Author - © Barry Murray BSc MSc - OptimumNutrition4Sport
In short, insulin suppresses fat oxidation. Insulin actually switches on all the macronutrient storage mechanisms, so its turns on glycogen synthesis, protein synthesis and esterification (i.e. fat storage in adipose tissue). These are all very important process’s that are needed in order to recover and adapt. So the aim is to manage insulin to get the best of both worlds – increase fat metabolism without inhibiting the recovery / repair process. Here’s what you need to do;
Pre-training, for a morning session, train empty or eat a carb free meal. For example, pre-weekend long run / bike, etc. have a veggie omelette instead of porridge or toast. But to get the best affects, just have a glass of water and a coffee. The caffeine helps with fat oxidation. When doing long sessions empty (>2hrs) and not having breakfast, fuel from early. Insulin shuts down during exercise so consuming carbs during does not raise it. It is still better for fat oxidation not to eat but if you are new to the game and / or you are going for a long run / ride, then eating from the word go is recommended. You essentially get the best of both words, fat oxidation is switched on but you can still “fuel”.
Eat the majority of your daily carbs with recovery and next meal. So train empty, then have fruit / porridge after.
Eat a low carb breakfast e.g. eggs, bacon. This keeps insulin low and allows more fat burning. Eat a low carb lunch e.g. fish + salad. Again, this keeps insulin low and allows more fat burning. Train and then have carbohydrate foods (e.g. fruits) for recovery and with your next meal e.g. rice, potato. So you are eating the majority of your carbs for the day in the evening after training. The training switches on your carbohydrate machinery like GLUT 4 (transporters) and Glycogen Synthases (enzyme that builds glycogen). Therefore, consuming carbs after exercise means that they get efficiently transported and stored in the muscle. Insulin will be elevated here but that’s the objective as it carries out its repair mechanisms of switching on protein synthesis and carb replenishment. This means you recover and adapt well. It also means you are essentially fuelling for the next session. So even if you’re not training until the following evening, and you are going to eat low carbs during the day, you will have glycogen stored in the muscle for the session. So it’s a win-win situation!
Supply the Substrate
In any reaction where A gets converted to B, you need to supply A in order for the reaction to take place. In this case, fat needs to be supplied in order for it to produce energy. Certain enzymes are activated when fat comes in the door, and they are deactivated if there is no fat. So the right fat needs to be supplied at the right times.
Pre-Training Breakfast: e.g. before a long bike or run.
3 x Eggs + mushroom / tomato, fried in real butter.
Pre-Training Lunch: let’s say it’s an evening run/bike
Smoked Mackerel + chargrilled courgette + pepper with lettuce and olives.
Ham and Egg + mixed salad
Pre-Training Snack: 2hrs before a late evening session
Plain yoghurt + berries + nuts
Hummus + carrot and pepper
Slices of cold meat + mozzarella and tomato
Feta cheese + olives
Peanut/Almond butter + coconut
Apply a Cyclical Approach
Carbs are the main insulin signalling foods. So eat a lot of carbs, consistently throughout the day and you will be in a high insulin state, i.e. fat metabolism will be relatively low. Now, you need carbs, that goes without saying but you don’t need the same amount of carbs everyday. This means that you should vary you daily carb intake based on your training volume / intensity. So some days can be lower carbs than others. This is how to carb cycle your week. You can then carb cycle your day. Instead of eating average amounts of carbs throughout the day with each meal, you can partition when you eat the majority of your carbs.
Overall, this means that some days you can switch on fat metabolism more than others, and then on an individual day, you can make certain parts of the day more fat burning that other times of the day.
Low Volume / Intensity Days:
Keep carb intake low for the day, have mainly protein / fats (eggs, meats, fish, dairy, nuts) + vegetables + some fruit as your main foods, leave out porridge, pasta, rice, bread etc.
Long / Hard Training Days:
Keep low carb before training, main carbs with recovery and next meal, low carb then for the remainder of the day.
Weekend Long Run or Bike
Breakfast: just coffee or an omelette
Ride / Run
Recovery: Fruit + Porridge + Protein shake
Lunch: Rice + Chicken
Snack: yoghurt + nuts + berries
Dinner: fish or meat + mixed green veg
Control Appetite and Set-Points
There are several appetite hormones that send signals to the brain that govern how much you eat and even how much of certain foods you eat e.g. carbs or fats. So we don’t want you to overeat obviously and we don’t want you to just eat fats. Hence, we need to manage the hormonal response so that the signals are balanced. This will mean that you can essentially eat on feel as the body is controlling intake and taste buds.
