Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
February 24 2010

Can You Be an Endurance Athlete and Primal?

By Guest
142 Comments

Jonas ColtingBy 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 (of last week’s Cocoa and Coconut Snacks), a long-time professional triathlete who has gradually incorporated Primal techniques into his training style.


__________________________________________________________________________

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.

Jonas Colting Jonas Colting Jonas Colting
(click to enlarge)

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.

__________________________________________________________________________

I’d love to hear from all the endurance junkies out there. Is it possible to be both Primal and a triathlete? Share your thoughts and stories in the comment board. Thanks everyone and Grok on!

TAGS:  guest post

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

142 thoughts on “Can You Be an Endurance Athlete and Primal?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Awesome! What an inspiring post. At last, the Primal reply to “Born to Run.” We’re all on our own Primal journeys, and I love seeing how Jonas has adapted PB to reflect his work. Now if only more stories like this could get out into the CW endurance world.

    I’ve got to say that Jonas makes his life sound very tempting for a recovering recreational endurance athlete like me. This post really makes me want to get out there and go for a trail run (in that nice “move slowly” zone Jonas writes about, of course).

    Thanks, Mark, for posting this.

    1. I just wanted to say that I’m excited about all the things I’m seeing on this site. One of my patients recommended it because he thought it would be “up my alley.” Well, he was spot on. I totally agree with your viewpoint on things and I look forward to learning from Mark and all the other followers of this site. Everything you say just makes sense, despite the obvious clash with “conventional wisdom.”

      1. Mark is the best. Ever since I started following his advice I feel vivacious, energized and have become leaner and stronger with a minimal time commitment.

        This website has changed my life and I am thankful for Mark and how approachable he makes this lifestyle – all while educating his readers at the same time.

  2. I try to eat and live as primal as I can, but I don’t think I could give up long-distance running. I am definitely guilty of chronic cardio and carbo-loading, but I try to do it in a primal way (if that makes sense.) I still avoid grains and legumes, and usually stick with (sweet) potatoes, bananas, and other fruits to get carbs. I’ve also realized the importance of fats, a spoonful of coconut oil goes a long way in terms of energy. I also plan to start running barefoot-ish (with VFFs) after my first two half-marathons.

    1. I am also a long distance triathlete. I eat mostly primal; one meal and one snack a day would have a grain in it. I HAVE found since going primal that I am incredibly sugar sensitive: I had some truffles today and felt sick after.

      My condundrum is that fruits are good sources of CHO but they’re SUGARY, and eating some grains – lets say oatmeal – provides some slow digesting, complex CHO… seemingly better in my mind than sugar from fruit, when you do need those extra CHO.

      I feel better and am getting leaner since becoming more primal.

    2. Hello
      When would you include a spoonful of coconut oil in your day? I am currently training to run a marathon and I am interested in going primal! Find it agrees with be a lot better. Starting to really look into everything I need to know to run a Marathon

  3. As a lover of running, I really appreciate Jonas’ many practical suggestions. Especially interesting is the bit about training with asymmetric stride, uneven ground, and parkour asides like jumping and swinging.

    We can’t all live in Jonas’ arboreal wonderland (what I wouldn’t give for a nice tree to smash with my hammer!) but the same opportunities exist in the concrete jungle. Curb-running, stoplight pull-ups, flagstone quick-stepping, puddle-leaping and jogger-chasing are all integral parts of my runs these days. It’s a much more balanced and entertaining workout than just pounding the pavement.

  4. I would like to know what Mr. Colting’s choices of “carefully selected processed carbs” are, just for curiosity’s sake.

    1. im guessing this:

      “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.”

  5. I was just discussing this very thing with a friend. How can you not eat a ton of carbs and still enjoy endurance sports? Very timely, it seems as always, Mark.

    1. You can. Increase your fat intake, and train at the right intensity – this will help reprogram your genes to burn more fat as a fuel!

      1. Sample of one — Multi-day Adventure Racer here, but ditto the above:

        Outside some winter periodization, I train short and intense sessions (10-30min max) resembling a program similar to Crossfit Endurance program with additional longer, loaded and rambling trekking/paddling/biking sessions mixed in on top (~4 hours each).

        165lbs, I train on a strict dairy free Primal diet with about 50g of carbs per day, primarily from green veggies, berries and 85%+ dark chocolate. I try get everything from two meals per day.

        My protein intake from quality meats is in the 160-180g/day range and fat ranges in the 200-260g/day range. I train/recover very well on this diet even over the extended sessions which I generally don’t take anything but water and a small bag of home made trail mix for the extended sessions.

        I don’t think I could ever keep my current training load on any other lifestyle. I just wouldn’t recover quick enough or sleep well enough.

