Fat Adapted Running for Ultra Runners

A fat adapted runner understands that in today’s competitive world of low cost convenience, we have lost sight of the essential link between diet and physical activity.

Take a car for example: if we fill it with the correct gas & oil but fa to hit the pedal, then the car remains static, eventually losing battery power and rusting away over time. On the other hand, if we push the pedal to the medal but ignore what gas & oil the car requires, then you can expect a breakdown before reaching your destination.

The same basic concept goes for exercise and running. If we eat healthy and train poory than our goals become distant even potentially causing injury. On the contrary, if we train properly but eat unhealthy, reaching our ultimate goals will require much more work. 

The right combination can lead to our ultimate success as a fat adapted ultra runner. I’ve personally experienced some amazing outcomes and growth, not to mention pretty good health for someone who runs excessively long distances. 

For ultra runners in particular, fat is our friend and an essential part of ultra marathon nutrition. When we become fat adapted, it morphs us into well-oiled machines and provides a near infinite supply of energy if metabolized efficiently. Yes, fat is our friend and here are the reasons why.

Please note, I am not a certified nutritionist and make no claims to the contrary. Each individual’s dietary needs and restrictions are unique to the individual. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health.  This is simply based of my understanding of the subject and what worked for me in my journey as a fat adapted runner.

Fat, Sugar, & Calories

Did you know that on average our body contains many more calories of fat than it does sugar? 

So when we “hit the wall”, the brain is actually shutting the muscles down in order to conserve sugar for the nervous system. The human’s nervous system requires sugar to function leaving you up a creek without a paddle on race day if metabolized ineffectively.

Fortunately, the average human body contains a whole lot of calories stored as fat. So, by becoming a fat adapter ultra runner you train your metabolism to burn fat as it’s primarily fuel source rather than sugar. Now your energy feels everlasting and so do your possibilities on the big day.

Fight Or Flight & Sugar

There are three words every ultra runner should understand if they want to become fat adapted: fight or flight.

According to the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center, the phrase ‘fight or flight’ “describes a mechanism in the body that enables humans and animals to mobilize a lot of energy rapidly in order to cope with threats to survival.”

This quick rapid energy comes primarily from sugar. If we are running fast, stopping, refueling with sports drinks and gels, running faster and so on, then we are simulating a fight or flight pattern. Basically, we are mimicking our ancestors who were hunting and gathering for their survival for approximately… well, for the entire human existence. However, when you burn fat as your primary fuel source, your pace is much more moderate, far from a fight or flight state, which causes less refueling during an ultra marathon, ultimately leading to longer miles and a more manageable experience.

Exercise & A Fat Burning Metabolism

It takes time to achieve such a desirable change from within. Becoming fat adapted is not a quick process but it’s certainly a doable one.

While training, the majority of your time should be spent running in a comfortable aerobic state. A heart rate monitor works well to regulate this, but you can also figure this out without a heart rate monitor. If you can run at a pace where you can carry on a conversation, then you are running in a comfortable aerobic state.

Personally, during my fat adapted transitional training period, I felt sluggish, tired, and hungry. But I kept pushing farther & farther while moving faster & faster. I eventually pushed the limits where I ran a 50k with no food or water. Zero intake for 31 miles! Not saying this extremity is healthy. I doubt it could be. I’m just saying it’s possible. 

Running that long on empty took much more than a change in diet; however, if we ignore the advertisements that persuade us to purchase unnecessary supplements and listen to our bodies which ultimately craves the recipes provided by Mother Nature herself, and if we push past the concrete beliefs created by big business as we begin living on our own terms, then we have taken one giant leap towards becoming one sizable fat burning machine.

Eat For Efficiency

Greens, greens, and more greens in addition to a habitual consumption of good fats like omega 3’s would be an adequate start towards an efficient fat burning metabolism.

I get into more specifics in my book The Fat Adapted Running Forumla

It’s just as important to keep sugar low during our runs as it is throughout our days. Although our body requires sugar during an ultra marathon, it’s still possible to keep it at a minimal level.

My fueling techniques are not perfect as I find myself consuming more sugar than I’d like. I ran a 116 mile ultra marathon across the entire state of Florida, fueled with water, coconut water, fruits, almonds, and vegetable broth and subsequently, taking first place.

The point is this: you must keep your sugars low if you want to become a fat adapted ultra runner.

Sugar, Sugar, and More Sugar

As a society we’ve become addicts to sugary processed substitutes that we label as “food” taking our consumption to excessive amounts. Add that to our limited sleep, overuse of caffeinated beverages, plus the pesticides and preservatives we consume through processed foods and we put our bodies on one slippery slope to discomfort and disease.

