Primal Diet and Fitness

This blog post is about 2 related topics that are important to me: diet and fitness.  I am writing about this to document my own journey and share some of what I have learned with friends who may be interested. It’s not intended to be a judgement or critical of anyone else’s lifestyle or choices.  This is something that has helped me and I want to share it.  

I want to emphasize that I think the diet portion of this topic is valuable to everyone, regardless of your interest in human endurance sports or fitness. I would encourage anyone who has struggled with weight, or who would even like to be just a little lighter, to read “Primal Blueprint”.  That book, and the companion “Primal Endurance” were introduced to me by a friend.  Both are written by Mark Sisson who was a professional marathoner and triathlete.  Even if you ignore the fitness portion, the diet insights are powerful and significant. If you haven’t read “Wheat Belly” put that on your list too.  

I don’t claim to be an expert on these topics.  These are simply my thoughts from my research and experience.  The numbers provided are my numbers.  They are simply provided as my numbers, not for comparison/ranking/etc.

In March, I decided that I would run my first marathon in October (the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC).  While I have run 5 half marathons, I have never moved up to longer distances.  Anyone who knows me, knows I research topics a lot before making a decision (cars, saddles for horses, etc).  In this case, the subject of study is training regimes for marathons.  The first thing I knew was I wanted to drop some weight during my training.  

I like data (I am an engineer after all).  I have used MyFitnessPal to track calories and nutrition for a long time.  I don’t track every single meal every day, but rather do short periods of analysis such as 7-10 days at a time.  This allows me to understand the source of my calories and composition (carbs, protein, fat).  Over the past 8 years of working on my fitness, I have learned I can lose weight if I significantly increase my training.  For the past few years, my weight has been hovering around the 185lb mark.  My goal was to drop to 170 lbs by mid summer and hold that through the marathon.  

In late March, I switched to a LCHF (low carb high fat) diet.  I have lost 11 lbs in 8 weeks, including 2.5 weeks with 0 workouts due to a back injury. Am I bragging?  Sure, a little.  I am already almost at my original goal of 170 lbs and I haven’t even really started training for the marathon.  I no longer have a weight goal; I have just decided to see where I end up.  

On a typical day, I consume less than 100g of carbohydrates.  Anna read “Primal Blueprint” too and our entire family shifted to the LCHF mindset. Is it easy?  Not at first.  It takes discipline to stick with the program and a lot more planning for meals.  We don’t strive for perfection.  We try to stick to the plan 80% of the time.  The biggest change is moving away from the breads and grains.  Once you get past that, everything is easier.  

So what do we actually eat?  For breakfast I eat 2 eggs and usually some ham steak or bacon.  Lunch may be a small bag of Krave jerky and a banana.  For snacks throughout the day, I keep a container of Planters Wholesome Nuts (Almonds, Cashews, Macadamia) and eat 2-3 oz throughout the day.  Dinner may be something like fresh salmon, asparagus, and tossed salad, The point is less processed food, less grains, and minimal dairy products.

Shifting over to the fitness subject, I will say I have not made up my mind on the “Primal Endurance” method of training, but I’m going to stick with it for a while to see how it goes.  Also, this particular portion is specifically from the “Primal Endurance” book.  “Primal Blueprint” has similar fundamentals, but it is targeting to a more basic approach.  The fundamental basis of Primal Endurance is MAF or Maximum Aerobic Function.  MAF is a heart rate calculated in the simplest form by taking 180 and subtracting your age.  So for me, MAF is 140bpm.  Again, boiling down to the barest of fundamentals, you train to maintain heart rate below MAF.  Over time, this results in the body becoming adapted to relying on fat as a fuel instead of relying on carbohydrates.  To be clear, MAF and Zone training are not the same.  They have different goals and different calculations.  There are lots of blog posts and articles by people with a lot more knowledge on this than mine which explain some of the differences.  MAF training is about building a significant aerobic base.  There are also periods of high intensity strength and speed work.  

I was on travel a lot in March/April, so my training was on treadmills and stationary bikes. I limited my HR to 140, although I typically run on hilly courses, so I wasn’t sure about the comparison of my pace using MAF.

Yesterday, I ran a hilly course that is 4.3 miles, limiting to 140 bpm (avg was 139 bpm). At the end of the run, my average pace was 12:51 min/mile. Today, I repeated the same course, again limiting to 140 bpm and averaged 12:55 min/mile.  I have 40 comparison points for that exact same course within the past 9 months. I know from my data that by running an avg pace of 9:45 (~3:00/mile faster), my avg HR is 153 bpm. 153 bpm also correlates to ~87% of LT using previous data. This definitely includes periods of HR up to ~175 on hills. Clearly, I am not staying completely aerobic during the faster run with a 153 bpm HR.  

