Mercola.com talks in this article about being either far or sugar adapted. Basically it states that the healthy state for the human body to be in is to easily be able to burn fat as a fuel source. However, due to our high GI diet we have often trained our body to only use sugar as a fuel source. This makes us fat, and we have to eat frequently to keep the carbs coming, because sugar gets burned up quickly. When we burn fat, we tend to stay slim and, we get a lot less hungry. We also avoid a lot of problems due to sugar swings. Here is the link to the article.
Are You a Sugar-Burner?
- A sugar-burner can’t effectively access stored fat for energy. What that means is an inability for skeletal muscle to oxidize fat. Ha, not so bad, right? I mean, you could always just burn glucose for energy. Yeah, as long as you’re walking around with an IV-glucose drip hooked up to your veins.
What happens when a sugar-burner goes two, three, four hours without food, or – dare I say it – skips a whole entire meal (without that mythical IV sugar drip)? They get ravenously hungry. Heck, a sugar-burner’s adipose tissue even releases a bunch of fatty acids 4-6 hours after eating and during fasting, because as far as it’s concerned, your muscles should be able to oxidize them. After all, we evolved to rely on beta oxidation of fat for the bulk of our energy needs. But they can’t, so they don’t, and once the blood sugar is all used up (which happens really quickly), hunger sets in, and the hand reaches for yet another bag of chips.
- A sugar-burner can’t even effectively access dietary fat for energy. As a result, more dietary fat is stored than burned. Unfortunately for them, they’re likely to end up gaining lots of body fat. As we know, a low ratio of fat to carbohydrate oxidation is a strong predictor of future weight gain.
- A sugar-burner depends on a perpetually-fleeting source of energy. Glucose is nice to burn when you need it, but you can’t really store very much of it on your person (unless you count snacks in pockets, or chipmunkesque cheek-stuffing). Even a 160 pound person who’s visibly lean at 12% body fat still has 19.2 pounds of animal fat on hand for oxidation, while our ability to store glucose as muscle and liver glycogen are limited to about 500 grams (depending on the size of the liver and amount of muscle you’re sporting). You require an exogenous source, and, if you’re unable to effectively beta oxidize fat (as sugar-burners often are), you’d better have some candy on hand.
- A sugar-burner will burn through glycogen fairly quickly during exercise. Depending on the nature of the physical activity, glycogen burning could be perfectly desirable and expected, but it’s precious, valuable stuff. If you’re able to power your efforts with fat for as long as possible, that gives you more glycogen – more rocket fuel for later, intenser efforts (like climbing a hill or grabbing that fourth quarter offensive rebound or running from a predator). Sugar-burners waste their glycogen on efforts that fat should be able to power.
The Benefits of Being Fat Adapted
Being fat-adapted, then, looks and feels a little bit like the opposite of all that. A fat-burning beast:
- Can effectively burn stored fat for energy throughout the day. If you can handle missing meals and are able to go hours without getting ravenous and cranky (or craving carbs), you’re likely fat-adapted.
- Is able to effectively oxidize dietary fat for energy. If you’re adapted, your post-prandial fat oxidation will be increased, and less dietary fat will be stored in adipose tissue.
- Has plenty of accessible energy on hand, even if he or she is lean. If you’re adapted, the genes associated with lipid metabolism will be upregulated in your skeletal muscles. You will essentially reprogram your body.
- Can rely more on fat for energy during exercise, sparing glycogen for when he or she really needs it. As I’ve discussed before, being able to mobilize and oxidize stored fat during exercise can reduce an athlete’s reliance on glycogen. This is the classic “train low, race high” phenomenon, and it can improve performance, save the glycogen for the truly intense segments of a session, and burn more body fat. If you can handle exercising without having to carb-load, you’re probably fat-adapted. If you can workout effectively in a fasted state, you’re definitely fat-adapted.
Furthermore, a fat-burning beast will be able to burn glucose when necessary and/or available, whereas the opposite cannot be said for a sugar-burner. Ultimately, fat-adaption means metabolic flexibility. It means that a fat-burning beast will be able to handle some carbs along with some fat. A fat-burning beast will be able to empty glycogen stores through intense exercise, refill those stores, burn whatever dietary fat isn’t stored, and then easily access and oxidize the fat that is stored when it’s needed. It’s not that the fat-burning beast can’t burn glucose – because glucose is toxic in the blood, we’ll always preferentially burn it, store it, or otherwise “handle” it – it’s that he doesn’t depend on it.
I’d even suggest that true fat-adaptation will allow someone to eat a higher carb meal or day without derailing the train. Once the fat-burning machinery has been established and programmed, you should be able to effortlessly switch between fuel sources as needed.