saltin diet

Saltin diet before a marathon: What’s the point of all this?

The Saltin diet, also called Swedish diet, is an extreme form of carbohydrate loading. The aim is to overfill the carbohydrate tanks in the muscles up to 125% after having completely emptied them. This is principally interesting for long distance athletes. The diet is controversial, some really believe in it and others think this is total bullshit. We do it before every marathon and we have made good experiences with it.

The body needs ATP for the muscle work, he can gain it through the decomposition of carbohydrates or through the decomposition of free fatty acids.. The body prefers the glycogen tank (carbohydrates). At a normal activity level the tanks last for a whole day, on an intensive workout the tanks are often already empty after 90min. However, the fat depot of the body would provide our body with energy for several weeks. Let’s do a short carbohydrate-marathon-balance: A marathon has a distance of 42.195km, the carbohydrate tanks have energy for 90min- oh shit, that will not last. Only the smallest part of the runner has already passed the half marathon mark after 90min and even the absolute world best marathon runners are after 90min only at the 30km mark.

Why do we not simply take the energy during marathon of our fat depot? We do it partially. The carbohydrates have the advantage that the energy that will be produced by the decomposition, gives you 2,5 times as much energy as the energy that is produced by the fat depot. This allows higher intensities. We train our body to do an effective mix between both. For example, we do long bike rides without eating carbohydrates so our body learns to use already very early the lipids for gaining energy. That's why our body is able to use longer the carbohydrate tanks.

The fuller our carbohydrate tank is before the race, the longer our body can use them to gain energy. This is the reason why we are doing the saltin diet. We cannot run faster with the carbohydrates, but we can run our pace until the end. Another possibility is to tank enough energy during the marathon. Those who love to eat gels and bars and who have trained to eat during running, can chose this way. We prefer to overfill the tanks in advance and drink only a mix of gels and water up from km 25. So we do not have to worry about stomach problems during marathon.

But you have to be aware of some risks of this diet. People who have a very sensitive gastrointestinal passage can get problems during the fat-protein days. Moreover the diet is also challenging for the psyche and the body constitution. It can have effects on the immune system and you can feel tired and irritable.

We have a tough stomach and a strong immune system. We have not had any incidents and also the people around us told us that we have been tolerable for them.

We empty our carbohydrate tank one week before the marathon, for example with a progressive run. The following three days we just watch the food with carbohydrates, the people around us can eat it. You can find carbohydrates in lots of food. We do not renounce completely carbohydrates but the proportion is less than 5%. Thus the choice of food is compared to <1% significantly higher.

Nevertheless cooking during those days demands attention and creativity if you do not want to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner the same food. Ok, pasta, rice, potatoes is easy- drop of your plate. Banana, apple, orange? Fructose, thus also carbohydrates. The choice of vegetables is more interesting. If you put the limit at 5%, then you can eat except of chickpea, red pepper, beetroot and sweet corn nearly all kinds of vegetables. Those, who do the 1% limit, they can eat corn salad, spinach, champignons and avocados.

What about milk products? It is also true here, if you put the limit at sub 1% you will find because of the lactose only cheese on your menu. If you put the limit at 5%, you have quite a big choice: Quark, yoghurt, buttermilk. Everything is all right.

As for nuts you can eat some sorts, you remain within the limit of 5% with almonds, Brazil nuts, pekans and macadamias. Take care of cashews, in a botanic view they do not belong to nuts but to stone fruits and have a percentage of carbohydrates of 30%.

It’s not that easy. But it is possible to eat food that has very little carbohydrates and nevertheless to be full and rejoice the meal.

We made the experience that it has become easier for us from marathon to marathon. Our fatty metabolism works better and better and we can do the long bike rides up to 5h without any carbohydrates.

On Wednesday (competition on Sunday) we have another intensive session, after that the motto is: all in for carbohydrates. Pasta, rice, potatoes, fruits, honey, jam,… it’s getting sweet but it remains monotonous. Yeah, finally carbohydrates. It’s funny as we get already after a short while appetite for fish, cheese and eggs. You always want what you don’t get. As of Saturday you can eat normally again. Now we know that the competition is within spitting distance. On Sunday we are at the starting line, ready for a great race!

That’s how a menu for a fat-protein day could look like

Carbohydrates <1%

Breakfast: 3 slices of roasted tofu, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon with cottage cheese

Lunch: Corn salad with turkey steak, cut and roasted tofu with feta cheese on top of the salad

Snack: Cheese (nearly all sorts besides cream cheese)

Dinner: Spinach (fresh) with trout, avocado slices with ham, pepper and roasted champignons. The next three days should look similar to this menu.

< 5% carbohydrates

Breakfast: 3 slices of roasted tofu with cream cheese, quark with linseed oil and brambles

Lunch: tomato soup, salad with carrots and fried egg, quark with smoked salmon and goat-cheese

Snack: Shake with buttermilk and brambles

Dinner: Avocado with ham, spinach and champignons filled with cheese

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