How an IRONMAN Competitor Eats to Win

This episode covers how to train for an endurance event with MetPro client and IRONMAN competitor, Sam Karliner.

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I am joined by Sam Karliner. We will be discussing how endurance athletes can benefit from MetPro. Sam, thank you so much for joining me.

Thank you, Crystal. I'm happy to be here.

I'm excited to talk about this. I am excited about the topic and all things endurance. We have a lot of gadgets and gizmos in common. Sam, have you always been an athletic person? Did you start off as an athlete when you were in school?

In high school, I was a runner. I continued that through college. I was always a runner. I got into marathoning early on in my twenties. Kids rolled along and slowed things down a bit. I got back into my running. I was consistently running. I was a pretty good runner. Several years ago, I had always been enamored, captured and awed by the full-distance IRONMAN. I can remember watching it as a kid in the late '70s or early ‘80s when it was this grand thing in Hawaii. It's like, “How can people do that?”

One day I said to myself, “I wonder if I can push my body that far and do that.” I signed up for a race a year in advance. It was a secret. I didn't tell anybody. I didn't even tell my wife. A full distance IRONMAN is a 2.4-mile swim. That's pretty far. In most pools, it's about 70 laps for a mile. It's then followed by a 112-mile bike ride. You would think he would be done, and then it's followed by a marathon. I had run a bunch of marathons and I had run them well, but running a marathon after going at it for 7 to 10 hours, I must have been out of my mind.

Did they have half IRONMANs back then?

They did.

You decided to skip that and went straight for the full monty.

They had shorter ones. They have what is called the Olympics. Those are for first-timers. They are manageable. It's under a mile swim, a 25-mile bike, and a 6-mile run, a 10K. I went all in. After about 6 or 8 weeks, I told my wife, I had signed up, I reserved a hotel. She's looking at me like, You did what? It will be fun. It will be a vacation. You don’t have to do the work. I would figure it out on my own. That first race back in 2011 was an incredibly hot day. It was something I didn't plan for. What I didn't know is IRONMAN is comprised of four events.

What's the fourth?

Nutrition. If you can get everything else down and you have your nutrition off, forget it. It's going to be a bad day. I learned that the hard way. We have this great picture of me at about 13 miles into the run. I looked at my wife. I was dying. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Should I keep going? I don't know if I could do this.” It was right before a turnaround. She had some time to think about it. She's on her phone, calling people like, “What should I do? If I tell him to stop, he will hate himself tomorrow.” I came back and I'm like, “What do I do?” She's like, “Keep going.” A couple of hours later, I finished.

Ten miles doesn't sound that long after everything else you've done. When you're in it, I can't even imagine what that's like because I've only run a half marathon. That's all I've ever done. I'm a slow runner. When I was out there for the first time, I was like, “This goes on forever.” It's so lonely out there when you're slow.

My wife has done a half once and her shirt says, “I ran a full 13.1. I didn't run half of anything.” I had a few hours in the medical tent after that race was done, IV fluids, the whole thing.

You had to have all the things.

I was destroyed, but I was hooked.

I would imagine crossing that finish line is probably like nothing else.

It is a tremendous feeling. It is an insane accomplishment. They have this tradition where a lot of the spectators and people who have already finished come down for the last hour. It's a hard seventeen-hour finish line time limit. It's a party and cheering these people in who have been going at it since 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning. Mind you, not only does your race start at 6:30 or maybe 7:00 in the morning and you're approaching midnight now, but you've woken up at 3:00 or 3:30 in the morning to get to the start, to prepare your stuff and eat. It's a long day.

It's not like when you get up early on a normal day. You're also giving this amazing performance. Your body is going through so much. You're not just standing there. You're working. How many IRONMANs have you participated in?

I have completed twelve full IRONMAN. It's a bunch.

When you participate, do you go to different cities? Do you try to go to all the different ones? I know there are several.

They're all over, not just the United States but North America. Quite frankly, they're all over the world. The full distance, the 140.6 miles and the half IRONMAN, the 70.3 distance, are in New York. Lake Placid has become a hometown favorite because it's drivable. It cuts down the expenses. During the middle of the summer, it works into training well. I have traveled to Florida and Kentucky. Kentucky was beautiful. Kentucky was great. We have traveled a bunch, even down to Maryland.

