The last time I wrote a blog on metabolic efficiency (ME), I gave the readers a couple of ideas on what a ME meal could look like. This time I’m going a step further and I’m going to show you a typical 3-day food and exercise diary while I’m training for Ironman Sweden. But before I do, let me tell how ME came to into my life.
When I started racing back in 2008 I was using sugary sports nutrition such as gels and sports drinks and I started worrying about what their consumption would do to my teeth and as a precaution I started brushing as soon as I got home from a race or a training session. But like most athletes I had been brainwashed that as an athlete I had to consume these sugary products as well as a lots of carbohydrates to give me a chance of finishing these endurance races.
By the summer of 2012, I suddenly found myself with more than the state of my teeth to worry about. I started to wake up at night a lot to visit the toilet for a pee and at work I constantly had the same problem. I booked an appointment with my GP who suggested a couple of blood tests and unsurprisingly I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. My family has a history of Type II Diabetes of the young (MODY diabetes), despite us all being generally slim in stature. I hoped that I was the lucky one who had escaped this fate, but my genes ruled out on top.
A bit later that summer I was racing a local half ironman triathlon and Harvey whom I knew from Twitter was coming all the way from Georgia, USA to visit his family and do that race too. I offered to drive him along the bike course a couple of days before and we talked a lot about everything to do with triathlon as we checked the course. I asked him what gels he was taking during the race and he said none, he said consumed a lot less calories when racing and he was using a product called Generation UCAN. My first thought was ‘Is this guy for real?’ ‘Is he not worried about bonking? I remember Harvey telling me after the race that he consumed under 400 calories during the race without carb-loading, while I had consumed nearly 700 calories as well as carb-loading for 3 days beforehand!
Well, Harvey went back to Georgia and left me very curious about his race nutrition. I emailed him a few days later and he explained ME to me and pointed me towards Bob Seebohar’s book ‘Nutrition Periodization for Athletes’. Everything made perfect sense to me but I decided to not make any drastic changes to how I ate until after the season finished. During this period I exchanged meal ideas with Harvey and asked him for tips. Once the season ended, I jumped right into eating in the metabolic efficient way. I contacted Bob Seebohar via email and he critiqued my food and exercise diary for 3 days, providing some excellent revisions and answering several queries and doubts I had.
ME has been a game changer for me and I will never look back. The following year I raced Ironman Austria taking in about 160 calories per hour, which in comparison to the 300/500 that is usually recommended is a huge reduction. Although changing my diet has not reversed my pre-diabetic state, I do sleep better, I no longer wake up at night to use the toilet or feel desperate at work to use the bathroom. For most of my training sessions I now only consume water, which is saving my wallet and my teeth. I no longer feel lethargic after longer sessions and I don’t suffer from GI distress whilst racing. Eating the ME way keeps my energy levels stable and my cravings for sugary foods are a distant memory.
This season is going really well and I have no doubt that becoming more metabolically efficient has been an important factor. I raced the Thames Path 100 miles ultra and felt great on less calories and I’m sure it won’t be a problem at Ironman Sweden in less three weeks. I have recently had Dina Griffin, a dietician from Bob Seebohar’s team, analyse my food and exercise diary again to make sure I’m not making too many mistakes, and we also discussed my nutrition strategy for Sweden. I am very happy to know that I’m on the right track following Dina’s feedback. People are always curious to know what I eat so I’m going to post what my diet looks like and how it fits in with my training. But first a recap of what is ME. ME is a concept developed by Bob Seebohar, whereby you manipulate your daily nutrition in order to maintain blood sugar levels and keep insulin spikes to a minimum, by doing this over a period of time you will adapt your body to be able to use more of its own fat stores and as a result you’ll require less calories during racing and training, as well as experience all the other benefits I mentioned previously. And the way to do that is more or less like this…
1. Eat when you feel hungry, rather than at set times
2. Make sure to eat a good source of protein and fat at every meal/snack
3. Add a good source of fibre to your meal/snack
Below is my 3 day food and exercise diary during Build phase for Ironman Sweden:
Day 1 –
5:45 wake up - Cup of coffee with a dash of milk and double cream
6:20 1500m easy swim with technique drills in 35min followed by 20min strengthening exercises. Nothing consumed
8:00 Breakfast: 4 tablespoons of my seeds and nuts 'muesli' recipe (brazils, almonds, shredded coconut, walnuts, pumpkin & sunflower seeds, pine nuts and dried cherries) with full fat Greek yogurt mixed with protein powder and fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries plus a cup of coffee with some milk and double cream. Off to work.
11:45 Feeling hungry - Leftover roast side of salmon and salad with snaps peas, red onion, mixed leaves, feta cheese, griddled peaches, olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Drink of water.
15:20 Feeling a bit hungry so had a slice of a flour & sugar free banana loaf and a cup of coffee with milk plus a dash of double cream.
17:30 Turbo session 1h30min, set of 6x7min at FTP with 3min recovery. Water only consumed.
1920: Dinner Chicken tagine with tomatoes, onions, ginger, and apricots served with cauliflower rice, grated cheese and broccoli. Mug of vanilla chai tea and 3 squares of 85% dark chocolate.
Day 2 -
4:30 Wake up. Small slice of my sugar free/flour free banana loaf with a spoon of Greek yogurt and berries and a coffee.
5am 16 miles run (to work) with 4x2miles at IM pace. 2h20 total. Nothing consumed.
7:30 breakfast Seeds & Nuts 'muesli' as the day before with Greek yogurt mixed with protein powder, some pieces of avocado, strawberries and a peach. Water and a cup of coffee with a dash of milk and cream. Multivitamin taken.
