely, and I think you're absolutely right that the crucial factor for somebody like an obstacle course racer is metabolic flexibility which essentially that means that you can use the right type of fuel at the time that you need it. So if you're doing anything that's going to be an hour, 2, 3 hours, 24 hours, it's going to be mainly aerobic. It's going to be mainly fat-based. But then if you have to quickly climb something or lift something then you're going to go into the more glycolytic part of the pathway which is going to be mainly carbohydrate-based and then you want to be able to access that at the same time. You also need to be able to switch between the two.
One thing that you and I have talked about, Ryan, is periodizing fat and carbohydrate intake. I think that that's definitely something that could be really beneficial to the obstacle course racer. Like you say, you could do periods where you're eating lower carbohydrate, and that doesn't necessarily need to be very long periods of time. It could just be two or three days and you do it around more aerobic-based training. Maybe you start by depleting some glycogens so you do very high intensity workout. The next two or three days, you just do more aerobic-style workouts and then you eat lower carbohydrate. Then you go back into a higher intensity phase, and you eat more carbohydrates again. That will be enough to help push the adaptation. You can see that even in studies where they just do that for a day. You just have a period of low carb for a day then you can boost performance without ever having to really restrict one or the other for long periods of time.
It's also important to point out that nobody wants to become fat-adopted but as you increase your VO2 max, as you increase your aerobic capacity, you are automatically up-regulating your fat oxidation pathways. Similarly when you're doing high intensity work, you're automatically up-regulating your glucose-dependent pathway so then if you're doing the training, you will be up-regulating those pathways and then it's just making sure that you have the substrate available, the right fuel source available when you then want to perform in that particular style.
Ryan: Yeah, and I think it's definitely possible, it's something that I've seen in myself where I knew obviously at the end of last race season, I was fat-adopted and I was using primarily fat for my fuel because obviously that was pretty much the only thing I was eating. I wasn't eating a ton of carbohydrates. But now that I started eating carbohydrates, one thing I've worried about is not being able to use fat as efficiently as I was before, but I haven't really seen any decrease in my aerobic capacity. I eat, like you said, upwards of 150 grams of carbs a day but then on Saturdays when I do my long runs, I go out, fasted first thing in the morning. I haven't eaten anything. The only thing I've drank is just some water when I wake up, and I'm able to go for two hours and not need to eat along the way or anything like that. So I still have the ability to utilize fat as a fuel when I need to, but I'm also now training my body to use carbs for the more intense activities, and I've seen improvements in my anaerobic capacity as well. So getting the metabolic flexibility is, I think, perfect medium between choosing which type of fuel you want to use.
Tommy: I think it's important to point out that they aren't mutually exclusive. You can be very good at utilizing both fuel sources in the right scenario. Just because you're eating more carbohydrate doesn't mean that you're inhibiting your ability to oxidize fat. It's simplified out in the popular press as you try and convince somebody to go down a certain path or eat a certain way, but those two do not necessarily inhibit one another if you do things correctly. Equally when you're talking about not seeing any reduction in your aerobic capacity, there isn't actually any evidence to show that if you eat low carb, you increase your aerobic capacity. You just are able to use fat as a fuel source at higher intensities, but that doesn't mean that you then increase your VO2 max overall.
Ryan: So you can go at a higher intensity fuel on fat. Your theory is that you can then probably push yourself harder and longer without having to take in calories. Is it more just an optimization type of scenario as opposed to, if I were using carbohydrates, I would have to eat every 30 minutes or something like that?
Tommy: Yeah, that's definitely what we tend to see. I don't imagine that obstacle course racers very often have VO2 max tests because it's probably impossible to measure somebody's VO2 max whilst they're crawling under things and over things. So if you think about just running on a treadmill, your VO2 max is like your maximal oxygen up-take. Traditionally when people get to 50 or 60% in terms of intensity then they start to become more carbohydrate-based rather than fat-based. If you're somebody who is fat-adopted, you can maybe go up to 70, 80, 90% of your VO2 max and still be using fat as your main fuel source, but that doesn't necessarily mean that your VO2 max has increased or that you don't need carbohydrates at the very top end. You can use fat for fuel at higher intensities which is going to be useful particularly if you're cycling between intensities like you do in an obstacle course race, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to make you faster because you became fat-adopted. It's just going to make you more efficient.
Ryan: Okay, cool. So I want to jump around here. I have a ton of questions, but I want to get to some more practical ones so that people can -- now we talked a little bit about high level, about macronutrients. I want to talk a little bit more about nutrition when it comes to racing and hard training sessions, et cetera.