        However for race’s, it’s all fair game. I carry a mix of Primal and Neolithic fuels. I use some staple fuels like Hammer Perpetuem and the occasional fast food joint on the racecourse. But thats somewhat out of the demands of an Adventure Race.

        Matt.

  6. USAT nutrition expert Bob Seebohars recently releases a book called “Metabolic Endurance” – and while he personally says he does not embrace low carb diets, if you read his take on Aerobic base training he essentially says for long slow rides up to 3 hours, you should not be eating any food and taking in water and a little salt for hydration. His “Plates” concepts also indicates that for the base building stage, the only carbs he actually recommends is fruit and veg (no grains) – the other component is meats / proteins and healthy fats. I personally find that if I load up with a primal shake – Avocado, coconut milk, berries, whey protein and whole milk – I can do the swim workout and ride 50 miles plus 20 min brick of the bike and come home and have a salad with chicken and feel great – I just drink water with a little salt tab dissolved in it on the bike.

  7. Very timely, indeed. I ordered the PB book yesterday, and was wondering why long distance running would be incompatible with primal living. In ‘Born to Run,” it talks about the Kalahari Bushmen’s persistence hunts and says they were running 10 minute miles – well within the range of what you’d call ‘low intensity.’

    Also interesting that BtR says we only invented tools around 50k years ago, but we’ve been eating meat consistently for close to 2m years. Maybe low intensity cardio persistence hunting isn’t so alien to primal man as we think! =)

  8. I’m training for the LA Marathon and on Sunday past, I ran a 15 mile run on eggs for breakfast, and dried beef and salty almonds on my run. That’s it. I was fine. The night before I’d had two small slices of traditional sourdough bread (made with natural sourdough starter) with lots of butter and olive tapenade and lots of ground beef and veggies. I’ve found that eggs before a long run and salty almonds is the best combination for me. If I try to consume starches before or during my run, I crash.

  9. Thanks so much for posting this today. I’m an endurance athlete that has been eating a modified primal diet for over a year and am still trying to convince my coach that its a good thing. I’ve seen an increase in VO2 max, increased muscle mass, decreased fat mass, increased LT, decreased times and have the ability to burn fat at LT. No injuries, less fatigue and shorter recovery times… who needs convincing?

  10. I’m a triathlete and training for my first Ironman this season. 6 months Primal and I feel fantastic. My workouts are better, I’m running faster, and I feel no need to carb-load in the traditional sense. I just add a few more carbs from fruit and veggies after long workouts. Banana coconut milk custard is a delicious post-run treat. 🙂

    1. I am a Primal eating Ultra Runner/Triathlete, also training for my first Ironman.I did a half Ironman last year while eating like Grok.I’m getting the same effect as you,I don’t feel the need to carbo load but do take gels and electrolyte drinks while competing.I actually feel better when I don’t eat anything before a competition,but start consuming gels after an hour.
      I never eat bread or any grains,no pasta,rice ,or potatoes except for one cheat night per week, when I will have something with French Fries.And beer.
      But that’s the fun of the 80% rule for me.
      As I mentioned in a post on “over training” Friel and Cordain have a new book out about Low Carb diets for Endurance athletes.

  11. I would argue that any type of endurance athlete type training is completely UNnatural. No way Grok would have done such a thing. It would use up massive amounts of energy, tear through tons of muscle (to break down and refill glycogen stores) and quite literally endanger his life. And WHY? What is a bear gonna’ chase him, slowly for 26 miles?? No. Ridiculous. But I do understand why some people do it. Man loves to compete and push himself.

    My theory is this. Since it IS such an unnatural thing to do, this is the one area to USE the food technology to your advantage. Yeah red bull doesn’t occur in nature. But neither did triathalons! If you’ve just spent 2 hours doing medium-hard cardio burning primarily glycogen, then absolutely, positively reach for processed carbs and refill that muscle glycogen ASAP! If you don’t, your body will tear down your own muscle to do it for you. I say in this one instance, EMBRACE those manufactured, high GI foods. White flour and sugar is POISON for normal day-to-day primal life. But if you just depleted all your glycogen go for it. In fact if you don’t go for it, you’re going to experience muscle loss.

    1. “But if you just depleted all your glycogen go for it. In fact if you don’t go for it, you’re going to experience muscle loss.”

      I’m not sure this is true. If you consume adequate, quality protein/fat before and after a two hour run why would you loose muscle?

      Good ol’ ketogenic gluconeogenesis me thinks. I run half marathons in the 1:45 range and eat only meat and vegetables. (I can clean and jerk my body weight overhead for reps too and I’m 39, weigh 175.)

