This week’s show is with Tawnee Prazak, a holistic endurance coach who specializes in optimizing your health and your performance at the same time. You’re about to learn how to become fat-adapted for endurance sports, how to reduce cortisol and avoid overtraining, and how stress affects your health.
If you’re an endurance athlete, if you’ve hit a plateau in your training, or if you can’t figure out why you’re not losing weight despite rigorous workouts, you don’t want to miss this show!
After years giving all her heart to triathlon and endurance racing, Tawnee Prazak took a step back to optimize overall health and wellness, and her journey offers a changing perspective on what it means to be fit.
In this show, you’ll learn:
- How to fine-tune your nutrition for endurance sports
- How to reduce cortisol and avoid overtraining
- Steps to increase performance without sacrificing health
- Why you should eat more fat (especially if you’re an athlete)
- And much more…
TAWNEE PRAZAK: FOR THE WIN (OR MAYBE JUST FOR FUN)
Tawnee Prazak is a Laguna Beach based holistic endurance coach focused on triathlons, running, ultras, etc. She is also the host of Endurance Planet, a performance and wellness blogger, and she’s definitely earned her stripes at this point.
Tawnee, what have you been doing for the past ten years in endurance sports and how does diet play into your journey?
I got into triathlons my senior year in college. I love the endurance sports world, everything about it. I ended up making my career out of it. I went to grad school to study kinesiology emphasizing exercise physiology and strength conditioning, which was interesting because my bachelor’s was in journalism. My intention was to build a career out of coaching. Meanwhile, I was racing a ton, from half marathons to Ironmans to Half Ironmans.
For most of my twenties I was racing about once a month. At this point I’ve done 60 -70 endurance races, and consistently placed in the top ten if not on the podium every race.
“There was an added pressure to perform, to get better and faster. I had that drive and motivation. It was my whole world, and it was so much fun.”
But there comes a point where what started off innocently enough can take a turn, then it’s not so fun. When you’ve reached that point of diminishing returns.
I found that I was moodier and more irritable. I was navigating that tricky world of nutrition and diet—the highs and lows—and my health started to tank. I knew it. I felt it. I could see the results in the races I was doing. It wasn’t something you could just push through.
In my role as a coach—someone who studies this stuff at a master’s level—knowing how systems are integrated, I took a step back and dove into figuring out what was going on. This new adventure started in 2013—it was about reaching that bottom and building back up using new tools and resources… without going the Western medicine approach. Without putting a bandaid on it, but by rebuilding my body naturally and holistically. That got me to where I am now.
I know it’s hard putting it into one piece of advice, but if there’s one thing you want people to know about that journey, what is it?
Easy: Listen to your body.
Especially in endurance sports and triathlons. We get addicted to the idea of a training plan and what needs to be done for a certain race, a pace, or a time goal. But that can be disconnected from what your body is trying to tell you.
What does that mean?
Just understanding what that means is a journey in and of itself. This is kind of what I’ve honed in on with my podcast. A lot of the shows are Q and A based, but it’s really hard to always give concrete answers when the real answer is, “It depends.”
I was a late-twenties female athlete who had been racing hard for a decade. What works for me is going to be different than what works for a 50+ male working full time with a family. His needs are different.
I’ve really angled my coaching as holistic because there are all these pieces of the puzzle that work together to optimize health and performance.
HOW TO TRAIN FOR LONG-TERM HEALTH
What are some of the traps people fall into?
Nutrition and diet is one trap. Some of the red flags are things like irritability, mood swings, inability to keep up a normal workout. Sometimes I’ll go running a route I run all the time in the neighborhood, and I know where my heart rate and pace should be at a given place on that route. If my heart rate is slower or if I have to walk, then there’s a red flag and it’s sometimes better to walk away from that workout.
Then there’s diet and nutrition related to weight loss or weight gain. You often see athletes even working out so hard, but they can’t lose weight. It doesn’t make sense. That’s when I say, “Let’s see what’s going on inside.” They need to check cortisol levels among other things, especially females.
Each individual has to figure out, “What’s going to be optimal for me?”
Coaching athletes and also trying to be healthy yourself—how do you find that balance?