When did you find MetPro in your journey of figuring out IRONMANs and how to add your nutrition?

I found MetPro about three years ago. I was only involved for a few months. I had an accident. It has been the last two years that I've been involved with MetPro, and things have been clicking and going well with it.

What drew you in? What made you think, “I want to try this?”

Nutrition is a big part of race day, but nutrition is a big part of training too. A lot of people have coaches for their training. Some coaches give nutrition advice. The pros especially tend to have nutritionists who deal with their nutrition. It got me curious as to why. I wasn't incredibly overweight. Certainly, in the height of training, you're burning calories like it's going out of style. I didn't have to worry about weight.

Am I a little heavy? Am I a little too light? I play around with things. For most of my training and races, a lot of athletes, whether it's IRONMAN training or even if you're doing your spin class. You're hopping on your Peloton, you're going out for a run, or working out with weights, people are taking nutrition for that specific purpose. It's 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. I came home from work. I'm going to go hop on the bike for an hour.

Let me eat a Clif Bar or some other protein and carb bar, which makes sense. Your body needs some fuel. MetPro and working with Angelo took it in a slightly different direction. While we still train so taking energy or fuel for a specific workout, it's a philosophy of how to live your life. As opposed to a weight loss or a nutrition program that's calories in, calories out, I like to think of it as, “How hot can we keep your engine running?” If you think about a steam engine, you're filling it with coal. You don't want to just burn hot and then die out.

How much fuel can we put in to keep it burning, to keep your metabolism jacked and going, and keep it that way throughout the day? That intrigued me. I started working with Angelo. Initially, we found my baseline. We cut some carbs and dropped where I was from a carb intake and a caloric intake. We got my metabolism to stabilize. The weirdest thing happened, Crystal. I started eating more. As I ate more, I lost weight. If I stopped eating more, I put on weight. Talk about counterintuitive.

It's fascinating that your body gets used to running at a certain level and it will burn at that level. When you drop it, your body starts to shut down and say, “I'm not getting all these calories. Let me hang on to some,” and your weight goes up crazy. That's how I got involved in MetPro. It's been a little bit of a journey because everybody is different.

You change over time, right?

You change over time. As I've improved, I've gotten stronger. In the beginning, it was mostly watching the carbs, protein, fat, and everything. I went from eating three meals a day, maybe snacks in the afternoon or evening because I was hungry or I felt I deserved it. I came from a marathoner background. It’s like, “Why do we run so much? So I can have a bunch of pizza when I'm done. I earned it. I burned it off." Now I eat six meals a day. I feel like a toddler. I could set my watch for 2.5 hours or 3 hours. I got to eat.

You become this well-oiled machine when you do that.

That's exactly what happens. I have a big stack before I go to bed. That's my favorite meal of the day.

How many “diets” do you know that you get to have a big snack before you go to bed?

I'm in the height of training. I can take a tortilla shell, peanut butter and honey, eat it and then go to sleep.

For some of our readers who may not have the six-meal program, you only get that if you're eating six meals and typically, that's our athletes. It's not to say you can't have a snack. You do. You get two snacks a day, but you don't necessarily have one right before bed. Results vary and your needs vary.

That is a fair disclaimer. For a lot of athletes, it's training blocks. You put in 3 or 4 hard weeks, then you take an easy week. During that easy week, I'm not going to push the same number of carbs that I push a hard week because I'm not doing the same amount of work. Although I would not necessarily put on weight because the body has gotten used to it and goes right through.

I heard from a little birdie that you're training for an IRONMAN and it's not just any IRONMAN.

It's not just any IRONMAN. After my first one, I figured it out a little better. I started getting a little more competitive and then I had this pipe dream at the time, which was competing in the world championships in Kona and qualifying in my age group, which is hard. In your age group, you usually have to finish it in the top 2, maybe 3 to be invited.

When you say, “Finish in the top 2 or 3,” you mean at a different qualifying event, correct?

At a different qualifying event, there are 250 people in your age group. You got to be top 3.

To put that in perspective for people, that's not just hard. It’s extremely hard. I understand why you felt like that was a long shot.

