I am often asked my by running/cycling friends “What is fat adapted training?” Several of them have seen my success using this approach and want to learn more.
There are several concepts you need to know in order to make this change I your own training strategy. Keep in mind, I am not a training expert, I am just trying to summarize what I have learned and used in my own journey.
The first change you have to make is in your daily diet, if you do not have a clean diet then this style of training may not work very well for you. The overall premise is based on reducing or eliminating grains and sugar from your diet (think NSNG – No Sugar, No Grains). This is certainly not the conventional wisdom of many athletes, especially age groupers like me. Just think of the pre-race meals we all hear about – load up on the carbs!!! Can you imagine….. I also know it is rarely talked about in training magazines such as Runners’ World, so you may be thinking then how do you know it works. Well there are many endurance and ultra-athletes using this training method now and it has worked very well for me. I have been studying up on this subject for over 6 months and it is hard to consolidate everything in to one page, but I will give you the high-level overview and encourage you to explore this for yourself.
Eliminate or reduce most grains and sugar from your diet. I talk about this in my other post so I will not spend much time on it here. Sugar is one of the worst foods to put in our bodies and most of the training products you buy today have sugar in them, they may not be called sugar, but rather one of its close friends, think of the “ose” family – dextrose, sucrose, fructose, HFC etc. Grains are also a problem for our bodies, especially since the grains we eat today are modified and altered through excessive processing. Just realize that if it is in a package, then it is most likely not good to put in your body. A healthy lifestyle is built on whole natural foods as close to their original state as possible.
Z2 Training: For fat adaptive training to work well, you must build a solid Zone 2 training base to support your event. Zone 2 refers to training at your targeted Z2 heart rate. The standard method for calculating this is 180 minus “your age.” If you are an athlete, then add 5, if you have been sick or overweight, then subtract 5. So for me it is: 180-45, then + 5 = 140. Therefore, for long runs I will not exceed 140 beats per minute (BPM). Your base can take 8-12 weeks to build up. Once you start training in Z2, you will notice your pace increasing while keeping your BPM in Z2, that is where you will see your improvement. Keep in mind that heat, hydration, health and fitness level will have an impact on your pace, adjust accordingly. Your short runs can exceed this HR, but for the long ones it is critical to allow your body to adapt and learn to use fat for fuel not sugar.
The challenge with running faster than Z2 for long runs is your body will burn through its glycogen stores within an hour or so, and then you are wanting/needing to add more sugar to replace it to prevent bonking or extreme fatigue. Using sugar for fuel does not allow the body to use its own fat stores efficiently. Once you have the Z2 base, then you will have a great foundation to build from as you add more miles to your workouts.
Fueling: Your fuel needs to consist of non-sugary products. First, never ever use Gatorade, PowerAde or any other sport drink because they are typically loaded with sugar or fake sugar. Use water for hydration, which is all your body needs! For electrolyte replacement you can use “Salt Sticks” (that is the brand of caplet) or S-Caps. There are several others options on the market that you can also use. Watch for flavored products, flavoring usually means hidden sugar.
If you are fat adapted, you should generally not need fuel for runs/rides lasting 2 hours or less. Here are some fuel options to consider, keep in mind this is a journey and you need to find what works for you. For me personally, I use fruit like bananas or apples. I ran my last marathon on 2 bananas, 6 Salts Stick caplets and lots of water. I had the best race I have ever had and felt great afterwards.
UCAN is a great product to use on extended rides/runs (3+ hours)
Protein Powders (be sure it does not have added sugars, this typical comes with flavoring)
Fruit – any will do, find what works for you, bananas have a higher Glycemic Index (GI)
Nuts (roasted are easier to digest)
Fats – Nut butters, avocado, olives
Roasted sweet potatoes
Here are some reference materials you can check out to get more background on this topic.
Marathon Training Academy Podcast – Vinnie Tortorich Interview
The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance
Joe Friel - Paleo Diet for Athletes, the Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing
Endurance Planet Podcast
Vinnie Tortorich Podcast, Episode 177 – Joe Friel, Episode 176 – Dr. Phil Maffetone
Fit, Fat, Fast Podcast