“My whole thing is trying to help athletes optimize health and performance, but health FIRST.”
If you want to still be optimized years from now, health has to come first. It starts with looking at what the athlete is presenting to begin with, then we start tackling all the things:
- Hormonal state
- Balanced training
- Heart rate (instead of how fast you think you should be running)
With women, a lot is the psychology. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform a certain way, to look a certain way, to act and feel and be a certain way, to be all these perfect things. But what it comes down to is that these are our stressors.
When your health and performance is declining, how do you dig yourself out of that?
For so many athletes, their identity is tied to their sport. So, the first step is acceptance. Going back to that year for me… we were training for the Ironman Tahoe and had qualified for the 70.3 Championships, two weeks apart. The podcast was growing so that was an added pressure. Let’s just say I saw weird things happening and those two races were not pretty endings.
After that Ironman, I said, “Alright, something’s gotta change here.” I had already taken blood and saliva tests to measure cortisol and female hormones. The results showed that there was evidence of hitting rock bottom. The question was, “Why should I keep going?” Something needs to change.
I decided to look at this new journey as if it was its own race, its own thing I needed to train for.
If you’re the type of person that needs to see that race on the calendar to get you up in the morning, then you just need to change your perspective on it. It’s just that desire to have a goal. So, how can we make achieving one’s health a goal in itself?
There’s a message given to women that says: Go on birth control to balance out hormones, and in the meantime eat more and train less to achieve balance. But especially with birth control, it’s not a way most people should go. It’s not a solution, it’s a bandaid.
The question really is, why is the period going away in the first place? It’s usually stress-related rather than the training.
How do you do something inherently stressful – like endurance training – without too much cortisol or the damaging kind of stress?
You have to give yourself some time off to get rid of that compulsive need to exercise. For me, it was parting ways with my coach and not being told what workout to do.
This is when I started getting into backpacking, paddleboarding, mountain biking—things with a completely different connotation. They were about getting outside and connecting with nature, not about competition.
Can you talk about the benefits of strength training?
I wish I could keep more muscle mass, but women just don’t have that level of testosterone, and it’s just not going to happen. Some women bulk up a little more, but if your diet is out of whack, you’re not going to achieve results either.
I know some women who and are really muscular, but I think they were cut for those professions, not the other way around.
But yes, strength training is actually a huge component in bringing back hormonal health. You can get into a heavy routine where you’re depleting yourself, and the strength training can come in and replenish some of these hormones. You’ll get the right testosterone surge and other hormones, and you just look better—your skin, hair, nails.
Plus, it just feels good to be strong. It doesn’t feel good to be weak.
When I was running marathons, I was 147 pounds. Now I’m 167 and maintain the muscle. I like it better this way.
I did a standup paddleboard race a couple weeks ago, and I had this surge of hormones. I felt so strong, verses when I’d complete a triathlon, I just wanted to keel over and die.
So how do you reintroduce exercise safely?
“Listen to your body. We need to take a more moderate approach and not just jump back into intensity. Let the journey unfold as it will.”
I recently did an open marathon, and my goal was to stay healthy. I took a very different approach—I had the goal of qualifying for Boston, but it was a realistic goal. I trained in a way where I was scratching my head asking, “Am I doing enough for this?” And it worked.
I was letting go of that drive and impulse to be overly addicted. There’s something called the Math Method. It’s where you take 180 and subtract your age, and then train at that heart rate. For me, it was 150. That’s how I did all my training. You stay healthy and you’re not dipping into too much intensity while getting a good workout.
If something’s going on, you may not be increasing in performance or your health is sliding, or something is out of whack—it’s not just about what you’re doing in training, it’s about all of living that makes a difference.
THE LOW-CARB, HIGH-FAT DIET FOR ENDURANCE TRAINING
What’s your experience with keto-adaptation and low carb high fat endurance training?
It’s a fun area of interest to me because there’s so much good information that’s really challenging conventional ways.
Early on, I had the seed planted to know better than fuel on sugar. I still bought into gu, gels, and sugar fuels. But slamming down gels didn’t seem right to me, so the idea of being able to train on less sugar gained momentum. It was intriguing for sure. It wasn’t about eliminating all sugar, but about being more careful about fueling.
