There’s a lot of talk right now about being a fat-adapted athlete, much like Derek Zoolander, so hot right now. But a lot of this is caught up in this kind of Zeitgeist of keto and thinking we should eliminate carbs entirely. But what if I told you this really isn’t a new thing? And this is something that’s been around for a long time. And it’s just kind of gotten a resurgence recently. Would you still be interested in being a fat-adapted athlete?
With keto getting so big, and our tendency to hop on the bandwagon and think this is the thing that’s gonna make me the best runner ever. This idea of becoming a fat-adapted runner or endurance athlete has gotten really, really big. So, first, let’s just remind you in case you’ve forgotten, there’s no silver bullet to being a better runner or a better endurance athlete, just that one thing that you do, and all of a sudden, you’re just amazing. Same thing goes with this, it is important to consider, but it is not going to be the one thing that changes your entire world.
See, the whole trick here is that at different levels of activity, what we often refer to as zone one through zone five, depending on how hard you’re going and whatever you’re doing; running, cycling, swimming doesn’t really matter. At these different levels, we burn different kinds or mixes of energy. So, fat being the thing we want to talk about, right?
At lower intensities, we burn more fat, at higher intensities, we burn more glycogen, and then eventually we switch over to our anaerobic lactate system. And that’s when we talk about lactate threshold and all those kinds of things [??? 01:47] like that burning feeling in your muscles, but that’s why we’re so obsessed with becoming a fat-adapted athlete.
We want to be able to use our stores of fat in our body for energy production at higher intensities instead of just lower intensities because fat is basically unlimited in our body as far as energy production is concerned. Whereas glycogen which is stored in our muscles, and that lactate system that comes in when we get anaerobic, those kind of have capacities or limited capacities where there is a certain point where you are simply out, you’re just done. And fat’s nice because really, no matter how lean you are, you have an unlimited, for at least this purpose, store of fat for energy.
One way to begin this kind of fat-adaptation without trying to do any kind of fancy workouts is in fact to limit the carbs that you’re taking in. Fortunately, you don’t have to take my word for it since I’m not a dietitian. I spoke with Scott Johnston, co-author of the Uphill Athlete. Now, even if you’re not into cross country skiing or mountaineering, a lot of the principles are going to be the same. A muscle is a muscle and endurance training is endurance training. So, when I spoke with him on the Smart Athlete Podcast, I asked him about this because he touches on it in the book in terms of fat-adaptation.
He talks about limiting the amount of carbs. So, I said, Scott, is there a limit? Should we go full keto and get rid of carbs entirely? What should we do to become fat-adapted? And are there any pitfalls in the process? Which, before I give you the answer that Scott gave me, don’t forget, hit that subscribe button in the bottom right-hand corner.
Stick around with me for more videos on running. And more importantly, interviews like with Scott, other experts who know much more than me, and about a really wide variety of topics on the smart athlete podcast. If you stick around to the end of this video, I will link directly to Scott’s interview and you can get all the advice directly from the horse’s mouth as it were.
Anyway, so Scott gave the direction that if you’re working out less than eight hours a week, that doing that limitation of the amount of carbs you’re taking in can speed up that fat-adaptation that you go through. Apparently, as a stumbling block for me, I can’t say it. So, if you’re working out less than eight hours, Scott suggests that that can help your fat-adaptation by limiting the amount of carbs. Now, on the other end of the spectrum, if you’re working out 18-20 hours a week, you’re in that near pro level, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re taking in. You’re working out so hard, your body’s going to do the fat-adaptation.
Now, the interesting part is kind of like me, I’m in between those ranges. And that’s where Scott says, the trial and error really kind of comes into play where you’ve gotta figure out for yourself, how limiting do we have to be on the carbs to get that fat adaptation. And that’s something I’ve had to experiment with. What he says for his own athletes is that he typically tries to go for a third, third, third macro strategy.
Which without the jargon is basically saying a third of your calories should be from carbs, a third should be from protein and a third should be from fat. If you can try to hit that, then that Scott’s suggestion of a pretty, I’ll say balanced diet, in this case, literally balanced a third, third, third. But that’s going to suit you pretty well as an endurance athlete almost regardless of your workout level.
Consequently, this is what my coach has suggested for me. And if I forgot to mention, Scott and my coach, both coaches of Olympians, Scott has more. He’s got five Olympians. But you’re taking high level coaches advice by doing this third, third, third strategy for your diet, and I’ve noticed again, I’m only just one athlete. But I’ve noticed when I adhere to this, [??? 06:07] relatively strictly, I get these ranges pretty well tight.
By the end of the day, my training goes better, I feel better, and I don’t have that kind of sluggishness of taking too many carbs in then storing fat and you’ve overloaded your glycogen. So, you can’t store any more glycogen, and you start storing fat and you start getting heavier. It’s all a cycle. But yeah, try that third, third, third, with your macros pretty rich, regardless of what you’re doing. But fat-adaptation can be helped forward by limiting the amount of carbs you’re taking in.
Another suggestion that Scott made, if you want to figure out if you’re already fat-adapted is kind of a test so to speak. If you can go out in the morning for your workout, and it’s at least an hour long. And you fast before, meaning you don’t take anything in and you do that entire workout without getting hungry by the end of it, then most likely, you’ve already gone through the fat-adaptation that you are going to do. Again, I can’t say fat-adaptation. So, I’m just going to stumble through it this entire video, so stick with me for that.
But that’s kind of a good test to see do I have any room to grow? Can this get better? But that’s another kind of tool or tip you can use and you can also use it as a training strategy for your long runs, in particular, you can kind of fast or not eat before you go do them. And that can help that process of fat-adaptation along as well.
I did press Scott a little bit further to figure out is keto the way to go. Can we just eliminate carbs entirely? Is that our best bet? Now, he did mention he has coached athletes with a variety of diets anywhere from vegan to almost completely carnivore. And he said that keto can help, but he’s skeptical because of basically our culture and the strictness of the diet, that it may not be sustainable, especially for an athlete where you have to continue to get fuel in. Basically, because when we’re doing a keto diet, if you’ve read anything about it, you know that for the first two weeks, people get things like the keto flu. It’s where your body’s kind of transitioning over to be in a state of ketosis.
And if you fall off the bandwagon, meaning you know, it’s your birthday, and you had a piece of cake, you’ve got to do the process all over again. So, for this reason, Scott suggested that keto may not be the best way to go. Even if we’re trying to be fat-adapted because of how strict it is, and how unlikely it is that you maintain that diet for the long term. Now, I know there are people that do. I actually know one lady who’s very, very big in the keto space.
She has several best selling recipe books out there, but she’s also not an athlete. It’s just a diet she does, she adheres to it religiously. But she’s also not trying to get out there in set 5K records. So, if it works for you great, but don’t feel bad if you cannot adhere to that, such a strict diet.
So, when we get down to brass tacks, should you be a fat-adapted endurance athlete or runner? Absolutely. It’s something that’s been around for a long time. It’s been a staple of training strategies for coaches from way before we are talking about keto as a culture.
So, know that through the tips that I’ve given you this and just your basic training, you are going to become more fat-adapted over time. So, if you want to check out the entire interview I did with Scott so you can get all of his tips, that should be coming up on the screen shortly. So, click on that, and I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.