What Does It Mean to Be a Fat-Burning Beast?

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. I’m excited to be able to bring you this story today. As much as I’m not a fan of Chronic Cardio, I understand that a lot of people are interested in pursuing endurance events. I get it. I used to be one of them. More and more, now, I’m convinced there is a way to do it in a low-carb environment without sacrificing health, and I’m working on a book due out at the end of next year entitled “Primal Endurance” that explores how to do it. Stay tuned!

If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

My wife Cynthia and I embarked on a six month journey and discovered what it means to be Fat-Burning Beasts. We have been intrigued with discovering answers to questions like “what is the protocol, how would we know if we have achieved Fat-Burning Beast status, what is the body’s response, and ultimately, how far can one push the limits of a Fat-Burning Beast? On our journey in answering these questions, we lost weight…our percent body fat dipping by 7 points, we improved sleep, seasonal allergies all but disappeared and we improved our mental acuity. But the greatest gift of all has been passing on the keys to better health and ultimately happiness to family, friends, and co-workers who we have inspired enough to explore for themselves the Primal Blueprint.

Before we begin, a short introduction of our Primal journey to date is in order. Cynthia and I consider ourselves triathletes. Mind you not to the stature of Mark Sisson’s trophy room, but accomplished in our own right with a combined 35 years experience culminating in 25 Ironmans combined with the last two of these scheduled for later this summer. Over the years, we have come to center our lifestyle to compete at multiple distances with a typical gearing up in early spring, racing through October and taking off two months to enjoy the holidays (or season of gluttony). Interestingly enough, every year it has been the two short months of November and December which have caused us greatest concern in reflection. Pre-Primal we would indulge ourselves with all of the grain-laden, sugary-coated treats packing on 15 to 25 pounds each only to find ourselves feeling miserable by January and looking for ways to drop the weight. It was this past January where we once again found ourselves struggling in miserable physical condition and embarking on a new year of training. We were again researching for ways to best lose the effortlessly gained weight. Yes, effortlessly gained.

After hours of internet searching through all of the so called diets, we ultimately landed on Mark’s Daily Apple. Cynthia and I are trained scientists who were completely amazed by the information we were reading about The Primal Blueprint. It all seemed to make sense biologically, and besides, who doesn’t like bacon? We were hooked from the beginning. We even traveled to PrimalCon 2012 traveling across the country where we could meet the Guru Mark himself along with so many other amazing individuals seeking (and finding) good health with an ancestral approach to eating and playing. As it turns out, this conference changed our beliefs for living and has further solidified this new (old) lifestyle we were adopting.

Skipping ahead in our story, we have been Primal for 6 strong months and have found our race focus changing for this year. We no longer focus on a PR, but more so on how to do a race Primally, with clean energy, and to get in touch with our inner spiritual selves, ultimately accomplishing the same distances with less training and more fun time. Who wouldn’t like that? Our bodies, as many of you have discovered for yourselves, have changed in so many ways. Of course we lost our effortlessly gained holiday weight, but we also realized more advantages. As I said, our percent body fat dipping by 7 points, improved sleep, seasonal allergies all but eradicated, more motivated, and improved mental acuity (we think…).

So let’s talk about being keto-adapted. Our first opportunity to test and see if we achieved Fat-Burning Beast status arrived late April in the form of a marathon. Up to this point, many of our longer training runs consisted of fueling with a typical low-carb (50 g or under) Primal meal the evening prior and training the following morning in a fasted state (no breakfast and no gels/bars to fuel during). We learned very early on in our Ironman training the importance of maintaining electrolyte balance to avoid cramping or even worse, hyponatremia). We found running on coconut water (VitaCoco) contained the perfect balance of hydration and electrolytes…yes we know it is low in sodium so we carried salt/electrolyte tabs just in case. But how would we fuel on race day? Our next struggle was to answer this question as our marathon quickly approached. From our readings and discussions with others online, we decided to add additional carbs the few nights leading into the event with acceptable starchy tubers such as sweet potatoes to fill our muscle glycogen stores. We also decided we would use gels and drink the offered course “sports” beverage (Gator…you-know-what) to fuel during the event. We struggled with accepting our decided meal plan and fueling because ultimately we did not feel we were remaining Primal. As it turns out, our plan was a big mistake! We both found ourselves “bloated” at the start line by having rapidly increased our daily carb count with sweet potatoes. Our bodies simply were not adapted to the unexpected surge. The gels and on-course sports beverages were equally a poor choice. Coincidentally, we both were bonking by mile 15. This was unexpected and not experienced in our low-carb training for the race. Even worse, for days following we both felt horrible with a distended bloating feeling in our guts. We simply had shifted our metabolisms to a keto-adapted low-carb state and confused our bodies by asking them to process the added sugars/starches.

