This week I talk to Leighton Phillips, an ultra runner and one of the founders of SFuels. I met Leighton via a Facebook group and am now an Ambassador for SFuels. It has been great working with the SFuels team and look forward to all that is coming in the future from SFuels. Enjoy the interview as lots of good info on LCHF and training to use fat as fuel.
Tell us a little about yourself not necessarily related to running: age, where born, education, area you live in, etc…..
I was born in Brisbane, Australia in the 70s.
What is your profession?
I studied software programming (suggestion of Dad ) out of school, and worked in the Tech-industry. But I always had a passion for nutrition and health bio-sciences. I began my naturopathic sciences under-grad studies in the late 80s, and then held clinical practice for two years. I loved that study. I was admitted to Chiropractic school, however at the same time - I was offered an intriguing role with Intel Corporation out of Sydney – that I decided to take. This role has taken my family and I to live and work out of Australia, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and now the US.
How did you start running and what prompted you to do so?
As a young boy, I still recall my Dad taking us down to the school oval before breakfast and timing us. Dad was a high-jumper, originally from New Zealand, and was always interested in Olympic athletic performances.
I swam competitively through my primary schooling, and went on to run state and national cross-country through my secondary schooling – this is where I really got my taste for endurance sports. In my later years of schooling, I competed in short-course triathlons and loved the multi-sport competitiveness.
I began running ultras in 2005, while in Singapore. Some 50k races, and the game-changer for me was being accepted to run the RacingthePlanet 250k 6day race – that year in the northern Vietnam, area of Sapa. The training and completion of this race, really gave me a taste of the issues and challenges of current sugar-carbohydrate fueling approaches and option in the market.
How long have you been running?
Since 1983, secondary school cross-country.
Did you participate in any other sports over the years?
I swam competitively in primary school and secondary school. I competed in Triathlons from 1985-1989.
Did you run in grade school, High School or College? If so where?
All through high school. All in Australia, state of Queensland.
So we get an idea of where you have been with running can you share your PR's.
10k - 34.20.
What is your most memorable race or races and share a little about at least one of them?
UTMB in 2016 was more than a race, was an emotional reset for me, as much as it was a physical challenge to complete 100miles. The UTMB course is just indescribable with relentless horizon to horizon mountain vista landscapes. The concept of running through France, Italy Switzerland in one race was intriguing, but was so palpable with the encouragement coming in the local languages, from the villages throughout the course. It's no surprise this race has become the pinnacle, the Wimbledon of trail running.
Do you have a favorite workout you do?
I was based in Hong Kong for 9 years. The international airport is located on Lantau Island. Lantau has two major peaks, Sunset and Lantau peak. There is a magic trail route, where I would go from just above sea-level, over Sunset Peak (2400ft), down the other side, then over Lantau Peak (2900ft), down the other side – refuel, then back up and over Lantau peak – to finish down in the local town-village. It was 24Km, and over 6000ft of climbing. The views were spectacular over the Hong Kong isles, and well cut trail, through tropical green mountains.
How about a favorite route you like to run?
In Chamonix France, there is a trail that starts in the village valley floor, and heads up 3000ft of ascent towards Augille Di Midi. The route finishes at just over 6000ft of elevation. Its an aggressive ascent in the beginning then softens a little in its switch backs with therapeutic views across the Mont Blanc massif, glaciers and valley.
What is your favorite distance to run and race?
Time-training permitting, I love 100km races – it’s not ½ day like a 50k, it’s a whole day challenge, yet not so draining as a 100miler. It includes both day and the night, experiences. But if I cant get the training in – I love 50k races…a very real ultra distance, but something you can really run strongly the whole way.
What shoes do you run in and what do you like about them?
I’ve been a Salomon runner for about 9years. Love their sturdiness. I ran in a Mission XR for several years, and I think my ankle got used to the width, so I struggled to move out of that model to the thinner S-LAB products from Salomon. But they released the SLAB shoe in 2017, that Francois De’Hane won UTMB in, and I tried that and think it’s the best shoe I have ever owned. Very solid fit, flexible yet sturdy on technical terrain. I raced 50km Matigny to Chamonix 40km/2600m A-D, this August, and it was an absolute pleasure to race in. I tried Hoka’s – but I ran like twice in them and never used them again – just didn’t like the height of the stack, made me feel very unstable.
Do you have any long-range plans?
I would like to run the CCC 100km at UTMB, Mont Blanc one year. I love the look of the Lavaredo race, Tranvulcania race, Tarawera in New Zealand and the Hardrock or Western States in the US. My eldest boy is about to get into triathlon and 70.3 Ironman – and he wants me to join him – will see.
Will just have to see how work and training come together, now we are moving to the US. I suspect I’ll run some 50km races through the year as I settle into the US in 2019.
What is the best place you have run in your travels?
Chamonix, Mont Blanc France. Sapa, or the Switzerland of Asia as they call it – it’s in the northern part of Vietnam, very close to the Chinese border.
Anywhere else you would like to visit to run?
Italian Dolomites look fantastic. They terrain of Transvulcania, in La Pampa Spain looks totally amazing and unique – almost Jurassic like
Do you have any bucket list races?
Yeah probably CCC, and Lavaredo.
What do you struggle with most with regards to running?
Im not a large built person – increasingly I need to add strengthening work in the gym to keep my joint-strength and gait in check, otherwise I'm prone to some achilles weakness, calf and glute pain-tightness. I ripped the proximal head of my right calf in two places, at 230km in the Vietnam race, as they tightened up so much. so I need to be a little careful of that.
What do you see as a trend in running?
