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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grok on… 🙂

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158 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Be a Fat-Burning Beast?”

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  1. Good for you guys. I love how all the stories are so different.

  2. Good work! (and nice bikes!)
    I’m pretty excited for the Primal Endurance book.

  3. nice work! 🙂 thanks for sharing your story and what you’ve learned on your journey. enjoy the races!

  4. Wow. Thank you for your story! Much inspiration. I’m not a runner but my boss is. She’s always stating how she doesn’t understand how come she’s not losing wieght w/all the running she does (she loads up on carbs before a race…”good carbs” she calls them (pasta n’ such)).

    Loved that you tested the carb/vs. primal before a race. Very telling.

    P.S: I’m not primal either…not yet anyway. Maybe I’m too afraid I can’t do it. I do low carb and that is keeping my blood glucose on the down low (type II diabetic). And I’m losing the lbs (super yea!).

    1. Lucy, go for it!!! Take Mark’s 21 day challenge. Three weeks and it can change your life!!! You can do anything for 3 weeks and at the end you will find it wasn’t hard!

      1. primal toad: we are primal 90-95%; it would be awfully hard to go 100% when friends offer you pc of cake with butter cream topping and you just can’t resist. If people would go for 90% primal, ditch the bread, cereal, pasta, etc. they would have way less indigestion and colds, or dry skin and hair, etc. I wonder how many primal folks are truly 100% all the time?

        1. We are 100% all the time. For us, it’s easier. Once I couldn’t resist the cheesecake after dinner out…I spent the next three hours in the toilet and my internal body temperature at 1000 degrees! When your body is happy you try and keep it that way!

        2. I’m on day 19 of the 21 Day Sugar Detox. It’s my second round. Round 1 was awful. I failed. But I learned.

          This time around I am perfect sans the one sip of alcohol. Yes, one sip. My modification was allowing more potatoes and fruit.

          I haven’t even touched dark chocolate.

          So, I am going to flat out disagree with you. You can’t resist that cake because you are addicted to sugar.

          If you want it then go for it. You don’t have to be 100% Primal but I’m learning that life is waaaaaaay better when you are!

          Ok, 99%. This is a serious number though.

        3. i am 100% primal too. very easy. but planning to introduce rice back into my diet, because i can’t stop loosing weight if i don’t. and i don’t want to loose any more weight 🙂

      2. I’m with Cynthia Carey. Primal 100%. I just started Primal eating. Apparently, my metabolism is very messed up. I’m not even diabetic, but after what I went through last week, I’ve decided to skip the fruit completely and eat only berries in moderation. Insulin spikes suck!

        1. I’ve been 90% primal for the last 2 weeks, but it took me since Christmas to get there. Just couldn’t get my head in the game, kept eating marzipan croissants on the weekend. Cravings were terrible and never went away until I stopped ALL sugar and flour. I immediately found that I could skip breakfast and not eat from the night before until the afternoon. And best of all, no more cravings! I’m so over the moon!

    2. I don’t have a hard time (anymore) passing the office doughnuts, cakes, etc. I don’t find it difficult to turn down cookies, etc. I pretty much make all my meals (all low carb). The low carbing (and being ‘mostly’:)) faithful to it, has really diminished the junk food hold.

      We’re a family of 4 (“adult” teeanger: age 17 & young cutie pie age 7). I suppose I’m afraid of not being to purchase EXACTLY what’s needed which means I’ll have to substitute w/something NOT primal, which means I’ll be a “fake” primal!

      Low carbing is working for me right now. I am losing, blood sugar is great. If I find myself in a stall, that 21 day challenge may just be the ticket.

      What would I have to give up? Hmm, Joseph’s lavish “bread” (4g carb wrap), I have oatmeal once in a while, I can’t do organic meat…I’m sorry, I just can’t, not with a family of 4 Plus I don’t like it. Heavy cream, instant pudding mix (for cheesecake). I did buy the kindle version of Mark’s book. I’ll have to take another look Thanks guys for the replys. You guys inspire!

      1. P.S. I haven’t had in cold in….gosh, I can’t remember! Years! Even when it goes around at the office! (I’ve lcarb off n’ on for years, just now got serious in making this a lifestyle). Husband’s lost 40 so far (he lost it over a 1.5 yrs ago) & has kept it off.

        1. I’ve been sick once in the past 7 years. Sick free for the past 2.5 years. I went Primal about 2.2 years ago…..

      2. Goodness, Lucy. If cheesecake is important to you why not make the real thing? Use something like xylitol instead of sugar and ditch the crust, and it’s all reasonably primal. It’s definitely low-carb if you don’t want to be full-on Primal.

        1. Joshua, I don’t use reg. sugar (for the cheesecake), or for anything else. I never buy the stuff. I only use xylitol, erythritol & stevia. The cheesecake is low carb, I don’t know why you thought it wasn’t.

