For decades, endurance athletes have been instructed to load up their bodies with carbohydrates, in order to perform at their peak. Long distance runners traditionally spend the hours before a race filling up on pasta and oatmeal. More recently some athletes have been experimenting with another type of diet, a high-fat, low net carbs (total carbohydrates minus fiber) that has proven to support top performance while also promoting the health of the athletes.
The athletes who favor the new diet have for the most part kept quiet. They have shunned controversy, and many have been reluctant to tip off their competitors about an approach they have come to believe provides them a tactical advantage in their events. But now the attention of the sports world is shifting to this new way of eating.
What’s Wrong With Carb Loading?
The purpose of carb-loading is to provide plenty of glycogen that your muscles can use as fuel. Your body stores glycogen in your muscles and liver. When the fuel is used up, fatigue sets in and performance begins to decline. The problem is if you are burning carbs as your primary fuel source, you will still need to refuel during a marathon.
Athletes often supplement during an event with carb-rich energy gels, to prevent “bonking,” a slang term for running out of energy or “hitting the wall.” Bonking happens when you rely on sugars for fuel. Loading up on fat provides energy that lasts longer, not just during endurance events, but even during casual exercise.
Why Fat is a Superior Fuel
Once the body has used up its glycogen stores, it moves to using fat as fuel. This fat-adapted state causes improved utilization of energy, regeneration of stem cells, and tissue repair. It also decreases body fat, reduces inflammation and increases insulin sensitivity.
Carb loading prior to exercise does enhance performance for a period of time, but longer term, it inhibits fat burning and the other metabolic benefits of exercise. Whether or not you are an athlete, your body will thrive using fat as your fuel.