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My Sub 11 Hour Ironman Triathlon - Fat Adapted!

My Sub 11 Hour Ironman Triathlon - Fat Adapted!

An Ironman Triathlon is considered the toughest one day endurance event on the planet.  For anyone that has successfully completed an Ironman event, they will testify to this.  I have been competing in triathlons since 2001 and covered all the distance events (super sprint, standard or Olympic distance, club and Half-Iron distance).  It was only in 2014 that I decided to go for the ultimate and enter a full Ironman distance race (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run).

I trained for my first Ironman in May 2014 for a full 12 months of consistent training (mainly based out of fear not knowing if I could complete the 226kms without stopping).  The following year, I took 6 months of consistent training when I decided to race the same event.  Both times, I followed the same nutrition strategy I had been following since 2001. That is, eat a largely complex carbohydrate loaded diet with moderate protein and low fat (65% Carbohydrate, 20% Protein, 15% Fat).  This is what I was taught at University studying a Sports Science Degree (1993-1996).  Well, my results were 12 hours and 7 minutes in the 2014 race and 11 hours 24 minutes in 2015.  In both races, I completely lost time in the bike leg.  By that, I mean I lost concentration due to what I now know to be massive drops in my blood glucose levels.  Despite having a strict nutrition strategy in these two races, I now know that my bosy just didn't function that well on sugars.  Gastric distress issues were common from the gels I was consuming (taken every 20-25 minutes after the swim) and my teeth were in the worst shape they have ever been in due to these gels.  I even made my own gels and still the results were not great.  Plus, I went into both Ironman events carrying body niggles and injuries that I thought were due to overtraining.  I thought I was overtraining at averaging 13-15 hours of actual endurance work per week.  In 2015, I faded badly in the marathon finishing in a 4 hour 09 minute marathon after a 5 hour and 50 minute bike split.  My body ached and I literally had nothing in the way of energy for the last 30kms of the event.  All I knew was that I loved Ironman triathlon but this type of nutrition was not conducive to good health.  My body was beginning to break down.  I got sick after each of these races and would suffer depression afterwards for sometimes months.  My weight was and has never been a big issue for me.  I weighed 62kgs for both my 2014 and 2015 Ironman races but I would always add on another 5kgs or 7kgs to this weight in the months following.  Essentially I was lost.

So what changed?  In September 2015, 4 months after completing my second Ironman, I came across The Real Meal Revolution through an old University professor I knew from my days at university (Dr Tim Noakes).  He had teamed up with an endurance sport hobbyist who was also a trained chef (and a smart accountant) called Jonno Proudfoot.  They had created what is now known as RMR (Real Meal Revolution) and is commonly referred to as Banting (in South Africa).  Here in Australia, it is more commonly referred to as following a Ketogenic Diet.  I simply call it "Eating Healthy".

The results?

After taking 3 months of retraining my body and restricting the amount of carbohydrate it had been accustomed to eating (from September 19, 2015 to December 20, 2015), I had become what I now understand to be a "Fat adapted" athlete.  Essentially, I had trained myself to use healthy fats as its primary energy source.  In tandem, I started physically training in a very counter-intuitive way.  I followed what is called the Maffetone Method in endurance circles.  It is a training philosophy created by Dr Phil Maffetone back in the 1980s whereby you train "slower" or at a lower heart rate to enable yourself to go "faster" in endurance events.  It is a tedious process which takes a lot of discipline and it also involves eating unprocessed wholefoods with a lot of healthy fats and restricted carbohydrates.  Sound familiar?  I had a Eureka moment.  By following the RMR approach to eating unprocessed wholefoods and no refined carbohydrates, combined with the Maffetone training model, I had a new strategy for my next Ironman which I decided to enter in 2017.  This gave me time to get healthy and build a BIG aerobic base, a fundamental principle in Dr Maffetone's philosophy.

