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2:11 – My Carb Intake
4:03 – Losing Fat Adaptation
5:15 – What I’m Going to Try
7:07 – How & When to Know to Cycle Between Keto & Carbs
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What Is Fat Adaptation?
The very low carb, high fat ketogenic diet may provide various health benefits, including increased energy, weight loss, improved mental function, and blood sugar control (1).
The goal of this diet is to achieve ketosis, a state in which your body and brain burn fat as their main source of energy (1).
“Fat adapted” is one of many terms associated with this diet, but you may wonder what it means.
This article explores fat adaptation, how it differs from ketosis, its signs and symptoms, and whether it’s healthy.
What does ‘fat adapted’ mean?
The keto diet is based on the principle that your body can burn fat instead of carbs (glucose) for energy.
After a few days, a diet very low in carbs and high in fat puts your body in ketosis, a state in which it breaks down fatty acids to form ketone bodies for energy.
“Fat adapted” means that your body has reached a state in which it more effectively burns fat for energy. Keep in mind that this effect needs more research.
Reaching a fat-adapted state
To enter ketosis, you normally eat no more than 50 — and as few as 20 — grams of carbs per day for several days. Ketosis may also occur during periods of starvation, pregnancy, infancy, or fasting.
Fat adaptation may start any time between 4 and 12 weeks after you enter ketosis, depending on the individual and how strictly you adhere to the keto diet. Notably, endurance athletes may adapt even sooner.
Fat adaptation is thought to be a long-term metabolic transition to burning fat instead of carbs. Among keto adherents, burning carbs for energy is known as “carb adapted.”
Most people following non-keto diets could be considered carb-adapted, although their bodies use a mixture of carbs and fats. The ketogenic diet shifts this balance to favor fat burning.
Fat adaptation has been seen in endurance athletes who follow the keto diet for up to 2 weeks, then immediately restore carb intake before a competition.
However, fat adaptation in non-athletes has not yet been studied.
Most people burn a combination of fat and carbs, but those on the keto diet primarily burn fat. Fat adaptation is a long-term metabolic adaptation to ketosis, a state in which your body more efficiently metabolizes fat as its main energy source.
How it differs from ketosis
As you enter ketosis, your body begins to draw from its fat stores and dietary fat to convert fatty acids into ketone bodies for energy.
At first, this process is often inefficient. When you’re still in the initial stages of the keto diet, a sudden carb increase can easily throw you out of ketosis, as your body prefers burning carbs.
In comparison, fat adaptation is a longer-term state of ketosis in which you consistently derive most of your energy from fat given your changes in diet. This state is believed to be more stable, as your body has transitioned to using fat as its main energy source.
However, this effect is mostly limited to anecdotal evidence and has not been studied readily in humans. Therefore, fat adaptation as an efficient and stable metabolic state is not currently supported by scientific evidence.
Theoretically, once you reach a fat-adapted state, you can introduce carbs into your diet for short periods of 7–14 days — which allows your body to easily burn fat for energy once you return to a ketogenic diet.
However, most of this effect is limited to speculation or anecdotal reports.
People who might want to pause the keto diet for short periods include endurance athletes who may need the quick fuel that carbs supply, or those simply wanting a short break to accommodate events like the holidays.
Fat adaptation may be particularly appealing for these individuals, as you can reap keto’s benefits shortly after you transition back to the diet.
However, while keto cycling may provide flexibility, its benefits for athletic performance are disputed. Some reports find that it impairs your body’s ability to metabolize carbs in the short term.
Thus, more research is needed on the short- and long-term health effects of this eating pattern.
Fat adaptation is a long-term metabolic state in which your body uses fat as its main source of energy. It’s considered more stable and efficient than the initial state of ketosis you enter upon adopting the keto diet.
Signs and symptoms
Although the signs and symptoms of fat adaptation are primarily based on anecdotal accounts, many people report experiencing fewer cravings and feeling more energized and focused.
