Written by Kyle Burnett
Carbo-loading! Two words that just about every runner not just relates to, but uses as a part of their training to prepare storing energy for long runs, race day, and (in some cases) every day in between. I’ll be honest. I LOVE carbs. Growing up as a high school/ collegiate runner most Friday nights were spent surrounded by pizzas, bean burritos, and never-ending pasta bowls. It was all I knew, what everyone else did, and it seemed to work. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Right?
About a year and a half ago my wife introduced a funny word to my vocabulary that flipped my whole philosophy upside down: Ketosis. The more I read about it the more skeptical I became. A “diet” essentially consisting of low carbohydrates (grain free) but a high fat intake? Um ok? Chalk this up to another fad diet producing temporary results, but not sustainable in the long-term. The skepticism quickly switched to curiosity as I observed her consistently shed pounds with little to no working out, while I, on the other hand, was running and working out with no physical change.
Secretly (and skeptically) I gave this concept a try by cutting out all pasta, chips, bread, rice, fruit (pretty much anything containing grains and/or sugar) and stuck to a diet of meat, dairy, and vegetables. To monitor the switch I took progress photos.
Full Transparency: the first couple weeks were not easy. I can’t speak for everyone but my body went through a withdrawal process where I was constantly lethargic, craving sugar, and just plain cranky. Others, I have read, go through what has been endearingly called “the keto flu” where they experience similar symptoms of the illness. All of these are normal, and should be expected as your body begins its adaptation to burn ketones for energy instead of glucose. It is temporary, and once the conversion to ketosis happens you should actually feel more energy throughout the day, with less hunger cravings. For me I knew I wasn’t eating enough throughout the day so I supplemented my diet snacking on bacon, nuts, cold cuts, and cheese. I mean… any diet where bacon is encouraged is ok in my book. This quickly improved my appetite and mood during the day. My go-to snack on days leading up to a race/long run is cream cheese sausage balls. I’ll include the recipe at the bottom. Additionally, every few weeks I will add in a cheat day where I put zero restrictions on what I eat. While it may not align 100% with the “keto philosophy” this is what has worked for me. Anybody who follows The Rock’s Instagram knows what I am talking about. Pizza, pasta, chips, sushi, ice cream, cookies; all fair game. Plus, in my opinion, having the cheat day is important to break up the monotony of the diet, and keep you on track.
How does this help me as a Runner?
I will never forget a Friday night before morning group run at White Rock Lake. Dinner was simply a couple chicken breasts, broccoli, and water. NO carbo-loading; a departure from 20 plus years of running. As I drove the next morning to the lake I began to experience significant anxiety and doubt, thinking, “How am I going to put in these miles without the energy I’m used to?” The doubt quickly subsided when I got on the trail and began churning out miles. Three things occurred: 1) my mile splits IMPROVED 2) I actually felt MORE energy during the run and 3) it was actually energy that seemed to sustain itself longer. When I finished my run I was a mix of elation and confusion. How can this be? The explanation was simple. The body stores about 20x more fat calories than it does calories from sugar and carbohydrates. When the body uses up its glycogen (sugar/carbohydrate) storage it taps into the fat storage for its energy. Here is where the light bulb went off and hooked me to ketosis: when long distance runners hit the proverbial “wall” towards the end of the race it is actually their body converting its depleted carbohydrate storage to begin burning the stored fat. However, someone that is in ketosis is already burning their fat in lieu of carbs, and is able to sustain their energy much longer without the conversion!
Fast forward to today. Since I began this journey I have seen several changes in my life:
- I have dropped about twenty pounds. Yup! A fat based way of eating where you actually LOSE weight.
- My runs have vastly improved. This by far has been the factor that has kept me committed to this lifestyle. In the last year alone I have seen a 2 minute improvement my mile splits (see below) during my long runs, set PR’s in all my races, and completed a marathon.
- Migraines. I grew up with debilitating migraine. Since switching to keto I don’t experience them anymore.
- Mood. I have experienced more clarity of thought, better sleep patterns, and just happier overall.
If you have any interest in pursuing this lifestyle please do the research to determine if you feel it might be right for you. I’m an open book too, and would be happy to answer any questions about my experiences. Disclaimer. I am in no way an expert on this or a dietician. I understand this isn’t for everybody, and like any other way of eating or lifestyle change you should consult your physician or healthcare professional. Keto is simply something that has worked extremely well for me as a runner, and I wanted to share my story.
Sausage Ball Recipe
Sausage Balls. Yeah, I said it and I made them. And all of you juvenile delinquents out there snickering away, go ahead, laugh it up. I’ll wait.
Minds out of the gutter now? Let’s make some delicious balls.
These balls come together with three types of cheese! Now that’s a good start. I also use zesty pork sausage for some zip. Garlic powder, Dijon mustard and salt round out your ingredient list. Now all you need to do is roll and bake.
I’ve found that these balls are great football food. Guys just gravitate to them! Why not make them for the National Championship game next Monday (Roll Tide) and watch them disappear in minutes.
Listen gang, enjoy your Sausage Balls. I will too. And I’ll do my best to keep the maturity level around here more elevated. But I’m not making any promises…..Happy New Year ☺
Here’s our recipe:
(makes about 18 balls)
1 pound zesty ground pork sausage
- 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 C shredded, sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 C grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 t garlic powder
- 1 T Dijon mustard
- 1/2 t salt
Preheat oven to 350℉. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix together all of your ingredients, gently, with your hands until just combined. Roll heaping tablespoons of the pork mixture into balls and place on your prepared cookie sheet. Place balls into the preheated oven for approximately 30-35 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow baked balls to drain off excess grease onto a paper towel lined tray. Serve immediately with honey mustard or dipping sauce of your choice. Enjoy!