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Going long? Fat is where it’s at…

When we dive into the wild world of ultras, fueling for the distance is always a major friction point. What to eat, when to eat it, and even – at times – how best to eat it, all become matters of vital importance when we’re going long. We start researching the issue more deeply and this is where problems begin because a lot of the information out there is, at best, misleading and at worst, utter crap.

More on carbs…

Inevitably, this low-rent advice will focus exclusively on carbs and will be along the lines of: ‘carb stores last for two hours so go beyond this and you will need to top up, otherwise you’ll hit the wall’.

Which isn’t to say the above isn’t partly true. Our carb stores, when topped up through regular healthy eating (no need to guzzle a ton of gunk to ‘load’, real food does a much better job) will indeed fuel around two hours of exercise.

You shouldn't need one of these to get down the block.
You shouldn’t need one of these to get down the block.

The issue is that the carb story is only one part of the fueling equation.

The other part – stored fat – is often ignored completely. But ignore stored fat and you’ll be as reliable over distance as car with a missing wheel.

Because while our carb tank has fuel for two hours, our stored fat – even in a lean body – has enough juice to power us for 24 hours and beyond. Better still, stored fat delivers a nice stable energy base to work from which stresses the body and mind way less than peak/trough carb fueling.

In outline, we’re primarily burning fat below 70% of max effort (conversational pace and under) and primarily burning carbs above that level.

But, if we make the wrong moves (carb-heavy daily and race diet and intense training only) that fat-burning threshold can fall well below 70% and we suddenly become the runner who can’t reach the end of the street without a gel in every pocket. Make the right moves though (see below) and we can take our fat-burning threshold well above 70% making us more efficient, happier runners who only need to trickle in smaller doses of carbs to keep that tank topped up as we’re burning so much more fat. In short, we’re in charge of our nutrition, not the other way around.

bigstock-Food-fish-Unsaturated-Fats-52226848

We’ve all got our stored fat already, the trick is accessing it for race use. This requires simple training and dietary changes and here they are:

  1.  Reduce sugar and processed foods in your diet. The more of these you eat in your daily diet, the more the body becomes accustomed to fueling from carbs instead of fat, and the more carbs you will need to run. Reduce them in your daily diet and the opposite starts happening – the body’s seriously clever.
  2.  Similarly, increase good fats in your diet. We’re talking nuts, avocados, hemp, spirulina, oily fish and so on – more good fat coming in helps the body increasingly see these fats as a prime fuel source.
  3. Start slow and hungry. For at least one session a week, give yourself 15 minutes at conversational pace before turning up the pace. Leaping straight into high intensity work makes the body automatically defer to carbs while starting slow gives the fat tank a chance to start kicking in. Fasted runs – before breakfast is ideal – also encourage the body to burn fat, simply as there’s nothing else there.

And that, my friends, is it. Implement this, build the strongest fat-burning base you can, and you’ll be a faster, happier runner who suffers way less stomach trouble, see-saw energy level problems, and who doesn’t have to carry an entire candy shop in their pack on every run.  Nice work!


3Warren Pole is a former journalist who dove into ultra endurance and created 33shake as a necessity.  He will be contributing his unique perspective to Becoming Ultra as an athlete and now, a brand partner in 33Shake.  As with everything in running, we ask you to go experience how nutrition affects your runs before you just take anyones word for it!   Remember, “We are all an experiment of one.”

 

 

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