Follow the link to our article in Space Coast Runner’s February newsletter (pages 21-23):
Run Off Fat to Run Off the Fat
It’s that time of year again. Resolutions are set. Expectations are high. Motivation is channeled. Well, you know the definition of insanity, right? Even if you dress that approach up in some fresh new gear and an attention grabbing new name, if the core approach and principles remain the same, insanity and your shrinking proximity to it is sure to stick around for at least another 365.
Let’s take the time today to apply this to a topic on the majority of minds, especially this time of year which has become synonymous with rebirth and a new you; in name at least. We’re talking about attaining and maintaining a healthy weight. This is a daunting and oft frustrating task for many, especially as well intentioned, endless hours are logged in the gym or running the streets, only to yield disproportionately low and disappointing results from the scale and mirror.
First off, to a certain extent, it’s not your fault. If you once or still ascribe to constant loading of indiscriminate carbs, and a volume is king mentality when it comes to training, with the hopes of shedding that harmful extra adipose tissue, it’s not your fault. That is until now. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. Between an abundance of PSAs like this, ample research and subsequent books penned all providing the science behind why we see overweight marathoners and triathletes (not to mention the growing epidemic of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease), and what you can do to avoid becoming the seemingly paradoxical fit, yet unhealthy athlete; there really is no excuse to adhere to the same old same old, and then scratch your head when once again left with subpar results.
I would postulate that for the majority of us, at least a portion of our motivation to run is to be healthy. I would also imagine that for 99.9% of us, a world record, Olympic trial or seven figure contract is not in the cards. I say this because there seems to be a seesaw relationship when it comes to optimizing health and longevity versus maximizing athletic performance. Focusing on enhancing quality and quantity of life, which can be looked at as doing all we can to slow the aging process, is frequently compromised when tunnel vision focuses us in on supreme physical output; right here, right now.
Neither one is the wrong choice. It is your choice. We get to decide what we want to do with this one body and we literally live and die with the consequences encountered due to the paths we choose. So the question is, why do you run? If somewhere on that list you make mention of taking control of your body weight in order to feel better and look better, the following may enhance the effects of your efforts as it has for so many others.
We’re going to focus on intelligently manipulating metabolism in your favor with two goals in mind. One will be to break free of carb dependence and give up your year round pass on the insulin roller coaster. This means allowing your body to acquire the metabolic flexibility so that it can run on fats as well as carbohydrates.
The second goal here is to allow you the power and freedom to attain your desired weight. Remember when we mentioned the overweight triathlete or marathoner above. If it were simply a matter of calories in-calories out, and you could out exercise a bad diet, this perplexing body type wouldn’t exist. I also realize and have acknowledged the fact that due to misinformation from the “experts,” it’s not entirely your fault. But that’s why we’re here.
One more thing on losing weight. This is a personal choice, and if you are truly happy with what you see in the mirror, and how you perform and feel, then by all means proceed pleasantly. However, this isn’t all about ascetics. Unnecessary additional body fat is a detriment for a wide variety of reasons, including more load to lug out there on River Road. This means you need to expend more energy lugging that load as you run out of gas.
This extra anatomical cargo is also creating more wear and tear on the joints. We are all slowly degenerating, and due to the repetitive, uniplanar movements with impact that is running, definitely susceptible to accelerated osteoarthritis. This is increased exponentially if these tissues are fitted with the task of not only running, but running with extra layers of adipose tissue.
It should also be understood that adipose tissue or body fat is not just a benign collection of mass taking up space and weighing you down while you run. It is now well understood that adipose tissue is actually pro-inflammatory, releasing immuno-modulatory cells called cytokines that cause elevated levels of inflammation in the body. Always in pain or sore? Taking forever to recover? The majority of the time it is inflammation that is at the core of our discomfort and this could very well be perpetuated, if not largely a result of excess body fat.
The list of reasons to make attaining that healthy body weight could go on forever, but one more thing to be aware of is the difference between the subcutaneous fat distributed throughout the body and visceral fat that tends to accumulate in the abdominal region, surrounding and infiltrating the organs. It’s not hard to wrap your head around the reason why the latter proves more problematic, and it is mainly this type of fat that forms and accumulates when diets rich in insulin spiking processed and refined carbohydrates are the norm. I realize we are getting away from a run specific focus, but this is important and can be harnessed as more fuel for the fire to attain the metabolic flexibility necessary to change the fuel for your fire.
So let’s jump in to some ideas on how we can get our bodies to break free from a reliance on constant carb replenishing and become a metabolically flexible and efficient utilizer of fat for fuel. If this is achieved, incessant scale monitoring isn’t necessary as healthy body weight becomes a consequential byproduct of improved metabolism. I personally practice and have included many of these strategies with an abundance of individuals, big and small in our office, and the change witnessed and experienced is nothing short of eye opening and empowering.
TRE or IF
Whether you want to call it Time Restricted Eating or Intermittent Fasting is a question of semantics. The idea is to start to tighten your feeding window during the day, and lengthen your non-feeding or “fasting” time, ideally at night so you can harness the time sleeping as part of the non-feeding window. There are ample ways to adjust this to what best fits your lifestyle and bio-individuality, but the idea is to start to push breakfast later (or eliminate it), and/or dinner earlier in the evening, tightening that feeding window to 12-6 hours.
