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Episode 41: Is Carbohydrate Addiction Slowing You Down? Paleo – A Good Option For Marathon Training?

Today, we talk about Carbohydrate addiction and is it possible that you may be eating too much carbohydrates while training for your marathon.  After all, anything above and beyond what it takes to fuel us, is just extra caloric intake that can lead to weight gain, sluggishness, or even long term health concerns.

I come to this topic through my own personal experience and struggles with weight loss, or lack thereof it seems recently even as I increase my weekly miles. I am a person who tends to “crave” carbohydrates. But, like many others, as I entered my upper 30′s and now well into my 40′s, I have noticed a much slower metabolism even though I continue to run and exercise. Currently, I am about 15 lbs overweight, even though as an endurance runner and you would think that the weight over time would have just dropped off.

Now this 15 lbs of extra weight I carry around does not sound like much and it is typical for many people and that hardly makes me obese by any means, but it does get in the way of my performance and it creates extra load on my muscles and joints which I strongly believe contributes to earlier fatigue.

So on one hand I am in great shape by the fact that I can run a lot of miles and have great aerobic capacity, but on the other I am currently no where near optimal. So in the last podcast (episode 40), I shared some ways about how you can go about finding more time to exercise and a lot of what I covered was less about the time we actually have vs. our perception of that time and how we often feel constantly fatigued, have low energy, etc. and aren’t as effective or productive as we could be.

One of the things that I have forced myself to realize is that not everything (and I put this in quotes), “needs” to get done, but rather if I go ahead and get a good night sleep, this has had so much more positive effects during the next day by making me more productive, mentally sharp, better regulation of my mood, etc. that losing that extra hour or two of “awake” time is not really lost time.

So for the last few weeks, I have really made this conscious effort to get to bed early, make sleep a priority, and start making this lifestyle change that for years (decades really) I had ignored in order to prioritize my life around things that were more work related, or task oriented etc.

But for so long I was going about it the wrong way.

So as a result, I have started looking at other enhancements I can make to my life. And this is where the carbohydrate addiction starts to come back in to this podcast.

So one thing I struggle off and on with is something called “Fatty Liver”. In non-medical terms, Fatty Liver is a higher than normal accumulation of fatty cells in the liver that over decades can eventually lead to cirrhosis of the liver, much like someone who abuses drugs and alcohol. Over a few decades it can lead to non-alcoholic liver disease. Its like damaging your liver much like an alcoholic does, but without the drinking. I remember joking with my doctor that if I was going to have the same effects as a heavy drinker, I might as well just start drinking now, which he didn’t think was such a funny response until he realized that I was joking.

But what is great about Fatty Liver disease is that there is an easy solution that works with most people. Lose weight. As you lose 5-10-15 pounds, you also lose/burn fat stores not only around your body, but in your liver as well. This returns your liver back to a normal state. The solution is simple. No medication is needed.

The weird thing about Fatty Liver disease is that you don’t have to be that fat to actually have it. Most people, who have it, do not know they even have it unless they start getting elevated liver enzymes in their blood tests which are the early signs that the liver is reacting to excess build up of fat. Whenever I lose 10-15 lbs, my liver enzymes return to normal. When I gain 10-15 pounds, it reappears.

So if you were to look at me, you would see that the way my body type “expands” is that I tend to gain my extra weight around my waist. You know the old classic beer belly although not as bad as many.  Kind of more like a baby beer belly. There is just something attractive about my midsection that says to my metabolism, “Hey, lets move into his belly area as it is a great place to hang out and be lady repellent”.

So what does this have to do with marathon training. Well, first of all, many endurance runners struggle with carrying around extra weight. Not everyone, but many. Contrary to popular belief, we are not all rail-thin, small frame runners. We look just like many people in our society. We just tend to have better aerobic fitness and can run much further.

But this extra weight causes problems for us. It slow us down, as well as cause premature fatigue, just isn’t healthy, and puts extra stress on our joints and I could go on. But why then is it so hard to shave off extra pounds as an endurance runner, when running is actually one of the best exercises to facilitate weight loss.

I think it comes down to a several reasons.

1. As endurance runners our bodies adapt our metabolism to our caloric intake and outtake requirements. We get used to what we consume. Over time our bodies learn that here is this person who is no longer going out for a short run, but is running longer and hey, this person may not stop so I better start holding on to more of the food we eat as future fuel. I used to see weight just drop off when I ran consistently, but now I do not see it start dropping off until my long runs are up in the double-digits consistently.

There are a lot of physiological reasons for this, but one is, our bodies become more efficient at storing fuel (and refueling after a run) and our body adapts to the increased fuel requirements. Sometimes, our own bodies become our own worst enemies.

