Dear Mark: Primal Compromises for Athletes

I’ve been getting a slew of emails lately from marathon runners and other endurance athletes among our group, many in response to our 30-Day Primal Health Challenge. Questions have run the gamut but generally get at how to combine endurance training and Primal Blueprint methodology:

How do I combine a low carb diet with marathon training? (Hint: you generally can’t)

What would you recommend for carb refueling post-race?

Can I even do the PB challenge if I have to adapt the diet for training purposes?

As most of you know, I can relate to these folks’ stories. Elite athletes, commonly seen as the epitome of health, actually face pretty strenuous challenges balancing the moderation required for wellness and the extreme demands of their sport. My own marathon years were among the best of my life, but the physical strain and progressive damage of my training – and the diet – eventually resulted in my serious change of heart and lifestyle (as well as the origination of my Primal Blueprint philosophy).

As I’ve said in the past, the Primal Blueprint is an overarching, synergistic design for living that encompasses all the major aspects of basic health: diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management. Optimum well-being results from healthy practices in each area. Our genes literally want us to be healthy, so we look for behaviors that support that. Nonetheless, many of us choose to make compromises to accommodate various needs/goals we have. While the Primal Blueprint doesn’t encourage or endorse endurance training, I recognize that a number of our readers find fulfillment in that kind of training. I consider it a conscious compromise that people can make as they live out their own adaptation of the Primal Blueprint. Additionally, I appreciate readers’ interest in staying as true to the rest of the PB as possible while they pursue their athletic goals. Modifying one critical aspect of the PB methodology (such as including regular and intensive endurance training) will inevitably change your results. If you eat a hot fudge sundae or only get 5 hours of sleep every day but go 100% primal in every other aspect, the end picture isn’t going to be the same. Nonetheless, the more you can do to maximize your efforts in the other aspects (diet, sleep, stress relief), the more advantage you’ll gain in terms of long-term health and overall well-being. You might even race faster.


So, how does an endurance athlete go as “primal as possible”? Here’s my take. When you go for endurance training, you face (among other physical strains) the necessity of increased carb intake and all its negative results (e.g. inflammation, AGEs, impaired immune function, etc.). Myself, I had a half-gallon of ice cream, loaf of bread and cereal habit going to refuel every day for years. At the time, I didn’t see an obvious impact on my performance, but I later realized I was causing long term damage. A better, more Primal approach to a training diet includes meals full of veggies (universal recommendation, yes) as well as the judicious use of fruits and tubers for added “healthier than grains” carb sources. (Of course, your diet should include a hefty supply of protein and natural fats.)

On a PB-style low carb diet, with PB-style low training time, the body makes 200 grams of glycogen each day from fats and protein (and then we figure another 100 or so from your veggies and fruits). That gives you enough glycogen to fuel your brain, cruise through an average day and to be able to do a short hard workout – and then do it again the next day. However, when you train long every day (over an hour), your carb needs will increase. The key is discovering EXACTLY how many additional carb grams you need each day to refuel muscles, but also to keep insulin and fat storage to a minimum. Too few and you won’t recover from day-to-day. Too many and you’ll set yourself up for inflammation and unnecessary weight-gain.

Post Race Beer

Right after a long training session or race, you’re in a critical period for glycogen refueling. That first hour offers the most efficient opportunity for glycogen storage, and it’s fine to refuel initially with simpler (faster uptake) sugars. Take it slow and go for drinks first until you think you can safely move onto solid food. When you’re ready, try some fruits or yogurt with honey to get both carbs and protein in that initial window. As you move past that first hour, tubers and more complex carb sources are good to include. As I tell everyone, try to avoid grain-products as much as possible when increasing carbs. Depending on the length and intensity of your workouts (and races) you’ll need anywhere between 60-100 extra grams of carbs (beyond what we discuss above on a low carb plan) each day per hour of intense endurance work. It’s well worth the trial and error efforts to gauge your personal need and dial it in precisely.

I’d also suggest redirecting your training toward long and slow stuff with occasional fast and intense interspersed. Doing so will allow you to keep building endurance capacity while better “training” your body in fat burning efficiency.

