Switch from a Sugar Burner to a Fat Burner

Let's start at the basics: human's have white and dark meat too

Before I talk about diet, I want to start at ground level on sugar and fat burning. That is, which muscles they each feed. This will help you better understand the connection between diet, movement, sugar cravings, and fat burning.

When most people think of aerobic exercise they think anything that gets the heart rate up: running, biking, spin classes, Jane Fonda. If you press the question of aerobic versus anaerobic, some people would guess it has to do with oxygen. But to what extent? Is it just when you push yourself to be completely out of breath via sprinting? Or hefting a load of laundry up 5 flights of stairs to your apartment? 

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Honestly, learning the difference between the two is the best thing you can do for your body and becoming a stronger, healthier person. And it’s probably not what you think.

I’m going to start by having you imagine a chicken. Chickens have both dark meat and white meat. The dark meat is more delicious since it stores the fat of the bird (the energy, if you may), and it’s also much less chewy, stringy, and “brittle”. You know what I mean, when you take a piece of cold turkey breast out of the fridge you could snap it in half. I'll explain why this is important later.

Ok, back to people. Humans also have the same two different types of muscle fiber: red and white. But instead of birds, our own muscle fibers are woven together throughout each of our muscles, so both red and white are woven into a tapestry throughout our bodies. 

What’s really interesting is that each of the two muscle fibers behave incredibly different, and even require a different energy source. Here’s the break down:

 A microscopic view of your muscle 

A microscopic view of your muscle 

Red: Known as “aerobic” muscle fiber because burns fat for energy (think a simmering stove or coal fire), a complex process which requires oxygen. They’re also known as slow-twitch muscles because of their relatively slow contraction, but they’re also the muscle fiber that gives your body a strong frame. These guys are the ones continuously holding you up in your joints, feet, and structure.  They are not easily fatigued and in fact can go for days without cutting out. — think of the chicken, their dark meat is in their legs so they can walk around all day without tiring.

White: Know as “anaerobic” fibers because these fibers quickly burn (think explosion) sugar for fuel and doesn’t need oxygen. These puppies contract 3x as fast as their red counterpart which allow you to sprint fast, fight strong, or do any fight-or-flight activity … even stress. If you’re pushing yourself to your limit (even if you’re not going fast, per say), you’ll be tapping into this muscle fiber. They are easily fatigued and can really only push 30 seconds to 1 minute.— think of the chicken, their white meat is in their breast and wings since they only fly when they feel in danger.

Both systems will be working inside you all the time, although the percentage will differ. The problem arises in the question: which system do you predominantly use?

Are you a fat burner or a sugar burner?

This is the question that changed my life. I had focused so long on my healthy inputs (ie food) that I wasn’t paying much attention to my outputs (ie exercise). You can be eating really healthy and making gains, but if you’re always pushing your white muscles fibers to react you’re going to be constantly craving sugar, getting injuries, feeling tired, and even getting sick.

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It’s not that white muscle (anaerobic) behavior is evil, it’s that many of us have come to rely on it as our predominant system used and the only one we feed. We are constantly revving it up by doing activities like the high intensity workouts, by pushing ourselves too fast or too far, by trying to outcompete others, or even by the simple stresses of daily life -- Yes, your body will react the same way to stress as it does by sprinting 100 yards, by tapping into the “fight or flight” response of your white muscles fibers. That means if you’re running from a lion or stressing over your job, the same system is going to be used. (learn about minimizing stress here)

As our busy lives push us to overdevelop our anaerobic system, our body responds numerous ways — the most obvious one perhaps being a constant craving for sugar as fuel for this type of energy production. And as I said before, this energy can’t be stored (you store fat, not sugar), so you will need to eat often to keep your energy up. Check in, are you starving when you wake up in the morning? Do you get shaky after a few hours of not eating? Do you always need to have food available to you for when hunger suddenly strikes? Is “hangry” (hunger + angry) a word you often use to describe yourself? Have you had bulletproof coffee and only felt sluggish after and wondered how the heck is this stuff supposed to be human rocket fuel?

These are all symptoms that your body is relying on sugar to constantly fuel you, meaning you’re anaerobic system is overdeveloped and you probably have…

Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome (ADS)

You can be a couch potato, a moderate athlete, or even a highly trained athlete and still have ADS. It’s not choosy. “ADS occurs when the aerobic system is not well developed and maintained, and the body only has the anaerobic system to depend on for energy, movement, and physical support” (Maffetone). More or less, use it or lose it.

