The Importance Of Eating Fat During Ultramarathon Training

Fueling during exercise is a delicate dance. Consume not enough food and you will likely hit the wall. If you consume an excessive amount, your gastrointestinal system could rebel, causing you to have to use the outhouse on the side of the road (or path).

Many runners, ranging from amateur to professional, have found out the hard way that their nutrition can be taken too far, resulting in severe stomach issues. The main idea behind providing energy during long-term physical activity is to keep a consistent flow of carbohydrates for use. Your body doesn’t have large reserves of carbohydrates, and this can be used up in a short amount of time depending on how hard you exercise. Most dietitians advise athletes to take in carbs during strenuous activity that goes on for more than an hour and a half. In comparison to the limited amount of carbohydrate stores (called glycogen), fat reserves are practically boundless. A runner who comes in at 125 pounds and has a body fat of 10% has around 50,000 kilocalories of fat energy stored. When thinking of the effort it takes to complete a marathon, it is important to consider that the average runner typically uses up between 2,000 and 3,000 kilocalories while running 26.2 miles. Essentially, there is hardly any chance that your fat tanks are going to become empty while you are taking part in extended competitions, such as long-distance one-leg races. Some athletes and practitioners think that it is beneficial to train their bodies to burn fat instead of carbohydrates as there is an unlimited source of energy in fat. Relying upon fat as the main fuel during exercise would enable your body to conserve glycogen, and would result in the need to eat fewer carbohydrates. This could significantly reduce the risk of experiencing digestive distress. This article strives to analyse the fat-adaptation theory from a scientific point of view and look at its consequences in terms of energy, achievement, and digestive system function.

Fuel Use during Exercise

The body has a preference for breaking down carbohydrates (mainly glucose) and fat to produce energy, but it can also oxidize various other organic compounds. When you’re resting on the couch, the majority of the energy created (approximately two-thirds) is derived from the metabolizing of fat, although the amount of an individual’s fat-burning can differ greatly between athletes. As people progress from resting to running more vigorously, the amount of energy obtained from burning fat in their bodies reduces continually. This implies that the body typically favours using carbohydrates during strenuous physical activities and that the amount of fat burned is constrained when doing more vigorous exercise (more than 75% of VO2 max). The human machine is quite adaptable, though, and it turns out that eating loads of fat increases fat utilization during exercise. In one illustrative study, a high-fat diet (60% of energy intake) eaten for just two days caused nearly a doubling in the rate of fat oxidation at a moderate exercise intensity in comparison to a diet that was only 22% fat. More recently, a study of elite ultrarunners who had been following high-fat, ketogenic diets for at least a half year found that fat burning was roughly 60% higher while running at 64% of VOmax in comparison to similar-calibre ultrarunners who had been following high-carbohydrate diets. These studies are just two of the many that show that by eating lots of fat, the body can adapt to burn more fat during moderate-intensity exercise.

Dietary Fat and Performance

Given the fact that consuming fat significantly alters the body’s capacity to burn fat, why aren’t all long-distance runners opting for a high-fat diet? Taking into account a variety of factors such as taste, dietary habits, and customs, it is essential to think about how high-fat meals affect your ability to burn carbohydrates. In the past, it was believed that consuming a high-fat diet would help preserve carbohydrates during exercise, which would in turn boost fat burning. This alteration was seen favourably by several people, as it enabled an athlete to have extra carbohydrate supplies that would still be intact at the end of a long exercise session. Researchers have discovered something fascinating in the last fifteen years, which is that diets high in fat are not really energy-saving when it comes to carbs. Rather than aiding an athlete, supplements are detrimental in terms of their capacity to stop the utilization of carbs during strenuous activity. In simpler terms, this implies that when a runner is trying to speed up, they could struggle like an automobile with only three of its four pistons running. Because a high-fat diet suppresses the activity of vital enzymes to transform carbohydrates into an energy source that can be used during physical activity. It has been conclusively demonstrated by the esteemed sports scientist Louise Burke in two separate studies that burning a higher proportion of fat as fuel rather than carbohydrates during race events that last from 40-50 minutes is detrimental to performance. These findings could account for why top-tier long-distance runners have a tendency to eat a great deal of high-carbohydrate food; a survey of 10 Ethiopian long-distance athletes found that their average carbohydrate consumption was 64%. While high-fat diets probably aren’t an optimal choice for competitions lasting up to a few hours, there is less clarity when it comes to ultras. Ultrarunners just simply can’t sustain high intensities during their races, and most of them lumber away somewhere between 40% and 60% of their VOmax during single-stage events. Consequently, the contribution of fat to energy production is higher during these races than those lasting less than a few hours. To date, research on whether high-fat diets enhance ultra-endurance performance has been mixed, though the studies typically don’t show any detriments to eating more fat. There are anecdotes of athletes successfully following high-fat diets as well as high-carb diets in the realm of ultramarathoning, and when you combine these anecdotes with the equivocal scientific evidence, the take-home point seems to be that performance on fat-laden diets will vary between athletes. Ultimately, a trial-and-error approach is needed to figure out whether a high-fat diet is a good option for an individual athlete.

