Fueling Your Exercise – The Carbs-Versus-Fat Experiment
As we age, we tend to get bogged down with the things of life. We’re not as active as we were in our teens and twenties. The obligations and responsibilities of things like work, family, and owning a home distracts us from staying fit. Eating on-the-go, and trying to stay on top of things means we’re not always as careful with nutrition, and exercise gets put at the end of the To-Do list, and we never seem to reach the end.
Before I quit eating sugar, back in October 2011, I was feeling the effects of poor nutrition and lack of exercise. I was beginning to think that my body was wearing out because it’s suppose to as we age. Right? But I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel yet. I still felt young in many ways and it didn’t make sense that I should be feeling so run-down, tired, and weak. What happened to the edge I had just a few years earlier? No! I refused to believe that my body was aging so rapidly. Something was wrong, and I was starting to feel desperate….no, determined to figure out how to reverse the feeling that I was falling apart.
Over the last several months, I have gone through a transition. First, I removed as much carbohydrate from my diet as I could. Because I eat meat and veggies as a big part of my diet, it was impossible to remove all carbohydrate, since even vegetables have some carbs. But at least the the form of carbs I was eating was primarily from naturals sources. However, anyone who follows this path will inevitably have to find the balance between nutrition and conveniences. Some people may want to allow some forms of carbs so that their domestic life with a spouse and kids doesn’t become an unbearable burden. There’s nothing wrong with that, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. Do what’s best for you, not for those who are telling you that you’re doing it wrong!
As I continued my journey of drastically-reduced sugar intake, I continued to study and contemplate my lifestyle choice, and making little tweaks here and there. Once my weight hit a plateau and I felt good about where I was with my weight, I started experimenting. I began to allow more carbs in my diet to see what the results would be. Having a sugary dessert was the first thing I tried and I was amazed at how different it seemed to me compared to before quitting sugar. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t push me over the edge, not even close. Eating real sugar didn’t trigger an uncontrollable sugar response and cause me to binge and completely go off my low-carb lifestyle choice. I easily handled the treat and didn’t gain any weight, nor did I feel particularly bad after eating it. It was honestly, no big deal. And it was also something I didn’t feel compelled to repeat any time soon.
I began looking into things like the Mediterranean Diet and the diets based on the glycemic index. If the whole point is to mitigate the effects of sugar on my body, then it seems reasonable that I could expand my food choices a bit, like including fruit (without overdoing it), and as long as my blood glucose doesn’t get all wonky then eating more carbs should be okay. I’m still looking into this and have no conclusions to share yet.
All of this brings me to the dreaded E word, exercise. While it is clear that exercise doesn’t contribute to weight-loss nearly as much as everybody said it did (for more information about this, check into what Gary Taubes wrote about it in his book, Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It), it’s still very important for our overall level of fitness and health, both physically and mentally. But I was a little nervous about bringing exercise back into the mix since I was no longer relying on carbs to fuel my body for hard exercise. How would my body respond? Could I do intense exercise without collapsing? Would I feel like I’m weighted down with lead?
After several months of low-carb living, I feel healthier than I’ve felt in a long, long time, and I’ve dropped over 20 pounds of fat and kept it off…all without doing a single minute of exercise. But now I feel like it’s high time to find out if I can bring my body into the physical shape I’ve always dreamed of. Can I reshape my body into a lean, fit, and finely-tuned machine. Can I become super human?
That’s the question: can I become super human? And what is being super human anyway? Well, I’d say that since so many people are overweight or obese, and so few people maintain any regular exercise, and also since even those who are somewhat slim don’t necessarily look fit, being super human means being capable of doing what few people can do. And even if some people can do it, most people aren’t doing it.
So my definition of being super human is to become super fit. To have a tight, muscular, and powerful body that is obviously fit and youthful-looking. More than that, it means sticking to an exercise workout program that makes you face your weakest body parts and make them fiercely strong. It means exercising day after day even when you feel like giving up. It means hurting every time you take a step, and yet getting back in there and completing another day of exercise. Being super human means gaining the confidence that a lean, powerful, and sexy body brings. [insert echo] This…is…my…quest!
The “X” Factor
There’s still the question of fuel. Long before there were simple carbohydrates in the form of processed sugars, our ancestors ate nuts, plants, and meat, because that’s all that was available. There were no Twinkie factories, no In-N-Out Burgers. You couldn’t buy potato chips and sit in front of the TV all evening watching nature shows of lions attacking gazelles. But with carbs came an explosive form of energy. And when used a certain way, it powered up the exercise programs of many athletes. Thus, a whole sports drinks and supplement industry was born.
Since that time, fueling exercise has become a science. The top runners know precisely how many calories, often in the form of sport gels (basically sugar in gel form), they need and at what intervals they need to eat them in order to complete an Iron Man competition or a marathon. So to suggest to them that there is another way to fuel their bodies is pure heresy. Yet, there is a growing movement of people who are ketogenically adapted, which means they eat low-carb and have trained their bodies to use fat for fuel. And they are proving that you can be an athlete and not use carbs for fuel and still perform at the top.
Recently, I picked up the Kindle version of “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance” by Stephen Phinney, and Jeff Volek. It’s a great deal, by the way. I picked up my copy for $5.99, and it was instantly downloaded. Soon, I will be starting the P90X extreme fitness program, so my goal is to begin researching how to fuel without carbs. And though I want to eventually see if I can get through this incredibly intense program (which lasts 90 days) while continuing to eat low-carb, I’m not going to attempt this the first go around.
P90X is called extreme fitness for a reason. And while I want to see if I can get through such a rigorous fitness program using only fat for fuel, I’m still studying about this and I’m not ready to try P90X while eating low-carb, yet I do want to go through the P90X program. I’ve heard from a few people who have done P90X while low-carbing, so I know it can be done. But first, I have a couple of experiments in mind that I want to use this opportunity to try. So here’s my plan…
First, I will go through this 90-day program following the diet plan that is laid out in the support material. Overall, the food selections look great for low-carbers. And the first phase of the diet part of the program is lower-carb anyway. The second phase is higher in carbs, and the final phase is a little higher still. Each phase relies less and less on fat, and give preference to carbs. However, from what I can see, much of these carbs are what is called “slow” carbs or complex carbohydrate sources. I can deal with that. But either way you slice it, there is more sugar than what I’m presently eating. And the thing is, I want to be able to compare the experience of trying P90X both with and without sugar. So in order to do this, I’m going to have to start eating more sugar. But I have to know. I’m too curious about how it will feel doing P90X both ways. So I’m going to try it both ways, assuming I can even get through it once, of course.
While I’m going through the program, I’ll be taking notes on how I feel, and how my energy level is compared to when I’m eating fewer-carbs. Also, I’ll probably monitor my blood glucose levels along the way as well. And any other experiments I think up while I’m going through the program. After I’ve completed it and feel that I’ve gained the maximum benefit from the program as designed, I plan to go through it again, only using fat for my fuel. Then I’ll compare the second round (low-carb) with the first round (higher in carbs) and see what I can learn from each method of fueling.
P90X is a bit pricey, so I definitely want to get my money’s worth out of it. And I think my health is worth it. So anyway, this is my plan. It’s the ultimate extreme fitness experiment; doing the same programs twice using different sources of fuel. This is going to be interesting, indeed! A side experiment will be to see if bringing more carbs into my diet will reawaken my sugar cravings. Risky? It might be, but I’m going to try it anyway. No matter what, I’ll be learning from direct experience, which I highly value. So it’s time to bring it!