Latest News in Fat Adaptation, Fitness, and Nutrition.
Feed the machine right to get the results that you desire.
You may have heard some pretty amazing things coming out about fat adaptation and ketogenic diets for athletes. The body of science behind the benefits of fat adaptation is growing. Watching amazing athletes like cyclist Chris Froome, Romain Bardet and ultra runner Zach Bitter win races and break world records have inspired age group athletes to jump on board to this superior way of fueling. There are many coaches and self-experimenters out there trying out fat adaptation and not getting the results that they desired or expected. The many nuances of fat adaptation that are quite a bit different from the glucose-dependent athlete.
Many athletes who try to adopt a fat adapted model of training go from the extreme of carbohydrates every half hour, all the time, to full on a ketogenic diet all the time with intermittent fasting. Both extremes are not likely to help the athlete be the healthiest and highest level performer.
Optimize Your Performance.
I coach is the Optimized Fat Metabolism (OFM) program. The goal is to "OPTIMIZE" your performance. I learned from the best, Peter Defty, from Vespa Power who has helped many athletes like Romain Bardet, Zach Bitter, Jon Olson, Nikki Kimball, and many more see amazing results with fat adaptation. My clients have asked me to write out a guideline to help them navigate what to eat during a multi-stage event.
Athletes would like hard and fast rules to follow as a fat adapted athlete. There are some guidelines, but fat adaptation is more about listening to your body. Fat burning is the base of the program, everything else is trial and error finding what works best for you.
Before we get into the details, first and foremost NEVER TRY ANYTHING NEW for your 'A' race, first priority event. I don’t care if you mimicked Romain Bardet's exact routine and diet or got some new advice from your best buddy, no matter how good the advice is, never try anything new for your primary event.
If you did not test your fuel in training, don’t try it. Everyone is different, the goal for any good plan is to find what works for YOU, not anyone else. Trying to not sound too cheesy, you are a snowflake. There is the only one you and only by TESTING and MORE TESTING will you will find out what works best for you.
Carbs are a LEGAL performance enhancing drug!
The popularity of the ketogenic diet has made many athletes afraid of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates should not be feared but thought of as a performance enhancement drug. Used correctly, they can boost your performance, used incorrectly, they can lead to pretty substantial metabolic damage and disease. Under the certain circumstances, they can be addicting.
Many factors are in play when adding in the carbohydrates. The first factor is how insulin sensitive or insulin resistant is the athlete is. Athletes who are insulin sensitive athletes tend to respond well to added carbohydrates, tend to be leaner and don’t see the immediate ill effects of a high carbohydrate diet. Insulin resistant athletes tend to need to eat every couple hours, feel groggy with excessive carbohydrates, generally gain weight easily.
Before the event:
With every insulin sensitive, fat adapted athlete, carb loading can be anywhere to one meal to a couple of days leading up to the event. Insulin resistant athletes carb load the meal before the event to no carb loading before the event. With carb loading, always include a fair amount of fat and protein with the meal. Meals before the event should be light. Never consume carbohydrates alone unless they are taking in the middle of training or an event.
During the event:
For long one-day event or a multiple day events, a fat adapted athlete needs a fair amount of time to warm-up before. Some fat adapted athletes go into their warm-up fasted and start taking in additional calories after their warm-up. This is due to personal preference.
It is not recommended to add in carbohydrates in any form until the body is completely warmed up. Failure to be properly warmed up before adding the carbohydrate can be detrimental to performance in a fat adapted athlete.
Once properly warmed up, the fat adapted athlete can start adding strategic carbohydrates to bump up performance. Be careful with the amount, a little bit will help performance, too much will make the body sluggish. Strive for the personal minimum dose that leads to the strongest bump in performance. Excess carbohydrates are converted to fat instead of the immediate use of the carbohydrates.
Amounts of carbohydrates vary between 20 calories to 100 calories of carbohydrates every one to two hours. Some athletes perform better with a little more carbohydrate. Some very insulin resistant athletes perform well without adding any carbohydrates. As always...test, test, and more test. Some athletes perform best when the carbohydrates consumed with some protein. Sports drinks like Accelerade and Hammer Preputium and good options.
Higher intensity events, tend to require more carbohydrates than lower intensity events. The amount of carbohydrates added during the event depends largely on the athlete's tolerance.
Post event each day:
Once the athlete stops for that day, they should not eat for at least 30 minutes after they stop up to the next scheduled meal. If they do not feel like eating, there is no need to eat. Post event fasting is a great way to maintain a good fat burning state. One more time...TEST WHAT WORKS FOR YOU in training.
Protein is the most important macronutrient.
Our bodies are rebuilt by protein. When doing multiple day events, make sure you include protein in your diet to help you bounce back. Many fats adapted athletes are afraid of too much protein because of gluconeogenesis. This is not a problem for athletes because your body is going to burn it off and use it for fuel.
How much protein do you need? It depends on you. The book The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance recommend .6 - 1.0 grams of protein per pound of lean mass. My personal experience and working with my clients, the range should be about .8 - 1.3 grams per pound of lean mass.
