OUR LOCAL FITNESS HERO
Lookey here at our local fitness wonder Mike Gagnon! I’ve been following Mike and building his nutrition plans since 2016. The man never ceases to impress and inspire me.
At the ripe age of 70 this seasoned monster trains CrossFit 4 to 5 times a week, and he has recently completed something called a spartan race trifecta, which is completing all 3 grueling spartan obstacle race formats (5 km, 13km and 21km) throughout the course of one year. You receive a piece of the medal upon completion of each race, these medals link to form one big medal. I don’t know how the frig he does it, but he doesn’t give the rest of us any excuses.
Mike clearly takes his training seriously, but he also pays a lot of attention to his nutrition. He needs his recovery to be on point if he wants to keep his training volume high and keep injuries at bay.
Luckily for me, he is what I call an outlier, and he isn’t afraid to experiment nutritionally. I was very lucky that he found me early in my career, as our relationship has definitely been mutually beneficial.
Since we’ve been working together, we’ve been constantly experimenting with nutritional strategies - going so far as adapt his nutrition for specific nutrient requirement based on his genetic profile. We’ve also played with incorporating all the merited sports supplements.
We track his biometrics and adapt his nutrition in 6-week segments. We trend his body comp (9 site calipers, visceral fat ratings, muscle circumference, and glucose challenge) and he gives me a detailed description of how he felt, recovered and performed during the 6 weeks. This has allowed us to find out what works and what doesn’t for his body, over time, and its one really cool scientific experiment for me.
Our most recent journey has been a performance ketogenic diet, which is essentially a high calorie ketogenic diet that uses a slightly higher carb and protein threshold but allows you to enter ketosis during and after each workout. I was worried about trying this out on Mike, and I warned him that he would feel cruddy during the first week as his body’s main fuel source is depleted (carbs) and his performance in the gym would also tank in the short term. I explained that as his body shifts from burning carbs to fats he would begin to feel better and better and his training would also improve, but his training would likely never be as good as it was with carbs in the system.
The interesting thing about training without carbs is that your body slowly begins to adapt, and this is one of the main benefits of following the ketogenic diet. Initially your performance suffers as your cells are used to needing glucose to fuel them. The new fuel that is available from fat breakdown is called ketone bodies, but initially the body is not capable of burning them efficiently. Slowly but surely the body develops the ability to burn these ketone fuels more effectively and your performance in the gym improves. These ketone bodies also have interesting benefits, science is starting to show that they have strong anti-inflammatory properties (Youm et al. 2015), cognitive benefits (Cunnane et al. 2016) and have a significant impact on muscle recovery (Holdsworth et al. 2017) (Vandoorne et al. 2017), a lot of research is being done for military applications.
Mike had his reassessment this past weekend and I was quite intrigued by his results. His body composition data was as expected, little changes in muscle mass and body fat (our ketogenic diet was not set for fat loss). He explained that his performance initially tanked, as expected, but it continued to improve week after week. He was surprised at how well he began to perform and recover, he didn’t expect he would feel that good. He began to feel so good he thinks that his performance and recovery were better on this ketogenic diet than any other plan with carbs. He also claimed his ongoing shoulder soreness felt better than it had in a while. I was surprised to hear this.
While studying nutrition at McGill University, it is taught that carbs are essential for athletic performance, both for endurance type activities, like running, or strength and power-based sports. This is the conventional academic stance, and it is based on a plethora of academic research. Science is funny like that, a truth is only true until it is proven wrong, and in this case, the performance results of the ketogenic diet seem to be changing a very established “truth”.
What first intrigued me about the ketogenic diet for athletics was an article on the man who holds the record for fastest 100-mile marathon race
The article really blew my mind as I had accepted the “truth” that carbs were ESSENTIAL to distance runners, more so than most other athletes, and even if you could run a marathon in a carb depleted state, it DEFINITELY wouldn’t be fast. Zach Bitter trains most of the year while following a ketogenic diet, and accordingly, his cell machinery is extremely well adapted to burning ketones. When he races, he consumes carbs while his body also produces ketones, this allows him to use both fuels sources concurrently, and the result is a standing world record.
The idea of using a ketogenic diet to “fat-adapt” the metabolism is an interesting realm to be explored, specifically for athletes. Re-introducing a healthy nutrient dense plan including carbs into the a person who has “fat- adapted” could potentially allow the body to burn 2 fuel sources at once. Although Mike felt that his performance and recovery were higher while on the ketogenic diet, for most people I would logically assume that peak performance should come after a segment of keto and fat adapting their metabolism, followed by a reintroduction of carbs into the diet.
This all goes to show how little we still know about the body’s amazing ability to adapt. The scientific field of nutrition is still so young, and this is a great example of how we always need to keep an open mind. Just when we think we know it all, some news evidence comes out that changes the game completely.
I love working with Mike, his journey is far from over and I am looking forward to accompanying him along the way. I love his energy and am always motivated to help him strive for peak health and performance, especially because we get to creatively explore the latest science together! Cheers to Mike, always living life to the fullest!
By Patrick Martin-Arrowsmith MSc. (c)
Cunnane, S. C., et al. (2016). "Can ketones compensate for deteriorating brain glucose uptake during aging? Implications for the risk and treatment of Alzheimer's disease." Ann N Y Acad Sci 1367(1): 12-20.
Holdsworth, D. A., Cox, P. J., Kirk, T., Stradling, H., Impey, S. G., & Clarke, K. (2017). A Ketone Ester Drink Increases Post exercise Muscle Glycogen Synthesis In Humans. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,49(9), 1789-1795. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000001292
Vandoorne, T., Smet, S. D., Ramaekers, M., Thienen, R. V., Bock, K. D., Clarke, K., & Hespel, P. (2017). Intake of a Ketone Ester Drink during Recovery from Exercise Promotes mTORC1 Signaling but Not Glycogen Resynthesis in Human Muscle. Frontiers in Physiology,8. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00310
Youm, Y., Nguyen, K. Y., Grant, R. W., Goldberg, E. L., Bodogai, M., Kim, D., . . . Dixit,V. D. (2015). The ketone metabolite β-hydroxybutyrate blocks NLRP3 inflammasome–mediated inflammatory disease. Nature Medicine,21(3), 263-269. doi:10.1038/nm.3804