Intermittent fasting or fasted training can revolutionise the way you train and race. On this episode of 32Gi Sports Nutrition, Mr Active, David Katz, chats to Mark Wolff about going through this adaptation. While it can be live changing, you need to take baby steps. Here is how to start…
Thanks for joining us once again on 32Gi Sports Nutrition. If you joined us recently, we had a great blog with Mark Wolff, he’s been populating his blog with some really fantastic topics. One of them that I saw, it’s very interesting around the changes we’ve seen in nutrition and dietary ways that people do consume, and when I say ‘consume,’ consume less carbohydrates.
One of the interesting things I saw was a fantastic quote, ‘To eat or not to eat.’ I don’t think that’s quite what Shakespeare had intended, but Mark, to eat or not to eat, it’s really got to do with should you eat before you train?
Mark Wolff: I think it’s becoming a very, very popular topic, is this intermittent fasting or fasted training. I’m not the only person that has experimented with it quite extensively. I deal with a lot of endurance athletes who regularly do intermittent fasting, as well as body builders and health fitness fanatics as well. So it’s across all walks of life that you actually see fasted training becoming more and more popular.
DK: Looking at aspects of training, generally we’re looking at endurance athletes, I know you mentioned weight lifters, but does this apply across the board? Whether you’re a swimmer, runner or a cyclist or someone who goes to gym, does it depend upon the amount of time that you’re planning to exercise?
Factors to take into account
MW: I think there’s a number of factors that we need to take into account here. The first thing is that, and I think I should state this upfront, is that as human beings, we were actually born to be in a fat metabolic state. In other words, naturally we are more suited to burning of fat.
The problem is with nutrition and improper eating and lifestyle changes, a big percentage of the human race has actually moved away from this natural fat burn zone and in the end it’s just burning off sugar, sugar, sugar. I think it’s a matter of saying, a lot of people say to me, ‘How do you burn off fat?’ It’s quite simple, don’t raise your blood sugar significantly, so that’s the first thing that I want to stress.
The second thing is that fasted training is not such a simple thing. Because if you are somebody that’s already been eating before a training session or you do eat quite a significant amount or drink a significant amount during a training session. When I say ‘drink’ I mean obviously a carbohydrate drink, you’ve obviously trained certain metabolic pathways in order to be able to produce energy from what you’re going to consume.
So the body has become very used to it, and if you suddenly remove that and try and do a fasted training session, you’ll probably suffer quite badly. Because you need to retrain the body and open up these metabolic pathways to produce energy in a different manner.
Baby step your way to fasted training
So I don’t think it’s as simple as just making a switch overnight, it’s something that does take some time and it’s baby steps. I think the advantages of fasted training far outweigh anything else when it comes to sports performance.
The fact that if you’re able to harness a larger amount of fat for fuel during exercise, even at higher intensities and let’s not forget, at a high intensity you definitely burn off more glycogen than you do fat. But if you are a fat efficient athlete and by that I mean you’re able to harness a large amount of fat, because you’ve trained those pathways to be able to harness that energy. You can actually spare more glycogen by burning off more fat at higher intensity.
It’s very advantageous for an endurance athlete to be able to tap into this. I see it more and more, how many endurance athletes across the globe, across the board in actual fact, are able to tap into their fat fuel tank as a source of fuel. As opposed to just trying to just store glycogen, using carbohydrate sources, especially as the distances get longer and longer.
DK: Mark, it always comes down to training something when it comes to nutrition and diet, you never try things, of course, in a race environment. But if you decided to go this route and you did this adaptation and it took, how would you then translate that when you race? Do you adopt exactly the same strategy or does this now allow you to introduce a bit of glucose or carbs into your diet while you’re racing and that gives you that added benefit?
MW: I think that’s the very crucial question. People see me doing fasted training a lot and I can go out on a three or four hour ride faster, so it doesn’t mean when I’m going to race, I’m not going to take any carbohydrates.
How fasted training will benefit racing
In actual fact, I do take carbohydrates when I race. I just keep my insulin levels pretty low. I don’t overload myself with carbs when I’m racing, I take the right amount for my particular body weight, for my particular intensity that I’m performing at and I drip feed.
I take a consistent amount over a period of time in order to provide me a sort of non-spiking kind of a feed, but over time it really, really does help. It’s very, very beneficial from an energy/stability perspective. Obviously, if you want to look at glycogen storage perspective as well. Because I am taking in carbohydrates, I am probably performing at a pretty decent effort, but I’m doing some drip feeding in order that I don’t raise my blood sugar too significantly.
