Here at The Natural Nutritionist we often get asked if an LCHF template can be successful without the consumption of animal products, and if it is possible for vegans to experience the same metabolic benefits as their meat-eating counterparts. In today’s article, our in-house Nutritionist, Elly, explores this exact question, so read on to find out: can vegans become fat adapted?
Before we dive in, let’s recap exactly what is fat adaptation.
Fat adaptation is the metabolic reorchestration from a predominant fuel source of glucose to a predominant fuel source of fat. There are so many benefits to being fat adapted (or metabolically flexible), which include;
- Being able to utilise fat as a fuel throughout the day. This brings with it the benefits of blood sugar control, sustained energy levels and greater feelings of satiety (“hello” to no more cravings).
- Metabolic flexibility in training, meaning that fat can be used as the predominant fuel source and glycogen can be spared for more intense bouts.
- More effective and efficient recovery, as in addition to removing the constant oxidative damage from relying on carbohydrates as a predominant fuel, processed food and refined sugars are highly inflammatory. Inflammation is extremely detrimental to your recovery and subsequent performance, so removing these foods is key.
How do I know if I’m fat adapted?
If you’re curious as to whether you are, or aren’t, fat adapted here are some questions to ask yourself;
- Do you find yourself hungry within a few hours of eating?
- Do you often find yourself in a state of the ‘hangries’ (hungry and angry)?
- Do you rely on gels or fuel for training sessions <2 hrs?
- Do you need to eat first thing in the morning through fear of fainting?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then it is highly likely that you are a sugar burner and would benefit from optimising your metabolism.
So what about vegans?
Even the most conscious of vegans who the take time to prepare (seemingly) healthy options like overnight oats for breakfast, lentils for lunch and pasta with veggies for dinner (does that sound like you?) won’t be priming themselves to become a fat adapted athlete. Why? Because, just like the Standard Australian Diet (SAD) of bread, pasta and meat, there’s are still excessive amount of carbohydrate being consumed, which simply means the body doesn’t need to burn fat for fuel.
So, now that you know the benefits of being fat adapted, let’s talk about the basic principles of fat adaptation in the context of a vegan diet. You can become a fat adapted if you following the principles below.
How to become a fat adapted vegan
- LCHF for vegans. We ideally want to achieve a macronutrient ratio of 20% carbohydrate, 20% protein and 60% fats to aid the fat adaptation process. Although a traditional LCHF diet relies predominantly on meat, dairy and of course non-starchy vegetables to achieve this, there are still so many incredible real food, plant based alternatives. The high quality sources of fat and protein that need to be prioritised include:
- Olives and extra virgin olive oil
- Nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds
- Nut milks like macadamia and almond
- Nut and seed butters like tahini and almond butter
- Coconut cream, coconut yogurt, coconut milk and coconut oil
- Soy products like tempeh and tofu
- Fasted training. Traditionally, a LCHF diet is a range of 50 – 150g of carbohydrate per day (relative to your genetic, body compositional goal and energy output), however in the early stages of fat adaptation many people need to be on the lower end of the range to kick-start the fat adaptation process. It is far more challenging to achieve this on a vegan diet, so fasted training becomes particularly important to the fat adaptation process for vegans. Fasted training accelerates the process of teaching the body to use fat for fuel as it occurs in the absence of circulating glucose (from exogenous sources). Please start to experiment with lower intensity sessions upon rising and consume your recovery meal within the hour post-exercise. As you become more fat adapted you will find that most, if not all, sessions can easily be started fasted, with exogenous fuel added from 60, 90, 120 and 150 minutes. The process is best treated as an evolution, with 2.5 hours of fasted (aerobic) training more than possible after 8-12 weeks.
- Time restrictive feeding. Just like fasted training, time restrictive feeding provides a means for accelerating and enhancing the fat adaptation process. By simply shortening our eating window we can encourage the body to use fat for fuel as well as many other metabolic and long term health benefits (we discuss this in Episode 123 of The Real Food Reel here). Research suggests that an 8 hour eating window (and therefore a 16 hour fasting window) may provide the best outcomes for athletes, although more human clinical trials are required.
So, put this all together and what does a typical day look like?
7am – Train: 60-90 minutes at low intensity
9.30am – Breakfast: Chia pudding with full fat coconut cream and nuts
2pm – Lunch: Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup
6.30pm – Dinner: Tempeh and Vegetable Stir Fry
If you would like personalised support to optimise your vegan diet and become fat adapted, email Elly or book a complimentary 15-minute Skype appointment here. Watch this space for our upcoming eBook with over 20 LCHF vegan recipes. Leave a comment below if there are any old favourites that you would like adapted and included in the book.
- Van Proeyen K et al., 2011. Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state. Journal of Applied Physiology, 110, 1, 236-245.
- Volek J et al., 2016. Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metabolism, 65, 100-110.
Image credit here.