Impact of Endurance Running on Cholesterol

Exercise Impact Infographic

Exercise Impact Infographic

(Huff) (huff) (huff)… “I’d better be right about this…” I thought.

I was on the fifth mile of a seven mile training run, and was not love’n it. It wouldn’t have been so bad had I been following the training schedule, but I wasn’t. I was woefully undertrained. I was holding off endurance exercise as long as possible for my research because I had speculated all along that it would impact my lipid numbers.

Indeed, it was my plan all along to have a long Low Exercise Phase followed by long High Exercise Phase. This way each group of blood tests could be distinct from each other to compare.

I was certainly all set to find out. In just a five month span my wife and I had several runs scheduled, including four half marathons and one full marathon. So if there were differences to be found, I was pretty confident they would be showing up!

Let’s take a look at the timeline before delving into the results.

My wife and I as Groot and Rocket for the Disney Avengers Half Marathon

My wife and I as Groot and Rocket for the Disney Avengers Half Marathon

  • August 22nd – Training and exercise phase starts
  • Sept 19th – Blood test (followed two days after the 7 mile training run mentioned above)
  • Sept 24th, 25th – 10k and half marathon – Couldn’t do blood tests as we were in Paris
  • ** => October 3rd – 12th – Extreme Drop Experiment and Ketogains Seminar presentation <= **
  • ** => October 5th, 7th, 10th, 12thBlood tests for Extreme Drop Experiment <= **
  • October 21st, 24th – Blood test
  • November 5th-6th – 10k and half marathon
  • November 7th – Blood test
  • November 12th-13th – 10k and half marathon
  • November 14th – Blood test
  • November 21st – Blood test
  • December 20th – Blood test
  • January 4th-8th – 5k, 10k, half marathon (canceled), full marathon
  • January 9th – Blood test
  • January 10th – Restart low exercise / sedentary phase
  • January 26th – Blood test
  • February 9th – Blood test

** NOTE: I had to intentionally remain sedentary throughout Ketogains experiment given I assumed it would impact my lipid numbers and create confounders. Thus, the below graphs exclude the blood tests of October 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th 2016 given they didn’t include the exercise/training within.

Endurance Running Effect on LDL-C

Okay, now let’s get to the graphs. As usual, I present the left and right axis in relative terms so you can see the obvious relationship. Thus, the one of the left starts at the bottom with -10 and goes upward to 490 with the one on the right starting at 120 and going to 400.

exercise_ldlc_positive

And now we’ll flip the left axis to show the inverse correlation, so it will now start with 490 at the bottom and go up to -10.

exercise_ldlc_negative_graph

Voila! You can now see a number of things:

  • In the Low Exercise Phase in the first 2/3rds of the graph you can see the tight inverse correlation between my three day dietary fat (in dashed orange) and the resulting LDL-C score (in solid blue). Of course this is very old news to me now, but if you’re just joining us and you’re finding yourself stunned, you probably haven’t watched my recent presentation at Low Carb Breckenridge or read my series of posts regarding these patterns.
  • Given the pattern on the left, we can see how our expected trend line pattern is as it comes into the High Exercise Phase on the right 1/3rd. And as is immediately apparent, the LDL-C trends comes in generally lower than we would expect on the Low Exercise Phase.
  • The two largest gaps are the first data point at the very beginning phase and the last one at the end.
    • Per my story above, the first one is the blood test following a sudden entry into the running schedule without much conditioning before it. It was miserable and I was especially sore, to no surprise.
    • The last one was a Monday blood test following four days and three races: 5k / Thursday, 10k / Friday, full marathon / Sunday. Naturally I was extremely sore and spent following this as well. (I also did an experiment inside the marathon as well which proved interesting)

My original hypothesis definitely had some considerably evidence behind it now. But before I break it out, let’s look at the other markers…

Endurance Running Effect on LDL-P

exercise_ldlp_positive

Again, LDL-P appears to have a far stronger correlation when applying a two day gap between its three day window of dietary fat and the resulting blood test.

You know the drill, let’s flip that left axis to show the inverse correlation…

exercise_ldlp_negative_graph

Like LDL-C, we see the first and last data points providing the largest gaps from the original Inversion Pattern.

