Yes, this is one in the same person! On the left is me in 2009, before starting LCHF. On the right, me on 20 July 2015, halfway to completing the Samarian Gorge on the island of Crete in 3h 50 mins.
Believe me when I say I felt as sick as I looked in the LH picture, fully metabolic and with a shirt so big that it could never fully be tucked into my trousers, a vain attempt to hide my ballooning stomach! As you can see, I was heading for big trouble as far as my health was concerned. I am proud to say I have come quite a long way since then..
The Samarián Gorge is a National Park of Greece since 1962 on the island of Crete – a major tourist attraction of the island – and a World’s Biosphere Reserve. The gorge is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1,250 m (4,100 ft) at the northern entrance, and ending at the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli.
I really wanted to test the theory behind LCHF under more “rigorous” conditions, in particular the concepts outlined in Phinney & Volek’s second book on sports performance, and Samaria seemed an ideal opportunity, mainly because of the searing July heat. The thermometer shade reading on the left was taken in the cafe at the end of the gorge using the small compass/thermometer attached to the rucksack that I carried. As you can see, the ambient temperature in the shade was 36C, meaning that the ambient temp in direct sunlight at the bottom of the gorge was probably well into the 40’s C.
I didn’t set out to break any records, I just wanted to see how much I could push myself on virtually no food, in extreme conditions, using mainly “on board” stored fat as fuel. I also wanted to see what my water requirements would be compared to the days prior to LCHF; would they be greater or less?
Food & Water
Since it was going to be an early start, I’d have to carry all my food with me for the day, including breakfast. To this end, I fried some locally acquired sausages the night before, approx 500g, as shown on the left. I also included 3 hard boiled eggs. I consumed about a third of the sausage and one egg during the bus ride to the start of the gorge. The rest would have to last for the rest of the entire day, or at least until I came to the end of the gorge. There are no shops in the gorge to replenish your stocks!
I took a 1/2 litre bottle of flavourless “zero-tabbed” water (for salt/plasma volume maintenance) with me for the start. Water is plentiful in the gorge, available from the many springs and rivers, so there was no need to carry any extra. I carried a tube of zero tabs to add to replenished water stocks as I went along.
Apart from the food and water, I carried a jacket, scarf, towel, book, camera, trunks and flip flops for the beach at the end, total: approx 10kg.
The first 3km of the gorge are probably the worst as far as progress is concerned. The descent is steepest here and you have to be careful with your footing. Also the path is narrow and crowded as people start “en masse” at around 8 a.m., when all the tourist buses arrive at the start.
Once that was out of the way, I was able to step up the pace. I was feeling really strong and so I decided to jog the easy bits. Throughout the entire trek, hunger/food was NEVER an issue. I never felt hungry or weak due to low blood sugar and, as time went on, I grew more and more confident that I was easily burning on board stores of fat. By the half way stage, it was blatantly obvious to me that food was not going to be a problem at all and that I wouldn’t be having any “fueling issues”. I didn’t touch any food at all until after the trek. The only thing therefore was to carefully monitor my fluid consumption. I worked on the premise that I would only drink when I felt thirsty, rather than trying to “tank up” on too much water. As per Phinney, Volek and Noakes, it is advisable to take on some salt water just before the start to allow for plasma volume contraction when you start exercising but not in any large amounts, since you’ll just urinate the extra that the kidneys can’t hold and is thus wasted anyway. Besides, too much water will just make you feel bloated and your performance will drop. My only “mistake” of the day perhaps was that I didn’t take on any fluids at all before the start, simply because I forgot!
I was pleasantly surprised by overall fluid demands. I only had 2 five-minute fluid stops during the entire trek, consuming a meager 1.5L of tabbed water. I took on another 1.5L of dbl strength tabbed water over the course of the following 2 hrs after the trek. After that, I felt fully refreshed. Never at any point did I feel light-headed or experience any headaches, classic dehydration symptoms. I consumed the remaining food I had not really out of any great hunger, but because I didn’t want it to spoil in the heat. After that, I did not eat for the next 24hrs, mainly because I wasn’t hungry at all! This suggested that I was in even deeper ketosis and was later confirmed by a 1.5kg loss in weight and 3cm off my waistline!
This was my first real acid test but I am happy to report that ketogenics works stunningly well under the harshest of conditions. I passed many people stuck by the wayside, munching on chocolate bars, biscuits and bananas who had “blown up” when their blood sugar crashed! It did make me chuckle to myself since I remember those self same awful feelings in the days before LCHF.
Being one of the first out of the gorge, I was rewarded with a free beach lounger in the shade whilst I had a refreshing swim in the Libyan Sea and waited for the ferry home.
A great end to a fantastic day!