  12. Great info Mark! I started eating primally last fall only because I thought it would help my endurance training for my first Ironman this fall. So far so good! I have quite a few Ironman friends (some at a pro level) who eat primally too. One had a serious long term case of plantar fasciitis disappear after switching from vegetarian to primal eating!

  13. Doesn’t he look a bit too old for 37? Has it something to do with oxidative damage?

    1. I agree. That’s about what I look like (my abs are almost there…, except a bit more slender and I’m 50 next month. Not that he looks bad…

    2. you kidding me;)

      People often ask if I´m in my upper 20´s..
      Don´t let the look of strain on my face fool you ha ha ha.

      1. Sorry, Jonas- really, you look phenomenal! I am awed by your incredible discipline. Just update the haircut!

  14. Great post. I also use to do what Jonas call “primal walk” in the very same forest as he does. When I was a swimmer a couple of years back I meet Jonas sometimes at our trainings and it was probably when I read his book I started living more primal. I think that walking (running slow) in the forest at low peace, do some sprints and lift heavy trees is as primal it can be.
    And it’s a awesome feeling to take the vibrams on and feel moss under the toes.

  15. Thank you so much for posting this article! Great reaffirming article that I’m on the right track with my diet and training. This upcoming tri season will be my first season to race on a primal diet. My fellow tri club members think I am crazy – no grueling super long slow runs or all day bike rides and no bread! I look forward to proving that this stuff works. At least now, I can point to someone much more accomplished and famous in the sport for credibility as well as Sisson, Wolf, Cordain, ect….

    1. Not to mention Simon Whitfield……
      Actually, going through the blogs Simon follows, there are quite a few primal upper echelon triathletes.

  16. Love reading articles like this one. Can someone respond to this part:

    “…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.”

    Is this like sort of Parkour style of trail “jogging.” Interested in this wisdom.

    1. Trail running is completely different than road running. When you run trails, you engage your core and all your little stabilizer muscles you because your body is always shifting and adjusting to the terrain, which is usually rocks and roots.Your speed while running technical trails is also much slower than road running.
      I believe this is why trail runners look so much healthier than road runners. Fewer repetitive strain injuries as well,since road running is just pounding the same muscles(hamstrings,calves) and joints(hips,knees) with the same motion over and over.

  17. Completely primal – no.

    But a slight variation – yes.

    My whole approach to the nutrition part of endurance training is to maximize fat burning. This is done primarily through 2 ways: training at the right intensity (ie. aerobic), and consuming the right CHO/Fat mix. As Mark has said before, a higher (healthy) fat intake will reprogram our genes to burn fat as a primary fuel source. So, I eat more healthy fats. In fact, my fat % intake never dips below 50%.

    As for CHO – yes, we need them, but I choose wisely: sweet potatoes, yams, brown rice, fruits & vegetables. Not breads, pastas and the like.

    Generally, my CHO consumption is part of a well balanced meal to reduce insulin spike. Except right after a workout, I will consume a high glyecmic “smoothie” drink (berries, banana and protein).

    Mark, I have waited a long time for this post. Thanks for doing this.

    1. You should also look in to adding glutamine and BCAA in your supplements.
      Glutamine can help you restore glycogen levels without elevating insulin, helps improve immune function and is an adaptogenic amino acid. BCAA will signal your body to spare muscle and also can be used as a fuel substrate.

        1. Ryan, a better form of glutamine is glutamine alpha keto glutarate (AKG). It can by-pass the intestinal barrier and directly enter the cells. Good stuff.

        2. Ryan, the sportsquest aminos have a good amino profile, but the dosage seems low (for 6 capsules). Top strength coaches recommend atleast 20-40g of BCAA and 10-20g of glutamine for a serious athlete. You can find USP grade powders at nutrabio. Best!

        3. Does anyone else use Vespa? It claims to “make your fat your fuel belt”.I find I bounce back faster and require less carbs during any endurance event.It’s basically amino acids+ extract from a giant Japenese wasp ,bee propolis and royal jelly.I have completed several 50k trail races on an empty stomach, Vespa, then one gel starting after an hour.I did one flat 50k in 5 hours, so basically was able to run 50k on 4 gels.
          I actually was toying with the weight loss idea of having a Vespa in the morning for energy, then nothing until dinner.

  18. I started going primal (still not quite there yet) in the summer of ’09, before my first Ironman in September. I attribute going primal to getting lean, quickly, before the race. I truly believe this helped me get through the run. Of course my commitment to training was the major contributing factor, but living primal helped. So I’m still trying to live primal, continue to get more lean, and feel considerably lighter on my feet because of it, so that I can still compete in a sport that I have a passion for. Before going primal, I felt like every session was a suffer fest, and I doubted my choice to participate, now I feel like running is just easier. I continue to improve, and I’m in my 30s.