The onset of fat adaptation is not well described in scientific literature, though there is some evidence of it in endurance athletes.
While a few studies have shown these effects, they’re limited to a timespan of 4–12 months. Thus, comprehensive, long-term studies on fat adaptation are needed.
Decreased cravings and hunger
Keto enthusiasts claim that decreased appetite and cravings are one of the signs of being fat adapted.
While the hunger-reducing effects of ketosis are well documented, the duration of this state varies from study to study. As such, there’s insufficient scientific evidence to support the notion that fat adaptation definitively reduces cravings.
One study commonly cited by keto enthusiasts involves 20 middle-aged adults with obesity who were placed on a controlled, phased diet for 4 months. It’s worth noting that ketosis in the study resulted from keto combined with a very low calorie diet.
This initial keto phase, which allowed only 600–800 calories per day, continued until each participant lost a target amount of weight. Peak ketosis lasted 60–90 days, after which the participants were placed on diets that incorporated balanced macronutrient ratios.
Food cravings dropped significantly over the course of the study. What’s more, during the 60–90-day ketogenic phase, the participants didn’t report the typical symptoms of severe calorie restriction, which include sadness, bad mood, and increased hunger.
The reason for this is unknown, but researchers believe it could be linked to ketosis. These findings are compelling and warrant further study in larger groups of people.
However, you should keep in mind that extreme calorie restriction can damage your health.
The ketogenic diet was initially devised to treat children with drug-resistant epilepsy. Interestingly, children have a greater capacity to effectively use ketone bodies for energy than adults.
Ketone bodies, particularly one molecule called beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), have been shown to protect your brain. While not entirely clear, the effects of BHB on the brain could help explain the increased focus that long-term ketogenic dieters report.
All the same, more research is needed into this effect and its relationship to fat adaptation.
Some people also claim that fat adaptation improves your sleep.
However, studies suggest that these effects are limited to specific populations like children and teens with morbid obesity or those with sleep disorders.
One study in 14 healthy men found that those on a ketogenic diet experienced increased deeper sleep but reduced rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is important because it activates brain regions associated with learning.
As such, overall sleep may not have improved.
A different study in 20 adults found no significant correlation between ketosis and improved sleep quality or duration (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source).
Thus, further research is necessary.
Though advocates claim that fat adaptation improves sleep, increases focus, and decreases cravings, research is mixed. It’s also worth noting that fat adaptation isn’t well defined in scientific literature. Therefore, more studies are needed.
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4 WAYS TO BECOME FAT-ADAPTED (AND WHY IT’S DIFFERENT THAN KETOSIS)
Ketosis gets credit for a lot of health benefits. Sustainable fat loss, better energy, a razor-sharp mind—the list goes on.
But here’s the thing. If you’re not fat-adapted, you won’t experience most of these benefits.
Being fat-adapted, although a bit technically distinct from “keto-adapted”, means you can effectively use ketones and fatty acids for energy. This allows you to access stored body fat during a fast, and get maximum mileage from a high-fat diet.
I know, the whole ketosis vs. fat-adapting thing is a little confusing. Can’t we just pick one term and stick with it?
Not necessarily. Yes, ketosis and fat-adaptation often operate in parallel. But they aren’t the same. I’ll illustrate with an example.
Take a guy (let’s call him Bill) who eats a Standard American Diet. High sugar, high omega 6, few fruits and veggies—in other words, SAD.
One day, Bill sees an ad for keto pills. (Keto pills are exogenous ketones). The ad promises weight loss, so he buys a bottle. When the bottle arrives, Bill pops a handful of pills, his blood ketones rise, and he’s officially in ketosis.
So, is Bill fat-adapted?
Not even close. As a matter of fact, he’s likely blocking fat-adaptation by taking exogenous ketones. That’s because exogenous ketones are well-documented to lower free fatty acids in the blood.
