Food is fuel, y'all. We hear this a lot. We - wellness and fitness types - SAY it a lot. Of course there is truth to this statement. Now, if you ask me, food isn’t JUST fuel; it’s flavour, it’s fun, it’s social, it’s comforting… But hey, I’m a nutritionist and you are a person reading a nutritionist blog so let’s talk about food as fuel for a hot minute. The primary fuel source we really need to think about, in terms of Very Oversimplified Science, is glucose. Glucose is the fuel source that we bring into our cells to produce cellular energy so we can go on with our lives. When the body starts to run out of glucose the brain triggers a hunger signal: “We need more glucose up in here; the cells are getting hungry again…” This is how hunger and satiety work, and at the root of it is cellular feeding. Food is fuel, at the cellular level. The questions is, how do you want your fuel delivered to your cells?
Batteries offer power right up until the point that they die - surprising you with a sudden lack of energy, with almost no warning. You can use this fuel source until it’s gone, and then it's GONE. What’s more, you don’t really know if a battery is half full, 3/4 full, about to die... Once they die, your only course of action is to go and get yourself some more batteries. Batteries are good for quick and easy access to short-term energy, but it can be unreliable if longevity is a concern. You have to carry batteries with you everywhere if you want them to sustain you for longer than a short period of time.
Food Batteries: Carbohydrate Very Oversimplified Science: Carbohydrates are a bunch of glucose molecules stuck together. When a carbohydrate food goes through the digestive process, you end up with tons of glucose, immediately flooding the bloodstream and hitting up the cells. Where fuel is concerned, carbohydrate is fast, and immediate. When you run out of glucose from carbohydrate, you kind of just… run out. And there’s the crash: The brain triggers a hunger signal but because we’ve now gotten to a very low/non-existent supply of glucose, the cells are kind of starved. We experience this as a sudden, urgent need to eat - more carbohydrates, ASAP. A whole new set of batteries. Did you bring more batteries with you, or are you going to have to hit up the vending machine? As mentioned by my FAVE celebridoctor, Dr. Mark Hyman, MD, there are fast carbs and slow carbs. High fibre carbohydrate has a slower effect on blood glucose.
With gasoline as fuel source, you can top up the tank as you go along - you can be drawing fuel out of the bottom of the tank while simultaneously refuelling through the top. Gasoline gives you subtle, passive warnings - by way of a fuel gauge - that you are running low, and lets you fill back up before things get dicey. If you play your cards right and keep your eye on the fuel gauge, you will never run the tank dry. Gasoline as a fuel source is good for sustainable, reliable energy needs. As long as you know there’s a gas station ahead somewhere, you can rely on this fuel source to take you a long way, and you don’t have to think about it too much.
Food Gasoline: Fat Ready for more Very Oversimplified Science? Fat becomes glucose too, but the process is much more labour intensive. When a fat food goes through the digestive process, it is broken down into its component parts: fatty acids. Those fatty acids need to be converted to glucose through a process known as gluconeogenesis. It takes some time, and what you get is this constant sort of "streaming" energy source. Glucose is dealt out slowly. When you start to run low - when the needle on the gauge starts to move toward E - the brain triggers a hunger response. You eat (more fat) and that fat goes through the long process of gluconeogenesis too. So you can top up your fuel before it runs out. This makes that need to eat/refuel much less urgent. You still have some left in the tank.
Choosing the right fuel source is important, whether you’re a very active person - playing a lot of sports, lifting a lot of weights - or simply trying to make it through a work day without nodding off at your desk. Which fuel source sounds like a better way to fuel your life? There is no wrong answer... Carbohydrate is important; it has its place in a well-rounded nutrition protocol. In terms of fuel, carbohydrate is great for when you need a quick-burn, fast-acting source of glucose. It lacks consistency and reliability if long-term energy is your goal. I’m extremely partial to fat as a fuel source for every day life. It delivers a mellow, sustainable amount of energy throughout the day. It can power you through physical exertion, too, I promise you. Best of all: when you start to run low on fat-derived glucose, the resulting hunger signal is just much less frantic - so your food/fuel choices become less panicked and there is a greater likelihood you'll make a smart choice. I firmly believe that if you can become fat adapted, you can achieve an effortless relationship with:
If you're saying "Dang, that sounds pretty sweet; sign me up for some of that fat adaptation. I want to be burning gasoline, not running on batteries!" get in touch with me. I'm a champ at helping people get the most out of their fuel.