Races or any intensive training session lasting over 90 minutes often call for added carb refueling on the fly, too. Over the years coaching athletes, I’ve found that drinking 10-20 grams of sugars every 15 minutes after the first 60-90 minutes helps keep glucose in the bloodstream and thereby spares muscle glycogen. Any more than that and you run the risk of stomach upset. Once again, sports drinks are probably the most efficient source for carb energy, electrolytes and hydration. Though a piece of fruit might work for borderline training days, eating solid foods during a race generally backfires. Additionally, sport drinks have some advantages over straight juices. There’s a reason these drinks have been around for a while. I’d do some comparison shopping and personal trials to find one you prefer.

Finally, wise (i.e. comprehensive and potent) supplementation is an absolute must. In comparison with the average Joe or Jane, endurance training inevitably depletes the body. You’re doing more than the body was naturally designed to do. Moreover, the amount of oxidation (and free-radical damage) taking place during that time is tens or hundreds of times greater than what you experience at resting metabolic rates. Consequently, your nutrition needs will be higher – especially the need for extra antioxidants. It’s critical you refuel all nutrient stores and take in higher levels of anti-oxidants that can help repair the damage training (in addition to everyday living) causes. (Disclaimer here: that’s why I developed the Damage Control Master Formula, the most impressive collection of antioxidants in any sports recovery formula anywhere in the world).

As always, thanks for your questions, and keep ‘em coming. I’ll look forward to hearing more of your stories and experiences.

Photocapy, lanier67, Trina Ritchie Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

What Happens to Your Body When… You CARB BINGE?

A Case Against Cardio

Chronic Cardio 1, 2

Sprint for Health

What Happens to Your Body When… You Haven’t Properly Trained for Your Marathon?

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TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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78 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Primal Compromises for Athletes”

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  1. Another great post. Being a “former” triathlete, I often faced several questions:

    1. How much
    2. When
    3. What kind

    Of course, this didn’t just refer to carbohydrates. It referred to fat, protein, and above all, micronutrients.

    I have read that the oxidative stresses on an endurance athlete’s body are much higher due to the increased uptake of oxygen (higher breathing rates during exercise). Mark is right when he says that one must supplement. While I have yet to take the Damage Control master formula – I’m waiting for my current supply of micronutrients to finish first – a broad range multivitamin that contains an antioxidant complex is highly recommended. I feel so much better with a micronutrient supplement.

    Secondly, I have also found that most athletes tend to subscribe to the uber-high carb, mod protein, and low fat diet. I actually disagree with this. When I first started out in the sport, I was quite overweight. I was training 10 hours a week and wondered why I was not losing weight. Alas, I was feasting on pasta and bread and cereals. As a middle of the pack athlete back then, I realized had to focus on body composition. As a result, I made a dramatic change to eat lots of vegetables (and fresh ones too), with lean cuts of meat.

    However, believe it or not, I ended up having significant issues related to low fat intake. In fact, my testosterone production had decreased significantly (combine low fat intake with overtraining). My girlfriend at that time was not pleased (I’ll just leave it at that 😉 ). These days, I eat a healthy amount of natural fat and supplement with omega 3s. I still don’t eat a hoarde of grains or pastas like other triathletes do – I prefer one medium sweet potato, and a really marbled 14-16 oz steak, and a large spinach salad. This is usually my post-race meal.

    I am currently on the 30-day challenge. Actually, while the challenge has only lasted a week, I actually started this challenge last month after the ITU Triathlon World Championships, perhaps my last race. Instead of most people who need to get in 30 mins of exercise per day, I face a more unique challenge – trying to train only 30 mins a day and NO MORE!

    Can’t say it’s going well though. My girlfriend, who is JUST getting started in the sport, made me run 2 hours with her yesterday.. not to mention the 4 hour ride/1 hour run on Saturday. So, things haven’t been going that well. I am, however, only swimming an hour today!! So hopefully I can keep decreasing this training volume…

  2. Justus,

    I have read the Paleo diet for athletes. It is in mostly in par with what Mark recommends. The only major diversion I found is that they still eliminate saturated fat while Mark believes it is no taboo.

  3. A great post and it helps to confirm what I was expecting and what I am finding while on my primal challenge. You can’t follow the guidelines 100% and expect to be able to train hard every day to race a marathon.