We at The Loft, we have two coaches there, and one of the classes that they have is a two-hour long class, training session where our coach just likes to kill us, essentially. As an example, a couple of weeks ago, we had a class where his warm up -- warm up in air quotes because I wouldn't necessarily consider this warm up, but this is what he called it -- the warm up was a burpee ladder warm up where we do burpees for one minute up to I can't remember how long and then one minute 60-second rest and two minutes 60-second rest, et cetera, et cetera. The rest never increased but the time doing burpees did. Then we go all the way up the ladder and all the way back down and then doing 15 minutes straight of burpees which is just absolutely insane and everyone wanted to die.
Then we actually started the real workout, the real workout which was doing a number of obstacles, running, carrying heavy objects, that type of stuff, also doing some body weight exercises like more burpees, mountain climbers, that type of stuff, squats. So it's pretty intense to our class. So going into something like that, how should we -- we know we're going to go into this class. It's going to be long in duration, number one. It's probably going to be high intensity, two. What does our nutrition that day leading up to that class look like and then what should we do after that class to recover and refuel and make sure that we're going to be ready to train the next day?
Tommy: Okay, this sounds very similar to some of the training I was doing when I was ultra endurance training. I'd go for a 6, 7-mile run and then I'd spend an hour doing circuit training in the gym, so that structure is something that I'm familiar with. For that length of time, two hours, I don't think -- because I think part of your original question included whether you should fuel during this session, but I think at that kind of length, that's right around the amount of time you should be able to last without any inter-workout fueling, unless you're somebody that has a real desire or need to put on muscle mass then you can maybe take some amino acids or protein or something, halfway through or during the session. But for most people I don't think that's going to be necessary.
For the day leading up to it, again if you stick to the same parameters, if there's going to be an evening class, you've had breakfast, probably lunch; good, again, real whole food. You've had some carbohydrates. You have some protein. You have a little bit of fat. I don't think you need to overthink that at all. When you are then going to eat afterwards, again I would say, that same meal is going to be good enough, that same type of meal. But if you are unlikely to be able to eat anytime soon then I think a shake is fine, and it's definitely okay to supplement when you need to. We don't often recommend that people eat or consume liquid calories but if you're somebody that's struggling to get enough calories overall then I think that can be really useful, so some kind of protein-based shake, maybe some carbohydrates, a whey shake or another protein shake, a banana.
I really like carrying a tin of mackerel or sardines in my gym bag as a post-workout just because it's real food, it's protein, it's very easy to handle. Some people don't like the smell but -- I mean, other people don't like the smell. I enjoy it a lot. So something like that. You can create a balance between what's still actual food and then boost that with some extra protein if you need to, if it's unlikely that you're going to eat anytime soon. But if you're able to get home and eat again very quickly then I think that's fine too. You probably, unless you're struggling to maintain weight or performance and you need more calories in throughout the day, I think that that structure would work fine for most people.
Ryan: You brought the shake there. You have a great shake recipe on the Nourish Balance Thrive website that you just posted.
Tommy: It's more than a shake. It's a smoothie.
Ryan: It's like three meals.
Tommy: It's about a thousand calories of vegetables, berries, some protein powders, some various different greens powders and then some coconut milk. There have been other versions. You can add some egg yolks and things depending on how much you want to cram some more nutrients in there. I can definitely send you the link to that. It's difficult to carry that around. So if you want something that you just need to be able to sit in your gym bag then that's probably not going to be the thing, but if you are somebody that needs to get more calories in then something like that maybe to start the day is a really great way to do that.
Ryan: Okay, so you brought up there about probably if we're right around two hours, we probably don't need to take any fuel during the race or training session. I've mentioned earlier that we have much longer obstacle course races, ones that last up to 24 hours. So when we hit the point where we should probably be thinking about fueling in the racing or training session, what do you recommend for fuel? What kind of things should we be looking at eating? How often should we be eating them? Not only food but also water as well, staying hydrated is important. So what strategies do we have for in-race or in-training water intake as well as food intake?
Tommy: Okay, so I'm going to focus more on the really long races.
Ryan: Say we're going to go for, I guess if you're talking about Spartan race, a Beast. A Beast is the longest distance. They have something called the Ultra Beast which is two laps of the Beast.
Tommy: Maybe take the average person to accomplish the Beast.
Ryan: The average racer would probably do around six hours. They may be out there longer or shorter, but it's definitely going to be, for the average person, around six hours.