Fat Adaptation as a Gut Remedy

Digestive difficulties are very common when it comes to ultrarunning, which is to be expected when a person runs for more than 50 miles continuously. At the 2013 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, almost all of the runners had digestive issues, with 60% of them feeling sick to their stomachs. Additionally, these difficulties became more and more prominent in the last few laps of the race, when the athlete’s stored energy from carbohydrates usually lessens. In this situation, an athlete on a high-carbohydrate diet is more vulnerable to running out of energy, which can be disastrous. If they suffer from any digestive issues during the race, their speed will rapidly decrease given that they can no longer draw energy from their fat reserves and won’t be able to eat many carbohydrates if their intestines are acting up. In comparison, a runner that is adapted to fat needs fewer carbohydrates than other runners and therefore does not have to worry as much about digestion issues from an excessive amount of carbohydrates. It is entirely uncertain whether high-fat diets will provide any improvement to gut discomfort associated with ultra-running. Put another way, there isn’t any proof that athletes who are adapted to fat don’t experience digestive problems in sports competitions as they refrain from taking in significant amounts of sugar. Although it is not the only option, a high-fat diet can help a sports player with a delicate stomach to lessen the chances of gastrointestinal problems. The more extended the competition, the greater the chance that a high-fat diet could provide some advantages. For instance, a weighty eating regimen could probably raise capability during a 100-mile competition rather than a 50-kilometre race.

Miles Make Mitochondria

The mitochondria, which are present within muscle cells, harbour the enzymes that break down fat. Fats are brought into the mitochondria where, in the presence of oxygen, they are decomposed to create power. The higher the number of mitochondria, the faster the amount of fat being metabolised, the greater the ATP amounts and thus higher levels of energy. High-volume training increases the amount and size of mitochondria. Extended workouts yield the highest increases in mitochondrial content. A 90-minute jog will give a more effective workout than a 60-minute jog. It is quite usual for runners to do double training sessions to cover the required distance. This study suggests that running for a single session of 90 minutes is more advantageous than two sessions that each last 45 minutes. There is, however, a point of diminishing returns. A three-hour run will help increase the number of mitochondria in the body, but because of the need to have a longer break between such long runs, the overall benefits are cancelled out. The consistent training over a few weeks to months during the establishment period of accumulating miles is what will increase fat metabolism. Once the fundamental foundation has been set up and basic fat-burning has been achieved, it’s time to move on to runs that last three or more hours, depending on your desired event. Extended distance runs are key to getting ready for the marathon and other extended races. After two to three hours of running, the leg muscles become depleted of glycogen. Hormones adapt to the lack of glycogen, resulting in a heightened process of fat metabolism.

