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Future Health

Fat for Exercise

November 28, 2016 

For years, the experts have told us to fill up on carbohydrates and limit fats before and after our workouts to ensure proper glycogen balance and to meet the demands of high-energy consumption during physical activity. Less importance was placed on fats. But in the last decade this idea has been changing.


Experts from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend shifting from a focus on carbohydrates for energy to a focus on fats. Their reasoning is that athletes who start using fats in this way go through a physiological adaptation that allows them to be more efficient at creating energy through dietary fats. That means they can use fats as energy both during rest and during exercise.


This is important because as the body learns to adapt to use fat as energy instead of sugar, it is able to tap into the adipose tissue or body fat during exercise.


Newer thinking is leaning toward a fat adapted strategy that places more emphasis on meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and healthy fats rather than on grains, pasta, rice and pizza. Not only are these foods more nutrient dense, but they help train our bodies to draw from body fat stores rather than from circulating blood sugar that results from the consumption from grains and other carbohydrates. When we ingest carbohydrates our bodies break them down to simple sugars that are used for energy. But this is not the only source of energy that our bodies are able to use. According to this new thinking, fats are just as efficient or even more efficient at providing this energy.


Healthy fats to include in your diet:

  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Fish and omega supplements


Not only does adapting to a higher fat diet increase the proper usage of body fat for fuel, it also may increase athletic performance both for short-term and long-term bouts of exercise. However, the research is inconclusive. Most of the research that has studied and supported the effectiveness of a high fat diet focuses on endurance athletic performance. Whether or not the advantages also apply to the average American’s workout at the gym has not had extensive research yet.


People should not be discouraged when they first switch to this type of diet, because it can take several weeks to several months to adapt to this shift in energy source.