Friday, June 10, 2016

Five Day Water Fast as an Athlete

I stopped eating for 101 hours - sound crazy?

Well, as a guy that tends to do things that sound crazy (actually, it is crazy) and having spent a huge amount of time since 2011 delving deep into the world of cutting edge nutritional research (hint, eat similar to how we did years ago - Barry Murray of On4Sport was an additional guide) one of the things that keeps popping up is sporadic fasting in relation to metabolic disease control and general well being. As years go by, it seems more and more diseases, as the research is maturing, are being classified as some form of metabolic dysfunctional condition.

I’m not too interested in trying to evangelise this approach, defend myself on why I’m doing this, give a complete review of current literature or yabber on about autophagy. For me, I have spent enough time in this area that I believe the probable benefits (way) outweigh the possible negatives from a long term health point of view. Also, until recently training and performance took my highest priority - a five day fast with associated down time from training and possible muscle catabolism doesn’t go hand in hand (or maybe Team Sky have learn’t something new) so I had to push something like this back until now. Having spent lots of time doing intermittent fasting and fasted training (one of many tools in the toolbox) I felt/hopped I could even do it...

So what does it all entail?

Day Minus Two:

From a cycling point of view, I’m in a somewhat semi-retired state. I have no big over arching goals outside of feeling great and enjoying myself whenever I ride/race. I have cut my riding down by about 50% (focusing on non-cycling things) but somehow I’m still riding fast. If I race, I race races that I really want to - there will be no flat 80km Irish road races in my future. Fortunately, the Red Hand Trophy in Antrim was on so Mel and I headed up (she rode around the course as I raced) and I gave it a go. In a chase group of eight riders from 15 kilometers in I never caught the remnants (four riders) of the front break of nine until the line. I finished fifth but enjoyed the racing and seeing that beautiful area of the world. Some touristy stuff after (despite being within ten kilometres of the Giants Causeway many times I had never seen it) and not much food until I arrived home around 9pm (mackerel and huge salad).

Day Minus One:

As I got home late I hadn’t had time to get my bike ready for an easy group spin in the morning. Coffee, switch wheels and I was on the road for a three hour easy spin followed by an Irish Sunday dinner tradition - “Turkey and Ham”. The rest of the day was standard.

Day One:

I had a busy day planned so at 7:30am I had my final meal for five days - a three egg omelette with tomato, half an avocado cooked in butter - low carb and so tasty. Water, herbal tea, coffee (black) from here on out. The rest of the day went well, I have being doing Intermittent Fasting for years so the first day was never going to be a problem. Around dinner time I was a little hungry but that soon passed.

Day Two:

When I woke, I was getting close to the longest time, while healthy, I have gone without any food - just over 24 hours. During the day I could tell my brain was foggy - I was switching from powering my brain via sugars to ketones and it was annoying - I could do research, read, but keeping a constant train of thought was more difficult. Before our evening work meetings I went for a 45 minute very easy bike ride - I rode the road bike over to a park close by and rode around the trails - beautiful sunshine, nature - it was the best I felt all day and came home energised.

Since returning to Ireland I have been loving Mojo Coffee
Around 10pm I started to get very sleepy and went to bed shortly after - not really sleeping until after midnight. The only dream I remember - I was going to a restaurant with friends.

Day Three:

A bit of a hungry stomach for the first 30 minutes but a cup of Mojo (black) coffee and sitting on the grass in the sun got me going. I have known hunger before and this really is no different - it is kinda like when you have been traveling all day (across multiple time zones) and not eaten anything. Mel commented that I looked a little jet lagged - that is how I felt. Work was mostly normal only a little slower and muting the microphone for tummy rumbling sessions was the highlight. Like yesterday, I went on a 45 minute bike ride through the forest - easy easy and close to nature. I have always had a low resting heart rate (and low blood pressure if I get up to quickly) and this has been a very noticeable aspect of the fast - I have seen my heart rate at 30 and when I get up from sitting/lying I have to do so SLOWLY. This process isn’t exactly enjoyable and I’m looking forward to finishing up.

Day Four:

Mel did a five day fast a few weeks ago and suffered through poor sleep (even getting up to work for a few hours in the middle of the night) - I have been a little more fortunate and slept well for eight hours. When I get up, I’m a bit dizzy but okay once moving. I have energy for doing organisational tasks but mental focus is still a bit of an issue. Working in the abstract world (software developer) takes lots of concentration and motivation but funnily enough, on my 30 minute easy ride I feel fine, I even decide to see if there is any power in the legs, I clip over a 1,000W for a second or two. My body is able to deal with this situation significantly better than my brain - I guess by body has had practise being in this state over the years of chronic endurance!

Fresh roasted/ground coffee - two a day - I wasn't doing a caffeine detox
Day Five:

Up at seven after eight reasonable hours of sleep - low blood pressure so I take a few minutes to get out of bed but once up I’m pretty normal - a little hungry, mostly the same as a normal day though. I sit out in the garden for a bit, have another mojo coffee - it is actually no worse than day three or four (maybe a little better). I am finishing the fast around lunch time and am looking forward to it - an avocado to start off (tastes incredible) and then home made soup with local/organic carrots/onions and bone broth. This goes all down perfect and a few hours later I’m eating normally as if nothing ever happened. In the evening, only a few hours after finishing the fast I went on an hour spin with Mel, we average 32kmph

Day plus One:

A very busy day of house hunting in Dublin (feeling perfect) with a quick evening road ride with accelerations - feeling about 90% normal on the bike.

The Following Week:

After finishing the fast I rapidly returned to normal - the only difference that I notice is that my stomach seems a little smaller (for now) - I get full when eating quicker than usual. No noticeable weight change, no real difference in focus/mental clarity - basically, from the outside it is as if the week never happened (although hopefully internally there were many benefits). Five days after the power/endurance on the bike is back to where it was pre fast, so as an athlete, plan ten days of non-optimal performance.

If I were to do the fast again (which I probably will, possibly yearly), I would schedule it so that days two to five I didn't have to work (at least with my brain - physically I had good energy throughout) - what would be perfect for me would be staying in a log cabin, in the middle of nature with no technology in sight - possibly in a tent or bivvy for the full stoic effect.

As I mentioned earlier, Mel wrote a piece about her experience fasting for a full five days.

Additionally, outside of this fast I eat a diet with very high nutrient density. A staple would be Irish (grass-fed/organic) rib eye steak with a massive mound of varying types of salad (with some additional carbs depending on activity). I would not recommend doing anything like this to someone who is already dieting.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Hi Ryan, would like to know what your intended goals were for the fast and if you achieved them?

Anonymous said...

Have a listen to this podcast for a little overview I found recently:

The fast is a long term (decades) possible/probable insurance policy against certain diseases. There are no short term goals other than actually doing it. As I mentioned, it is probably detrimental to performance and is definitely *not* a weight loss exercise.

Ryan Sherlock said...

Although the body/legs responded back okay anyway:

Unknown said...

All very interesting, thanks for the info!

Duncan McKenzie said...

Interesting read - I've been putting in some kilometres on the bike and improving speed and endurance but I've hit a bit of a plateau on weight. I know this extended fasting isn't the way to tackle that but I need to look at nutrition, intermittent fasting maybe, instead of eating rings round myself...

Unknown said...

Thanks for the blog! I am a masters track athlete and interested in doing this fast to cleanse the system and cancer prevention, but was concerned about losing to much muscle. The fact that your power returned after 10 days is encouraging.

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