One of the things that we specialize in at Evolve Performance Running is becoming fat adapted.
What is the difference between using carbohydrates for fuel and using fat for fuel?
If you are a runner who eats a standard American diet with a good amount of carbohydrates, then those carbohydrates are what your body will use when you run. And you’ve got enough carbohydrates stored in your liver and muscles to get you so far during a race.
Yet at some point in a longer race, you’ll run out of those carbohydrates that are stored in your body as glycogen. You’ll need to replace them by ingesting more carbohydrates while running.
What does it feel like when you run out of stored carbohydrates?
That’s the feeling of “hitting the wall”. That’s the “bonk’ that you experience during a race when you feel like you are out of fuel and your body starts to shut down.
How are fats different than carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates have a limited ability to be stored in the body. You can store some in your muscles and some in your liver. Once you run out of those during a longer race, you have to keep trying to refill those stores with sports drinks, Gu’s, gels, etc.
Fats, on the other hand, are readily stored in your body. If you can access fats during a long run, you will have an effectively unlimited amount of fuel for a long run. If you are late in a run and don’t feel like you can eat, then your body can continue to burn body fat for fuel. Many runners who are plagued with gastrointestinal issues during longer runs by forcing down gels and such find that their nausea and vomiting are non-issues once they begin to burn fat as their race fuel.
What is the process of becoming fat adapted?
Teaching your body to use fats as its primary fuel is a process. We teach you what you can eat, what to avoid, and work with you to find out what works best for you.
We will also modify your running and strength training plan around this time to help upgrade your fat burning adaptations as quickly as possible.
There are ways to train that will also help your body make new mitochondria, which are the little power plants that drive your muscle contractions. The more mitochondria you have, the more fat you will burn for fuel and the more energy you can produce.
If you want to become a fat adapted athlete, we are here to help guide you through the process.
Can you give us an example of what happened during someone’s performance once they became fat adapted?
Coach Suzi is a good example. Her 100 mile time before becoming fat adapted was a little over 20 hours (20:08). Once she became fat adapted and incorporated a strength training program into her weekly schedule, she ran 100 miles in 16:38 (and went on to run another 28 miles after that in a 24 hour race, setting the course record for both the women and the men).
I want to emphasize that we didn’t change anything about her running program during this time from September 2015 to October 2017. The only changes were to her nutrition and adding a strength training program.
What about shorter races? She was also fat adapted during the Indiana Trail 50 mile race where she also set a new course record.
If you would like to have more even energy over an ultra, or would like to avoid the digestive upset that often comes with eating a carb heavy race diet of Gu’s and gels, send us a message and we can see how we can help you.