Sugar Burning Vs. Fat Burning: The Great Debate
SUGAR BURNING VS. FAT BURNING: THE GREAT DEBATE
There has been a lot of debate going on recently about whether sugar (glucose) or fat (fatty acids) are the better fuel (energy) source for humans.
Are you #teamlowcarb or #teamhighcarb?
What if you could (and maybe should) be able to use both to fuel your body?
CUE METABOLIC FLEXIBILITY
This refers to your body’s ability to survive while going through times of famine and times of feast by switching from burning sugar when available and tapping into stored body fat when food is not available.
Our bodies are designed to be able to do this very thing!
We evolved in a time where food was not guaranteed, and our bodies had to be able to adapt to these conditions to survive.
WHAT WENT WRONG
We now have access to food 24/7; most of which are highly-processed, sugary, and carb-heavy.
We have also been told to eat every two to three hours to “boost your metabolism”.
What studies do show is that smaller, more frequent meals may increase hunger and the “desire to eat”.
So, all that eating smaller, more frequent meals may do is cause you to eat more and want to eat more.
The only “blood sugar balancing” benefits are for those who are mostly eating processed, carb-heavy foods and have become reliant on continuous levels of sugar to burn for energy.
HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE METABOLICALLY INFLEXIBLE
Here are some ways to know if you just might be metabolically inflexible! (These symptoms are not a diagnosis.)
- Wake up starving?
- Get uncomfortably full or tired after carb-heavy meals?
- Get tired in the afternoon?
- Have trouble going four to five hours in between meals?
- Get “hangry”?
- Gain weight easily?
- Have trouble losing weight?
If you answered “YES” to any of these questions, then you may be struggling with metabolically inflexibility.
WHY YOU’RE ALWAYS HUNGRY
Does the thought of going on a diet make you miserable because you’re literally hungry ALL OF THE TIME? I’ve been there!
And there’s a reason for that struggle! (It’s a real thing, and you’re not alone!)
Let’s get science-y for a minute.
When you eat carbohydrates, they are converted to glucose in your blood. Your body then releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin’s job is to usher the glucose from the blood into your cells to be used for energy.
When you consume large amounts of carbohydrates, excess insulin is released into your blood.
When those levels remain high for too long, your cells become desensitized to insulin and stop taking on glucose for energy.
Your body then stores that extra glucose as body fat — this is known as insulin resistance.
When you are insulin resistant, your body can no longer properly use the carbohydrates that you eat as energy, but also cannot access its stored body fat for energy either. (No, thank you!)
This is a lose-lose situation that leaves you constantly hungry and needing to eat more and more as your body searches for energy.
WHY WOULD WE WANT TO BE METABOLICALLY FLEXIBLE?
What are the benefits of metabolic flexibility? I’m glad you asked!
You can utilize more nutrients, and reap the benefits of carb sources like starchy vegetables, fruits, beans, rice, and potatoes.
You don’t have to be as strict with your food.
The food you consume will be burned as fuel or used to build muscle instead of being stored as body fat.
You can have a higher carb day and not worry about it and inversely, skip a meal without getting hangry.
You can go longer stretches between meals without worrying about snacking.
Say goodbye to “food comas” and hello to more energy.
Sounds great, right!?
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR METABOLIC FLEXIBILITY
If you don’t improve your body’s ability to be more metabolically flexible, it can lead to metabolic syndromes such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Here’s how to start:
- Exercise: Exercise is not only a great way to burn calories, help build lean muscle, and boost mood, it also increases insulin sensitivity which allows your body to start burning food as fuel instead of storing it as body fat.
- Intermittent fasting: You don’t have to do crazy days-long water fasting to improve your metabolic flexibility. Even an occasional 12-14 hour fasts can improve insulin sensitivity and get you burning body fat.
- Reduce carbohydrates: You don’t have to go full keto here, but simply switching to less processed carbohydrates and more healthy dietary fats will increase your body’s ability to burn fat as fuel and lessen your dependency on glucose for energy.
- Cycle/balance your macronutrients: Overly-restricting any macronutrient for extended periods of time can result in a loss of enzymes and gut bacteria to utilize it in the future properly. So, unless you plan on never eating carbs again, best to not completely restrict them!
- Improve your gut health: Having healthy and diverse gut bacteria will help you properly digest your food and absorb nutrients. Also, your gut bacteria have a large influence on your blood sugar response to different foods.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
Our bodies have the amazing capability to use whatever fuel source is available, allowing it to cycle between sugar and fat burning for optimal results.
So, I guess the answer to the question which is better: fat burning or sugar burning is…both!
Use these tools to help you improve your metabolic flexibility!
Tell us the most interesting part of this article in the comments below!
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