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Fat Adaptation

Fat Adaptation

In the eternal pursuit for optimum function and performance, we’ll try many things. This might be the best.

Don’t you just hate slumps? Don’t you just hate when your energy bottoms out? It could be during the day after lunch time. Or you just feel wreaked after work. Or you may not have any energy at all to begin with and you find yourself propping yourself up with caffeine and sugar, just to get through the day.

I know all about it. I’ve been there. In fact, it used to be how I lived my life. I remember energy slumps. I remember the caffeine and sugar cravings I used to have. Nothing brings your dreams and ambitions to a holt faster than a lack of gas in the tank.

Well, I’m grateful all that is a thing of the past and I have to say it all comes down to one thing. Drum roll……

Fat Adaptation

If you’re aware of ketogenic diets you probably know what fat adaption is. If not, don’t worry, I’ll explain. Fat adaption is when you can easily use fat as a source of fuel for your body in the form of fatty acids.

Glucose is the body’s preferred source of fuel. This is probably because glucose molecules tend to wreak havoc on protein molecules of which your body is made of. So it’s in your bodies interest to use the glucose up first because you don’t want it running around your system too long.

Fat is also a source of energy but the average person is not actually that good at using it. Why? Well because the enzymatic pathways that allow you to burn fat are down-regulated in favour of the enzymes that upregulate glucose. Or to put it another way, your fat-burning genes are switched off.

It’s a case of use it or lose it. Most people eat carbs throughout the day, every day. So they blunt their ability to respond to fat. Most people are in fact dependent upon carbs.

An Ancestral Diet

Rewind to the Good Old Days.

Let’s rewind for just a moment to our caveman ancestors. For a couple of hundred thousand years, homo-sapiens were hunting and gathering and suddenly in the last few thousand years we’re farming grains and eating carbs.

In terms of evolution, it’s the blink of an eye. Not much time for our genes to adapt. Our ancestors had to work hard just for food and when they got it, it was high in fat, protein and fibre. Easy carbs such as rice, potatoes, wheat and sugar simply did not exist, at least not in sizable quantities

So, our bodies would use fat as fuel and would work very well on it. Fast forward to modern times and it’s carb city. Cereals, bread, pasta, pastries, sugar, you name it. We are surrounded by carbohydrates.

So what? Well here’s the problem. Carbs break down eventually to glucose in the body. Glucose raises insulin which transports it into the cells to be used as energy. It also allows the sugar to be stored as fat.

When insulin is constantly high from a diet high in carbs the cells become insulin resistant. This means they no longer respond well to insulin, so it requires higher levels of insulin to get the carbs in.

So you eat your carby meal. Blood sugar shoots up. Insulin shoots up and glucose gets turned into energy or stored as fat. But then it’s all gone, and you slump.

The more refined the carbohydrate, the faster this process will actually happen. So, a chocolate bar high in sugar will give you a hit faster than brown rice. But it will also burn up quicker and you’ll get hit with a slump a lot faster too. So thus, you’ll end up craving another chocolate bar.

Fat works different. When you eat fat (if your fat adapted) it doesn’t need insulin. Various organs can use it directly and it gets converted straight to energy. Your body becomes good at using this as a source of fuel and when you are hungry you simply switch to using the fat stored around your body.

It takes time to become fat adapted and you don’t want to rush it. If you suddenly stop eating carbs and start eating fat you’ll still have insulin running around your system and your fat burning machinery won’t be switched on yet.

You’ll crash. It will be horrible. You may get headaches and muscle cramps. It could last a few days but for some, it could last a few weeks.

I did it in stages. I started having more and more high-fat low carb meals during the day. I cut bread out first. Instead of “something” on toast for breakfast I would have halloumi cheese and a green salad or an omelette.

I soon found myself cutting out pasta and eventually I even cut out brown rice. A lot of times I would eat simple meals like a salmon salad.

The result?

No more slumps. And I mean ever!

The ability to go very long periods of time without food. In a fasting state, I still have energy, as long as there is fat on my body to burn.

Much clearer thinking or maybe just no periods where I can’t think straight.

Much better mood. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so consistently well.

Abundant energy throughout the day.

Yeah, it’s really nice to be working out daily. It’s really nice to be getting projects done that I’d usually put off before.

All because I’ve gotten back to eating something closer to what our ancestors would have eaten, at least in terms of macro-nutrients. (I doubt there was much halloumi cheese knocking about circa 10,000 BC).

Going low carb is terrific for your energy, well-being and performance.

If you decide to do so, here are a few pointers I wish someone had told me.

  1. Increase fat. You need fuel. Cutting carbs is cutting calories. You need to get them back from fat.
  2. Expect some weight loss in the beginning. Glycogen is your store of glucose and its bound to water in the ration of 1:4. So you’ll lose some water in the beginning.
  3. With that in mind drink lots of water.
  4. You may also experience muscle cramps in the beginning. This is due to low potassium, so supplement that if it happens. Your probably losing minerals along with the water.
  5. You’ll probably feel rubbish for a few days while you give this ago. Stick with it. Don’t go back. It’s a bit like dipping in the ocean (in Ireland). At first, it’s kind of painful but after a while your swimming around and enjoying yourself.

With that in mind, I wish you the very best luck reducing carbs and increasing fat. As always, I’m here to answer your questions and assist you as I can.

 

 

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Ciaran Ryan

Nutritional Therapist at International Clinic of Nutrition
Dedicated to the pursuit of natural and lifestyle medicine, Ciaran is a qualified Nutritional Therapist. When not being a nerd about health and biochemistry Ciaran likes to go dancing and enjoys watching Japanese cartoons (a little too much).
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