Between January 2016 to April 2017 I ate a lot more vegetables (10-12 serves a day), I cut out ALL refined sugar, limited my fruit to occasional mixed berries and the odd banana (used as an ingredient in homemade nut and seed based muffins) and I literally ate HEALTHY FATs and a lot of them.  My typical Macronutrient ratios were the opposite to my old way of eating.  Nowadays, I would eat 75-77% Healthy Fats, 18-20% Protein and only 5-7% Carbohydrate.  On really heavy training days, My carbohydrates would incresae to between 8% and 10% of total energy consumed.

The more noticeable benefits I gained from this approach was this;

- I ate much less frequently (every 4 to 7 hours) compared to every 2 to 3 hours when I ate the high amounts of carbohydrates.  

- My mental focus and concentration was stable and constantly at a high level  (I didn't suffer time "black outs" on long bike rides).

- I became leaner than I had been previously, adding more muscle mass at the same time (i.e. my weight for Ironman 2017 was 61-62kgs).

- I was able to train without niggling aches or injuries like in previous Ironman campaigns and I thoroughly "enjoyed" my training shedule which was approximately 15-17 hours of endurance work per week.

- I had an ability to push constant power and output levels without much fatigue (less than 2% decoupling on my bike split) and my marathon got faster over the last 30kms.  I averaged 5:20"/km pace and still walked for 15 to 20 seconds through each aid station in the marathon.  This gave me a sub 4 hour marathon (an 11 minute PB in the run).

- I was able to "Race" this Ironman by working in a different energy zone from my previous two Ironman races.  The fact I had trained my body to use Fat as its fuel source (80% was fat supplied) meant I could "Top Up" my glycogen stores throughout the race by eating small amounts of carbohydrates as I needed to.  This meant that when I needed to push a little harder - like when going up a hill on the bike - I was not using valuable energy supplies as I once was when operating on a carbohydrate dependent energy model.

- I raced this Ironman in a much happier mental state.  I was yelling out on the bike course in sheer excitement at what I was doing!  I loved the marathon because I was able to run well all the way to the end WITHOUT A DROP IN PACE. 

- My teeth became healthy once again because I ate "Real" food throughout the race and also during long training sessions (over 2.5 hour in length) and NO GELS!

- My recovery after this years Ironman was fast and without injury or sickness.  I cooked dinner in fact afterwards that night when I got home from the race and was walking normally the next day!  In previous years, I had to walk backwards downstairs! 

- I achieved my goal of racing a sub 11 hour Ironman (10 hours 58 minutes 34 seconds) and got my best result - a 26 minute PB on my 2015 result -  in a triathlon since starting in 2001 (195th Overall from 1,071 athletes and 33rd in my Age Group out of 183 athletes).

I have been on Cloud 9 since Ironman finished (only 2 weeks ago).  I am amazed at how this new diet has impacted on my health and performance in such a positive way.  I have already set new athletic goals and signed up for another Ironman in December 2017 (Ironman Western Australia, Busselton). If you would like to discuss how you may be able to realise similar gains, please contact me.  I love coaching people how to eat this way and to be the most Awesome person they can be.

Comment (1)

Rob McGovern

on ya mate, great mate!!

3 years ago


Comments are closed.

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    About Me

    I’m David Daffey and I love food, along with swimming, cycling and running (that’s right…I’m a triathlete). In fact, I am an Ironman triathlete (multiple times) and this year in 2018, will be travelling to Kona, Hawaii to compete in the coveted Ironman World Championships!  I live in Sydney, Australia and have a degree in Psychology and Human Movement Studies. I am also a qualified Triathlon Australia triathlon coach.

    Most importantly, I became a Certified Banting Coach in 2016 with The Real Meal Revolution and Dr Timothy Noakes.   After regaining my own “health” after decades of sugar addiction and suffering from what I now know to be chronic inflammation, I now teach people like you how to get off Struggle Street and follow “A Banter’s Life”.