Your body has a reserve of energy you may not know exists. Carbohydrates are typically the sought-after source of energy during activity, but did you know fat can also help supply energy to your body?
The great thing about carbohydrates is that we can easily replenish them through the foods we eat before and during activity. Munch on a bar, take in chews or swig some drink mix during a bike ride and you are providing quick energy to your muscles to keep going strong. Your body is made to respond in this way.
In contrast, while we store much more fat in our bodies compared to carbohydrate, the fat stores aren’t as efficient to tap as a primary energy source during activity. Using fat as a secondary energy reservoir requires a bit more work for your body, but can be beneficial for both athletic performance and health.
The ability to tap into fat stores is commonly known as “metabolic efficiency,” which describes the ability of the body to use carbohydrate and fat more efficiently across different activity durations and intensities. At lower exercise intensities, the body uses fat as energy. As the intensity increases, the body prefers carbohydrate to sustain activity. The body will always prefer carbohydrate as its primary energy source, but you can teach it to use fat more efficiently, thereby leading to even better energy levels, body composition and weight changes in the long term.
There are two ways to teach the body to use more fat:
1. Aerobic exercise. Lower-intensity exercise will improve the body’s ability to burn fat at the cellular level. Keep an easy intensity for a few exercise sessions each week to better access these fat stores.
2. Daily nutrition. The most robust way to use stored fat is to alter your daily nutrition plan with the goal of controlling blood sugar. If blood sugar is steady, major spikes in blood glucose or the hormone insulin levels should not occur, allowing your body to be in a more efficient fat burning state throughout the day.
When you grab a meal or snack, mix food sources of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Grab a handful of almonds, a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato or mix up a fruit smoothie with your choice of milk and some protein powder.
Here’s an easy way to make sure a meal has what you need: Whenever you eat, have enough carbohydrate to fill your cupped left hand and enough protein to fill your right hand in the same way. Fat is usually found in protein sources, so no need to measure. For snacks, just reduce this to half-hand portions and you have a very simple way of knowing how much of the nutrients to put together to ensure your blood sugar stays stable and your fat-burning mechanisms are turned on. Need an on-the-go snack? Look to foods that contain at least 5 grams of protein and are sourced from whole food ingredients such as nuts, seeds, fruit or whole grain oats.
It can take some time and patience to learn which foods you enjoy the most while also combining nutrients to optimize your personal blood sugar levels. It won’t be long before you notice improvements in your health and athletic performance, and you’re sure to have a steadier energy stream throughout the day.
* * *
Clif Bar & Company is a leading maker of nutritious and organic foods and drinks for people on-the-go. Focused on sports nutrition and snacks for adventure, the family and employee-owned company is committed to sustaining its people, brands, business, community and planet. For more information on Clif Bar & Company, please visit www.clifbar.com, check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/clifbar and follow us on Twitter @clifbar.