Running and exercise during a prolonged fast

I’ve been considering a three-day fast for some time now. Extended fasts have been credited with a range of potential health benefits, including ‘resetting’ the immune system. Although the scientific jury is still out in terms of credible research studies, anecdotally fasting is thought to have helped people over generations to refresh systems in the body. As someone who’s recently been diagnosed with Lyme Disease and epilepsy from hydrocephalus, I’m keen to find new ways to manage my symptoms – as well as having the energy to run long distances in ultra-training.

Starting a three-day fast

I’ve just finished a three-week course of antibiotics for the Lyme’s, so I gave myself one day’s ‘rest’ before attempting my first 72-hour fast.

I’m not coming into fasting cold. It’s worth pointing out a couple of things here. First, I’ve been doing intermittent fasting (IF) for several years now with good results. So, I made the decision to continue with an IF schedule after being diagnosed with Lyme Disease, albeit keeping a closer eye on how I was feeling. I cut short my fasts if I feel in any way hungry or out of sorts – which, to be honest, is rare. In theory, fasting should help my immune system to knock the bacteria responsible for the Disease’s symptoms out of my system (known as Borrelia Burgdorferi).

Running through the fast

I’ve maintained a run streak since the end of last year. It’s seen me through epilepsy, Lyme Disease and loads of other ‘life’ stuff. It made sense, therefore, to keep it going in some way during a longer fast. In fact, fasting often goes hand in hand with exercise for those serious about doing it over a longer term. Obviously, it needs some caution in terms of the kinds of exercise, duration and intensity, during restricted calorie intake.

The app Zero is incredibly useful when it comes to planning a fast, as well as giving me access to a community who can provide guidance and tips. I’m a Zero Plus member (I’m not paid to talk about them!) which works brilliantly for me.

Planning exercise during the fast

Day 1: A 3-mile run, sandwiched by two 15-minute rows on the WaterRower.

Day 2: Same as day one

Day 3: Same as days one and two, with 2.4 miles run rather than 3.

My ‘runs’ were slow – we’re talking 14-minutes a mile – which was partly to do with my return from Lyme Disease and partly me trying to maintain a heart rate under 140bpm. By the third day, I didn’t have much energy left in the tank!

How I felt

I was surprised at how well I felt during the three days. The first day was straightforward, which was perhaps to be expected as I regularly do an 18 or 20-hour fast. Day two was OK; my concentration and energy seemed fine and I had no problems maintaining performance at work.

Interestingly, starting the 72-hour fast triggered Zero to send me a link to a short video about which supplements to take during a prolonged fast. It said that maintaining sodium levels is key, as well as supplementing with Magnesium L-Threonate, so I’ve ordered some for the next fast.

What I drank during the fast

Breakfast was two mugs of water with my epilepsy meds, followed by a cup of black coffee. After my morning exercise and shower, I would have a second and final cup of black coffee for the day. During the day, I drank lots of water and either green or peppermint tea. For ‘dinner’, I had a mug of bouillon with hot water. There’s less than 1g of dextrose in the bouillon, but the advice from Zero was that the impact on the fast was negligible given the positive additions of sodium and some flavour!

Ending the fast

I’d planned to break my fast with a cheese and anchovy salad (which I love!) followed by a vegetable curry on Saturday evening. I felt fine at lunchtime but overdid things gardening in the afternoon and came into the house feeling lightheaded at 3pm. So, I made the salad and broke my fast two and a half hours earlier than planned – which I’m happy enough with.

The day after

I didn’t overeat on Saturday evening and woke up at 5am on the Sunday. That first breakfast was a cup of milky tea, two slides of peanut butter on toast and my usual supplements (which I’d paused during the fast). I felt sharp apart from some minor aches in my right hip and leg which are probably down to the Lyme’s.

After the usual warm-up row, I did a 10-mile run/walk followed by the usual row cool-down. My goal for the run was to complete the distance without letting my heart rate go above 130bpm. In reality, I averaged 140bpm, but that’s not bad. It must be said that I had no energy in my legs but I was happy enough. I’d completed my first prolonged fast, maintained my run streak, and felt a lot closer to resetting my body as I work at clearing Lyme Disease from my system.

What’s next?

I had a place booked in the Centurion Running A100 on 10th October but cancelled this week. When a 3 mile run at sub-13 minute mile feels like a victory, you know it’s time to reset priorities…. So I am planning to focus my winter training around low HR aerobic runs as outlined by Dr Maffetone in his brilliant book to help me regain health and fitness in a sustainable way.

I’d love to hear from you if you are recovering from a chronic condition or illness and run. Let me know your tips or ask me any questions in the comments below.


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