keto half-marathon training, week 1

As promised, here's a recap of my first week transitioning into ketosis. I'm in Week 4 of my half-marathon training as well, so I was concerned I might not have the 'oomph' to accomplish all the runs I had scheduled as my body switched from burning carbohydrates to burning fats.

Good news is, by following Leanne's tips for making the first week easier, I mostly avoided the 'keto flu' (similar to Whole30's 'carb flu,' which I had in spades during my first Whole30)!


I consider myself lucky that I was transitioning to keto having done a few Whole30s; switching from a Standard American Diet (SAD) would be rougher, for sure. We already didn't eat a lot of grains (rice, oats, bread), so reducing our carbohydrate intake wasn't too stark. What was noticeable, however, was the protein! When you go Whole30, there's a LOT of protein! I've ramped it back and still have had a hard time keeping it around 100g per day. A girl got used to sausage and eggs in the morning!

A typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a gal going keto

A typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a gal going keto

Breakfast has typically been two eggs and 1/4 or 1/2 of an avocado (depending upon size) over wilted greens (spinach, chard, and baby kale). Basically the breakfast I've enjoyed for the past three years, minus the extra protein. I'll make a latte with whole-fat milk for the morning, and we're good til lunchtime.

Lunch has become a ritual - always a 'Big-Ass Salad' a la Mark Sisson (and with a hat-tip to my fab friend Gretchen, who showed me how always having salad for lunch simplifies your life!). Changes here include (you guessed it) taking off the extra protein (Boyhood will continue to get his protein load on here - he gets more grams per day alotted than I do!). I've enjoyed sprinkling Hemp Hearts on mine; they add a texture and nuttiness that's nice with the dressing. (We love blue cheese dressing, since -fortunately- neither of us has a thing with dairy!)

Dinner has been a protein serving and one or two sides of veggies - here we've got greens sautéed in bacon fat, zoodles in ghee, and a chunk of local-source salmon (one of the bennies of living in the Northwest!). Big fat dollop of homemade aïoli and we're good!

I'm still loving to plug in my macros - since we don't have breathalyzer/blood test ketone tracking devices (yet), I wanted to make sure that I was training myself to eat what I needed to in the right balance. I'm aiming for around 2,000 calories/day, with macros set around 150g fat, 70g protein, and 75g carbohydrates. Let's see how I did!

Day 1: 1986 calories • 134g fat • 75g protein • 122g carbohydrates
Day 2: 2429 calories • 196g fat • 109g protein • 60g carbohydrates
Day 3: 2127calories • 155g fat • 102g protein • 94g carbohydrates
Day 4: 2716 calories • 217g fat • 113g protein • 82g carbohydrates
Day 5: 2218 calories • 182g fat • 90g protein • 61g carbohydrates
Day 6: 2091 calories • 148g fat • 94g protein • 96g carbohydrates
Day 7: 2235 calories • 151g fat • 137g protein • 90g carbohydrates

Overall, I'd say I'm learning how to dial things in so I'm closer to 2,000-2,200 calories, and you can also see me play with amounts of protein. And after Day 1's birthday lunch with my mother-in-law, I've actually come in closer to the goal grams for carbohydrates than I thought!

The lesson from the first week has been: you probably don't need snacks as you get adapted (but if you're hungry, have a fat bomb! I made some from almond butter and cacao butter melted together and covered in melted stevia-sweetened chocolate chips. Yum!). The one symptom of carb flu I got was hunger, especially in the afternoons. But with my tracker app, I was able to consider what I had room in the budget for and eat accordingly. Despite the overage in calories on a number of days, I saw a three-pound drop on the scale!


Fortunately, I had a one-week buffer built into my training schedule for my half marathon coming up in July, so I was able to roll with the amount of energy I had this week. And overall, the energy levels weren't bad: I took naps when I felt I needed them, stayed hydrated (and added mineral drops and salt to my water to keep my electrolytes up, as Leanne recommends), so I didn't end up with more than one sluggish run!

