There is a lot of information and talk about “fat adaption” at the moment, is it for you?
Firstly lets understand the two energy systems Anaerobic and Aerobic.
Anaerobic (without Oxygen) is exercise at high to very high intensity – fuel is stored ATP along with blood sugar and muscle glycogen. There is no fat used as fuel during high intensity exercise. If you are an athlete that competes in events that require a sprint finish – fat adaption is of no benefit. It will actually decrease your body’s ability to utilize carbs when they are needed most – hence performance will suffer.
Aerobic exercise– low intensity up to 60% of max effort, (long slow, endurance exercise) however does use fat as one of the substrates for fuel – along with carbohydrates. The amount of fat used depends on how well the person is able to access their fat stores – this is essentially what “fat adaption” is about – training your body to use fat as the primary source of fuel during prolonged endurance exercise.
So should you fat adapt?
Research is still minimal at this stage, however it is widely known and accepted that it doesn’t work for every individual, and for some it can be a detrimental to times and performance. Around 1/3rd of endurance athletes find it of benefit, 1/3rd find it no benefit, and 1/3rd find it decreases their performance.
Consider trying it if:
1. If you are an endurance athlete that suffers from gastric issues during prolonged endurance events then it might be beneficial, as when you are fat adapted you require less carbs (you still need to fuel with carbs, but the volume decreases)
2. If you carry excess weight, or have insulin resistance (or Type 2 diabetes), then fat adaption may be a good option to help control these symptoms.
3. You have a break in racing for a minimum of 2 months so that you can follow a high fat diet protocol in order to achieve ketosis adapt your body to burn fat more efficiently
Do not consider if:
1. You enjoy competing in events/training that are at medium – high intensity
2. You are not overweight or insulin resistant and enjoy a balance diet that includes good quality carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
I follow a LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) diet – is that the same thing?
As a practitioner I find that many people tell me they are following a LCHF diet. However, in reality, they are actually following a balanced diet. Over the past 20 years our Western diet has increasing moved towards a higher level of processed carbohydrates. If you remove processed carbs from your diet and eat more whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, protein and healthy fats, this is a balanced diet. I call it Lower Carb, Higher Fat.
It is important to remember that this doesn’t mean a high protein diet. Every balanced meal should contain some good quality carbs, lean protein and healthy fats.
Finding the right balance of carbohydrates that suits you is dependent on your training load, your goals, your weight, your genetic make up.
I follow intermittent fasting protocol 1-2 days per week – is that the same thing?
No. Intermittent fasting is a great strategy for stimulating hormones that encourage fat burning, and it can be a great tool for weight loss. However, it will not impact your body’s ability to burn fat over carbohydrate during exercise.
Here are two quotes from the “gurus’ of fat adaption:
Prof Tim Noakes
Q: Is it right for everyone?
A: No diet is right for everyone. LCHF is best for people who are insulin resistant.
Dr Steve Phinney
For many people, wholegrains are an excellent source of energy and a healthful food. But when people become more insulin resistant, they have a difficult time disposing off those carbohydrates. We’re not saying get rid of wholegrains in the diet, we’re just saying reducing them in the most vulnerable fraction of the population that can’t tolerate them.