[00:00] Introduction/Casper Mattress
[02:44] Barry Murray
[05:45] First Step People Should Take To Be Fat Adapted
[09:06] How The Muscles Store/Utilize Fat
[14:03] What Barry Does To Overhaul Someone’s Diet
[18:33] A Typical Meal For Barry’s Clients
[25:05] Nutrient Timing
[34:45] Fasted State Training
[39:05] How Often One Would Be Fasted
[42:15] Lifestyle And Environmental Factors To Account For
[52:15] What To Eat During Competition To Maintain A Fat Burning State
[58:38] Carbohydrates Per Hour
[1:07:22] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey. It’s Ben Greenfield here. One of the things that you’ll learn about in today’s podcast episode is how lack of sleep actually keeps your body from becoming a fat burning machine, and today’s sponsor is something that actually helps you sleep better. Today’s sponsor is Casper mattresses. What are Casper mattresses? Casper mattresses are premium mattresses that you get for a fraction of the price. It’s this new kind of hybrid mattress that combines premium latex foam with memory foam. And mattresses like this usually cost well over 1500 bucks, but these things start at $500 for a twin sized mattress, go up to about 950 for a king size, and that’s literally a fraction of what you’ll spend on many other comparable mattresses. They’ve got just the right sink, they’ve got just the right bounce. They’re a pretty obsessive leap engineered mattress at a shockingly fair price. They’re made in America. These Casper mattresses have a risk-free trial and return policy. You can try sleeping on them for 100 days with free delivery and painless returns.
So here’s how you check out Casper and also get 50 bucks off a Casper mattress. You go to casper.com/ben. And when you go to casper.com/ben, just use promo code Ben to get $50 off. That’s casper.com/ben and promo code Ben. And yes, they use eco-friendly materials, they have environmental certifications that ensure that they are healthy to be around and you don’t have to worry that your mattress might be killing you. So check it all out at casper.com/ben, promo code Ben. And now on to today’s episode about the five steps to becoming a fat burning machine.
Hey, folks. It’s Ben Greenfield. And I have to admit that one question I get quite a bit from folks, and I think this is because of the experiments I’ve done with myself on ketosis and turning myself into a fat burning machine by following a high fat diet, or doing fasted workouts, things of that nature, one of the questions that I get from people is how do you actually do it. Like what would be the practical steps to become a fat burning machine, to shift yourself from carb to fat utilization. And so I figured, what the heck, why not do a full podcast and give you all of the steps necessary to become fat adapted without doing metabolic damage to your body. ‘Cause frankly it comes down to a little bit more than just switching your breakfast from cereal to coconut oil and then throwing in a stick of butter for lunch.
So I actually have on the call with me today a guy who’s been a guest on the podcast before. His name is Barry Murray and last year he came on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show to give us what he called “The Ultimate Guide To Combining Fasting And Exercise”. And this is a guy who goes out and will do like full-on mountain runs, like day long mountain runs in a completely fasted state. And we talked all about fasting, how to do it the right way when it comes to combining fasting and exercise, and some of the crazy workouts he’s done in a fasted state while still managing to pull off pretty amazing and fast feats of physical performance.
So Barry works with professional cyclists, he works with triathletes, distance runners. Last year he worked as the sports nutritionist to the BMC professional cycling team. He’s a competitive endurance athlete himself. He races in ultra-marathon events. If you’ve been to greenfieldfitnesssystems.com, you may have noticed that Barry is also one of our coaches over there who works as a performance nutritionist and offers consultations to Greenfield Fitness Systems. So that’s also a good place to look him up. So anyways sit back and get ready to learn everything you need to know about how to become a fat burning machine.
Barry, thanks for coming on the call, man.
Barry: Hey, Ben. Thanks for having us on again.
Ben: Yeah. So you’ve sent over to me in the past kind of like some of the steps that you like to bring athletes through as you work with them on their diet to becoming fat adapted. And I’d just like to jump right in, if we could, to what some of the first thing someone should do when it comes to… well basically the first step that you talk about is optimizing the general diet. Can you start there with like, somebody comes in off the streets, they’re like, “Hey, I want teach my body how to burn fat better,” what do they do first from a dietary standpoint?
Barry: Sure. We’ll take even a step back before that. And the question is defining what the fat adaptation is because it’s in the public a bit more these days, “fat burning machine” is becoming more of a general term. People are becoming familiar with low carb, high fat diets. Keto adaptation is now becoming well. So very quickly, just to kind of set the tone here, fat adaptation, I find a lot of athletes are getting mixed up about what it actually means. So very quickly, and basically what I’m trying to do with most endurance athletes that I’m working with and what I believe is beneficial for most people in any athletic sense is how can you upregulate the rate at which your body burns fat to produce energy. So simply then that means is where have you got fat to burn? Most people know that they’ve got subcutaneous fat under the skin. So what you’re trying to do is, first term is lipolysis and break down fats into your fatty acids, triglycerides, and send them to the muscle to get burnt. Second thing you’re trying to do then is grow a bigger fat engine. So what you want to do then is upregulate beta oxidation, so that’s the conversion of fatty acids into Acetyl-coenzyme A, which is your precursor then for the Krebs cycle.
Ben: And if I could just interrupt, we over here in America call it beta oxidation, in case anyone was confused. Barry calls it beeta…
Barry: Tomato, tomahto.
Ben: Beta oxidation. Okay. So we want to upregulate beta oxidation?
Barry: Yeah. So again, you want to upregulate that so that you can convert your, as much at a higher rate and as high an intensity at which you are exercising into, like I said, Acetyl coenzyme A and then you get that into the Krebs cycle, electron transfer chain, ATP. What you’re also trying to do is grow a bigger fat, intramuscular fat, intramuscular triglyceride amount. So that’s the fat stored in the muscle. And you also want to improve gluconeogenesis, you want to improve the way the body can make its own glucose. So I haven’t even talked about ketones yet and where people are going wrong. ‘Cause people are thinking that the recommendation is you get into ketosis and that’s what makes you fat adapted. It’s not. There’s a lot of steps and a lot of physiological mechanisms that first need to be put into place to simply increase the rate at which your mitochondria can burn fatty acids. Like I said, the spinoff of that is producing glucose.
