The Endurance Athlete’s Nutritional Dilemma And How To Deal With Fat


“One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” English Proverb.

Hi folks,

Marc is a vegetarian, vegetarian tea shirt joke,

Marc said that he is a vegetarian and the tee shirt was his parent’s idea of a joke.

I’ve noticed that the less humans know about a subject the more they tend to talk about it, and the more experts appear with advice to all and sundry. This is certainly true of nutrition. A while ago I read an excellent book on sustainable farming, entitled ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma.‘ It was well thought out and considered the environmental consequences of farming, and it addressed the issue of a balanced diet. Another book on nutrition that I enjoyed, for which I wrote an invited review on the Live Lean Tips blog, was entitled ‘Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It.’ This interesting tome, which was based on a thorough review of the scientific literature, focused on reasons for decreasing your carbohydrate intake and increasing the consumption of fats. Then there books on the Paleolithic Diet, others that swear by the use of low fat foods, and some authors who tout pure protein diets. What is one to choose, as your main energy source, fat, protein or carbohydrates? You’ve got to eat something!

Paleolithic seafood stew Wiki

Photo of paleolithic-style seafood stew from WikiPedia.

There is no end to the debate on the question, “what is a healthy diet?‘ Basically, you have to choose your poison, be it carbohydrates, proteins, or fats.

The problem really lies with the fact that a number of pressures are at work when it comes to food, and some of these pressures are in conflict, or they may be based on outmoded ideas or our incomplete understanding of the relevant biochemistry or endocrinology.

Here are some of the feeding pressures to which humans are subjected on a daily basis.

  1. Economics – you can only eat what you can afford.
  2. Convenience – thus the fast food industry.
  3. Availability – you can’t eat what you cannot obtain.
  4. Merl is definitely NOT a vegetarian, tee-shirt,

    Merl said that he was NOT a vegetarian, and there seemed to be a little animosity in his voice towards the very idea – interesting!

    Ethics – animal rights dominate this question, and it is a very tricky one indeed. I don’t like to eat my friends, but I still eat steaks from time to time, creating a personal philosophical conflict that have yet to completely resolve. This comes down to your personal ‘beliefs,’ for which I prefer the term ‘philosophy.’

  5. Health – remember that all species include ‘phenotypic variance (variety of body types)’ in their members to promote survival of the population during times of environmental change. Just because your friend can eat lots of sugar safely does not mean that it is necessarily OK for you to do so. We are each unique variations on a theme, biochemically.
  6. Contamination concerns – e.g. metals in fish.
  7. Religion – lots of odd ideas come from this area of human activity, and many are probably based on tribal experiences in the past, such as avoidance of pork, which used to carry risks of parasitic infestation.
  8. Culture – before I left England and met my first Americans at the age of 33, I had no idea how good a hamburger can be because I had never eaten one, but I still love steak and kidney pies from my country of origin.
  9. Experimentation – “Those fried locusts look good, I think I’ll try one.
  10. Killing ants with ant bait.

    We eliminate ants from our kitchen with ant bait that they carry back to their nest resulting in the death of the queen. Is this OK? Ethics is never black or white!

    Social pressure – since studying parasitology many years ago I have been unable to enjoy uncooked meat, but I was forced by circumstances to consume raw fish in large quantities whilst visiting Japan.

  11. Circadian rythme – your body will do different things with the food you eat at different times of the day, so if you want to become nice and fat drink lots of beer and eat a pint of ice-cream just before you go to bed.
  12. Fads – ignore this stuff, it as about as useful as stock tips for your investment portfolio.
  13. Weight loss – now, this is an interesting subject, so I’ll make a few comments below.

You can see that there are many factors that influence your food intake in terms of quantity and type. These are essentially ‘set points’ or guidelines that will determine what you eat, how much and when. These set points can come into conflict – for instance, you need to lose weight for a race, but you are training hard and don’t want to ‘bonk’ during a long ride. Do you eat carbs or not?