From what we had read, we were supposed to digest the carbs and gels with no issue since we would be pushing ourselves to our aerobic limits as we attempted to PR. Not wanting to feel this way again, we decided to test the other side of this equation. Again, from our readings we learned individuals with a body fat of 10% has access to over 40,000 kcal from body fat alone as compared to the average sugar-burner with access to 2,000 kcal in the form of stored glycogen (J.Volek, S. Phinney; The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance). The “trick” to utilizing this plethora of energy would be to remain in a controlled aerobic keto-adapted state, which we would gauge by being able to comfortably carry on a conversation during the event. Coincidentally, many of our training runs were accomplished in this manner (who knew?). Adding to the challenge of being a Fat-Burning Beast, we decided to compete in a fasted state during the event after eating a standard Primal dinner of good fats, proteins and vegetables the evening prior. By doing so, we would be assuring our energy supplies were in fact due to our keto-adapted abilities. We would later call this Primal endurance. Unlike our ability to open the refrigerator to a smorgasbord of meats and vegetables, I’m sure Grok had to deal without fueling from time to time.

Our first Primal endurance test was a half Ironman just a few weeks ago. Incredibly, we competed in this fasted state only taking on water and electrolyte tabs for the entire event. By gauging where our aerobic threshold was and keeping our effort slightly below, we were able to comfortably finish without putting in any of the sugary gels, liquids and without the typical carbo-loading pasta party the night prior. Naturally, we would not experience a PR but hopefully something much more (in our opinion) magical…the ability to be master of our metabolisms. Not only did we finish in a strong state, this particular event offered roasted chicken, salad greens and fruits, at the finish line…simply heaven for Primal Fat-Burning Beasts like us. Whoo hoo! We even ate hunks of butter meant to accompany the bread basket (without the bread of course!). After finishing our Primal fare, we loaded our bikes up, drove 7 hours home arriving after midnight, and arrived on time at work the following day. We asked ourselves, could a sugar-burner have “burned the candle” on both ends as we have? We obviously felt incredibly better as compared to our sugar-carb laden race experience earlier in the year.

So what about recovery you ask? Well, I had an annual bike ride I’ve participated in for a few years now planned for the following Saturday (only six day later). Oh yeah, the ride was from High Point, NJ to Cape May, NJ in a day (207 miles). Unfortunately, Cynthia could not join in the fun since she had to stay home and take care of our four Show Boxers and old lab mix (but that’s another story). Wondering if I could expand my personal Primal endurance time, I repeated the experiment. This time, however, I doubled the exercise while fasting time and covered 12 hours worth of cycling on mostly water, coconut water, and electrolyte tabs. I had pedaled 170 miles before partaking in what was the most delicious tasting avocado, bacon, grass-fed burger ever (without the bun of course). It is amazing how the taste buds come to life after a long fasting. I am perfectly content accepting a slightly slower pace while staying in the aerobic zone so long as I can remain Primal. Furthermore, our future goals include increasing our aerobic threshold in order to compete at even higher intensities while remaining keto-adapted. In the beginning, we were of course skeptical as we felt drained and tired as our bodies were morphing from our sugar-burning days into capable Fat-Burning Beasts. It’s a process where small modifications over time can help achieve success. We do not use the 80/20 rule as we have found we feel better and don’t feel the need for the “20” simply because we feel so good. Cynthia and I are not sure where this journey will take us other than knowing we have experienced feeling super fit and healthy all while training less and being true to our Primal selves.

[Cynthia Carey (age 45), and Paul Grosenstein (age 40)]

In the short six months we have been Primal, we have been most humbled by the number of family, friends, and co-workers we have inspired to explore the Primal Blueprint for themselves. Perhaps this is the greatest gift of all – passing on the keys to better health, and ultimately happiness. We have personally witnessed others reclaim their health, drop medications, and in general, just feel better about themselves. Life is good.

Wishing you all many success stories of your own and to those you may “pay it forward” to.

Grok on… 🙂

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