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Sleep Low, Train High (carb): Boost Performance and Lose Fat...

For those that follow me on Strava you'll notice that I have recently wrapped up a little training experiment. It's mostly based around an article that was written by Mark Sisson on his Mark's Daily Apple blog, and the self-experimentation that my friend Joy did who had been trying this program for a couple of weeks before I decided to start too, since she was seeing results. The studies showed that following just one week of this sleep low, train high plan resulted in an increase in athletic performance. The unanticipated bonus was that when this plan was continuously followed they saw increases in improved body composition due to fat loss. So that meant that this cycle was clinically proven to improve my athletic performance and to burn some fat....I decided to give it a go before race season, to determine if it's a tool I might use.

I'm a believer in food quality and quantity but haven't gotten around to really playing with the timing of carbs throughout the day. I've found that I need carbs in order to support my preferred level of activity, and don't feel amazing when I attempt to eat keto or very low carb. So I was a little reluctant to play around with restricting my carb intake; which seems silly since I regularly practice intermittent fasting.

What the research found:

"The sleep-low group’s supramaximal capacity also saw a major boost. They were able to cycle at 150% of their Vo2max for around 12-20% longer than before. There was very little improvement in the control group. In a 10k run test, the sleep-low group shaved around 3-5% off their times. The control group shaved just 0.10% off."

"What’s truly remarkable is that this was a short-term study. Three weeks of experimental conditions were plenty for the benefits to accrue and amass"

Here's what I did:

I did a 3 week cycle of Sleep Low, Train High (carbs that is) - I started each cycle on a Sunday night, with Sunday being my prep day, and ended the 2x/day workouts on Thursdays

Each Cycle:

Prep Day:

No carbs (which includes all "bread-like" carbs - which is what most people think of, wine, fruits, and veggies...yes even veggies) post 7pm

Day 1 - 4: 2 workouts a day

1 hour LIT - Low Intensity (zone 2) aerobic workout in the morning, fasted

Eat in between moderate level of carbs, I did mostly veggies and followed my normal Paleo diet

At least 6 hours later

20 - 50 minute HIT - High Intensity workout (tempo run/intervals or Crossfit style workout)

No carbs post workout

On last day of cycle, you can eat normally (yay for veggies and wine with dinner!)

Day 5 - 7:

1 to 2 low intensity workouts, and at least 1 rest day, no dietary changes or restrictions required here, but I generally stuck with my only coffee for breakfast and did an intermittent fast until lunch, and kept my normal mostly Paleo diet.

Here's how I felt:

How I felt was a little varied, but overall I felt great and actually snuck in one more cycle before my business trip to Australia. The first week I cam in over-trained, not rested, and the block of 8 workouts coupled with doing run intervals for the first time in a long time crushed me - I was VERY ready for a rest day on Day 5. I also was figuring out fueling, snacks, and how to get more veggies in throughout the day. Since I generally don't eat breakfast, with this training block I needed to eat breakfast and it needed to include veggies otherwise I wasn't getting the nutrition I usually do into my system.

Post completing the full cycle I felt great - I felt like I was ready to take on a hard workout and was looking forward to my runs - I did mile repeats the last cycle and was really happy with my times! This is something that does have a lot of volume, but it also has a lot of recovery and is allowing your body to optimize burning fat, and the LIT sessions were things that I don't normally do on my own and something that my body responded well to. The cycle really makes you plan and prioritize, and I went from doing 5 - 6 workouts a week to 8-10 workouts a week and felt great doing it, and felt like I was continuing to improve in all the sports and aspects I was training in. Another goal I have here is to just get more time on my bike -that's my weakest leg in triathlon, so this training plan has been really motivating to get on the bike and just log some theoretical miles (since I'm on a trainer with now computer or power meter I have no idea how "far" I go in the workouts).

Now I'm working on how I can continue portions of this cycle throughout my training - and thoughtfully think about my carb intake throughout the day and around workouts. I will try to incorporate a few days a week with the 2x/workouts a day cycle and will try to time this around my first Tri in early June.

I noticed an improvement in my athletic performance, even without fancy quantification methods like they had access to in all of the research. I also noticed an improvement in body composition, with the additional HIT workouts that incorporated more strength work than I was doing before, and the added biking and running intervals, I gained a little muscle. On top of that, I lost some body fat, which I could see in my mid-section and arms. I didn't take measurements (silly me!) or do a body fat analysis, if I had access to that I would def. do that for another experimental period.

Here's what I learned:

  • I like doing workouts in the morning, but not ones that are high intensity. The low intensity workout allowed me to wake up and energize me to tackle the day, and then I was motivated and ready to get after the high intensity workout in the afternoon.

  • I slept better - not having the carbs or any sugar or wine in the evenings had me sleeping better and feeling more rested, this is something I'm taking into consideration now to adapt into my life in general.

  • I had to go to bed a little earlier, so that I could get up early enough to get in a full hour workout, before the kids woke up most days. I shifted doing some of my normal "night time tasks" to the morning and it worked out :)

  • I felt like I took a million showers! Double workouts mean, double showers....

  • Dinner was boring, and that became OK. Rather than have an elaborate dinner I dressed up my lunches, and I needed to pack snacks - that was usually veggies and hummus or guac. Yes I know hummus isn't Paleo but that along with some high quality dairy (heavy cream and good cheeses) are part of my diet right now and are working well for me.

  • While I removed wine (as a carb) I kept a carb-free alcohol drink option of vodka and seltzer (and lime), and found this to be a much cleaner option for me overall! It didn't disrupt my sleep as much as wine does, something to consider for the future. Clear tequila would be another good choice, but not something that works for me personally.

  • I stink at taking mirror selfies and abs always look best in the morning!

For those looking to dig into the sources and some of the research, here are the links:

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