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Getting over the Lethargy

October 8, 2011

We are now 1 week in!  How is everybody doing so far?  Found any great new recipes?  How have you found the cravings? – if any?

There has been a good amount of discussion (during the last go-round as well) about energy levels dropping off and general fatigue during the Whole 30.  This can be caused by a number of different things, but I am here to tell you that these are NOT long-lasting effects.

First off, many of you are eliminating caffeine during your 30 days.  This will, obviously, have a considerable impact on your daily feelings of wakefulness and alertness.  Please know what with the right amount of sleep, caffeine is not needed.  I agree that a warm cup of coffee in the morning is a great sensory experience (warm mug, great smell, delicious taste), but it definitely isn’t a necessity to get my day going.  Also, by eliminating those foods that are insulting and pro-inflammatory from the diet, your body has more energy to contribute to restoration, and you will wake up with more energy.  The Whole 30 foods will also provide for more steady energy levels throughout the day.  Just remember that it takes some time to get over that caffeine dependence.

Secondly, after eliminating breads, rice, pasta, beans, etc there is often a large empty spot on your plate.  This isn’t the goal of the Whole 30, but often what happens.  It is a bit of a paradigm shift to think about the amount of vegetables that you will have to eat.  It seems that most people forget about this, and instead end up eating less than they actually need.  Remember to keep that plate full with at least 2 different vegetables at each meal.  If after satisfying the vegetable and animal protein requirements you still feel hungry and lethargic, make sure that you are adding some fat to your meals.  This can be done in the form of avocado, coconut, garnishing a dish with salad, or even dressing your vegetables with some oil (olive, macadamia, truffle are all good dressings).

Finally, while the Whole 30 is not intrinsically a “low-carb” diet, it often times ends up that way because of the foods that are eliminated.  By removing bread, rice, pasta, etc. that leaves a large carbohydrate void on the plate.  Carbohydrates are not, in and of themselves bad, it is more the source of those carbs that we are trying to change.

Having some sweet potatoes after a workout is a great post-exercise meal.

Adding some roasted beets to a dinner salad contributes flavor, color, and texture.

What happens, though, when the carbohydrate content of your diet decreases, is that your metabolism has to catch up to the new dietary environment.  If eating a diet with a considerable dose of carbohydrates, you body prioritizes using them as its primary fuel source.  While carbohydrates are easy to use as a fuel source, they aren’t those most productive – fat contains 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates and protein.  What makes fat harder to use is that it requires oxygen to consume for energy.

In the course of the Whole 30, most of you will most likely transition from using predominantly carbs for energy, to using more fat for energy.  This is not just from the fat that you consume, but also from your bodily fat (read: decrease in body fat %).  Unfortunately, however, the process of switching to a more fat burning individual takes some time – time for carbohydrate stores to decrease, but also for hormonal and enzymatic changes to take place within your cells.  It can often take as long as two weeks.

So what happens during this two weeks?  Well, for starters, you might feel a little lethargic.  Also, your performance in the gym will often dip a little bit.  Fear not, though, as these changes aren’t permanent.  What is happening is that your body is trying to find new strategies for fueling your endeavors (exercise, daily activity, work, etc) in the absence of that carb flood it was used to receiving.  After the two week mark (sooner or later for some) everything changes.  Most people will report increased energy and vitality.  What also starts to happen is that gym performance (or any other physical feat your test yourself in) goes through the roof.  PRs get shattered right and left, and recovery improves.  What is happening is that your body has figured out those new strategies – utilizing fat (both dietary and bodily) for fuel – and providing you with more energy than the simple carbohydrate metabolism was able to.

I hope that helps as you all make your way through week 1.  Congratulations on sticking with it this far.  Remember that we are having our second meeting/snack this Wednesday, October 12, at 7pm.  Keep up the questions and comments.

Couple resources:

Should you be eating like a caveman?

Metabolism and Ketosis


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