Endurance Running Effect on Triglycerides

Now let’s get to Triglycerides. Note that triglycerides are a lot “noisier” with far less correlation than the above metrics. But you might be surprised to know that this is the marker I was most interested in throughout this phase. More on that in a moment…

exercise_trig_positive

Now let’s flip that axis on the left…

exercise_trig_negative_graph

Even with all that high deviation, we can clearly tell there is a massive pull down of trigs following the major endurance events (half and full marathons) creating huge gaps in the trend lines.

HDL-C Trends as Expected

I genuinely didn’t know what would happen with HDL-C and sure enough, the answer was nothing unusual…

exercise_hdlc_positive_graph

Less LDL-C and LDL-P Suggests Higher Repair

Early on in my research I learned about “receptor mediated endocytosis” which is basically cells engulfing lipoproteins entirely. This is commonly done so cells can use the parts that make up an LDL particle for their own repair, which includes cholesterol and phospholipids. This led me to assume (rightly, as it turns out) that there would be a drop in my lipid measurements if my body were in the process of cellular repair such as from muscle maintenance following a run, removing more of the LDL-P from circulation.

The two biggest gaps above with LDL-C and LDL-P happened to be the first and last data points. And indeed, these were the two toughest periods for me, the first where I jumped right in the middle of the training schedule and the second following the grueling marathon week. Both times I was noticeably sore on my way to the blood draw.

This is also why I’ve held off on resistance training and plan to make it a phase by itself. I suspect more intensive muscle repair will likewise draw down LDL-P and LDL-C from the expected pattern.

I’m sure many will read this and feel it reinforces the reason to get exercise in order to remove these elements from the blood stream. But I don’t necessarily buy into that. I think many other things about exercise are far more relevant to cardiovascular health such as increased sheer stress.

The Critical Triglyceride Connection

So why was I so particularly interested in triglycerides? Because my body is primarily fueled by it, hello!

As I state over and over and over again, the lipid system is first and foremost about “energy distribution”; it’s primary job is to distribute triglycerides. Yes yes yes, it wears many other hats and I know all about them — but it can be easily debated that from an activity, payload, and contact standpoint its most destined of all jobs is distributing energy from fat. (Sure, we have some amount of these fatty acids being broken down for ketones as well, but they are still in second place for cellular usage ATP-to-ATP relative to trigs brought by LDL particles)

And that’s why I speculated that my trig scores would be extremely low following the big races, which is exactly what happened! Bear in mind I would have preferred taking the blood test in the minutes following the race, but had to wait until the following day given the blood labs aren’t open on Sundays when all the long races took place. As such, there was probably an even higher level of trigs in my bloodstream due to the food I ate following the race that afternoon and evening.

To recap:

  • Trigs following 11/6/16 races: 27
  • Trigs following 11/13/16 races: 42
  • Trigs following 1/8/17 races: 31

Unsurprisingly, all three were the lowest triglyceride scores I’ve ever had (my average is 91).

So one more time… if you want to understand cholesterol, start by understanding how your cells get their energy! Otherwise you’ll keep looking at the passengers and not the drivers.

Two Years Later…

before_after

As of today I will have been on a low carb, ketogenic diet for two years.

If you had told me when I started that (A) my cholesterol would skyrocket, (B) I’d become obsessed with researching new patterns around it, and (C) I’d get the data from these patterns by intensive self-experimentation and frequent blood draws (55 so far) — I’d have said you were out of your mind.

In some alternate universe where the Inversion Pattern didn’t exist, I’d have noticed nothing new beyond the research already out there and would have likely found some alternate, middle-ground diet that mitigated my lipid numbers while staying relatively low carb. Hey, I might yet do that anyway.

For now I’m obsessively punching though these experiments to isolate key variables that I hope will get me closer to the data I’m looking for. And yes, I’m a bit behind in reporting them here, but I promise they are on their way. Here’s a running slate of what I’ve already done and will be posting on soon:

  • The Effect of Endurance Running on my Cholesterol – I’ll detail what happened between August of 2016 to January of 2017 when I both trained and ran several races.
  • The Egg and Cheese Only Experiment – Just like it sounds, but even more controlled in that I ate to specific quantities and on a very set time table.
  • The Fasting Experiment – I did it, but I won’t be doing it again. You’ll see why soon…
  • The Egg, Cheese, and Whole Milk Experiment – Intentional addition of lactose to test impact on glucose, insulin and the lipid profile.
  • The Meal Replacement Experiment – 10 days of a keto meal replacement which started yesterday.

