Fat adaption for endurance athletes - what it is, why it matters and how to do it
When we exercise we have two forms of fuel. There are our carb stores which are good for a couple of hours, and there are our fat stores which, even in a lean body, will keep us going for 24 hours and beyond. Supplements for endurance athletes are all very well, but only when the rest of our game is in order and for real endurance performance fat is absolutely where it's at.
- Ultramarathon Top Gun Ryan Sandes caning it - you just know he's a fat-burning legend
But modern life, diet and sports nutrition marketing keeps pushing us towards those pesky carbs.
Simply put, we burn fat in steady exercise - generally below 70% of max effort. Above this we burn carbs.
We'll be more prone to treat carbs as a prime fuel source if we are sedentary a lot (in an office perhaps) and only move in short bursts (out for lunch, cramming in a half hour in the gym, etc), and also if we have a lot of them in our diet (ready meals, baked goods, sandwiches, most regular sports nutrition).
The more we follow this cycle, the more carbs become our go-to fuel, and the lower our fat-burning threshold becomes to the point where we can't run beyond the end of the drive without a gel in every pocket.
Turn the cycle around however, and you can raise that fat-burning threshold to 75 and even 80% of max effort.
Imagine that - cruising a marathon at 80% all on your available stored fat.
Better still, fat produces a stable and chilled energy release, unlike carbs that rocket you up and then drop you off a cliff when they run out which is neither nice, nor any good for your all-important mental karma in any endurance event. This is because your mental state will always track your energy levels - when they're bouncing, so is your mind and as endurance sports are such a mind game, stable energy levels for a stable head are a massive performance upgrade.
The best thing is, anyone can improve their fat adaption and performance easily. It just takes training.
Here's our simple guide to fat adaption to turn yourself into a finely-honed fat-burning machine
1 Start slow: racing into every session tips you straight into carb burning. Instead, start slow at an easy conversational pace for the first 15 minutes of every session to encourage fat use
2 Eat less carbs: cut processed and refined sugars, all baked goods and as many other high GI carb sources as you can
3 Pour in good fats: the more healthy fats you can get into your diet the more your body will begin seeing fat as its primary fuel source. This means great natural fat sources like olive oil, raw coconut and coconut oil, avocados, flax seeds, chia seeds, nuts, spirulina and coldwater fish to name just a few
4 Train in a carb-depleted state: tough, but occasional sessions like this (a long run before breakfast is ideal) push your body to mobilise fat better, making you more efficient.
Work on this lot and your efficiency and ease of endurance will bloom like never before. You'll still need sports supplements for those times when you're over your fat-burning threshold, but now that's precisely what they are - supplements.
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