        2. because you said you use instant pudding mix for cheesecake. Why not use cream cheese that is natural and low carb? I’m confused why you would make a fake version of something when the real thing would be lower carb than the fake. If you do have a low carb pudding mix though, I’d love to know what it is. The sugar free pudding mix I see is still a pretty heavy carb load from the starch.

        3. Lucy, I also assumed a sugary franken-food from the use of mix when you can use whole foods to make the real thing. For a speacial treat I made a pumpkin cheesecake last holiday season that was out of this world. Used ground almonds, pecans, and butter for crust and the cake was equal parts cream cheese, neufchtel cheese, and goat cheese (+eggs, pumpkin, nutmeg, vanilla, and raw honey). I’d probably even ditch the nut crust next time… I made this so my family would eat it.

    3. Lucy – If you can do low carb then going primal won’t be a stretch for you at all. It’ll be so much easier than you imagine! Just do it. Stop thinking about it and do it and it will be easy. You’ll see.

  5. Fantastic story! It’s amazing how much this lifestyle can improve the lives of people who many would have thought were already in great shape. Well told story and you are both looking very good in that final pic.

    I’m loving the gun show and the Mrs is smoking hot!! 🙂

  6. This is a very inspiring story. I don’t plan on ever running more than a mile, even if there’s a Zombie Apocalypse, but it’s good to know I won’t need to eat a bunch of starches/carbs to build up my glycogen reserves. My metabolism can’t handle it.

    I haven’t been eating Primal very long, but I already knew what was coming when he talked about adding in carbs before that race. Last week, I slipped up and ate a bite of cookie that made me so sick I thought I’d die. Yesterday, I ate a banana with nut butter on a piece of toast, thinking the fat would slow down the insulin response (I’m not diabetic). Sweet mercy, that was a bad idea, too. I’m now holding 5 pounds of water and feel like a slug.

  7. Dude! You guys look amazing…not what I normally associate with triatheletes.

    I can only hope to look half as good.

    Very inspiring.

  8. I have tested my energy going low carb paleo before crossfit (just regular meals, no set pre-workout meal)and having a piece of fruit before crossfit. The low carb approach works better for me, hands down. I feel better and perform better. I also find that SLEEP plays a much bigger role than food, as far as my performance. I guess if Native Americans could run down buffalo running on, well, just buffalo meat, we can all do more than expected on a fat-burning diet! Awesome story!

  9. There’s no reason why you can’t be a fat-burning beast and win triathlons. There’s no performance trade-off.

    The missing pieces for you guys are the teachings of Phil Maffetone, who’s used the approach you’re now on to help create champions, including Mark Allen and Jonas Colting. See Mark’s interview with Jonas from a while ago.

    You’ll also find Tim Noakes’ new book “Waterlogged” fascinating for its evolution-based approach to hydration and electrolytes.

    1. I think we will need to see a low-carb athlete actually contend for a win in an Ironman or marathon before we say, “There’s no performance trade-off.”

      1. Mark Allen, Mike Pigg, Jonas Colting…

        Allen wrote the introduction for Maffetone’s book, and the first thing Maffetone does is have you go on a low-carb diet. As Allen explains on his web-site:

        “Phil said that I was doing too much anaerobic training, too much speed work, too many high end/high heart rate sessions. I was forcing my body into a chemistry that only burns carbohydrates for fuel by elevating my heart rate so high each time I went out and ran…”

        “…That means that I was now able to burn fat for fuel efficiently enough to hold a pace that a year before was redlining my effort at a maximum heart rate of about 190. I had become an aerobic machine! On top of the speed benefit at lower heart rates, I was no longer feeling like I was ready for an injury the next run I went on, and I was feeling fresh after my workouts instead of being totally wasted from them.”

        Allen dominated the sport for years, winning Kona six times and setting the record the marathon portion. That record still stands.

        1. BTW, I think Maffetone’s approach is the answer to Mark Sisson’s objections to chronic cardio, where you are “…forcing your body into a chemistry that only burns carbohydrates for fuel by elevating my heart rate so high each time I went out and ran…”

          That’s bad. Don’t do that. Burn fat slowly and go faster.

        2. What book are you referring to? I’d like to add it to my to read list.

        3. You mention fat intake and speed work, so my apologies if I am misconstruing something here, but Mark Allen did not adhere to a low-carb diet when he was winning in Kona. Maffetone may have had him increase his fat intake, but Allen absolutely did not go Paleo/Primal.
          I interviewed Allen in ’96 and Maffetone a few times in the early 2000s. I dig both of those guys but to cite them as proof that low-carb diets are the key to ultra-distance success is disingenuous.

        4. This is in response to Mike’s post below:

          “Maffetone may have had him increase his fat intake, but Allen absolutely did not go Paleo/Primal.”

          I never said he did. But if you’re increasing your fat intake, you’re lowering your carb intake.

          “I dig both of those guys but to cite them as proof that low-carb diets are the key to ultra-distance success is disingenuous.”

          So is misquoting what I said. I didn’t say low-carb was key; I said, as you quoted before: “There’s no performance trade-off.” Very different.

