HPN 16: Dialing in Diet For MAF Training, What An Average Day of Healthy Fat Intake Looks Like, And Troubleshooting Stalled Weight Loss in An Ironman Athlete

April 17, 2020
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Welcome to episode 16 of Holistic Performance Nutrition (HPN) featuring Tawnee Gibson, MS, CSCS, CISSN, and Julie McCloskey, a certified holistic nutrition coach who you can find over at wildandwell.fit.

On this episode:

Jaquelyn asks:

Diet Approach while MAF Training

Hey Tawnee! I’ve loved the podcast for many many years. I’m a long distance triathlete and dabble in the marathon. I recently changed coaches and I am embracing the MAF method for the first time. I have been listening about it for years but I’m finally a student of the philosophy! I think its amazing and I’m already seeing alot of progress. My question is related to diet while using MAF. I have always had more of a high intensity approach and I’m feeling I need to revamp the area of nutrition as well. Can you give me an idea of the best balance of macros to maintain my weight and fuel my workouts.

More details: I’m 36 year old female. 135lbs and 5’7. I have been following a Mediterranean style diet for many years. Fairly low carb because I’m really drawn to veggies over starches. I ran into some hypoglycemia issues about a year ago so I have added more low glycemic carbs. I am feeling better and my blood sugars are more stable. But I do feel like I’m massively under fueling for workouts and training. I have alot of problems with the last half of the ironman/70.3 run. Although I have never had any gastric issues races, I just never can race to my potential. My new coach decided to build my aerobic system with a MAF style approach and I’m curious on how to eat with this new concept. I was doing a low volume high intensity approach for many years. I’m a very busy person, work full time as a dental assistant, own a beef cattle farm, and love, love long distance triathlons. I am currently eating 1800-2000 calories a day. 40% carb, 30% fat, 30% protein. I tried closer to 2300 calories with a 50/20/30 but I was so full all the time it was hard to train! I am currently in a base phase of training, race July 12. 15-18 hours training in all MAF Heart rate, except for my couple tests I do every 3 weeks.

What the Coaches say:

  • 1800 calories with a 40% carbohydrates (180g), 30% fat (60g), and 30% protein (135g)
    • This is likely to be too low in fat and overall calories
  • 2000 calories with a 40% carbohydrates (200g), 30% fat (67g), and 30% protein (150g)
    • This is likely too low in fat, and maybe even too much protein. 200g of CHO (carbohydrates) is okay on heavier training days (higher volume MAF), but it doesn’t need to be that high every day

Recommended:

  • PRO: Adjust PRO to about 100-130g/day (e.g., 2g/kg/bm), likely not much more needed than that. Only more than 2g/kg under special circumstances such as injury healing, bodybuilding, etc.
  • FAT: Increase 
    • Only ~60-70g/day or so isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The coaches are not suggesting LCHF, however, your body may be starved of some healthy fats that you need. 
    • MAF is a metabolic approach to allow the body to be more efficient with fat. Higher healthy fat intake is complementary. Carbs NOT bad, but low fat is not ideal.
    • BOOST fat to 100g+ (increasing fat on lower carb days is KEY, too).
    • Example of a fairly typical day of healthy fats:
      • 2 TBSP grassfed butter = 24g fat (200cal). Great for women especially. 
      • 2 pastured organic eggs = 9g fat (140cal)
      • ½ avocado = 12g fat (130cal)
      • 1 TBSP olive oil = 13g fat (120cal)
      • 4oz grassfed ground beef (85/15) = 17g fat (240 cal)
      • 15 almonds = 9g fat (100cal)
      • 1 TBSP avocado oil = 14g fat (124 cal)
      • 3.5oz wild king salmon = 13g fat (230cal)
      • 2 squares 85% dark chocolate = 9g fat (113cal)
      • TOTAL = 120g FAT (1080cal)
  • CHO: Allow for carb cycling, where on heavy training days and maybe even the day after (whether volume or intensity) allow for 200g/CHO give or take, but on lighter training days, carbs can drop to ~120-150/g day and on those days. Making these small changes based on output will help with weight maintenance goal. 
  • CALORIES:
    • Say you’re training 15hr week, moderate-intensity/MAF (10min/mile) + daily activities. 
    • Exercise: burning up to 1300 calories a day from training.
    • Basal Metabolic Rate: ballpark of 1660 calories.
    • Plus factor in other calories burned through daily movement, activities, etc. (few hundred calories maybe?)
    • Around 3200 calories a day to meet your energy needs.
    • So at 2000 cal/day or less, you’re drastically underfueling.
    • If having trouble eating over 2k a day, may look at gut health, nutrient timing, types of foods pre-training, etc.
      • E.g. SIBO causes a feeling of fullness, etc.
      • Or try to eat lower veggie and lower carbs PRE training and focus on legit carb refuels post-training.
      • Definitely see a place for low glycemic grains and higher fats to incorporate pre-training. E.g., 2 tbsp butter on toast with 1-2 eggs. Or a bowl of oats with chia seeds, coconut butter, protein powder.
      • Maybe explore UCAN for blood sugar control and meeting calorie/carb needs. Blend into a smoothie?
      • I would try to eat within an hour of waking up and every 2-3 hours
      • For sure eating as soon as you can post-workout; if you’re not doing this it could be that one thing that makes a huge difference.
      • Top off meals with higher calorie foods like olives, nuts, butter on veg, avocado. 
      • Always have food with you, make a big smoothie to sip on during the day
      • What about the possibly be unintentionally not eating enough by trying to eat healthy? Thinking too much about macros? Seems to be a tracker, has the traits of this mindset. I would make some of these changes, track for a couple of weeks, and once you find a way of eating that feels best, loosen the reigns
      • Final point: increase calories and fat, decrease protein, carb cycle, make sure you’re eating before and after workouts
        • This will 1. Help you not feel so full and 2. Help you “race to potential!”

Ken asks:

Old guy trying to lose pounds and gain speed

Hey guys love the show, long time listener, your podcast is #1 with me!  Here’s my question and sorry for the length, hope you can reply. Thanks so much. As a 67 ½ year old triathlete I’ve come to accept a decline in my race and training performance over the years but can’t help but be frustrated by 2 nagging issues in my attempt to remain fit and injury free. These issues are run performance and body weight and I’m losing my battle to control both. Some quick background, as I said I’ll be 68 in 2020 and am a short but muscular male, 5’ 4” tall and weighing about 145 in season and 150 or more in the outseason. I came to triathlon and road running late in life, starting at the age of 59. Since then I’m a 2 time Ironman finisher @ Lake Placid in 2012 and Maryland 2014; 14 time finisher in Half-Ironman, Rev3, Challenge Family and HITS 70.3’s; 2 marathons, 9 half marathons, and a whole bunch of shorter triathlon and running races like Oly Tri’s, 5K’s, 10K’s etc. over the last 10 years. I’m generally a mid to back of the packer with my best performance at IM Maryland when I was 62 finishing in 13:14 and 10th in my age group. Never a fast runner, my best 5K was around 24 minutes and best half marathon around 2 hours flat. I’m fine with my times overall but am always looking to improve and feel that it’s my running that has had the biggest dropoff and needs the most help. To that end I’ve been increasing my running mileage since the start of 2020 from 10 miles per week to 15 and this week hopefully 20.  I feel my sweet spot for remaining injury free is under 40 miles a week and I hope to reach that by March.

My issue is that my running pace never improves and all my slow, easy training runs feel hard. Even when I include threshold runs and sprint intervals and strength work I NEVER get faster. I would be happy with even some of my easy 5 miles runs to feel easy but they don’t and I have to stop and walk consistently throughout the runs.  I attribute a lot of that to some injuries that have slowed me down over the years but I mostly blame my crazy inability to lose weight. I can’t help but be envious of my training buddies in my age range who are running easy at an 8:30 pace while I struggle at 11:00 minute miles! The one common feature they all have is they are long and lean. While I’ll never be long, I figure I can try being lean and for my height it’s not the 150 lbs I carry now but more like 130 – 135. And my waist size is alarmingly big for a guy my size; over the last 10 years it went from 30-31 inches to now 35-36 inches!! WTF!

