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Severe Leg Pains after Long Run


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I'm an experienced ultra distance runner. Did my first "longish" run last weekend--16 miles on hilly, technical trails (2k of vertical climb) and what I considered a casual pace. Consumed 110 calories of sweet potatoes/apricot (baby food) at the 2h10m mark since I was beginning to feel a little loopy. Energy levels and strength was good, though. I was at day 25 of whole 30, which I have strictly followed and my body comp has changed drastically.

Within a few minutes of finishing, I began experiencing severe leg pains all over (quads & calves). This was NOT cramping. I was in tears. Stretching and self massage provided no relief. I ended up eating a Lara bar after 20 minutes of this thinking it might help. The pain subsided after 30 minutes. Any ideas what may have caused this? I have never run on that few calories for that period of time before.

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If your body comp has changed drastically over the past 25 days of your Whole30, you may not have been eating enough to give you the margin needed to support 16 miles of technical running. You may have ran your tank dry during your first longish run. My guess is that you needed to eat more during the run. Maybe a jar of baby food every hour or every 45 minutes. And you might need to eat more day by day to have deeper reserves for long runs.

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Thanks. Just did a 7 mile very easy paced road recovery run and had the same leg sensation, albeit mild. I've been eating like a horse. I'm on day 30, today. Weighed in a few minutes ago. Went from 186 to 172 (14 pounds). Wonder if this has something to do with fat metabolism since my body has always relied on that next hit of carbs during a run...

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I agree with Tom, based on what you're saying I think maybe you just went too deep into your energy reserves and you bonked really hard.

But I guess I wonder if it wasn't actually really really bad cramps from electrolyte imbalance/depletion? I guess I'm wondering what the pain felt like and why you are so sure it wasn't "cramping".

Finally, I'd offer the follow... I never went through the kind of pain you're talking about when I went through my adjustment from the old carb heavy endurance training to a "fat adapted" endurance training. But I also "took it slow"... by which I mean, I basically started over again with slowing down, and making sure I was really doing zone 1 or zone 2 work and not pushing into zone 3-5.

You say it was "casual pace"... but you also say it was pretty technical. Do you know your HR/Zones? Or were you just running on Perceived Exertion?

Bob Seebohar (google him for more info. Metabolic Efficiency guru, US Olympic Triathlon Team Nutritionist, etc)... says that Metabolic Efficiency adaptation takes about 3 months.

Anyway... don't let this experience disuade you from continuing down this path. In the long run (YCWIDT) this nutritional framework will pay off big time!

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Brad, thanks for the reply. Definitely not cramps. I have gained enough experience with those from the past running in extreme heat to know the difference. I had the same sensations this morning on a recovery road run, but only mildly. My wife is an extremely accomplished ultra runner (100+ ultras w/ several wins) and she's at a loss what is causing this. We're from the camp that can run 100 miles on 2 to 3 gels an hour for an entire race, but obviously looking for a cleaner way of fueling.

Aware of my HR and don't use the traditional zones since I'm not keen on that level of festidious monitoring that is fairly common in the tri circles. I assure you I wasn't pushing it.

I've come to the conclusion that it's going to be a rough transition for me. Thankfully, these races won't be truly raced unless I get the adaptation soon.

Curious if you ran your 50m last April (yes, I"m resourceful ;) ) on Whole30 nutrition principles...


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May I suggest " Paleo for athletes" by Loren Cordain. Very concisely explain the five phases of recovery fueling

You probably aren't fueled properly and if you aren't properly recovered from even a shortish run, and are negative in the tank to start, no way your body can physically digest/convert enough glucose during a run to make a dent....

Add dehydration, change in alkalinity, plus you lost like 7% of your body mass.... You will adapt :)

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I started officially eating for "metabolic efficiency" around march 20, 2012. So I had been eating and fueling that way for about a month before running Mt Si.

I wasn't eating Whole 30 at the time, but I was pretty close. For example, I was gluten free, dairy free, and relatively sugar free/reduced. But more importantly, I was targeting 50% fat, 25/25% cho/pro for my diet in general and all of my race fuel.

In that race, I was fueling with water, and "date bombs" which were my own invention, and are totally whole 30 compatible. They are basically dates, stuffed with a dough made of nut butter (almond, hazelnut, macadamia nut, or postachio) and protein power (hemp or pumpkin). I also had some dark chocolate covered almonds at mile 40. Those had some sugar but no dairy. Clearly not w30.

