Yes, I said it. I’ve grown so tired of hearing people claim
that “fat makes you fat” and “non-fat is the way to go”. I get it, as I too was
raised in a home where low fat ranch dressing and nonfat milk resided on the
shelves of our fridge. It was the ‘80s and the “low fat craze” was in full
effect. America’s fear of fat started in the mid-‘70s, when fat was exposed as
an evil foe, and we needed to replace our fats with carbs, pasta, potatoes and
rice. The theory was that we would live longer and be thinner. It sounds fairly
ridiculous in the year 2017, where all of us seem to know that cutting back on
processed food and overdoing our carb intake isn’t a surefire way to fitness.
However, getting it into our heads that fat is NOT the
four-letter word we were raised to believe it was is still, to this day,
difficult to grasp for most. I hope to share a few things of what I’ve learned
about fat, and what it’s done for my training and racing. I will note, however,
that I do NOT have a PHD next to my name, nor any other acronyms. I’m just a run-of-the-mill
endurance MTB athlete, who’s learned a thing or two about racing fuel and
nutrition after years of being my own test-dummy. What I stumbled upon was
certainly far from anything I ever expected.
Implement Now: Cut back or just stop eating anything
processed. If you don’t feel like reading the rest of the article, that’s the
one takeaway I would encourage all human beings (and pets, for that matter) to
implement right away. If it’s processed in any way, just don’t buy it! Done.
Now you’re welcome to go back to updating your Insta story if you so choose.
What’s the big no-no about processed food? Before I dive
into that, I’ll define what I mean. Foods that have been chemically processed
and made solely from refined ingredients and artificial substances is what
we’re generally talking about here. Here are a few reasons why they’re a major
contributor to obesity and illness around the world:
usually high in sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. They’re loaded with added
sugars, or ingredients disguised in less evil-sounding names (like “brown rice
syrup” “agave syrup” “organic cane sugar”). To be honest, our bodies don’t
utilize organic cane sugar any differently than high fructose corn syrup. Sorry,
just being honest.
foods cause a “hyper rewarding” sensation, leading to us eating way more than
we should. There’s a reason it’s nearly impossible to have just 1 chip, and
that reason is: many food manufacturers plan it this way. That’s right, so much
of our food has been engineered to be so much tastier than anything we may come
across naturally found in nature.
ingredients, most of which impossible to pronounce, are found in abundance in
processed foods. Most of these include preservatives, colors, textures, and
flavors. Also be careful, “artificial flavors” on any label could mean well
over 10 more additional chemicals that the manufactures are not required to
disclose on the label.
- Processed junk food is quite literally addictive. Our reward sensors in the
brain get hooked on the stimulation that these fake flavors cause
- Processed foods are often full of refined carbs. Refined carbs equals blood
sugar and insulin spikes and crashes, therefor making you “need more” as soon
as they run out. More on overcoming this response later in the article. It is
absolutely possible to beat the crashes and energy dips!
not getting many healthy nutrients in processed foods, even if the label on
your milk carton proudly says “added Omega 3s”. Processed foods and so many of
the chemicals that compose them have zero nutrient value, and are void of
vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and various trace nutrients. Even non-organic,
non-grass fed meat has significantly lower count of CLA and Amino Acid per
serving vs its counterpart. The argument here is “Well grass fed is so much
more expensive”, and the response here would be “Yeah, but you need only half
the amount to reap twice the rewards!”
food will quickly digest and you’ll be hungry again sooner, due to the lack of
natural fiber and we eat them faster because they’re manufactured so that we
do! That’s right, so many of these foods are made so that we scarf them down
quickly and don’t waste precious time chewing for longer when we could be
shoving more in our faces.
foods contain unhealthy cheap fats like refined seed and vegetable oils that
are so often hydrogenated, which turns them into trans fats. I know, the title
of this article says to eat more fats. And believe me, we’re getting there.
Just know that all fats are NOT the same. The vegetable oils family of fats
should be avoided like the Plague.
- It is not my intention to scare people into eating a more
Fat-Adapted Whole Food Diet here. Scare tactics are not, in my opinion, the way
to go. I would just be remiss if I omitted a few facts regarding processed
foods and what they do to our bodies, especially if I’m spouting off
suggestions to avoid them entirely. Now we get into the good stuff: the “what makes
my body feel awesome and burn its own fat for fuel vs glucose”.
Most human beings today in the US are glucose-burning,
meaning we require glucose (sugar) as our main source of energy. This is not
how we were born, nor is it how our bodies are intended to be. Our bodies were
made to fat-burners. We are quite good at utilizing our own fat stores for
fuel. The extreme version of this is a process called ketosis. The healthiest
approach I’ve come across seems to be a good “fat adapted” way of life. I train
on the bike perhaps more hours than some, and I have played around with strict
ketosis, as well as a slightly less strict approach, where I’m not in
full-blown keto at all times, but perhaps drift in and out a few times during
the week. I seem to feel best this way. To describe the differences between the
two, I must define what a ketogenic diet looks like and the benefits and
research that have finally been grabbing people’s attention slowly but surely.
