Over the past few years I’ve been experimenting with fat adaptation and ketosis (when your body burns ketones for fuel instead of glucose) for performance and efficiency. Having tried both higher protein and higher carb approaches with mixed results, why not try higher fat? This is definitely a hot topic but it’s pretty hard to implement in its more popular/tested forms- just try getting over 70% of your calories from fat and you’ll see that it’s not easy… bordering on ridiculous. Your friends and family will certainly notice and you’ll become the object of more than one raised eyebrow. After seemingly endless trials to find the easiest way to implement this type of high fat regimen and actually get results, here’s what currently seems to be most feasible.
First, just start eating more healthy fats. Get a tub of extra virgin coconut oil and a jug of extra virgin olive oil- Costco seems to have the best quality for the best price. Stock up on nuts. Grass-fed/pastured butter (Kerrygold is probably the most common) and cheeses (it’s harder to find grassfed cheese than you might expect but your local health food store should have some) need to fill the dairy box in the fridge. And some pastured whole milk and whole fat cottage cheese- Kalona Supernatural is good stuff. And avocadoes! Get your body used to processing fat and finding the easiest (and tastiest) ways to work more into your diet. Look at the fat grams on everything you buy. Remember that fat grams have more calories than carbs so your portions should get a little smaller but you should feel more full at the same time. There are tons of resources about healthy fats online. Google away.
Start intermittent fasting (with some fats allowed). A comprehensive guide is here: https://www.onnit.com/academy/the-beginners-guide-to-intermittent-fasting/ The easiest way to do this is to stop eating early- finish supper and be done, that includes alcohol so have your wine (if you must) with dinner and call it good- nothing but water and get to bed on time. This way your body rolls into more of a fat-burning mode while you sleep. And you’ll need that sleep to prepare you for success the next day. When you get up, drink your morning coffee or green tea (decaf coffee/teas are fine but having caffeine will help with energy levels since you aren’t fueling with your normal breakfast) without sugar, creamer, etc. However, you can have fat! Add some butter and/or MCT oil to your drink and blend it up or stir it really fast with a wire whip (check out Bulletproof coffee or the titanium tea head nod/knock-off). This will allow your body to stay in more of a fat-burning mode (and you may be into ketosis by now). Start with only a 1/2 tbsp and work your way up. Never go more than one tbsp of butter and one tbsp of MCT oil.
About MCT oil… yes, it’s oily. And there are a few different kinds. MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil contains up to three MCTs- lauric, capric, and caprylic acids. I don’t recommend using oils that include the lauric acid. You’ll get enough of that when cooking with coconut oil. You can also cook with MCT oil if you don’t like the coconut flavor that’s imparted to the dish you’re serving, but it is more expensive. The two MCT oils that I use the most are Bulletproof XCT oil and NOW Foods MCT oil. I also frequently use Bulletproof Brain Octane, which only contains the caprylic acid (C8). MCT oil is processed directly by the liver and gives almost instantly available (within 15 minutes) energy to your body and brain but the C8 is especially efficient and powerful, so C8-only products carry that much more of a premium. But your liver can only handle so much oil. A tbsp per hour is usually the max, and that’s only if you’re being active. Start small and know your limits. When your liver is processing all the oil it can, it’ll just send the excess on down the pipes… and how! Overdosing can result in a long morning or afternoon of bathroom trips or worse yet, the dreaded disaster pants. Increment your doses slowly! This is a journey, not a sprint, and you are training your body to operate in a new way. It will take time. Don’t rush the process.
Anyway, you’ve stopped eating early, slept well (or as well as possible), and had some (caffeine and) fat. That fat will help your body get into ketosis (fasting mode) without many of the usual side effects of the transition. You may still get a stomach growl or feel it “shrinking” but compared to just not eating and waiting for it to happen, these symptoms are minimal and often non-existent. You might actually feel the shift in your body in a curious, more alert and self-aware way, rather than an uncomfortable way. Start to feel too hungry and think you can’t take it? Try another cup of coffee or tea with some more fat! At this point it’s not a weight-loss strategy (if you’re even going for that at all), you’re just training your body to live on fat. Eventually, it will learn to start using your own fat stores when you aren’t providing the butter, oil, etc. See how long you can go into your day before eating. The idea behind intermittent fasting is to get almost all of your (non-fat) calories in an 8-hour (or less) window. Again, plenty of info on this on the ol’ interwebs, so research away.