But! Here's another important caveat. As I consider my nutrition history, I can say that I've actually been closer to MET/W30/Fat adapted for a long time, a couple years. I just didn't know it. At the start of 2012 I planned to "improve" my nutrition. I bought a ton of books on endurance athlete nutrition. They all said I needed to consume 60% CHO and I looked at my food logs and realized I was way way lower than that for the last couple years. Being gluten free didn't leave me as many options. So I started trying to eat tons of gluten free grains. I was really struggling. I felt aweful, bloated, my performance was suffering. I mentioned it to my coach and he turned me on to Bob Seebohar and MET. I was relieved because that was actually a lot closer to how I had already been eating.

I would rarely use gels on long training efforts and races. And when I did, they almost always back fired on me. The fewer calories I ate, the better it seems I'd do.

As I understand it, 3 gels per hour is actually quite a bit of carbohydrates. It might not seem like a lot of calories compared to what you're burning, but it's near to top of what most people can safely digest.

Anyway, I guess my point is: yes I was mostly eating in a whole 30 manner when I ran Mt Si. But not officially.

One last note: it's also possible to eat in a manner that is "whole 30 compliant" but still be dependent on carbohydrates for your endurance metabolism. Some of the suggestions I see here on this forum, would in my opinion reinforce the carbohydrates as fuel dependence that you get from other diets. You don't need higher carbohydrate whole foods like sweet potatoes and plantains to replenish your glycogen stores. Your body can replenish glycogen from any food you eat.

That being said its all about timing. And how different foods at what times will have the biggest positive impact on your performance. Which is why I totally second the recommendation for "The Paleo Diet for Athletes". Excellent book!

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One last note: it's also possible to eat in a manner that is "whole 30 compliant" but still be dependent on carbohydrates for your endurance metabolism. Some of the suggestions I see here on this forum, would in my opinion reinforce the carbohydrates as fuel dependence that you get from other diets. You don't need higher carbohydrate whole foods like sweet potatoes and plantains to replenish your glycogen stores. Your body can replenish glycogen from any food you eat.

While I do think that you are spot on there, I think there is also another problem for many people who are new to this and who are coming from a heavily carb focussed background. And that problem is to get in enough calories in the first place.

(And it may well be Farmboy's problem, too. Personally I suspect some sort of electrolyte imbalance as the immediate cause of the pain, but maybe that could also be caused by not eating enough.)

My impression from following this forum for the last three weeks is that the majority of people who have problems are eating nowhere near enough.

When switching from refined carbs to whole foods, the calorie density drastically decreases, and the volume of food has to drastically increase. I think many people just don't realise how much of a caloric punch those carbs were packing.

And I think sweet potatoes, plantains and the like help them to get those calories in (a through their caloric density, b as vehicles for extra fat, and c possibly by the higher carb induced bigger appetite), hence they work, hence they keep getting recommended.

Disclaimer: I don't really know what I'm talking about, but I love all of Brad's posts and I like thinking and talking about those topics :)

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Another book I recommend is "Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat" by Bob Seebohar.

It's not strictly Whole 30, but all of it's suggestions synch with the Whole 30 philosophy. And there's nothing in MET that is contradictory to Whole30. So you can follow the advice in MET and the advice in W30 and get the benefits of both.

Here are some "highlights" from the kindle version of MET...

If the majority of your training is aerobically based with very little, if any, intensity and you do not have workouts that are glycogen depleting (as defined as longer than 3 hours or of high intensity), there is simply no need to eat to “recover†after training sessions.
...eating too many carbohydrates without protein or fat can spike your blood insulin thereby significantly reducing your body's ability to oxidize fat.
The key to improving metabolic efficiency is having a small feeding that is well-balanced (not comprised of all high carbohydrate foods but one that includes lean protein and healthy fat) in the hour or two leading up to your training session to ensure that you are not “turning off †your fat burning processes.

Note: that last highlight is an example of what I mean about the advice to carbs before workouts is not good for metabolic efficiency.

Do not, I repeat, do not consume any sports nutrition products that contain calories (sports drinks, gels, bars, chews, etc.) throughout the day or before, during or after training.
Training at higher intensities will improve lactate threshold, economy and possibly VO2max but will not induce macronutrient partitioning that improves fatty acid metabolism to the extent that aerobic training will. An athlete who is more aerobically conditioned can use more fat as energy at higher intensities and this can provide a glycogen sparing effect (preserving internal stores of carbohydrate).

That last quote speaks to the discussion Fenderbender and I were having about why being metabolically efficient can help with "sprint" or "burst" performance in the middle of an endurance effort.

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Great discussion and greatly appreciated!