  19. I’m a climber, and an alpine climber at that. I’ve had great success in using relatively low volume, high intensity gym type training sessions to get ready for the demands of the mountains. I wonder though if this approach would work for someone who hasn’t already established a solid base with a good amount of volume underneath them to begin with.

    However, I’ve still found no substitute for the requisite volume of sport specific training. I.e. if I’m not spending 10s of hours a week in the climbing gym/on the rock, my climbing skills will definitely deteriorate. I’ve wondered if there is a way to reduce this volume, but as yet haven’t discovered it or heard of a way it could be done.

  20. still i’d like to see athletes like this who eat no grain or processed sugars that we could use as role models. i think there is still a difference between an athlete who eats ‘clean’ and one who is primal.

  21. Check out NUTRI-SPEC.NET search for GRUNT AND GROWL…great format for high intensity/low duration workouts

    DR E

  22. Olympic skater Apolo Ohno recently went low-carb semi-paleo, from the look of it:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/20/sports/olympics/20ohno.html

    “Schaeffer also changed Ohno’s diet, using lean fat for energy instead of carbohydrates, eliminating toxic nutrients. Ohno ate only vegetables, fruit and fish, except for the night before and the morning of each race, when he gorged on brown rice pasta prepared with coconut oil and essential fats.”

    ‘Lean fat’ being an oxymoron 🙂 But what were the results?

    “Ohno lost nearly 16 pounds, doubled his strength, cut his body fat to 2.8 percent and sacrificed not one ounce of speed.”

  23. Hello Mark,

    How do you feel the selection for less endurance training in the Primal Blueprint accounts for the evidence that the human species evolved to have a high capacity for long distance running, ie. Endurance Running Hypothesis, “Born To Run”, etc.

    Thanks,
    ~ Dave C.

  24. I will definitely pass along this post to all my former marathon/triathlon/century ride training team members. However, as a recovering endurance athlete, I still feel as if I’m somehow enabling their vices.

  25. I’m not an “endurance athelete” but I am a hawaiian pig hunter. Pig Hunting with dogs in the dense, mountainous rain forests in Hawaii is a very rigorous, endurance-based activity. We often can start the hunt before the sun rises, and get out of the mountains long after it’s set…oftentimes covering up to 14 miles of mountainous terrain. If we catch a good size hog, it also involves taking turns with your partners carrying the hog out on your back. I think it’s safe to say, Carrying 150 lbs. of dead hog on your back up the steep side of a thick-brush mountain certainly requires endurance.

    I’ve been hunting for over 16 years…and over time, I’ve noticed a significant difference in my endurance from before and after going primal with my diet.

    When I was younger, I would often fill my pack up with all sorts of foods, so that I could constantly eat while exerting all the energy when we are out on an all-day hunt. My friends and I would also “carb-load” before hunting. We’d eat a lot of pasta and rice based dishes the night before.

    Within the past three years, after going Primal, things are much different now. Instead of “carb-loading,” I protein-and-fat load. I’ll cook up twice the amount of bacon and eggs, sausages and mushrooms – all fried in grassfed butter – and eat until I’m positively stuffed before heading out on the hunt.

    I now no longer have to carry any food in my pack. Eating like that gives me the energy and endurance to walk all day long, and I don’t even begin to feel hungry until evening time. I also find I no longer feel so exhausted the day after a rigorous hunting expedition.

    Meanwhile, my hunting partners are all still carb loading and continually eating while we trek through the mountains. They don’t understand how I can hunt all day without eating, and how I easily keep up with them.

    I know it has everything to do with my diet.

    1. aloha dave,

      I’ve been on Oahu 5 years and could use an introduction to hunting. I get around the islands a lot for work. I’ve killed a couple small ones (~60lb) that were in unlucky situations but never been out with somebody who knows what they’re doing. if you ever need a hand carrying the load: jwin74 at gmaildotcom

  26. I compete in mountain biking with races typically from 90 minute to 9 hours long. When my training is light and I’m not competing, i eat a fairly typical low-carb primal/paleo diet. When the training and races crank up, so do the carbs – tons of veggies, nuts, fruits, tubers and occasional starchy non-gluten grains in addition to my typical fat&protein filled diet.

    Still I fall WAY short of the “recommended” carb consumption (On a typcial 5k calorie day, I “only” eat 350g of carbs). This is a benefit as I feel generally less hungry, have less tendency to “bonk”, have more even energy levels and I get used to training hard on moderate-to-low glycogen levels which makes me a much more efficient fat-burner for the longer races.

