Run on fat not sugar

Can fat adaptation reduce the risk of chronic disease linked to overtraining?

It’s well known exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing chronic disease and mental illness. It can also increase chances of recovery for those suffering from them. But can training too hard negate the therapeutic effects, especially when we fuel our bodies with glucose? A new science is emerging which suggests running on carbs could be doing more harm than good. The good news is, we can flick the switch to running on fat. Even better, this may enable us to train for longer, improve post-workout recovery and defend against physical and mental illness.

Regular exercise is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes as well as promoting mental well-being. These diseases have a similar pathology through inflammation caused by oxidative stress, which can occur during carbohydrate metabolism during exercise. Current exercise guidelines are designed to promote exercise regimes which keep people within activity level parameters for optimum health, which do not put people at risk of developing disease through chronic inflammation. All too often, people exceed these guidelines and put themselves at risk.

Athletes are all too familiar with muscle soreness following a training session. Some go as far as seeing it as a performance marker, or even get a sense of accomplishment from pushing through pain and training on sore muscles. In no other situation is pain good, so why should training pain be any different? Hurting after a workout is caused by inflammation which results from carbohydrate oxidation. It makes sense that training your body to burn fat in preference to carbohydrate would mean less inflammation, less soreness and therefore enable you to train longer with less recovery time needed.

Image Credit: Geraldt via Pixabay

Post-exercise soreness isn’t always bad as long as it is short-lived. Acute inflammation is beneficial to the body because it removes harmful pathogens, damaged cells, toxic compounds. By doing so, it initiates healing processes in the body. Acute inflammation is therefore a defense mechanism that is vital to health. Some high intensity exercise is therefore beneficial, especially when combined with regular low-intensity exercise which reduces inflammation.

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, which occurs when the body is exposed to repeated stressors, increases the risk of disease because it leads to mitochondrial damage, fibrosis, arteriosclerosis. Repeated prolonged high intensity exercise, without adequate recovery, leads to chronic inflammation and chronic disease. Training your body to use fat during exercise can significantly reduce these risks.

Of course there is a degree of skepticism about this. After all, we’ve been told for years glucose is the best fuel for performance. Check out the comparison above from when I fat adapted last year after just four weeks. I got 0.6kph faster on the same route with my heart rate 5bpm slower and I was burning 6% more fat. I also used less energy, so translate that into an enduro event and it shows you can go for longer on fat.

I hope this article has been useful in giving some insights into fat adaptation. If you want to know more and are interested in a customized fat adaptation programme, I can help.

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