Prac­tic­ing Carb-fasted Work­outs

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES -

Carb-fasted work­outs have also achieved some pen­e­tra­tion in the elite run­ning ranks. Trent Stelling­w­erff, a Cana­dian ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist and coach, has used the ap­proach with ath­letes in­clud­ing 2:10 marathoner Reid Cool­saet. He pre­scribes two to three such ses­sions per week dur­ing base train­ing and one to two per week in peak train­ing be­fore a marathon. Some of th­ese ses­sions con­sist of a long morn­ing run at low in­ten­sity af­ter an overnight fast. Oth­ers con­sist of a mod­er­ate-du­ra­tion af­ter­noon run fol­low­ing a high-in­ten­sity morn­ing run and a low-carb lunch. As you see, there is some di­ver­sity in how carb-fasted work­outs are used at the high­est level of en­durance sports. Nev­er­the­less, there are four gen­eral guide­lines that we can draw from their col­lec­tive ex­am­ple.


A ma­jor­ity of elite en­durance ath­letes still do not prac­tice carb-fasted work­outs. Pur­ple Patch coach Matt Dixon, for ex­am­ple, never pre­scribes them to his pro clients, who in­clude 2014 70.3 Vine­man win­ner Tim Reed. And those elites who do em­ploy this method do so spar­ingly. What this pat­tern sug­gests is that carb-fasted work­outs are not an es­sen­tial key to ma­jor break­throughs in fit­ness and per­for­mance, but are, at most, a way to squeeze out an ex­tra one per cent when you’re al­ready do­ing ev­ery­thing else cor­rectly.

Ac­cord­ing to Dixon, very few recre­ational triath­letes are do­ing ev­ery­thing else cor­rectly. For ex­am­ple, stud­ies have shown that the typ­i­cal age-grouper spends too much of his or her train­ing time at mod­er­ate in­ten­sity and not enough at low in­ten­sity. An ath­lete who is mak­ing this mis­take will get far more ben­e­fit from fix­ing it than from do­ing carb-fasted work­outs. In fact, for such ath­letes, carb-fasted work­outs are likely to be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive be­cause they will add stress to an im­bal­anced train­ing pro­gram that is al­ready un­nec­es­sar­ily stress­ful.


Your first carb-fasted work­out should not be a 100-mile ride be­gun on an empty stom­ach and fu­eled with wa­ter only. When in­cor­po­rat­ing this method into your rou­tine, it’s best to dip your toes in the wa­ter in­stead of div­ing in head first.

In the lat­ter part of his pro­fes­sional triathlon ca­reer, for­mer Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship bike course record holder Tor­b­jørn Sind­balle of Den­mark did what he called “zero-cal rides.” Th­ese bike rides were fu­elled with wa­ter alone, but were pre­ceded by a nor­mal break­fast, so they weren’t as chal­leng­ing or stress­ful as true carb-fasted work­outs. Sind­balle’s first zero-cal ride was rel­a­tively short – 1.5 hours – but as he adapted to them he was even­tu­ally able to go as long as five hours with­out hit­ting the wall.

Be­gin your foray into this ter­ri­tory in a sim­i­lar way. Do a rel­a­tively short zero-cal ride or run, wait a week or so, and then do a slightly longer one, and so forth. If you de­cide af­ter a while that you would like to

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