Varying the way you train and experimenting with brief periods of fasting are two of the best ways to return your body to a state of metabolic flexibility, says John Berardi
Dr John Berardi is a nutrition and exercise coach, sport scientist, author, and a founder of Precision Nutrition. He is based in Toronto, Canada.
In a previous feature I talked about this concept of metabolic flexibility, which means your body can seamlessly switch between using different fuel sources as energy to build muscle, burn fat and avoid fat gain on almost any nutritional strategy.
Many young men are naturally metabolically flexible. But it only becomes obvious in its absence. So when you eat in certain ways and start putting on weight like crazy, or if you’re 30b or 40lbs overweight, then you’re not flexible at all.
One of the best ways to improve metabolic flexibility is through exercise. I assume that if you’re reading this then you work out already, but is there enough of a variety of different types of training? Are you doing strength training, as well as intervals and some kind of aerobic or endurance activity?
That balance is pretty important in resetting our body’s ability to switch fuel sources because these different types of training use different fuel mixes. It trains us to use different fuel sources in our daily lives.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is also another way to improve metabolic flexibility. Even short periods of IF seem to be effective at returning you to the state you were born in.
Look at it this way: if you’re following a high-carb diet your body will burn carbs. If you’re on a high-fat diet your body will burn fat. But what if you’re fasting and your body has no external fuel source? If you are metabolically inflexible you’ll just feel rotten. You won’t be able to tap into stored body fat.
But once you achieve metabolic flexibility your body will burn whatever fuel is available. If there is no external fuel coming in through food you’ll simply starting tapping into your fat reserves.
Metabolic flexibility is really important in any physique goal, or any health goal for that matter, because it allows you to use the fuel that’s appropriate based on the conditions at that time, and spare the fuel that’s inappropriate. You’ll burn carbs when you need to burn carbs, burn fat when you want to burn fat, and spare protein energy, which can be diverted to muscle building.
Think about metabolic flexibility as the soil for your goals. When the soil is fertile and has the right nutrients in it, you can plant a seed and, when given the external stimuli it needs, it will grow.
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