Ever wondered what it’s like to feel like you could keep going all day long? Imagine never having to worry about where the next sugar hit is coming from. It was common knowledge among cyclists for years that they needed to load up on carbohydrates to perform. In more recent times however, many cyclists have tapped into a whole new energy source from within. It’s one that’ll keep you going all day at a steady pace without the need for constant refuelling. It’s the world of fat-adaptation. It will improve your cycling performance, your health and get you over the hills a lot faster as well!
MAKE ‘THE BONK’ A THING OF THE PAST
As cyclists we all know what it’s like to bonk. It occurs when we deplete our glycogen supplies. That’s the carbohydrate that our bodies store from food. For many the solution has always been to load up on carbohydrate in anticipation of bonking. Whether warranted or not, for many of us it was simply the justification for indulging in those sugar-filled treats.
But what if there was a healthier alternative? One that improved not only your performance, but also your health? Well, fat-adaptation may be that alternative.
Excess energy in your body is stored as fat. By becoming fat-adapted you gain access to almost unlimited fat deposits as an energy source. Your body stores many thousands of calories as fat, in anticipation of that hard winter that never actually comes in our modern world. These calories were vital to our survival when we were hunter-gatherers. But nowadays they simply slow us down – especially on the hills!
THE BODY’S FUELING OPTIONS
Your body can burn either carbohydrate, protein or fat for fuel. Here’s how they’re metabolised in the body of a cyclist.
1) CARBOHYDRATE – FOR THE HARD EFFORTS
Carbohydrate is required for high-intensity exercise. When you’re doing several Vo2 max intervals on the trainer you’re tapping into the glycogen reserves in your muscles, and you quickly burn through them. If you’re not fat-adapted and do high-intensity work without refuelling, then you’ll bonk.
2) PROTEIN – BREAKING YOU DOWN
Protein is used for energy by breaking down muscle fibre or via direct use of dietary protein. In a process known as gluconeogenesis, the liver converts protein to glucose. It’s not a viable energy source long term, but it may be what gets you home slowly if you bonk.
3) FAT – THE ULTIMATE ENERGY SOURCE
Fat provides an almost limitless supply of energy. While it won’t help you generate more watts in your sprint, it will help you go further for longer at lower intensities.
The liver metabolises fat by producing organic compounds known as ketones. Once your body “learns” how to utilise them, they provide a stable, long-lasting supply of energy. It’s one that can help cyclists go for longer without refuelling.
Let’s talk about how you can teach your body how to tap into this almost limitless energy resource.
HOW TO EAT AND TRAIN FOR FAT-ADAPTATION
Fat-adaptation can come about purely by dietary means, or it can be enhanced by coupling it with smart training. Let’s take a deeper look at both of these concepts.
A) DIETARY INTERVENTIONS TO BRING ABOUT FAT-ADAPTATION
In order to become fat-adapted, you need to avoid excessive carbohydrate by eating meals comprised mainly of fat with moderate protein (remember: protein converts to glucose). From avocados, to nuts and seeds, and from meat and fish to olive oil and coconut oil, it’s all good.
If you completely eliminate carbohydrates, then in as little as a few days you should begin to notice the body shifting to burning fat. Often known as the keto flu it’s that weak feeling you get. Thankfully however, it doesn’t last.
If you come to completely rely on fat for energy, it’s referred to as being in a state of ketosis. However, this is extreme for most as it involves refraining from almost any kind of carbohydrate and may result in damage to your body if you do it long-term.
A better method for fat-adaptation can be brought about by refraining from carbohydrate consumption at certain times of the day in a method known as cyclical ketosis. On such a diet you refrain from eating carbohydrate until your evening meal. This allows you to enter a ketotic state for periods during the day without placing unnecessary stress on your body.
For those inclined to easily gain weight, a high-fat diet aids greatly in weight loss. Those excessive insulin levels – anabolic in nature – are no longer present with restricted carbohydrates.
When initially transitioning to becoming a better fat burner, there is one supplement that can help greatly. Exogenous ketones – which come from a synthetic source – can be used to elevate ketones in the blood. They provide a readily available supply of ketones that your body can quickly use to enter fat burning mode.
B) HOW TO TRAIN TO BURN MORE FAT
When it comes to exercising, one thing that will help a lot with fat-adaptation is fasted riding. When you wake up in the morning, your liver glycogen supplies are usually depleted. It’s in this state that your body is happy to utilise ketones for energy. Doing this long term with increased intensity and duration will lead to greater fat-adaptation.
An early morning session on the trainer before breakfast is the perfect way to take advantage! Tacx software solutions provide plenty of workout routines that’ll spice up that morning workout. Those in the endurance zone (zone 2) work best. It’s an intensity not so high so as to rely solely on glycogen.
THE ADVANTAGES OF BEING A FAT-ADAPTED CYCLIST
Why not be the one sipping the espresso on your next Sunday run rather than the one with three croissants and super-sized cappuccino?
Once you’re fat-adapted, you enable your body to tap into an almost limitless supply of energy. Those longer rides at lower intensities will seem much easier as you enjoy that stable energy.
For the competitive cyclist, perhaps the most useful aspect is the glycogen sparing effect. This is where your body learns to burn fat at lower intensities thus sparing your precious glycogen supplies for those hard efforts in a race where it really counts.
Fat-adaptation doesn’t come easy. You’ve got to work for the benefits and make a few sacrifices. But the benefits also benefit your health, and your health benefits everyone. So why not give it a go? You could start with the croissant and cappuccino!