Saturday, February 27, 2010

Can You Be an Endurance Athlete and Primal?


By Mark Sisson

By now you know I have a biased point of view that rigorous endurance training is antithetical to health. Yes, I competed and loved it for 20 years, so I get the appeal it has for so many, but these days my personal focus is on maintaining the highest level of fitness and health on the least amount of work and sacrifice. I want to play and have fun. Still, I get asked a lot by endurance athletes whether there’s any chance they can continue to compete at a high level while eating and training Primally. I used to think it probably wasn’t feasible if you wanted to be world class, assuming as I did (erroneously) that you just couldn’t overcome the need for copious amounts of carbs on a daily basis without crashing and burning. However, recent research into the concept of “train low-race high” (vis a vis glycogen) and modified approaches to low level aerobic training that focus largely on reprogramming genes to more preferentially burn fat AS WELL AS the use of techniques like HIIT and barefoot training now all seem to show that training and eating Primal could not only maximize performance, but extend your career. If that’s your choice and if you approach it carefully (like Gold and Silver Olympic medalist Simon Whitfield). Since the book came out last June, I have heard from several elite athletes who have not only adopted Primal styles but have improved their performances (and reduced injury, and decreased body fat). Today I thought you might be interested in this “testimonial” from my good friend Jonas Colting, a long-time professional triathlete who has gradually incorporated Primal techniques into his training style.


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As to the main question I would say that I’m living as primal as I can, given my profession. I’ve always been a huge advocate for developing health along with fitness but I’ve also accepted that professional endurance athletics (triathlon) is not a health contest per se. In its rawest form pro triathlon is a contest in resilience, pain and fatigue with a lot of stress on body and mind.

Naturally, my training load is way and beyond what’s recommended in the “Primal Blueprint” and I’m surely guilty of being a chronic cardio participant. However, a big part of my distance training would be on the intensity level of that which a normal person would have on a hike or similar. I’m not spending an inordinate amount of time in a carbo burning or lactic acid laden state which so often is the case among many endurance athletes. Rather, after 25 years of endurance training my fat burning capacity enables me to stay primal even at relatively high efforts and speeds.

I’m from a swimming background and now favor rather intense sprint- and stroke challenging workouts to get the most from time in the water. Running is otherwise my favorite discipline of the three and especially in the forest and on the trails with an asymmetric and varied stride that promotes overall strength and a stride with a full range of motion, hence not requiring as much stretching post running.

Over the years I’ve been working a lot on functional strength and posture through various programs and have over the recent years taken this a step further by developing the “Primal Walk”, done in the forest with a mix of barefoot walking in the Vibram shoes and primal strength exercises such as lifting, pulling, pushing, squatting, throwing, hitting, sprinting and so forth.

I always run in very thin shoes and low to the ground and will increase my barefoot running even more with regular runs in the Vibrams, besides doing the Primal Walks.

Nutrition wise I do eat some carefully chosen processed carbs, which is inevitable given the high amount of exercise I’m doing. However, it’s a far cry from the standard among Swedish nutritionist that recommend athletes to eat 10 grams of carb per kilo of bodyweight which for me would mean amounts in excess over 800 grams per day, levels that could be described as downright toxic in my estimation!

I eat loads of eggs (I love the banana-almond butter-egg pancakes featured on MDA), red meat, salmon, avocados, leafy greens, nuts and seeds. I eat sparingly with dairy but I´m generous with butter and drink some whole fat milk as well as some occasional yoghurt. I´m a big fruit eater with my favourites now being pomegrenate, blueberries, mango, citrus and bananas.

I also eat a fair bit of raw foods as in red meat, eggs, fish, milk straight from the farm. I eat some bread, mostly because I’m not really sensitive to gluten and bread is quite easy for me to digest. I can have a bowl of pasta sometimes as well as veggies like potatoes, carrots, red beats and turnips. I love sweets and pastries but mostly refrain from eating them but I’m weak for temptation so I’m terrible at hotel buffets and parties but I’m not into making life hard for myself. I’ll use self control when it’s necessary but I also know when to relax and purely enjoy the taste and feel of a savory dessert or treat.

I stay way clear from the typical athletes’ addiction to sports nutrition like bars, powders, gels and drinks which in most cases really is just candy in a more sophisticated package. I do use some electrolyte drinks on long and hot sessions and obviously for races all rules are off. When applying a “train low-race high” philosophy it would be foolish not to maximize both fat burning and carb utilization. For really long sessions or on the run portion of triathlons I find that Red Bull or soft drinks works wonders with the simple formula of sugar and caffeine.

I work closely with Organic Food Bar, and their products are a great option for athletes to use while training or racing.

I use the Damage Control Master Formula and take two capsules of Quercetin/Vitamin C every day and no other supplements.

My first influence that showed me the right way was the books of Phil Maffetone which I read during the mid-90´s, and they promoted the use of good fats and the dangers of sugars, stress and exercising too hard. Following MDA has further widened my knowledge and added to what I believe is the right way to approach eating and exercising and the framework of these philosophies is what I believe is the answer to having a +15 year pro triathlon career without hardly any injuries or illness and a continued improvement and enjoyment.

This is the message I talk, lecture and write about in Sweden.

Jonas Colting, Sweden
37 years old

2 medals, ITU World Championships, Long Distance
2 medals, ITU European Championships, Long Distance
Ironman-winner
2 times winner of Ultraman World Championships, Hawaii
Several times Swedish Champion Triathlon
Swedish Champion, Open Water Swimming
2 times winner of Island to Island, hardest one-day race in Sweden
Only person ever to complete the Swedish Classic nonstop in 25 hrs (3 k swim, 90 k roller-skiis, 300 k cycling, 30 k cross country run) including transports between venues.

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