If you think you need carbs to fuel your body…think again. Chugging down sugary sports drinks to “re-energize” your body isn’t necessary and may actually be hindering your performance.
I’m not saying big sport drink companies need to be concerned about re-formulating their over priced brightly colored sugar water. But when some of the top “endurance” athletes start throwing caution to the wind and switch over to low carb diets…all while improving their performance…well, it’s worth a look, don’t you think?
I’ve been a proponent of low carb diets for sometime now, but when it came to high performance in endurance events such as cycling, running and triathlons…high carb intake seemed necessary. But according to some low carb experts, that may not be the case.
According to experts, going on a low carb diet doesn’t negatively effect your body’s ability to perform at an elite level as long as your body is fat-adapted.
Being fat-adapted means your body switches it’s main energy source from glucose to fat. The only issues is that this process can take quite sometime. The time it takes for an individual to become fully fat-adapted varies, but it can take weeks or even months.
And as Paleo expert and former endurance athlete Mark Sisson pointed out, that may have been the missing factor and in the past studies. Most large scale studies in the past found decreased athletic performance while following a low carb diet, BUT it’s highly likely that these athletes in the study were not fully fat-adapted.
Although transitioning from a typical carb heavy diet to a low carb diet can be a bumpy road, once you’re fully transitioned over into utilizing fat as your main source of energy, your body can function more effectively and consistently without suffering from energy highs and lows. This is because you have an almost endless supply of energy, when your energy source comes from stored body fat.
When you rely heavily on carbs for energy, the problem is it gets depleted quickly. This requires you to constantly re-supply your body with more carbs, which in turn produces a vicious cycle of insulin spikes causing highs and lows in your blood sugar levels and highs and lows in energy. If you don’t keep your body constantly fueled with carbs, you’ll run out of energy and cause you “bonk” out. This is something all endurance athletes want to avoid.
So when you compare the 2 energy systems, it quickly becomes clear that fat-dependent energy system is far more efficient than your typical carb-dependent energy system, since you don’t need to worry about energy highs and lows caused by insulin spikes OR running out of gas.
According to Dr. Stephen Phinney from UC Davis (who has been studying low carb performance for 30 years) once the body has become fat-adapted, it essentially makes the athlete “bonk-proof”. It also helps them become more resilient and increase their longevity, since being fat-adapted also boosts anti-inflammatory properties to counteract the cumulative oxidative stress caused by long training hours.
These benefits were incentive enough for small group of elite endurance athletes to take the leap of faith and switch over to a low carb diet to become fully “fat-adapted” endurance athletes. And so far the results have been pretty impressive. Perhaps this will encourage others to abandon the traditional approach for what I believe is a far superior energy process.
If you’re thinking about switching over to become fat-adapted, you’ll want to make sure that you’re consuming enough quality protein in your diet, since high volumes of training will increase the amount muscle breakdown. Grass-fed beef with high saturated fats are very beneficial and fish with high omega-3 fat content like salmon, herring, trout, sardines and anchovies are also highly recommended.
If you can’t get enough protein from foods, you can also add high quality whey protein to supplement your diet as well. And personally I find using BCAA supplement to be very helpful when it comes to preserving lean muscle mass. Studies have shown that BCAA is very effective at helping preserve muscle from breaking down during hard training.
And lastly, if you aren’t getting enough fish in your diet, you definitely want to add omega-3 fat supplements. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fats have shown to be very beneficial at combating inflammation, so you can keep training hard, while protecting your body from breaking down and getting sick or injured.
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