There’s a lot of research looking at low-fat, high-carb endurance athletes. But with a higher fat, lower carb diet, you become fat adapted, which means you can use fat for fuel and spare your glucose. This means you don’t need to fuel as often and there’s less fuel needed for racing, so less GI issues. It’s looking at things from a health perspective and not just a performance perspective.
On a high-fat, low carb diet, you can:
- Recover more quickly
- Put on lean muscle mass
- Eliminate the sugar spikes and crashes
Bringing the higher fat approach keeps you stable throughout training and racing, which is especially beneficial for endurance. With an aerobic approach, it makes sense to combine it with fat in your dietary plan instead of being a sugar-burner carb addict.
Back to my own journey, when i started experimenting with it—I didn’t eliminate all carbs nor did I go into a ketogenic state—but I was still overtraining. At that time, low-carb high-fat made it worse because I was in a bad spot to begin with. I was frustrated that something so magical and promising wasn’t working for me.
But I’m glad because it lead me to getting my health back. I’m pretty low-carb high fat right now, but I’m definitely not at the stress levels and training levels I was before. Now it’s about how I can time carbs appropriately to feel best and fuel workouts. It’s also about what carb sources work for me and which ones don’t.
“I think at the end of the day, endurance athletes really need to understand that more fat in the diet is only going to work for them, not against them. And it’s the carbs and sugar that are proving to be more of an evil and detrimental to their health and performance.”
But, the sports marketing companies can’t sell bacon-fat gels. How are they going to make money off of eating more fat? It’s not good for business.
HOW TO CONTROL CARBS
Let’s talk about your tinkering around with carbs and low carb. Which carbs are bad and good? What did you find out?
I had another issue that stemmed from a carb-based diet—I was having fermented foods, and yeast-based products, like beer. This is where these functional health tests come into play. I didn’t know I had a bacterial overgrowth until I got the functional testing—I had the symptoms, but I didn’t know what they were from.
Keto is 50 grams of carbs or less a day, which is extreme for an athlete. I know Ben Greenfield did it. He’s not keto anymore as far as i know.
It’s about “How can I achieve the perfect ideal body composition without getting too big or too lean?” Girls shouldn’t go less than 14% body fat.
That’s why I like a Paleo or Wild Diet based on whole foods—grains don’t really have a place, and of the whole naturally occurring foods, which ones are going to be best for you? In Paleo, starch-based vegetables have a place. But I can’t do them all. For example, I can’t do plantains—I love them, but they do not like me back.
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You have to experiment here. I’m a fan of people not taking it to extreme, but do an n =1 experiment. Take one starchy vegetable away for two weeks and then bring it back. Or you can eliminate all the carbs and bring slowly back in one at a time to figure out what’s a trigger food. That way you can determine your carb intolerance.That’s how I figured out plantains aren’t good for me.
I’m a huge fan, especially these days, of the ideal of dose. Say, plantains don’t work for me. I wouldn’t say I can’t have a plantain for the rest of my life. But what’s the dose I can handle before things go bad? I need to know my ideal dose. This approach translates into the real world.
No matter what, if you have small moderate doses of anything at a given time, you’ll probably be all right.
If I’m eating roughly 100 – 200 grams a day, fluctuating with activity level, and I eat from my list of safe carbs, I’m perfectly fine. I can still satisfy cravings for things like pancakes, but make them with eggs, coconut flour and avocado instead of the traditional ingredients.
How can we make these recipes and make them nourishing, instead of resorting to traditional ingredients… white bread, banana and peanut butter?
Knowing everything you know, how do you measure carbs?
“If you’re stressed out about how many grams of carbs or macros you’re shoving down your body every day, that stress is going to do more damage than a high carb diet.”
If you have a healthy relationship with this journey, and you’re looking at it like an experiment to optimize health, then it will be good.
I’m a fan of food logging. Do it for three to five days and figure out where you are and generally how you eat. Where are your carb ratios and what’s your activity level?
A lot of high energy athletes may find 100 grams is not enough, but on the other end, when going overboard, maybe they’ll find 500 grams makes them feel sluggish and lousy. Once you have that optimal number in mind, try to be intuitive about it.