Ben: Okay. So basically you’ve got a few different ways that we can do this. We’ve got upregulating beta oxidation, or your body’s ability to actually burn fat and turn it into ATP. We’ve got a better ability of the body to make its own glucose, you called it gluconeogenesis. Rather than relying upon like energy bars for glucose, we’re somehow training our body how to make its own glucose.
Ben: And then that other thing that you mentioned was the muscle’s fat stores. I don’t think a lot of people realize that the muscles actually store fat. Can you touch on that real quick about how it is that the muscles actually store fat or utilize fatty acids?
Barry: Yeah, exactly. Very quickly, people will go out and buy a nice sirloin steak or even a t-bone steak, you’re going to see white bits in it. Obviously most people know that is muscle, the white bits are fat. Fat can be stored in the muscle and the storage amount is increased, particularly in endurance athletes. So if you slice open maybe my quad muscle, Ben, and you slice open at 100 meter sprinter’s quad muscle, the 100 meter sprinter’s muscles are going to be a lot redder and hopefully I would imagine my muscle has go a lot more white bits in it. In other words that’s what’s called intramuscular triglycerides. In other words it’s fat stored in the muscle. Now if you look at it from a purely logistical aspect, that doesn’t need to travel very far to get burnt because it’s in the muscle. It can just go directly in the mitochondria and then be used as fuel. Whereas the stuff that’s under your skin obviously has to travel a lot further.
Ben: So are you saying that having more fat inside your muscle is actually a good thing? Like in a fat adapted athlete, you generally have basically more marbly the muscle?
Barry: Exactly. Yeah. Totally. And simply true endurance training, that’s been shown to increase. What the trick is to increase the rate at which you can, so in terms of, let’s get some quantities here. I mean there’s actually not a huge amount of studies on it, but you’re probably talking up to maybe 3,000 calories in terms of the amount that can be stored. I think you can go higher.
Ben: You mean in muscle or just in the whole body?
Barry: In muscle.
Ben: Oh, wow. So just in muscle alone, not accounting for like the fat you’d store on your butt, or hips, or thighs, your upper back, or elsewhere. Just the muscle alone can store around 30,000 calories of fat?
Barry: No, sorry. Three.
Ben: Oh, 3,000. Well I guess that’s twice as much as many carbohydrates as most people can store, right?
Barry: Yeah. But it’s one and a half times, although theoretically, whatever you want to call it. In other words, yeah, you’ve got stuff in your muscle before you even touch what’s under your skin that most people can use for most general sports activities for longer in terms of the quantity of fuel that’s available. So IMTG is the shorthand version. Intramuscular triglycerides. We can store a lot of them in the muscle. The more endurance exercise you do, the more you store and the more you train the body and upregulate beta oxidation, I’ll pronounce it the right way this time, is obviously you would be able to burn more of that stuff without then if you’ve got the big glycogen, you’re saving, it’s glycogen sparing then that’s going on.
Ben: Yeah. It’s interesting because I think a lot of people just think about fat burning as just basically upregulating the amount of fat that you burn versus carbohydrate that you can burn, but it’s so interesting how there’s all these other physiological mechanisms that you’re talking about that I think fly under the radar. So it’s a lot of stuff.
Barry: Yeah. There’s still other stuff like the pentose phosphate pathway which I’m not going to get into at the moment, but there’s other stuff, there’s other things going on in terms of how the cell can produce energy without having to ingest and burn carbohydrates. So I haven’t even mentioned ketones and ketosis but I’ve already discussed several pathways, mechanisms, fuel sources which we need to train and train a lot to make our bodies more efficient at the way they burn those fats, transport those fats, get them into the mitochondria, and the rate at which they can be burnt. So people, there’s a lot of things going on that people aren’t aware of and therefore they get a little bit lost in what they’re actually trying to achieve and buy keto strips and I think that just measuring and I’m producing ketones is what they need to do to get to be fat adopted. But like I said, I’ve just described what fat adaptation is and it doesn’t even involve ketones up until that point so to speak.
Ben: Okay. So I know that we’re going to talk a little bit about both training strategies as well as lifestyle and environmental strategies, but also food strategies. And I think, like step one that you wanted to get into was what you do as far as optimizing your general diet to get into this state where all these moving parts are allowing you to be a fat burning machine. So when someone first comes to you, what are you guys doing from a dietary overhaul standpoint?
Barry: Yeah. So the first thing I would spend time on is like, there’s a lot of food education required. So the bottom line is that this is a long term process. It’s not an overnight transformation, it’s not a magic bullet, it’s not something you do for two weeks. It’s something that you do long term. And the longer you do it, the better it becomes. So in order for not to be long term, you need to create a way of eating that’s habitual. And you need to obviously do it in the right way. The right way would be based around obviously a lower carb, higher fat type of diet with the food based on the paleolithic type foods. Now I’m not even 100% paleolithic myself and I would probably recommend something like using the Paleo Code approach, I think it’s Chris Kresser who wrote that book. Where I tried to get guys, I’m dealing with a lot of professional cyclists, telling them that they can’t eat certain grains, and certain dairies, and even certain legumes, et cetera, et cetera, it has to be a practical way of eating that somebody can do for the long term.
So you need to understand that there are certain foods that do not need to be 100% excluded. You need to then introduce, you need to educate people about different qualities of food, and the different nutrient densities of foods, and things like that, and the right types of fats to eat. Obviously explain the kind of quality in terms of the, let’s say grass-fed beef, et cetera, all those kind of things, which most people listening to this show would know. And the final thing I would say that goes in with the food-based thing, Ben, is the coping strategies. Because trying to get somebody to go from, let’s say eating bowls of oatmeal in the morning and, still let’s call it inadvertently safe carbs of sweet potatoes and all that kind of stuff. And then trying to get them to go on and dramatically remove those things from their diet and going on a very high fat, moderate protein, and 50 grams of carbohydrate a day, most people aren’t able to do that and it usually means that people fall flat on their face after about a few days of trying it basically.