I had gotten to the point where I was finishing maybe 30th. My best finish before that had been 14th. Once you get to that level, I knew I could get down to maybe under 10, 7 to 10 is one level, 4, 5, 6 and 7 is another level. It's not just seconds that are separated. It's a different level.

It’s like 3/10 of a second is a win.

Getting into the top three is hard.

What time did you finish? It's impossible for my brain to even comprehend how fast you must be.

Every course is different. Some courses are much faster than others. I qualified on July 2021 in Lake Placid, over eleven hours.

That’s 146 miles in 11 hours.

Swimming is my weakest of the three disciplines. I had a fairly decent swim. I don't remember the exact number. It was in about 30th or so, maybe a little higher, maybe in the twenties. I have an amazing bike and it's 256-mile laps and Lake Placid is not flat. They had the Olympics there for a reason.

I've heard there are some pretty big inclines on the bike portion that are pretty killer.

Absolutely. After the first lap, I had moved up to about 16th or 12th place. I had some people who were following me and tailing me. I got off the bike. I was in eighth. All of a sudden, I was like, “This is doable.” It's doable because I'm a runner. If I've managed to swim but managed to bike well, I can run. I can do this. For anyone, you don't need to be a marathon runner. If you go out and you're running a 5K race, even if you're just out for a jog, when you're running well, when you feel good, it's easy to run well mentally. There's a mental component to it.

I was in eighth. I'm like, I can do this. I'm running. For the first mile, I had to get my legs going. I could tell by my pace how I was feeling. One milestone, I have 26. I break it down into segments, usually 3 miles at a time in my mind. I have a watch. I'm watching my pace. We'll talk about fuel if you want to, but I know what I'm taking in. I'm feeling good. As I'm running, I'm getting stronger. I'm like, “I can do this.” I kept going. I knew I was doing well. COVID negatively affected races a little bit. They write your age on the back of your calf. You could have an idea of who your competition is. With COVID, they got rid of a lot of the body marking.

They keep people separated.

I had an idea based on some of the people I was passing, some of who were younger than me. I'm running well and feeling good. After about 15 miles, I moved up around fourth or so. I was like, “We're doing this.”

It became all adrenaline.

In fact, I saw somebody with 3 miles to go and it was maybe 2 miles to go. I was getting to the point where we had been pushing as hard as we could. He said, “You're in second.” I took off. I was like, “No one is passing me. I don't care what your age is. I'm holding on to where I am." It was so exciting. It's tremendous. We got home. We booked our flights to Kona, and then it got canceled because of COVID.

COVID canceled a lot of races, a lot of things.

They moved it to February. They got canceled. I canceled those flights again. October 8th, 2022, it's going to happen. It has changed my training in 2022. I would usually have at least one, maybe two springtime races, and then a race in the summer, and then maybe a shorter race or another IRONMAN in the fall. It depends on how I'm feeling. I want each one to be good and see how good I could do. Now I want to do well in this one coming up in May 2022. My goal is Kona. My A-plus race is in October 2022 and everything is the steady ramp-up to it. It's exciting.

When you think back to the first race that you did, compare it to the race that you did whenever you placed at the beginning. You're going to Kona. What impact did MetPro have on your performance?

The impact that MetPro had was it wasn't that it fueled me better for the race. It was that my body was working better throughout all of my training. All of my training was better.

That made you stronger and faster.

Correct. It's funny, the one thing we don't tinker with too much is my race day fuel. I've learned that from trial and error. When I'm on my bike, I probably take in close to 100 grams of carb an hour.

For people reading, the average is probably 40 to 50 grams of carbs an hour. For people who are in a weight loss, not trying for performance, when they're doing a workout, they're more of the 20 to 30 grams of carbs per hour.
That is a tremendous amount. That helps you perform that day. That helps you stay.

I want those calories going in me early because when you're on the bike, your body can handle and digest easier than when you're running. When I'm four hours into a race, I'm thinking about, “I need my body performing at 10, 11 hours.” I'm burning through it.

You front load.

I don't do it every day. That's for sure.