Next, from the effects of a poor diet we are being clinically diagnosed with diseases as we attempt to mask the symptoms with a magic pill when the root of the cause was never established in the first place. We keep treating the effect instead of dealing with the cause which encourages us to continue consuming an abundance of sugary processed foods.

So as we take a ride on the blood sugar roller coaster we rely more and more on sugar, holding each and every fat as the culprit. It’s a vicious sugary cycle! If we understand its effects, then we can take corrective action and bring our running to new and healthy places. And YES, we can become fat adapted.

Enough is Enough

After 2 years of ultra running it seemed that every race led to an upset nauseated stomach. I loved running and reaching these unimaginable distances but every single event left me extremely nauseous towards the 25-30 mile mark. Nausea would intensify haunting me for the remainder of the race. Can you imagine running the last 70 miles of a race feeling like you’re going to throw up? It was brutal. 

When reading various articles in regards to how to eliminate nausea like drinking a soda or taking a salt tab, I thought to myself, why am I reading up on how to cure nausea? That is, I’m becoming nauseated for a reason. A better question would be, why do I become nauseous? And how do I prevent it from happening?

If my body is becoming ill consistently then there must be a reason why. I reject the notion that it’s from running such long mileage. I believe we as human beings have only accomplished a very small portion of our true capabilities.

So after trial & error and some pattern recognition I took a chance and eliminated all processed foods from my diet, naturally reducing my sugar intake in the process and becoming fat adapted. This included both during races and not during races and the results were immediately achieved. In addition, if nausea persisted during a race I would then drastically reduce my sugar intake.

It’s amazing how sometimes the answers are right in front of us. 

Since the norm was sugary sports drinks and gels, my brain was programmed to only accept this as a fueling option. But ultra marathons are not normal. So why should I fuel normally?

Between the countless gels, energy blocks, and sugary sport drinks, not to mention the amount of carbohydrates I was eating within a 24 hour period, it was no wonder that my stomach hurt. Better yet, with this type of fueling habits, nausea was a near guarantee. It was a sugary explosive massacre of a diet and my stomach was the victim.

Shortly after, my perception changed dramatically. Our food grows in a natural form so why shouldn’t they be eaten in a natural form? 

Furthermore, diets began to make little to no sense to me. Why would we “diet” when we are not eating naturally to begin with? If we always eat our food in a natural state, then no special diet is ever needed. It’s not a diet change but a lifestyle change that’s needed.

Final Thoughts

Man had 3 evolutionary discoveries that changed how we would live our lives forever. Fire, the wheel, and…. the drive-thru window. Yes, the drive-thru window. Overtime, this convenience has contributed to the normality of a high sugary and acidic lifestyle as it created convenience in replace of consciousness.

But if we can take advantage of our potential energy, that is, the fat already stored within our body’s, we can then become fat adapted and take advantage of a near infinite supply of energy. 

And slow and steady like a coal fire burning, we can move forward through a new way of training that will not only change the way that we run, but it will also change the way that we live our lives.

Remember, even with the relatively greatest diet on earth, those miles will never run themselves. There is no magic formula besides putting in those long miles and moving forward with inspired drive and determination. 

Even so. through those paths-less-traveled it’s beneficial to pick up a friend or two along the way. For ultra runners, fat is our friend and one you can certainly depend on.

And if you are ready to start your fat adapted running journey, be sure to grab a copy of the A Fat Adapted Running Formula to make your transformation.


2 thoughts on “Fat Adapted Running for Ultra Runners

  1. Thanks for posting this. As a fat adapted runner myself for a number of years it is frustrating to see so much talk about dealing with bonking and nausea in endurance events but to never offer up being fat adaption. As I also race bikes which by its nature does have some very hard efforts in the middle of a long race I use carbs strategically. Having run for 47+ years and ridden for 40+ I started as a carb centric athlete so have seen both sides and can say at almost 63 my endurance being fat adapted is better when much younger. I like to stress to people that even being fat adapted carbs can be used but they are used as needed and strategically. Thanks again for getting the word out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Tony. I agree with your comment on fat adapted carbs. For me, food comes from the ground. This offers us the most direct path to the energy we need for a healthy and fulfilling life. It’s not a diet. This paradigm alone will naturally lead to a fat adapted lifestyle. But we’re only human, usually living very busy lives. Most are going to eat farther away from the source at times like dairy, processed foods, etc (I’ll leave meat open for interpretation ha). But if we are consciously aware of this, and do our best to get back to the source, enough small changes will lead to great progress. Thanks for reading friend.


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