Towards a new preparation for the long? (#1)

To surpass in order to progress. A philosophy also known under the slogan “No pain, No gain”. This philosophy has a simple logic: the more you suffer, the better you get. A + B + C + … = performance. Simple. But there’s a couac in the equation! A couac linked to our capacity of recovery and which makes this “philosophy of relentlessness” a partial solution for training. Elements of response with the study of a clinical case.

It is now well established that the symptoms of overtraining manifest in relation to a global life context. In this globality, nothing is isolated: the level of training, the environment, age, sex… all interact. During training, this interaction determines the load imposed on the athlete. This load influences his fast or slow adaptation. Then this adaptation dictates in turn the athlete’s positive or negative response to training. And so on.

But certain factors weigh more heavily than others in the balance of progress and recently, 2 major causes of overtraining in endurance athletes have been proposed:

  • High exercise intensities.
  • High carbohydrate consumption.

These are though 2 habits of an athlete’s life… Looking closer, we notice then that the common denominator of these 2 causes is the important solicitation of a branch of the nervous system: the “sympathetic” nervous system. The role of this branch is to put the organism into activity. It is very activated by intense exercise. The same for carbohydrate consumption.

In the short term, this is useful because the body gets started. However, a sustained stress on the SNS is also accompanied by numerous disturbances (see above). With such hyper-solicitation, one is therefore far from the benefits of physical exercise or carbohydrates on performance!

Very interestingly, another denominator might intervene behind all these symptoms: lipids. At least indirectly. Indeed, lipids are present in very large quantities in the body and constitute the main source of energy for prolonged activities, since forever! By favouring carbohydrate intakes, we would then bias this natural tendency of the body. The same for high intensity exercises.

A good example of this hypothesis is the observation that an 80-20 type polarization (80% of the training volume at low intensity and 20% at high intensity) leads to performance gains greater than a 65-35 ratio. Perhaps precisely because the 80-20 promotes the use of fat… In the same logic, we know that daily carbohydrate intake in endurance athletes are generally higher than their real needs… perhaps because of an exaggeration of their role in exercise?

On this basis, a surprising observation emerges: endurance athletes can be “fit” while presenting a disharmony of their biological functions (nervous, hormonal, immune, etc.). Although this is not popular today, it is a reality for many athletes.

In this context, an alternative to “intensity-carbohydrate” training methods has recently been illustrated through a clinical case. This alternative, it is these of a “high-fat low-carb” diet and low intensity exercise. To introduce this case, here are the characteristics of the athlete during her first diagnosis in January 2015:


At the end of January 2015, the triathlete started a new training plan under the wise advice of a doctor and a researcher. This plan was as follows:

  • A weekly volume lowered from 30h to 18h (before rising to 24h over the months).
  • High intensity sessions that remain anecdotal.
  • Average weekly exercise intensity reduced to ~141 bpm.
  • In addition, the triathlete was oriented towards the low-carb high-fat nutritional diet, based on her initial intake of 73% carbohydrates, 14% fat and 13% protein.
  • The triathlete’s follow-up included regular estimates of fatigue, hunger, gastric comfort, energy during training and the use of nutritional supplements during long sorties.


The manoeuvre was gradual.

  1. Over the first six weeks: nutritional intakes were readjusted to 12% carbohydrate, 75% fat and 13% protein (with training intakes). The caloric balance has been maintained at 2700 kcal. Daily ventilatory flow analyses revealed an increase in lipid utilization after only three weeks of change. This change was well tolerated by the triathlete.
  2. After eight weeks: the triathlete felt more energy during and between training sessions, but also less fatigue, hunger and craving for a nap. She also reported a drop of intakes during long sessions: no supplement for 4-hour sessions and an intake of ~100kcal per hour for >4h sessions (dried fruit, compotes, bars…).
  3. In April: the athlete had descended to 56kg.
  4. By October: For a 141bpm HR, her bike power and running speed had increased by 20W and 12-15sec per km, respectively. Her menstrual cycles had regularized to 31-33 days with a large reduction in pain felt.
  5. No injuries were reported in 2015.
  6. In January 2016, blood sugar was normal (91mg.dl).


Three international ironmans were completed by the triathlete in 2015 (May, August and November). Each pre-competition meal consisted of carbohydrates (20g), protein (20g) and fat (100g), the whole for ~1060 kcal. Within the different races, the energy supplements did not exceed 175, 145 and 130 kcal.h-1, respectively, whereas they were previously of ~400 kcal.h-1. The signs of gastrointestinal stress disappeared completely during the races and, even better, the first two events were personal records. The last race was completed in 8h52.


It is therefore a very positive result for this triathlete. Changes in training volume/intensity and diet have resulted in relief of various ailments encountered and improved performance.

The origins of such an evolution may be discussed: are they related to weight loss? A lack of energy available before the intervention? However, this intervention is strong to promote the use of the energy channel of endurance for the very long-lasting activities typical of the ironman. So, given our natural tendency to use lipids, it would seem that adopting this strategy is only giving back to Caesar what already belongs to Caesar…

To go further: Maffetone & Laursen, 2016; Esteve-Lanao et al. 2007