    After my last 100km run 2 months ago I have been in a hard training cycle in preparation for a marathon at the end of July. Think 2-3 quality sessions per week often exceeding 25 miles total for the day. And while I was progressivly seeing an improvement in my performance and fitness I was quickly slipping into an overtrained state.

    I was mentally burnt out when I started looking for something else and stumbled across this site. That was about 2 weeks ago and when I read about the 30-day Challenge it immediately caught my intention. But how to get that to work around a marathon training plan?

    Initially I was thinking about cycling 3 days on with 1 day of high carb-low fat intake to restore my glycogen levels and adapt my training around that. But after my first day of primal eating I felt the best in terms of both energy and mood that I have felt for a long time which made me want to follow the challenge more fully. After a few days though my training started becoming more of a challenge and I realised I would have to make some changes if I wanted to achieve my marathon race goals.

    I have adapted my challenge along the lines of the recommendations above. Where I deviate is I don’t continue to refuel beyond 1-2 hours post exercise. I continue with the primal recommendations and keep my carb intake to veggies and fruits (dried and fresh).

    I am looking forward to completing my marathon at the end of the month so that I can make a more committed attempt at making this a lifestyle change. I have also felt that we don’t need to eat a high carbohydrate diet to succeed and train for endurance activities. With some upcoming ultramarathons later in the year let the experiment continue…

  4. Branden,

    Keep us posted on your progress. I will blog on it eventually, but there is a way to adapt fully to a higher fat-burning state. It takes a few months and you have to be willing to go a little slower in your training for a while, but one of my buds just finished a six-month transition and can now hang with his cat 1-2 cycling pals on a 3-4 hour hard ride on a low-carb routine because he’s burning more fats. Exciting stuff.

  5. Mark, I agree with you totally and I have taken your advice now. Especially after reading about Mark Allen – I have a feeling you might even know him personally.

    He kept his training to easy aerobic training for 3/4 of the year before trying to peak for Kona. This ensured that he could efficiently burn fat as a fuel. He capped his heart rate at a low level.

    I’m trying to do that myself now. As it’s such a huge change, I’m limiting myself to very slow (and at the moment, short) work.

    Yesterday, for the first time, I attempted a long swim without any carb, at a very slow pace. It was great. I swam around 4 km in rough, rough water, and this is the first time I’ve done this swim without having to fuel!

    I can say I’m adapting pretty well to the low carb diet.

    The key is to go SLOW to make sure your body opens up the metabolic pathway to use fat as a fuel.

  6. OK – there really isn’t any conclusive science testing the high carb / low carb – endurance athletics stuff
    the body does change under a chronic high carb regime for years
    20 years of high carb will cause all sorts of changes to glucose and fat cell receptors and metabolic pathways
    any test of the “neccessity” for carbs in any sporting efforts has to accommodate adjustment capabilities
    i run distances very well on little or no carbs – but only after a good time adjusting to the diet (making sure i ate enough fat was key)
    i reckon most Westerners’ bodies are utterly compromised by chronic carb injestion over time – particulalry athletes, as they are on super-carb diets (often with lower fat regimes)
    i would suggest before recommednding carb loading as a neccessity for endurance athletes, that we look at the problem long term. go low carb/high fat for a year THEN see how you perform.
    i believe that we could achieve optimum performance for any sport on low carb – the body produces it’s own equivalents – and you won’t get “the wall” either – as ketones don’t produce lactic acid.
    some may say that they havn’t been able to perform as well on low carb for endurance
    i say: have you given your body long enough to really test this?

    1. There is over 30 years of conclusive testing by Dr. Phinney and Volek, compiled into the Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, a wonderful read endurance athletes should pay attention to.

    2. I’m completely with you here. The need for carbohydrates could totally be an evolved need, based not on natural evolution, but on people consuming carbs for fuel for years. Like you said, it changes metabolic machinery.

      I, myself, am former military, so I still run a moderately (4-7 mile runs, 2-3 times a week) and have found it a lot harder initially to sustain during those runs while transitioning to basically a ketogenic diet, but it’s gotten profoundly easier to use fat for fuel, and consume very little carbs, nearly none, and still maintain endurance and muscle strength during those runs.