Here's how the exercise worked out in Week 1:

Day 1: morning walk, with HIIT training (7 sets of stair climbs from Downtown to Uptown)
Day 2: morning walk, plus 5 mile run at 13:17 pace
Day 3: brief morning walk
Day 4: morning walk
Day 5: 4 mile run at 13:16 pace
Day 6: morning walk, plus 5 mile run at 14:11 pace
Day 7: (travel day; no extra walks)

I'd read that anaerobic exercise (ilke the HIITs we do up the stairs) are harder when transitioning to burning fat, so I didn't build those in on non-run days as I otherwise would. The runs on Week 1 were generally good, without the sluggishness I remember from the first week of a Whole30; that Day 6 run's pace probably reflects the balance of the energy shifting - a slower, yet still doable and comfortable, pace was my main indicator that things are changing.

I also need to confess that my Fitbit AltaHR gets a lot of credit for just how much exercise I got in during this week; two friends challenged me to a 'Workweek Hustle,' and my competitive nature won out and got my butt off the couch more days than not! Thanks, Fi and Bridget, for keeping this girl moving...!

All in all, a good solid week of learning and not a lot of suffering! (The latter I chalk up to Leanne's good advice in her book about how to make Week 1 more manageable.) As I write this, I'm into Day 12 and happy to report that I wasn't hungry between breakfast and an early dinner yesterday - one of the first days in recorded history that this girl willingly (and easily) skipped a meal!

Hope someone finds this helpful down the line... feel free to leave any questions in the comments!

if it's good enough for Everest...

Came across an article this morning as I was reading the "Weekend Link Love" from Mark's Daily Apple (a great source for information on all things Paleo and Primal, if you're not familiar with it yet). 

Boyhood has an interest in stories about folks who are crazy enough to climb Everest (like my friend Eileen who recently made it up to Base Camp!), so of course I clicked through to this article from Men's Journal about alpinist Adrian Ballinger and his success summiting Everest without additional oxygen (summiting is one thing; summiting without O2 is quite another - only a few hundred people have managed it).

Surprise! The key to his success on his second attempt without O2? KETO.

“Adrian was heavily reliant on eating some kind of high-energy bar, gel, or similar product at once-an-hour intervals. ...” Basically Ballinger constantly fed his body carbs, so that's the fuel it preferred. And like a lot of elite climbers, he didn’t see anything wrong with that.

“I’ve been completely dependent on carbohydrate for all of my climbing,” he says. “I was always hungry, morning to night, but I also had this line I would tell everyone, you know, ‘I never gain weight, my metabolism must be so high, I can eat a loaf of bread a day.'”

When you’re a carb-burner, you have about 45 minutes of fuel storage in your body — glycogen — at any one time, and after that your body runs out; you have to feed yourself constantly to keep it up. But while that system works fine on most peaks, in the punishing altitudes of Everest — above 25,000 feet is dubbed “the death zone” because of the lack of oxygen — suddenly your digestive system shuts down, you feel nauseous, and you can’t put food in your mouth, Ballinger says. When his hands went icy, it’s because he was depleted of glycogen; his body went into protective mode, and sent more blood flow to his gut and away from his extremities. “All of a sudden I didn’t have those carbs stored — I needed my body to burn fat for fuel.” But his body wasn’t primed to do it, Johnston guessed.

 With the help of his training team and a team from UCDavis, he goes keto and re-does his training regime to become a better fat-burner. There are two great takeaways from this article: one, that the nutrition sets you up for hours of bonk-free endurance; and two, that by slowing down your training sessions, you can raise your aerobic threshold (where you're still in an aerobic state at a higher BPM).

Great news for those of us venturing into keto training - and reassuring to me that my 13:00/mile pace will be just the right way to train for my next race! 

And as Ballinger says, this great slow burn rubs off on all areas of your life:

“A few weeks into training, I started to feel entirely different — I could go for long workouts and not bonk, wake up in the morning and go for hours without eating,” he says. “I used to be the kind of person who would wake up and couldn’t send a text until I’d eaten some food. I was that short of energy.”

Ballinger’s fat-burning metabolism and revamped training approach proved that the hunger cravings he’d had on mountains before, the highs and lows based on constantly needing to eat or feeling fatigued, wasn’t the most efficient way to do what he wanted to do: climb 8,000-meter peaks, trail run, and ski. “This past ski season was the best I’ve ever had, and not only because the snow’s been amazing — I directly credit this,” he says.