You can develop ADS easily in our culture, but the most common culprits are

  1. Not enough aerobic activity: not moving enough in general throughout the day, and /or not performing correct aerobic exercise (which is an easy formula! I’ll explain it later on)
  2. Too much anaerobic activity: high intensity workouts or chronic stress.
  3. Also can be prompted by carbohydrate intolerance and low-fat diets, i.e. you’re only fueling your anaerobic system. 

Symptoms include:

  • Physical and mental fatigue - general lack of stamina
  • Chronic physical injuries - do you constantly hurt yourself when you start exercising more?
  • Hormonal imbalance -  check
  • Excess storage of fat - especially in the belly
  • Reduced immune function - do you get colds, sinus, ear infections etc a lot?
  • Exercise intolerance - do you feel worse after your workouts, more fatigued or lethargic?
  • Poor circulation - if you’re not using half your muscle fibers, then half of your muscle isn’t getting blood

How Increasing your Aerobic Base with Help your Endometriosis

  • Increase your circulation which allows oxygen and nutrients in, debris and toxins out. More on that below
  • Aid in your chronic fatigue
  • Build your mitochondria - the little energy makers our cells need for vitality.
  • Make you a fat burning machine - that bulletproof coffee will finally acts like human rocket fuel because your body will be efficient as using fat as fuel. Similarly, you can significantly reduce the amount of carbohydrates you consume and feel incredible energy as you up your fat intake. 
  • Turn off your sugar addiction
  • Heal blood sugar issues or hypoglycemia you may have developed.
  • Return your stamina, whether mental or physical
  • Help your brain function better! 

If you think of aerobic activity as a necessity to live, just like vitamin C, then you can see that having a deficiency can affect you just like any other. And, like vitamin deficiencies, you can get rid of ADS with the correct inputs. It just means you need to start re-training your aerobic system to perform in place of your anaerobic to build a strong aerobic base.

How to build your Aerobic base

Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest a nuts workout here. Quite the contrary. In order to build an aerobic base you need to do low-intensity activities that taps into your slow, fat burning system. Like? Like walking, the miracle movement that pretty much helps every endo-body out there. Of course you could also include any activity really - running, biking, swimming, kickboxing - as long as you keep the intensity low, which you can expect to be a challenge at first. Here's how you know what's too intense:

The Maffetone 180 formula

This is the formula to find your maximum aerobic heart rate. What is that? It’s the rate when your body switches from aerobic to anaerobic activity, or when you start relying on sugar instead of fat, or when you turn your fight-or-flight response on. It’s the number of beats you don’t want to let your heart go over.

  1. Take your age and subtract it from 180. 
  2. Now modify based on the following
    •  If you have or are recovering from a major illness or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
    • If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.
    • If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems in (a) and (b), keep the number (180–age) the same.
    • If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems in (a) and (b), and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

For example, I’m 31 and in good health now, so my number is 149 (180-31, no modifications). When I started 18 months ago at age 30, I subtracted an extra 10 for endo, allergies, poor immune function, and chronic injuries, so it used to be 140.

Once you find this magic number you have to monitor yourself while exercising to make sure you don't go above it. The best way to do that is to get a heart rate monitor. DO NOT USE the Fitbit watches, they have been shown time and time again to be inaccurate when reading your heartrate (plus I heard they can make people become obsessive compulsive ... talk about extra stress!). No, best by far is a traditional loop-around-the-chest HR monitor. You can buy either the watch kind (more expensive) or ones that sync with your iPhone and an app. (I this one and it works great). If you’re not keen on spending the money right now, you may be able to generally guess this rate by nose breathing while you move… if you feel like you need to breathe through your mouth, slowwwww down until you can comfortably nose breath again.

Depending on your level of fitness it may not be a problem to stay below this heart rate, or you might be an exercise junkie and feel so slow that you want to kill yourself. Either way, the interesting thing is thus: as you build your aerobic base you’ll be able to go further and faster without raising your HR to its limit. For me, when I started jogging at my Maffetone HR it felt nice and mellow, but I couldn’t run up hills without walking because my HR would soar. So I jogged slowly and walked up hills. As the weeks progressed, I noticed I was running miles faster and that I could slowly jog the hills without stopping. After a few months, I was cruising at a pretty fast pace for me without getting near my HR limit. I was watching my aerobic base strengthen without my usual onslaught of injuries. So if you're either dying at the slow pace or craving your fast pace again, give it time. You'll be up to speed in no time.

OF COURSE, Remember Your Warm up and Cool Down

It all starts with a warm up and cool down phase, which Dr. Maffetone calls an "aerobic bonus" but of course I want to cycle back to circulation so I call it a "circulation bonus". The more you understand circulation and it’s importance to your endo the more power you have to increase it.