It’s crucial that you get enough carbs in at the right times. So if you come back from a long empty training session, make recovery high carbs and next meal high carbs. Keep to the HighGI foods too, no need to have brown pasta or wholegrain breads. Banana’s, white rice, potato will perform the job better as there digestion and glucose delivery is faster and easier. Porridge can be a recovery food, with a big spoon of honey, raisins and banana it makes it more highGI (note: exactly why you shouldn’t be eating this for breakfast before you go training !)
Keep the fat with the recovery meals low
This is the one time where you need to go low fat. So keep the meats lean – chicken or turkey. Eggs are okay here. But stay off nuts, peanut butter, cream, cheese, beef, bacon, etc. Insulin is high here which means fat storage is high. Now, if you have done a very big session on empty, you will have depleted your muscle fat stores called IMTG’s (intramuscular triglycerides). Hence, these need to be replaced. So if you have done a long session on empty, and you have been “adapting” for weeks / months, then incorporating red meat, nuts, butter and dairy fats with your post training meal is actually recommended as this will help replenish intramuscular fats. However, if you either a) are not adapted and b) have only done a 1hr session, then consuming a low fat lean protein with your meal is advised. When having low carb meals, keep the protein and fat high and the veg high. So eat lamb, venison, beef or salmon with lots of fibrous veg e.g. broccoli, kale, cauliflower, asparagus, brussel sprouts. These should be large portions as the protein and fibre will help to satisfy appetite and switch off hunger hormones.
When you feel the urge to snack, and get that craving for something sweet, just go for a handful of nuts or a few spoons of greek yoghurt. Try almond or peanut butter and coconut oil straight, a teaspoon of each. A few olives with feta cheese might work too.
It’s all about turning off the sugar receptors and neural cravings for sugar. Another little tip is put a finish line in place. Discipline is needed and that’s hard if you are constantly eating with no finish line so to speak. One way you can draw a line under your eating is to finish a meal with a couple of squares of dark chocolate. So you have dinner, then say to yourself “right, a couple of squares of dark chocolate with some herbal tea and I’m done”. You can do this after lunch too. Its more of a psychological thne physiological thing, but that’s a large part of how appetite is controlled !
Train in Fasted / Depleted State
The way you train then will compliment all of the nutrition strategies. The first thing to realise is that eating any sort of carbs pre-training (apart from immediately before, like 10mins), will release insulin and inhibit fat burning. Weekday 1hr morning sessions can all be done on empty. If the intensity of the session is high and you are not used to training empty, eating some fast sugars like honey/banana close to the session will supply some quick fuel. Weekend bike and run sessions are the perfect opportunity to go empty as usually they are long steady sessions where you should be exclusively using fat as your main fuel. The level of “empty” can vary. For example, a 3 hour ride can be done on just water (don’t forget the coffee too!) or you can eat from time zero. Eating carbs during does suppress the fat burning process, but if you go in completely empty than at least the fat burning system is switched on more. You can then vary the times at which you eat at, for example:
Phase 1: eat from t zero and then as normal
Phase 2: eat from 60mins and then as normal
Phase 3: eat from 120mins and then as normal
Phase 4: go as long as you can without eating!
By referring to each of these as a “Phase”, I mean doing each for a number of weeks or even months and letting the adaptation improve. So you might do Phase 1 for 4-6 weeks, then you might do Phase 2 for 6-8 weeks or even longer. It all depends on the individual and your ability/speed at which you adapt. The key point is that you do not jump into the deep end at first and expect magic! If you go out for a 3hr cycle, on empty for the first time, with just a bottle of water, you will end up in the hurt box! It’s all about letting the mechanisms change over time by slowly but consistently stimulating them.
Everything I have explained here is based on what I have uncovered by studying the deep science behind energy production, metabolism, exercise physiology and the biochemistry that makes it all tick. It is then based on the “Field Testing” I have done myself and with various other athletes I have worked with. If ultra endurance is your game, then this is the key to unlocking all the doors in terms of nutrition and how it affects performance. Not only that, but this way of eating leads to improved health and longevity in comparison with the traditional approach of high carbohydrate / high sugar / low fat diets. It’s all an adaptation process and the physiological changes that need to take place require time. At the minimum, it takes a few months to see results, realistically, the major changes occur after 12-24months. All good things come to those that wait…
This is the essence of becoming a fat burning machine!
© Barry Murray BSc MSc <Performance Nutritionist> OptimumNutrition4Sport