Funny that I never did the math to realize I lost 7% body mass in 30 days. Officially, finished W30 yesterday! Before I began the program, I was heavily reliant on carbs, especially refined. Plus, I consumed a lot of sugar & dairy and it had been that way my entire life. Now, I am eating a much larger percentage of my daily intake in fats and more protein, which freaked me out at first since I've always been cautious of fat intake, but the weight started melting off after 2 weeks and that's when I began ramping back up the training (took the first 2 weeks of training very easy). I'll have to evaluate my food consumption. I feel like I've been eating like a horse so was suprised at the body comp change and how quickly it occurred.

Interesting thing is when I do my quality runs (intervals, tempo, hill sprints/repeats), I don't have those leg sensations after those hard efforts. All of my runs are done in the early a.m. Usually, starting around 5 to 5:30am. I'm in a fasted state and only have a cup of tea before starting--no calories before or during the run. I do eat a full meal immediately afterwards.

At the end of the day, it appears I'm going to have to adjust expectations for the next few months of racing. It will be difficult mentally at the end of this month not to go out with the lead pack in a race, but unless I can dial in this problem it will get really ugly on the trail. I'll pick up the paleo for athletes book for fueling ideas.

Again, appreciate all the info! :D

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Btw, I googled "leg pain sugar" the results were actually kinda alarming. I still think all of your issues is related to not eating enough food in general. But you might want to go to the doctor and just make sure there isn't something way more serious going on.

Good luck. And congrats on finishing whole 30!

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My bet is still on the ratio of fat/protein/carb..... It doesn't matter how well " fat adapted" you are, once you cross your individual anaerobic threshold, your body will use muscle glycogen as its prime energy source. You can and will spare your muscle glycogen reserves ( sometimes as much as 40-50%) if you have eaten/trained for maximum intracellular triglycerides, and your lactic acid/ glycogenesis pathways are efficient.

Sooooo..... What may be going on your acid/ alkaline ratio of your food sources if you are eating a lot of "acid sources" protein/ fat and not Enough " alkaline" fruit and veg sources..... Your body will adjust to what ever you eat to stay at ph (I believe it's 7.2) and to do that, it will start leaching calcium,magnesium,etc form your bones and muscles to due so= very bad..... As you said you were very carb dependent( before W30 ) and that's a very alkaline diet.... Try upping/doubling.... your veg/starchy veg/fruit intake and see what happens

Just a stab in the dark.... Certainly can't hurt to eat more veg/ fruit especially if you lost so much body mass already

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I'm really enjoying this discussion!

Farmboy I think I know what you are talking about. This past Sunday I did a very technical 20+ miles and about 15 mins after finishing my quads and calves hurt. Not cramping, there was no "locking up" of the muscles. They could still move and they felt restless, like I needed to just keep moving and stretching but it didn't help any. It went away after about 10 minutes. I've had this a few times before after very long runs, so it didn't surprise me. I don't know if I'd call them severe; that's a relative term depending on the person. They weren't like lightning-strike cramping pain, more of a sharp generalized ache throughout the tissue.

I thought it was my hydration--I consumed only 70oz. But in reading these posts I'm wondering about the nutrition. I have a tendency to not eat or drink enough in long runs. I started fat adaptation only last fall and this is my longest run for me since. In the 5.5-ish hours, all I ate was a Lara bar, some Trader Joe's plantain chips, and about a cup of salted caramelized coconut flakes. (My first time trying those--worked great!). My pace was easy, walking up hills and as needed. I wasn't sweating (too cooooold) so I don't think it was electrolytes, but I could be misjudging that since it's hard for me to measure sweat rate in the cold.

I usually include gels on long runs like this, alternating real food and fake food. I wanted to try avoiding the fake foods on this run as a test. I measure my need for food by mental focus-- when I start tripping, stumbling, making mistakes, and a losing positive outlook that's usually my sign to EAT. With the gels and bars, I need to eat every 35-45 mins. But on this run I felt great throughout and my energy stayed even. I got a little sloppy towards the end, but I was very surprised at how few carbs I ate given how good I felt.

So now this discussion has me wondering if I should focus on the nutrition instead. Good thing I have another run coming up this weekend. I will try adding in a lara bar and more carbs to see how it goes.

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Double thumbs up on Fenderbender's comments. Food balance effects alkaline balance and it's very important for athletes to understand this, since physical fitness directly impacts this formula.

There's lots more information on this in "The Paleo Diet for Athletes" which both Fenderbender and I have recommended.

