When it comes to fat adaptation, nutrition is the most important piece of the puzzle. Changes in what you eat during the whole day and before and after a training session will have the biggest impact on your success. Let’s look at how it works and what a day of eating for a fat-adapted athlete looks like.
Step one: Limit carbohydrate availability
The main thing you are trying to influence with nutrition is how much carbohydrate is available to your body. Why? Carbohydrates, the highly processed ones especially, have a big effect on insulin production. The hormone insulin allows our cells to use blood sugar as energy and controls adiposity (sends excess sugar to be stored as fat). When insulin is high, almost no fat burning is possible. So, if you are used to eating a diet high in carbohydrates, the first step is to reduce their intake. When your body is short on carbohydrates, both glucose and glycogen, it naturally turns to fat as a source of energy, both stored and dietary fat, and that’s the goal.
Step two: Introduce healthy fats
There is no universal limit on carbohydrates that will ensure fat adaptation, everyone reacts differently. But in general, keeping your carbohydrate intake under 100g a day should produce good results. Imagine 100g of carbs as a large serving of potatoes and two bananas. What is considered a standard diet nowadays often contains over 300g of carbs daily, so you will need to replace what you give up with something: healthy fats! Keep in mind that if you decide to go for it, you shouldn’t half-arse it. You should always feel full, don’t undereat, or you could end up in a no man’s land with no fat adaptation and under-fuelled for harder training sessions.
Where do you get the healthy fats from? Best sources are real wholesome fatty foods like avocados, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, and high-quality organically farmed meats. Good choices are also cold pressed oils, such as olive or coconut oil, and high-quality organic full-fat dairy like cream or ghee. When reducing carbs, eliminate the highly processed ones (sweetened drinks, deserts, baked goods, etc.) and leave only whole-food ones (fruits, root vegetables, legumes, potatoes, squash, etc.).
A day of eating for a fat-adapted athlete
Let’s suppose you are a healthy cycling enthusiast who commutes to work on a bike and does some longer rides on the weekend. What should your day of eating look like if you were fat-adapted?
– Start the day with eggs and some vegetables, let’s say a broccoli. Add an avocado as a great source of fats and a caloric replacement for what would usually be a slice of bread.
– Lunch can contain some meat, ideally a fattier cut if it’s from an organically raised animal. A colourful salad with olive oil will go nicely with it.
– Nuts are an ideal snack food. You can combine them with some berries, dried fruits or a piece of chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content.
– Dinner is where you have your main serving of carbs. Baked potatoes with a fish are an ideal choice for winter time.
How do you know if you succeeded?
Can you go three hours without eating? Is skipping a meal an exercise in misery? If the answer is yes and no, then your body is most likely able to extract enough energy from fats to cover your daily energy needs. That’s a great first step and also something that will help in prevention of many modern degenerative diseases. The next step is figuring out how to add training and successfully fuel it. I will focus on that next time in the last article of the series.