  27. Yeah, I was very excited to read this!! I haven’t followed the blue print because I am a marathon runner and just couldn’t see how it would work to be so low carb. Now I do generally eat fruits and veggies, but I feel better with my oats.

    I woudl love to know if I could follow Jonas somewhere to keep getting great information

  28. I am an ultrarunner & I train at low intensity volume doing hiking/trailrunning up to 12 to 14 hours in training (50-60 miles) I can spend all day eating & drinking & be under 200g of carbs. I eat mostly nutmixes & almond butter on my hikes supplementing w/ some Ensure drinks along the way. The book paleo diet for Endurance Athletes does a good job of showing how one can race/train up to 24 hours & still stay paleo/primal. I believe my training has increased & recovery has been shorter on this diet, I am doing the Moab 100 in March & even though my training has been less intense I will be faster than any other ultra i’ve ran. This diet made more sense nutrition wise then eating all processed carbs. Being a nurse I see a lot of patients who are diabetics & eat a high processed carb diet & they are in the hospital w/ numerous health problems. Well thanks Mark for your info in leading me down the right path to a great life.

  29. We should start a WoD thread and food log for some of us endurance athletes, I am curious what everyone’s days look like. Specifically how you manage to take in enough energy to be primal and train; I have trouble keeping caloric intake (even though primal doesn’t measure in calories…) enough for training w/o grains.

    1. You can follow me on twitter/twitpic. I post quite a few of my meals and PWO.

      I have a different problem though… keeping calorie intake low enough.

    2. Agreed, it’s tough. A central collection of Primal Endurance info would be great.

      I based my diet off one part blog browsing and reading about folks like Jonas and about 3 parts trial/error.

      I know how I eat/train/race for Multi-day races is way different than Jonas, but also differs from other Primal Adventure Racers I’ve read accounts of (way lower carbs, don’t even touch Gluten and as clean of race fuel as I can find).

      I recover super-fast, but also have an issue with keeping my weight constant.

      I’ve developed a method of feasting on rest days until I can’t eat any more. Which holds me over well for my next 3-4 days of training.

      Matt.

  30. I am no triathlete or marathon runner but I LOVE 5K runs to death!

    I starting running in 5K runs last summer – did 5 total. For each one I would always enjoy a large pasta dinner the night before. And, at the biggest one, the fifth third river bank run, they provide a pasta buffet the night before!

    Over the past month I have significantly cut out my carb in take (a lot less grains) and I feel better than ever. I am beginning to fuel up on protein and fats as well. This summer should go real well! My best 5K time is 21:02 which comes out to a 6:47 mile pace. Wish me luck this summer!

  31. It’s probably more strength endurance but what about the kettlebells folks who do the V02 Max workouts? Pretty hardcore kettlebell snatching.Can you do that and be primal?

    1. I do Kenneth Jay’s hardcore VO2Max protocols, and am training for a marathon – all the while I eat primally. My only exception is during my long runs, on those I use perpetuem then recoverite, but for everything else it’s primal.

  32. I too would like to see the typical training regime for endurance athletes following the paleo diet. I am currently trying to get over my burn out from high mileage running. I think the cold and monotony are the main factors. I am trying to take on the Crossfit idealogy of short, intense workouts with some sport specific training so I can still run a half or full marathon. Anyone have any personal experience with low mileage running and crossfit workouts and still complete marathons? I love this site, Mark, thanks for the motivation you provided for me to switch!

    1. High mileage is good when you’ve got a particular goal that requires it, but it’s only natural to need a break. Use the downtime to do some other training, build strength or something. I know one runner who takes a break from running every year to do a figure competition, and uses that opportunity to get her body fat down and muscle up.

  33. Thanks for posting this Mark. The comments from everyone are pretty awesome.

    I second the praise of trail running. It is just so fun (even when it turns into trudging up steep hills). We did a 10 mile loop last weekend that included climbing up and down over boulders, and playing mountain goat over the rocky trail. I felt like a kid again, smiling and laughing with joy. The previous weekend we did a trail marathon, and I tried to explain to a friend there that she needed to eat more fat and stop burning so much sugar for fuel, and her endurance would improve. For endurance recovery, I feel more protein and fat, together with veggies, is better, though I’m not afraid to throw a small amount of beans or corn into the mix. I have used mashed potatoes mixed with chicken broth as race food (it went down very well), roast beef, ham, tamales, nuts, dried fruit, as well as electrolyte-type drinks, though coke and potato chips are good for a while too. For long events, real food is great. I’ve never gotten the debilitating nausea that is common when depleted. But everyone is different, so you have to keep experimenting until you find what works for you.