Ben: Because they’re restricting carbohydrates excessively?
Barry: That and the fact that people are simply, I mean the biggest, I want to think one of the biggest kind of appetite, dietary things that we have to overcome is sugar, our sensitivity to sugar and our sweet tooth. Everybody has it and it’s one of the biggest challenges I find initially when I’m dealing with athletes is trying to say, “Listen. Go and eat some cream instead of a sugary yogurt.” And the simple fact is that we are sensitized obviously to more simple sugar, carbohydrate foods, and never mind the sweet stuff, but even just simple sugar foods. That’s switching on a lot of the kind of reception is for the sweet hit. And you need to desensitize the brain and desensitize your taste buds so to speak so that you can actually eat for the long term a much higher, a much more savory diet because you start throwing in, I see people in the paleo world doing things like, “Yeah. They remove sugar and they remove white flour and stuff like that, but they put in like half a container of honey instead. And as you know, honey is just fructose and glucose anyway. So while it’s more natural and probably healthier for you, it’s still a glucose and a fructose at the end of the day. So there’s a lot of getting to proper low carb, high fat way of eating.
Ben: Okay. So I’m curious, when we get down into brass tacks here, when you’re looking at an active athletic person who’s exercising quite a bit, most of our listeners are at least exercising 30 minutes a day, at most exercising 60 plus minutes a day, what exactly would a typical day of eating look like in someone who is trying to become fat adapted? What would be an ideal day for you if you could just like ship a meal to someone for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, and for their snacks?
Barry: I mean again if it’s somebody who’s just kind of looking into this and trying this and they’re not a full-time athlete or an elite athlete at that, some of the simple dietary changes I would make would be like just first maybe get them just to switch to a completely kind of lower GI type of carbohydrate foods. So maybe, particularly obviously in Ireland, porridge or oatmeal would be quite a commonly eaten breakfast. But I would try and first of all lower the GI content of their food. So I start recommending breakfasts like instead of just cereals and stuff like that, I might just recommend obviously a lot of eggs-based breakfasts. And if people are not into eggs, I start just getting them on Greek yogurt and mixing that in with different nuts, and maybe some seeds, and berries, and things like that. So you’re gradually always lowering the carbohydrate amount. And then for lunches and dinners, basically keeping them to like lower GI veggies, obviously sweet potatoes or just like fibrous, non-starchy type veggies and salads, sweet potatoes and meats and then all of the kind of… I always make a point of kind of including the higher fat foods like just simply avocados and kind of using coconut oil, and butter, and stuff like that. It’s kind of like, another big mistake people make is they start eating like chicken and broccoli. And I’m kind of like, “Well you’re basically just eating some fiber and some protein.”
And the whole point of this is that you want to activate the enzymes that actually switch on fat burning. And one of the things that does that is actually eating a higher content of fats, so fats need to be put in more so than any of the other macronutrients. And that’s a huge mindset change for people. I mean I’m dealing with people who for most of their life have been hearing about how fats are bad for them. So telling people to go and eat beef dripping, and lard, and stuff like that is a huge mental battle for people. To go back to your very original question, lower GI type meals and using kind of you know things like sweet potato, and oatmeal, and fibrous veggies, and keeping there… so really just trying to work on the whole point of managing the insulin response, upregulating fat hormone sensitive lipase which breaks downs fats by including higher amounts of fats.
Ben: So you can actually upregulate your amount of lipase by adding extra fats to meals?
Barry: Yeah. Yes, so I mean one of the enzyme that looks after conversion of the triglycerides into fatty acids is hormone sensitive lipase. First of all, that’s inhibited by a high insulin response. So obviously then you eat a big bowl of cereal with toast, you are going to inhibit that enzyme. And the other thing that activates it then are actual fats, and particularly saturated fats. You can switch that enzyme on and you can switch it off if you want. So that’s why understanding about the types of food you’re eating is critical.
Ben: Okay. Well I want to jump into the actual timing in a second here, but what it sounds to me is like this is something I’ll do a lot of times with the athletes who I’m talking to is we’ll pretty much do a normal kind of like healthy diet, what might even be considered a paleo diet, or an ancestral diet, or even like something like kind of a Weston A. Price diet where they’re even eating some things like quinoa, or sourdough bread, or properly prepared grains and things of that nature, but you pretty much add in a bunch of grass-fed butter, MCT oil, olive oil, chopped up avocados and chopped up olives, some added cheeses, while at the same time as you’re adding those just detracting from the carbohydrate portion of the meals a little bit. And that’s like, in my opinion I’ve found that to be a very natural approach where you’re just telling people, “Hey, drench this stuff in a little bit more oil, add some more healthy fats, decrease the carbohydrate portion,” and just from a dietary standpoint that just kind of gradually nudges your body towards fat burning rather than you, as you say having to like dip your spoon into lard for lunch, have a bulletproof coffee every single morning, and then basically eat three avocados for dinner. I think that that’s like that drastic super duper low carb approach that some people take because they saw whatever, I don’t know, Jimmy Moore, bless his heart, eating a stick of butter for lunch and it’s like, yeah, that’s certainly something that people on the pointy, pointy edge of this stuff will do but that’s not what you necessarily have to do, especially if you’re active, to become a fat burning machine. Right?
Barry: Exactly. Basically what you said there is exactly the approach people need to take. And more so not just from the practicalities of it, but in the background when I’m working with somebody I’m thinking that means that they’re going to stick to that, there’s a much better chance they are going to stick to that long term. And like I said, the fat adaptation approach and turning yourself into a fat burning machine is a long term project. It’s at least several months, and I’m going into now four or five years of doing this myself and I’m still working on it and getting better at it. So what you described there in terms of what people eat are foods that most healthy people are going to like eating. And there’s not a huge sacrifice in terms of what they have to leave out there either.
