As we continue to look at fat related topics this month, today it’s all about becoming more fat efficient. This can really benefit you as an athlete, but how do you maximise the efficiency of it? Also how do you balance the fat vs carb intake as an endurance athlete? Hear more on this episode of 32Gi Sports Nutrition.
Welcome back to 32Gi Sports Nutrition, I’m Mr Active David Katz. It is August still, we are still looking at fat. This one is for the athletes; because we’ve talked about Banting in a previous podcast, and a lot of athletes have tried a more fat based as opposed to a carbohydrate diet.
But Mark for people out there who don’t quite understand what or how do you become fat efficient, what are the benefits of it? Then another question I have is for the long distance sort of an endurance athlete, can you run only on fat?
Mark Wolff: It’s quite a comprehensive and debatable subject. But to be quite honest you know for me a fat efficient athlete is an athlete that has the ability to exercise and utilise a higher percentage of fat during exercise. Probably if he’s really, really fat efficient at higher intensities than an average person.
There are many benefits to that, and one of them is in actual fact is if you’re a carbohydrate dependent person you need to feed yourself carbohydrates during exercise. Because if you don’t and you don’t know how to tap into those fat stores and utilise those as energy you will obviously feel that dip. Which we we call bonking, when your glycogen stores are depleted.
How different athlete’s transition from glycogen to fat fuelling
The whole purpose of being fat efficient is to try and get away from that and to try and utilise as much fat as possible during exercise. I’ll give you a very, very simple example of how an athlete could feel under both circumstances.
The one I just mentioned now is, and it’s a terrible feeling, is when you obviously carbohydrate depleted your glycogen stores drop. Your body needs to switch it’s engine over now into more of a fat burning engine. It slows down the gears, it allows more oxygen to the system. That process takes a fair amount of time. It is a period of pain and suffering that a lot of the athletes just stop, they don’t even wanna go on.
They, if you cycling you can’t even feel the pedals, if you running you can’t even feel your legs, it’s a terrible feeling. Nobody likes to get there. But a fat efficient athlete will transition from one to the other quite seamlessly.
I mean I myself feel it as well. If I know that I’ve pushed very hard in the high intensity I feel that drop that switch over from glycogen sort of to fat. What actually happens though is that yes you do feel a little bit slightly weaker. You know that you’ve gotta drop those gears a little bit and you keep going. But you understand that you not going to feel the pain of what a carbohydrate person would feel like.
The advantage of being able to train on fat
You don’t feel that pain at all it’s a seamless transition. I actually get a smile on my face why? Because I know that I’m burning off fat. I’m burning loads of it. To me it’s like okay wow I’m in a fat burn zone now let’s just burn the fat, and it’s a nice feeling.
Another example is, is that a very fat efficient person or a fat efficient athlete can do something quite simple. I did this a couple of weeks ago when I was training for Roth. I woke up one morning I had a 36 kilometre run. I had a cup of green tea and I went and I ran 36 kilometres. I came home I felt very comfortable and stable and I went and I had my recovery meal.
I did not need any fuel on route. You know people say to me well you ran very slowly whatever, I ran that around 4:40 pace, which isn’t, it’s not excessively slow. It’s not a very fast pace, but it was a very controlled and comfortable pace. Which allowed me to get enough oxygen into my system to allow me to tap into my fat stores. Not have to rely on carbohydrates for that period of time.
For some people that’s a very, very daunting thought. How can I go and exercise and not eat before and not eat during? It’s a crazy thing but you can train the body to become very efficient. Not relying on so many external sources.
The difference between training and racing on fat
Of course when we race even a minimalistic fuelled athlete when we race and we raise that intensity you do need to look at a fuel source. You do need to tie that into the intensity that you racing at.
So obviously if you racing at an extremely high intensity and oxygen is limited, you do need to take in a carbohydrate which is releasing at a quicker rate. Which is getting into the system to help spare glycogen.
But if you racing at a lower more controlled pace you don’t have to over-do it with the carbohydrates. You can look at a lower intake of carbohydrates and you can try and utilise carbohydrate feed; but simultaneously also make sure that your body has got a nice ability to be able to burn fat.
I would say simultaneously or even try to burn fat a little bit more. In order to be able to spare glycogen for a lot longer than somebody who would have to just eat carbohydrates all the time in order to be able to store glycogen during exercise.
DK: Mark as an athlete who has become more fat efficient. When you do take those carbohydrates do you find that, that sort of benefit is bigger than someone who is still sort of more carb based in their diet?
One of the biggest catches of being fat efficient
MW: It’s a very interesting question because one of the things that does happen when, I am extremely fat efficient and I’m eating a lower carb diet. Cos I actually do what I call carbohydrate periodisation. I periodise, I take in the carbs when I need them. When I don’t need them I don’t take them in.
So I work that way I use carbs more for recovery and energy, but I take in only what I require. The problem is when I’m extremely fat efficient and while I’m gearing up to a big event like when I was gearing up for Roth right now. I had to train my stomach to adapt to carbohydrate or higher carbohydrate intake during an event.