11.15 Feeling hungry. 4x mini Almond flour/Protein pancake (recipe to follow soon) with tuna/mayo mixture and a slice of cheese with some cherry tomatoes and a cup of coffee with milk and a dash of cream.
14:20 Feeling a bit hungry. 2x mini Almond flour pancake sandwich with sugar free peanut butter and raspberries as filling and drank some water.
15:15 Swim, 40min with 1900m time trial. Nothing consumed.
16:15 Some Greek yogurt mixed with protein powder and berries and a small handful of almonds + plus a cup of vanilla chai tea.
17:50 20min of conditioning exercises while dinner is cooking.
18:30 Dinner. Turkey steaks in an almond flour crust with roast salad (aubergine, red peppers, black olives and onion with olive oil) and roasted cauliflower and steamed brocolli with a bit of mayonnaise. A peach and a nectarine for dessert.
5am Wake up
5:20 Breakfast of bacon, eggs, avocado pieces, artichoke, sundried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, walnut and a peach seasoned with salt and pepper and olive oil, plus a cup of coffee.
6am Off to work.
8am Coffee with a dash of milk and cream.
11am Feeling slightly hungry. Leftover turkey steaks in almond flour crust with roast aubergine, red peppers, olives and onion salad and some cherry tomatoes. Cup of coffee with milk and dash of cream.
15:00 Feeling peckish. Seeds and nuts 'muesli' with a bit of greek yogurt mixed with protein powder and blueberries and a glass of water.
17:00 90minutes turbo session with 4x12min at high end of Sweet Spot Power (93%). Nothing consumed.
1845 Dinner was rump steak with a salad of radishes, tomatoes, cucumber, mixed leaves, crumbled Stilton cheese, nectarines and walnut dressed with extra virgin olive oil. Half glass of red wine. Dessert was a cup of vanilla chai tea and 2 squares of 85% dark chocolate.
Remember that this is not the only way to achieve metabolic efficiency and it’s not perfect. Because I’m pre diabetic I choose to stay in the low end of carbohydrate consumption, the key is to find the optimal level of carbohydrates that supports your individual needs and the period of the season that you are at. This particular week when Dina analysed my food and exercise diary I trained for over 16 hours with 4 bike rides, 3 runs, 3 swims and a bit of conditioning and strengthening work, I can confirm that I only used sports nutrition (UCAN Generation) during my long brick workout where I rode my bike for over five hours followed by a 1h20 run, for that particular workout I consumed 270 calories in total, during the other workouts of the week I either consumed water or nothing.
FAQ and Comments:
‘Is it the Paleo diet or Atkins?’ No, it’s not a diet at all; it’s just a way of putting a meal or snack together even though my diet may look a bit like that at times. Bob Seebohar described it recently as a ‘lifelong journey of blood sugar control and [as way of] forming a healthy relationship with food’.
‘Is it going to make me faster?’ Not per se, appropriate training stress coupled with recovery will help you adapt and make you faster if that is what you want. Saying that, my personal experience of eating meals low in simple sugars allow me to sleep better at night which in turn allow my body to recover properly from hard workouts. As well as that you are less likely to suffer from GI distress when racing which could save you lots of time! I often hear this from Ironman athletes: ‘I was close to finish my Ironman in subXX hours but I had to spend 15min in the toilet because I ate a dodgy gel’.
‘Maybe if you had consumed more calories you would have been faster’. People that say this miss the point completely; you can adapt your body to use more of its own fat stores simply by manipulating your meals the metabolic efficient way, eating more calories during racing in form of carbohydrates could potentially make it worse.
‘I only do short distances, ME only works for ultrarunners and Ironman’: If you can use more of your own fat stores in training and racing for any distance then it is an advantage, I really hate when I see athletes drinking sugary drinks or gels for 10k road races, you really don’t need it.
‘But I’d miss cakes, ice creams, chocolate, alcohol…’: Bob Seebohar recommends ‘missing the target’ 10% of the time to make sure it’s sustainable, so don’t worry, I do have my treats too, my wife is a terrific baker so I can’t say no to all the stuff she prepares in our kitchen. What I can say is that my cravings for sugar have greatly reduced. This is having a good relationship with food, enjoy your treats guilt-free and move on.
‘Can I loss weight on ME?’: First of all you should rephrase this, you should aim to lose excess body fat but retain muscle. Weight loss is a hot topic and it hasn’t been a goal of mine for a while, my weight fluctuates very little these days. If you would like to lose excess body fat then the combination of fat, protein and fibre in your meals will help you feel full for longer which in turn will make it easier to create a daily calorie deficit without going hungry. Be careful if you are a triathlete, losing weight may make you a faster runner but you might lose power on the bike and your finishing times won’t change much. If your goal is to lose weight then maybe you should try this during the off-season.
MY TOP TIPS
- Go and grab yourself a copy of Seebohar’s ‘Nutrition Periodization Athletes’ and download the 2nd edition of Metabolic Efficiency Training.
- Treat ‘healthy tips’ from the TV and newspapers with an air of scepticism.
- Try Generation UCAN, a sports drink not made with simple sugars which will allow your body to use more of its own fat stores when racing and training. UCAN and metabolic efficiency make a great partnership. Now available in the UK from here. Ps I am in no way affiliated to this company, I just REALLY like their products.
- Don’t be afraid to eat fat, simple sugars is what you need to worry about. Did you know that Sweden is the first country to recommend to its citizens a diet that is higher in fat and lower in simple sugars, as a way of combating the obesity epidemic? Let’s hope that other countries will soon follow suit. (Throw away your food pyramid!)
- Keep away from highly processed oils like corn, sunflower, vegetable and rapeseed oil. I use olive oil, coconut oil, butter and butter ghee.