Many runners rely on carbohydrates to fuel the running the do. In addition to that, walk into any sporting good store and peek at the fuel that is for sale to keep you moving on a distance run. The gels, blocks and chews commonly used by runners are full of sugar. If you’re trying to put real food into your body, this may not be for you. Another perk to fueling your body without sugars and starches is that you are less likely to “bonk,” hitting that metaphorical “wall” that some athletes find mid long run. Today we discuss fat as fuel.
What Is Dietary Fat?
Even though some people would have us all believing that fat is the enemy, it is actually an essential dietary component. To understand this we have to delve into what dietary fat actually is and how the body can use it.
Everything a person eats is comprised of two basic components: macronutrients and micronutrients. A macronutrient is a nutritive component. There are three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Also necessary to consider are micronutrients: vitamins and minerals. These things are present in foods and help fuel the body to perform the functions you ask of it.
Although many people are incorrectly under the assumption that fat is always bad, there are many, many types of healthy fats that can (and should) be incorporated into your diet on a daily basis.
How Can The Body Use Fat As Fuel
Since the body is adept at storing fat, it stands to reason that figuring out how to use that stored fat as fuel is a good idea. While one gram of dietary fat is the equivalent of 9 calories taken in, a pound of stored fat equals about 3600 calories of stored energy.
If you are an athlete engaging in fast and explosive power movement, those fat stores are less helpful to you as a source of fuel. However, if you are engaging in a slow burn exercise, such as a long run, you can tap into these reserves.
Fueling On Dietary Fats
Choosing food items to fuel the body for a long run can be challenging for those choosing to bypass the simple sugars, but it can be done. There are many healthy fats that can easily be added to a diet. For example, swapping out the oatmeal for apple slices with peanut butter spread on it is a simple way to get healthier carbohydrates with a spattering of fat.
Other healthy fats such as avocado and nuts can be incorporated into an athlete’s body to help keep you moving when your energy level is in danger of dipping.
Not all fats are created equal. Think back to the Atkins diet revolution when people feasted on bacon and processed fatty sausages. Today’s low carb proponents rely heavily on healthy fats such as those found in nuts, olives and fish like salmon.
Using Stored Fats As Fuel
Did you know that up to 75% of endurance activities can be fueled entirely by fats that are stored in your body? This is one reason why your fat percentage should never dip below 15% of your macros.
When you train your body to burn fat stores instead of the food you consume before your workout, you have improved your ME or metabolic efficiency. Improving your metabolic efficiency not only improves your body’s ability to burn fat during a workout, it also impacts your fat burning when at rest. Who does not want to reap the benefits of that?
What Is Fat Adapted?
In the world of Keto, you will often hear the words fat adapted. First, let’s delve into what keto actually is. Short for ketogenic, keto is a low carb lifestyle. When following a ketogenic diet your body falls into ketosis and your body starts to burn fat. Many people turn to keto for weight loss but it also has potential health benefits.
One example is for diabetics. A keto diet often helps diabetics in blood sugar regulation (Note: If you are an insulin-dependent diabetic, please do not make any major dietary changes without consulting your physician).
When Does The Body Utilize Fat Efficiently As Fuel?
Your body can, and will, be trained to use fat as fuel. In many people, this happens most efficiently when rolling at a slow burn. What does that mean? It means that your body is most effective at using your stored fats to fuel your body over the long haul. Think long runs, easy bike rides, distance swimming, and activities such as that.
For athletes who have always worked out on an empty stomach, you have fought part of this battle already. Why? Because your body is already acclimated to getting out of bed and working out without any food for fuel. If you know you can run three miles without putting any food into your body, it won’t be a stretch to increase that to a few more, if you give it some time.
Something to consider before you do this is the percentage of fats that exist in your macros. If you find your energy level waning as you run further, think about adding some healthy fats.
Whether you call it fat-adapted, metabolic efficiency or something else, you will likely need to be patient. If you have always fueled your body with carbohydrates when exercising, you are in for a surprise if you expect you can just head out for a long run and expect your body to figure out how to burn fat stores on a run.
Your body will take some time to get used to what you are asking of it. It is likely you will feel sluggish and slow, perhaps even a bit lightheaded, when you first started trying to run without a kick start of carbohydrates.
Whether you are entering into a ketogenic diet, eating paleo or just trying not to fuel with carbs before or during a run, your body won’t accept this change overnight. You have to understand that your body wants what it is used to and will demand an adjustment period.
However, if you are patient, the change will occur. One day it will just hit you, “Hey! I feel great!”. Your head will feel clear, your energy level will have increased and you will feel like you could run forever when you say goodbye to the high caused by simple carbs.