  34. Mark – very timely post. I am just experimenting with more endurance-like activity after reading Born to Run, and this has given me some inspiration. I think for us mortals, with modest aspirations, it’s possible to find a fantastic balance between long and short workouts without compromising the types of event we compete in or the diet we eat. I ran the hills for 3 hours on Sunday without needing any food or going into the chronic cardio zone. It was great. And I didn’t need to eat a bowl of pasta when I got home 😉

  35. Just have to say that the swedish gold medal winner, Björn Ferry, in sprint 12,5km biathlon race in Vancouver won on a low carb hi fat diet.

  36. I use coconut water in fruit smoothie for electrolyte replenishment. You can also make your own sports drinks healthfully. I got my recipe from “Thrive” by Brendan Brazier. I am not vegan but still found his book very helpful for endurance training.

  37. I haven’t tried the primal diet yet, but I’ve tried low-carb diets in the past, such as the CKG and I didn’t like the lack of carbs when running long distance or playing rugby. I’ve now adjusted my diet to include wholesome carbs and it sounds like a lot of people here will agree with me – like anything else, each person has his own formula for success and what works for him. I think I’ve figured mine out for now at least.

  38. Do you think Jonas’ performance would improve more if he eliminated bread, pasta, lots of fruit, or is it needed for the activity he is training and competing? Could he get through a triathlon on jerky and nuts, or does he need copious amounts of fruit and other carbs?

  39. Great post — I’ve been WAITING for this exact topic to be addressed at length, as (before I was better educated) I simultaneously decided to train for a marathon and go low-carb. Initially, it looked like I’d chosen two conflicting goals, and I’ve been tearing my hair trying to decide which goal to go for first! With some additional research, I’m proceeding with both in a balanced, realistic way. So thanks for the post — hopefully this is just the beginning of more to come on this revolutionary topic. Thanks!

  40. After eating a more primal diet, I have increased my speed dramatically for evening runs. However, I’m having trouble with morning runs. I just run out of gas. Should I eat a higher carb meal the night before or eat some right before the run? I usually eat meat and veggies the night before. During the day it’s doesn’t seem to matter too much. I can go for a run after eating some eggs or have similar results if I haven’t eaten for 2-3 hours. Any suggestions?

    1. I am also curious about this. How do you keep from crashing the following morning without getting up super early for a plentiful meal.

      1. Every Saturday morning I get up at 6.30am so that I can get the fuel I need before my long run (usually banana and maybe porridge – not perfectly primal but its my endurance compromise 🙂

        However for my short runs to work in the week, I get up have a black coffee and feel very alive for the full 5 miles. I suppose any further and I would start struggling but going for an intense run in this fasted state I find effective. We all work differently so maybe you have to phase this in slowly/reprogram your genes as Mark would say.

        I’ve learnt from marathon training not to overeat the night before a long run…just fuelling sensibly and often the days leading up to the run causes the cells to become turgid with energy and fluid!

      2. I carbo-loaded with mashed potatoes, steak and a green veggie for dinner the night before. The morning of the long run, I ate (45min prior): a heaping tablespoon of almond butter, cottage cheese, 3/4 of a banana, coffee and a teaspoon of chia seeds. This was definitely a great combo and I felt great at mile 11!
        I also drank lots of water.
        The week prior, I ate zero carbs and had to stop and walk twice on a 9.5 mile run.

        1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Interesting food choices. I would usually stay away from red meat the night before due to slow digestion and you also took quite a lot of hit fat food on the day. It shows though that it is each to their own – know what works best for your own digestive system 🙂

  41. Very grateful for bringing the primal compromise issue for endurance athletes back to MDA – so thanks Mark!
    ‘m currently preparing for the London Marathon 2010 and am stil keeping a relatively healthy diet. Though it has been a bit of a shock to get used to using faster digesting carbs and other energy sources I would typically stay clear of. Even pasta has snuck back in on the odd occasion. So after reading so much support for primal endurance eating…I’m not so sure that it is ok to loosen up your diet when you are burning an unusually large number of calories. But yesterday I ran a 20 mile plod through bogs, rivers, and huge hills. The drinks stations had jelly babies and I don’t think I could have got through without that sugar! I have trained whilst fasting for 5k runs and 45 minute gym sessions and I agree these workouts go very well. So I think I have ‘reprogrammed’ my genes to some extent but need to work a bit mor eat the long distances. In light of all that has been said above, I will try to minimise the sports drinks etc to use on race day alone.

