Endurance Training, Starvation, and Primitive Survival Cognition

Lately my appetite has been ferocious. I have heard of a method of skipping a few meals to let your body get a chance to clean out any toxin build up and to allow your hypothalamus to recalibrate hormone levels. I thought I would give it a try to test the validity of the process.

Most of the results were pretty expected. I felt hungry and a little tired; not atypical enough to elaborate much more. What was of more interest to me was the mental state achieved during my short fast. I would best describe it as feeling eerily distant to what is going on around me, but at the same time also feeling more alert. I had trouble focusing on some of the menial tasks I perform at work, yet I was inclined to get into deep discussion about strategies of the department.

This paradox reminded me of a recent post I read from Anton Krupicka, the elite Ultramarathoner. When trying to describe what he thinks about on his long runs, he said “I think of nothing and everything. Usually at the same time. Which is just another way of saying that I’m not really thinking. Rather, I’m listening. To myself, in an as unintentional manner as possible.”

Apparently, hunger and endurance training may place us in a similar state in which we think about nothing and everything at the same time? Might this be a subconscious method of perpetuating survival amongst our primitive ancestors that is still programmed deep within our brains? But hunger is not a pleasurable experience, and endurance training places us on a similar mental state, so why do we do knowingly subject ourselves to long runs and difficult rides? Perhaps our body is perversely programmed to enjoy starvation, pain, and boredom. After all, if our ancestors could not psychologically cope with such downers, would I be here writing this today? My Darwinian assertion is masochism was evolutionarily selected for, millennia ago. My theory is that some caveman was walking around without a meal, or chased a deer over a mountain in an anaerobic, glycogen depleted state, and may have some how enjoyed a mental state where he thought about everything and nothing at the same time. Instead of laying down and dying in a depressed state, he instead soldiered on, almost feeling good about feeling badly. He kept on keeping on.

Next Saturday during my half marathon, at some point, my mind will drift away to a paradoxal state. I too will keep on keeping on.

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4 thoughts on “Endurance Training, Starvation, and Primitive Survival Cognition

  1. hold-up-now. says:

    What a fantastic post. Do you think the lack of eating really has a positive effect?

    • fatnslow says:

      My argument isn’t that starvation boosts athletic performance in the short term, and I am not certain of any positive effects in the hypothalamus for the resetting effect.(This would require a larger sample set than one day). I was trying to draw a parallel between psychologically uncomfortable conditions and the irony that humans must some how enjoy discomfort, as part of natural selection.

      Thanks for reading!

      • hold-up-now. says:

        I understand. I think there is most definitely a love of hardship at some subconscious level. There is something exciting about struggling, it’s like that expression “The fun is in the chase”.

  2. fatnslow says:

    Interesting article posted today on Competitor Running online magazine. Basically examines similar thoughts to my post above, but from a different angle, and arrives at a related conclusion.

    http://running.competitor.com/2012/04/training/no-pain-no-gain-how-pain-tolerance-affects-running-performance_37688

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