I ran a hilly half marathon in February with an average heart rate of 165 bpm (max of 190 bpm during that run) and a pace of 8:55 min/mile. It was my 5th time on that particular course.

So what?  MAF is slower, that’s what.  I found a very insightful comment on a post in one of the Primal Endurance groups:
“If there is one thing we know about this method, it is that it is a long game. Adaptation takes time. None of these short-term studies are going to cut it. That said, it is true that LCHF + aerobic work alone isn’t the best way to develop top end speed or power for short, highly glycolytic events. It’s still, IMO, the best way for athletes of any sport to take care of their health and longevity.”

 

Right now, to stay below 140 bpm, I walk if there is any incline.  I shuffle along on flat ground, and I run if going downhill.  One observation is I don’t get the “runner’s high” after running at only 140 bpm.  I also don’t get sore or really even tired.  After running today (for 55 min) I ate a banana for lunch and was satisfied.  I do feel there is more impact on my knees from the slow pace and shuffling motion, so I need to work on my form to fix that.  

There is a disconnect between having time/speed goals for training and the MAF approach.  You will get faster over time with MAF, but it will be measured in months and years, not weeks.  This isn’t the approach to meet a certain speed at an event in the near term.  Instead, this is a methodology to build lifetime fitness and endurance potential.  Again, I haven’t decided if I will stay aligned with the MAF approach.  I simply wanted to share some of what I have found with friends who may be interested.  

I would love to hear feedback on any of this.  Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.  Here are some links to other sites to read more on these topics:

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/

https://philmaffetone.com/

 

Jumping practice

On Sunday evening, Vicki and Rob did a cross country jumping lesson with Ann Bowie at Horse Power Farm.  Vicki has been continuing to work with Duchess and they are becoming quite the pair.  They are advancing together so fast that Vicki is more focused on using Duchess than Devil.  To quote Ann “That’s a nice pony!”  We are very grateful to Stefanie (Duchess’ former trainer and owner) for choosing our family.  I’m also thrilled with Mojo’s progress as a jumper.

Proud to Du It – Youth Duathlon

This past weekend, all three kids did their first multi-sport competition.  A short while back, Alex and Vicki joined the Nutmeg Youth Triathlon Team (NYTT).  A Griswold branch of the team was started by the mom of some of the kids in our 4-H Club. They have been doing weekly practices for biking and running (it’s a little cold for open water swimming), while continuing twice a week swim lessons at the YMCA.  Amanda joins in for some biking and running as she can while doing swimming lessons once a week.  Amanda worked very hard to learn to ride without her training wheels to get ready for the first race.

For their first race, the kids participated in the New London Proud to Du It, Youth Duathlon.  Amanda was in the 5-6 yo age group and had to run 1/2 mile, bike 1 mile, run 1/2 mile.  Alex and Vicki were in the 11-13 yo age group and ran 1 mile, biked 4 miles, ran 1 mile.  The starts were staggered by age group and by gender.  All three kids finished and all three had a good time.

Not every ride is perfect

80+F on Easter?  In CT? That is definitely horse riding weather. After doing a few small projects around the farm this morning, the family went on an afternoon trail ride from home.  We only rode for about 5 miles in 1:20, but there were some important lessons learned.

Amanda is building her confidence and endurance in the saddle on the trails.  She did the whole ride today without any leadline assistance, including 4 small water crossings which are usually a challenge for her on Huey.  She didn’t have any problem handling the trotting.

Vicki rode Duchess.  This is only her second time out on the trails with Duchess and they are making progress.  Today she rode in a bitless bridle and that definitely helped.  It’s definitely different having a mare back in the herd.  Duchess isn’t completely comfortable with all the boys yet and she will threaten to kick or bite any horse that enters her space.  Unfortunately, there were a lot of motorcycles out today as well and in the first encounter, Huey ended up too close and Duchess kicked him, hitting Amanda’s foot.  It didn’t actually hurt Amanda, just scared her.  That also rattled Vicki a little.  Later in the ride, Duchess threatened to kick Dakota when he rode up too close on her butt and it made Vicki really upset.  She decided to get off and walk for a while (about a half mile) and then mounted back up when she had calmed down.  While it may not seem like much, it was an important lesson for Vicki about backing off when her emotions run too high and calming down to handle the situation.

Overall, the ride was a success.  No one got thrown.  No one got hurt.

When we got back home, Vicki stayed on Duchess and joined Mojo and I in the front pasture for a little jumping.  This was the first time Vicki has gotten to taken Duchess over anything other than ground poles.  We didn’t work too long and we kept everything low, but they did very well together.  Vicki has learned to control her canter speed and in the bitless bridle, they seem to be getting along better.  I didn’t have much opportunity to take pictures because I was jumping Mojo (who was a rock star!) but I did shoot a short video clip of Vicki trying a simple approach at the canter.  Despite the challenges on the trail, after over 2 hours of saddle time, she was all smiles as we headed in to the barn.

