Runners struggle with more than one issue when training.

Many of the runner’s questions that come my way involve both nutritional and training challenges. Here is one that made me do my research:

ROBERT’S QUESTION

I barefoot run plus I go carb-free during the weekdays and then carb up on the weekends after I get my long run in Saturday morning.

I am following the CKD. I try to go as carbless as possible on weekdays and then eat “normal” foods on weekends.

Weekdays I get in a lot of meat, eggs, and cheese but try to get in a nice amount of fibrous veggies as well. Weekends are when I get my cravings out of the way. This usually means a pollo asado burrito and a couple of beers. Maybe a home made pizza now and again as well. Nothing really horrible but enough carbs to refill the glycogen stores. Never had a sweet tooth so never have to worry about sugar cravings but if someone shoved a cheesecake in my face I’m not certain I could pass on it.

Keep in mind that I try to keep all my runs at an average of <140bpm so carbs should not really be required as a fuel source. I will probably stick to this plan for another couple of months but aim to ween myself off of caffeine more and more since I think this is my main adversary.

Recently I have started LHR training following Maffetone’s advice. I wear my Garmin with heart rate monitor on every run now and find it interesting how my heart behaves.

When I start running, my HR will go from <80bpm up to approximately 180bpm almost immediately, regardless the pace. After about 1/2 mile it’ll drop to about 120 – 140 depending upon pace. Some days it takes much further then 1/2 mile to get my HR down then others and this is what is puzzling me.

Various hypotheses includes diet, hydration, alcohol intake, temperature, caffeine intake, as well as sleeping habits. I’m sure there are a few more items but these are the ones I’m going to experiment with for now. First will be caffeine.

Any thoughts on this? Also, any opinions as to why my HR jumps up to 180+ at the beginning of a run and then will drop to a more respectable rate?

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There are quiet a few issues that Robert raises here. So I separated the training and heart rate aspect from the nutritional aspects. I passed on the HR and training portion to Michael Andrew, trainer and triathlete.

MICHAEL’S RESPONSE

Hi Robert,

Vanessa forwarded me your question to address the heart rate issue specifically.

You don’t mention your age or your resting heart rate, so it’s hard to gauge how significant 180 bpm is for you but it’s safe to assume that it’s at or near your max heart rate.

You’re right in that there could be many factors that affect your heart rate, but for it to spike so high immediately after you start your workout is unusual. If you were new to running, I can see that happening, but you sound like an experienced runner. A more moderate spike in your HR at the start of a workout is normal as you transition from anaerobic to aerobic, but not to the degree that you describe.

The first thing I would ask is whether you feel that reading is accurate. At 180bpm, most people would be pushing their limits. They’d be breathing very heavily, unable to talk. They’d feel their heart pounding and they would not be able to sustain that level of exertion for very long. Is that how you feel? It might be worthwhile checking your pulse the old fashioned way and seeing if your heart is indeed working that hard.

If you find that reading to be accurate, it’s a good idea to get checked out by your doctor. Undetected cardiovascular illnesses have historically been very dangerous for runners and athletes of all types.

Once you’ve been cleared by your doctor, I would suggest you spend a little more time on your warm up. You didn’t mention it in your email, but I would suggest that you do anywhere from 3-5 minutes of slower jogging before you start your workout. That should allow you to better control the gradual increase in your bpm.

Aside from your warm-up you can also examine the factors you identified (diet, hydration, alcohol intake, temperature, caffeine).

Thanks,

Michael Andrew

If you have a question for Michael, you can contact him at mkonlinetraining@gmail.com.

MY BIT ABOUT NUTRITION

Robert, far as the nutritional aspect there are a few things you mention: caffeine, hydration, alcohol, and a low carb diet.

Caffeine: You can read more about the effects of caffeine on runners here.

Hydration: You can read more about how to measure your hydration requirements here.

ALCOHOL AND RUNNING

You mentioned beer as a carb, so I thought I would post a few points about it. Much like caffeine, I’ve read some conflicting advice about alcohol and running. Like everything else, there are pros and cons.

According to The Complete Book of Running (from Runner’s World), beer is an excellent source of chromium. Chromium is a mineral that plays a part in processing carbs for energy. Exercise may increase chromium losses in the urine and it is not clear whether a supplement can boost performance, so this book suggests “a tall beer” instead (a 12 ounce beer contains approximately 60g of chromium, and our body needs approximately 50-200 micrograms of natural chromium/day).

However, The Marathon Runner’s Handbook by Bruce Fordyce states that alcohol is best consumed after, not before a race. This is because it hinders the metabolism of carbohydrates and glycogen (energy source) in the liver. It also inhibits the absorption of vitamins, particularly B6 and thiamin (its diuretic properties leech them from the body).

Yet according to Run for Life by Sam Murphy, even after a race is not completely ideal. Murphy says that if alcohol is consumed within 24-36 hours after heavy training or racing, it will interfere with recovery. It’s also a diuretic, which causes the body to lose water and increases the likelihood of dehydration.

Alcohol is high in calories (7 calories/gram) and cannot be used directly by the muscles because it travels directly to the blood stream where it has to be metabolized before the body can make any use of it as a carbohydrate or a fat. Excess alcohol of course will cause palpitations, interfere with body temperature control, dull reflexes and perception.

As far as chromium goes, there are several other excellent food sources for this mineral. These include romaine lettuce, onions, and tomato. So… why not have a salad instead?

RUNNERS AND LOW CARB DIETS

I can’t speak to your specific situation without assessing you, but I have some general concerns with low carb diets as far as running.

Low carb diets first became popular in the 1970s, then again in the early 21st century as a quick and easy solution to weight loss. They work because water is stored with carbohydrates. So by eliminating carbs from the diet, you lose a lot of water weight (but not necessarily fat).

Low carb diets can also be a trigger for a condition called ketosis. Ketosis suppresses appetite and leads to reduced caloric intake, but as soon as carbs are reintroduced there is an immediate weight gain.

According to the Beginning Runner’s Handbook by Ian MacNeill and the Sport Medicine Council of British Colombia, low carb athletes fatigue earlier, have less coordination, and experience more irritability.

Besides, I’m not really comfortable with the mindset that carbs = fat. Carbs actually = energy. Our body needs a constant supply of carbs (energy) for everyday brain and muscle functions, not just for running and exercise. You can read more about carbohydrates and running here.

I hope this helps Robert! And all the best in all your barefoot travels.