Each phase should be from 10-15 minutes that you slowly raise your heart rate to your maximum aerobic threshold. So if your HR when you start is resting around 80, you want to run at 139, you’re going to start by walking, then walking fast,  then maybe a very very slow jog, to a jog, until 10-15 minutes later you’re at 139. This is very different than a traditional warm up to get you immediately huffing and puffing and here’s why: you want to turn your circulation on.

How Aerobic Base Training Increases the Right Kind of Circulation

Have you seen a river basin before? They’re beautiful. And they look just like your circulatory system does when it’s well developed. Your arteries are like the huge river, and all the capillaries are the rivulets that fork off, bringing water and life without blowing out the natural landscape. If you imagine your circulatory is the same way, you want your arteries to slowly bring blood to your muscles, and then have them pool into the capillaries, feeding all your muscle fibers and bringing oxygen while taking away debris and toxins. That’s what your circulation does! So if you speed on up to your max HR you’re creating more of "garden hose at full blast" style circulation, forcing blood into your arteries like an explosion that doesn’t allow it to slow down enough to feed into the little capillaries and nourish the rest of your body.

 Great circulation allows blood to saturate your muscle surface evenly and thoroughly

Great circulation allows blood to saturate your muscle surface evenly and thoroughly

 poor circulation is like a water chute that explodes blood through your arteries without allowing it to properly oxygenate the muscle.

poor circulation is like a water chute that explodes blood through your arteries without allowing it to properly oxygenate the muscle.

Same for the cool down. You want to allow your blood ample time to slowly pack up and leave your muscles. Not only will this make your circulation function better, you’ll also be less sore, have more energy, and have increased aerobic performance.

Even if you only have 30 minutes, it’s better to warm up to your HR then immediately start the cool down rather than rush your body. Especially as you just start working to strengthen your aerobic base.

Lastly, if you're plodding along no where near your aerobic threshold do not force yourself to get there! Listen to your body and only do what you can. You're getting all the aerobic benefits by staying below that number, even if it's way below.

The time it takes to establish a solid aerobic base will depend on where you’re at now, but be open to giving it 3-6 months. That’s 3-6 months without going over your aerobic threshold, so be patient with yourself if you’re either starting from scratch, or used to being the fastest in the pack.

Remember, this goes hand in hand with your diet

You can't build your aerobic system property without fueling it properly. This isn't the nutrition section, but I must reiterate: You must eat fats, good fats, and cut out the processed carbohydrates in your life. Without fuel in the form of fat, your aerobic system can't function properly, so make sure you're getting plenty of the following nutrient-rich traditional fats that have nourished healthy population groups for thousands of years:

For Cooking: These fats stand up to high heat

  • Grass-fed/pastured Butter 
  • Tallow and suet from beef and lamb
  • Lard from pastured animals
  • Chicken, goose and duck fat
  • Coconut oil

For Salads: these fats don't do well with cooking at high temperatures

  • Extra virgin olive oil (also okay for cooking at lower temperatures)
  • Expeller-expressed sesame oils
  • Expeller-expressed flax oil 

For Supplement

  •  Fermented or extra virgin cod liver oil from a quality source (different from fish oil type vitamins that can cause an overdose of unsaturated fatty acids, can be replete with additives and heavy metals, and usually come from farmed fish) I like this one

BANNED FATS: Sorry for the bold, but I'm seroius. These veggie oils are seriously bad for you. The following industrial fats may significantly increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, immune system dysfunction, sterility, learning disabilities, growth problems and osteoporosis:

  • Liquid vegetable oils such as soy, corn, safflower, cottonseed and canola. Most restaurants use these because they're so cheap, and so do prepackaged condiments, baked goods, and snack foods, so be aware how much you unknowingly consume.
  • Margarine or other fake butters, all hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils

**If you still have a fat-phobic mind, make sure you continuously remind yourself about how fats are healthy, and fat in your mouth does not equal fat on your frame. If you have a fat burning body indeed you can plan on shedding excess pounds.

More Information

This is a novice crash course on what Dr. Maffetone's life work, of which he has devoted numerous books, website, podcasts, and research. So if you like what you’re hearing I highly recommend you read his books or even just check out his site. Here are 2 links to help you on your way

Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome

The 180 Formula

Disclaimer: 

I am not a dietitian, doctor, or medical professional, this site is solely for guidance and information to give people more information to make an informed decision about their own bodies best treatment plan. It’s a source of information that helped me put my own endometriosis in remission, and information I wanted to share for anyone else it might help on their journey.