Can Vegans Become Fat Adapted?

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

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:
    1. Avocados
    2. Olives and extra virgin olive oil
    3. Nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds
    4. Nut milks like macadamia and almond
    5. Nut and seed butters like tahini and almond butter
    6. Coconut cream, coconut yogurt, coconut milk and coconut oil
    7. 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.


  1. 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.
  2. Volek J et al., 2016. Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metabolism, 65, 100-110.

Image credit here.


  1. Lesa

    Awesome look forward to the book, eating meat and dairy is the part I find challenging about LFHC diet

  2. Naomi

    Really looking forward to the book, I struggle with having the confidence that I’m getting enough protein in the day, especially when doing two training sessions. Yay to a LCHF Vegan (or vegetarian) book. Thanks TNN

  3. Elly McLean

    Great – glad we can help out! Let us know if you have any recipes you want delivered Lesa 🙂

  4. Derek Adair

    After removing dairy I’m now 2.5 months into a fully plant-based diet. At the same time cut down on salt, sugar and oil. I answered NO to all four questions ‘How do I know if I’m fat adapted?’ but not sure if I am fat adapted as I’m not on a low carb diet, Since the diet change I gotten back into doing fasted morning rides. Doing 3 to 4 fasted 90 minute pre-breakfast mtb rides per week, a 4hr fasted ride last Saturday. Taking only water on my rides, my heart rate target around 70% of my max and occasionally up around 85%. Do you need to be on a high fat low carb diet to become fat adapted or can it also be accomplished by intermittent fasting when not on a low carb diet?

  5. Min Benstead

    Hi Derek! LCHF refers to higher fat, lower carbohydrate – not to be confused with ‘no carbohydrate’. The amount of carbohydrate consumed on a LCHF template is all relative to your output and with the amount of training you’re doing it’s certainly possible that you’ve successfully trained your body to use fat for fuel.  Intermittent fasting and training in the fasted state will have aided the process for you. Given your training load be sure to meet your energy needs by consuming good quality fats (in the form of coconut, avocado, nuts and seeds, as well as their associated oils if tolerated) and protein with every meal. This is a must if you want to maintain your new regime for the long term. If you are after more tailored advice regarding your protein, fat and energy requirements, please book in for an initial consultation with Elly here.

  6. James Haigh

    Thanks for the interesting article. I’m keen to see the eBook with over 20 LCHF vegan recipes; is this available, yet?
    I started my LCHF transition last weekend (specifically Sunday, 03 June, 2018) and have been taking on lots more nuts, seeds, olives and almond (& coconut) milk. Humus is featuring even more in my diet, too. The trigger was a combination of gastric issues with HC race nutrition (those horrible gels that I thought would improve my performance) and the very knowledgable bike fitter studying nutrition that I visited in Amersham, UK on 02/06 saying that becoming a fat-burning machine was definitely the way to go. I race middle distance triathlon and have a race this weekend. It doesn’t help that I’ve been ill for most of this week.
    When you wrote this, ‘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’, what fuel do you have in mind? I’m thinking of blending up a non-dairy milk of some description with nuts and seeds, maybe also with some leafy greens in there.
    Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

  7. Elly McLean

    Hi James! Glad you found the article a good read and unfortunately the LCHF Vegan eBook hasn’t yet been released. We did recently publish a recipe for Cauliflower Falafels with Eggplant Hummus which you should love though!
    In terms of fuel I’d highly recommend the Freedom Fuel recipe. It’s vegan and perfect for your longer training sessions If you’d like more tailored advice on how to use the Freedom Fuel or to support fat adaptation on a plant based protocol I’d love to help out. You’re welcome to utilise our 15 minute complimentary consultations to get started –
    Thanks James!!

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