Do YOU Need Metabolic Reprogramming?

If you're like me when I started my own health & fitness journey, you probably think that a black and white, calories in vs. calories out model is the only method for fat burning.  It's one of the most annoyingly persistent myths in the health & fitness community, continually perpetuated at all levels, from bro scientists to registered dietitians.  The reality is that this is NOT the ONLY basis for how your metabolism operates, nor burns fat.  Is it relevant?  Absolutely.  But there's more to it...


Why you should care: You want to burn fat, live lean, be healthier (blanket term here for brevity's sake), and have more energy, and have more mental acuity


You see, most people are sugar burners, not fat burners.  You want to be the latter.  Much has been said as to why you want to be a fat burner, and I have covered its advantages in this post.


How do I know if I need metabolic reprogramming?

 

Let's back up.  What IS metabolic reprogramming?  Actually, what IS metabolic software?  When I use the words metabolic software or machinery, it is referring to how your body burns (or doesn't burn) fat.  Furthermore, it actually has two connotations in the health realm.  The more widely known (in the hardcore fitness community) is reverse dieting, which will be covered in a separate post, as it pertains to metabolic issues, although I believe a relationship between the two issues afflicts many people simultaneously.

 

Back to the point at hand: Unfortunately, there's no bulletproof means to do so.  As Mark Sisson has discussed, you could test respiratory quotient:

 

"There’s really no “fat-adaptation home test kit.” I suppose you could test your respiratory quotient, which is the ratio of carbon dioxide you produce to oxygen you consume. An RQ of 1+ indicates full glucose-burning; an RQ of 0.7 indicates full fat-burning. Somewhere around 0.8 would probably mean you’re fairly well fat-adapted, while something closer to 1 probably means you’re closer to a sugar-burner. The obese have higher RQs. Diabetics have higher RQs. Nighttime eaters have higher RQs (and lower lipid oxidation). What do these groups all have in common? Lower satiety, insistent hunger, impaired beta-oxidation of fat, increased carb cravings and intake – all hallmarks of the sugar-burner."

 

Caveat (& tangent disclaimer): I do not believe there's any sort of causal relationship between nighttime eating and not being fat-adapted, though there are measured correlations.  The referenced study also does not show what participants were being fed, though I've reached out to the relevant parties to find out.  In the name of good science, I'll wait before commenting.  UPDATE: I heard back-in THIS abstract, it lists the fact that they had 40 food choices, including bread, and they were allowed to eat ad libitum.  At the end of the day, Sisson doesn't jump to that conclusion, so I'm not criticizing him, but exactly WHAT was eating absolutely matters in this case, not to mention that participants were allowed to eat until 5AM.  I would argue that stretching your feeding window excessively (in a grazing format), particularly when starchy carbohydrates are involved in meal consumption (the time spent eating) can result in higher R.Q.  Also, intermittent fasting (a.k.a. shortening your feeding window in some capacity) can lower R.Q., indicating more optimal fat oxidation.  Plus, if you're up late binge eating till then every night, you've likely got bigger problems...


It's more practical for most of you to monitor qualitative data and ask yourself some relevant questions, which Sisson, to his credit, poses in his work as well.  He acknowledged RQ measurement as a correlative option, not the end-all, be-all.  As far as the self-questionnaire for fat-adaptivity, you can run through them in the form of a checklist:


You're likely a sugar burner IF...


-You can't go 3-5 hours plus, or break your usual eating frequency by skipping a meal, without getting 'hangry'.  You feel outrageously hungry, low energy, your cravings sound better than sex.  This is because your skeletal muscle mass has an inability to access stored fat for energy.  In short, your body's 'metabolic machinery is damaged, and your body relies on chronic glucose injections.  Even conventionally 'healthy on paper' people have this issue-I"m looking at you, triathletes and bodybuilders.


-You're storing more fat than you burn.  Pretty simple.  You're not good at accessing existing fat to burn, so you don't.


-You feel drowsy after eating.  This is also a sign of other insulin resistance and pre-diabetic issues.  You're not necessarily pre-diabetic if this happens to you (though you run a greater risk), but you're certainly not a fat burner if this is a pattern. Full disclosure: Before I repaired myself, food narcolepsy used to happen to me during college classes.  Professors thought I didn't give a shit, yet got quite confused when I would show enthusiasm in my work, and hit consistently good grades.  There may have been a couple real naps in there, though ;)


-You 'gas out' during exercise when you should not.  Or, you NEED carbs to fuel your training, always.  Fatigue sets in early because you're using glycogen to power activity that fat should be able to power.  Glycogen burning can absolutely have its advantages during training, particularly during glycolytic (glycogen-fueled) activity.  Strength training, some M.M.A.., etc.  BUT, you should be able to run off of fat long enough before NEEDING glycogen.  Unfortunately, there is so much misapplied science that it makes its way to the top of sports.  Ever seen an M.M.A. fighter or boxer 'gas out' far earlier than his properly structured (big additional variable) training regimen should allow?  B.J. Penn, Vitor Belfort and Frank Mir, for example, unfairly got reputations for being lazy and not training frequently enough.  Anyone who studies their dedication to their craft, and their training methods, knows this is not the case.  They simply had broken metabolisms and were not fat-adapted, at least based on the data at hand.  They would start strong, but they were much less effective after an initial short burst-once their bodies had burned through stored muscle glycogen, leaving them with zilch in the tank.



-You always require an outside source of energy.  You always HAVE to eat or snack every 2-3 hours or throw down caffeine between meals.  You're not good at oxidizing your own fat for energy, so you always need an exogenous source of fuel.  Side note: Consuming a higher-than-average amount of caffeine isn't inherently evil, but if you're doing it to prop your ass up after every meal, it is.  And if this is making you push the limits of excess intake in general, you can give yourself adrenal issues, which is another can of worms you don't want to open.


-You experience brain fog between meals.  Your mental sharpness has more in common with an object than a person.


-Your energy is mostly even and consistent throughout the day.  Assuming you're reasonably well rested from the night before, of course.  That's another variable.

 


So, what were your results like on that quiz?  Is it time to fix your metabolic machinery?Ultimately, the leanest, healthiest, fittest people are ones with a flexible metabolism.  The ones who get the best results also keep track of their macro & caloric composition to a measurable degree, within reason, as well.  Till next time.

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