- Metabolic flexibility is the body’s ability to switch between carb and fat for fuel utilization.
- Real-life examples of metabolic flexibility can help athletes better understand how metabolically fit they are.
- Pro-tips to improve your metabolic flexibility can greatly aid you in proper recovery and energy throughout training and competition.
To “adapt” means to modify or make suitable for a new purpose. During the past 3 years, we have all had to adapt to a new way of life. In fact, it seems like every day we are asked to continue adapting, and then to adapt some more.
Take a moment to think about how your body has adapted to these changes.
Have your activity levels changed? Your energy levels? Your sleep schedule? Are you eating the same as you did before COVID? Do you get hungry and/or moody if you go two hours without eating?
Asking ourselves these types of questions every so often serves as a self check-in and can provide insight into our metabolic health. Just as we have mentally adapted to change, it is important for our metabolisms to respond to changes in metabolic demand as they relate to our activity levels. This phenomenon is called metabolic flexibility.
Optimizing metabolic flexibility allows us to utilize different fuel sources for different activities, ultimately allowing us to trust our bodies to adapt, while not having to strictly count our macronutrients or calories, or time our meals to the minute. In other words, someone with top-tier metabolic flexibility will be able to switch easily between burning carbohydrates and burning fat for energy.
Real-life examples of metabolic flexibility
What does this look like in real life, you ask? Here is a comparison between two players as an example:
Player 1 (P1)
Abrupt changes over the past couple of months had P1 doing less activity because their training facility was closed and they did not have their normal training equipment at home. However, they did not change their diet to reflect this change in activity. They were still taking in the same amount of carbohydrates they would need if they were training normally. Eventually, they found themselves experiencing the midday crash, and getting “hangry” if they hadn’t eaten in a few hours.
Player 2 (P2)
They also experienced an abrupt change in activity levels because, similarly to P1, P2’s training facility was closed and they also did not have the equipment necessary at home to continue training as usual. However, P2 intuitively changed what they were eating to reflect their new activity levels. Instead of fueling the same as when they were in season, they reduced the amount of carbohydrates at mealtime, ate slightly smaller portions of protein, and naturally focused more on healthy fats as their energy source. They are still feeling great!
As you can see, the difference between these two players is their metabolic flexibility, with Player 2 being more metabolically flexible than Player 1.
How can you strengthen your metabolic flexibility?
1. Assess how your activity levels have changed.
Reduce your carbohydrates if your strength and power training has declined. If you’ve started running or doing other steady-state activities to replace weight training, you might need to boost your fats.
2. Try intermittent fasting.
A great starting point is to have a 13-hour overnight fast, but eat within the first hour that you’re awake. That means an early dinner, and no snacking or sipping on anything but water afterwards. If you train in the morning for an hour or less, play around with training fasted, then eat afterwards.
3. Stay active.
Do at least 30-60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. Check out Nike’s NTC app for free workouts you can do at home with little to no equipment. We also love Get Fit with Giddy’s daily workouts (Youtube/Instagram) and doyogawithme.com for yoga!
The bottom line is that you need to train your body to be resilient, just as you train your mind. The ability to be metabolically flexible and adapt ensures your long-term performance success as you will not be able to be easily “thrown off” your performance plan. Rather, flexibility allows your plan to fit seamlessly into your life and routine. If you desire metabolic flexibility, but are struggling to remain consistent with these health-promoting habits, schedule a 20-minute, free, no commitment exploratory call to get set up in a personalized program that fits your needs.