Martin Berkhan, intermittent fasting, diet, exercise,

Martin Berkhan, recommends intermittent fasting for weight regulation and health, and he is the author of an interesting training blog called LeanGains.

Sorting this out can be challenging, and you must understand the relationship between carbohydrates and fats with respect to how they are each stored and burned to provide energy. Here are some very simple points to consider when you study this topic:

  • You can make fat from sugar, but you (largely) can’t make sugar from fat.
  • Storage sugar (glycogen) is for short-term needs and is largely stored in the liver.
  • Fat is for long-term energy storage and is found in fat tissue.
  • Sugar can be burned rapidly (glycolysis) but inefficiently to give ‘quick energy,’ and both sugar and fat can be burned more slowly and efficiently (oxidative phosphorylation) to yield more energy ‘per pound.’
  • You can train your body to burn sugar more efficiently and to burn more fat, in one of two ways; (1) take your body into a fasting state, which may require as much as 12 hours or more of zero food intake (see ‘The Intermittent Fasting Diet by Martin Berkhan for thoughts on this approach – strongly recommended by my extremely fit, weight lifting, kiteboarding, eldest son, Nick), or (2) undertake extensive oxidative (low intensity, long duration) endurance training to promote mitochondrial (oxidative phosphorylation) growth to encourage the use of stored fats for your energy needs (recommended by my Ironman coach, Chris Hauth), which slows the rate of burn of sugar stored in the liver for those quick bursts that may be needed later. If you are interested in reading more about the application of fasting to training and weight loss, including the proposals of Martin Berkhan, referred to above, take a look at a related review in Mark’s Daily Apple.
  • Tea pots made in Ashville NC,

    Beautiful tea pot and cups made by a lady artist (Candice) who works at the Clingman’s cafe in Ashville, NC, and when I find her website I’ll link it here.

    Most important of all is to remember that we are each and everyone of us different – I eat eight (8) chocolate-flavored PowerBars during the 112-mile bike leg of an Ironman race, with no intestinal issues at all, whilst this diet might cause you all sorts of problems – ‘phenotypic variance’ at work.

The only experts that I trust when it comes to food are my body and my conscience. My body seems to know what is good for me, and it seeks it out, so I listen and eat accordingly. With respect to consuming meat, I moderate my intake, purchase what I do eat largely from local farms that are ‘eco-conscious,’ and I eat all of it, fat and all, because I think that fat is good for you, whilst an excess of corn most certainly is not. However, for races and long workouts I do carbo-load using moderate glycemic index foods, usually in the form of PowerBars, but sometimes as tamales (yummy!).

Finally, if you are not sure what to eat, when to eat it, and how much of it to eat, just sit and think about it over a nice cup of tea – the solution to most problems in England, where I come from!.

-k @FitOldDog



  1. Pauline Watson says

    Interesting article. I honed in on the 8 power bars in the IM bicycle section. I’ll try 4 in my 70.3 in early September, then. I have observed that I don’t get enough fuel in during long endurance events.

    • Hi Pauline, try it on your training rides first. It took me ages to find what worked for me. Only chocolate worked, and all other flavors made me nauseous at around 80-100 mile into a hot ride. I tried plenty of liquid fuels, but never Spiz for some reason. I think my body doesn’t like to just take in liquids, and I never did like cold soups. But it works for Rory fine. Experiment! For a half it is not quite so critical to eat on the bike, but you should try to take in at least 200 cal/hr (for the IM I take about 300/hr), to spare your liver glycogen as best you can. It’s all about not bonking late on the bike leg. On the run I take one Hammer gel (100 cal)/30 min or /3 mile, consistently (I carry them in my back pocket wedged under my shorts so they don’t bounce up and down). I consume a lot of water on both the bike and the run, especially on hot days, plus Endurolyte tabs. -kevin

  2. Vanilla Spiz works for me.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.