Mike Giardina sits down with Thomas DeLauer at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games to discuss metabolic optimization. DeLauer is a nutrition and business performance coach who has 3.2 million YouTube subscribers and has helped military special operations, law enforcement, and firefighters develop both metabolic and brain optimization.
DeLauer defines metabolic flexibility as being able to utilize fats and carbohydrates effectively and efficiently, but also being able to switch between fuel sources quickly based on the body’s demands. Metabolic flexibility is something we are biologically built with, he explains, but it can still be optimized.
Some of the biggest negative impacts on metabolic flexibility are overeating both fats and carbohydrates — especially those that are processed — sedentarism, and a lack of resistance training appropriately paired with metabolic conditioning.
Nutrition and exercise are key components in becoming more metabolically flexible. Utilizing a ketogenic diet, fasting, or other low-carbohydrate protocols can be effective, but they aren’t the only way to optimize metabolism. In fact, staying low carbohydrate too long can actually decrease metabolic flexibility, he explains. In this scenario, the athlete becomes efficient at using fat for fuel, but becomes inefficient at using carbohydrates. You don’t want to be a one-trick pony, warns DeLauer. One way to increase metabolic flexibility without long-term carbohydrate restriction is to train in a glycogen-depleted state. This could be accomplished by eating a low-carbohydrate dinner and training fasted in the morning.
Athletes could also experiment with switching between low- and higher-carbohydrate diets, DeLauer explains. When working on improving endurance, a low-carbohydrate diet might be a perfect fit, while a higher-carbohydrate diet might be more appropriate when training at much higher intensities, strength training, or when increasing overall volume.
It should be noted that these types of nutritional N=1 experiments should be performed by athletes who have a solid nutritional baseline. CrossFit recommends eating meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. This alone can have dramatic impacts on health and performance. To optimize health and performance, athletes should keep intake to levels that support exercise and not body fat. Spending time eating quality foods in the right quantities is the best bang for your buck. Then athletes can start experimenting with partitioning macronutrients around workouts, fasting, and other nutritional tactics. ”