      The test of course, is to see if your hypothesis (which I agree with) on long term adaptation to low carb high fat diet leveling the playing field and putting an exerciser into a very normalized fuel/recovery dynamic. So in 1 year, I’ll have a lot more data! But I can already tell, in my early stages of fat adaptation, low carb, and continued semi endurance running, that it’s working, I’m using fat for fuel, and I can recover without eating 5 bananas, rice, and chocolate milk!

  7. Great point, Markus.

    When I was training for the Ironman last year, I switched to a grains based and generally high carbo diet. Big mistake.

    I had been the leanest I had ever been earlier in the season when i was doing base work. At that time, I was about 8% bodyfat, 148 lbs. Lifting weights as well. Then I switched to eating breads and pasta as I got lazy with my nutrition… I didn’t have energy to make proper food. Anyway, I ended up gaining weight before Ironman Florida – ballooned to about 155 lbs. That really sucked.

    This year, I have been conscious of what I have been eating. I focused on shorter course races, and unfortunately, had a higher necessity for carbs again due to the intense interval/repeat nature of the swim/bike/run workouts. However, now that I’m stopping competition for good, I’m already noticing that I can go much longer without carbs if I go slower. In time, your body will be able to go faster by training slower. Sometimes people want immediate gratification and don’t understand this.

  8. I’m inclined to agree with Markus…
    can you train your body to adjust to running mostly on fatty acids as an athlete? And would that possibly be advantageous?

  9. JDS, the answer is a resounding YES.

    And for endurance athletes in events lasting longer than 2 hours (when glycogen depletion is of concern), having the ability to metabolize fatty acids for energy will allow you to keep going, when the glycogen-dependent competitor has to slow down.

  10. Good points made by all.

    From my experience I can say that for myself I can run for many hours (longer than marathon distance) in a fasted state with little or no nutrition but for shorter more intense efforts my performance is affected when I am in a low-carb phase.

    When I am back to training for and running ultras I think I can perform to my optimum when relying on fatty acids for fuel rather than my glycogen stores. Experience I have gained during trail runs longer than 10 hours support this.

    Yesterday I ran 1 mile short of a full marathon before work, ate carbs only (oats and apple juice) during the hour after the run, then resumed low-carb and today I am feeling better than ever. Legs feel great with no soreness.

  11. I agree with the above posters. If you give it enough time, it’s fairly easy to adapt to a low carb routine, even while training for endurance sports.

    I am currently training for my second Ironman, and have found that cutting carbs to veggies and fruit is helping my training, rather than deterring. I have experimented with IF in the past, sometimes running five to 10 miles or swimming an hour in a fasted to state. It doesn’t phase you once you have switched to a fat burning mode.

    I am convinced that high carb is completely overblown in endurance sports. I think most people need way less than they think they do, probably due to companies like Gatorade repeatedly telling them so.

  12. Hi Mark and all commenters,
    There’s another point about the endurance/carbs issue that I don’t think has been made so far: there is this massive assumption that you need to refuel with preferably simple carbs in the ‘golden sponge window’ of up to c 2hrs after exercise. This is only true if you need to train again soon, and need to train long or hard. Otherwise there is a normalisation process that means that normal eating at normal times will bring your fuel stocks back up again. It’s possible to be a [non-PB] endurance athlete, yet train every other day, or even go really, really, easy on the day after a longer/harder session, and hence have no need to hit the carbs after training. And it’s certainly worth trying to see how your own body adapts: nowadays I have no problem doing, say, a fartlek run, c50 mins, lots of high intensity efforts and easy running interspersed, covering 11-12k, mid-afternoon, and then waiting till dinner to eat.

  13. Even if posts like this are interesting, they leave me more confused than enlightend.

    The rather common discussion stating that you need to add carbs to reach a reasonalbe race speed, and then others saying it is more a matter of time and adoption, and that you will get there eventually, and even maintain the good aspects of low carb approach. No bonking etc.

    My own experience says that I on a PB oriented diet have endurance that is good, or even better, then pre-PB diet. High output power on bike is considerably less. I cannot maintain my VO2max power for say 4 minute due to a pulse that reach my physical limit both early and at lower power level.