The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that
involves drastically reducing carb intake (note: NOT calorie intake), and
replacing it with healthy fats, thus putting your body in a metabolic state of
ketosis. Basically, ketosis means that your body becomes incredibly efficient
at burning fat for its energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver,
which can help supply energy for the brain.
How does a higher-fat, low-carb diet benefit your health?
There are a lot of benefits, so I’ll try to keep them brief.
lowers all inflammatory markers and drastically lowers risk factors for
disease. A huge byproduct of having your innards functioning at optimal levels
such as this allows your body to shed its own excess fat stores and burn them
for fuel efficiently, (in laymen’s terms: you lose weight in short order)
has proven to improve insulin sensitivity by up to 75%, and has been a proven
method for diabetics to have the ability to overcome the disease and stop the
use of all medications
helps your brain function at its best as well, helping prevent brain-fog,
sluggishness, and improves mental clarity and sharpness. It’s also gone so far
as to improve risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease, Epilepsy, Cancer, Parkinsons
disease, and Heart disease. Pretty awesome.
out sugars and carbs and replacing them with healthy fats make food cravings
all but disappear. This is one of my favorite side effects. When I’m being a
good girl and sticking to it, I get zero “hangry” feelings, food cravings, nor
feel like I ever am “famished”. I have a sustained energy all day, with no high
highs, nor low lows. I don’t get an afternoon slump, nor do I get as
emotionally drained by daily life stressors.
There are many more, that perhaps I can elaborate further on
in another article. But for now, that should give you a taste of the goodness
that is a Fat-Adapted Diet.
What do I do and how do I get to become a fat-burning beast?
Start by avoiding the following:
foods: soda (diet or regular), fruit juice, smoothies, cake, ice cream, candy,
meal replacement bars
or starches: wheat-based products, rice, pasta, cereal, bread, etc.
All fruit for the first 4 weeks: then introduce perhaps just 1 portion of
lower-glycemic-index fruits like berries or citrus (avoid bananas, pineapple, and
watermelon, unless perhaps it’s during a race longer than 1 hour)
or legumes: Peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, hummus, peanuts
Veggies and Tubers: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips (again, at
least strictly for the first 4 weeks, then exceptions can be made based upon
training and racing loads. When I’m in heavy training, I am not shy with sweet
potatoes, carrots, rice, and apples)
or diet products: refer to my rant on processed foods above
condiments or sauces: so many have added sugar, become a savvy label-reader to
find foods with hidden sugars in them
fat: limit your intake of processed vegetable oils, soybean oil, mayo, etc
yep, no post-ride IPAs if you’re serious about it. Your body processes it as
sugar, so all alcohol is off limits for the first 4 weeks, then after that, if
you insist on a bit of boozy fun, some tequila, soda water and a lime is your
cocktail of choice from here on out.
foods: often high in sugar alcohols which can mess with your ketone levels and
also give your taste buds a desire to want to pick up more sugary foods. Trust
me, your body (and taste buds) will adjust and once and for all NOT want sugar!
Foods to eat:
all grass-fed meat, steak, pork, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken. Buy organic and
eat smaller portions. A very crucial note: our bodies do not need the insane
amount of protein we once thought. In fact, once your body gets its required
amount of protein, it goes straight to storing it as fat.
fish: ocean-caught salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel
pasture-raised, organic eggs
butter and cream: grass fed as well
unprocessed cheddar, goat, cream, blue, or mozzarella
and Seeds: macadamia, walnuts, pecans, almonds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc
oils: As much as you’d like, smother everything in extra virgin olive oil,
coconut oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, flax seed oil
Lots of them
veggies: most green veggies, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc
Himalayan Sea Salt, pepper, garlic, basil, cilantro, pretty much most spices
Now comes the part that is going to be toughest in your
journey should you jump on board. The first 2-3 weeks is rough. Your body has
to basically detox itself off of sugar and begin fat-burning. This takes a toll
on your overall energy at first. It can make you feel sluggish, crabby,
aggravated, slightly emotional, tired, even sick feeling. Again, this is
temporary! It will pass and you will begin to feel better than you may have
ever felt in your life. You’ll be more clear-headed, more energetic, food
cravings will disappear, you’ll feel younger, you’ll drop weight, and you won’t
feel the need to always eat, nor will food be an active thought in your brain
during the day.
I encourage everyone to give it a shot. Plan the first three
weeks during a low-training block of your race year, as you should not attempt
any quality workouts during this adjustment phase. Be patient with yourself,
and get extra sleep. The rewards will be worth it.
In the next article, I’ll discuss how a high-fat, low-carb
diet helps you reach loftier athletic goals, and how to reap massive training
and races benefits to get the most out of it!