Triathlon on LCHF


Can you exercise without a lot of carbohydrates? You certainly can.

But can you also handle tough exercise for a triathlon on LCHF? Staffan Leandersson decided to try:

The Email

My name is Staffan Leandersson and I’m 45 years old. I’ve eaten LCHF for three years and feel fantastic.

I’ve been training for triathlon regularly for a few years, and this past year with many more tough workouts per week with the goal of doing half an Ironman race, 1.2 miles (1900 m) of swimming, 56 miles (90 km) biking and 13 miles (21 km) running. I successfully completed the race in glorious weather this summer (Tjörn Triathlon, Sweden).

I had decided to do this without carb loading and with a minimal intake during the actual race. I went stricter in the final three weeks before the race, but I increased my protein intake, in the form of mackerel in tomato sauce, avocados and a few more eggs than usual. Triathlon actually consists of four parts, and the last one is food & drink.

I’ve talked to athletes, who didn’t eat or drink enough and lost 9 lbs (4 kg). I don’t have those margins as I’m 5′ 11″ (180 cm) tall and weigh 163 lbs (74 kg). I had scrambled eggs with heavy cream for breakfast. During the biking I drank water with High 5 Zero (electrolytes and magnesium, to prevent cramps), and I ate Björn Ferry’s egg muffins (egg, cheese and cream) and cheese sticks. During the last half of the biking I also had 4 figs. During the race I only had water and half a banana at 10 miles (17 km).

It went great, no cramping and I was able to sustain the same speed throughout the entire distance. I’m not among the super fast, but I made it in 5 hrs and 57 minutes. (Swimming 40 min, Biking 2hrs 56 min and running 2 hrs 11 min).

Please feel free to write about my race and that it is perfectly possible to do endurance sports at a fairly high pace for 6 hours. It may even motivate somebody to try!

Before the competition I tried to drink my own sport drink with pineapple juice, water and Alpha Plus sport drink powder during my biking, but the only thing that happened was that my digestive system protests…

I’ve followed your blog closely for a long time and thanks to your blog my wife and I changed our eating habits. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia 3 years ago and has almost recovered! Her IBS is gone and all of our allergies and asthma are gone as well!

Please keep doing what you do – you do it so well!

I’m enclosing a picture to use if you think it will add to the story!


Staffan Leandersson


Congratulations on your accomplishments and health improvements!


LCHF for Beginners

Earlier on allergies

Earlier on digestive issues

Very Low-Carb Performance with Peter Attia

Legendary Exercise Professor Embraces LCHF!

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  1. 1 comment removed
  2. Triman
    Here's a blog about a triathlete who does twice the distance (ironman) and has far more better results on lchf.
  3. Zepp
    And heres about a Ultra marathon runner.. on low carb!

    Here is his blog.

  4. Sigrid
    My admiration for your Ironman LCHF test!
  5. Alain
  6. lou
    Damn sexy!
  7. Stacy in USA
    Congratulations, Staffan! You're a beast! (In American-speak calling someone a beast means they look really strong and tough).
  8. Kat
    I have not tested the limits yet, but I ski cross country 15 kilometers, ride my bike 50 k and run for two hours without a twinge of hunger or low energy when I eat 20 net grams of carbs or less. And then I lift. I do one of those workouts every morning That's just me, of course, but the BS I was fed all my life about needing a lot of carbs to do this is just...BS. I could never get my energy levels regulated eating all those complex carbs (oooooh! They're so "complex").
  9. Kat
    I have a question, guys. Why oh why is not eating nuts recommended on Atkins phase one and it's the first thing recommended to eliminate when weight stalls?

    In the case of low-carb nuts like hazelnuts, macadamia, pecans and walnuts, is it purely because they're easy to overeat? So, if you control your portions strictly and count the carbs they'd be okay?

    Reply: #10
  10. Galina L.
    Probably, it doesn't really matter. Some people report a weight-loss success when they eat nuts, others just can't stop eating that stuff, and cheese is problematic too. Yes, nuts are easy to over-eat and to reach for between meals, when waiting a little bit or drinking some green tea would probably stop that urge to put something into one's mouth. Many of us conditioned to snack all the time after years of the conventional diet advise even when we are not hungry.
  11. Annlee
    Where can I find the recipe for the egg muffins?
    Reply: #12
  12. Galina L.
    If I am not mistaken, the recipe for a LC muffin is that - 1/4 cup of ground nuts, 1 Tbs of ground flax seeds, or just add 1 Tbs of same nuts, + one egg+ 1/2 tsp of baking powder, salt - mix everything together, microwave for 1 minute in a coffee mag. Some people add a sugar substitute to the mix.
  13. Murray
    I actually had my most effective weight loss while not exercising (due to a shoulder injury) and eating loads of almonds. Note that nuts vary quite a bit in sugar content, pistachios and pecans being relatively higher. I also prefer hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts because they have lower omega6 fat. Walnuts at least have a decent omega3 (ALA, not DHA) to omega6 ratio. Don't forget that nuts have protein and a lot of protein (usually somewhere above 75 grams per day) triggers higher insulin and fat storage.