Raise The Lactate Threshold

Endurance races are aerobic races. Marathons usually take place just shy of the point at which lactic acid will start to be generated, which is known as the anaerobic threshold. Have you ever begun a race too intensely and gone into an oxygen-deficient state, only to suffer the consequences and perform slower than you expected, or even had to give up? Having a higher aerobic threshold level will enable you to keep a quicker tempo for a marathon and ultra-marathon running. Highly skilled professional marathon runners will regularly have a very efficient fat-burning system that allows them to run marathons at an intensity level of 85% or higher of their maximum capacity. It is achievable for most of us to reach a 75-80% success rate. Anaerobic threshold training increases the fat metabolism that has been built up over time. The result is quicker running times in the long run. Including brief bursts of anaerobic exercise in your routine will help your muscles and blood get used to breaking down and dealing with lactic acid. The aim is to produce a workable amount of lactic acid that the muscles can handle without difficulty to ensure a decent length of exercise and fast recuperation. Going too deep into the oxygen-free region will create excessive amounts of lactic acid, decrease the amount of activity you can complete during your workout, and could potentially cause lingering weariness and overtraining. Marathoners don’t derive much benefit from 400-meter repeats. Increasing lactate tolerance can be achieved by running faster and maintaining that pace at 80 to 85 per cent speed, as well as performing mile repeats. Oglesby proposes to do running workouts of 10 to 12 miles that have a speed of 15 to 30 seconds faster than the pace a runner should try to maintain during a marathon. One positive consequence of incorporating tempo runs into your training is that the required pace for a marathon will feel much simpler and more achievable. A recent investigation looked into the influence of severe interval workouts on the breakdown of fat and carbohydrates, as well as lactate concentrations in cyclists who had trained for two to three hours a day for an extended period. They substituted some of the lengthy distance running they used to do with two sets of 5-minute intervals between 6 and 9 times, with 1 minute of rest in between. Following the passage of six weeks, the fat intake related to energy during a single hour had risen from 6 per cent to 13 per cent. It is uncertain how appropriate this is for a race event that is over two hours long. Due to investigations on interval instruction such as these, numerous runners have abandoned the extensive base-building phase citing “quality versus amount” as their reasoning. Doing Advanced Training before getting your body in good condition will not lead to successfully completing marathons quickly.

High Fat or High Carbohydrate

In the last 10 years, a lot of studies have been performed on how the makeup of one’s diet can influence endurance. Until this point, runners and other competitors in endurance sports have been following a diet high in carbohydrates because increased carbohydrate stores are known to make athletes perform better in training and races of a long distance. Sports nutritionists suggest a diet that gives 6 to 8 grams of carbs per kilogram of your body mass. The number of carbs in a person’s diet can be as high as 400 to 600 grams daily. This equals a total of between 1,600 and 2,400 calories that come from carbohydrates in a day. This kind of eating regimen does not allow for enough fats or proteins. A negative consequence of consuming a lot of carbohydrates, particularly those high in sugar, is a reduced ability to burn fat and tiredness. This is largely due to chronically stimulated insulin levels. Insulin’s effects can last for as long as eight hours, particularly when a large number of carbohydrates have been consumed, like the combination of spaghetti and rolls with a scoop of sorbet could provide. At first, research indicated that diets with high-fat content, wherein fats account for 60% or more of overall caloric intake, could be advantageous in terms of enhancing stamina. High-fat diets can increase fat burning, even when the body is not active. The results of physical training trials indicated that individuals who were consuming high-fat meals had greater stamina when compared to those who took in high-carbohydrate dishes. The main point was how hard the exercises used in the tests were. High-fat diets improved endurance at relatively low-intensity levels. When the difficulty was raised to recreate competition conditions, the edge was eliminated. Exercises that require more energy necessitate more carbohydrates, and the participants did not possess sufficient glycogen reserves to last for extended periods. It can be inferred that it is not possible to completely cut out carbohydrates; however one can limit the amount one consumes. It is now apparent that both diets which are high in carbohydrates and fats both contribute to tiredness and subpar performances. The optimum diet balancing fat and carbohydrates is most likely ideal, as it provides enough fat to activate fat metabolism, maintain hormone levels and also adequate amounts of carbohydrates necessary to fuel the brain and the nervous system, all while keeping the glycogen reserves full. Sports scientists are advocating for dietary plans that feature 50% carbohydrates, 30% fat, and 20% protein, plus additional carbohydrates following tough or extended training sessions.


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