Teaching your body how to burn fat for fuel (rather than carbohydrates/sugar) provides many health benefits, including enhancing athletic performance. There are specifically three groups of athletes who benefit most from creating this metabolic shift:
- Those who want to lose weight.
- Those interested in enhancing health and longevity.
- Those who experience poor GI distress during training or racing.
If you’re an athlete interested in losing weight, research shows that reduced carb lifestyles are more effective and efficient at reducing body fat and enabling weight loss maintenance. Appetite decreases, as do cravings, and satisfaction increases as you are eating healthy, nutrient-dense foods, all while witnessing performance gains.
For those who want to enhance health and longevity, burning fat for fuel is key. This is because when you are a sugar burner you create more free radicals. Free radicals are dangerous to normal cellular processes. Athletes already create more free radicals than the average person, so adding large amounts of sugar to the mix can lead to disaster such as increased risk of injury, faster aging and general inflammation.
If you experience GI distress, you may find relief through fat-adaption. For some people, certain forms of sugar, like fructose, cause GI distress. These carbs can also cause bloating, abdominal discomfort and diarrhea from the bacterial fermentation of the carbs and osmolarity shifts in the gut.
If you’re interested in experiencing the positive impacts of fat-adaptation, follow these generalized steps:
- Change your diet. Eat lower glycemic index carbs (high fiber, low sugar) like green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower. Reduce/eliminate grains, choose full fat plain Greek yogurt with berries, seeds and nuts. Eat fatty cuts of meat with your lower-glycemic vegetables. Add butter, MCT oil, olive oils, avocado and cheese (if tolerated).
- Focus on nutrient timing. After exercise, backload your carbs without overestimating your needs. Have more carbohydrates with your evening meal over others. If you have muscle fatigue during your next workout, you may need more post-activity carbs. Focus on berries, sweet potatoes, winter squash and rice because they stimulate less of an inflammatory response.
It’s important to note that it takes the body at least six weeks to successfully create this metabolic shift. For the first four weeks, decreasing duration and intensity of exercise sessions is key; give your body time and compassion to switch the type of fuel it uses. Also, recognize that a well-formulated meal plan may be essential to your ultimate success. If you’ve given this a try and still don’t feel your best, that means something is off and it’s time to contact a professional knowledgeable in fat-adaptation to help you succeed. Before you know it, you will be a fat-burning machine!
Ashley Lucas has a doctorate in sports nutrition and chronic disease. She is also a registered dietitian nutritionist. She is the founder and owner of PHD Weight Loss and Nutrition, offering weight management and wellness services in the Four Corners. She can be reached at 764-4133.