Another way to do it is measuring your blood glucose. It can give us valuable insight without having to go a lab. You’re looking to maintain anywhere between 80 – 90 at any given time. You can test between meals and workouts and see where you’re at. If you’re constantly seeing dips and spikes, you can fix that.
You see athletes talk about being “hangry” (need food right now or you’re going to rip someone’s face off). You don’t want to feel like that after every workout. It’s not a good sign.
HOW TO MANAGE STRESS TO OPTIMIZE PERFORMANCE
You talk about stress as the enemy. How do you mitigate stress in training and day to day life?
Our lives are actually very similar, we have similar paths and journeys. When you’re in charge of yourself, and you have this drive to perform—whether that’s in work or life or sports—it’s easy to get stressed over what’s happening or what’s not being done.
The key is finding things that are going to give you the ability to change your attitude, perspective, or to walk away and unwind.
I used to be one of those people that would jump right from one activity into another without taking a breath in between. But now, like today (I had another podcast right before this one) I gave myself thirty minutes to shower and relax in between…
I also incorporated yoga into my life—it’s a great activity to tune out everything else and focus on that pose and nothing else in the world… and feeling your body through that journey.
Lately even meditation has come into my life. I’m slowly adapting to this one, but I’m still struggling to make time for that quiet time and committing to it.
Last but not least, having activities that have no performance component are important for people like us. I’ll get out on my paddle board and an hour or two will go by and I will just be totally in the moment and present.
Backpacking has also been important. It helps with the ability to disconnect from media, social media and devices—and that’s been huge.
For someone with a background in endurance sports, you might have a leg up on meditation. You go out for a three hour run and it’s meditative, simply because there’s not so much to do.
That brings up a good point. A friend of mine asked me, “Are you always listening to podcasts when you’re out running?”
This is my approach: What is my mood? There are some days where I want to absorb everything and I download a lot of podcasts. Other days, I leave the phone at home, and other days it’s music.
My favorite to work out to is Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. I built a bike workout that perfectly aligns to that album—It’s a 45 minute album so it’s perfect, but it’s so powerful because as the music changes, you’re changing the pace of your workout.
WHERE YOU CAN FIND TAWNEE PRAZAK
CHECK THIS OUT BEFORE YOU GO
Before you go, I want to extend an invitation to you since you stuck around to the end of this post.
When you start going against the grain and eating real food, incredible things can happen. But do you ever feel like you’re going at it alone?
People might say things, like:
“Hey, how’s your new diet going?”
“Why aren’t you eating that sandwich like everyone else?”
“Eating all that fat is going to stop your heart, you know!”
Well, if the naysayers are dragging you down, we’ve got something special for you.
The biggest thing most people are missing when they start transforming their bodies is support from like-minded folks. So my wife, Alyson, and I decided to create an online community to share our outrageously tasty recipes, fat-burning workouts, and healthy living tips all in one place.
We update the members area at least 3 times a week with a new video, recipe, article, or exclusive giveaway.
Plus every month, Alyson and I hop in front of the camera to answer YOUR questions on how to upgrade your health in a world that seems stacked against you.
If you’d like to join us, we’ve opened up a few spots for you to join for just $1 for your first month. We’ll be closing the doors on this offer very soon, so don’t miss out. Just go to www.fatburningtribe.com right now to sign up.
We have hundreds of members from all corners of the globe rocking out in the Tribe, and our community is getting results. Here’s a success story from one of our new members, Lulu:
In just a couple weeks eating the wild diet way, 5 1/2 pounds gone, 2 inches in my waist and 3 inches in my hips outta here! Thanks Abel and Alyson! I know with adding more weights and sprints I will continue to soar! Btw if I eat white bread now I get terrible stomach pains! My body is wanting the good stuff now…
Thanks, Lulu! Try our Wild Pumpkin Bread instead – it’s so much better than boring old white bread.
Here are a few goodies we just added to the Tribe:
- 7-Minute Wild Workout video and a Handy Timer Tool where I walk you through the best exercises to tone your body and burn fat.
- Step-by-Step details how to identify hidden sugar in your food.
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What did you think about this show? Leave a comment below and let us know!