Low carb recovery week - dropped weight, no FTP increase in Build

Hi All,

So I wanted to share some insights into tests with my diet and training to get to 4.1 w/kg or higher and one massive mistake I just made that I’d appreciate your feedback and experiences with.

I’ve just finished a 4 week HV Build phase following SSBHV 1 & 2. Going into the recovery week I was feeling super strong. Even VO2Max workouts, based on my FTP of 270 at 69kg, were feeling easy. The strategy for the 4 weeks has been to train hard and ensure I fuelled my rides. Typically I will train at 5:30 am due to family and work starting with just a coffee and then taking in Mauten drink and maybe 1 gel on the bike if needed. Needless to say, I was feeling great, I completed each workout and daily felt like I could take on anything the TR plan threw at me.

Going into recovery week at 69kg I decided to try and drop some weight and while following the training plan dropped my carb intake below 296g per day for 6 of the last 7 days. I had read a lot about Tim Noakes and his views on high carb diets in the forum and then followed the rabbit hole of the internet and convinced myself that dropping carbs would benefit performance.

The result was, well, catastrophic. Having just completed the ramp test while measuring in at 68kg and 5% body fat I barely managed to match my previous score of 270, at 245 I thought I wasn’t going to make it past 250.

Overall if I had maintained weight and increased my FTP by 10 points to 280, which is where I think I am, I’d have hit 4.057 w/kg however as it stands I’m 3.9. My overall feeling is that I am stronger than the test so will re-test next week and the week after. Not taking in enough carbs last week resulted in my opinion in poorer recovery (sore all week even from recovery rides), lower glycogen stores (even though I took in carbs throughout the day today I don’t think it was enough to build up what I had lost), and feeling a lot weaker much earlier than expected on the ramp test today.

I would like to hear your stories and strategies related to this and maybe some feedback on the questions below:

  • Have any of you had success dropping carbs and increasing performance on HV plan?
  • Have you tried the HV plan on less than 250g carbs per day (3.6g carbs per kg weight)?
  • Do you carb load for a test?
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Funny you should say this. Just this week I spent 2 hours in bed post-ride (just Z2 on Zwift) after a low-carb breakfast, had a massive row with my other half because I couldn’t help with the decorating, and only felt better when I realised how hungry I was and had a big, high-carb snack.

Not done a HV plan but I’ve added volume to plans to get up to 700-800 TSS with plenty of intensity and by God, I needed the carbs.

However I don’t think in terms of bodyweight. I think in terms of matching calories expended during each ride, with appropriate levels of carbs. So I always eat what I expend before and during a workout calorie-wise, but for threshold it might be 70-80% carbs, for Z2 might be more like 30-40%. Then the rest of my meals I try to just eat healthily.

As for the ramp test, I’d say that if you feel you need to carb load for a 20 minute effort, you’ve seriously underfuelled your recovery week. Sure, have some carbs a couple of hours before and a gel or energy drink when you start to help get you going and reduce RPE, but your glycogen stores shouldn’t be THAT low.

But you can rescue it! Take 2-3 more days and just eat what your body is telling you it needs. Don’t be ashamed of the odd extra snack. Eat well and healthily. Get some sleep. Ride easy. Then hit that test again.

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Thank you for sharing man.

I’m in my recovery week right now and and trying the exact opposite actually. I’m eating the same as during my training block ( about 6-7 grams of carbs per kg, low fat). Not counting calories (I’m probably quite over my maintenance for this week), only high quality nutrition (a lot of vegetables, whole grains lean meat/fish etc).

I made the same mistake as you during my last recovery week and this time around I decided to not care about a little weight gain as it will be burned off during my build phase. The extra calories will allow my body to really adapt and recover. Like @Jonathan said in the podcast, we sometimes feel guilty about the food intake during recovery weeks but we really shouldn’t. This is the perfect time to take in those calories and come back stronger in the next phase.

Maybe that you can take the next day or two completely off, eat, sleep and retest.

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If you’re gonna do low-carb, you’ve gotta do it full-time. This dabbling approach is non-sense. Every study with a <6 week intervention fails to show benefit (you’d almost think they’re chosing these short time frames on purpose). Whenever it’s been tested with chronically low-cab/keto athletes (like a year+), it’s a wash.

The exact reason for the exercise adaptation period is not clear, but it’s an extremely common question on low-cab/keto forums.

To some extent, I think we’re so used to hearing carbs-are-required that elite athletes have a survivorship bias. Ie, if you tolerate carbs very well, then you might become elite. If you don’t tolerate them well, you abandon sport because you can’t compete on carbs but don’t know there are other possible eating patterns.