    I have a hypothesis that there is a significant difference between unprocessed nuts and nut butters. Nut butters affect my blood sugar and ketones the next day but whole nuts don't unless I have a large amount. I expect the absorption and fermentation pattern differs in the gut when the oil and sugars in the nuts are not extruded from the cells. Also, a good portion of whole nuts just chewed simply passes through, whereas this may not be the case with nut butters.

  14. Paul the rat
    some more butter please,
    Thank you.

    Nutrients. 2014 Jun 27;6(7):2493-2508.

    The Effects of a Ketogenic Diet on Exercise Metabolism and Physical Performance in Off-Road Cyclists.

    Zajac A1, Poprzecki S2, Maszczyk A3, Czuba M4, Michalczyk M5, Zydek G6.
    Author information

    The main objective of this research was to determine the effects of a long-term ketogenic diet, rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, on aerobic performance and exercise metabolism in off-road cyclists. Additionally, the effects of this diet on body mass and body composition were evaluated, as well as those that occurred in the lipid and lipoprotein profiles due to the dietary intervention. The research material included eight male subjects, aged 28.3 ± 3.9 years, with at least five years of training experience that competed in off-road cycling. Each cyclist performed a continuous exercise protocol on a cycloergometer with varied intensity, after a mixed and ketogenic diet in a crossover design. The ketogenic diet stimulated favorable changes in body mass and body composition, as well as in the lipid and lipoprotein profiles. Important findings of the present study include a significant increase in the relative values of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and oxygen uptake at lactate threshold (VO2 LT) after the ketogenic diet, which can be explained by reductions in body mass and fat mass and/or the greater oxygen uptake necessary to obtain the same energy yield as on a mixed diet, due to increased fat oxidation or by enhanced sympathetic activation. The max work load and the work load at lactate threshold were significantly higher after the mixed diet. The values of the respiratory exchange ratio (RER) were significantly lower at rest and during particular stages of the exercise protocol following the ketogenic diet. The heart rate (HR) and oxygen uptake were significantly higher at rest and during the first three stages of exercise after the ketogenic diet, while the reverse was true during the last stage of the exercise protocol conducted with maximal intensity. Creatine kinase (CK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) activity were significantly lower at rest and during particular stages of the 105-min exercise protocol following the low carbohydrate ketogenic diet. The alterations in insulin and cortisol concentrations due to the dietary intervention confirm the concept that the glucostatic mechanism controls the hormonal and metabolic responses to exercise.

    Reply: #19
  15. Paul the rat
    Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2014 Jun 13;7:195-201. doi: 10.2147/DMSO.S62681. eCollection 2014.
    Retrospective study on the efficacy of a low-carbohydrate diet for impaired glucose tolerance.
    Maekawa S1, Kawahara T2, Nomura R1, Murase T1, Ann Y1, Oeholm M1, Harada M3.
    Author information

    In recent years, the number of people with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) has increased steadily worldwide. It is clear that the prevention of diabetes is important from the perspective of public health, medical care, and economics. It was recently reported that a low-carbohydrate diet (LCD) is useful for achieving weight loss and glycemic control, but there is no information about the effects of the LCD on IGT. We designed a 7-day in-hospital educational program focused on the LCD for IGT.
    The subjects were 72 patients with IGT (36 in the LCD group and 36 in the control group) who were enrolled from April 2007-March 2012 and followed for 12 months. We retrospectively compared the LCD group with the control group.
    In 69.4% of the LCD group, blood glucose was normalized at 12 months and the 2-hour plasma glucose level in the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) was reduced by 33 mg/dL. In addition, the incidence of diabetes was significantly lower in the LCD group than in the control group at 12 months (0% versus 13.9%, P=0.02). The LCD group showed a significant decrease in fasting plasma glucose, hemoglobin A1c, the homeostasis model of assessment of insulin resistance value, body weight and serum triglycerides (TGs) at 12 months, while there was a significant increase of the serum high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level.

    The LCD is effective for normalizing blood glucose and preventing progression to type 2 diabetes in patients with IGT.

    Reply: #16
  16. Murray
    "In addition, the incidence of diabetes was significantly lower in the LCD group than in the control group at 12 months (0% versus 13.9%, P=0.02)."

    Wow. It's what we would expect but--wow.