Initially your stomach is extremely sensitive because you don’t metabolise carbohydrates as somebody who eats carbohydrates all the time. So you need to train your gut. That discomfort after a week or two weeks eventually starts to go, as long as you training yourself for that.
So I would say that once that stomach is trained and the discomfort is gone, there definitely, definitely is a benefit in me being able to consume carbohydrates during a, especially a long endurance event.
Because your glycogen stores, I mean the race I did a couple of weeks ago was 9 hours and 52 minutes. It’s a long time to be out there. At some stage your body is not going to have any glycogen left and it’s gonna switch to more of a fat fuel source in able to fuel the body. The thing is how efficient is it gonna be the more fat efficient you are the better it is. And you don’t have to take in a large amount of nutrition to be able to support that.
Put more trust in your natural energy stores
I think the problem is that people are afraid of their own natural energy stores. They tend to mitigate their own natural energy stores or try to utilise them efficiently let me say. Then they start to rely on external sources way too much. Some people are in excess which does cause digestive issues. Some people maybe a little bit too little, because they not fat efficient enough.
I’ll give you a simple example; again is that you know we sponsor a lot of Comrades Marathon elite athletes. Some of the professional athletes that I’ve measured their fuel intake on route. I mean I fed them personally and these are guys that are doing anywhere between five and a half to six hours, even under five and a half it’s a very fast pace.
But some of these guys their carbohydrate is maybe only anywhere between 25 to maybe 45 grams of carbs per hour. They do take in some protein as well, but I mean that is at the pace they going. For the time they going and for the distance they going, that is very minimal fuelling.
It’s minimal fuelling but a runner needs, a runner’s stomach is far more sensitive than a guy on a bicycle. A runner can get away with far less intake than say a cyclist. They don’t need to eat the same, the digestive system is a lot more stable on a bicycle for example.
DK: Mark lastly before we wrap up you know we’ve talked about fat efficient and what it means and what it is, but how exactly does one transfer to become fat efficient?
How to actually become more fat efficient
MW: I think that’s really the pinnacle of trying to understand how do you become more fat efficient. So firstly I need to say this if you are somebody who does eat a lot of carbohydrates, maybe before or during exercise. There is absolutely no chance that you gonna go on a two hour session and not take in any fuel.
Because if you do that you are gonna hit the wall. I mean there’s no doubt. So I think that’s one thing we need to look at is you can’t jump from being a fuel depending person and then suddenly jump to I’m only gonna go on water for the next couple of hours. It’s just not gonna happen. I’ve seen athletes try and do it and they just, they get burnt.
So how do you become more fat efficient? I think the first things you need to do is like one of the things that I actually advocate. Is if you gonna get up early in the morning to train and your exercise session is like an hour or under, don’t have anything before just stick to water. Don’t have, put any carbs, don’t put any sugar stick to water or have a green tea or have a black coffee. Keep it out and actually go and train on empty.
But then obviously you need to focus on the recovery. Those are short workouts, those can happen quite regularly. You know if somebody is scared of going an hour, then start off with half an hour workouts and 45 minute workouts. Slowly over time you need to build that up, you build that up to an hour an hour and a quarter. Eventually your body will adapt to being able to exercise or train on much less you will burn off a lot more fat.
If you take in a, a sort of high carbohydrate meal before going and training for an hour session. You will cause a rise in blood glucose in your system. Your body will burn that off way, way before it gets to the fat. So if you actually looking from a weight-loss perspective or a from a fat-burn perspective; better to train on empty than to obviously go and load your system with carbohydrates before that.
Slow and steady wins the fat burning race
The other thing I want to say is yes you still need to hydrate. I mean you could use a hydration drink or you could just go with straight water. But you will adapt it slowly over time. I always tell people, slowly, slowly start to increase the time based on the feeling. Don’t go and do it immediately.
You will find that over a couple of weeks or a couple of months you become extremely fat efficient. You able to train for much longer periods on a lot less. But diet plays a very, very critical role.
Another simple example is if you go to bed the night before, you eat an extremely high carbohydrate or even if you have too much steak the night before. Your blood glucose is quite high, the next morning you might be in a fasting zone. But there might be a little bit of blood glucose still sitting in your system.
Again you already at a disadvantage for burning fat because your blood glucose levels are a little higher. You gonna have burn that off before you even get to burning off fat. So I think that’s a very simple example. So baby steps; start easy, watch your diet, watch your eating and then start moving into that direction.
DK: Well thanks Mark. Mark Wolff joining us on Skype once again this week and. If you wanna reach Mark ask him more questions, do log onto the website 32gi.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s it from this week from myself Mr Active David Katz. Fat month ends next week it’s our last week. It wouldn’t be a fat month if we didn’t look at weight-loss. So do tune in next Thursday with Mark Wolff and myself.