    I would argue that at a power output close to VO2max the typical athlet is running on both glucos and fat and that there is no adoption that can compensate for the loss in power that follows from removing glucos.

    Living in Europe I’m well aware, however, that i.e. cyclists didn’t put much effort in keeping carbs up in food until late 80’s. And their performance was excellent.

    So, can anyone give a hint of the potential adoption, allowing high power output on low carb, and how this is percieved for the individual. Are you gradually increasing power output (if you are a non cyclist, read this as speed) for the whole race/training session, or are you able to compensate for short bursts. If you adopt, can you increase the output even further by adding carbs after that, creating a sort of turbo effect?

  14. I posted in another place the same info, but I’ll repeat it here “for the record” if it’s ok. I am by no means an elite athlete, but I have been low carbing for 4 years now, and I run and bike “as much as I can” since last summer. My best race so far has been a 19.35 5k.

    I have been told by other lc’ers as well that you can exercise sans carbs once you get used to it. My experience has been that this is true as long as the exercise is low-intensity. I can run or ride in “zone 1 or 2” without carbs. But if I try to go tempo pace or higher, no can do for me without carbs. I personally don’t see the problem with taking carbs on board before/during/after workouts, if it’s being used my the muscles and helps performance, what’s the problem? The only problem would be weight gain I guess, but it’s hard to believe that sugar taken during the “exercise window” in a supposedly glycogen deprived low carb body would be stored and not used?

    so I use a conventional fueling strategy for workouts, actually I rarely see other runners taking carb drinks and such before races, I guess you don’t “need” to if you are a carb-head? I would still prefer relying on short-term sugars to go fast, to having to eat carbage all day.

  15. What if I don’t have enough fat to really “burn” fat in my endurance running? I am a 5′ 7″ girl who weighs 105 pounds…I NEED TO GAIN WEIGHT to perform how I want to. I am a competitive collegiate distance runner…how do I gain the body fat that I need while still following a healthy diet? I have the worst time trying to eat healthy and gain weight at the same time, as you might imagine. Please offer your advice.

    1. My husband is a skinny no carb marathon runner. He trains and runs on less than 5 carbs/ day: high fat low protein. This was necessary to reverse insulin resistance in metabolic syndrome and pre diabetes
      – memphis

      1. He must increase his fat intake to not lose weight.

  16. Anders,

    Interesting that your HR reaches high levels (but at a lower power level) on a LC diet – my experience has been the opposite. I can’t seem to get my heart rate up when I’m glycogen depleted (legs just don’t turn fast enough). Besides dead, chronically sore legs, I deal with muscle cramps and pulls.

    However, low intensity efforts are no problem (though sometimes I start cramping at the end of my longer runs).

    1. Muscle cramps can be from low calcium or low potassium or low magnesium…. The low carb electrolyte drinks will replace these… My no carb marathon running husband supplements with all of these vitamins and lite salt ( salt and potassium). Memphis

  17. ebrunner,

    Glycogen depleted, I fully agree with you. Out of gas, I can’t generate enough output to drive my heart into the high revs.

    But eating a fairly standard Paleo oriented way, I can go somewhere 0.5 to 1 hour before that happens, and that is during that period I had the issue with heart rate.

    I did my post five months ago, today I would say that both my power numbers, and my heart rate is back to normal/as before. High, i.e. close to max heart rate, is reached a bit easier than before, but overall everything works perfectly fine. Now I do rather hard training cycles of weeks, with limited intake of carbs. I have to listen to the body, however, since it is a balance between limited carb intake and carb depletion, and poor/non recovery.

  18. One thing that still baffles me, though, is that I’ve been keeping my workouts to ~1hr, which falls within Mark’s recommended volume of daily exercise. The difference is that some days, this hour run would include 25-minutes tempo or 12×400. From what I understand, I should still be able to create enough glycogen from fat and protein to fuel this short workout; however, I just can’t seem to generate the intensity. Is this normal, even after a year of PB eating?

