Fat as Fuel in Sports Performance
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The basis for a high-carbohydrate lifestyle is due more to agri-business pushing their products than it is due to good science. Our health should be based on causation, not imaginary correlations. It’s time for a change.
It is widely believed that carbohydrate is essential for high levels of performance. This is a myth.
Dr. Tim Noakes is a forefather of carbohydrate loading and a high-level endurance athlete. That was until he developed type 2 diabetes himself. Yes, an expert dietitian and ultra-marathoner became diabetic. To his scientific credit, he didn’t just toss his hands up and say, “I don’t know why, I did everything right.” He identified that his previous practices were wrong and started a revolution, not just for sports performance, but lifestyle around the world.
The Math Behind Fueling for Endurance
The revolution is shifting from a high-carb to a high-fat diet. For endurance athletes, this is invaluable, as humans can only hold about 400-500 grams of carbohydrate (1,600-2,000 Calories). Any idea how much energy is required to run a marathon? About 3,000 Calories. Thus, even if it were possible to tap into all 2,000 Calories stored as muscle glycogen (glycogen is the body’s form of stored carbohydrate), another 1,000 Calories (250g carbohydrate) would still be required. To administer such an amount within a ~2-4 hour window is nigh impossible without cramping, diarrhea, or other GI distress. To cope with this, the body does not rely 100% on carbohydrate, rather about 40-50% of required energy comes from carbohydrate.
That is, unless the athlete is fat-adapted. In this scenario, 90% of required energy comes from fat, and very little fat, if any, need be ingested during exercise, suggesting the source being drawn upon is body fat, which is virtually unlimited. Humans with a high-carbohydrate intake are unable to access their fat stores at this level, no matter their level of fitness or intensity of their exercise.
Even a lean individual would have about 60,000 Calories stored as body fat, 30-fold the amount of energy compared to carbohydrate. Clearly, this benefits the endurance athlete, especially the ultra-endurance and triathletes who can expend over 10,000 Calories in a single event. In practice, fat-adapted ultra-endurance athletes, such as Zach Bitter, are shattering previously-held records in the sport.
The Case for Using Fat as Fuel in Sport
In other sports, such as mixed-martial-arts, weightlifting, or CrossFit, a low-carb, high-fat diet also appears superior to a low-fat diet. A ketogenic diet has been researched on two occasions in weight lifters and once in CrossFit, and each time it has produced more dramatic decreases in body fat and equal increases in muscle mass and strength compared to a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. This has an immediate and obvious benefit to weight-class restricted sports. When considering the benefits of a low-carb diet for traumatic brain injury, it can be of enormous benefit to contact sport athletes.
A case study on two mixed-martial arts athletes beginning a ketogenic diet shows the same reduction in body fat and maintenance of muscle mass while the athletes experienced a maintenance of strength, increase in power output, improvement in fatigue resistance, and a faster reaction time. The same holds true when researching the diet in Taekwondo athletes and gymnasts. Anecdotally, several team sport athletes have also reported success on a high-fat or ketogenic diet, such as basketball stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard, linemen Geoff Schwartz, Brian Winters, Willie Colon, and Weston Richburg, bodybuilders Toney Freeman, Brandon Curry, and Ben Pakulski, fighters Brandan Schaub and Kyle Kingsbury, and an entire soccer club from Norway, team Strømsgodset, who won the Norwegian Premier League Championships in 2013 and were runner-up the year prior and following since beginning carbohydrate restriction.
Surely if a high-fat diet were unhealthy, it would negatively impact performance, but athletes assuming such a diet seem to be winning more and more victories as the diet takes root. The evidence overwhelmingly confirms that low-carb, high-fat is the road to optimal health and performance – we only need to overcome our pride, admit to our wrongdoing, and stop this crisis before it becomes the undoing of our species. Food products designed to have minimal impact on blood sugars with high fat and/or protein content are growing in popularity, and they will undoubtedly help in correcting our societies’ health.
This is the third article in a three-part series about fat, brought to you by Compound Solutions.
Part 1 – What are Fats? A Scientific Approach to Dispelling Confusion Around Fat
Part 2 – The Truth About Fat
Part 3 – Fat as Fuel in Sports Performance
Click here for a complete list of references supporting this 3-part fat series.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.