It was about a year ago that I realized I was primarily a sugar burner. Over the past year, I’ve talked a bit about learning how to be more metabolically efficient as an endurance athlete.
It is true that we need higher carbohydrates for energy and to restore glyogen post workout, but most of the women I work with are consuming more than the recommended amount. I find that endurance runners in particular get higher amounts of sugars and carbohydrates than the average person. This leads to struggles with sugar cravings, fatigue, energy highs and lows or constant hunger.
Why teach your body to burn fat?
Ideally, you want to teach your body to be efficient at using fat for fuel in training for several reasons:
- you will have an endless source of fuel (up to 80,000 fat calories stored at a given time as opposed to 1500 calories in carbohydrates)
- you will be much less likely to ever hit the wall or bonk
- you won’t feel weak or dizzy or run out of energy on a fasted run
- your body composition will change (less fluffy, more definition)
We talk a lot about this in the runner’s reset programs I lead. It’s very easy to assume you need to stock up on gels, gus and energy boosting products to be an efficient runner. But how do you know if you are burning fat or sugar?
Here are 7 signs that you are mostly a sugar burner:
- you can’t run more than 3 miles on an empty stomach first thing in the morning without feeling weak
- you feel like you need food every 2 hours and struggle to go 3-4 hours between meals without feeling shaky or light headed
- you have intense sugar cravings or struggle with low blood sugar
- you hit mid-morning or mid-afternoon energy slumps
- you rely on stimulants like coffee (beyond a cup or two in the morning) to get you through the day
- during long runs, you feel like you NEED gu, gel, or other fuel or you start to fade
- you struggle to lose weight
Do any of those symptoms sound like you? If so, you want to take a careful look at your diet and make some changes to balance carbohydrates and sugars with fat and protein.
For more specifics, you can do a metabolic efficiency test to learn at what paces your body crosses over from fat burning (low intensity) to carb/sugar burning (high intensity). If your diet is especially high in carbohydrates, you may not even be burning fat at the low intensity jog.
You can also use fasted runs to test your body’s dependence on sugars for fuel. We’ll talk more specifically about using fasted runs and balancing your foods in two follow up posts.
Becoming a more efficient fat burner is not only better for your running, it is linked to better health with a lower chance of diabetes, inflammation and “skinny fat” symptoms. You don’t have to be over weight to be damaging your health with an imbalance of nutrients. If you’re looking for specific guidance, the next runner’s reset begins August 1st and I’m happy to help you determine if it’s a good fit for you.
Have you ever bonked or felt like you ran out of fuel on a run?
Do you have any idea whether your body is burning mostly sugar or mostly fat?