  42. I don’t get it. I am a training for my first sprint triathlon and have been eating paleo since day one. I get plenty of carbs from fresh & dried fruit esp. cherries & raisins. I can’t live w/o my pistachio/cherry/walnut/raisin trail mix combo. there is even a primal-ish sports gel called Stinger that is a honey base. isn’t honey paleo? I have super duper energy all the time, even while training. Aren’t we referring to, more specifically COMPLEX carbs here? are they that necessary to endurance sports? please give me some references

  43. oh, i forgot to add that i drink coconut water to replace gatorade. it’s better anyways.

  44. I LOVE to run. No more 30, 40, 50 (at one point 80) mile weeks for me since being paleo, but I will do 3 and 4 milers a few times a week. I was sluggish at first–still am, since I have very little carbs each day and no fruit–but am getting fast again, so it still falls under chronic cardio I believe.

    It does makes you hungrier too — hopefully dumping down meat and fat is okay!

    1. I’m sure that your body will adapt and become very efficient as burning fat for fuel – which is great!

      In training for my second London Marathon right now and the high mileage is taking its toll on the joints. I must be mor disciplined about getting offroad!
      As for fuel, I am using carbs in and around my training but try to stick to less refined sources such as porridge / brown rice. I will have to make the clean break for my next marathon I think though and put faith in protein and fat too…

  45. I’m interested in how primal diet affects fighters, especialy MMA – can’t seem to find much consistent info. Seems like a slightly modified primal diet is quite common in the fighter community though.

    Does anyone have any expirience? Being that fighting demands endurance, ability to sustain strenght effort and the ability to explode with maximum effort, how would going all primal affect such performance ?

    1. That’s a good question Perun –
      I can only really speak from weights/endurance experience, in which I find that primal living only helps in my performance.There is a period of transition though, and I have found that now my body is an effective fat burning unit – it is happier to look to other sources than processed carbs for its energy.

      Fights can be stop-start I suppose but very tiring so tricky to say that your body would have time to tap into its fat reserves for energy..I guess you would have to experiment a bit.

  46. A technique I have been working with is to do about half my training sessions in ketosis condition. The idea is that the muscles adapt to using fatty acids then glucose for competition, if available is like rocket fuel. This has worked for some folks doing inter-island paddling and other endurance activities, but I have not found out yet if it is effective for the very different demands of a fight.

  47. HI guys, really enjoyed reading all the posts. After several years of hard sport, mainly tri and cycling without losing any weight, I decided just around Christmas 2010 to go low carb and see what happened, adding to my diet 1000mg of carnitine as my blood results showed a minor deficiency. Well, I lost 10kg (that’s approx 22 pounds) in 2 months, while truly enjoying my food! I am now with a BMI of 22 and really happy about it. For breakfast I have mostly that thick Greek yoghurt with fresh fruits like mango, strawberries and a decent helping of nuts. With the “excuse” of no carbs and free proteins at lunchtimes I simply go for 2 pieces of chicken breast or salmon steaks etc etc with green salad. For dinners I make mostly soups featuring cabbage, onion and only occasionally some broccoli.
    With the start of the spring I have also started longish weekend rides (4 to 5 hours). Most rides have climbs, and the only thing I am changing is to have some porridge before these rides and if I do back to back days I include a small pasta after the first ride but not the last. I find this is working very well. I guess is not a full paleo diet, but generalising a bit I tend to be monday to friday full paleo and weekends only I have some carbs

    1. Lorenzo, the tri season is soon to kick off for me too and I agree with using porridge as an exception to the paleo rule for fuelling long runs and bike rides. The sugary, processed energy market is flooded with fake products which probably do the job but I feel bad if I use them. It is more natural to go for a banana and peanut butter 🙂

  48. I replaced the old oatmeal breakfast standby with a banana-coconut custard. Recipe is here:
    http://ironmom.blogspot.com/2011/04/is-it-breakfast-or-is-it-dessert-banana.html

    It seems to be the perfect way to get a some carbs, protein, and good fats. I have just taken to adding some chia seeds, nutmeg, and cinnamon to it as well. I can make it up the night before a morning when I’ll have an early/long training session and it holds me through the entire time. I did a 3+ mile lake swim yesterday morning and a 10.5 mile run this morning, both of them fueled by nothing more than a serving of this custard. Yumm!

  49. Thank you for this thoughtful post. As a cyclist who recently discovered Paleo, I’ve thought a lot about the natural dissonance between the two paradigms and have started a blog specifically dedicated to cycling and Paleo/Primal.

