Recently my friend Sean Bissell, The First Diet author, wrote an interesting post in one of his Facebook groups about how dietary fat is stored, and why it’s not necessarily the best macronutrient to be consuming in large quantities if you want readily-available energy, especially if you’re doing high-intensity weight training or cardio.
Here’s what he wrote. I’ve posted some comments below to elaborate on some of the whacky ideas about eating a high-fat diet for ‘quick’ energy.
Seen Sean’s post below;
“The complete failure of common dietary fat to alter the composition of the metabolic fuel mix oxidized at any time during the 9-h period after breakfast is quite remarkable and demonstrates how effectively [common dietary fats] are channeled towards storage.” – (Reference below)
The fat you eat is not magically used as energy.
Fat is not immediate fuel.
When you eat fat, it is almost always stored on your body. To be used later. Not used right now.
Plain and simple, fat is not energy. And anyone who sells a “high fat” meal as an energy booster is seriously confused about how fat is used as energy in the average body.
The fat you eat gets stored and used much later. At basically an undetermined time.
Storing fat is like pouring more water into a pool. It all mixes up.
And when you use that “pool” for energy later, who knows which part of that pool was poured in an hour ago, or 6 months ago.
There’s no way to tell. And there’s no specific order to it. It’s all mixed up in there.
The fat you swallow is not instant energy. In fact, it can take 6 hours to even peak in your blood stream because fat needs to be broken down by bile, and then cross into your blood, then repackaged together and a bunch of metabolic processes.
Fat is slow. Fat is storage. Fat is backup energy.
Fat is not instant fuel. Fat is not quick energy. Fat is not a fast acting brain booster.
Fat is long term.
Fat is your “savings account.”
Fat is your “backup generator.”
The fat you eat today may never give you energy for another 6 months.
Stop the “fat jump starts your day” madness.
Reference: “Effects of dietary fat on postprandial substrate oxidation and on carbohydrate and fat balances.” http://www.jci.org/articles/view/112054
Fat Is ‘Reserve’ Energy
Alright, let’s first start with what dietary fat is from an energy standpoint.
It’s one of the 3 macronutrients you consume (I hope) daily. While protein and carbohydrates both contain 4 calories per gram, fat contains 9 calories per gram, just over double the energy potential of a gram of protein or carbohydrate.
Fat is the only macronutrient easily stored within your fat cells when broken down. When you consume fat, once it’s digested, it’s stored in your fat cells for later use. No matter what you think or feel, this is how it works. Fat is always being stored every time you eat.
Protein is rarely stored or converted to glucose. But when it is converted to sugar for fuel, it’s a costly process known as gluconeogenesis. Carbohydrates are rarely stored as fat. But when they are, it’s through a process called de novo lipogenesis, and it’s rare because you have to ingest massive amounts of carbohydrates for this to happen.
When you gain fat from consuming lots of carbohydrates, it’s most likely because the carb-heavy foods you’re eating are also fat-heavy. For more info on this, check out my article, 3 Reasons Why Sugar Isn’t Making You Fat (And What Is).
When you consume a meal, insulin is released. After insulin is released, fat oxidation is turned off while the protein, carbohydrate, and fat are broken down. When your body’s digested these macronutrients, insulin transports all of these nutrients to your cells. Then insulin returns to baseline and fat burning turns on again.
Note: you’re burning fat pretty much all day during rest and light activities. You’re also using fat for energy when you sleep. The only time you’re not burning fat is during heavy exercise (burning glycogen), and when you’re eating/digesting food.
An oversimplification of this process goes like this:
- Protein is broken down into amino acids and go toward the repair of your muscle, skin, bone, and other tissues.
- Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and get stored in your muscles or liver as glycogen to be used as energy for later.
- Fat is broken down into fatty acids and stored in your cells for later (reserve energy).
So the fat you consume right now will take 4-6 hours to digest and then be stored in your fat cells. And that same fat you ate might not be utilized for energy until next week or next month due to the ‘pool’ analogy Sean made above.
So consuming fat for quick energy in the morning, or any time, for that matter, is a flawed way of thinking about the body’s energy systems.
One BulletProof Coffee Contains 440 Calories, 51 Grams Of Fat
That’s right, folks.
One morning coffee contains the entire daily intake of fat for many fitness enthusiasts and professionals. (I rarely eat more than 60 grams per day, by the way)
Here’s the recipe:
- 2 cups of black coffee
- 2 tbsp of unsalted grass-fed butter
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) of MCT oil Blend
Blend it all up like a smoothie and drink up.
Front-loading your fat intake early in the day like this can be problematic for a few reasons.
- If you’re trying to limit fat intake, you’re going to run into problems later in the day. So if you enjoy your BulletProof coffee but are trying to stay under 60 grams of fat per day, you better get used to crusty chicken breasts and rice for your next 4 meals.
- If you’re trying to maintain a caloric deficit with enough carbohydrates for your brain and to maintain training intensity, it’s going to get tricky because you’ve likely just consumed way more than 75% of your daily fat intake.
And this is not to mention the potential health problems with consuming this much fat, in general.
Dr. Spencer Nadolsky spoke of his experience with patients on the BulletProof Coffee routine coming in with elevated blood lipids, only for them to return to normal after ceasing the buttered coffee intake. You can read the full case study here.
This is not to say you’re going to kill yourself by drinking some coffee in your morning cup of melted butter, but even from a practicality standpoint of trying to maintain a moderate protein and carb intake to support training, it just doesn’t make much sense.
Old Beliefs Are Hard To Release
One lady in Sean’s group commented with the following:
Very hard to read this after coming off a high-fat low carb “diet” that is cult-like in its assertion that fat is the preferred fuel for the body. I am still trying to get over a deep fear of carbs from eating this way even though it destroyed my health. Thanks for sharing!
It’s really hard to overcome some of the cult-like dietary beliefs because just like cults, it’s easy to get suckered into a fancy fad diet for months before you realize you’ve been duped. And once you’ve bought in, it’s really hard to turn back.
This is mostly due to the Sunk Cost Fallacy, which is the idea that you’ve invested too much mental and emotional energy in an idea to turn back. You’re too far in, so you stick it out — no matter how wrong, or remorseful you are for adopting said belief.
I’ve also written on some other logical fallacies — you can read more about these Brain Bugs that plague too many people.
Carbohydrates Make More Sense For ‘Fast’ Energy
Since carbohydrates are stored in the muscles as glycogen, they’re more readily available during intense exercise. This is why people tend to perform way better on high-carb diets than low-carb diets during intense activities. Using fat for fuel just doesn’t happen until glycogen stores are cashed out, and that could take a lot of activity before that happens.
Dietary Fat Recommendations
For all of my performance and fat loss clients, I like to keep fat to around 15-25% of total calories. These numbers will change as per the individual and their needs, but I rarely see a need to eat less than 40 grams, or more than 80 grams of fat per day when performance, muscle gain and/or fat loss are the goals.
If you want a serious take on The BulletProof Diet and its major pitfalls, check out Dick Talens’ LifeHacker article.
You can also check out my review of Sean’s book, The First Diet.