          You also don’t mention Jonas Colting, who’s another long-term triathlete champion; another Maffetone disciple; and who is on a low-carb diet, compared to most triathletes, and most regular folk.

          Maffetone’s book is “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing”.

  10. My husband is a triathlete and was resistant to following me into Primal eating. I had started 6 weeks before he was running a marathon and he didn’t want to change things up so close to the big day. He ran it with an extra 10lbs of bodyfat and his recovery was awful. 8-9 full days of feeling like crap. He decided his carb and gel-feuled ways were not working and decided to give it a go. He did his first tri about 2 weeks ago and just ate primally as we had been, used coconut water to hydrate, and enjoyed the grassfed burger provided post race. He had his best race ever, and felt great in the days following. He has shaved off 4% of bodyfat in about 6 weeks and has visible abs again.

  11. You guys and the Aussie Mudders are so cool!! I am with The Girl In Yoga Pants above–don’t see myself running much. I think my knees are too close to the edge of failure already.

    But seeing how fit and happy you both look makes me wonder if maybe just maybe I could do a little biking–it’s not hard on the knees, I could experience nature, and bikes are much faster than Zombies. (See TGiYP’s comment above–too funny!)

    It does make me very happy to know that Primal works even for endurance athletes. I know for a fact it is working for me as a slow moving regular person! Thank you so much for sharing your story!!!

    1. Bikes are much faster than Zombies! Plus, you can attach weapons and flamethrowers. Yes! I think I could do biking. Thanks! 🙂

        1. Speaking of zombies- and forgive me if this is a little bit too warped- but when I read about the naked dude they shot and killed while he was eating the other naked dude’s face I asked myself “Is that Primal?”

  12. I am so glad to see this post – i am new to Primal and have been wondering how to fuel for an up coming marathon (i am also type 1 diabetic with insulin pump) My blood sugars do great when i go no grains- just this morning i ran 14 miles with nothing but water and 8 oz of “gator-you-know-what” (so that my BS does not drop) then after the run felt great but had a clif-bar that i had brought along and thought “only 43 carbs no prob i will help restock my body” —bad idea BS jump’d to 279 in less than 30 mins even after running- next time i will stick to the no carbs and allow my body to burn the fat

    – if anyone has neat things for a T1 to consider about primal plz let me know-

    1. I just have one anecdote: I job shadowed the dietitians at my local hospital last summer and grabbed one of their “diabetic meal planning” flyers. Apparently, 250 was “low-carb” to these folks – I damn near walked out of the room. I’d expect that being fully primal would only help your cause – one of the oldest (successful) treatments for diabetes was an extremely low carb diet. You’ll probably just have to be particularly careful about how many carbs you’re taking in at each sitting.

    2. I’m T1, too have been low carbing for 8 years. I follow Dr Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. Have seen his book? I think that he is the best diabetic doctor out there. He ranks up there with Joslin.

      The next step in my healthy nutrition saga will be going Primal.

      BTW, I have found that after a hard workout, that my blood sugar drops during the night of the day after the workout. Like my body takes that long to build muscle or replenish glycogen.

      1. this drop used to happen to me when i was carbin – it would be crazy the day after is when my BS would reflect my workout- but now that i eat 90-96% primal i dont have these issues – i dont even eat before a workout and i can go with out food after with no drop (i normally run around 80 after a workout) and when i do eat after a workout its bacon and eggs (i workout 530am normally)

  13. You guys look awesome! Inspiration for athletes everywhere 🙂

  14. You both look 10 years younger!! I can’t get over the photos. WOW (Right now I’m at no cardio (but I did some squats this morning) so maybe this will be a nudge).

    1. Thanks “Noatak” Awesome if somehow any of this is a “nudge” for someone else’s better health!!!

  15. And Sexy Beasts as well!:). In the after picture you both look 10 years younger!

    1. “Sexy Beasts”……I knew there was a better title out there!!! THANKS 😉

  16. Paul and Cynthia are major inspirations to me. They prove that it’s possible to have it all: world-class strength and world-class endurance. Loved to read their story in more detail than ever before. Behold the unstoppable power of primal living!

  17. Great job! I love to hear about endurance athletes that are keto adapted. Its a rarity that needs to become more common.

  18. My OH has just finished the Ragensburg Iron Man on a classic carb diet, I will show him your article as he doesn’t believe that my primal diet would be of benefit to him!

  19. Thank you for your story! You both look 10-15 years younger in your second pic!!!

  20. Anyone ever experience terrible cramps in the quads/calves during an endurance race?

    My last 70.3 resulted in a lot of cramping around mile 10 of the run. This is my first year following PB. I’m trying to figure out the cause of the cramping because its never happened this bad before when I wasn’t following PB.

    I’ve been getting a lot of mixed feedback… Mineral deficiency, carb deficiency leading up to race day and morning of, taking baking soda pre race?

    Any thoughts out there?

    1. could be a lot of things..

      minerals: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium

      maybe need vit C to flush lactic acid?

      do you do any calf raises/bodyweight squats/goblet squats?