  50. hi mark
    i have been living on the paleo diet for a while now im a road cyclist here in n.ireland the biggest thing i can say about the paleo would be is since i have adopted this diet.
    i recover faster without alot of carbs i eat alot of fat for the reason of its now my energy source i sleep better i know longer have the shaky feeling you get after long rides but for me the biggest positive is the lack of lactic acid in my legs even at over 90% max effort its incredible as soon as the body gets used to burning fat as fuel.i would point out its really important to never limit fat from any source including animal fat i eat loads of eggs butter coconut oil beef pork venicen i find on this diet i never run out of energy.

  51. Thanks Mark. Here’s a question for you and any others: I’m adopted a low carb, hi protein diet over the past few months, have trimmed down and feel fine. I’ve always been athletic (hockey, weights, skiing, biking), but have never really been an “endurance” athlete. Well, I’m climbing Mount Ranier in June, which will be one helluva endurance test. We’ve been training in earnest for months and are knocking ourselves into good shape (for 40-somethings). Here’s the question: I suspect I’m going to need some carb loads on my way up the mountain. Any thoughts on that? Should I resume a high-carb diet the day before, until I get back down? Just load as-needed on the way up? Thanks for any help!

  52. (resending with correct email for me) Thanks Mark. Here’s a question for you and any others: I’m adopted a low carb, hi protein diet over the past few months, have trimmed down and feel fine. I’ve always been athletic (hockey, weights, skiing, biking), but have never really been an “endurance” athlete. Well, I’m climbing Mount Ranier in June, which will be one helluva endurance test. We’ve been training in earnest for months and are knocking ourselves into good shape (for 40-somethings). Here’s the question: I suspect I’m going to need some carb loads on my way up the mountain. Any thoughts on that? Should I resume a high-carb diet the day before, until I get back down? Just load as-needed on the way up? Thanks for any help!

  53. I like to ride off road motorcycle races, this weekend is a 6 hour event. I’d like to stay Primal but need some advice on what to eat the day before and what I could easily carry to eat during the event.
    Plus what would be good for recovery after the event.
    Thanks
    Charlie

    1. As a former moto racer, every fruit based carb you can get your hands on. OJ, dates, fruit leather, ripe bananas, grapes, coconut water etc… You’re burning through it at a lightning rate. Failure to do so will leave your arms, hands, and legs like noodles and six hours of people roosting in your face.

      After the event eat everything in sight! If you rode hard, your body will be begging for it. Then let yourself slip into the coma like sleep for 12 hours 🙂

      Resume your “primal” diet the next day.

  54. My experience with a primal living came to be after living on LCHF (low carb high fat) diet. It helped me burn off a lot of body fat and my stamina and alertness peaked.

    When I went to grand canyon to hike down and up I also came face to face with the fact that once your body has depleted its fat reserves you do need some additional carbs for strenuous tasks.

    On my way hiking up I could feel myself coming closer to hitting the wall. My metabolism had been fat/protein/ketosisized(?) for several months (I did no carbs whatsoever) so I could literally tell when I became absolutely depleted.

    I had a some jam and other sweetened stuff and it was amazing to feel how it provided instant energy. It helped me keep a constant pace throughout the hike.

    I’m far from a pro athlete but I can totally relate to what Jonas says about how we need so much less carbs than what people normally eat. It is great when your metabolism improves to the point where you can tell what each food you eat does to your body in real time. No more feeling bloated.

  55. I am an avid long distance runner. I would argue we are born to run but am nontheless interested in the paleo philosphy. I would find it hard to completely give up grains but NY resolution is to try to eat better; so that means complete elimination of junk food and sugar, much dairy cut out (am lactose intolerant), and might try to cut back on the carbs. Another thing is no more low-fat diet foods…..my family has lived on them for the last 25 years and it has done diddly squat.

  56. I just did a NorthFace 50km race today here in sunny Singapore. I decided to remain Paleo throughout n before, during and after. I did not have breakfast except for black coffee without sugar. Through out the 8 hour event, I had four bananas, some boiled water chestnuts, a yoghurt nut bar. Was pleased that I didn’t bong or even felt hungry.

    However, I had more than usual cramps in my legs. Could this be due to low carb conditions? I read that causes of cramps are still debatable but one source said lack of carbohydrate being one reason, more probable than lack of sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium.

    Appreciate any insights.

  57. Hi! I am a mountain biker looking to shed about 20 lbs. I ride technical/all mountain and ride 3 or 4 x a week and 4 hours would be my longest ride and 1 hour would be my shortest ride (it is more accurate to judge technical mountain biking in time as opposed to miles due to the extreme elevation, etc.) I am a 30 year old female and otherwise not sedentary but maybe… lightly or moderately active? I am scared to lower my carbs for some reason. I am not currently primal at all but am interested. I am an RN and I see it works for many people. Is there any benefit to staying “normal” on the days I workout then eating low carb primal on my off days? Thank you!