The Claim A high-fat, low-to-no-carb approach enhances stamina, boosts performance, lowers body fat, and aids post-workout recovery.
Local experts weigh in on whether fitness freaks benefit from this trendy diet.
by Matt Hart, 5280 magazine
A high-fat, low-to-no-carb approach enhances stamina, boosts performance, lowers body fat, and aids post-workout recovery.
It’s a process called fat adaptation, championed by fitness experts such as Denver-based family physician Dr. Cate Shanahan, who helped transform the Los Angeles Lakers’ team diet to a menu of whole foods (including fats) in 2012. We’re all born fat-adapted, which means we can burn our body fat for energy, Shanahan says, but we’ve compromised this natural process by overdoing the carbs. The science works like this: When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose (blood sugar). In response, your pancreas releases insulin to shuttle the sugar to your needy cells. However, excessive carb intake creates a surplus of sugar, which is then stored in your body as fat. In theory, those fat stores can be used later for fuel, but if your everyday meals are loaded with carbs (more than about 65 percent of your total daily calories), your body will use that readily available stream of sugar as its energy source, leaving your fat stores untapped.
For elite athletes who burn enough calories to deplete those stores and avoid packing on pounds, other effects, like systemic inflammation and slower recovery times caused by carb-induced chemical reactions within cells, can eventually hinder performance. Cutting back on carbs tells your body to use fat for energy—which, says Shanahan, “gives you a vastly longer-lasting supply for mental concentration and endurance exercise.”