The truth is, fat-adapting takes time and strategy—not supplementation. Today I’ll cover the basics of fat-adaptation, what benefits you can expect, and how to structure your diet and lifestyle to promote fat burning.
What Is Fat-Adaptation?
Fat-adaptation refers to your ability to convert fat to energy. When you’re fat-adapted, you don’t need a steady stream of carbs (glucose) to power your day. Instead, you tap into a more abundant energy supply: body fat.
This adaptation was an absolute must back in Paleolithic times. In those primal days, our ancestors didn’t have 24/7 food access. When calories became scarce, their fat mass kept them alive, often for weeks on end.
Imagine a fairly lean, 200-pound hunter-gatherer with 10% body fat. Do the math. That’s 20 pounds of fat or over 80,000 calories he’s carrying around!
Let’s talk a little physiology now. The ability to utilize fat depends, in large part, on the hormone insulin. When insulin levels are low—like on a fast or keto diet—body fat is broken apart (via lipolysis) and burned (beta-oxidized) by cells in your liver. That’s what we call fat burning.
Fat burning produces energy—yes—but we can go a little deeper than that. Specifically, when you beta-oxidize fatty acids, you produce a compound called acetyl-CoA, the precursor to your primary energy currency, adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Fatty acid oxidation also generates the ketone bodies beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), acetoacetate, and acetone. These ketones (especially BHB) are then converted to acetyl-CoA, which is converted to ATP via the citric acid cycle.
So that’s how energy (and energy precursors) get made from fat. Interestingly enough, you don’t need to be strict keto to make this happen.
Fat-Adapted But Not Keto?
Earlier you learned that ketosis isn’t always synonymous with fat-adaptation. Exogenous ketones, for instance, shut fat-burning down.
But now you’re probably wondering: can you be fat-adapted but not in a ketogenic state?
Yes you can. Fat-adapted just means you can easily access fat (either dietary fat or body fat) for energy. It doesn’t mean that glucose can’t or won’t get burned. And so having carbs now and then—provided it’s not excessive—is no problem for the fat-adapted enthusiast.
Consider a keto-adapted athlete enjoying a dinner of steak and two large sweet potatoes. The carbs will surely kick her out of ketosis, but by morning, she’ll be burning fat again.
This is an important point. When you’re fat-adapted, you can handle a carb load and rapidly return to burning fat once blood sugar and insulin levels subside.
Benefits of Fat-Adapting
People often attribute the weight loss, stable energy, and performance enhancements of a high-fat diet to ketones. But many of these benefits are due to fat-adaptation. These benefits include:
- Fat loss. Early weight loss on keto is mostly water weight from glycogen depletion. Fat loss, however, won’t commence until you’re fat-adapted. This could take days, weeks, or even months.
Craving control. Compared to carbohydrates, fat fills you up better. High-fat diets reduce hunger hormones like ghrelin and neuropeptide Y, and also enhance the function of leptin,your satiety hormone.
- You need less food. I see this a lot. After fat-adapting, folks naturally adjust to a lower caloric load. Hunger hormones are partly responsible, but the body also gets more efficient at using fat over time. In other words, you need less fat to fulfill the same metabolic needs.
- Steady energy. Being fat-adapted means relying less on sugar, and more on fatty acids, for energy production. Relying on sugar (glucose) is the default state in modern society, but it’s hardly optimal. As blood sugar swings up and down, your energy swings up and down along with it. Dietary fat, on the other hand, has very little blood sugar impact. It’s a more stable energy source.
- Mental performance. When a fat-adapted brain runs on ketones, it creates less reactive oxygen species (oxidative stress) and more ATP compared to the standard, glucose-only brain. It’s like upgrading to a car that drives faster and emits less exhaust.
- Endurance capacity. Back in 1980, Dr. Steve Phinney found that keto dieters lasted longer on a treadmill than high-carb dieters. Why? Because fat-adapted folks use fat as fuel, allowing their muscles to conserve more glycogen. In other words, your reserve tank stays full for longer during endurance exercise.