FWIW, this is what I mean by "electrolyte balance"... electrolytes do lots of important jobs in your body, and one of them is helping keep your overall pH balance in order. Sodium isn't the only electrolyte. Calcium, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium are also important electrolytes.

No one has talked about what kinds of electrolyte supplements they're using on long runs. I'm not sure the official "Whole30" stance on things like "Sports Legs", "Endurolytes", or "Salt Stick" but, I absolutely know that if I don't make sure to take my electrolyte tabs at least once every 90 minutes, I am guaranteed to get leg pain. (Note: I would call these cramps, but now that I think about it, it's not the same as a spasming muscle, so maybe that is the same thing Farmboy and LucieB are describing.)

To Fenderbender's point about acid/alkaline balance. Here's a quick list of foods that increase and decrease acidity/alkalinity:

Source: "Potential Renal Acid Load of Foods and its Influence on Urine pH" Remer, Thomas, PhD; Manz,Friedrich, MD

Alternate Source: "The Paleo Diet for Athletes", Cordain, Loren, PhD; Friel, Joe, MS

Acid/Base Values of Food 100g Portions

  • Acid Foods (+)
    • Grains:
      • Brown Rice +12.5
      • Rolled Oats +10.7
      • Whole Wheat Bread +8.2
      • Spaghetti +7.3
      • White Rice +4.6
      • White Bread +3.7


      • Parmesan Cheese +34.2
      • Processed Cheese +28.7
      • Hard Cheese +19.2
      • Cottage Cheese +8.7
      • Whole Milk +0.7


      • Peanuts +8.3
      • Lentils +3.5
      • Peas +1.2

      [*]Meats, Eggs, Fish

      • Trout +10.8
      • Turkey +9.9
      • Chicken +8.7
      • Eggs +8.1
      • Pork +7.9
      • Beef +7.8
      • Cod +7.1
      • Herring +7.0

    [*]Alkaline Foods (-)

    • Fruits:
      • Raisins -21.0
      • Black Currants -6.5
      • Bananas -5.5
      • Apricots -4.8
      • Kiwi -4.1
      • Cherries -3.6
      • Pears -2.9
      • Pineapple -2.7
      • Peaches -2.4
      • Apples -2.2
      • Watermelon -1.9


      • Spinach -14.0
      • Celery -5.2
      • Carrots -4.9
      • Zucchini -4.6
      • Cauliflower -4.0
      • Broccoli -1.2

Ok... so... how do we interpret this table? Well, the key here is that your body will try to balance it's pH. The more things you eat that are acidic, the more your body needs either alkaline foods, or it will get calcium, magnesium, and other electrolytes from your body tissue to balance it out. If your pH is severely out of balance for an extended period of time... YOU DIE. Your body won't let that happen, it will get the electrolytes it needs from your tissue.

Another thing to note... consider how many raisins it takes to get to 100g! Or how much spinach!? That's a lot of fruit and vegetables to get the balance from the "extra" meat you might be eating. The good news is on Whole30, you're not eating grains, dairy, and legumes, so you are in good shape there. But you are eating more meat and eggs. And so you have to balance it out with more vegetables.

It also turns out that researches have determined the raw building blocks of what in these foods make your blood more acidic or alkaline. Google PRAL or "Potential Renal Acid Load". The formula is simple:


Here's a tool, based on research that will calculate the acid/alkaline balance for ANY food, or for your daily food intake.


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Oh and good thing the government web site has the nutritional values.... I had a quick flashback to 9th grade and solving quadratic equations. ( I'm so anal I did a few just to see if I remembered). LOL Wow, algebra is a skill you lose if not practiced .... And I scored a 98 on the NY Regents and tested out of calc 1st year university!!! Use it or lose it!!!!

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This is a great discussion! I have a half marathon in a month, and I have a couple quesitons about nutrition during. I'm doing 8-10 mile walk/runs right now and I haven't felt hungry during those. I did get "cloudy headed" toward the end of the 10 mile one. And last week I had a couple of days of feeling cranky, crying, which I think was due in part to not enough food overall. I try to make sure I eat sweet potato/apples and the night before or at breakfast if I'm doing an afternoon run.

So should I be adding a supplement in? I got baby food for this, is a lara bar better? not sure I can eat and run :) The gu grosses me out and in the past I've done peanut butter/honey mixture with good results. Since I'm not eating peanutbutter I wonder if an almond butter/honey mixture would work?

The most aswesome thing is, I am NOT sore after, The last half I trainied for was four years ago and I hurt doing that, during the runs and after. This time, I just feel good. I think thats due to paleo over the last year.

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