Ben: Right. It’s like eat healthy, add extra fats. Okay. So that’s step one is to make that dietary change. It’s kind of the obvious one, but that’s helpful to know about the common mistakes that people make. Now step two that you talk about is nutrient timing, and I’d like to hear about that and how nutrient timing fits in with the daily schedule as far as like when you’re structuring these foods.
Barry: So kind of the next step I use, Ben, is the timing of what people eat. And I’m always relaying that back to what’s that switching on and what’s the switching off in terms of hormonal responses, enzyme inhibiting, enzyme activation. So to go in line with what we said about the kind of long term effect, our long term project that this is, that this involves, in terms of continuing eating a certain level of carbohydrate means I don’t get them to just eat the same amount with each meal during the day. So one of the first timings I would introduce is backloading. So backload the carbs. I always use a weekend as an easy way to describe it. I’m saying, “Look. If you go out and you do your training in the morning, and you go out you do an hour run, or a couple of hours cycling, or swim, or play a match, whatever it is,” obviously Crossfitter out there as well. So I would usually say, “Look. Don’t eat your carbs before you go. You want to go into your training session generally in as low an insulin state as possible with the fat engine doors open.” Therefore have an eggs based breakfast, or have a low, very low GI carbohydrate amount of food for your breakfast. And when you come back, eat the majority of carbs for the day with your lunch, when your next meal is. And then don’t have a big bowl of pasta in the evening. Go back to a much lower carbohydrate meal or much lower GI at least.
Ben: Did you know that, ’cause I just interviewed him for my Rev Conference, but John Kiefer, when I talked to him, ’cause he’s kind of like one of the guys who originally came up with this whole carb backloading, workout in the evening, and then eat all your carbs in the evening type of approach, what he was telling me was that pretty much whether or not you workout in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening, that the best time to eat your carbs, just because of the circadian rhythm relationship with insulin, is in the evening. Even if you work out in the morning, he was saying even if you’re doing like a morning workout, continue to eat high fat in the morning, eat high fat in lunch, and continue to save all your carbohydrates for the evening. Are you familiar with that approach at all or have you experiment with that one?
Barry: Yeah. I am familiar with it. The reason why I would be against it from the perspective of, there’s a lot of stuff going on in the immediate, so it’s all about the context as well. Okay, my context, I’m dealing with pro-cyclists a lot. So getting them to go out and do a four hour pretty hard session on the bike with big efforts, and they’ve got five hours the next day, and their cortisol is through the roof from that four hour session, adrenals are working overtime and glycogen synthase is activated immediately post-exercise. I mean I know there’s benefits to what John Kiefer’s saying, but I’m always looking at the context of the situation and the benefits of putting, if you’re a high volume, regularly training athlete, competitive athlete, I still favor on the side of backloading immediately post your training session. For the fact that it’s going to lower the inflammation, it’s going to lower the cortisol response, it’s going to take advantage of just simply getting better glycogen replenishment. I don’t know if there’s even some sort of appetite signaling response where if you eat some carbs post-training, I think that down the line helps kind of appetite response later on the evening. There’s other things like astrocytes, which are the kind of the glucose storage units in the brain that actually get replenished very quickly post training as well. So like everything with nutrition, there’s pros and cons to everything.
So I think you can definitely and I mean there’s new research coming out now where they’re saying don’t put any carbs in post-training, you get much better training adaptations. There’s research in Australia coming out with some good papers on that. John Holly, I think his name is. But again I go back to the point of who it is that you are talking about. If it’s an Ironman doing 20 hours a week and they’ve got a couple sessions coming up the next day or, like I said, cyclists and runners who’ve got big volume sessions coming up the next day and are highly stressed from the session that they’ve just done, I’m still at backloading approach from terms of putting it in post-exercise.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha. And what I generally do, and I know that a lot of people listening in are kind of moving or doing some kind of exercise session, twice a day is the way that I currently have my diet set up. And I’ve written articles about this, so I’ve gone into labs and I’ve been tested, I’m very, very well fat adapted myself, but my main strategy is that I get up in the morning and I do some very light, kind of like what would be considered easy parasympathetic nervous system, rest and digest-based activity. Meaning I’ll do yoga, a light walk, some light movement, some mobility work, some foam rolling. I generally accompany that with caffeine from just like a black cup of coffee, not a cup of coffee with a bunch of calories added to it like MCT oil, and butter, and stuff like that. Just a regular calorie-less cup of black coffee. And then also cold shower both before and after that morning fasted fat burning session. And the way that I do things after that I’ll eat breakfast, but my breakfast is basically like plants plus fats. So I’m blending up like fats and plants in a blender, kale, MCT oil, coconut oil, coconut milk, almonds, nuts, stuff like that.
And then generally like in the afternoon or early evening when body temp peaks, and reaction time peaks, and my body’s really primed for a very tough workout, I’ll do about 45 to 60 minutes of high intensity interval training. And generally at some point within two hours after that, I’ll have dinner and that dinner is my primary bowls of carbohydrate for the day. So for a two-day scenario, that’s actually worked very, very well for me. And that would be, I guess, you might term that like a cyclic ketotic approach, because cyclic ketosis means like I’m pretty much in ketosis all day long, and when I eat that final evening meal and I have, typically it’s anywhere from like 150 to 200 grams of carbohydrate with that evening meal, I’m out of ketosis for usually about like two to three hours. So I’m out of that full-on fat burning state, and then I’m back into it either by that night or by the next morning. And that’s the approach that I use as far as timing standpoint and it works pretty well for me.
Barry: Yeah, perfect. But there’s one big difference there. What you’ve said in the morning is, like you said, you’re using some light exercise, some parasympathetic stuff, which is absolutely fine. I mean where I’m coming out is if you come from a two hour run with me in the mountains, try and come back and just have black coffee. That’s the difference. But in terms of your context, that works absolutely fine. And I even do that, anyone who listens to the last podcast that I did with you, I am all about the fasting. And that’s what I’ve kind of, I do that, use that similar approach myself. I’m a two-meal-a-day guy a lot of the times. When I’m not training, say running in the morning or cycling in the morning, I do mobility work, and a bit of move stuff and like a lot of kind of movements, squats and things like that, but all just by exercise. And then I won’t eat either until lunch time basically. So it just comes down to the kind of volume and intensity of the work I think that you’re doing.
