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Carbs or fat?

This year is flying past at a frightening speed. A big reason for that is that I crazily decided to take on specialist study - a Diploma in Sports Nutrition with the International Olympic Committee.

As a result, I've been finding it difficult to juggle work, life, study and regular blogging. It's been a while since I have written a blog but I just decided to use my last assignment as the foundation for this post- a literature review looking at the contributions of carbohydrates and fat to athletic performance. Interestingly, for a topic that creates so much discussion, the evidence is very clear and very strong. So, I'm going to share some of the evidence here:

Firstly, everyone's capacity for exercise relies on both carbohydrates and fats, to varying degrees. The relative contribution of each comes down to things like exercise intensity, duration, how well-trained you are and so on.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using carbohydrates as a major fuel source for exercise. The main downside is that carbs are actually a limited fuel source. Our body can only hold so much, in the form of glycogen, in our muscles and liver, to be used for exercise. And that's why endurance athletes need to consume carbs regularly during events and training. Fats on the other hand are a limitless (not quite, but almost) fuel source.

So why don't we all use fats as a major fuel for exercise?

Well, fats also take a lot more effort for our body to utilise as fuel. When we talk about energy metabolism we do so in terms of the oxygen cost - so think heavy breathing during exercise. You actually need more oxygen to produce energy from fat than you do from carbs. As a result - if you're trying to win, you're better off using carbs as fuel because under higher intensity effort, carbs are the much better fuel source. 

So you can use a ketogenic diet, or low carb high fat diets to fuel whatever sport you like. But your PBs are going to come from using carbs.

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