    Another thought: since protein can be converted to glucose, can one simply consume more protein to recover (i.e, eat 100 grams of protein to store 60 grams of glycogen)? I love the mental energy I have on a low-carb diet, and the fact that I don’t go into a food coma after every meal, so it would be nice to cover my additional recover needs with protein only, if possible.

  19. ebrunner, those workouts may be a bit too intense or long, and glucose-driven to refuel fully each time. I advocate most workouts in the 35 minute range if they are glycogen-dependent. If you work out intensely an hour every day, you won’t be able to refill glycogen stores on a low-carb program…but if you keep your intense stuff generally well under an hour on most dyas, you’ll have the reserves to do the hammer session tempo or 12 x 400 once a week or so. Of course, low level aerobic stuff generally won’t affect this as long as it’s TRULY low. Finally, yes, excess protein will convert to carbs if needed. Gluconeogenesis is a wonderful thing.

  20. Thanks, Mark. Forgive me, but I’m not sure if you mean that I can do 35 minutes of intense running daily, or once/week (both of the sessions I mentioned are under 35 minutes of “real” work).

    Low carb or not, 12 x 400 isn’t a workout to do
    more than once/week, but what would you suggest I do on the off-days? 35 minutes medium (~80% of VO2max)? 90 minutes slow (60-70%)? For me, a shorter faster run seems like less overall pounding and more fun, but would that hamper recovery too much?

  21. You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that the kind of training you are advocating isn’t that far off from the current endurance training recommendations. I think in your marathon days, there was a greater emphasis on steady state runs, but the latest trend seems to be running a high volume at low intensity, with 1-2 true workouts per week.

    Lance Armstrong is an example of this approach – since he came back from cancer, he emphasized long (5-6+ hour) rides at ~60% of his max HR. Of course, he increased is intensity as he got closer to the Tour by riding in the mountains and doing more threshold work, but the focus was on building that pure aerobic capacity.

    Seems kind of Primal – lots of low-intensity work, coupled with a relatively small amount of intensity. His intense workouts may have been be too long to be considered Primal (e.g., several 30-60 minute climbs in a 5 hour ride, not the brief sprints you suggest), but this training doesn’t seem too far off from what you suggest, and if the hard workouts were scaled back a bit, could potentially be fueled on a Primal Diet.

  22. I’m currently training for Navy Officer Candidate School and lets just say the military is a devoted follower of CW. But a balance can be found. I do 3 days of lift heavy things about 45-50 minutes each, 2 days of 50 minute cardio exercises (plyometric jumping and capoeira but I almost think of that as play), 1 day of yoga for flexibility, and on my lifting days I might do a 2 mile run in 14minutes, 6 400m sprints, or just 20 minutes around the track.

    But I do need to make some compromises. I eat more on lifting days because I do 2 workouts, and after my 2 cardios I do have a workout drink. But its all in moderation. You have to adjust the nutrition to your workout without going too far into CW

  23. I am so glad my friend told me about this site, the info obtain is awesome!!!! I am a runner distance 1/2 marathons and marathons and also have afib/aflutter. Since i started this my attacks of flutter have significantly decreased. Thanks Mark and my bud Paul for all this info, hope it makes me run faster at disney marathon.

  24. kayrock, ironically (or not) I had dinner last night with one of the world’s most accomplished afib experts, Dr. David Cannom. He is on a mission to show how dangerous “chronic cardio” training can be if not approached appropriately.

  25. I would love to hear more on this, so far I feel awesome, hardly any afib or flutter(still on meds) and when i do have an episode it is not bad at all. Thanks

  26. I found MDA by Simon Whitfield’s blog – an olympian triathlete. If he’s going by it, it can’t be wrong in my opinion. 🙂

  27. I have been training for the LA Marathon for about two months now. I have yet to eat pasta or bread or any other grain (or processed carb) and I feel great. Vegetables, fruit and protein are working really well for me. I am trying to be smart about the training as well….not over-doing it, but putting in the bare minimum of miles to reach the goal. I find this site to be very encouraging, as I have heard many, many criticisms of my diet as a long distance runner. Oh, wait, I do drink wine, I guess that counts as a “carb”;)

    1. Hang in there! You are not alone! My husband is a no carb marathoner!
      You can do this!!!

  28. What do you recommend as far a preventing chronic cardio induced MUSCLE LOSS? I don’t purposely endurance train, but I do like to surf. And when it gets good, I can be out there for 2+ hours at a time. As much as I try to keep it a sprint-rest-sprint-rest endeavor, on big days it quickly degrades to a chronic cardio type situation. If I do a long surf like that my strength falls across the board in the gym. I can’t get as many reps on deadlift, pull-ups, anything. I know why, I’m losing muscle, because of the intensity of the surf. How do you counteract that? Can I go on a big 2 hours surf without sacrificing my muscle mass?