Ben: Yeah. Got it. Okay, cool. So we’ve got step one being to optimize the general diet. Step two being nutrient timing, and I’m sure that our listeners can hear that there’s, somewhere, a baby crying, and that’s because…
Barry: Yeah. That’s not my side.
Ben: Yeah. That’s not my baby either. It’s someone else’s baby somewhere. This podcast is being brought to you by the Spokane Washington library. So anyways, number three would be fasted state training. And this is probably segues pretty nicely for what you were just talking about and what we were discussing regarding fasting. Where does fasted state training come in as far as the best way to do it to turn yourself into a fat burning machine? How much is too much? What’s your take on the whole fasted scenario and where that fits in?
Barry: This is where I’ve kind of spent a lot of my time researching, reading about, and practicing. And I think in terms of the adaptations that you need to get to become a super highly efficient fat burner, and massive mitochondrial growth biogenesis, and massive mitochondrial efficiency, a mass of cytochrome-1, let’s call it, activation, you can get the biggest adaptations through fasting. And in my case what I call fasted state training. So, anyway. Again, we covered a lot of this in the last podcast. But when you into this, what happens is the main thing that happens in the mitochondria is you get a stress response and a stress signaler, the protein called AMP kinase. And AMP kinase is the guy that comes in and goes, “We’re not getting any fuel in here. We’re exercising. Things need to change.” And what happens then is you get expression of transcription factors and other protein signaling molecules. So you get this sirtuin, SIRT1, you’ll get PGC1, PPAR Alpha, and what all these things do are they are our messengers to say, “We need to start building more mitochondria here. We need to start burning more fats here ’cause we’re not getting any carbs in. We need to start making more glucose even. And we need to become much more efficient with what we have.
And it’s a simple case of not giving the body anything. It’s not giving it any fuel. So what you can do there is utilize two strategies. I think that the two biggest strategies that you can get to making your body adapt and getting improvements is intermittent fasting, stroke fasting. So 16 to 18 hour fasts or longer. The second thing you can do is what I’ve been doing for the last several years is get up in the morning and train without breakfast. Because like I said that’s where you’re going to get all the biggest stress responders all switched on, big AMP kinase release, all the adaptations that I’m talking about in terms of upregulation of beta oxidation, mitochondria biogenesis. The practical aspects of doing this is people hear about this is another thing that’s kind of in the public a bit more, and being talked about, and podcasted about, and blogged about, and people are like, “Yeah, okay. I’m going to try this this weekend. I’m going to go on a three hour bike ride and just have you know coffee in the morning and bring a bottle of water with me and a stick of butter.” But the point is, again, your body has to be adapted in order to do it. So I bring people again gradually into it. So it will be a case of doing whatever your easiest session of the week is, try and just do that in the fasted state once a week, see what you get on or try and go out on an easy row or on a long bike ride. I mean it depends on the type of athlete you are obviously. Just go fasted, and after the first hour, eat something and then maybe in a couple weeks time try and bring it out to an hour now and a half. And then after a couple of months, bring it up to two hours. I mean…
Ben: How often do you recommend doing, ’cause I currently do it once a week. I go out and do something fasted that takes me a longer period of time once a week. Now of course I’m not competing as a competitive ultra endurance athlete, or multi-day cyclist, or a mountain marathoner, or anything like that. So I’m probably, well to be honest, I probably fall into the category of more of our listeners who are not necessarily ultra, ultra endurance athletes but who are just like kind of doing triathlon and a marathon, things along those lines if they’re doing long stuff and all. But do you think once a week is sufficient? Is that too much for like a longer fasted fat burning session? Or what do you think for the general population would suffice?
Barry: I like usually starting off with one, and usually weekend, kind of longer. Let’s say whatever the longer type session is. And then building on that. As in, like I said, doing it once a week. Let’s say it’s a long bike ride or a long run, like eating after the first hour and extending that as you go. I mean think twice a week can be safely done by pretty much everyone. So you do something maybe Wednesday, and then you do something fasted, so that is Wednesday, and then fasted Saturday or Sunday. I mean I’ve gotten to the stage where I took it to the extreme and I was doing maybe six times a week and I’m doing quite big volume sessions, but that’s how you can dig a big hole for yourself. But I think the benefits, you’ll get huge benefits by doing it once or twice a week, and doing it once or twice a week drastically reduces any risks that come with that.
Ben: Yeah. And I’m kind of, again just to use myself as an example just so people know, I pretty much do at this point a fasted session almost every morning, that’s that shorter 20 to 30 minute fasted session. Literally that’s like six days a week. And then on one day of the week, it’s a longer fasted fat burning session. But I’m pretty much doing a fasted workout at this point in my life almost every day of the week, and staying lean is a total no-brainer. And I can literally stuff my face with my wife’s solid cooking at dinner, especially if I’m doing that after a post hard evening workout, and it works out really well. So I love the fasted state training and I think it’s another one that some people forget to include in becoming fat adapted ’cause they’re, whatever, afraid the fasted trainings is going to be too catabolic or something like that. But ultimately I think as long as long as you’re keeping it aerobic and it’s not like a bunch of strung together fasted Crossfit workouts for example, it works out really well.
Barry: Exactly. I recommend people not doing back-to-back days. So that’ll be one thing people will start doing. They’re like, “Oh, fasted. I burn more fat. So I get really lean, get really ripped, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” they start doing all the time and that’s how you really dig yourself a grave basically.
Ben: Yeah. I agree unless the fasted workouts are really easy. And I find that if the fasted workouts are really easy, like we’re talking yoga and stuff like that, I’m able to do it every day.
Barry: Oh, yeah. Totally.
Ben: And I feel fine. But, yeah. Once you get into the hard, like long fasted workouts, or the hard and long, hard or long, that’s where it starts to dig you into a hole. Absolutely. Okay. So step one is to optimize our diet. Step two is to time our nutrients throughout the day. Step three is to include fasted state training. Step four, you talk about lifestyle and environmental factors that affect your ability or non-ability to turn yourself into a fat burning machine. What are some lifestyle and environmental factors people need to take into consideration here?
