Fat Is Fuel

When you’re new to something, you make mistakes. I’d even go so far as to say that’s a fact.

And I’m no different from the next guy, err gal, in that I sure made plenty of them not only when I was new to Paleo, but new to triathlon.

My focus today will be on the latter, rather than sharing some of the Paleo Faux Pas I made.
Some errors, made in earnest, came from following advice of what I considered to be reputable sources, such as the curriculum that was the bulk of my Exercise Science degree as well as notable publications and journals.

While there were certainly some that I could put down to user error, it’s fair to say that all the blame didn’t rest on my shoulders.

Little did I know then that a huge portion of what I was taught during my undergrad studies in nutrition and sports nutrition, based, of course, on USDA’s guidelines and recommendations were largely, if not entirely based on the mindset that as endurance athletes, we not only need carbohydrates but we need a lot of them.

The nutrients recommendations, per the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) and Academy of Dietetics and
Nutrition demonstrate just how important they view carbs to be :
• Protein – 15-20%
◦ 1.2 – 1.4 g/kg/bw/day for endurance athletes
◦ 1.6 – 1.7 g/kg/bw/day for strength athletes
◦ RDA 0.8 – 1.0 g/kg/bw/day
• Carbohydrate 50-60%
◦ 6-10 g/kg/bw/day
• Fat <30% total kcal/day
◦ Less than 10% from saturated fat

For years, I based my training regime on these recommendations and it drove me crazy to no end to try to find a Paleo solution for a carbohydrate source that would serve to be my fuel for my longer races, such as Ironman.

I posted many a blog over the years about how the one non Paleo thing in my diet was the carbohydrate gel I’d use for long training sessions and racing.

I even spoke with food scientists to discuss collaboration on a yam-based gel!

Gel had been what I called the least of all evils in the sports nutrition heading.

At least, I thought, it didn’t contain gluten, dairy, fake color, soy and at least it was the right texture and to be fair, it worked for a long time insofar as it kept me fueled and performing quite competitively, with no GI distress.

I raced with gel at Kona all seven times. I set my marathon PR with it. I used it in many 70.3s.
Yet all along it fundamentally made no sense to be using for myself as well as for my clients who were athletes, something that so blatantly represented the antithesis of everything else I believe in and teach nutritionally.

A carbohydrate gel is a synthetic, highly refined, corn-based sugar in a package.

I reasoned, and this much I still believe, that with the entire rest of my eating plan being completely Paleo, alkaline, wild, natural and overall unadulterated, that perhaps the harm that could ensue long term from consumption would be less.

And maybe it would be, but still, I knew there had to be a better approach.

I didn’t know that all along, it had been staring me in the face.

It wasn’t a question of finding a better source of carbohydrate, it was a matter of training my body to use an entirely different substrate: fat.

And I’d actually been doing that to a lesser degree every single time I’d do a fasted workout.

I’d built up to about three hours without eating first and despite feeling incredible amounts of energy, focus and strength on whichever workout I’d been doing, I’d still recover as though I’d been using carbohydrates with the tried and true 4:1 carb:pro ratio.

I didn’t know that every time I did that, I was inhibiting my body’s ability to tap into fat by introducing carbohydrate into the mix.

I was still falling prey to all the articles and media that tell us things like “we can only do a short workout in a fasted state before hitting the wall” or that it’s somehow “dangerous to build up to doing longer fasted sessions”.

As with anything new, before I implement anything with a client, I first do my own research, then use myself as the first guinea pig.

I set out to do my first longer fasted session much the way I would’ve set up all along, at least the day before.
Dinner was the standard baked yam, roast chicken (dark meat and skin, please) as well as a nice hearty portion of veggies doused in olive oil.

And breakfast was….there was no breakfast!

Other than some black coffee with some MCT oil about an hour before heading out on the first five-hour brick, that is.

And the workout that ensued was beyond all expectations in terms of mental focus, wattage output, heart rate values and speed on the run.

How was this possible? What about the carbs? How can a lean athlete find enough fat for their fuel?

Come back tomorrow for more!

One little hint…it’s all eating the right fats, and the right time and in the right quantities my friends!

And one more: if you’re skeptical it can’t work for long workouts, races or at high intensities, this very protocol is precisely what I’ve been using for my last two 70.3 wins.

Get ready to have your sports nutrition world turned upside down!

1 “ACSM | Sports Nutrition Un-Plugged.” ACSM | Sports Nutrition Un-Plugged. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 July 2015