Tommy: Okay, perfect. At that kind of distance and even half or quarter of that distance, you're going to be mainly aerobic. You're going to be mainly fat-based, so it would be useful if you eat something that doesn't necessarily make it harder for you to access those fat stores. Then I think it's important to stay --
Ryan: Sorry to interrupt you. When I did the Beast last year, I was keen in watching what people were eating as we're going up the mountain that we're racing on, and I saw a lot of candy; gummy bears, Snickers bars, that type of stuff. Should we be looking at that type of food? I think I know the answer to that. Or do you recommend something different?
Tommy: When you were talking about Snickers bars, I'm laughing because when I did an ultramarathon, it was multiple marathons in multiple days. I think I was fueled almost entirely on Snickers bars. This is a few years ago now, before I know a little bit more. So, yes, I would avoid those. I know that they are calorie dense and they are easy to carry which makes them very popular, but I don't think that pure fast-acting carbohydrate is necessarily going to be that beneficial. I do think some carbohydrate is going to be useful. There are a number of different products on the market that have a lower GI-type carbohydrate. People might have heard of UCAN SuperStarch. You can get various oat or sweet potato powders. We make a fiber-based powder that has some fat and some slightly digestible fiber in it or should give us some amount of carbohydrate, so anything like that I think will be beneficial and then maybe a small protein or amino acid source to go with that. There's the Master Amino Acid Pattern or PerfectAmino, it's called now, so it's basically essential amino acids or branched-chain amino acids or a protein type powder if you can carry that.
I guess part of the issue is that in obstacle course racing, compared to, say, triathlon, in triathlon you can -- or in marathon running, you can have bottles, you can set them up, you can have things in advance. Carrying that stuff around a race course is, when you're climbing everything, is much more difficult.
Ryan: What we typically do is that we'll have a hydration pack with us that has some type of pockets in there. We'll shove water in there as well as any kind of food that you need.
Tommy: Yeah. So then you can have a mixture of some carbohydrate and protein, a small amount, in your pack. If you can then get water elsewhere or what will potentially be easier is you have some real food options so things like nuts. Macademia is very popular. Some people, their gut doesn't really react very well to nuts whilst they're exercising so then you can think of smaller stuff like pemmican is really good. It has got some fat, some protein. You can add some carbohydrate, some honey or things like that to it. So some real food options are probably going to be better. Then you're basically talking about eating 100 to 200 calories every hour. If you've trained for it, you probably don't need more than that.
If you're going to do a very, very long race, so say you're going to do a 24-hour race, I think then some supplements in the middle may be really useful, something like NAC glutathione to reduce oxidative stress. I wouldn't use them to recover from training regularly but if you're doing a very long race, I think taking them within the race, there's evidence to show that, that will probably prolong your performance or increase your performance over time with that much longer distance. That's something that people could try too but basically it's going to come down to a slow-digesting carbohydrate source, a small amount of protein or amino acids and, plus or minus, fats, if your that can tolerate fat or real food while you're racing. Some people take to it really well, and some people don't. That's just something you need to play with. If you do that, you consume 100 to 200 calories an hours, that's going to be enough to get you through.
In terms of hydration, there has definitely been some times in the past when people proactively hydrated. Actually it was even in the US Army. They were going to plan to, during desert warfare, they were going to hydrate everybody so well that, that was what was going to win in the wars is the fact that their soldiers are going to be so much better hydrated, and actually went the other way and people got sick. Basically you dilute all the minerals in the blood and cause seizures, comas from having too much water on board. You see that same thing when people do, when amateurs particularly do marathon races. They think they need to drink loads of water and then they end up having problems along the way, and some of them can actually get very sick.
So if people are really interested in this story, they should read the book Waterlogged by Tim Noakes. Actually he has done a lot of studies, again, in long distance athletes, Iron Man triathletes, so that's some similar-ish to the time doing a Beast obstacle course race. Just drinking to thirst is fine. If you're thirsty, drink. If you're not thirsty don't drink. Actually, the people who finish fastest tend to be the most dehydrated at the end, so there are two ways you can spin that. One is that the ability to become dehydrated and still perform actually helps them go faster which is definitely a possibility. Some people may have a genetic adaptation which means that they can be more dehydrated and they still perform very well. That's certainly part of it, but at least you can say that the dehydration isn't affecting their performance. So if you're not thirsty, don't drink. If you're thirsty, drink. That's pretty much what it boils down to.
Ryan: Cool. On the fueling aspect, one of the things that I like to do that I found has worked for me is to use nut butters. You can get a nut butter pack --
Timothy: In squeezy packs, yes.
