The KETO WOE and MAF Method

Sorry if this may seem a bit of a lengthy post. If you have been reading my blog, you will know I am gradually increasing my running distance. I am also taking part in RED January while following a new way of eating (WOE). 

To try and lose weight and reduce my body fat percentage, I have been exclusively running in my aerobic zone. A method created by Dr.Phil Maffetone called the MAF Method. The goal is to improve aerobic development and the percentage of calories burned from fat while following a ketogenic (keto) style, or low carb high fat (LCHF) controlled diet.

The method uses a heart rate formula of 180 minus your age to give you a maximum aerobic heart rate. Now here’s the point, by training within just your aerobic zone the principal source of energy actually comes from your fat reserves, not glycogen or carbohydrate, so the theory goes. The idea with this training method coupled with a keto diet is for your body to become fully fat adapted and use fat for energy. However, this all takes time and could take up to three months to become fully fat adapted.

The first thing I noticed while trying to run in just the aerobic zone, is my heart rate easily increased beyond the maximum aerobic heart rate level. I had to slow right down to a pace that didn’t even feel like running. After a few attempts, and advice from other Maffetone runners, I adopted the approach of, gently running taking smaller steps to keep in the required zone. Each time my heart rate spiked above the maximum level, I walked until it was ten beats below the max, before starting running again. At first, I had to keep taking a lot of walking breaks. Eventually, the number of walking breaks decreased, and I could continually run in the aerobic zone.

My average 5k time of 30 minutes turned into approximately 45 minutes. I bet you’re thinking, why bother? Isn’t the idea to be a faster runner? Why stick with a method that actually slows you down?

I queried my pace with fellow Maffetone runners, and again, this was what to expect. Patience is key while your body becomes fat adapted. It felt like I could keep going and going, but it did seem somewhat monotonous. I did try running faster and found that I didn’t have the energy to sustain running at my previous pace. It was quite interesting as it was proof that my body was not fat adapted yet. Having next to no carbs meant I didn’t have the energy to run at such a pace. Apparently, once your body fully uses fat as fuel, your energy levels return to normal. When this happens, it should be possible to run at faster paces again. Some say it’s like a switch in your body where you suddenly get your energy back. This can take anywhere from six weeks to three months.

A lot of ultra runners and Ironman athletes (Mark Allen) adopt this method to teach their body to burn higher levels of fat as fuel. Our bodies have different fuel sources available to use and burn at varying rates. This is dependant on the intensity of physical activity. 

Body fat provides approximately 30,000-100,000 calories in normal-weight people. Whereas muscle and liver glycogen combined provides 1,800-2,000 calories. In other words, 350-500 grams of glycogen stored in muscle cells for energy, enough for approximately 90 minutes of endurance exercise.

While performing physical activity, our bodies actually use a mixture of stored carbohydrate (glycogen) and fat for fuel. The ratio of glycogen and fat changes depending on the intensity and type of exercise. Anaerobic exercise such as speed work, hills or strength training uses a higher percentage of glycogen as fuel. Less intense aerobic exercise uses a higher percentage of fat and a lower percentage of carbohydrate.

keto WOE steak and celeriac dauphinoise
[Keto WOE, steak and Celeriac Dauphinoise – photo by Runiversity of life]

You may have heard, about hitting the wall. This is when your glycogen depletes. Fatigue sets in while the body looks for fuel to utilise. Some people say this happens around mile 18-20 on a marathon. This is why a lot of people turn to energy gels in races to not let their glycogen store fully deplete, thus never hitting the wall. Some argue that a low carb diet can actually help runners avoid the phenomenon known as “hitting the wall”. How? By being used to using fat as the fuel. As I’m not running marathons, I’m not too fussed. I am just interested in trying to reduce my body fat percentage, lose weight and becoming healthier and fitter.

While trying this method, my cadence (steps per minute) started to increase. My running usually sits at 158 steps per minute. In the latter, MAF runs it moved up to 167, excluding any walking breaks. Everyday runners generally fall between 160-170 steps per minute. Elite runners strike the ground around 180 steps per minute or higher, with some getting above 200 at their fastest speeds. I decided to break the diet as I had booked a race. That’s not to say I am not going to continue following this WOE. If I do, I will focus on running at an easy pace (talk test pace) while building my distance. This will still largely be aerobic but at a slightly higher heart rate than the MAF method. 

There are going to be times where I will be running with harder efforts, for example, hill training, or speed work. Therefore, I may take a targeted keto diet (TKD) approach. This is the regular keto, with the exception of consuming carbohydrates around your workout times (approximately 25-50 grams, 30-60 minutes prior to the session). The purpose of this is to intake just enough to provide glycogen for just the drill, where you can build lean muscle while keeping body fat down. To do this, I may try using energy gels, or protein shakes mixed with a little honey. The idea is, you use up the glycogen in the training session breaking ketosis, but re-enter ketosis 2-3 hours later. If I’m losing weight and my body fat percentage is decreasing, I don’t mind. Happy days, let’s see what happens.

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The KETO WOE and MAF Method
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