This allows your body to burn through its glycogen stores and begin to run on the fat in your body for fuel. This is a learned process and obviously any changes should be discussed with your healthcare practitioner prior to implementing, but over time can be achieved and done so regularly or when life allows.
(Personal Practical Application: I have been implementing this practice to varying degrees in my own life for about 2 years now. It started with a 12/12 feed/fast window, but now it is quite normal to practice 10/14 to 4/20 with no drop in energy, and a sense of sustained clarity, focus, tone, and output even when seeing patients or training for a half marathon, so this isn’t just talk. I’m walking the walk with you here, people. It can be achieved. You just need to patiently discover the application that works best for you and ask yourself again, what is the ultimate priority?)
TRAINING IN A FASTED STATE
To piggy back on the TRE practice above, if you cut dinner off a little earlier (and eliminate the habitual grazing or self-sabotaging, post dinner snack), and workout first thing in the morning, you are primed to push your body further towards burning fat for fuel.
Remember we said that when you sleep your body uses up the glycogen stores. This can vary individually but occurs in anywhere from 8-12 hours. At this point your body requires another source of fuel and can turn to fat. This process can be further expedited by skipping that pre-workout carbohydrate bomb and just getting up and going as you ramp up the body’s need and thus utilization of its own endogenous fuel sources; one of them being to mobilize and burn the fuel stored in our energy rich fat.
You should however be acclimated to simply getting up and going through activities of daily living in this fasted state before stepping up your game and adding a workout in. This can take time, but again, is achievable for most. You may also notice a drop in performance (endurance, strength, fatigue, etc.) especially when initially implementing this approach. This is quite normal and logical as your body fine tunes and increases the efficiency of operating in this state.
However, the good thing about distance running is that for most of us, and with the exception of certain speed work or HIIT session, it is an aerobic, less glycolytic activity. This means there is a slower turnover rate on energy demands and as such our bodies can keep up by way of supplying an alternative fuel source to glycogen or glucose. When ready, implementing this on a recovery or moderate pace run would be a good place to start.
(Personal Practical Application: Although it does take time for the body to comfortably attain this metabolic flexibility, physiologically most of us are wired to do so. Regardless of the workout (speed, distance, strength session, etc.) I find I am able to execute this in the morning without eating pre or during with no issue. For the most part, I won’t refuel post workout until my body sends the hunger signal.
So rather than eating out of habit, I stopped eating last evening at 7:45pm, got a 30 minute cross fit style gym session in the following 6:15am, and have yet to eat as I type this. Practically applied that puts me at 15+ hours of a fast with a metabolism boosting workout on the tail end. Did the optimal performance drop? Perhaps, but again you have to ask yourself why you workout, eat healthy, etc.? What is the bigger picture; the long term goal? Controlling insulin levels, dampening inflammation, perhaps dipping into metabolic ketosis and all that has to offer (another topic for another time), are all things to enhance quality and quantity of life, which I would imagine is the ultimate goal for most of us.)
There are other aspects to successfully pulling this off, like optimal food to eat during your feeding windows, and that too is an intricate piece of the puzzle which ideally should be designed specifically for you, your history, lab results and goals. These are things that we incorporate when designing a patient specific plan, but obviously involve decreasing or eliminating the processed and refined carbs, getting moderate high quality protein based on need, and filling in the rest with vegetables and healthy fats. Again, these are general tips and meant to guide towards an individualized plan, but I did want to leave you with one other benefit/metabolic hack this can allow you to utilize.
So once you’ve become comfortable going ~14 hours or so without eating, and are able to train within that ~14 hour window without any dizziness, nausea, abnormal premature fatigue, you can use this newly toned metabolic flexibility to your advantage. A byproduct of TRE, improved dietary choices, and training in a calorically deficient state is increased insulin sensitivity (the opposite of insulin resistance, the cornerstone of type II diabetes). This means your tissues, including your muscles are ready for insulin, some may say hungry to accept and consume the glucose it delivers.
On race day you can atypically feed the body a clean, highly absorbable carb source pre and/or during the activity, and with its optimized sensitivity to insulin and acceptance of the glucose it comes to deliver, your body will potentially take that quick burning fuel source and use it like rocket fuel. To put a positive analogous spin on a commonly used negative term, attaining this metabolic flexibility, and then manipulating it in your favor almost becomes your own form of a natural, legal PED.
The preceding was really an oversimplified explanation serving as an introduction to some newer ideas that hopefully can assist in getting you where you’d like to be. When it comes to our clients, we go much deeper into explanations, testing, and aligning a plan (diet & strategy) to fit individual lifestyle and goal. As always, we are enthusiastically honored to be an addition to anyone’s team when it comes to the journey towards personal optimization.
On a closing note, another thing I hear quite often is how liberating it is to not be a slave to food, especially when it comes to our most precious commodity; time. Not having to think about, plan and prep another healthy meal frees up time to do more and decreases decision making fatigue. Although it seems counterintuitive, myself and many others actually attest to increased mental acuity and physical energy levels while practicing TRE, and physiologically it makes sense why this occurs.
Hopefully this was enough to wet your appetite, or curb it. Remember, we’re supposed to be fasting. If interested in learning more, we are always ready to take a deeper dive with you. Now I have to go. I haven’t eaten in 16 hours and I’m starving.
Happy New Year, SCR Family. Take care of that one body. It’s the only one you get.