    Reply: #17
  17. Paul the rat
    Here is the link to the paper, hope it works.
    I agree, it is - wow, even more so as these studies were done on healthy high carbohydrate diet loving, 'long living' Japanese
    (and LCD diet was kind of 'lowerish' carb)

  18. Paul the rat
    This is good review, but, unfortunately, I am unable to provide link to the whole paper.

    J Child Neurol. 2013 Aug;28(8):1009-14. doi: 10.1177/0883073813487596. Epub 2013 May 16.

    Treatment of diabetes and diabetic complications with a ketogenic diet.

    Mobbs CV1, Mastaitis J, Isoda F, Poplawski M.
    Author information

    Accumulating evidence suggests that low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets are safe and effective to reduce glycemia in diabetic patients without producing significant cardiovascular risks. Most of these studies have been carried out specifically restricting carbohydrates, which tends to lead to increased protein intake, thus reducing the ketosis. However, diets that limit protein as well as carbohydrates, entailing a composition very high in fat, appear even more effective to reduce glucose and whole-body glucose metabolism in humans. In animal models, low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets do not produce ketosis or reduce glycemia but rather cause obesity. However, limiting both protein and carbohydrates as in a classic ketogenic diet remarkably reduces blood glucose in animal models of type 1 and type 2 diabetes and reverses diabetic nephropathy. Future studies should assess if ketogenic diets would be effective to reverse diabetic complications in humans.

  19. Murray
    Good news for me who enjoys non-competitive mountain biking (intense one hour rides) and long swims in the lake (1.5 to 6 km).

    A couple of observations. First, they attribute much of the benefit to polyunsaturated fats, but table 2 shows the polyunsaturated fats went from 28 to 35 grams per day, whereas saturated and monounsaturated went from 30 to 68 and 33 to 130, respectively. So saturated fats doubled and monounsaturated quadrupled. Perhaps the discussion referred to polyunsaturated when they meant monounsaturated.

    Then there is a brief review of keto complications in the literature, which I have quoted below. Is this based on experience with epileptics? Do you see these in your experience Paul? The keto people I know don't, but they stay on it because it seems to go well for them, so there may be a filtering effect where only those for whom it goes well tend to stick with keto.

    "Despite some therapeutic benefits, ketogenic diets create several physiological consequences of which the most significant for physical exercise includes ketosis. Other side effects of ketogenic diets for sport performance include dehydration, hypoglycemia and increased risk of kidney stones [25–27]. Additionally, high fat, low carbohydrate ketogenic diets may induce metabolic disturbances, causing acidosis, weight loss, inadequate growth, hyperlipidemia, vitamin and trace elements deficiency (zinc, selenium and copper), hypoglycemia, hyperuricemia, anemia and leukopenia [27]"

    Reply: #20
  20. Paul the rat
    My experience tells me that if a person does not have certain, inborn genetic disorder/s then low/very low carbohydrate/ketogrnic diet can be fine tuned to everybody. I am aware of those described effects of ketogenic diets - as an illustration; it is reported that ketogenic diet may lead to vitamin and certain minerals deficiency, I ask this: if a person consumes for example eggs, liver, heart, working muscle meat, fish, dark colored vegetables, olives, flax-seeds, hemp-seeds, brain, plant oils, animals fats - what nutrients would such a diet be lacking in?
    Reply: #21
  21. Murray
    So I infer that getting the metabolic advantages of keto requires more metabolic work and so more nutrient-dense diet. Those who seek keto for the health and anti-aging features are likely the type of people who pursue better diet anyway and are less likely to experience deficiencies despite the higher metabolic requirements of keto (to manufacture ketones and glucose continually, for example). It seems the ancients implicitly understood this and were more careful about what they ate, especially favouring organ meats, etc. Even my grandparents' generation made a point of liver every week and otherwise ate plenty of organ meats (including ruminant brains), seldom had "premium" loin cuts and grew their own vegetables and berries.

    Presumably the experience with epileptics is not self-selective regarding suitability to keto and so metabolic deficiencies are exposed. Plus what I have seen from the keto diets prescribed for epileptics they are gruesome. Many of the epileptics using keto are children as a treatment when drugs have failed and I expect these kids hardly gravitate to liver and greens.

    So it seems to me that keto should come with a warning that it is nutrient demanding and perhaps not suitable for casual, unstructured diets based on what foods are made easily available. I try to follow Dr. Terry Wahl's general structure for a keto diet and it seems to work fine for me. I don't mean to sound unduly negative, but of course I am ever on the lookout for downside risks, to assess possible angles to falsify the keto hypothesis. Paul Jaminet is a good source for that.