Okay, let’s get to the practical stuff now. How do you become fat-adapted?
4 Ways To Become Fat-Adapted
Becoming fat-adapted isn’t super complicated. It mostly involves diet and lifestyle factors that are well-within your control. Ready to learn them? Cool.
#1: Eat a low-carb diet
If you want to fat-adapt, you’ll probably need to restrict carbs. The “why” is fairly simple:
- Restricting carbs keeps blood sugar and insulin levels low
- Low insulin signals your liver to start burning fat and making ketones
- Your carb tolerance will depend, among other things, on your activity level. The more active you are, the more carbs you can eat and stay keto-adapted. Less active, less carbs.
The keto diet is the most popular low-carb approach, but it’s not the only way to skin this cat. I often recommend a Paleo-style approach with 50 to 100 grams of carbs per day. Active folks in particular tend to do very well on this regimen.
Whatever you do, steer clear of sugar. Refined sugar is why our species isn’t fat-adapted anymore. But as you’ve probably noticed, sugar is in everything—cookies, sauces, dressings, you name it—so you’ll want to keep a watchful eye on food labels.
#2: Eat more fat
As you decrease carbs, you’ll want to increase dietary fat. It makes sense. Eating fat trains your cells to run on fat.
Plus, dietary fat has a MUCH smaller impact on insulin levels than carbs. This low-insulin state helps you stay in fat-burning, not fat-storage, mode.
And so in your quest for fat-adaptation, you should eat lots of healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, avocados, butter, and animal fat. Somewhere in the range of 50% to 75% of your daily calories. I always caveat this with make sure you’re getting adequate protein. After you dial in protein, use calories from fat as a lever to build, maintain, or lose body mass.
But high-fat doesn’t mean unlimited fat. This narrative that you can suck down fat like a Shop-Vac and still get results just ISN’T TRUE.
Actually, the opposite seems to hold: As fat intake goes up, caloric needs go down. I’ve chatted with Greg Glassman (the founder of Crossfit) about this, and he estimates folks need about 20% less calories on high-fat diets. And it’s not just Greg. My former coaches have also noticed this phenomenon across hundreds of clients.
#3: Try fasting
When you stop eating, your body still needs energy. Where do you think that energy comes from?
Some comes from carbohydrate, but your glucose reserves (glycogen) get used up quickly. The liver and muscles only hold about 500 grams.
What about protein? Well, there’s protein in muscle tissue, but our forebears wouldn’t have lasted long if they lost significant lean mass on a temporary fast. In fact, the ketones produced while fasting protect your muscle mass.
That leaves body fat. Yes, accessing body fat through fasting is a valuable tool in your fat-adaptation toolkit.
If you’re new to fasting, start with a 12 hour daily fast and work your way up as comfort and schedule permit. For more tips on fasting, check out this comprehensive guide.
Exercise alone won’t get you fat-adapted, but it will make the process WAY easier.
Both strength and endurance exercise, in fact, have been shown to increase insulin sensitivity. The more insulin sensitive you are, the faster you resume fat burning after carbs.
High intensity interval training (HIIT)—even just once per week—seems especially potent in this regard. I get my HIIT through jiu-jitsu, but you might get it through sprinting, Crossfit, tennis, or some other modality. Do something you love and it won’t feel like work.
How Long To Fat-Adapt?
Fat-adaptation is a desirable state. It means you can utilize body fat for energy. Super helpful for body composition goals.
But as we wrap up today, you might be wondering: How long does it take to fat-adapt?
There isn’t a simple answer. The truth is, your fat-adaptation-time depends on your genes, proclivity for fasting, dietary choices, and a host of other factors. An athlete may take hours, while a couch potato may take months.
To speed up your fat-adaptation, eat less carbs and more fat, try fasting, and exercise regularly. When you start losing fat mass, craving less carbs, and feeling more stable energy throughout the day—you’ll know it’s working.
