Metabolism is your body’s ability to make energy. The body’s two main fuels for energy are carbohydrates and fat. Which one is used depends on the type, duration, and intensity of the activity, and the type of foods you eat daily.
High-intensity exercise and repeated bouts of training require quick fuel from carbohydrates in the diet or body stores, while lower intensity and longer-duration activities use fat and/or a blend of fat and carbs. Athletes and all people benefit from being able to switch easily between being able to utilize carbs or fat as a fuel source. This is referred to as having “metabolic flexibility.”
Fortunately, we are able to adapt to using a wide variety of fuel sources based on what fuel type is available from our diet. A leaner person with greater metabolic flexibility is able to burn fat more easily after an overnight fast and can also burn carbohydrates after eating a carbohydrate-containing meal more readily than someone who is not as metabolically flexible. Choosing the right foods and modulating stress help you stay or become metabolically flexible.
Unfortunately, the topic of carbs isn’t that simple. You see, there are fast- and slow-burning carbohydrates, and they have vastly different effects on blood glucose levels (the concentration of sugar in the blood). A main priority—regardless of if you are an athlete on the field or in a boardroom—is to maintain healthy blood glucose levels and know when you should select quick or slow carbs based upon your activity, goals, and lifestyle. Keeping blood glucose levels steady allows you to get glucose into your cells to produce energy and to optimize your sport and mental performance and stay in the zone. Keeping the brain fueled is extra critical, and fortunately, it can use both fats and carbs, like a hybrid!
So how do you know fluctuations in your blood glucose are negatively impacting you? Some easy-to-recognize signs are energy dips and spikes during the day, along with experiencing “hanger,” shakiness, or low energy that may be relieved by eating.
But don’t fear! There are bite-sized, food-based strategies you can start implementing today that can help regulate your blood sugar levels and get you on a path to becoming metabolically flexible!
- Limiting added sugars and highly processed foods—instead eat food that will rot & spoil (but of course, eat it before it does).
- Get at least 7.5 hours of quality sleep each night. Even one night of inadequate sleep can leave you with elevated blood sugar for most of the next day.
- Stop eating 3 hours before bed after dinner & avoid bedtime snacks (there are exceptions to this rule, of course!).
- Pair carb-rich foods with balancing protein, fibers/veggies, and healthy fats. Ex: if you now have instant oats with brown sugar for breakfast, try using rolled oats and add a handful of chia seeds, ground flax, a scoop marine or beef collagen, some blood-sugar-balancing cinnamon, and a small handful of berries.
- Work to find your “personal best” carbohydrate sweet spot—the amount of carbs YOU need to appropriately fuel your activity and achieve your goals. This is the first step towards becoming metabolically flexible.
We are here for you to create a personalized approach to match your training and goals with your nutrition fueling and to help train your body to burn both fat and carbs so it can become metabolically flexible! Check out our various services to find one that’s right for you.