On to exercise. In the beginning, continue to fuel up “normally” first, then exercise. Have your typical pre-workout and post-workout consumables. Don’t change too much initially. If you normally exercise in the morning, start experimenting with intermittent fasting on your off day(s). If you do lunch workouts, like myself, at least have some greens first. Then start reducing your pre-workout on your easier days. Or at least reduce the carbohydrate portion of your pre-workout. Aminos are fine. A good pre-workout replacement is just an essential amino acid blend or BCAA supplement. But don’t get the ones that have extra junk in them! You just want quality aminos. Try 5 grams pre-workout and 5 grams post-workout. Aminos will be worthy of a separate post. I like Ajipure aminos. They even have a drink mix that has only 2g carbs if you have to have a flavored drink but you can get them in pill form from Swanson for a decent price. Another option is to try Master Amino Pattern (or PerfectAmino) for a highly bio-available essential amino blend, but you will pay more for that. If you’re an afternoon/evening training type, please eat a good-sized healthy meal first! I like to break my (intermittent) fast with a great big, colorful salad chock full of healthy stuff with olive oil(-based) dressing around 1pm if I’m not going to the gym until later.
Once you get to the point where you are fasting until your workout you can absolutely fuel with only MCT oil and/or BCAAs and eventually get to where you can perform at essentially the same level as your previous carb-fueled workouts without any fuel whatsoever. But this takes time! Slowly decrease fuel and increase exercise intensity. Intervals with high resistance are the hardest. Intense weight training sessions are a close second. Even doing your first few lifts in ketosis and then adding fuel can be beneficial and train your body to burn fats and get more ripped. Still have a protein shake at the ready, especially as you begin experimenting.
Protein- the blessing and the curse of high fat diets. Blessing because you can have protein, especially post-workout, and keep your body in more of a fat burning mode. Curse because it is very hard to tell when you are having too much protein and actually training your body to fuel on muscle rather than fat, which might be worse than just fueling with carbs if maintaining/building muscle is your primary goal. Throwing some MCT oil (they have MCT powder now, too, among other super interesting powders I have yet to experiment with) in your protein blender bottle can keep this from happening but remember to shake it frequently so you don’t slurp an oil slick off the top! And the key is to keep the carbs low (1-5g) in that protein shake.
By the end of the day you still need to be consuming about the same number of calories as before. Again, fewer grams, but your primary focus at first should be eating more fats, not less calories. If weight loss is your goal, calories eventually come into play, but not at first. One thing at a time. And make sure that the calories you do consume are healthy, nutrient dense foods. Check out Ben Greenfield’s Superhuman Food Pyramid or the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap but recognize that those are the gold standard and pretty hard to follow perfectly- just do your best. Start with quality whole foods and supplement as needed. Eat lots of greens. Broccoli is not bad carbs! In fact, carbs aren’t bad, you just need to watch them and keep them in as short a window as possible. Shoot for around 100 grams of carbs per day (or less) unless you are doing longer, more intense workouts- most people will need more carbs to refuel then. If you need more carbs in your window, eat healthy carbs in your window! If you want to demonize something, demonize processed foods. White flour is probably not your friend. But the diet that works best is the diet that works for you. Sure, some people can live on an almost no carb diet and if you can do that, awesome… I haven’t figured it out yet. I try to eat healthy- healthy fats, healthy proteins (did we mention grassfed beef, eggs, and fish, especially wild caught sardines/anchovies?), and healthy carbs. Experiment and figure out what works best for your lifestyle.
Give it time. The first time I tried to get fat-adapted I did not practice intermittent fasting. I just ate a LOT of healthy fats. Turns out the few carbs in my eggs for breakfast were keeping me from going into ketosis. There are a number of ways to test your ketones if you want to be sure you’re “getting there”- blood, breath… and keto sticks are the simplest/cheapest initially but they aren’t the most accurate way to test and, well, you have to pee on them. Once I figured out what worked for me I was able to fuel with less and increase my output, whether at work, home, or in the gym. I can now go to the gym at noon having had only water since the night before and set a new personal best on my workout of the day. It all depends on what I want to accomplish that day and what I think my body will respond or recover best using. But that’s me. Now it’s your turn. Go have fun with FAT!!!