Carbenflarb IV: Super Tuber Fuels an Amazing Run

Last Friday, I had a freak run.

It wasn’t just a notch better than usual. It was scary good.

I ran on the levees that extend into San Francisco Bay. Thousands of shorebirds flew overhead or paddled in the waterways.

I flew out of the blocks like the Energizer Bunny. It felt like the gas pedal was stuck. I couldn’t downshift. My body wanted to run hard and just kept flying.

This was unusual. It was the most energy I’ve had in years.

Like any runner would, I’m trying to figure out why.

It obviously had to do with my diet – the only thing I’ve changed recently is how I take carbohydrates.

On the surface, what I did was simple. I ate a mess of oven-fried potatoes, and about 3½ hours later I went for a run.

Problem solved…right?

Not so fast. I did some other stuff that might have helped.

  1. I cut the oven-frieds thin, so they would be real crispy – the way I like them.
  2. I made a lot – 3 small russet potatoes – and I ate ‘em all.
  3. I shook the raw slices in a plastic bag with 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil before cooking.
  4. I cooked them at 450º for 30 minutes (didn’t preheat oven). They were very well-done, unpleasantly close to burned. (I subscribe to the gas-burner-tortilla school of cooking.)
  5. I ate them with Organicville ketchup, which is sweetened with agave nectar.
  6. I ate an iron pill at breakfast. I’m 69 and fear I might be iron-deficient. I’m taking Solgar Gentle Iron (iron bisglycinate).
  7. I ate the potatoes late in the morning. Earlier, at breakfast, I had a big slice of watermelon.
  8. I didn’t eat a lot of carbs the day before, but I had beans and greens for dinner.

Now then, if I wanted to be completely scientific, I would keep a food diary and test each of the above factors, one by one, to see what caused me to run well.

Frankly, I don’t have the patience. The answer is simple. My intuition tells me it’s the spuds, olive oil, and iron.

Another day, I had a medium-size baked potato with butter 4 hours before I ran, and it was awful. I ran like an old, gray hound with a leg cast – no zip, vim, pepper, push, or oomph – nada.

Where were the wonderful carbs I consumed at breakfast, that were supposed to fire my legs with glucose and send me flying down the trail? It was a mystery. Maybe the olive oil and the oven-frying play a role.

Another day, I had toaster waffles drenched in maple syrup and ran 3 hours later. It went better, but not much.

We had a going-away party for a woman in our singing group who’s moving to Oregon. One of the tenors, a bright and energetic lad, baked a loaf of incredibly good organic whole wheat bread. I ate a fat slice with butter, and the next day I ran on wings of light.

What’s going on? I don’t know. Why did the same root vegetable that primed my legs with dynamite when oven-fried, turn me into a duddy-spuddy when baked?

Why did Graham’s wonderful bread put a tiger in my tank, and the toaster waffles didn’t? It doesn’t make sense.

Some combinations of potato, bread, butter, olive oil, and proper cooking appear to work really well, while others don’t do anything, and may even be detrimental.

The lab guys have a saying: “Carbs are carbs, regardless of the source.” Sugar, rice, potatoes, pancakes, honey, beans, fructose  – it’s all the same.

That’s not what my body says.

On a day when I ate a “scientific” high-carb smoothie of almond milk, organic grape juice, Hammer Gel, frozen pineapple, and half a banana – I ran like there was glue on my soles.

These experiences confirm my long-held view that logic can sometimes be useful in planning our training, but there are times when it isn’t worth beans.

Speaking of beans – British coach Frank Horwill cites a study that compared the endurance of three groups of runners who breakfasted on potatoes, a race drink, or lentils. I’m sure you guessed correctly – the lentil-fed runners won!

After reading that, I ate a breakfast burrito and had a surprisingly good run – full of beans, though nowhere as zippy as this morning’s oven-spud sprint.

Horwill’s ideas helped Sebastian Coe to world records at 800m, 1500m, and the mile, and two Olympic golds in the 1500.

“All runners should eat low glycemic carbs such as: fructose, soyabeans, kidney beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, apples, oranges, whole wheat spaghetti, oats, brown rice, buckwheat pancakes, whole wheat bread, pears, chocolate milk, chick peas and skimmed milk. High glycemic carbs taken within 30 minutes of concluding training or racing, makes sense.”

I guess we should follow our taste buds and graze from Frank Horwill’s menu. Fructose! Yum!

Coach Phil Maffetone believes fats play as great a role in endurance as carbs. Maffetone coached triathlete Mark Allen to six Hawaiian Ironman wins – so he deserves a listen. He believes carbs should be reserved mainly for races.

In his book Slow Burn, elite ultramarathoner Stu Mittleman describes how his 100-K race times improved by light years when, following Maffetone’s advice, he dropped simple sugars from his diet and began eating moderate amounts of olive oil. (Mittleman used carbs abundantly during his races.)

As for Maffetone’s ideas on limiting carbs in training…the word that springs to my mind is Africa. Jurg Wirz, author of Run to Win: The Training Secrets of the Kenyan Runners, reports a study that found the world-beating Kenyans get 76.5% of their calories from complex carbs, mainly corn – compared to just 50% for U.S. elites.

I’ll continue to evaluate the breakfasts that seem to work best. As a dedicated runner, I’m fine with being a tuber-eating geezer, as long as it gets results.

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