      1. I try to keep body weight workouts in my routine but find that its more fun to bike/run. Just started getting back in the gym recently though. Maybe it’ll make a difference.

    2. You bet, been trying to figure it out for years. It aint salt, aint dehydration. Could be muscle fatigue and the nervous system. and the organs in our muscles called golgi tendons and muscle spindles that regulate muscle tension when the muscle is stretched or loaded. They protect the muscle from being damaged. Localized muscular fatigue causes confusion in the signals from the nervous system. These organs do what they think they are supposed to do when they receive a signal from the nervous system they contract and then don’t relax, thus the cramp. So it is the body’s way of convincing you to quit doing whatever it is you are doing. Obviously, you stop and stretch and this sends a signal to the muscle to relax, so it eventually will subside. Mine do and they go away for awhile then come back. But I also notice that when I contract the opposite muscle to force a stretch in the cramped muscle that muscle will cramp so…. my problem is systemic I think. I am trying Slo-Mag for 20 days, 3 tablets (forget dosage) got this idea from the same book Paul mentions above (J.Volek, S. Phinney;) The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance. The other day did a fast 100k century where I shoulda cramped because I was above my cramping threshold, felt one coming on but it never appeared and I felt strong pulling in my companions because they were cramping. So, still have to experiment with more long efforts above my cramping threshold to see if that was a fluke or if it is working. I hope it is!!!! because it has become a limiting problem. Takes the fun out of a fun day. Strengthen those cramping muscles, build up before pushing the pace, see if you notice less cramping later in the season when you have had time to get more fit. And try slo mag

    3. Read the Phinney/Volek book. Muscle cramping is the one bad side effect of low-carb performance. I found their advice very helpful. For me, taking SloMag 3 times a day for 20 days, then once or twice a day to keep the magnesium titre up solved the problem.

      1. Yeah I’ll have to check that book out for sure. This may go against the book, but from what I’ve read recently I believe I lacked the carb intake in the days leading up to the race and on race day morning. I also feel like I didn’t have enough nutrition on me throughout the course. I definitely felt like I had the energy to hold a tough pace on the run buut the cramps got the best of me and I had to do the walk/run for the last 3 miles and down the finish chute.

        Got another race in two weeks so we’ll see what happens this time!

    1. Fantastic link….thanks for sharing. It’s great to get connected with others sharing the same goals.

      Thanks again!

  21. Wow, what a great story! Now I’m more encouraged to not carbo-load before my upcoming Tough Mudder. By the way, you guys look amazing! Congrats

  22. You look pretty muscular what type of lift heavy things do you do. Is it just body weight training or do you use weights

    1. Thanks for your question…. I enjoy a good lift but find I only have time for once or twice a week (mostly dumbbells). My preference though are push-ups, pull-ups with plenty of swimming mixed in to stay limber.

      We have found that good sprint sessions or rapid sets in the gym are just conducive to leaning out getting that “cut” look.

  23. Great work — you both look fabulous and energized.

    Another blog to check out for the endurance atheletes out there (I’m not one, but it’s a great blog) is Dr. Peter Attia at The Eating Academy (a low carber and admirerer of Mark Sisson).

    He’s done some N=1 experiments on low carb vs. carbs and has some interesting results. He also has written the best primer on cholesterol (seven parts, at this point) in his blog — I think I finally understand what all the measurements mean!

    Find him at https://eatingacademy.com/

  24. That is such an interesting read and inspirational story! I look forward to investigating further the “primal blueprint”

    Where does Primalcon take place next year? I am interested in checking it out for myself!


    1. To date…all have been in Oxnard, Ca (beautiful!) I suppose we all have to stay tuned to MDA for 2013 announcements 🙂

  25. Paul and Cynthia, great meeting you at PrimalCon and what a great story!

  26. Great story, thanks for sharing! I too am really looking forward to Primal Endurance!

  27. You both look like college kids in the 2nd pic! Great story and thanks for sharing your personal experiments.

  28. Good to read. Could you share a couple days’ worth of training log and food log?

    1. We mix our training up but follow a few rules. We try and fast at least 3 days a week for 24 hours, especially leading up to a longer training session. That way your body is acclimated. All training is done in some sort of fasted state. We normally always eat dinner, lunch only occasionally and breakfast once in a while but never early. We swim 4 or 5 days a week in a fasted state, sprint workouts at least once weekly. Our distance varies with what race we are preparing for (1.2 to 6.2 miles). We run every-other-day at lunch for 5 miles varying intensities. Weekends are 15-20 milers in a fasted state with nothing other than water or coconut water. We ride nights and weekends, again varying our distance to the race we are preparing for. The longer we have been Primal, the more we realize less is more. Less waisted hours training and more time spent having fun. We try and follow Mark’s advice to not eat for an hour after exercise to capitalize on GH. We don’t cheat and stay 100% Primal mostly because we found that we get sick if we do cheat and its just not worth it. We love to eat and love to cook. We just bought our first grass fed cow from harvesthomemeats.com. Amazing and $3.95/# if you live in the PA area! We also have 11 chickens we feed organically, supplimenting flax seed so we have plenty of eggs! A typical dinner for us is grass fed burgers on lettuce, sauteed kale in coconut oil, zuccinni in ghee with berries either in whip cream (grass fed whole cream) or macadamia nut butter and coconut butter poured on top! YUM! Learn to focus on getting in good fats for energy!

