Over the years we have learned, un-learned and re-learned how to fuel our bodies. The sheer volume of information, and how often it changes with time and research is staggering – and many of us are still confused. Understanding our bodies’ approach to burning the fuel we feed it might offer a little insight into the end results we experience from a weight and energy standpoint. And once you understand how the fuel works, you’ll have a little more insight into how a ketogenic diet works – and how it may work for you if you are looking to lose weight, improve health or even athletic performance.
Carbohydrate as fuel:
As we know, carbohydrates are not created equal. There are starch parts and there are fiber parts. Depending on the food and the degree of processing, the ratio of starch to fiber varies greatly. When we eat carbohydrates, the starch components are broken down during digestion and used immediately as fuel (think glucose). When glucose goes unused, it will be stored in our adipose tissue as fat. The fiber component cannot be digested and moves through the digestive tract, working its magic later (this is ‘fuel’ for another article!).
Our bodies prioritize. We typically burn the starchy carbohydrates as fuel before we burn anything else. This is one of the reasons athletes will carb-load before (even during and after) a workout. The prevailing opinion for many years in sports nutrition has been that this is a requirement for good performance. The energy gained from these non-fiber carbs can be used immediately, however once it’s gone, you need to refuel or you’ll ‘bonk’ (crash!) and feel as if you’ve hit a wall.
People who struggle with insulin resistance or pre-diabetes have trouble delivering the glucose broken down during digestion into the cells that need it for energy. Because they have trouble using these carbs as fuel, they ultimately store them as fat. Low non-fiber carb, higher fat diets work so well because they don’t depend on insulin to help get blood sugar into the cells to be used as fuel. (1)
And remember, as long as carbs are being burned, fat is not.
Fat as fuel:
When a diet high in non-fiber (starchy) carbs is consumed, the fat we eat along with it is broken down and stored for use later. Sometimes, a lot later! But the body can be trained to burn both those fat stores and the fat we digest as the optimal fuel. This works for a wide variety of people who may range from ‘normal weight’ to overweight to elite athlete – as well as those who may be struggling with insulin related issues. Changing the diet to one of that consists of higher fat, moderate protein and low, non-fiber carbohydrates has been shown to train the body to prefer fat as fuel as long as you maintain this style of eating. (1) It cannot be emphasized enough that quality sources of fat and fiber are critical. Unprocessed or very minimally processed food sources like seeds, butters, olives/olive oil, coconut oil and avocados are great choices. The highly processed vegetable oils are best avoided to ensure optimal health. We can get all the fiber we need from fruits and veggies.
Because the body only stores about 2000 calories of glycogen (made from that glucose we ate) for use in the short term, athletes dependent upon the carbs they may have loaded for their event will eventually crash when they run out of fuel. If they take the ketogenic route and train their bodies to burn fat, they have access to tens of thousands of calories of fat stored in their adipose tissue – even the most lean in the bunch! There will be no crash and the potential is there for outperforming their former carb-loading selves.
For those of us who enjoy moving our bodies but aren’t elite athletes, there are added benefits to a ketogenic diet that go well beyond weight loss. To read more, check out the article, here. If you are interested in exploring weight loss, a ketogenic diet is best approached with a good coach to help guide you through the process. We’d love to hear from you!
By Samantha Reasor-Loken, Bastyr Student Intern
Source: Dr. Mercola; http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/01/31/high-fat-low-carb-diet-benefits.aspx