  29. I enjoy running in 5K’s which I think fit well within the primal blueprint – its simply around a 20-25 minute run.

    I may do a few 10K’s this year but I am not sure on ever doing a 25K as it is just too much and our bodies were not “meant” to run that far for that long.

    Sure, I can do a 25K if I run, walk, run, walk…. but would I really do that in a race?

  30. Let’s not forget our Primal principles:
    We are all the descendants of successful hunters.

    Grok would spend a morning stalking an animal. Two or three hours of walking, sprinting, hiding, sprinting again.

    Once the animal was killed, he would rip it open and eat the liver raw. That was his “post workout replenishment window”

    1. Oh, I agree!!! I’ve been thinking a lot about the best primal recovery meal and liver is what they would eat…. I’ve just started using liver now as my post training meal. I’m hoping to recover faster and gain a lot more strength than SAD diet people.

  31. Hi all,

    Any wrestlers or judokas/bjjrs on this site?

    I’m having a hard time sticking to my training regime of twice a day 5 days a week with the primal diet.

    I have not measured what I eat but I eat something similar to what Mark usually eats. I seem to last a week at training then have a day when I feel completely depleted and feel like I need to load up on rice or a bunch of sports drinks if I need to keep training. Usually I need to take 2 days off because I am completely exhausted. I understand this is also caused by overtraining but the big decrease in carbs seems to be having a negative effect on energy levels and training ability.

    Any advice on what I should be eating if training twice a day for approx 1.5 hours each. Training is usually fairly intense with periods of rest and very high level activity.


    1. Andrei, easy… eat more carbs. You’re going to be glycogen depleted after a 90 minute hard workout. You need them… and you might need a few hundred of them.

      Sweet potatoes and yams are approved pretty much across the board. Decent portion of fruit and berries post-workout will get you fueled back up. Very satisfying as well 🙂

      Stay away from grains and sports drinks. Those are crap fuel.

      If you need a sports drink blend up some dates or bananas with water.

  32. Hi
    I am 5 ft 3 inch middle aged woman, who needs to lose weight (weight at present >170lb aaahhh!), but I am also someone who cycles 10 miles a day ( at an easy pace, but uphill all the way home!) commuting to work and walks 10-20 miles with 3+ k feet ascent up mountains at the weekends. I can keep to LC and see weight reduction if I don’t do these activities, but struggle to keep to LC and exercise. Last year I followed a protein sparing modified fast which was basically the same as the low carb end of Marks programme aimed at rapid weight loss. I did maintain long distance walking on the flat okay, but as soon as I hit a hill….it was like walking through treacle and sore. Same outcome with my daily commute. Not pleasant. So having pushed through and transitioned to fat burning in the past, I am happy enough to do that again, but I find it really had to get my head round the addition of carbs for endurance exercise, which seems to be the message I get if I am to maintain my current activity level. Any advice? I have been reading the Paleo for athletes which just seems way too obsessive Does anyone have any strategies for a non competitive athlete who just enjoys activity?

    1. I would suggest adding some weight training. You will find you can actually get through it all easier if you add some muscle. Other people can tell you the science but personal experience has been if the cardio portion of your exercise leaves you sore, it is because you have not built up enough muscle to buffer the experience.

  33. Hey all; excellent thread on a great site.

    Time trialing cyclist here. The experience I’ve had with my training, which at 4-6 hrs/week is very low volume compared to what is considered “normal” for the discipline, is that going low carb makes for hit-and-miss training sessions. Unless I train right after rising.