      1. I love the idea of macadamia nut butter with coconut oil for “dessert” and will definitely have to try that. Otherwise, your daily meals sound a lot like ours. We also prefer to do our morning cycling before eating and usually have a brunch of eggs (we’ve started discarding some of the whites like Peter Attia suggested to up the fat and reduce the protein) and dinner only.

      2. Thanks for elaborating. I’m considering doing a Tough Mudder like this and it is great to read more specifics about what you do.
        What (if any) do you use in the way of supplements?

        1. Hi Casey….we are currently not using any supplements (and hope to keep it that way 🙂

          Best of luck with the Mudder!

  29. Finally! some triathletes that understand how and why eating primal is so important for their performance!

    great story

  30. Wow- that is amazing, Paul and Cynthia. While we haven’t yet cut out all carbs, we do try to eat “clean”- carbs we do eat include whole grain breads and whole grain rice. We feel so much better, and definitely feel our bodies and metabolisms working more efficiently- Cynthia and Tom, you are an example of just how much you can when you go fully ‘primal’!

  31. Great story you guys!!!! We too, enjoyed meeting you at PrimalCon 2012, look forward to seeing you there next year. I too have been trying to be keto fueled in my endurance activities. I am not currently racing but I still go out for long runs and rides. In that last 100k ride I did that I mentioned above in the cramping comment I took a gel with me just in case, which I always do just in case. I didn’t want to use it but coming into half way I noticed I was having a hard time trying to keep up, I was going to try to refrain from using the gel and see what happens but I thought better of it and knew that I was riding above my aerobic threshold, so knowing what I know about physiology I decided I best eat the gel, and lets see what happens. That gel was a kick in the ass!!! I not only kept up but I pulled the two guys I was riding with into the finish at 22 mph, heart rate close to max. As we know, you can’t be an either or when it comes to fueling in and endurance activity. The intensity and how well you are adapted to that intensity will dicate the fuel of choice. If you choose to just burn fat/ketones for fuel then you have to stay under that threshold and you can not mix in eatting any carbs. Once you eat a gel you turn on the carb burning machine and will need to keep fueling with carbs or you will bonk. I think though, if you want to be truely competitive, I don’t think you can go carb free. And you know, that anaerobic system exists for a reason, burning of carbs for fuel exists for a reason and if you are exercising or racing at a pace that is requiring more energy than you can get efficiently from fats/ketones the body then needs to use carbs. Go for it, body will suck those sugars/carbs right up and it doesn’t care where it came from. If you want to be considered primal at this level then eat unprocessed carbs, like pureed bananas and sweet potatoes in a gel flask or make your own sports drink from molasses menitoned in an earlier post. It all depends on the individual and their goals. I am always going to find myself pushing beyond that threshold as I enjoy that and if I want to run/ride with my husband or friends sometimes I have no choice. So for now since I have 2-300 gel packets in my pantry will always take a gel or two with me for that just in case situaltion when I need that “hit” otherwise I carry the Artisana packets of assorted butters. Sounds like you guys have your plate full, I will be curious how the IM’s go. I have to say I am still having a hard time letting go of the “fats burn in the flame of carbohydrates” but keep us informed.

    Think about it, your goals from why you started doing triathlons have totally changed, going Primal has brought new outlook to life in general as well with your love for the sport. Keep enjoying and exploring the boundaries!!!!

  32. Wow! You guys look great — healthy and fabulous.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m just starting to train for a triathalon and was wondering if there was an alternative to the sweet potato / banana fuelling, because it just wouldn’t work for me, I’m too sensitive to carbs to do that. So, good to know that I can do it all in a keto-adapted mode.

    1. I can attest to that – no carbs needed. On our recent 7-day cycling trip, there was not a green vegetable to be found (so strange that rural farm county was devoid of veggies) with the exception of 4 meals where there were iceberg lettuce salads. 🙁 We had amazing energy and strength and were virtually running on zero carbs.

  33. Hi Paul and Cynthia, I am also a marathon runner and have just began my primal blueprint journey (I’ve been doing it for a bout 1 month now). When I first started, I tried being 100% primal and didn’t use any gels or anything for training. However, my time severely decreased and I felt tired and weak during every run. Now, I use pure glucose energy gels when I wake up and go for my run and I feel great. I was just wondering, how long did it take your bodies to adjust to a fat-burning state and would you have any suggestions for someone like me? Thanks!

    1. From our experience (and others as well), the process takes about 3 to 4 committed weeks minimum. Our legs felt like they had lead in them in the beginning stages….

