Fat is the fuel of choice in the animal kingdom for feats of extreme endurance.
Why Eat Fat While Backpacking?
A diet that is extremely low in carbohydrates, adequate but moderate in protein and high in fat is called a ketogenic diet because on this diet the liver converts fat into ketones to fuel the brain and muscle . A ketogenic diet has two key advantages for long distance backpacking.
- Eating a ketogenic diet improves one’s ability to burn fat. For those who do not effectively burn fat on a diet containing carbohydrates, the ability to burn fat can be twice as high on a ketogenic diet . This means an efficient use of both body fat and ingested fat for a constant energy supply during long, moderate to low intensity endurance activity such as hiking. Even lean humans are likely to have 10lbs of fat, 30,000kcal, which is enough to fuel 110 miles of hiking . In comparison, carbohydrate storage of even the most elite athletes is only 2,000kcal and will be depleted within hours or days depending on the intensity of the activity .
- Ketogenic meals can be half the weight of conventional backpacking meals. This is in addition to lightening your load by burning fat stored on your body.
Why Avoid Carbs and Keep Protein Moderate?
How do you know if you are burning fat?
Are There Any Risks?
What Do You Eat on a Ketogenic Backpacking Trip?
Bryan Ausinheiler, PT, DPT, CSCS, OCS, FNS
Footnotes and References.
- Dogs are prodigious fat burning machines and can burn nearly twice as much fat as humans. A recent analysis of Iditerod sled dog diets found they were 50% fat, 15% carbohydrate and 35% protein. The dogs lost weight over the course of the race as they were unable to consume the 8,995kcal/day required to maintain body weight. 2014 Loftus- Energy requirements for racing endurance sled dogs. J Nutr Sci.
- This study investigated the postexercise metabolism of six species of free-living, night-migrating passerine birds (European robin, pied flycatcher, wheatear, redstart, blackcap, and garden warbler). High blood ketone levels were detected during the resting state, as the birds where metabolizing fat to save their limited carbohydrate and protein stores. 2001 Jenni-Eiermann- Postexercise ketosis in night-migrating passerine birds. Physiol Biochem Zool.
- Blood ketone (beta-hydroxybutyrate) levels rose to 1.5mmol/L at 200 minutes of flying in migrating Northern Bald Ibis. These birds migrate 1,684 miles in flights as long as 310 miles each. 2015 Beirlein- Energy Expenditure and Metabolic Changes of Free-Flying Migrating Northern Bald Ibis. PLoS ONE
- A pound of pure fat would be 3,500kcal but fat on an actual human is stored as adipose tissue which is composed of 15% cellular water and protein and thus would only hold 2,975kcal. While this number is well established, there is debate as to whether a reduction of caloric intake of 3,500 will actually result in 1lb of fat loss because human rates of fat burning varies. 2013 Hall- “Why is the 3500 kcal per pound weight loss rule wrong?”- International Journal of Obesity
- The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek.
- In this landmark study on elite cyclists, fat burning while pedaling on a stationary bike increased from a baseline range of 90-540kcal/hr toand 666-1008kcal/hr after four weeks on a diet of <10g of carbohydrates per day.
- A 155lb person carrying a 21-42lb pack uphill would burn 550kcal/hour (7.8MET). Ten pounds of human adipose would provide enough energy for a 155lb person carrying a 21-42lb pack to hike for 55 hours and cover 110 miles at 2mph. “Backpacking” is 7.8 MET in the Compendium of Physical Activity 2011.
- 1985 Venables- Determinants of fat oxidation during exercise in healthy men and women: a cross-sectional study. Journal of Applied Physiology.
- Insulin inhibits the enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase which is involved in breaking the storage form of fat called a triglyceride into its usable forms of glycerol and fatty acids. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek.
- I have recorded my highest blood ketone levels after high fat meals, even if they have up to 30g of combined carbohydrates and protein. This gave me the impression that the fat somehow reduced the insulin response but the scientific evidence I have come across contradicts this inference. 1994 Ercan- Effect of added fat on the plasma glucose and insulin response to ingested potato given in various combinations as two meals in normal individuals. Diabetes Care
- Insulin levels rose to 2 micro units per /ml at one hour after 500g of lean ground beef or chicken liver. Floyd- Insulin Secretion in Response to Protein Ingestion.
- 2009 Wirrell- Ketogenic Ratio Calories and Fluids: Do They Matter?
- When carbohydrates are not present, more of your energy comes from burning protein and thus more protein is required. 2004 Tarnopolsky- Protein requirements for endurance athletes Nutrition.
- Insulin release increases ADH which signals sodium retention. Low insulin results in more sodium loss. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek
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