The Benefits of Eating Healthy Fats for Your Adventure Fuel

By: Jen Weir + Save to a List

Punch hanger in the throat.

Do you have to eat every couple of hours to avoid feeling like you’re about to starve to death? Is “hangry” a term often used to describe your mood? Is getting outbound (see what I did there?) for any amount of time a pain due to the simple fact that you need to pack a ton of food?

Recently, the hubs and I spent five days bow hunting (or, as we like to call it, hiking with bows) in the rough country of the Missouri River Breaks. We’d leave the tent before day break, hike three to four hours, head back to camp, have a small snack, hydrate, maybe a power nap, then head back out for the rest of the day. We’d eat our first and only actual meal of the day once we got back to camp for the night. Five days of 10+ miles of hiking and there was never a lack of energy for trekking the ridges and coulees.

A couple of years ago, this never could’ve happened. I very likely would’ve died of “starvation” in a drainage the first day. I was constantly worried about where I was going to get my next meal/snack from. Eating every two to three hours was normal and necessary. If I surpassed that window, low blood sugar would hit me like tsunami and leave me shaky, weak and lightheaded. I was often convinced I was fading into a diabetic coma (I'm not diabetic). My reliance on food was a hindrance and nuisance, to say the least.

How did this change occur? Well, I started to experiment with my diet. I gradually decreased my carbohydrate intake and increased my healthy fats (extra virgin olive oil, avocados, eggs, almonds, etc) -- my protein remained pretty steady. By weaning my body off of the processed carbohydrates, and acclimating it to more fats, I found I no longer needed to eat ALL. THE. TIME.

Why does replacing carbs with fat make food less of a priority? For starters, fat fills you up and lasts longer than carbs. Second, chronically elevated levels of insulin (insulin is released every time we ingest food to help shuttle it into our cells, but levels spike when we ingest high-sugar or processed carbs) keep our metabolism very inflexible. You see, a metabolically flexible individual can function off of whatever fuel source is available -- an apple, a handful of almonds, a piece of jerky, or a bottle of water and he’s good to go. Take a person who’s constantly fueling with carbs and their body/metabolism doesn’t know how to use other sources of energy or how to efficiently fuel with the fat already on board.

A high-carbohydrate diet will ultimately inhibit fat metabolism because your body is never forced to use fats for energy -- when there’s dry kindling at hand, it’s not going to turn to that big dense log. If you were to give your body a break from this constant supply of carbs, or food in general for that matter, it will gradually learn how to use fat for fuel.

I’m not suggesting you starve yourself by any means, but I am suggesting you stop shoving food down your throat every chance you get and give your body a chance to actually fast. By simply extending the amount of time between eating and going to bed and then waiting a few hours to eat after you wake up, you can encourage your body to operate off the fat you’ve been storing up your whole life. For example, if you hit the hay at ten at night, stop eating by seven; then, if you wake up at six, wait until eight or nine for your first meal. This will result in a 13 to 14-hour fast, at which point your glycogen will be depleted and your body will be forced to run on fat. If you’re ambitious, you can go for a light morning walk to speed up the liver glycogen depletion and get to that fat-reliant state a little quicker.

I’m not going to lie to you, this process does not come without a suck factor. If you’re highly dependent on carbohydrates, I would suggest a very gradual introduction of the fasting process (with extra water and sea salt in your diet). If you go all-in right off the bat, you’re going to feel like complete crap. While your body is going through this process, your energy levels are less than stellar and you’re going to be hungry. But, over the course of a couple of weeks, you’ll find your energy returning, your hunger waning and your cognitive function becoming clearer (your brain LOVES fat) than it’s ever been, as your body shifts from relying on carbs to relying on fat.  

Once your body becomes fat adapted, you can go a significant amount of time between meals -- without feeling like garbage. You see, while we have a very limited amount of glycogen (what our bodies usually like to use as energy and what we run out of after only a couple hours of continuous activity), we have an enormous supply of fat to use as energy. Obviously, some of us have more fuel in the tank than others, but just one pound of fat contains over 3,000 calories. Consider that most of us are packing around at least 10 pounds (generally much more) of fat, which means, at minimum, we’ve got a solid 30,000 calories of energy just sitting there. It’ll take quite a while to get through that much energy.

So, there you have it. If you’re tired of being a slave to your meals, then try getting your body fat-adapted. You’ll have more freedom to move through the mountains without having to worry about low blood sugar knocking you flat on your ass. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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