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Cyclists Can Eat Fat to Burn Fat

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article by Barry Murray of A1 Coaching 

In order to improve your endurance, general fitness and health, we need our bodies to be fat burning machines. As discussed last week, one technique that can be used to switch on the machinery is “fasting”. In addition to this, you need to fire the engine and fuel the fire by eating the right types of food.

Every reaction in our bodies is controlled by enzymes. The conversion of fat into energy is one of these reactions. One of the main enzymes that control this reaction is called Hormone Sensitive Lipase (HSL). This enzyme can be switched on or activated by certain foods. One such food is saturated fat. Yes, this type of food is actually one of the main types of food that makes you burn fat.

A very simplified saying is “you need to eat fat to burn fat”. I am over simplifying things here as it’s a huge topic to cover in a few hundred words but it is a good way to describe it for now.

Unfortunately, the recommendations and standard dietary advice is to avoid saturated fat as it causes obesity and heart disease. What if I was to tell you the opposite was true? You see, nutrition advice has been flawed for a long time now. The primary reason is due to commercial interests.

Certain food companies want you to believe that eating their foods is good for you. Certain industries (did someone say pharmaceutical?) want you to be sick. Why? It’s simple, sales = profit. So if you are told that a certain food is “low fat” and good for you, you will eat it. This food then makes you sick, so you go to your doctor who prescribes you a drug, which you then have to take. And that’s sadly how this world works.

With regard to obesity, it is thought that eating saturated fat means that you will store it and hencegain weight. In order to make dietary changes, you need to convince yourself that what you are doing is right. This means that you need to have an understanding of the science and the mechanism behind how food works. So here is a quick overview of what saturated fat actually is and what it does: 

Saturated fat is known as “saturated” as its structure consists of single carbon to carbon bonds. It has two vital functions:

1. The fats are used to form our cell walls and

2. It is our main source of energy. It also comes in different chain lengths; short, medium and long. The short and medium chains are easily digested and metabolized by the body so even the term “saturated fat” is misleading as there are different types. So when you eat saturated fat, what “should” happen is that it gets transferred to the muscle and burnt to make energy. It is also then used to make new cell walls. We obviously have lots of cells and in order to function, move and exercise, we need to make lots of energy. Thus, in essence, we need to eat lots of saturated fat. Where this has gone wrong is related to modern farming, commercial interests and misunderstood science. In order to get saturated fat to the muscle where it can be converted cleanly to energy requires the body to have a very efficient metabolic system. The problem is that one of the key things that messes up this system is refined simple carbohydrate. Eating a lot of this type of food makes our metabolic system inefficient resulting in us unable to properly process the fats. What happens then is the fat doesn’t get directed to the muscle, it doesn’t get burnt and because it has to compete with the other fuel source you are consuming (i.e. the simple carbohydrate), the fat gets stored.

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So modern farming now allows us to harvest crops. We can now make lots of different types of foods from refined grains such as cereals, breads, pastries, biscuits and cakes. These are cheap, palatable and tasty. This then converts to big profits. We then have a food pyramid and dietary recommendations that tell us to make these foods the biggest percentage of our daily calorie intake.

The misunderstood science has made us believe that because these foods have fewer calories and contain no fat, they are good for us. However, the real science shows that these foods block our body’s ability to cleanly process fats. That is probably the most important piece of the whole jigsaw to understand. The science is deep and has nothing to do with calories but is related to the hormones Insulin and Leptin as well as brain signals and the inflammation. But put simply, eating high amounts of refined carbohydrate foods puts a spanner in the works (the fat processing works).

Let’s look at this in very practical terms. Bacon, eggs and sausage contain a large amount of saturated fats. As long as these foods come from good sources (grass fed, naturally farmed) and as long as you have an efficient metabolic system, these are extremely healthy foods to eat. Now, add 3 slices of toast to the equation and the situation changes. The toast contains refined wheat, which is converted to simple sugars, which then messes up your metabolic efficiency. Your body see’s the sugar first, and proper signals needed to process the saturated fats are blocked. Hence, you store fat that you have just eaten instead of burning it and gain weight. The same thing happens with that juicy steak and chips and that homemade quarter pounder and white bread bun. The point is that it’s not the fat that is making you fat, it’s the refined carbohydrates and simple sugars!

This is not only based on my own interpretation and understanding, it’s based on modern research. A very recent published journal by Dr Jeff Volek and Dr Stephen Phinney entitled “The twisted tale of saturated fat” supports this argument. Not only that, but there are now several books written by renowned journalists such as Gary Taubes, who go in depth into discussing the literature and referencing the studies that show how saturated fat has been completely misunderstood.

Good naturally sourced saturated fat is our most important and preferred fuel. You will find this type of fat in foods such as meats, dairy and some vegetables such as coconut. So butter, bacon, cream, beef, lamb and cheeses are the main fuel for your fat burning engine. The food that we are told to eat the most of (i.e. carbohydrate) is what prevents us from using this fuel. Think about that the next time you eat toast with your next full Irish breakfast!

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A1 Coaching

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