Barry: Yeah. So I mean you know this is a big area and the more I’m trying to explain these things, the more I realize you have to skim over the surface of a lot of stuff. But I guess one of the big things that will be familiar to people a lot, it seems to be in the media and the news a lot these days is sleep. I would have a lot of people, a lot of athletes who, let’s say they’re eating paleo-ish and low on carb and fasted state training but their sleep is crap. They’re not getting a solid night’s sleep. And then you look into the effects of sleeping, you look at its effect on insulin sensitivity, cortisol patterns, and you look at its effect on prolactin and melatonin, and you start going, well the [0:43:02] ______ about where the last salmon in the world and having really good extra virgin coconut oil and eating all these greens, et cetera, but if his insulin sensitivity isn’t working, that means his nutrient partitioning isn’t as good, and if his cortisol pattern isn’t good during the day that means he’s, again, it’s going to affect fat adaptation, and appetite signaling. So sleep obviously will be one of the first things I always look at, and then I would apply all the kind of biohacks that you can apply these days to sleep. You don’t have to look too far these days to find out what are the improvements, what are the things, solutions you can use to improve on sleep.
The other thing that I look at, and this kind of goes a bit deeper is you start looking into really how the body works, the body functions, and you start looking at all of the physiological and the biochemical mechanisms which I spent most of my life doing, and then you start looking in a bit deeper and you start looking at the quantum mechanics that are involved in how the cell works. And you starts making you realize that it’s a lot to do with quantum physics, which unfortunately was a subject that I didn’t actually studied. But anyway, what I’m saying in here is that there’s a lot to do with, say, REDOX, reduction and oxidation reactions, and that’s pretty much how cell signaling can work. And if the cell’s not signaling well to each other, reduction is gain of electrons and oxidation is the loss. So therefore you start going into the kind of aspect of, “Well, what’s actually affecting this person’s body in the way the cells communicate with each other, and the way electrons are transported, and how that effects making the body work and making ATP, et cetera”. And then you start looking into lifestyle factors that affect the way reduction and oxidation reactions are affected. And that comes down to things like, well if you put something that’s not an electromagnetic force, that’s not made of, close to you, then that’s going to…
Ben: You’re talking like a cellphone, or a WiFi router, or something like that?
Barry: Yeah, exactly! Then that’s going to disrupt your oxidation and reduction reactions, and that’s going to affect electron transport, and that’s going to affect the way your mitochondria works. What’s a non-native electromagnetic force? Well, yeah, iPads, iPhones, laptops, everything that people are stuck to these days. So this is where I’ve kind of come to the realization that it’s not necessarily, I mean I’m a nutritionist and I’ve spent a lot of my time understanding food and researching food, but now what governs the way your physiology works, and what determines how efficient you can become, and how healthy you can become essentially is through these factors, these lifestyle factors that actually are affecting the way your cells operate. Like I said, one of the things then would be dirty electricity, whatever you want to call it, non-native EMFs. And if somebody is trying to get lean, healthy, and become a fat burning machine and race an Ironman in sub-10 hours on 50 grams of carbohydrate and they’re sitting in bed with their iPad on and they’re stuck to their iPhone all day, chances are they’re not going to become as ketotic, or fat adapted, or efficient as they should be. I think a lot of the failures today in people’s kind of athletic prowess, if you want to call it, and certainly in people’s health are things like this. So next to sleep would be people’s exposure to electromagnetic, non-native electromagnetic frequencies and I’m working with a lot of athletes to try and get them off that stuff and show ’em…
Ben: Yeah. That’s one of the biggest barriers that I run into with the clients who I’m working with is they’re willing to do the exercises that I load up for them, like I use TrainingPeaks for example, and I give them their workouts and their exercises for each day, and I use, Evernote what I use right now to deliver my clients their meal plans, and their nutrients, or recipes to follow. But then when it comes to sleep, when it comes to shutting off the cell phone, when it comes to hard wiring into the WiFi router, when it comes to a lot of these even hidden inflammatory factors like changing up the brand of shampoo that you use or changing what you’re cleaning your kitchen counter with, some people think you can just exercise and eat yourself into a state of optimized fat burning efficiency. And the fact is you’ve got to have every lifestyle factor present. And of course that goes way above and beyond just fat burning efficiency. That goes into like everything from freaking anti-aging, to mental performance, to just looking, feeling, and performing fantastically throughout the day.
I think that the other important thing to take into consideration here when you look at inflammation in general, which can of course be caused by dietary factors but can also be caused by some of these other hidden dangers that we talked about is, I mean it’s been shown to cause insulin resistance, like in fat tissue, when you have inflammation, you’re resistant to insulin so you get less fuel partitioned into muscle. You get leptin resistance. I know that especially like inflammation of the brain or the hypothalamus, and so you get dysregulation of appetite and metabolism which can inhibit your ability to stay in a fat burning state. And then gut inflammation. That’s another big here is you can produce more what are called lipopolysaccharides, and that’s essentially an endotoxin that’s produced by bacteria in your gut. And that can also cause inflammation and insulin resistance, especially in the liver, and that can inhibit your ability to become a fat burning machine too. So, yeah. People have got to take care of their brains, they’ve got to take care of their guts, they’ve got to look at their environment, and I appreciate that you include that as a strategy because that’s a huge one that a lot of people don’t pay attention to.
