Fuelling long distance running, cycling or triathlon is a challenge. What and when to eat are huge pieces of the puzzle but beneath this becoming fat adapted is the key to endurance success
How does fat adaption work?
Below 70% of max effort (conversational pace and under) we’re primarily burning fat and primarily burning carbs above that level.
But, if we make the wrong moves (carb-heavy diet, intense training only) that fat-burning threshold can fall well below 70% and we suddenly become the person who can’t reach the end of the street without a gel in every pocket because our bodies are increasingly unable to fuel from anything other than carbs.
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Make the right moves though and we can take our fat-burning threshold well above 70%, making us more efficient, happier athletes who only need to trickle in smaller doses of carbs to keep that tank topped up as we’re getting so much more by burning our stored fat. Get this sorted and we can go much further, much more efficiently and more easily, all on the same amount of carbs.
In short, we’re in charge of our nutrition and are stronger, healthier and happier into the bargain.
How to become fat adapted - it's not about the carbs
Too often, fuelling for endurance events focuses exclusively on carbs and will be along the lines of: ‘carb stores last two hours so beyond this you'll need to top up, otherwise you’ll hit the wall and bonk’.
This is true, but it's not the whole story. Our carb stores, when topped up through regular healthy eating (no need to ‘load’, just eat well and normally) will indeed fuel around two hours of exercise.
Despite what you read, you don't have to eat this to fuel your endurance endeavours!
The second part of this equation which is usually ignored is fuel the body obtains from stored fat. Ignore this in your long distance fueling and nutrition and you’ll be as reliable as car with a missing wheel.
Because while our carb tank has fuel for two hours, our stored fat – even in the leanest of athletes – has enough juice to power us for 24 hours and well beyond. Better still, stored fat delivers a beautifully stable energy base to work from which doesn't stress the body and mind anywhere near as much as peak/trough pure carb fueling.
How to become fat adapted in three steps
The best news is we’ve all got our stored fat already, the trick is accessing it for performance. This requires three simple training and dietary changes which are:
1 Reduce sugar and processed foods in your diet
The more you eat of stuff this, the harder it is to burn fat for fuel
The more of these in your daily diet, the more the body becomes accustomed to fueling from carbs instead of fat, and the more carbs you'll need, period. Reduce them in your daily diet and the opposite starts happening because the body’s seriously clever and will begin its adaption towards stored fat naturally.
2 Increase good fats in your diet
We’re talking nuts, avocados, oily fish, coconut, chia seeds, flax seeds, olive oil and so on - more good fat coming in helps your clever body recognise these fats as a prime fuel source.
Avocados - not just for hipsters on toast. Also a brilliant good fat food to boost your fat burning potential
3 Fasted training for fat adaption - slow down to speed up
Fasted sessions are training sessions where you start with depleted energy stores. The easiest way to do this is to train first thing in the morning, pre-breakfast. Starting on empty encourages the body to burn fat, simply because there’s nothing else there to fuel from.
If you train twice a day, you can go fasted by eating nothing between your first session and your second. Ensure the sessions are done a very low intensity - conversational pace - and start slow.
Burning fat for fuel is the path to endurance success
How to become fat adapted: conclusion
Implement these three tactics and you'll be well on your way to becoming a fat adapted athlete.
You'll be faster, happier and will suffer less stomach trouble, fewer see-saw energy level problems and won't have to carry an entire sweet shop with them every time they train and race. In short, you'll be in control of your energy.
Performance gains through fat adaptation is one thing, but don't forget the bigger picture: underpining real endurance success is a healthy athlete. There's no point being fat adapted if you're constantly ill, injured or lacking motivation. With this in mind, we created our UItimate Daily Greens - one tasty spoonful delivers a nutrient punch to ensure you get off on the right foot, every single day.
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