Anthony Kunkel is a rare bread of biohacker. He has figured out how to be unbelievably strong and fast while maintaining a ton of endurance. Kunkel hails from Colorado where he is a student and competitive runner with multiple sponsors. Anthony shares with us some of his hard earned wisdom on what got him to this place of maximum performance. Apparently he owns no shirts.
You are a student living in Durango, CO. What are you studying? What is your plan?
I’m studying Exercise Science with a coaching minor, focusing on the clinical side –with the undergraduate research here at Fort Lewis, it’s impossible to miss out on the actual research side of learning. So getting to both put people on treadmills to test ideas in the lab, then also gathering wisdom from experienced coaches, is perfect for me right now. Coaching runners has been the dream since I was barely a teenager. So after a decade of learning about this, I like to think I’m ready to really start coaching people at the top level. I have two clients for 2017 that are looking to nab an OTQ (Olympic Trials Qualifier) in the marathon, so this will be a great year for proving that all the information hasn’t been wasted on me! Longer term, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I want to coach and learn and improve as a coach until I’m gone.
You recently came in second place at the prestigious and uber fast JFK 50 mile race. What did it take to do that?
JFK has been a very stirring thing for me. I’m already scheduled to go back in 2017. I was stale, had a few issues that didn’t feel amazing on race day, and wasn’t really feeling too excited about the race going into it. But the day before, I decided -really decided in my heart- that these “details don’t matter.” I was going to race as well as I could on the day, using my wisdom and durability and passion to get me as high up on the podium as possible. Finishing second was a huge success for me spiritually. I believe in gratitude and love, not suffering and pain, and I refused to feel negative for more than a fleeting moment at a time. My body got me to mile 25 before the pain in my head got to a splitting level and I really felt sick. But again, these are details and they truly didn’t matter to me… Running one of the fastest times that course has seen was a side effect. It feels very shallow to accept attention and congratulations for my time or placement. I just want the truth known about the transcendental event that made it happen. Do you congratulate someone for a long and fulfilling meditation? This race was for everyone; I prayed (in my own way) that I might learn something of value that would improve the world, and I think I found something in myself, with that as my motivation. Not until I finished the race did I realize how much this was going to boost my running career. It’s all very bizarre, but the race was egoless. Not to ignore the physical, am about as meticulous as anyone on the planet when it comes to training, and I spent the majority of 6 months prepping specifically for the Tussey-JFK double. Every mile and every rep is planned and noted. My body is just one more of my clients really. But I really consider the 30-120 minute sits at Durango Dharma Center to be equally as important… This could be a book in itself, and indeed I have one coming in the next couple years.
How did you get into low carb ultrarunning?
I ran my first ultra at 18, under the reluctant and negligible guidance of Zach Gingerich. -Now that dude was TOUGH! I had the 5k/10k road running attitude that water stops were for slow people… So it went terribly. I had to improve on that. I wanted to know what it felt like to race hard for a full 50k. And I caught the bug. It’s been about sensations from day one. I didn’t want to win, that was never more than a side effect; I wanted to know what if felt like to glide over that much ground that fast. I wanted to be bonk-proof and wanted my legs to feel strong no matter how many hours I ran… With that intent, I began putting more fat into my diet first, in early 2011, then experimented with fasting shortly after. And I felt the difference, in mental clarity and lack of bonking. By 2012, I decided that this was something cool to try and it fit my pallet for fatty foods, and I went all in, ketogenic. I also figured out how to drink water that year, hah! Unfortunately, War On Insulin (Peter Attia’s blog at the time) was really the only resource I had at the time, so my transition SUCKED. Quickly I got talking with Peter Defty and he was the first person willing to risk sounding like a pretentious dick to tell me how much I was doing wrong –and he set me straight and has been a great friend and mentor in this process. There truly is SO much more than just carb restriction when it comes to tapping out our potential with this, and the OFM program brings some of these other aspects to the light.
What was it like being part of the FASTER study?
FASTER was great. Volek is a great guy, a very cool academic, and the bit of money made a huge difference for me. I can’t say I was too concerned with actual data on the whole, although I’m really hoping to still get fiber typing and gut bacteria data in the near future. I’m actually an atrocious bio-hacker in that regard! I spend enough time tuning into my body to know what works. But as an academic, I had to acknowledge that we were putting up data that were literally going to change the game. Text books will need to be rewritten, and that’s pretty amazing to be a part of.
What do you recommend to other low carb athletes for nutrition and training?
Despite the (humble amount of) income my coaching brings in, I’m an open book about my method. The most important tenants of the approach: low rep lifting and strides for fiber shift and movement economy, sun exposure and vitamin D, a couple supplements only when needed, focusing on sleep quality, and despite whether we like it or not beef liver weekly. These apply to everyone, but the way we incorporate them is specific to low-carbers. Then, when it comes to training, there are a few very important intensities that need to be hit (99%’ish for muscle activation, roughly 90-minute race pace, etc.) at the right points in the training block. The intensities we use are different due to the rate of fat oxidation. Volume and the structure of the mesocycles are quite possibly the most revolutionary part of my approach, with the 10-week “block” (10 weeks unbroken at a relatively high volume, even with races mixed in) as a staple of everyone I work with. For the people that want to hear some nitty gritty, the idea of a 3 week build and a week to rest is completely in conflict with what we know about ideal adaptation to training, from mitochondrial density, to enzymes, to gene activation (although that involves a few tweaks on its own). Basically, completing a base block like this will mean much more than VO2 max improvements or transient lactate benefits. We are targeting long term benefits here. The decreased damage in fat-adapted athletes from stressful training means that we can handle this drastic change from the usual… A few words on my specific nutrition recommendations: fermented foods (with homemade kefir as king, with a laundry-list of benefits), grass-fed beef liver, and some nutrient timing such as cholesterol and magnesium at night is a great place to start.