Barry: Yeah. Totally. And basically what you’ve been, Ben, the point of what you’ve just said, have made is that everything is connected and nothing to do with what we’re talking about here with fat burning is not simply “eat 50 grams of carbs a day, eat a stick of butter, and drink some bulletproof coffee“. So all of those things that you’ve just mentioned actually do impact on how you can become fat adapted. Because it’s like you said, it’s down to, we’re controlling information. You’ve just discussed what those things affect. I mean the other lifestyle factor I bring in is actually, well what’s one of the things that causes an anti-inflammatory effect? And that would be getting people out, and grounded, and connecting barefoot. So using grounding and also the cold, like you use cold. But again they’re easy things. They don’t cost anything. But yet again, people overlook them and don’t understand them because there is quite deep science behind them, but people assess them as being kind of it be hippie, airy fairy kind of things. But when you look deep into them, there’s some serious, again back to the kind of quantum mechanics effect of how these things work. Well yeah, earthing, and grounding, and cold are very strong anti-inflammatory mechanisms that you can use. So sleep, EMF, cold, grounding, and you’ve got probably things going on there that impact fat burning capabilities. Also then the free range eggs you eat in the morning.
Ben: Yeah. So if you’re that person substituting roasted vegetables with olive oil instead of the mashed potatoes at the restaurant, but then you’re standing up when you get a phone call and holding that cell phone up to your ear, you’re putting water on the fire on one end and gasoline on the other end. So make sure you optimize all those lifestyle factors.
Now Barry, a lot of the people that listen into this podcast, and of course I know a lot of the people that you work with, they’re also competing. They might be competing in Crossfit, they might be competing in triathlon, in marathon, in obstacle course racing, whatever. Once you’ve got the correct food base and eating structure in place and some of these lifestyle factors in place, when it comes to actually competition and what you’re into folks eating or fueling with during competition or any type of supplementation use before big workouts or competition to keep yourself in a fat burning state, what are some of the big wins that you’re implementing right now?
Barry: A lot of it comes down to just the practicalities of being in airports, being on planes, being in a hotel, not being at home with your own kitchen supply and your own fridge. So some of the things I would be always recommending people bring stuff with them that’s kind of, I always bring kind of fresh coffee with me. Maybe bring things like you know coconut oil, a jar of coconut oil for instance, bring some 100% raw cocoa powder, just a lot of the kind of daily, healthy, and kind of fundamental things that would be important to, as you said, kind of like keeping you in, like I said, using things like coconut oil and things like, what can I think of that at the top of my head. What else would I be recommending to guys, to people. There’s obviously a limit to what you can bring, but there’s some small…
Ben: When you’re traveling, you mean?
Barry: Yeah. When traveling.
Ben: One big one I like is pemmican. I get mine from this company called US Wellness Meats, and it’s just rendered fat that mixed with sea salt as a little bit of a preservative. That stuff travels pretty well, and it’s really, really good. I also pretty much, every single time I’ll step on to an airplane for a day of travel, I’ve got a couple of avocados and a can of sardines in my bag. And what I’ll do is I’ll grab a green salad from Starbucks or from any of the other airport vendors and I’d just like chop up an avocado and dump open a can of sardines on that, and that’s pretty much like my go-to meal when I’m in the airport and trying to avoid a lot of sugar boosting type of compounds.
Barry: Yeah. Exactly. And certainly true, what is quite a simple kind of an effort that you a couple of avocados and a tuna fish, you’ve suddenly kind of kept your insulin levels low, kept your fat pathways open, and you haven’t had a ciabatta, or a panini, or a baguette, or whatever else is usually available in an airport, which is sometimes what a lot of fat adapted and serious athletes have to resort to. And there are simple fixes like what you’ve just described, or prevention mechanisms let’s call them. And other things like, I like using branched chain amino acids, and they are kind of things that are quite portable and easy to burn. And magnesium in transdermal form, so in the spray form. So they’re kind of easy things to travel with and usually effective to kind of keep with. Then there’s the big aspect of fueling during the race and this is quite controversial a topic because I’m not in favor of the… so I’m known for being very into the whole fat adaptation mechanisms, fasted state training, lower carb diets.
But when racing, there’s different things that are going on. And I believe that one of the biggest factors is the central governor. As in the brain. And one of the things that that runs on, apart from ketones as we know, but one of the easy fuels it runs on is glucose. And I think a lot of athletes today are actually overdoing trying to race on cheese, and dried meat, and nuts, and the long starch polymer carbohydrate drink, when really insulin remains dormant during these races therefore you do not spike insulin if you have some carbohydrate and is 7actually small glucose hits in the form of some fruit, or dried fruit, or a natural energy bar, flapjack, or a natural nut-type gel with some natural honey in it or something like that, is that actually helping the central governor from crashing if you’re doing an Ironman for instance. I had clients who went to Kona Ironman just in October gone. And they’re very fat adapted, but they need to race using carbs. Now you don’t need to use the, whatever, 90 grams of carbs an hour factor because you’re not fueling the muscle so to speak, but you’re fueling the brain.
So a lot of the time, I’m trying to get to not have the standard gels, and standard sports drinks, and things like that but have the lower carb type, let’s say, gels and sports drinks and also just simply use natural carbohydrates, fruits and bars during, let’s say it is a race of marathon and longer distance or a fast Olympic distance-type triathlon. In the shorter stuff, I don’t think you need to be fueling with glucose so to speak. But that’s kind of a big area I think people are getting wrong and it’s something that’s throwing off the fat adaptation kind of principles, not the principles but the benefits a bit because people are thinking that they have to race with just stick of lard. They can’t have a banana when the opposite is true and when actually glucose actually favors the brain central governor mechanism during intense exercise.
Ben: Okay. So is there, for example if you look at like Gatorade Sports Science Institute, they’re saying a minimum of 200 to 250 calories of carbohydrate per hour during exercise. Some athletes, like I used to be up around 400 calories of carbohydrates per hour during Ironman. Do you have a certain number of calories per hour of carbohydrate that you found to be able to maintain performance while still keeping the body in a relatively fat utilizing state?
