One week post-fast, I’m back in the gym and I’m noticing how the fast affected my strength and endurance. I’m in the process of base-building again, both cardiovascular and muscular strength.
A water fast of longer than 5 days has dramatic effects on metabolism. In that time tissue and liver stores of glycogen have been processed in the interest of maintaining energy for brain function. The larders are bare so to speak. But not the lard, if you will. Humans store plenty of fuel as fat. Fat is lighter to store and is a more efficient storage system than glycogen. An athlete will exhaust glycogen stores within a few hours of hard effort. If they don’t supply some carbohydrates they hit the energy deficiency wall (Bonking) and can not perform at capacity. If no fuel is supplied, as in a water fast, what can the body do to keep the brain in gear until the famine is over?
It is the uniquely human, incredible system of being able to convert fat stores into component parts that will feed the brain until the next food comes along. I referred to ketosis in my post on October 5th. Our closest primates, the apes, do not have this ability. Just us. We are a survival machine.
During prolonged fasts the body mineral stores are depleted. Some minerals are electrolytes that are necessary for the transport action of cell membranes. Nutrients go in, garbage goes out. During my fast I was taking a walk and had leg muscle cramps. I do not often get cramps so it was pretty clear to me that I was missing electrolytes. Even though I was drinking plenty of water my tissues still became dehydrated because of the missing minerals.
Ok, how do I recover so I can ride my bike 100 miles again or maybe run a 5k?
The process of metabolic efficiency training is what has to happen after a water fast. Restarting the engines of digestion and energy metabolism.
1. Begin to restore the blood and liver glycogen and minerals. Keeping in mind that the digestive system is not ready to do the energy intensive job of digesting food yet, the best choice is clear vegetable and fruit juices. My outcome? The muscle cramps resolved immediately.
2. Add some light plant based food, fruits and vegetables, in small amounts. Continuing to restore depleted supplies and get the digestive juices flowing.
3. Add lightly cooked plant foods. Cooked food has a much higher digestive demand than raw foods, especially if the enzymes have been heated above 118 degrees in cooking. Enzymes are proteins that support the breakdown of food. All living things have them. This is the next step in awaking digestion.
4. Continue to add in more complex carbohydrate foods, grains like oats, rice, quinoa.
5. Last stage is adding in plant sources of fats, like nuts and seeds. ALWAYS soak nuts and grains before you cook (or just eat) them to help eliminate phytates and the enzyme inhibitors. Nature puts them there to keep the seed from sprouting before there was enough water to wash off the inhibitors to growth, and it also inhibits digestion.
In terms of physical recovery, true to predictions I am not as strong as I went in to the fast. I specifically planned this to be the end of my competitive season and the beginning of my off season. Smooth Move!! It would have been too frustrating otherwise, doing this mid season and losing all the performance increases I worked so hard to achieve.
The best training program available is the Heart Zones Threshold Training System by Sally Edwards, Triathlon Hall of Fame athlete and world record holder, who took more than 30 years of science and applied research to develop. It is based on where your body shifts in respiration rate as the effort increases. This shift parallels the increased build up of blood lactate as a marker for an effort level at any given point in your training. Pretty easy to determine and follow, using a simple heart rate monitor to measure.
So I am in Zones 1 and 2 for a while, rebuilding my base. The broader the base the higher the peak. I am looking forward to an even better year as an athlete.
This post is the latest in a current set of posts on my water fasting experience. Go to the post on October 8th to follow me through the process.
For more on Heart Zones Threshold Training or ways to get fitter and lose excess body fat, contact Dorothy at SynergyWellnessNW.com.