      We too had to slow our pace quite a bit during the adjustment phase from sugar burner to fat burner. We know others that continue to use the gels and such on race day (train low, race high…concerning carbs). We tried it and it just didn’t sit well with our new goals for endurance. Above all else, don’t get frustrated….and enjoy the journey….it’s supposed to be fun.

      1. To be clear, you followed the recommendations in the book “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance,” keeping carbs under 50 g and their protein recommendations, correct? Have you found you must keep the carbs under this level now, or have you been able to up them a little?

        1. Sort of been trial and error….like Mark explains. When we first started we definitely had to ween ourselves down the carb count little by little. Today, we are finding we “feel” great at a low carb count of around 50. We are not into tables and graphs concerning diet so we take a mental average counting up a typical day from time to time.

          The high fat is keep us satiated.

  34. after a year of being Paleo/Primal, I’m just now tinkering with fasting. I also am considering riding a bit more (miss it) and running more. Again maybe just a ride a week or a run here or there. This is inspiring!

  35. Great job Uncle Paul and Aunt Cindy! Dad showed us this. See you at Steve’s wedding!

  36. I loved this story. I do stand up paddle on rivers and the sea near where I live. Often I find it is in the slow movement zone (if I’m going downstream and there is no wind) but a lot of it ends up in the cardio zone – getting back upstream, portaging up over rapids, coping with sea swells etc.) You can’t have one without the other, I find. Slow movement leads to cardio. When I spend a lot of time in the cardio zone, I get super hungry. When I get back to the car I just want to eat. And all the rest of the day I feel hungry. I’m going to try the coconut water thing. Never tried it before, and perhaps having a big meat and veges meal afterward, instead of just a salad and some tuna as I’d usually do.

  37. From a safety standpoint, perhaps good to point out don’t experiment with fasted endurance while swimming! I almost drowned when I bonked 1/4 mile from shore. D’oh! I open water swim with a float now.

  38. This is great… I am still confused about how exactly diet-wise and metabolism-wise how to become fat adapted…

    1. Meg, if you’re interested, read Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. In the first part of the book, he takes the major studies of weight management and loss for the last 50 or so years and breaks them down. He explains the politics behind the subsequent policies and the bias in the science. In the second part of the book, he explains the science and literature supporting low carb diets(a range of carbohydrate intakes, depending upon the individual). It is a pretty dense read, but very worth it.

    2. The Phinney/Volek book is an excellent primer on how to do this. “The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Performance.”

  39. My husband Simon cycled with Paul from High Pt to Cape May and following the exciting day and many discussions on the diet, we, as a family decided to try the diet. We had a lot of fun emptying and rearranging the pantry and fridge, shopping for organic and grass-fed produce, and trying the recipes from the Primal Cookbooks. It has really bought us together as a family and we have all started loosing weight without feeling we are on a diet.
    I have chronic RA and am hoping that in the future I maybe able to reduce my meds, and enjoy better health. We have also been surprised how many of our friends have expressed an interest in the diet

    1. We are excited for you all!!! “Paying it forward” already I see. Thanks for Posting!!

    2. I also have RA. I take Plaquenil, but was still experiencing symptoms and my doc wanted to add methotrexate. I started doing strict Paleo for Auto-immune conditions (no dairy, no nightshades)and my symptoms are GONE. It’s been 5 weeks… no pain, no swelling. I am seronegative and my case is pretty mild so your mileage may vary… but it seems to work for me. Good luck!

  40. Yummo! Bacon avocado burger is also MY favorite post-race treat!!!

  41. I really need to get some pictures and post our story – “we” are age 59 and 70 and are ketogenic cycling “geezers.”
    We are amazed at how fast and strong we are. We just completed the “Bike Ride Across Nebraska” and often rode 30 or 40 miles in a fasting state, stopped for steak and eggs, finished the ride, and then ate hamburger patties or steaks for the evening meal. No snacks, definitely no sports gels, bars or drinks. We flew past the SAG stops, and only stopped for water. We joined the National Biking Challenge and are # 6 and 7 on the leaderboard in our city and 255 and 277 in the country (out of 27,000) for the month. We leave tomorrow for a 4-day trip and will add another 260+ before the month is over.
    I am a huge fan of Phinney and Volek and was pleased to see the link. The new book was actually what convinced my partner to go ketogenic this summer (he’s a retired physician and was impressed by the science) and he now preaches out lifestyle to everyone. Sadly, most ignore it and continue to carbo-load. We got bad news about our bike mechanic, who was part of the support time for our last ride and is a “character” in the cycling community. He has the muscled look of someone who lives on a bike (which he does) without an ounce of body fat. Everyone assumes he is the picture of health. Last week, he had stents put in two blocked coronary arteries – so much for “carbo-loading?”

    1. Simply fantastic Peggy!! Sorry about your mechanic friend.

  42. I think something is getting lost in translation here. This is not a story about competitive performance. These triathletes prove that they can finish an event and stay true to their beliefs. Admirable, for sure, but people should not infer that their performance improved when they went Primal. Performance is not their priority, so good on them, but the take away message from this should not be “You can be a competitive age-group triathlete on a low-carb diet.”