Barry: Again, I mean it really hugely depends on the athlete, and how long they’ve adapted, and how long they’ve been following this strategy. I mean I think a competitive sub-10 hour, or sub-3 hours marathon runner, and I’ve done this myself, you can operate on 20, 30 grams of carbohydrate in an hour because that’s enough to fuel the brain. So what’s that in calories? That’s 100, 150 calories. Now what you need to do is be highly fat adapted so that you’re up in the zones of exercise of whatever it is you’re competing at. Zone three, zone four, where you are, where your respiratory quotient is good enough that you are comfortably racing in an almost 100% fat burning mode so you’re not utilizing much glucose. And like I said, the main glucose that you’re using is actually for the brain. I mean I’ve won some ultra marathon races where I’ve probably consumed on average something like less than a hundred calories an hour. But that would be over maybe a 12 to 14 race duration situation where I’m highly fat adapted, I’m running fasted, and I’m running at a steady state as opposed to, it’s not a sport that has any much changes in the intensity and the speed at which I have to go, I don’t have to race up hills like I’m preparing this to say a cycling race, or a sprint attack so to speak.
So, yeah. So it really varies on how largely adapted, fat adapted you are, what your respiratory quotient is. But I think the understanding that we need to fuel during, to fuel the muscle when if you’re highly fat adapted you and, can like we said, the fat that’s already in the muscle can take care of what you need to, in terms of the ATP requirements, the small loading that you need is mainly would be to take on, like I said, fuel the brain. Along with the race preparation and what you said about how you can improve airport meals, and the foods that you can bring with you, and some supplements you can take with you is also just the natural kind of gels, and drinks, and natural foods that you can actually use during a race.
Ben: Okay. So basically if we step back and look at his big picture as far as the five steps that we just went over, the first is to optimize your diet, and it sounds like the big picture there is to not be afraid of eating carbs, and real foods, and things like that, but just ensure that you’re really drenching your diet and a lot of good healthy fats to shift you into fat oxidation. And all the more so that’s true when you’re an athlete, when you’re already pretty active, and when those carbohydrates are not going to do quite as much damage. And the trick is to get more fats in. Number two would be nutrient timing and making sure that you time your carbohydrates accordingly during the day and try to line them up to your periods of physical activity, and specifically the more intense physical activity of the day. Number three would be to do lots of fasted training and make sure that that’s not something you shy away from with your training. Number four would be make sure you address inflammation from hidden sources like cell phones, WiFi routers, oxidation from like airline travel, stuff like that. And then number five would be if you’re competing, and especially if you’re traveling when competing, a.) make sure that you’re bringing things along with you that allow you to stay in that fat adapted state and planning ahead to do so and, b.) would be don’t be afraid to actually include carbohydrates during a big workout. Just know that those are primarily being used for the brain as fuel. You’re in a relatively high fat burning state and taking in some bananas, apples, natural sources of carbohydrates like that is not necessarily going to shift you out of fat oxidation during exercise if you’re already fat adapted.
Barry: Yeah. And as you know, we can go into a lot more depth in each one of those points and do separate [1:03:12] ______.
Ben: That gives a really good overview though.
Barry: It’s a good overview and hopefully it paints a better picture as to what fat adaptation is for people here.
Ben: Cool. This is a really good primer. I like it. It makes it easy. Five easy steps.
So here’s the deal, if you’re listening in, first of all you can find Barry at greenfieldfitnessystems.com. He’s one of the performance nutritionists over there in the show notes for this episode. And by the way if you need to show notes, you just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com and the show notes are over there for pretty much any episode if you scroll down. But you can also, if you subscribe to the newsletter at bengreenfieldfitness.com, you get the show notes automatically sent every time one of these bad boys gets released. And then as far as Barry goes, you can hire him for consulting, or nutrition coaching, or anything like that, and you can go over to greenfieldfitness.com and find Barry there if you click on the coaching tab.
Now Barry, one other thing I know that you do, if anybody’s kind of close to you in the area that you’re going to be doing this is you do like live workshops too, right?
Barry: Yeah. So just recently I kind of teamed up with some two other guys, kind of a running coach and a movement specialist. Basically what we’re trying to do is set up these, and based on the kind of primal aspects of training and eating and combine everything into kind of one weekend workshop. So we’re calling it “The Primal Three” and we’re running out of a place called Glendalough in Wicklow which is just outside Dublin here in Ireland. So we’re going to be running one of those kind of workshop weekends every month, hopefully in the New Year, and we’ll try to use all the principles that I’ve just discussed in nutrition. We’ll combine that then with [1:05:11] ______ principles, and mobility, and technical form. We’re going to target it to runners, triathletes, cyclists, and mainly endurance sports but also some crossfitters as well.
Ben: Cool. So people contact you, I know your contact information for example is over there at Greenfield Fitness Systems. If they want to find more information about that, they can just shoot you off an e-mail?
Barry: Yeah. The advertisement, the booking details are on our website called championseverywhere.com.
Barry: Yup. So people go to championseverwhere.com, they’ll see the details and the information about how to sign up for these primal workshops.
Ben: Awesome. Well folks, if you’re listening in and you have questions, comments, or feedback, you can leave them on the show notes for this episode over at bengreenfieldfitness.com. Don’t forget to visit the website of the sponsor for this episode, Casper mattresses. And when you go to casper.com/ben, you get $50 off towards mattress purchase. Again with promo code Ben at casper.com. And until next week, thanks for listening in and have a healthy week.
Almost every day, I get an e-mail, comment, tweet or Facebook message about how to become a fat burning machine. And the fact is, become fat-adapted goes way above and beyond adding a stick of butter to a cup of coffee or eliminating carbohydrates from your diet.
So in today’s podcast, I’ve brought back Greenfield Fitness System’s performance nutritionist Barry Murray, who was originally a guest on the episode “The Ultimate Guide To Combining Fasting and Exercise: Everything You Need To Know. In this episode, Barry gives us five simple steps to becoming a fat burning machine, including:
-How to increase your ability to use your body’s own fat stores…
-Why it’s actually a good thing for your muscles to have fat stored in them…
-The best menus, recipes, meal plans and all the “coping” strategies you need to make the shift into fat-burning…
-The best way to time your meals for fat oxidation…
-How to structure your diet so that you can trigger the adaptations you need to increase the rates of fat oxidation…
-How to benefit from depleted training and intermittent fasting…
-How stress or inflammatory factors inhibit overall physiological fitness, and which hidden lifestyle factors keep you from becoming a fat burning machine…
-How to compete or do hard workouts in a fat adapted state…
-And much more!