According to scientific research, their strength and energy will increase when someone goes on a ketogenic diet.
However, this effect dissipates after some time, and it’s not just because the person has become accustomed to eating fewer carbs – there is something else going on. This gray area between carbohydrate intake (keto) and carb restriction (low carb) can have confusing effects on our bodies. Although it may seem complex at first, understanding how carbohydrates affect our body is quite simple. I’m here to provide you with an easy-to-follow playbook so that you don’t make the same mistakes I am making! In addition, by following my advice, you’ll be able to prevent your Strength & Energy from declining.
When someone restricts their carbohydrate intake to very low levels, they can spare a lot of glycogen. This means that when they return to eating more carbohydrates, the energy needed for activity is readily available from stored carbohydrates rather than from other sources such as fat. However, because I am not strictly limiting my carbohydrate intake like this, I can still experience some benefits of keto and being in a “gray area.” In particular, I do not get the full benefit of staying in ketosis or sparing glycogen – which would be due to consuming very little carbs overall. Although I’m technically doing both things correctly (Keto and Glycogen Sparing), it’s difficult for me because my carb consumption falls within an acceptable range but does not provide the same fitness-related progress as people who consume more carbs without going into ketosis.
I will begin fasting intermittently to improve my fat adaptation and prevent future weight loss setbacks. Additionally, I will shift my diet to a keto-style plan to regain lost fat adaptation. Finally, if needed, I can fast for extended periods (48 hours or more) two or three times per week to restore the metabolic state that optimizes weight loss success.
I’m going to add more carbohydrate rates right after my workout. I’ll try that first and see if that helps me restore more glycogen to get more out of my workout. Right now, my Carbohydrates are spaced pretty evenly throughout the day—fruit, legumes (beans), and lentils. That’s what I eat in terms of carbs split fairly evenly. But next, I’m going to try doing more like 40 or 50 or maybe even 60 grams of Carbohydrates right after a workout; that’s what I suggest you do if you start feeling weaker too.
There’s a good chance it won’t work for everyone, but I would add carbohydrates pre-workout to see if THAT changes things…I feel strong normally when I eat before my workouts either because 1) I am very fat-adapted or 2) Or 3) My blood sugar levels are already low from being in ketosis beforehand. Those situations have a counter effect and make me worse instead of better! So now I understand why so many people who don’t do low carb think it sounds crazy not to have carbs pre-workout: they’re so carb adapted their body assumes everything will be okay without any supplementary fuel during exercise – which usually doesn’t go as planned! Before this didn’t even cross my mind – until recently 🙂
I understand this feeling of greatness is familiar, but I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to depend on carbs for my pre-workout energy. Instead, I would like to get my work done and then shift back onto a ketogenic diet for 60 or 90 days to see if this will help me feel stronger again. This is an excellent real-world example of how listening carefully to what my body tells me can help guide intermittent carbohydrate cycling decisions.
The ketogenic diet is not always the right choice for everyone. When you are on this eating plan, it’s important to stay aware of your body and what signals it sends you when it needs more carbs or fats. If you listen to these cues, you can make informed decisions about your diet and get the best performance possible.
HOW TO SHIFT BETWEEN KETO AND HIGHER-CARB – ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS
To shift between a ketogenic (low-carb) diet and a high-carb diet, it’s important to do so gradually to avoid any adverse effects. Here are some steps you can follow:
- Start by reducing your carbohydrate intake and increasing your fat intake. This will help your body enter a state of ketosis, where it is using fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.
- Once you have been following a ketogenic diet for a few weeks and have achieved ketosis, gradually increase your carbohydrate intake over the course of several days or weeks.
- Monitor your progress using tools like ketone strips or a glucose monitor to ensure that your body is adjusting to the increase in carbohydrates.
- Continue to adjust your carbohydrate intake as needed to find the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein for your individual needs and goals.
It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet. They can provide personalized advice and support to help you safely and effectively shift between a ketogenic diet and a high-carb diet.