Are you one of those guys that when you do the transition, you come out of the water and don't even put your shoes on the bike? You just sit down and go. Do you have enough coordination to do that? I am amazed when I watch that.

I have my shoes 50% of the time. I have done that where I have my shoes on the pedals. I know how to get on my bike and get it going, but I'm not efficient at it. It depends on the transition area, how much I have to run it out, and what it is. I don't change. It's the same closed kit all day. I'm pretty quick in transition.

It's pretty crazy in the transition area. It's full of energy. It's like backstage at a concert because everybody's so amped up on adrenaline. It's crazy. What kind of training and things are you looking forward to as you prepare for Kona? How have things shifted in 2022 from a nutrition standpoint, as you look towards Kona?

My swimming is probably my weakest area. I've been getting in the pool a lot more. I'm looking forward to the weather getting a little warmer so I can swim outside. That's factored in. I tend to be a morning swimmer. That may affect my breakfast and my mid-morning snack a little bit because I usually don't fuel during my swim.

Do you go in fasted?

Yes. Coming out of the winter, I've put on some weight, but it has all been muscle. This is a conversation that Angelo and I have. I'm like, “If my numbers have stayed the same, why am I getting heavier?” It's the work you're doing. You're putting on muscle. I'm getting stronger. I also know that as the summer rolls around and I'm outside more, I'll probably lose some weight. As my training goes up, I'll probably lose some weight. It's getting that healthy balance.
We're playing with, “How many calories can I take in? What is the max we can get my body used to?” I've learned that is a lot. Sometimes it's hard to eat that much food.

I do hear that a lot from people. It sometimes feels like you're doing nothing other than eating all day. Especially when you are fueling for these major events the way you are, to be able to build muscle, to be able to perform the way you are, you're burning so many calories. You got to put the food in to be able to perform.

The one thing that MetPro helps you with a lot is learning what foods to eat right there. When you talk about carbs, you can have a slice of white bread, a tortilla shell, a potato, and a sweet potato. I love sweet potatoes. It's a good volume. If I'm not eating a lot, like three bites and I'm done, I'm getting hungry. There's this component of eating.

It's got to last a little while. When I'm on a high carb intake, try eating 12 ounces of sweet potato. You push away from the table. You're like, “I can't get up.” I ate a lot of brown rice. Maybe you switch to white rice. You don't get a lot, but you get the same carbs. MetPro has helped with that. MetPro has helped a lot with good and bad vegetables. I never thought vegetables could be bad.

It's not that they're bad. Some have more carbs in them. You have to be aware of that and how much you eat of them. My favorite is butternut squash, but there are tons of carbs in it. I got to be careful with that.

We're big broccoli and Brussels sprout family.

That can cause other issues with your digestion. I love broccoli and cauliflower, especially roasted. You have to be careful and keep that mixed in with other things.

It's been a great learning curve. What amazes me is that I've been doing it for a while. I'll be in these periods where I know exactly what I'm eating. My snack will be grapes and some nuts. I don't even have to think about what the numbers are but then, it shifts and has to change. I figure it out. I'm always learning. I've done it long enough. If we go out to eat, MetPro has a great app that you can use. Before I came to MetPro, I tried doing macro counting.

I have that app, so I had a good understanding. MetPro broke it down differently. Carbs are carbs. Protein is protein. Veg carbs are veg carbs, as opposed to when you're counting macros, your broccoli counts as X number of grams of protein, this many grams of carb. MetPro is like, “Your carb is your carb. Forget about all the minor stuff. That will wash itself out.” I can go out to eat and I go, “15 grams. I should have 45 grams.”

Some lean protein, a potato or some veggies and you're good.

I've also learned that one meal off will not destroy me. I never thought about that before I was with MetPro. I was hungry, I ate. I had a big workout, I would eat. Once I started, I was being a little tech geek, nerdy, tracking my workouts with Garmin like in data. MetPro is just another data source in trying to hit those numbers and track what you're doing. “It's somebody's birthday. What if I have that piece of cake? It’s the carb, it’s the fat. I'm not going to be able to move tomorrow.” It's not true.

Something that MetPro helps with too, is that because you're eating things similarly all the time, when you do change something, whether it be race day or eating that piece of cake, if you get back to the program, your body is on autopilot. It loves the consistency that you've been doing. It recovers from it easily versus how I used to eat prior to MetPro, which was whatever I felt like was what I ate.