    1. That may not be the message, but it is, however true. Read Peter Attia’s blog and the Phinney/Volek book.

      1. No, it’s not true, Peggy. If it were true then low-carb athletes would be dominating Ironman, the Boston marathon, and the Tour de France. Even Paul writes that he is not PR’ing on this style of fueling. Mark agrees as well, if you want to search this site.
        I have not read Volek’s book, but I am familiar with his research and I have interviewed him on more than one occasion. I don’t see anywhere were he recommends going low-carb for endurance performance. (Attia’s blog looks very cool. Thanks for the tip.)
        I love the lifestyle espoused on this site, but low-carb/Primal cannot be all things to all people.

  43. Photos are good, but they feel great, that is most important thing.

  44. I think you should be called “fat burning babes” – you look amazing!! Thanks for sharing your story. You do look younger and most importantly vibrantly healthy.

  45. Thank you for sharing. My husband and I have been dealing with some questions in this area. Helpful and timely! Great Job and inspiring.

  46. Haha, I’m guessing that for marathoners in the US the term ‘bonking’ doesn’t mean what it means for a non-marathoner from New Zealand (hint – it’s not done alone, most times a least one person is lying down, and performance is vastly improved on Primal). . . I had to reread that part of the story a couple of times before I could get rid of the image of a mid-marathon ‘pause’. *snort*
    Inspiring story – even without the additional exercise!

    1. Ha ha, I thought that too, I was thinking wow, these guys find the time and energy to do a spot of bonking at the 15km mark!!!! Oh, does bonking mean something different in other parts of the world???

    2. My thoughts exactly, coming from Australia ‘bonking’ means a much different sport, had to read it twice before I understood what you guys were talking about. You both look fantastic by the way, thanks for sharing your story with us. Look forward to seeing what you get up to in the future.

  47. Congrats you guys that’s a great story! I do have a quick question: I was wondering if you just eat your protein with real food or if you’re supplementing a protein shake. I’m just curious, as I too, am a bodybuilder and just switched from taking a protein shake to just eating food.


    1. Great question….our goal has been sticking to real food (not that we are against it…..). We have also been dairy-free during this same period…so whey protein wasn’t exactly acceptable. We have tried hemp protein before we went Primal and there are a few without added sweeteners on the market. It’s challenging to find these types of items without added sweeteners….frustrating!

      So, we are all real, non processed, and no pills/vitamins. Just our preference….

  48. Thanks for your story guys. I love how you have figured out how to FEEL good and perform the way you want to.
    And just for the record, I have NEVER spent one cent as a result of following this website, but I have lost 9 kilos in 5 months, lost that bloated face & stomach, learnt to dead lift 50kilos and feel FABULOUS – and I am 53 years old. Don’t try to tell me this is not a GOOD THING.

  49. Hi folks … thanks for sharing and a ‘very well done” on your primal success. I too have am experimenting with the primal blueprint. About 30 grams net carbs for 1500 calories / 24 hours … all very healthy eggs, raw veggies, coconut oil and standard supplements. Ketosis confirmed with urine dip stick, weight loss, and general physical improvement. However, along the way, I have encountered what I would describe as symptoms of acidosis. Let me be clear, that is low-carb-moderate-protein-high-fat-diet-related ketoacidosis and not diabetic ketoacidosis. Sx: shortness of breath on limited exerction, tiredness, and a general overall weakness. I did not confirm the acidosis with a blood test, however. Nonetheless, based on the symptoms, I added 4 grams bicarbonate/baking soda in water, 3-4 times daily. The bicarbonate has helped attenuate the symptoms mentioned above. Curious if you have experienced diet-induced acidosis yourselves?
    My regards, StanO

  50. Fantastic story!

    For me primal endurance still means more like trail ultra running rather than competing in 21k, 42k, triathlons, etc.

    It’s all about preferences, though. The fat-as-fuel principle behind stays the same. Phinney and Volek’s latest book is a must read in this topic. Looking forward to Mark’s book!

  51. Hi guys,

    Thanks for the post, I think its sold me on trying this Primal approach properly. I just finished my second Ironman recently, and I think had a similar epiphany to you guys about halfway through the race, as I struggled through a BSL low (I hadn’t “fueled” enough on the bike) – “I’m doing this to help promote a healthy lifestyle”, as I chug through my 8th cup of coke…. This was followed post-race by McDonalds, pancakes, m&m’s, etc! Then a sinus infection and two weeks of feeling like sh#t! Have been doing Primal/Paleo approach for about 2 and a half weeks and feeling awesome now.

    I would love to learn more about the specifics of how you approached this lifestyle and particularly your training/diet – I was close to pulling out of my upcoming ironman race in 5 months time but this is my new goal, to do it without eating crap, training 20-30hours a week, being chronically tired and sugar-craved all the time. Essentially compete in an ironman and be healthy (and awake!)…..

    Thanks again!