Always a healthy eater (no junk food, none), I’ve tried a new approach of the last 6 weeks to get lean and closer to my ideal body weight of 135 or less to see if that would help my running and overall fitness.  I’ve been doing intermittent fasting for 5 days each week along with LCHF. I track my calorie intake daily and it’s rarely over 1800 calories a day. A typical day for me would be one hour workout like a Zwift bike ride or spin class, or a 3-5 mile run, strength training, swimming and even some golf walking the course. Meals are limited to 2, the first around noon or 1:00 pm usually 2 eggs, 2-3 slices of bacon, half an avocado with coffee with half and half. A snack would be a cup of cottage cheese or some slices of cheddar cheese and a piece of fruit and maybe a few (3-4) whole grain pretzels. Dinner is a protein like beef, chicken pork or fish with a salad and a side vegetable. Usually I’ll have a glass of wine or an ipa to wash it all down although lately I’ve given up both and drink green tea. On the weekends I don’t fast but my food intake doesn’t increase significantly and I’m rarely over 2500 calories. I started all of this December 9th and now as I write this it’s January 13. In all that time I’ve gone from 151 lbs to 149. Even allowing for the holidays and the occasional cheats on the weekend this is nuts. I mean if this were even a simple low calorie weight watchers diet I’d expect to lose more than this lousy 2 lbs? What’s going on? Is it slow metabolism, hormones, thyroid? Should I see an endocrinologist or a nutritionist or what? Any thoughts would be really appreciated. Help please!

What the Coaches say:

Waist to height ratio:

  • If waist circumference is half your height or more, that can signify a potential problem.
  • Study: The Prevalence of Overfat Adults and Children in the US (Maffetone, Larson)
    • “Epidemiologic studies have demonstrated that increased abdominal fat, assessed through WC and waist-to-height ratio (WHtR), can predict adiposity-related risk (37). WHtR was more strongly related to cardiometabolic risk factors than BMI (29, 44). In normal-weight non-obese children with a commonly used cutoff of WHtR ≥ 0.5, over 55% had one to three cardiometabolic health risk factors associated with increases in WC, triglycerides, and blood pressure (45). Adults from the NHANES, 1999–2000 cohort showed that 86% of adults with abdominal obesity [defined as WC in men ≥ 102 cm (40″), in women ≥88 cm (35″)] had at least one other cardiometabolic risk factor (46).”

Troubleshooting/ideas:

  • Potentially adopt a more plant-based diet (not vegan, still suggesting animal-based proteins!) but right now you’re consuming a lot of meats, fats, & acidic foods without a lot of colorful fresh produce. 
    • Swap the bacon for colors
    • Swap the cheese for colors
    • If the salad and vegetable portion of your dinner is as small as I suspect it to be, increase that
  • Get blood labs with full thyroid panel, lipids, iron, CBC, hbA1c, etc.
    • Free T3, Free T4, Total T3, Total T4, TSH, TPO Abs., Thyroglobulin, etc.
  • Definitely get a DUTCH test – would like to see cortisol patterns (not just in blood serum but cortisol trends and overall HPA axis function) and sex hormones. 
    • Is stress an issue?
    • Overtraining- not just now but over the years?
    • Low Testosterone?
      • Testosterone decreases after 40 by 1-2%/year
      • Responsible for regulating fat distribution and muscle strength. Less T, less effective at burning calories
  • As for running: 
    • Rarely do I see 10-15mpw lead to significant fitness gains/speed.
    • Maybe put triathlon on hold and invest in running focus? This has been a great strategy for my athletes who are weaker in the run.
    • If you can handle 30-40mpw of 80/20 this is probably going to yield good results + add strength training as injury preventative (single leg exercises!).
  • Nutritionally, maybe intermittent fasting not the right strategy for you. Listen to our last HPN show: within day energy deficiency associated with metabolic disturbance.
    • Add in smaller more frequent meals.
  • Start measuring blood glucose to get an idea of what’s going on:
    • Fasting and postprandial at 1, 2, or 3hr after meals. 
    • Want to keep blood sugar as stable as possible.

Additional resources mentioned in this episode: