When every step of your run begins to feel like the first step of your run, you have mastered fat adapted running.
That’s the best way I can explain becoming a fat adapted runner.
After running 31 miles with no food or water, I discovered just how incredible fat adapted running was.
But I have to warn you, the guide you are about to read on fat adapted running is not for everyone. It takes work, and it takes having a constant intention in fine-tuning your fat metabolism.
YES, you can implement what I teach you and turn into a fat adapted runner. But fat adapted running challenges you both physically and mentally. And well…not everyone is ready to make these lifestyle changes.
Understand that it wasn’t a coincidence that I began every ultramarathon with an empty stomach and ran the first 20 miles with no water. It took a commitment to do that.
I didn’t just so happen to start running 50-mile ultramarathons with only liquids. It was a struggle to get there.
Waking up in the morning and fasting until 7:00 pm wasn’t something I did for fun. The discipline it required was intense.
It took a HUGE step backward, but once I started moving forward, the results were astonishing. My body transformed, I couldn’t believe it. I could now leave my house with ZERO supplies during all my training runs under 31 miles.
Just this past weekend I ran 40 miles with no food or water during a 60-mile training run. I then finished without eating any food.
So unless I’m training for a 100-mile ultramarathon, I’m running on EMPTY.
There are weight loss benefits too. Not only did I cut an extra 15-20 lbs. off my running weight, but a high-fat diet provides more energy throughout your day.
The energy is long lasting, and it’s sustainable, and as long as you have the fat in your body, then it will use it as fuel.
So, are you ready to burn fat as fuel?
Great! But before we dive in, first understand that I am not a certified nutritionist and make no claims to the contrary. Each individual’s dietary needs and restrictions are unique to the individual. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health. This is simply what worked for ME in MY journey as a long distance runner.
What Is Fat Adapted Running?
You may have heard terms like “fat as fuel,” “fat adapted running,” or even “the keto diet” thrown around. But they all refer to a high-fat diet. Although it’s not really a “diet” at all, just a new way of eating.
Remember— it’s not a diet change, but a LIFESTYLE change that’s required. Change the way you eat and change your life FOREVER.
So how does a high-fat diet actually work? What is fat adaptation?
Here is my understanding of the subject and how it was explained to me…
The process of fat adaptation refers to moving your body’s primary energy source from glucose (sugar) to fats. When this occurs, your body stops depending on sugars (carbs) and prefers fat as fuel instead.
Your body becomes far more efficient in burning its own stored fat as fuel and less dependent on sugar. Low sugar in a perfect world means NO sugar crash, NO constant replenishment, and NO sugar addiction.
Just a constant flow of sustainable energy, available to you ALWAYS.
As you can imagine, this comes in handy during periods of prolonged running.
When your body is efficient at burning fat as fuel, you can run longer without needing to refuel because the fuel comes from within. Fat adaptation is the body’s preferred metabolic state.
That’s what our bodies are designed to do. We eat, store fat, and use it for energy later.
Okay, so you may be asking yourself… What about sugar (carbs)?…Shouldn’t runners eat carbs for energy?
Well, to understand better, let’s take a look at a sugar-dependent runner…
The Sugar-Dependent Runner
Runners who depend on sugar are extremely inefficient at burning fat as fuel. So their body’s only other option is to burn glucose (sugar). This makes them reliant on carbs and sugar when they run. And if they run long enough without it, they crash HARD.
So when a runner “HITS THE WALL,” the brain is actually shutting the muscles down in order to conserve sugar for the nervous system. But when you are efficient at burning fat as fuel…there is NO WALL. Your body has plenty of energy to go around.
Here’s the secret…once you can efficiently burn fat as fuel, you tap into a nearly infinite supply of energy. The average body contains a whole lot more fat than it does sugar.
So when you are burning fat as fuel, you are pulling from an enormous energy source. But if you burn sugar as fuel, it burns FAST, and you must replenish regularly.
This explanation is very basic. But I write from experience. From miles and miles of fat burning ultramarathon experience. Between races and training runs I’ve run over 100 ultra distances. If I haven’t experienced something, then I don’t write about it.
So if a runner primarily burns sugar as fuel, they can’t stay in a fasted state without experiencing extreme fatigue. A sugar dependent runner will not be able to benefit from the advantages of fat adapted running. Advantages like more sustainable energy, longer mileage, and healthy weight loss.
This leaves sugar burners with only a few options…and they aren’t pretty: consistently eating, constant hunger, burning more food but less fat, and even poor hormonal balance.
Note: In theory, the body uses both fatty acids (fat) and glucose (sugar) for energy but never at the same time. The type of fuel the body uses is regulated by its hormones (insulin). And hormones in the body are regulated mainly by the food you eat (carbs, fat, protein).
Remember—insulin is produced whenever your blood glucose (sugar) levels extend over a set threshold. Briefly summarized: when insulin is available, you burn glucose. When insulin is unavailable, you burn fat.
Do you feel stuck as a sugar-dependent runner?
Don’t worry…there’s a way out, check out the 7 tips below to learn more.
7 Proven Tips To Become A Fat Adapted Runner
There are many different opinions on fat adapted running, as well as contradictory beliefs. So remember…the following tips are what helped ME transform MY body into a fat adapted runner.
These 7 tips are what I practice to run 31 miles with no food or water routinely.
Please note: You can find all the following tips and more in my new book The Fat Adapted Running Formula: A Step-By-Step Guide For Becoming A Fat Adapted Runner.
1. Cut Out Grain COMPLETELY
If you already know what fat adapted running is then you may have heard the term “low carb running” or “high-fat diet.” But in essence, they all have the same meaning.
When I first started fat adapted running, I wanted to find a few big dominos up front. You know, one or two steps I could initially take that would have the LARGEST impact.
Going grain-free was the first step I took towards becoming a fat adapted runner. In my mind, since carbs turn into sugars, this was an obvious move to make. Although I already did not eat bread or pasta, that meant no more granola, oats, brown rice, rye, buckwheat, and yes… even quinoa.
I understand this may be tough for some, and it’s not required in fat adapted running. As long as you keep your carb intake to a minimum and make sure when you do eat grains they are low-starch, you will be fine.
But as I mentioned, I listened to MY body, and I noticed it responded much better when I eliminated grains in all forms.
Even just given up bread and pasta will make a HUGE difference. It’s easy to take the bread off your sandwiches or eat lettuce wraps. Or take your croutons out of your salad. Or order a side of vegetables instead of pasta.
The problem is most grain products are processed.
So when I eliminated all processed foods from my diet, my fat adapted running reached a new level.
Please note: eliminating all processed foods is not required in fat adapted running…but it certainty accelerated the process for me. And you feel great!
That’s because sugars hide in processed foods and you may not even know it. It disguises itself. It may call itself “high-fructose corn syrup” or “dextrose” or “sucralose.” It’s in your salad dressings, beverages, yogurts, and even in popcorn.
By eliminating grains and processed foods, I was able to reduce my sugar intake significantly. This helped my body find a new way to fuel itself…and that’s where FAT came in.
Game Changer: Eliminate processed foods entirely.
2. Run On An Empty Stomach
Okay, LISTEN UP, I really want you to lean into this one.
In addition to removing grains, this was the MOST effective technique to help me become a fat adapted runner.
Here’s the process:
- Wake up
- Drink a glass of water
- Go Run
There’s a magnificent beauty in simplicity…wouldn’t you agree?
In fact, inside The Fat Adapted Running Formula I provide training programs for running on empty. I still use them today and have run as far as 40 miles without fueling. I provide training programs for 5k, 10k, half-marathon, marathon, and 50k distances.
Click an option below to head on over to Amazon and get started TODAY!
3. Slow Down Your Pace A LOT
It’s essential to slow down your pace considerably as you become a fat adapted runner.
However, this can be discouraging. You feel like you are losing your speed. Or losing ground on your next PR.
Running is about growth and progress, but you feel like you are taking steps in the wrong direction.
But I have a question for you…
Have you ever heard the saying: two steps forward, one step backward?
I know, it may sound cliche, but this couldn’t be any closer to the truth. It’s imperative to keep your body in an aerobic state when becoming fat adapted. The body burns a much greater amount of fat at a lower-intensity.
What’s an aerobic state?
Here’s how I explain in one of my previous articles…
“…First, there is AEROBIC activity. Aerobic literally means ‘with oxygen’ it’s when you exercise at a moderate pace like when you run. When you perform Aerobic activity, you are mainly burning fat as fuel. Your breathing isn’t too heavy, and you can still hold a conversation.
For example, you are performing aerobic activity when you are on a long run. When you run long distance you are actually building your aerobic base. This type of exercise strengthens your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and all other aerobic muscles. It builds your entire running foundation!”
That’s versus ANAEROBIC activity which I explain this way…
“…ANAEROBIC activity, meaning ‘without oxygen’. It refers to exercise at a fast pace. It’s your short bursts of power, like when you run a sprint or lift heavy weights. Anaerobic activity is when you get out of breath and burn sugar primarily as fuel. It’s what gives you power! It’s what gives you speed! It’s what gives you the ability to develop tunnel vision straight to the finish line!…”
So what’s the right amount of aerobic activity for fat adapted running?
At first, I ran at an easy aerobic pace 100% of the time. I was sluggish and tired, and it helped my body adjust to low carb/high fat running.
Then eventually, as my body adjusted, I was able to fine tune it. I now try to run around 85% at an easy aerobic pace, 10% at an edgy groove, and 5% at a fast pace.
But any time my stomach grumbles…or a hill naturally increases my heart rate…or if I’m running too fast for too long…I then immediately fall back into an easy aerobic pace. Eventually, my body adjusts, and I can pick it up again.
Now, if you know me and my running style, you know I do not wear a watch. I’ve been running on feel for a long time, so I’m more in tune with my body than the average runner. However, for those who like to use numbers, it can be done through a heart rate monitor.
Game Changer: Slow down A LOT up hills and once you reach the top take it slow until your heart rate comes back down.
4. Leave The Fuel At Home
During the process of becoming a fat adapted runner, I left home with NO supplies. This way I had no option but to finish without fueling.
I do usually bring a credit in case of emergency; however, when your supplies are close by, it’s much more tempting to hit a store and grab a quick sugary drink.
To help, when I’m running on empty and running by a store on my way home I use a particular mental strategy. It’s similar to a mental strategy I recommend in 6 Mental Strategies To Run An Ultramarathon.
When I run long distances, especially the 100-mile ultramarathon, it’s critical to stay in the present moment. But if I lose that focus, I start breaking the race into sections. Like the race is only as long as the next aid station. Each small victories from aid station to aid station will help take your mind away from the incredibly long distance to the finish line.
So how does this apply when I run with no supplies?
Let’s take an extreme example of when I run 31 miles with no food or water.
When I run 31 miles on empty, and if I’m on the road running by a store, it’s tempting to stop in for a drink.
So let’s say I’m 6 miles away from home, EVERYTHING in my body tells me to stop and refuel. But instead of trying to hype myself up and run past it and push through the last 6 miles, I just change the distance in my mind.
What do I mean by “change the distance”?
Well, I use the same mental strategy as with running aid station to aid station. I break the run up into a smaller section, except in this example, the smaller section is ONLY past the store.
What I do is focus on an object about a half a mile down the road from where I am and then consider that as the only distance I am now running. It doesn’t matter how many miles I have left or how many miles I’ve run already. The only thing that matters is that half mile down the road. That’s all there is and all there ever was.
Sure, it’s a lot less than the 6 miles, and I know rationally I have 5.5 miles to go. But it’s far enough where I’m not willing to turn around and run the extra mile in total. I know it’s only a mile, but when you are running 31 miles with no food or water, you feel every single step in the later stages of your run.
Game Changer: If a store is on the right side of the street, run on the left side and vice versa.
5. Use Fuel Low In Sugar
Now I have to admit, I’m not the best with this one, but I’m getting better. As you now know, I eat and fuel all-naturally. No performance supplements like powders, gels, or sports drinks.
So, naturally, my sugars are low when running. Yes, your body needs sugar when you run, however, it becomes a balancing act during a race of too little or too much. During 100-mile ultramarathons I consume a little too much fruit than I would like.
However, as of late, I do run 50-mile ultramarathons with no food whatsoever. Just this past weekend I ran a 60-mile training run with no food. I can feel my fat burning metabolism at work when I take it to this level.
But how you fuel during a run tends to be a reflection of how you eat outside of running. For example, if you are eating a lot of processed foods and sugary drinks than you probably need a lot of gels and sports drinks when running.
However, if you are an efficient fat burning machine, you could fuel long races with low-sugar foods and keep your energy balanced.
It’s funny, when I’m out, and people see I don’t drink alcohol or eat deserts or bread, they think its a struggle. And I have to admit, at first it was. And even today I still have a few psychological snacking barriers I need to dissolve.
However, what most people don’t understand is it’s not a struggle anymore because the long-term superpower of fat adapted running COMPLETELY outweighs the short-term sugar fix.
Remember—by keeping sugars low you can run with balanced, sustainable energy that last long and you will avoid crashes on race day that are due to excess sugars.
And if you are as passionate about long distance running as I am, specifically ultra running for me, there is no decision to make. Sugar indulgence is not worth its consequences.
And don’t get me wrong, my eating habits are not flawless; however, I make healthy decisions the majority of the time.
Also, keep your post-run alcohol consumption to a minimal. I eventually cut out alcohol entirely because it hurt my progress. Also, ironically enough, the cleaner I ate the more my body rejected it.
Game Changer: If you have to cut out your favorite food or drink to keep your sugar low, replace it with a little fruit to satisfy your sugar cravings. Eat it on an empty stomach so your body can quickly digest it.
6. Practice Intermediate Fasting
Have you ever thought about what the word breakfast means?
Here, look at the word: breakfast
Okay now look at it one more time: break-fast
Yes, two words BREAK and FAST. Breakfast literally means “breaking the fast.” That’s because it’s the first meal of your day. It’s the first meal after a long sleep with no food or water
Intermediate fasting does wonders for expediting the transformation process into fat adapted running.
Again, I’m not saying this is the only way, but it helped me in MY journey in becoming a fat adapted runner. Intermediate fasting was and still is a daily practice of mine. Some days I go until 7:00 pm without eating anything and other days, just a few hours.
However, most mornings I have a few tablesspoons of Udo’s oil and a cup of coffee with no sugar and then fast. Remember—milk and creamer are filled with sugar also. I’ve found that organic liquid stevia which can be bought from a natural food store is an excellent alternative. It’s also a useful tool to wean off the sugar in your coffee or tea.
Either way, intermediate fasting will help with becoming a fat adapted runner more quickly.
Game Changer: Make your longest fast on Mondays since you are more likely to indulge over the weekend. Eat a few handfuls of nuts during the day if needed.
7. Enjoy The Journey
Fat adapted running is a process with no definitive end. It’s not like a race where there is a finish line. As you progress, you notice changes like being able to run further with no food or not craving that piece of cake. You begin to feel more balanced throughout your day.
But in the beginning, fat adapted running can create difficulty. Here’s the problem: for some, without a finish line, the process of becoming fat adapted is discouraging. But you have to trust the process, and most importantly…you must ENJOY THE JOURNEY.
Here’s what I say in How To Run A 100 Mile Ultramarathon With Your Mind:
“When you want to cross the finish line more than you want to be running, you become stressed, and this extra resistance magnifies when running long distances. So make running in the present moment your main focus, not the finish line, and watch the life enter back into your step”
And this holds true when becoming a fat adapted runner. Don’t focus on the end-goal. Try to live in the moment. Stay present.
Just like becoming a long-distance runner, becoming a fat adapted runner takes time. Visualizing the future can improve your life; however, LIVING in the future can ruin it. So when it comes to finding the NOW in your fat adapted running journey, find it, live it, and most importantly…ENJOY it.
For more on mindfulness and fat adapted running, check out “The Glue” chapter of The Fat Adapted Running Formula. I think you will be happy you did.
Let’s Bring It Home
I reached the 100-mile ultra distance before becoming fat adapted. It was just a lot more involved. The insane amount of sugar intake from burning and grinding out mile after mile not only destroyed my stomach, but it drained me mentally.
Now, being able to leave my house with ZERO supplies for any distance under 31 miles is magical. It’s not only convenient, but it provides an increased level of freedom.
And maybe best yet, fasting for the body is food for the soul. When you run on empty, and take it to the limit, you find a deeper connection between yourself and your “higher self.” Running on empty is a constant means of renewing yourself spiritually.
Fat adapted running is a path not only to better your running and to lose weight, but you get in touch with something more profound. You get in touch with something MUCH MORE meaningful.
I know, we all have different beliefs. But whatever your deeper belief is… fasting as a fat adapted runner and pushing it to ultra distances makes you feel more connected. A connection deeper than what you can see, one of universal proportions that can not be verbalized.
As I like to say, during a 100-mile ultramarathon, you run the first 50% with your BODY, the second 40% with your MIND, and the last 10% with your SOUL.
Well, fat adapted running is running while fasted, and fasting strengthens the soul. So when you reach that last 10% as a fat adapted runner you’re now well prepared. That last 10% becomes no longer what you do, it becomes who you are, and you blow through it like you were born to run it.
Welcome to fat adaptation… the fuel for the soul of human endurance…
Remember…When every step of your run begins to feel like the first step of your run…you have mastered fat adapted running.
And don’t forget to use A Fat Adapted Running Formula to make your transformation. It contains training programs for running on empty with each distance in this order: 5k -> 10k ->half-marathon -> marathon -> 50k. Simply determine your starting distance, click an option below, and start training TODAY to work on burning fat as fuel.
And if you haven’t already subscribed to our newsletter for exclusive quotes and content, please enter your email below. Thank you and Live On The Run!