I see the broader public looking for escapes – from their job, their moods, their routine, and endurance running is an avenue that helps in many ways (I wont go into the science here ). But I think as runners move from 5k to 10k to marathons they are wanting to experience more. The trail, the mountains and even adventure racing like Spartan races seem to be fulfilling that void they are looking for. I anticipate ultra trail racing and sky-running, will go through a massive growth wave over the next decade, as the commercial side of it grows up (like it did in marathons) – some of it will be great, some of the commercialization we probably wont like.
How long have you been LCHF with regards to how you eat?
In 2012-2013, I was running fairly long weekend LSD training sessions. In Hong Kong in the summer, it is in the mid-30sC (30C is 86F), and humidity that is hard to compare. I was using water, and a carb-electrolyte formulae. I started getting headaches, lot of aches-pains in joints and swollen fingers/feet during the LSD runs. I had to take ibuprofen at the end of every one of these runs. I was only 40 years old, and as a naturopathic trained physician, this didn’t feel right. So I dialed my training right back, and started playing with and shifting to a LCHF lifestyle – and to my surprise the issues cleared up, and gut/GI distress was also notably less. It took me a while to believe it – as all my training (at college) was based on the USDA food pyramid. This approach of LCHF, turned that totally on its head.
In 2014, my wife (ex-Nestle) and I began Spike-FREE Limited, and started having some food technologists work on a better product. In 2017 SFuels was born.
How was your transition to LCHF, were you like most of us “carb centric” prior to your change?
Sure I was, I was a teenage triathlete, that prided himself on showing how much pasta I could eat at Sizzler salad-pasta bar….it was like my proxy ‘show-off’ measure of how much training I was doing.
Do you see a difference in fueling for training and racing with regards to carbs, such as “Train low and Race Higher?”
Yes, firstly from my/SFuels POV, we don’t promote a ketogenic diet/lifestyle for competitive endurance athletes. Actually, in general, from a naturopathic clinical perspective, I am not a big believer on extreme exclusion of entire food groups – I believe all these foods were put here for a reason. The issue I believe is mostly in the so-called refining of foods, and secondly the volume and mix of certain food groups (particularly carbs) that creates so many of the issues.
For LCHF to have effect – its not about what you do in the race, in fact I think its even more than what you do in training and racing. For LCHF effectiveness there is a baseline daily metabolism that you need to first invoke and build – and this can be bought about by multiple means. Fasting, intermittent fasting, initial temporary Keto-like diet, endurance aerobic training, and obviously an on-going LCHF approach to diet. These practices, rapidly turn on lipolytic (oxidizing fat) metabolic process and enzymes, and begins training the body (again) to use fat for fuel.
Critically, we should avoid carbs in any training less than 2hours. Over 2-3hour training sessions we should consider a MCT/Fat and whole-food complex carbs to provide the necessary macros to fuel our sessions. The reason why its OK after 2-3hours, is that by this time Calcium, Nitric Oxide and Reactive Oxygen species levels have risen in muscle cells, and these cause the Glut4 transporters to move to the muscle cell-membrane and allow glucose to flow into the muscle cell – without insulin. This is really important, as this is the fundamental reasoning behind how the body can (at this point) oxidize both carbs and fats simultaneously, or what we refer to as metabolic flexibility.
So then taking this back to your question, yes I advocate in races (>3hours in duration) that a competitive athlete, that is fat-adapted (metabolic flexibility) should absolutely fuel through his-her race on both MCT/Fats (in addition to his/her endogenous fat reserves) and complex carbs (starches). I would never advocate a simple sugar, as I think it has the risk of stimulating insulin (though lower during exercise), fructose and maltodextrin can impair Glu4 moving to cell membrane, and opening glucose channels, and lastly because I have seen some many ‘A-races, ruined by Gut/GI distress – all triggered by simple sugars.
Can one become “fat adapted” and not hold to eating LCHF?
Yes I believe so, we see plenty of professional athletes still living on high-simple sugar fueling – yet we know they (due to their training volume and intensity) are oxidizing fats at amazing rates/levels. You also only have to look at their physique to also realize they are burning fat very well. Saying all that, I am absolutely sure – that their performances would be even better, by moving to a LCHF lifestyle and race-higher approach.
What got you to start SFuels?
As I said, I had a number of issues myself in training-racing, and I felt the industry was letting athletes down on continuing to just shove more simple-sugars into athletes. My wife and I knew we could do something better.
How do you envision SFuels place in the endurance world and how has its reception been in as you travel around?
LCHF education levels vary dramatically. Different parts of the world and different ages of athletes show a wide variance to what they know about sugar-based fueling vs. LCHF principles. I think though this is much much bigger than an endurance-community phenomenon. We need a global reset on the 30 plus years of preaching the food-pyramid - remember that whole industries have been built up on carb-based living and diets.
For us, we find that when athletes try SFuels they change. It’s not just another flavored sugar product – I mean like, there is close to zero sugar/carbs in our training drink products – so it’s a very different approach. Being able to carry/eat less in a race is very compelling to athletes, avoiding the swings, the gut/GI distress and the risks of bonking and hitting the wall – is making the LCHF approach, and products like SFuels very intriguing to athletes.
Both the Ironman triathlon and ultra-running scenes have taken to our drink product very well. We have had a very good following on our bar product, but we decided to reformulate it to extend the shelf-life – and hope to have that back on the shelf in early 2019.
Any plans for SFuels you would like to share?
The team has some partnership discussions in flight, plus they are working up new products in 2019 that I can’t say too much about yet :)
If you had one, well maybe two or three, things to say those that are running to encourage them what would it be?
- Couple your running with some quality gym strength work, and stretch less
- Get off the sugar drinks, gels and bars
- Take those headphone out – and soak up the sounds of life in the mountains
Any closing comments?
Keep on running