And yes, I know I need to wrap up Part III of my Simple Guide to Cholesterol Series as well. But that may still be a bit further down the road given current responsibilities.

Speaking of current responsibilities, I should note my next speaking engagement will be on the Low Carb Cruise sailing for Alaska next month (May 19th).

It should be emphasized once again that I actually don’t make a dime from this life pursuit, my income is from my career in software engineering. Most of the blood testing I’ve done to this point has come out of my own savings and easily qualifies as the most expensive hobby I’ve ever had. (Which is pretty funny when you think about the fact that it involves so many challenging experiments and painful blood draws… there are probably more enjoyable pastimes to blow money on!) The point being, while I’d love to do this 24/7, I still have to take a significant amount of time to add back to the funding I need to move forward. So when I have drop off periods, this is usually the reason why.

Watch This Video

General topics covered:

  • I explain my cholesterol increased after going low carb and then drove me to learn everything I could about it
  • The lipid system appears to be extremely similar to a software network in many ways
  • I record everything I ingest and take a myriad of blood tests in a series of constant N=1 experiments
  • The Inversion Pattern and how the previous three days of diet impact cholesterol test results significantly, and in the reverse (see graphic below)
  • The Identical Diet experiment where my sister and I ate exactly the same food for 13 days with extremely close correlations
  • The Extreme Drop experiment where I manipulated my cholesterol numbers with diet around the first presentation of my research
  • Shared the data of many others who have likewise done the protocol to prove the Inversion Pattern

3-day-inverse-corr2

The Big Breck Out

To say Low Carb Breckenridge was an outstanding conference would be an understatement. It was probably the single largest turning point for my message so far.

I was invited to speak on Sunday at 2:30pm. Once there, I kept tweaking and updating my presentation throughout the conference. Like every speaker, I was limited to 30 minutes, which felt woefully short for everything I wanted to share. Fortunately, Zoe Harcombe, Ivor Cummins, and Jeffry Gerber all preceded me and talked about some of the basics of cholesterol and its risk (or lack thereof). This gave me room to cut out these sections from my own piece and focus mainly on my data and the theory behind it.

When giving the presentation, I seemed to have finally found the right shape to my message. Almost everyone — doctor and layperson alike — seemed to understand it! There was clearly a new level of penetration for this information.

My main objectives were met:

  • Introducing everyone to the data I was collecting.
  • Describing the theory behind it.
  • Most importantly, educating everyone on the lipid system’s primary purpose: to distribute energy from fat. I never feel I can emphasize this enough, even if it is very self-evident to me. Once everyone understands this basic tenant along with my data, then everything falls into place.
  • Bringing in all the data from everyone else who has participated in the protocol, showing how to manipulate their cholesterol numbers as well.

Photo by Andy Harcombe

My presentation (and everyone else’s) will be available until the end of the week via online streaming. Otherwise it will presumably go on YouTube eventually, but I have no control over that timing.

Ironically, I originally considered passing on it and instead going to the main conference put on by the National Lipid Association to present my data. However, I wasn’t getting a lot of confidence it would be received there.

The rest of the conference was likewise incredible. I was staying in a house rented by the 2 Keto Dudes community hosting almost a dozen of us. It was a surprisingly cook-centric collective where some of the most amazing meals were prepared.

I also got to meet and chat with some of the real giants of the Low Carb way of life and many I hadn’t known of before. The field is expanding so quickly compared to when I was first looking into it – just two short years ago!

All in all, it was one of the best experiences both as a participant and as a contributor.

 

A Simple Guide to Cholesterol on Low Carb – Part II

In A Simple Guide to Cholesterol on Low Carb Part I, I gave a very broad overview of LDL particles and their important cargo along with common misconceptions about this subject within a low carb, high fat diet.

Without question, the guide was the most visited post on my blog. And many of my followers have remarked on how helpful the graphics were in getting across the information. So I decided to get ambitious with Parts II and III and tell it more as a visual story. In short – more graphics, less blog text. Enjoy!

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