Fat Adaptation – The Basics


The “Fat-adapted”  Metabolic State” is the foundation of OFM. This is a shift back to the energy source our bodies are designed to use for aerobic activities. When in a fat-adapted the body actually prefers to metabolize saturated fats, does so easily and at much higher rates than are considered possible by conventional standards of sports physiology. So now, rather than accumulate in the body, saturated fats become the most potent aerobic energy source.

To achieve this metabolic state the athlete has to sharply restrict carbohydrate consumption, principally concentrated forms of carbohydrates. Many of the staple foods athletes use need to be eliminated at this phase of the OFM program in order to induce Nutritional Ketosis. This is a simplistic answer so, to make this work, the actual execution of carb restriction to induce NK is much more complicated. It is NOT recommended one attempt to induce NK when “in-season” or when training volume is high. The ideal time is in the off-season or during the recovery period from an ultra-endurance event.

If you are seeking to achieve this state while in your training season some level can be achieved via our Triage Alternate Adaptation pathway. (Hyperlink)

There is a lot of information on “Fat-adaptation” or the “Keto-adaptation” or “Keto” on the internet. The proper term is Nutritional Ketosis (NK) and should not be mistaken for Starvation Ketosis or Ketoacidosis. Via NK the human body makes a profound shift toward burning “fat as fuel” without catabolizing muscle protein for glucose as is the case for Starvation Ketosis (OFM athletes actually gain lean body mass!). Now all of this information is well intended, however, everyone is an individual and everyone’s environment and Lifeload™ differ so the oversimplified advice on macros, calories, ketone levels etc. may or may not work for you. They may even make your situation worse.

This is why OFM is individualized. While for the “Fat Adapted” Metabolic State of OFM the goal should be to be able to slip into an athlete’s version of Nutritional Ketosis (NK) the reality is many will start their OFM journey at the state of fat adaption they can achieve. They may not be able to achieve Nutritional Ketosis and have to consume more carbohydrates than desired but will have gotten the crap out and got the needle moving.

Why: Carbohydrates = Sugar: Most health conscious people know sugar is “BAD”, however, most people do not realize easily digestible carbohydrates breakdown into SUGAR in your bloodstream! This includes whole-grains, sweet potatoes, many fruits, some nuts, beans/ legumes and other foods people commonly believe are healthy and should be eaten in abundance.So the first element to understand is concentrated forms of Carbohydrates = Sugar as far as your blood is concerned.

OFM sugar CubeHealthy Blood Sugar levels are surprisingly low and VERY tightly regulated. The normal fasting blood sugar in a non-diabetic healthy human contains approximately 1 teaspoon of free glucose. Think about this for a moment, that’s just 1 teaspoon, or about 17 calories of sugar, in the form of glucose, circulating in your bloodstream!

Now, while a healthy body can easily handle a small blood sugar rise of 2-3 teaspoons of glucose in circulation if we look at the standard “healthy” diet for athletes we find a very different picture. For simplicity’s sake let’s assume 3 meals @ 500 calories per meal & 2 snacks @ 250 calories per snack then the bloodstream has to absorb roughly 12-15 teaspoons of sugar from each meal and 6-8 teaspoons from a snack (like drinking a can of Coke)! Keep in mind this is vastly oversimplified but it does effectively illustrate what is happening.

INSULIN – How Insulin saves the day:

  • In the active population, Insulin facilitates movement of glucose into the muscle cells to produce energy
  • High insulin levels suppress hepatic (liver) production of ketone bodies
  • ?? any other key points about insulin

The body has insulin available to be able to deal with this literal “flooding” of the body with sugar to protect itself. If a person is active insulin facilitates movement of glucose into the muscle cells to produce energy. This is the fastest and most effective way to deal with elevated blood sugar because muscles, when they burn glucose, burn it quickly, however, in the process they also produce oxidative stress and lactate. This physiological fact is often mistakenly interpreted into the commonly held belief that glucose is the “preferred” muscle fuel source. This is not necessarily the case but what is true is, in a high carbohydrate diet & fueling paradigm, glucose becomes the “obligate” fuel source.

Due the constant need to deal with elevated blood sugar, insulin has yet another subtly elegant way to facilitate rapid metabolism of blood sugar….high insulin levels suppress hepatic (liver) production of ketone bodies which are easily interchangeable for what are often viewed as glucose dependent metabolic functions (this is intentionally written this way because these metabolic functions, i.e. brain and nervous system, etc., can use either glucose or ketone bodies interchangeably).

When this mechanism for production of a sustainable fuel source is shut off the body is further dependent upon exogenous glucose intake as a primary fuel source for brain and nervous system function. Ketone body production is a natural by-product of the metabolism of free fatty acids so when fat metabolism is suppressed in order to drive down elevated blood sugar levels so is the production of ketone bodies. As one can see this further forces an “all or nothing” drive to glucose metabolism creating the swings in energy and mood which can result in the dreaded “bonk”.

In the real world this literally is an energy level “roller-coaster”. If you need to eat every 2-3 hours or have to consume a gel every 20-40 minutes during exercise or exercise elicits a powerful hunger you are probably on this roller-coaster. Worse yet is as you progress in your sport these energy swings increase as the weight management either plateaus or weight gain begins to become an issue. Hence the need for the Hard reset Phase 1 Carbohydrate Restriction

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