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A Diet Goal for the Off-Season: Become a Fat-Adapted Cyclist

By Jiří Kaloč

Winter is coming! And with it an ideal time to try new training strategies and nutrition approaches. In the following articles I will show you what it means to be a fat-adapted athlete, why you should try to become one, and how to do it. Let’s start with the basics.

What does a fat-adapted cyclist mean?

In short, it refers to a cyclist that is metabolically flexible, a cyclist that can use fat as a fuel just as easily as carbohydrate. Unfortunately, due to the standard diet recommendations, hyper-availability of carbohydrates, and reliance on carbs as a workout fuel, we are not very good at utilizing fats. It might sound trivial, but the difference is quite significant, especially considering long-term health and performance.


Carb-loading is not necessary

We’ve been told that carbohydrates will help us have a better workout and go faster or longer. And it’s true to an extent. Most cycling enthusiasts are not fat-adapted; their bodies rely almost solely on carbohydrate intake for energy. The thing is, once you become fat-adapted, none of that applies. We will look closer at the performance effects in the following articles. The thing I want to highlight, and that applies to everyone, not just cyclists, is that overusing carbs can have quite dramatic negative effects over the long term.


Why it’s a good idea to not overload on carbs

When you consume carbohydrates, your blood sugar rises. That’s when your pancreas produces insulin to deal with the excess sugar. The problems start to occur when this happens too often. Your body starts developing resistance to insulin, and your blood sugar levels stay high for longer than is healthy. And chronic high blood sugar is no joke. Quite a significant number of observational studies suggest that:

1. Risk of cancer increases with high blood sugar

2. Risk of cardiovascular events increases with high blood sugar

3. Chronic high blood sugar results in cognitive impairment and dementia

4. Risks of kidney disease and pancreatic dysfunction are increased with elevated blood sugar

The sensitivity to insulin is not determined only by our carb intake but also by stress and lack of sleep for example. Similarly, becoming a fat-burning athlete is not only about reducing the amount of carbs ingested, or about diet alone. There are lifestyle changes and training modifications you need to make to be successful, but more on that later in the series.

Are you willing to make a change?

If you could improve your endurance and significantly raise your chances of avoiding modern diseases, would you do it, even if it meant a temporary dip in performance and a significant lifestyle change? If the answer is yes, read on next week.