    Here may be a valuable observation. Workouts are almost always great early in the morning, before breakfast. Unfortunately it is dangerous to train that early this time of year with roads dark and often icy, but I can usually do it on weekends if I sleep in just a bit. If I wait too long after rising, even an hour, then I won’t be able to hit the pedals hard unless I down a good set of carbs and wait for them to be assimilated.

    I strive to do all of my training close to, at or above AT – basically as hard as I can go for the distance, which is 40 minutes-1 hour per session unless commuting – and generally succeed as long as daily carb intake is sufficient. Even after almost a year of reduced carb intake I cannot go out and hammer without a steady source of carbs in the diet (unless I start my training ride almost immediately after rising in the morning.)

    This made it very difficult for me to kick my former breakfast habit of 8-12 pieces of Silver Hills sprouted grain bread toast with almond butter. Without that, I didn’t have the energy to get through the most weekdays, as my 20-minute ride to and from work is usually a hammerfest as hard as I can go, right from the start, no warmup. However, I am making the transition to (hopefully) 100% grain and legume free and seem to be having success with high-carb veggies such as sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots. I find I have to have a decent shot of carbs at every meal except dinner.

    So for athletes who require high octane fuel for sustained high power output, try loading up on those sugary veggies, plus some fruit, not just pre/post exercise but regularly.

  34. One of my fitness goals is to be able to run a marathon. I am glad you covered some guildlines here. Thanks once again Mark.

  35. I think if you’ve done the research and keep an open mind then you’ll discover that carbs are not needed for performance. Fat is a far superior energy source, 9 cals per gram as opposed to 4 with carbs. Your body can produce all the glycogen it needs from protien and fat. Carbs are simply preffered by the body because they are easier to break down. Once your body gets used to using fat for fuel you won’t hit “the wall” or feel “the burn” because your body won’t be producing lactate. Unfortunately it can take your body months to transition and actually be proficient in burning fat. This is where people go wrong giving up after a week or two when they feel like crap. You have to work through it and this will pay dividends.

  36. Shorty Clark a New Zealand paleo agegroup triathlete (60-64) just came second in the Worlds in London. He has got his diet tweaked with bananas and root veg, plus some gels during racing. He also takes bone broth daily to keep his joint pain away.

  37. I see that picture with the guy drinking about of amstel beer. Am I suppose to drink beer after a hard workout. I see this at alot of Spartan races. Where they offer beer after a long run.

  38. Just out of curiosity, any recommendations for a milnitary 26.2 mile road march? Essentially 35-40 pound pack, 3-4imph pace or better?

    Try to do some light training to toughen up my feet a little, but I am concerned with bonking and what not? Any thoughts?

  39. If you split up your training into 2-1 hour sessions, 1 in the AM and 1 in the PM do you still need the additional carbs or is it only necessary for a straight endurance workout?

  40. Great post with lots of information in endurance training. I just started to do my running on top of my bodybuilding. I agreed that one must control our training diet and to have good discipline in our workouts.

  41. Good post on endurance training. I am trying to get myself to lose weight. Beside having the supplement, I am doing some exercises. But, to have good discipline is not easy.

  42. I dance for about 2hrs a day (5-6days a week). Since going primal I feel I have barley any energy left, my body feels exhausted and my mind foggy. When I was doing weights 3x per week for 1.5 hrs as well as dancing and eating more carbs (grains includes) I had more energy…i wana be lean, toned, strong and energetic and continue to dance as much as I do as I love it and live for it. So what should I do? I desperately want to lose the fat around my waist and have defined muscles, I don’t want to count calories though but that’s the only way I’ve ever leaned out..but I think it was skinny fat (1200cal per day). Not sure if I’m getting enough protein either. Where do I go to calculate body fat percentage and lean body mass so I can get this right?! Thanks!

  43. Great post with lots of information in endurance training. I just started to do my running on top of my bodybuilding. I agreed that one must control our training diet and to have good discipline in our workouts.

    1. How does the PB diet work for those of us that spend 10-16 hours a week training for ultra distances? I started the PB diet, and my running is clearly suffering as I don’t feel like I have any energy. I start my runs very lethargic and never recover throughout the workout. Do I need to up my Carb intake with minimal use of breads for a instance? I’ve never been a pasta or heavy carb consumer, but now I’m suffering. Any ideas?