2. Our bodies crave more food, especially carbohydrates in the hours or days after sustained running. If you have run a marathon, or half marathon, do you remember how you felt in the hours and days afterwards. After the Chicago marathon a few years back, my wife and I went to PF Changs, and I ordered two meals — for myself. I was starving.

3. We sometimes “carb up” too much thinking that increased carbohydrates will be the answer to our running longer. Yes, you do want to “slightly increase” your carbohydrate intake, but you do not need to eat massive amount of carbohydrates throughout the week. Bump it up by 5-10% and most of you will be fine. With carbohydrates, it is more about the timing than quantity. Carbohydrates are stored as muscle and liver glycogen and that becomes your primary source of fuel, along with fat stores, so having access to that when your body needs it is critical. Keep in mind though that your body only has the ability to store approximately 90 minutes (and slightly more or less depending on the person) so for runs longer than that, carbohydrate supplementation is necessary.

The average marathon runner needs about 2 grams per pound of body weight with some needing up to 3 or 4. This is unique to each person and can take some time to tweak until you find what is working for you right now. Remember next year, it could be different.

4. We’re human and we love food. The real reason behind my fluctuating weight is like I said, I just love carbohydrate rich foods. Pasta’s, breads, rice, etc. I am not much of a sweets person, but that falls in that category for most. I tend to overeat carbohydrate rich foods as well as take in more calories than I need because I love to eat. For me, unfortunately, I combine food with my reaction to highly stressful situations. Fortunately, after I gain 10-15 pounds, I notice, and then start paying closer attention so it does not get out of hand. It usually is when I notice that I am getting out of breathe bending over to tie my shoes because my stomach cuts off my ability to breathe.

One of the things I have been researching on my own, but can not quite 100% buy into just yet is the Paleo style diet. On one hand there are several things about it I like. For those not familiar with the Paleo diet it consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and nuts, and excludes/minimizes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils. Basically whole and natural food is at the core.
My goal is not to recommend Paleo to you by any means, but I am liking more and more about it as I research it. Especially the anti-corn syrup and getting rid of processed foods part. The part I think I struggle with is giving up the pasta’s, and bread which for me would be tough.

To me it seems to be something that just makes sense. On the other hand, I am proceeding cautiously and trying to see if there are elements that I can just add in and adopt where I do buy in to the concept.

The reality I believe with most of these diets is somewhere in the middle. I am definitely not a fan of low-carb diets and Paleo is not. You still consume carbohydrates, just better quality and non processed ones that suck the nutrients out. I’ll tell you right now, with the low carbohydrate diets, they are merely short term strategies that in the end can actually harm you, not to mention that training for a marathon on a low carbohydrate diet is darn near impossible. I have known some who have done it, but they are few and far between. I, came to this opinion (and it is my opinion and may piss some people off) from talking to real licensed sport nutritionists and even general practice nutritionists who really stand firm that low carbohydrate diets are just a short term band aid, but that your body adjusts and weight loss is not sustained.

So, I have concluded that just about anything is OK in moderation, and when combined with an exercise program and by eating cleaner, healthier, foods and making good choices (like not overeating, even carbohydrates) that is the way to go.

Its been shown in many studies that overeating carbohydrates can actually cause insulin spikes, that can slow does the usage of fat metabolism processes in the body which is something that can actually have an opposite effect of what we want. I mean we want our body to be more efficient at using fat as a fuel source because this slows down the use of stored glycogen as well so that you have time to replace it through refueling during a run. So not only can it effect your metabolism, but I believe (based on my personal feelings) is that the more I consume carbohydrates (especially pastas, grains and rice, etc) the more I actually crave them.

So all of this leads to some strong belief’s in the nutrition world that carbohydrate intake should be moderate and timed for best sports nutrition performance. For me, its not the carbohydrates I consume during a run that gets me, its the ones I eat the rest of the time.

If this is something you struggle with, have struggled with, or have an opinion on, I would love to hear from you in the comments section of the blog at If you are an endurance runner who has switched over to Paleo, I would personally love to hear about your experiences, or if you were on a Paleo type diet and switched back, what were those reasons. Again, I am on the fence here but it may be something I try. I have started some things, but I would say I am only about 60-75% Paleo at this time.

I did pick up two books recently from Amazon one was called:

Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle. This book is by Diane Sanfilippo who I would love to interview sometime.

and the other one is by Matt Fitzgerald, called Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance (The Racing Weight Series)
who I would also love to get on the show sometime. He is one of those people I follow quite closely and he is a great resource to check out. I have not started this book yet, but have browsed through it and I hope to start it once I wrap up the Paleo book but it matches exactly what my issue is and is geared towards obtaining your optimized racing weight. I look forward to learning about his ideas and techniques for fine tuning my racing weight.