If you don’t feel you bounce back well, trying adding in more protein. If you feel bloated and have a hard time stuffing down more protein, then it is probably too much. Instead of measuring, I recommend to my clients to eat until satiated. If you are still hungry, add more protein.
Protein is best assimilated in a high fat / low carb environment. The key to this is not snacking so the gall bladder is full so you get a good bile response to emulsify the fat/lipoproteins.
EAT REAL ANIMAL PROTEIN. Most protein sources should consist of meat, organ meat, skin & connective tissue from animal sources (beef, pork, poultry, fish, seafood) and eggs. Dairy can be included if one tolerates dairy well. Plant proteins and highly processed proteins like whey, particularly if low fat should be a small part of the protein intake.
Fats are your friend.
An important Macronutrients in hormone production and makes a pretty handy fuel source. When an athlete is well fat adapted, the body is very good at using it a fuel source. Depending on your goals, fats can be added during the event effort or outside of the event effort.
Saturated fats work best for fat adapted athletes. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats from natural sources can beneficial. Polyunsaturated fats should be limited as they are easily oxidized. Essential Omega 3 Polyunsaturated fats like EPA & DHA (not ALA from plants) should be consumed but in small amounts. Use healthy fats, coconut oil, avocado oil, lard, tallow, duck fat, butter, or olive oil. Eat to satiety.
Always test the types and amounts of fats before your event. If you loose stools, check a number of fats added to the diet. Too much fat can lead to weight gain or digestive issues. Fat should be avoided for fueling during the event or during training unless the weather is cold.
Fiber is not your friend.
I don’t recommend a high fiber diet at any time during a long stage race or multiple day events. If bowel movements are a problem, add more sodium and/or magnesium. If you consume a lot of dairy or grains consume a lot less and generally, movements will normalize.
Minerals work magic.
Fat adapted athletes need more minerals in their diet than typical glucose-dependent athletes, especially sodium. Salt is important. Failure to replace sodium will lead to fatigue, headaches, fainting, and loss of lean mass. When in doubt, add salt. There are many electrolyte replacement supplements out there. Of course, always test. I find that NUUN, with salt packets and Sports Legs to particularly useful.
Stay hydrated, but not too hydrated.
The best bet to make sure you are not dehydrated is to look at your urine. Drink adequate water but with the appropriate amount of electrolytes, mainly salt, to avoid dehydration. Learn what your electrolyte replacement needs are so you avoid diluting your minerals and end up with hyponatremia. Hydration is a highly dynamic process.
Supplements are not necessary but help performance.
Supplements are absolutely not necessary to be fat adapted. I don’t agree with anyone who says they are. Do they make you faster and give you a performance edge if you take them? Absolutely.
There are some supplements that can really help an athlete's performance. Amino Acids can be helpful in the body’s ability to convert fat to fuel. I am partial to Vespa and this is what I use for my training and races. One of the most efficient and easiest to consume during events is an amino acid peptide Vespa Power supplies. Generally, the athlete would consume one Vespa packet 30 minutes to 1 hour before the event. Then consume an additional Vespa every 1-3 hours during the event. Depending on the intensity of the event, like a cycling road race, some athletes load up with Vespa every half hour for the first 2 hours and then switch to carbohydrates every half hour.
Some athletes use Master Amino Pattern (MAP) or Pure Encapsulation Amino Acids. There are varying protocols for this. Some athletes grind up the amino acids and put them in their water bottles. I have tried this and find I don’t drink enough fluids when I add the amino acids. I am pretty finicky when it comes to tastes and textures during events. Like many supplement protocols, there is a certain amount of hyperbole.
If you are consuming a diet with plenty of natural protein sources your need for the prescribed amounts of Amino Acids (including MAP or BCAA’s etc.) is far less than the recommended dosing.
However, if you are vegetarian or vegan, our feeling is you probably will note a difference in performance using these products at their recommended doses. The key is the lowest response dose to avoid placing unnecessary load on your system, particularly the kidneys to process nitrogen.
Exogenous Ketone Salts have hit the market by storm. Ketones will provide additional fuel sources to a fat adapted athlete. They are also a great salt delivery system to the body. Some ketones salts are pretty tasty and will help you consume more fluids. Some ketone salts have a horrible taste. A fat adapted athlete will be better served by not becoming dehydrated than consuming additional ketone salts.
Trying to get the benefit of fat adaptation with ketone salts without the dietary and lifestyle changes to become fat adapted is not only not going to work and possibly lead to problems.
Having the right mindset will help performance.
Being fat adapted isn’t solely dependent on the foods consumed. Management of stress plays a big role in the body’s ability to burn fat for fuel. Having a meditation practice, listening to calming music, and/or having a good sense of humor help the body manage stress and keep the body in a good fat burning state.
Being fat adapted is the best way to ensure good performance in a long event or multiple day events. Nutrition and nutrition timing is important. Always test your nutrition strategy in training. Once you find what works best for you in the "Build" phase of training. Once you find what works for you, stick to that plan until after the event.
Stephanie is an endurance coach with a passion for motivating people to live healthier.