Meet Duchess!

This afternoon, we brought home our newest acquisition, Dutch Treat, aka Duchess.  Duchess is believed to be a Welsh/POA (Pony of the Americas) cross.  She is about 14hh, strawberry roan color and will be 9 years old in May.  We got Duchess specifically for Vicki.  While Devil isn’t going anywhere, Vicki really could use a slightly larger mount and Amanda is planning to do some sharing of Devil this year.

Now, I know at least a few of our closer horse friends are thinking, “they don’t get mares!”  It’s true, we broke our rules and got another mare.  It’s not that we haven’t ever had a mare that we liked, it just creates complications in the herd.  This time around, we decided it was worth the hassle to add a mare to the herd of 6 geldings.

We acquired Duchess from a young woman who started her and used her in a lesson program.  Duchess has experience on the rated hunter/jumper show circuit, but has been out of work for about 2 years while out on a lease that didn’t use her.  She doesn’t have any health issues, just needs to get back into work.  Vicki says “riding Duchess is like riding Devil, but a mare”.  We all know Vicki will ride anything, but Anna and I think they are a really good match.  There was one other part of her background that sealed the deal.  Duchess is a jumper.  Vicki has acknowledged that it will take lessons and hard work for Vicki to be ready to jump anywhere near what Duchess has done in the past, but I’ll just share these 2 photos of Duchess jumping courses a couple of years ago.

The snow is melting and spring has arrived, so it’s time to get the ponies back in shape and get ready for the show season.  Stay tuned to follow the progress of Vicki and Duchess as a team!

It’s all Run and Games

This morning I (Rob) did my 5th half marathon at the Colchester half (all 5 have been there).  In very uncharacteristic weather, it was 60F when we started at 10:00.  I completed the 13.1 miles and 881′ of elevation in 1:58 (9:00 min/mile pace).  Nothing like burning 1800 calories before lunch.

Just finished the Colchester Half Marathon

After a quick shower and bite to eat, I met Anna and the kids an hour and a half after I finished the race.   They had a trailer load of horses and it was time for Pony Club mounted games practice.  I rode Mojo, Anna rode Dakota, and Amanda rode Huey for the first session.  Then Alex rode Dakota and Vicki rode Devil.  Everyone had a great time, but if this weather continues we will need to body clip some ponies! By the time we got home and unloaded the trailer, everyone was ready for some dinner and a movie.

 

A slushy ride in the woods

It’s been a while since we posted.  Angel (aka Jellybean) didn’t end up staying with us.  She had too much anxiety and couldn’t handle being away from Devil, so we are back to our 6 gelding herd.  Of course, we finally got a bunch of snow in Feb.  We went from nothing to about 16″ on the ground in a matter of a few days.  Since then, we have been participating in mounted games practices on weekends, but no really riding much at home.

Today, it was in the mid-50s and the snow was melting away.  Anna has been a little under the weather and Alex bumped his head sledding in the woods, so I went on a short ride with the girls.  While the temperature was great, I hate riding in the slush.  It’s pretty, but I don’t like the horses sliding on ice you can’t see.  It was a short ride, but good to get out.

A surprise about Angel

Yesterday, we introduced Angel.  Upon reading the blog about her, one of my Facebook friends recognized her as a foal that she bred and sold as a weanling.  It turns out Angel is a registered Shetland born in 2008 named Isherwood Magical Enchantress.  She was sold with 2 other ponies, one of who she continued to live with until she came to us yesterday.  After being sold, it isn’t clear if she changed hands again, but she ended up in a neglect situation and was rescued as at about the age of 18 months.  She went as a foster (with her friend Buttercup) to the family who ended up adopting her and kept her until now.

So far, she is absolutely glued to Devil and gets nervous whenever he isn’t with her.  We will introduce another friend from the herd in the next few days. This morning she spent a little time lunging.  She has some amazing front leg action.

Introducing “Angel in Hiding”

Angel (formerly known as Jelly Bean) is the newest addition to the farm.  She is an 8yo, 12.3hh pinto pony.  While we were not really in the market for another mount in that size range, this was a little too perfect to pass up.  You see, all of Angel’s measurements are within 2cm of Devil’s, which will make them a fabulous matched pair for driving.  The pair will be shown as “Devil in Disguise” and “Angel in Hiding”.

Angel has been a family pet for the past 5 years and is very green (read not saddle broken).  While saddle training will likely occur, we really got her to be a driving pony.  Here are some pictures of her in turn out with Devil minutes after arriving.  Even though she had not trailered but 1 time in the past 5 years, we had her loaded in only a few minutes.  She will be a fun training project for this year.

 

 

Experiencing the family farm lifestyle from years past.