It might be three meals a day or one big meal in the evening, but no consistency. Now you have this steady level of fuel every day, all day. If you change something and then you go back to it the next day, your body's like, “I got this. I know what we're doing. It cleans up easily.” Do you feel that MetPro is a good fit for people who are doing endurance competitions?

It has helped so much. It has helped me stay consistent. It has given my body more fuel and more strength to perform and recover from my regular weekly workouts. I don't have to carbo-load, which is a bit of a myth. I have this big workout coming. I need this. This is how I need to go. I'm pretty much at a constant, which has allowed me to push harder and perform better. Not every workout is an A workout. Different workouts have different purposes and different training zones. You want to work on your endurance or your speed. What MetPro has allowed me to do is to put my body in the best position to maximize each one of those workouts.

Do you feel there's anything else that we miss that readers might want to learn about endurance and the nutrition aspect of it or anything that we haven't covered?

I saw somebody who said, “Everyone posts their best workouts on social media.” It's a picture of their Garmin with, “Look at my time.” It's the picture of this. “Look at my miles. Look how much I lifted.” What no one ever posts or what no one ever talks about is a program like TrainingPeaks and somebody called that the confessional. That shows what you do every day. That's the honesty that gets you to that ultimate workout. When you're talking about endurance, forget about a full IRONMAN. You're not going to run a marathon unless you're a kid. A kid for me is when you're in your twenties.

You're not going to run a marathon because you went out once a week for a 3-mile run. Most people are not going to finish it. I'm not saying how fast I have to finish. If you run 3 or 4 times a week, 2, 3, and build up to 4 miles, you'll get it done. Building up the endurance takes time and a lot of dedication and putting it in. MetPro, through their tracker, keeps you honest. In a roundabout way, it mimics your training schedule. If you want to perform every day, you've got to keep this consistency every day. There are two parallel lines that follow each other.

Before I came to MetPro, I never ate before a workout. It was a fasted workout. I had a bad stomach. I would get up in the morning, run bikes or whatever, and then come home and eat. I would need to recover. I probably eat too much. I probably wouldn't eat well. Through MetPro and through a lot of conversation, because was resistant to my coach, but I'm a good listener. You tell me this works. Let's find out what I can put in my body that my stomach can handle and I can work off.

I have breakfast before I work out. It's usually the same breakfast but it works for my body. I'm well-fueled and I learned how to do it. The nice thing with MetPro and MetPro coaches is that it's not cookie-cutter. It's tailored to you and how you perform. My wife is on MetPro also. She's not an endurance athlete. She is a tremendous professional spectator at IRONMAN races. She is the best.

That's an endurance event of its own.

She will tell you, it is a harder endurance event. She knows how to track me and my competition.

She knows how to get you to the next location to spot you.

We have a sign in the house that she had several races back that says a lot of things. At one point, she wrote, “He promised me a trip to Kona.” That was a few years ago. I kept my promise. She runs once a week. She's a gym rat, CrossFit type of person a couple of times a week. She loves MetPro. She is gluten-free. Our house is pretty much gluten-free. I do on occasion, but it's what's in the house. She's not gluten-free because of MetPro, but the whole concept of eating clean intrigued her, so she started.

She was looking at different things she could cut out and food that worked and tasted good, and so much processed food is gluten. Slowly, she started taking that out of her diet and found ways to replace it. We're pretty much a gluten-free family. She will tell you her mid-morning snack. Her three snacks are her three favorite meals of the day. There's a perfect example. She's not training for IRONMAN, but because of the way she works out and what she does, she's eating six times a day. She loves it and has had tremendous results with it. She's stronger than me in the gym.

She can lift a lot is what you're saying.

She deadlifts like 150 or 160 pounds.

Sam, thank you so much for your time.

Crystal, thank you for having me. This was a lot of fun.

It was. Thank you. That is all for this episode. You can find all of the MetPro Method episodes anywhere you find podcasts, or you can go to Please be sure to follow the show, rate and review. That lets other people know what they can expect. You can also learn more about MetPro at

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