In this article, sport dietitian Bob Seebohar (at left) will change your paradigm of thinking about nutrition so you can teach your body to use the right nutrients at the right times to improve your health and exercise better. It is about adopting some very simple nutrition concepts and most importantly, implementing them. Execution is paramount. The best plan in the world will not be any good if it is not followed.
What Is Metabolic Efficiency?
Efficiency is a term that is typically associated with sport. From a nutrition perspective, being metabolically efficient simply means being able to use the proper nutrients at the right times. Specifically, use more of the almost unlimited, 80,000 or more calories stored as fat in the body and preserve the very limited carbohydrate stores, which at best range from 1,200 to 2,000 calories.
It is likely you have heard of this scenario before as it applies to exercise: as you increase your intensity, your body prefers to use more carbohydrate and less fat for fuel. The physiological term for this is the crossover concept. With aerobic exercise you can manipulate this to essentially burn more fat during exercise but this article is not about what is already known. It is about the relatively unknown effect of your daily intake of macronutrients and their impact on fuel utilization and metabolic efficiency.
Why Be More Metabolically Efficient?
I’ve been working with athletes and recreational exercisers for many years, and whenever I ask them about their goals for the short and long term, weight and body fat loss always top the list. While exercise is certainly important, adopting a daily nutrition shift is the predominant method in improving the body’s ability to burn more fat and preserve carbohydrate stores. The nutrients you put in your body can have a profound effect on metabolic processes.
The Carbohydrate Crisis
Carbohydrates are a staple in our eating plan and for good reason. They provide the energy that is needed to fuel the body for exercise. But at certain times of the year, maintaining a higher carbohydrate eating plan can lead to weight and body fat gain. If energy expenditure from workouts is lower, the need for a higher calorie meal plan is simply not necessary.
Eating too much of any one macronutrient can lead to metabolic inefficiencies. Focus too heavy on one macronutrient, and a state of imbalance occurs. Eat a combination of foods, and you will remain in balance and not get thrown out of whack.
How to Become Metabolically Efficient
These simple, easy-to-implement nutrition steps will help in your quest to become more metabolically efficient, use more of your fat stores as energy and create a metabolic shift inside your body where it will learn how and when to use fat.
- Adopt a nutritional paradigm shift. As you approach your food selection and preparation, prioritize your meals and snacks. First on the plate should be a source of lean protein and healthy, omega-3 rich fat. Second up is a healthy portion of fruits and/or vegetables. Then, if you have room on the plate (no more than a fourth of the plate), add a few whole grains if needed or wanted.
- Follow the 90/10 rule. Stay on track with these steps 90% of the time and allow yourself to “miss” the other 10% of the time. Remember, you are human and life happens. Don’t stress out if you have the occasional miss (sweets, alcohol, chips, etc.). Approach your nutrition plan as you do your exercise plan, and allow some room to deviate.
This shouldn’t be too difficult. It will take preparation, execution and commitment on your part. Remember, this is a behavior change that can take weeks to months to adopt. Start now and allow yourself some times where you will take a few steps backwards. It’s all part of the process of improving your nutrition plan!
Bob Seebohar is a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, the former Director of Sports Nutrition for the University of Florida and most recently served as a sport dietitian for the US Olympic Committee. Bob traveled to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games as a sport dietitian for the US Olympic Team and the personal sport dietitian for the Olympic Triathlon Team.