I find that the minute that you do that, you actually trigger a pendulum that’s going to swing and it’s going to send you on a roller-coaster ride and what goes up needs to come down, the biggest problem that I see with athletes these days is that they over-consume on the carbohydrates and they don’t match it to the level of intensity that they’re performing at.
What actually happens is you’ll get an athlete that might be performing mainly in zone two or zone three, they’re taking in a very big amount of carbohydrates, they’re raising their blood sugar significantly and they are not able to actually utilise all that amount of carbohydrates during exercise. In actual fact, they’re completely mitigating fat burn and the body, all it wants to do is get rid of the glucose at that particular moment in time and let me tell you, it’s a terrible place to be in because I see these athletes.
They’re suddenly performing at a very nice level and you see perform to a point and then suddenly they just crash and then they need a second wind. The problem is that’s the roller-coaster ride that they’re going on and it’s not a very pleasant one.
I advocate it for stability as well, but like I said, drip feeding, small, correct amounts of carbohydrates over a period of time. I think if you do a structured feed, that’s probably the best way to go. You need to understand how much you need to take in, when you need to take it in and over what period of time.
How fasted training leads to weight loss
DK: Mark, you know sports nutrition, a lot of focus there on endurance athletes, but if you were someone who is just exercising with the idea that you want to lose weight, it makes more sense to do it this route doesn’t it?
MW: Absolutely. If you want to burn off fat, then you need to burn off fat by mitigating any excessive blood sugar in your body. That means getting up in the morning, having a green tea or a black coffee, no sugar, also maybe no milk and actually going and training on water. If it’s for an hour or two, you absolutely don’t need anything. Your fuel tanks are completely topped up and you are in a fast state, you are going to be in a fat burning state and take advantage of it.
In saying that, people like to train with a flavoured drink, and in that case you can get zero calorie drinks. One of them I use is the 32Gi Hydrate, it helps with fluid absorption, and it has no calories in it. So it does not mitigate the fat burn whatsoever.
After your session, yes, you can have a recovery meal. There are some people that might be a little bit lightheaded but like I say, you can’t go from zero to hero, you need to start off with baby steps. I would say start off with sessions that are 60-90 minutes and slowly build-up over time and eventually you can become an expert at metabolising fat as a source of fuel for long sessions.
In the article I wrote, in a blog the other day I actually mentioned that it can get to a stage where your body becomes extremely efficient. I generally go on 3-4 hour sessions and if you look at those long sessions, especially when I do them on a weekend, which are fasted training sessions.
My last meal the night before might be at about 8:00 at night, sometimes maybe a little bit later, but it’s generally a protein snack. Then the next meal the following day could be anywhere around 11:00 or 12:00. If you take that time period, you’ll absolutely notice that there’s about 14-16 hours before my next meal, and I’m still fitting a quality training session in between.
Recover key to fasted training
So, it’s not that it’s not possible, of course it’s possible. The most important thing though after the session is you have to recover properly. Obviously your immune system will be put under a little bit of stress. If you’re going to train later on, you might want to fuel during because you can’t do a fasted training session like that and then do a double session later on. So you need to be able to take it into account as well.
It’s even got to the extent that one morning I woke up and I actually rode down the road and I forgot that I had left my water bottle at home and I was going on a 100km ride. But I was too frustrated and too lazy to climb back up the hill to go and fetch my water bottle, so I just rode 100km.
I figured if I needed to stop en route I could have had some water, but I decided that it was cool enough, the body wasn’t overheating and it takes many, many hours of suffering before you can actually dehydrate to maybe a life threatening state. So in that case I rode my 100km, I came back home and then I rehydrated.
I think the biggest thing when it comes to athletes is that they do not have the confidence to be able to try this out. They are so desperate to take something with them because they fear that they’re going to hit the wall or they’re going to completely deplete themselves of energy, they’re not going to cope. But the human body naturally has got enough fuel in its tank to support long, hard efforts, there’s no doubt about that.
DK: Mark, we’ve run out of time for today, you did touch on something very important there, especially if people want to change to running or fasted running and that comes to recovery. It’s always important, no matter what athlete you are, but I think even more so. We’ll look at that on the next edition of 32Gi Sports Nutrition, but from Mark Wolff and myself, Mr Active, David Katz, we’ll chat to you then.