For full transparency I do belong to Amazon Associates and earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you), should you have interest or purchase these books through these links, but by all means I do own these books and would not refer them if I didn’t think they were great. Like I said, I have not read the Racing Weight book yet, but Matt Fitzgerald is highly credible and hist other stuff has been great.

Also, if you have any other suggestions for some great resources, let me know as well, by leaving a quick comment, or even a voice message using my “Send voice mail” tab on my homepage.

Finally, do you know what is possibly in your ice when visit a fast food restaurant? or maybe even your local restaurant. Then check out this article on why the ice in your drink may be dirtier than toilet water. It has nothing to do with running, but I thought it was crazy and worth sharing.

Other Resources mentioned in the podcast:

Matt Fitzgerald’s website – Acclaimed sports nutritionist and coach.
Study Finds Restaurant Ice Is Dirtier Than Toilet Water
- Uggh. Yuck.

See you next time!

Happy Running


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Steve is a RRCA and USA Track and Field certified running coach and club director for Run Fit Running Club in Central Ohio. He is the host of the Start Running Podcast and Marathon Training Podcast which can be found in iTunes.

Latest posts by By Steve Carmichael (see all)

  1. Lisa Newman
    Lisa Newman07-07-2013

    Hi Steve:

    I listened to this podcast a while ago and am finally getting around to sending you a comment about it! For a non “Paleo” person, you gave one of the best descriptions I’ve ever heard of this way of eating! Good job!

    I am a runner and I have been “paleo” for almost three years. I have been running seriously for about 10 years (ran before that but not seriously ;-)) and am 53 years old. My race times now are faster then they were 10 years ago. I have gradually moved towards a more minimalist running shoe and can run a half marathon on nothing more than about 11 ounces of coconut water. If I do need to refuel during a long run (12 miles +) I will eat half a Lara bar, or make my own mixture of sweet potato, apple sauce and cinnamon. I never carb load. My pre-run meal, if I will be running for longer than an hour, is usually 2 or 3 eggs cooked in butter and coffee with cream. I was vegetarian for most of my adult life, switched to vegan for two years, than discovered the paleo/primal lifestyle. I dropped 15 pounds in the first few months eating meat, fish, eggs, veggies, fruits, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, lard, ghee, and butter. I get my complex carbs from fruit, sweet potatoes, and occasionally white potatoes and white rice. I recommend Rob Wolf’s book (The Paleo Solution), blog, and podcast. Also Mark Sisson’s website and book (The Primal Blueprint). Good luck!

    –Lisa Newman

    • Steve Carmichael
      Steve Carmichael07-07-2013

      Thanks Lisa for taking the time to comment! I appreciate your comments, advice and support. I have been listening to Rob’s podcast and reading his book (I am bad about reading something from cover to cover so I open it on occasion, read a few pages, and repeat every few days or so).

      Now, if I could figure out how to get my wife and kids on board it might help me from cheating. It definitely takes some work and preparation. I have a long way to go. Thanks again for sharing!


  2. Anita

    Hi Steve,
    This was the first of your podcasts I’ve listened to before. You asked for feedback on whether you’d tried Paleo before, I have. I was eating about 80-90% Paleo last year, until I started training for my first full. I found it too hard to get enough food, especially when I needed it quickly. Once I’d done my race I went back to it. I really enjoy eating that way. I have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and it’s supposed to be very beneficial for that as I think the key point about Paleo is that it removes inflammatory foods from the diet, so therefore will be beneficial for anyone with an autoimmune disorder.
    I’m a personal trainer in NZ, and I’m trying to get into specialising in runners. It’s also what I’m really interested in, and I seem to have been reading/listening to a whole lot of resources around this area recently. Another couple of books for you to try are Matt Fitzgerald’s ‘The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition’ and ‘Paleo Diet for Athletes’ by Loren Cordain (pretty science heavy). Have you looked into any of the work done by Tim Noakes? He’s changed his mind on nutrition since ‘Lore of Running’, now he’s a fan of low-carb high-fat. They just interviewed him on a podcast on Marathon Training Academy. They also have an interview with Vinnie Tortorich, who doesn’t say Paleo so much but no sugar, no grains. Phil Maffetone also is a fan of low carb, high fat. Just listened to a good interview with him on Endurance Planet. (Told you I’ve been immersing myself in this).
    Once again in training for my next marathon (next weekend) I loosened up and included a few beans sometimes, white rice and gluten free toast as I just can’t seem to get enough food in otherwise and I realised that removing the stress around eating would be more beneficial anyway. I’m looking forward to getting back to this way of eating, losing some weight (impossible for me with marathon training) and really getting my body fat adapted.
    Enjoy checking out those resources. :)

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