Ryan: Yeah. Justin's makes one that's pretty good. I like the almond butter and honey one. The straight almond butter one is okay, but it's just, I don't know, it's hard to take down.
Tommy: It sticks to the roof of your mouth.
Ryan: Yeah. The honey, I feel, gives it a little bit of extra flavor, and it has a good mixture of fat and protein in it. Then I've come across a new one, well new to me anyways, made by a company called PROBAR, and they have one that's mixed berry with almond butter. That's really good because it has a good mix of both fat protein and carbohydrate. I think there's something like, I want to say 16 grams of carbohydrates in it, along with the fat and protein from the almond butter, so it has a good macronutrient ratio and tastes pretty good too.
Tommy: There are some decent bars out there nowadays and particularly if you're fueling a race, it's going to be much more convenient to do that. I think that's fine. The Primal Kitchen makes some bars that maybe not based with some honey and things in. Ben Greenfield has a new bar that's pretty good that's similar. You can find what you like and what works for you. So, definitely, if it's based around those kinds of things, small amount of carbohydrate, some nuts if you tolerate it. You can do something more meat-based, like I said, with pemmican. It depends on personal taste, but all of that should work well.
Ryan: Cool. We're kind of up on time, Tommy, and I want to respect your time. I have ten or so other questions that I could ask you.
Tommy: The most burning questions you can still ask.
Ryan: The one question that I think a lot of people will want to hear about or comes up quite often is around supplements. Just traditional dogma is that you should take these supplements, whatever they may be, and that's going to help you build muscle or, whatever, perform better. Are there any supplements that you recommend to almost every single athlete that you work with that we should be looking at, including in our training and racing?
Tommy: Yeah. I think almost everybody we work with, I recommend creatine. It's cheap, it's well-studied, it's very safe for multiple reasons. It could be because they have a methylation problem or it could just be because we know that in most people it's going to improve strength and power performance. Then vitamin D we're supplementing with if your levels are low. It's worth getting those checked. One of the few tests that I think athletes should definitely get. Basically everybody has a vitamin D level because we know that if you have low vitamin D level, it's going to give you lower performance and if you then increase that, it's going to increase your performance. So those two, I think it's pretty safe for everybody to take. I recommend to almost everybody.
If you're going to go a level above then for high intensity, repeated sprints, high rep weight training then I think citrulline and [0:47:47] [Indiscernible] are definitely things that are worth taking. Then for a performance boost, say, on a race day, I think caffeine can be really good but then to get the most benefit out of it, you shouldn't be taking in much caffeine the rest of the time. If you're somebody who drinks three or four coffees a day, if you then take caffeine for a race, it's not really going to make much difference. If you're somebody who doesn't then you can definitely take advantage of that. Similarly some nitrates may be beneficial. Beetroot chops are really popular at the moment, and one or two of those an hour or two before a race may give you a benefit too.
The important thing to say now is that these will only really benefit you if you're doing everything else as well as you possibly can in terms of eating and training and sleeping and recovering all that stuff. These will definitely give you a benefit, but they're not going to give you as much benefit as doing the other stuff properly.
Ryan: And if you want to save some money on getting vitamin D, you can just stay outside in the sun for a little bit.
Tommy: And the benefits of standing in the sun are much greater than simply increasing your vitamin D levels, so I definitely agree.
Ryan: Yeah. Although that can be a challenge here in the Northeast, but it's definitely an easy way to do that. Okay, Tommy, there's so much more I could ask you. Maybe we could do a follow-up podcast if we have some demand from folks on the topic.
Tommy: Yeah, definitely.
Ryan: I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to talk to me about this stuff, and we'll be talking to you soon. Is there anything you want to say before we close it up?
Tommy: No, I don't think so. I have, as I always do when I do a podcast, I have a lot of notes, so I'll be happy to send them to you and then you can share those with people. So any of the questions that we didn't cover, there's at least a small amount of information there that will potentially cover some of those. If there are still other questions then we can absolutely do this again.
Ryan: That will be great. If people want to follow you or get in contact with you, what's the best way to do that?
Tommy: The best thing to do is just go to nourishbalancethrive.com and then there's usually going to be a pop-up box. It will be for my highlights email which is basically a small, very condensed email that gives you some tips and tricks and things that we're using with our athletes. We're basically just giving that information to people in small doses. So if you want to follow what we do, that's probably the best way to do it. If you go to our website then all of that should be there. It's a blog and a podcast and all that kind of stuff that should fit really well into the obstacle course racers' kind of life. Hopefully they enjoy it.
Ryan: Great. Okay, thanks again, Tommy.
Tommy: All right, thanks, Ryan.
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