  22. Murray
    Paul, this lecture on using keto to treat brain cancer is interesting. Something I learned from it is that the blood brain barrier has glut-4 receptors that down-regulate the uptake of glucose from the blood once blood ketones exceed about 1 mmol/L. So if ketones are available in adequate amount, the brain switches from sugar-burning to predominantly ketone burning, even if blood glucose is in normal range. It even prevents sugars from getting into the brain. So it is not lack of sugar that causes the switch, but availability of ketones.

    Might one say that the brain "prefers" ketones? I'd have to do some genealogical analysis to figure that out. One might say the presence of ketones generally implies less available sugar and switching to ketones conserves sugar for cells lacking mitochondria. On the other hand, Kruse makes arguments why ketones are better fuel in terms of heat and other constraints on brain metabolism.

    This talk is on the science of nutrition while undergoing treatment for cancer. Dr. Colin Champ is in Physicians and Ancestral Health.

    Reply: #23
  23. François
    The point you make is quite interesting and has implications far beyond cancer treatment (which is rather extraordinary in itself). It explains why Dr May Newport managed to reverse significantly her husband's Alzheimer's disease by feeding him coconut oil to create ketones, yet she did not modify his diet.

    Considering the seemingly toxic effect of glucose on the Alzheimer brain, down-regulation of glucose uptake when ketones exceed 1 mmol/L is a fantastic mechanism.

    Reply: #24
  24. murray
    Yes, Francois, it is intriguing. I am still ruminating on potential implications.

    Among other things, it suggests that elevating ketones with either coconut oil/MCT oil or through very low carb diet, would at some point result in an abrupt non-linear downshift shift in the ongoing rate of blood glucose consumption, since the brain uses some 25% of energy.

  25. Paul the rat
    Ketones do much more than regulating glucose uptake

    Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Jun;292(6):E1607-15. Epub 2007 Feb 6.

    Diet-induced ketosis increases capillary density without altered blood flow in rat brain.

    Puchowicz MA1, Xu K, Sun X, Ivy A, Emancipator D, LaManna JC.
    Author information

    It is recognized that ketone bodies, such as R-beta-hydroxybutyrate (beta-HB) and acetoacetate, are energy sources for the brain. As with glucose metabolism, monocarboxylate uptake by the brain is dependent on the function and regulation of its own transporter system. We concurrently investigated ketone body influx, blood flow, and regulation of monocarboxylate transporter (MCT-1) and glucose transporter (GLUT-1) in diet-induced ketotic (KG) rat brain. Regional blood-to-brain beta-HB influx (micromol.g(-1).min(-1)) increased 40-fold with ketosis (4.8 +/- 1.8 plasmabeta-HB; mM) in all regions compared with the nonketotic groups (standard and no-fat diets); there were no changes in regional blood flow. Immunohistochemical staining revealed that GLUT-1 density (number/mm2) in the cortex was significantly elevated (40%) in the ketotic group compared with the standard and no-fat diet groups. MCT-1 was also markedly (3-fold) upregulated in the ketotic group compared with the standard diet group. In the standard diet group, 40% of the brain capillaries stained positive for MCT-1; this amount doubled with the ketotic diet. Western blot analysis of isolated microvessels from ketotic rat brain showed an eightfold increase in GLUT-1 and a threefold increase in MCT-1 compared with the standard diet group. These data suggest that diet-induced ketosis results in increased vascular density at the blood-brain barrier without changes in blood flow. The increase in extraction fraction and capillary density with increased plasma ketone bodies indicates a significant flux of substrates available for brain energy metabolism.

  26. Tamarah
    I did my first and only half Tri before I started LCHF,, nutritionally it was a horrible experience . I ate all the suggested sugary crap,, and my stomach was a mess . I wish I had known what I know now. A year or so later once I started back Dabbling in LCHF and was still running ,, I decided to do a half marathon in a fat adapted state . It was my best run ever as far as nutrition . I ate eggs and bacon for breakfast . Put some olive oil in my water bottle ,, had a little packet of honey just in case . And made it through the entire race without any nutrition at all .. My stomach felt fantastic and I never got hungry or even felt like a bonk ,,, I felt fantastic . I don't run anymore due to injuries . But every day that I work out in the gym lifting weights ,, I am fasted . I prefer all my workouts to be in a fasted state . No More sugary GOO, no more Gatorade or powerade ,, none of that garbage will ever enter my body again . Oh I never lost a pound when I was running either,,, I only gained weight . Today I am at my Lowest weight in adult history and have no problems maintaining . Thanks to the LCHF community that is fighting to bring this to the FORE FRONT . thank you all !!!
  27. Murdo guy
    been a while since i read this - and first comment in 3 years!, keto has become much bigger than it was back then. Hats off to you Staffan, you did a great job - keep up your journey!, have you had a chance to check the honest electrolyte review by mineral republic?

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