    1. Excellent Neil!! Sounds like you are exactly at the cross-roads we found ourselves staring down. In an earlier reply, we commented a bit on our diet / training and how we are now looking to spend less time training….no need to embark on such chronic cardio to compete at these distances.

      Wondering which IM you have coming up?? We will be doing Mont-Tremblant in Aug……would be great to meet up with other Primal enthusiasts if anyone is interested.

      1. Hi Paul, I’m competing at an Ironman race in Busselton (Western Australia) in December. Its a flat and fast course but usually really hot, and probably a long way from you guys!!!! I have read all the posts and replies but still have some specific questions which I might email you about if thats ok?

        For those scientific sorts that are saying that you can’t maintain the same level of performance or PR on this apporach, I will be your guinea pig – I’m racing the same race a year apart. Same course, same bike, same wetsuit, shoes and underpants if I have to!!! Just a wildly different approach to nutrition and training. Three weeks after my last ironman race, and about two and a half weeks after starting to go primal, energy levels are back up, needing less sleep, can concentrate, and back into training with no need for sugar! 🙂

  52. Inspiring post, congrats to you! Some of the comments here brings up a question I’ve had for a while: Some people here are commenting that they are 90%-95% primal, or 80% primal, etc, and I remember Mark posting that 80% is an ok goal to shoot for, which I’d like to do.

    But what exactly is 80% primal? I tend to be an ‘all or nothing’ person – I’m either 100% primal but then go on vacation and just eat a bunch of pasta and bread which then takes me a few weeks to get ‘back on the wagon.’ Consequently I don’t have great results (not surprisingly.) I guess I’d just love to hear what other people who are 80 or 90% primal do? Is it one cheat day a week, or is it a couple glasses of wine a night while remaining primal in every other way? I’d like to be more moderate so that I can get the results I’m looking for without careening from 100% to 0% back and forth constantly.

  53. Thank you for sharing. I’m new to the Primal diet and am about to start training for a half marathon in November. I am NOT an endurance athlete, but my friends and I have done a few just to challenge ourselves. I’ve been worried about training and how I will handle my running schedule in the heat without goo’s and electolyte drinks. Your article makes things a bit less scary and gives me hope that with some trial and error I will eventually figure out.

  54. thanks for sharing! was a great read and ive been wondering about going totally low carb too, since ive been losing my taste for most sweet things.

  55. WooHoo! you guys look Great! Man, looks like you are really leading the way in figuring out the primal endurance forumla.
    It was great to meet you both at PC2012, look forward to next year already! Maybe if I am real fast and camp on the sidewalk for a week I may be able to get signed up before Lars 😉


    1. Hey Mark!…..thanks for reading and for your compliments. We are loving the lifestyle….see you at PC2013 for sure!….and yes, Lars is already at the park waiting :-)……good times.

  56. Awesomely inspirational story! And may I add I was SHOCKED to see your ages (listed under the last picture) – you two look like you’re in your late twenties! Beautiful couple. I loved reading this one.

  57. Truly inspired by your story and your picture – wow you guys look AMAZING!!!

    I started eating primally in mid April – felt great on my 21 day challenge but a week later had to have an emergency gallbladder removal (unrelated – i’m sure caused by years of poor habits)
    Anyway getting back to primal has been a bit of a journey as I ate nothing for a week, then liquids, then slowly solids etc.. and no lifting or running for a month 🙁

    Now it’s July and I’m finding myself motivated again but horribly out of shape – My BF and I are starting to train for a marathon – i’ve run two, very slow, painful marathon’s in the past and I want to redeem myself.

    I found your experiments very interesting as my past running life was laden with sugary gels and liquid “sports” drinks – I love coconut water and did carry that during one marathon which worked quite well but I’m always nervous about running out of steam – I was planning to make nom nom paleo’s version of Lara bars – dates, macadamia nuts and coconut flakes, and carry that with me – any thoughts on the effectiveness of that as fuel?

  58. You both look absolutely amazing and radiate health. One of my favorite things about the Paleo lifestyle is how it makes people look 10-20 years younger than their peers. My friends (who are living Paleo) and I are now fitting into clothes that we haven’t worn since our high school days. One of my skeptical friends even insinuated that there was no way I could be this muscular at 41 – without being on testosterone injections! Thanks for yet another inspirational story to cement my confidence in this life path.

  59. Great story. I have been about 90% primal for the last 4 months but thought i needed some carbs as I have recently taken up cycling. I will now try to be just a fat burning beast.
    Roger (54) UK

  60. Ow Ow!! That’s all I can say! Look at those 2 hotties. You guys are looking awesome. Did you rip that slit in your shirt with your hands or your pecks? LOL! Keep up the great work, really inspiring.

  61. We are convinced We’ve look at this very same kind of declaration in other places, it must be gaining popularity with all the people.

  62. Great job guys. I’ve also gone keto and will be training for ironman. My last one was as a sugar burner. I’ll be 12 months low carb (about 9 months keto) by my next one. Do you guys have a blog or contact? Would be great to hear how your journey continues.