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I seem to eat nothing but carbs these days, the more the better. I don’t carb load, but I eat to fuel workouts. I’m at 10-11% body fat according to my withings scale. Would like to get below 10, but who really cares as long as I’m completing workouts. If it aint broke, don’t mess with it.

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Why? Your W/kg is just a number. I think in writing this you already learned your lesson. You’ll be fine! Moving forward, Don’t believe every pseudoscientific opinion on the internet :man_shrugging:

I’m 66kg 4.2W/kg myself and the one thing that kills my workout performance and overall fatigue/work/social activities throughout the day is not eating enough.

That’s the way to do it

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Oh no! I could see that having a big impact on a recovery week during a HV plan in particular. One of the functions of a recovery week is to make sure your glycogen stores are fully restocked- often if you’ve got a really high workload you never quite replenish your muscle glycogen entirely, and you can often end up quite depleted by the end of a training cycle. That’s why you’ll often weigh in a little heavier during a recovery week- more stored glycogen means you hold on to more water.
In any case, it’s all experience and at least you know it’s probably not a lack of fitness :smile:

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Keeping it simple…carbs are your friend.

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Thanks for the reply Martin, your totally right with this statement:

As for the ramp test, I’d say that if you feel you need to carb load for a 20-minute effort, you’ve seriously under fuelled your recovery week.

For sure I felt weaker in the recovery week but I thought some of it was due to a really hard 4-week block and my body taking extra time to get over things. For my next test in 2 weeks, I’m going to fuel all of my workouts and eat really well on the Monday rest days. As you say, I think I came out of the recovery week with super low glycogen stores meaning I didn’t have enough sugar for even a 25 min effort.

If it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it.

This is the second ramp test that I’ve done where I changed something in the recovery week. Two tests ago I went for a long Sunday ride with 210 TSS, that was a bad idea and now this one nutrition. For the next one, I will do just what you said Russell, don’t mess with it :+1:

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Never understood people’s fascination with going on a low carb diet.

You burn between 700 and 2000 calories during every single workout. A LOT of those use glycogen as fuel source.

Why deprive yourself of that fuel ???

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You’re at 5% body fat and trying to lose weight? Why?! If that number is accurate then you’re already right at the bottom end of what is considered healthy even for an elite athlete. So you have nothing to gain and plenty to lose from trying to get leaner. Might even benefit from putting on a little weight.

And yes, not at all surprised that low carb impacted your recovery week. I think there’s certainly a case for increasing/reducing carb intake a bit in line with the training you’re doing. But you need to take enough in during recovery week to make sure you’re fully recovered and fully stocked up for the hard training to resume. Especially during something pretty full on like HV Build.

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I think there is a place for doing fasted or semi-fasted workouts, within an overall high carb approach. E.g. doing an easy Z2 ride first thing in the morning before you eat anything. If you’re trying to improve body composition then this is a good way of safely building up a bigger calorie deficit. And if you’re doing an event like Ironman where your ability to ingest carbs can be a real performance limiter and it’s therefore beneficial to train your body to utilise fat better, then this is a good way of doing it.

If body composition isn’t an issue and your events are <5 hours in duration then there’s probably little benefit to doing those kind of sessions. And fully agree that recovery weeks aren’t the time to cut the carbs. Reduce them a bit maybe, since you don’t have as much work to fuel, but not drastically.

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It could be we’re talking at different wavelengths, here. OP is talking about “low” as like 250g/day which is actually a standard high-carb diet. But in the next sentence is talking about Tim Noakes who has been advocating very low carb for several years now. So my read on the situation is someone heard low carb is good, respects Noakes work, and tried eating “lower” carb. Found the experience subpar, and is asking for feedback. All I’m suggesting is the observed outcome is exactly what could have been expected.

If you want to talk about fasted rides, we can do that. Most of mine are. But I’m not sure that was really the focus here.

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Your first mistake was reading anything that Tim Noakes has written about nutrition. He’s a quack, avoid him like the plague. If you want to be fast on the bike, there’s no place for chronic low carb or keto diets. Furthermore, a recovery week shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to target weight loss. Your body needs the proper nutrition to repair itself from the damage your training block has inflicted upon it.

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Could well be we are on different wavelengths! There’s been a lot of posts/threads here about incorporating fasted workouts, so thought you might be including that in your definition of “dabbling with low carb”. Sounds like I was mistaken, my bad.

Fully agree that the observed outcome in this case was exactly what I would have expected.

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My experience says otherwise. But you do you.

The science is very clear and there’s a reason that you won’t find the top athletes chronically restricting CH. You might be fast despite your diet, but the overwhelming scientific consensus indicates you’d be even faster if you consumed more CH.

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With all due respect, your personal experience is not a scientific consensus.

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