What is ketosis? And what could it mean for you as a runner?
Ketosis is a magnificent example of the human body’s incredible intelligence. It is the flawless defense mechanism that kicks in if you experience a state of extreme starvation; ketosis is like the back-up generator for your body. When a steady supply of carbohydrate – the usual fuel source – has run out, your physiology breaks down stored fat cells and creates ketone bodies from the triglycerides (the molecular form of fat) and uses them as an alternative fuel. This is primarily a protection mechanism for your brain. The human brain cannot use fat or protein as an energy source, and therefore relies on glycogen from carbohydrates. In times of absolute energy crisis, the brain can switch to ketone bodies as a fuel source. Ironically, your brain can actually work better on ketones than carbohydrates! What’s also really awesome about ketones is that they are extremely well metabolised by muscle cells as an energy source, requiring less processing than carbohydrates or fatty acids.
Hmmm, if only we could access these ketones without the starvation part, we’d be super athletes!
Well it turns out we can.
Nutritional ketosis is an acute state of ketosis that can be induced through dietary intervention without having to starve yourself. Don’t be fooled though, it is not easy; if it was, everyone would be doing it. Well, maybe not. Despite the significant body of evidence for this dietary method, the slow-moving bus that is traditional western medicine is still yet to pick it up. For this reason, many have not even heard of ketogenic diets, or have been warned against it by their outdated GP. Don’t get me started on recent advances by the Dietary Association of Australia who are deeming similar nutritional practices – namely the Paleo diet – as unhealthy and unsafe. That’s a conversation we can have elsewhere. Other known benefits of nutritional ketosis include weight loss, improved mental clarity and increased energy levels to name a few.
Put very simply, by drastically increasing your fat intake while simultaneously decreasing almost all carbohydrate and most protein, one can enter a state of ketosis in anywhere between two to seven days. In some circles this is referred to as becoming “fat adapted”.
So, how achievable is it? How safe is it? Well that depends on a lot of things. How well do you know your body? How disciplined and committed are you? What knowledge do you have of nutrition? What’s a good fat, or a bad fat? What’s your current health status?
It is advised that you work towards ketosis with the guidance of a nutritionist or health professional who understands the physiology behind it all. It’s not always a pleasant practice, and will require that you alter your training schedule temporarily. Ideally the process will be drawn out over two to four weeks, at which point you’ll have created healthy habits and new ways of eating that leave you in a fat adapted state. That’s where the performance benefits lie.
If you'd like to find out more about fat adapted, and ketosis you absolutely do not want to miss our upcoming Eat To Run Webinar.
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