As with any concept that is different from the norm or strays from research standards, metabolic efficiency has certainly had some challenges in terms of understanding. It gets a bit frustrating when I, the creator of the concept, hear the blatant misconceptions or inaccurate interpretations that other individuals have with metabolic efficiency. And so, here are a few things to think about as you hear these pop up from time to time in conversation with others or on the internet…
- Metabolic Efficiency is not a diet nor is it low carb. Let me say it again, metabolic efficiency is not low carb! For goodness sake, if I had a dime for every…well, you know where I am going with that. Metabolic efficiency is a lifestyle implementation strategy that uses the concept nutrition periodization (another nutrition concept that I created in 2003) to adjust nutrient levels in individuals as their health and performance goals change. The most accurate term when trying to describe metabolic efficiency is “controlled carbohydrate”. You do not have to be in nutritional ketosis to enjoy better blood sugar control. In fact, I would argue it is extremely difficult to live in nutritional ketosis long-term, especially if you are an endurance athlete. So, drop the misconceptions and look to control, ebb and flow your carbohydrate intake as your exercise program changes.
- Where is the peer-reviewed research data? Yeah, I get this one all the time. Where is it? It’s in the journals so go look! As you just learned, the basis of adopting the metabolic efficiency concept is controlling carbohydrates (and thus protein and fat). There is a slew of peer-reviewed research data that supports controlling carbohydrates on the performance benefits for athletes but also the positive health improvements (better blood lipids, decreased risk of metabolic syndrome, some cancers, obesity, etc.). Hey, if you don’t believe me, take a gander at the 55 references (all from scientific journals) in the back of my Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching your Body to Burn More Fat book. Or better yet, do a PubMed, Medline or Google Scholar search. Or maybe, just maybe look at the work Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney have done. Just sayin’…there’s not a shortage of data any longer.
- I have to eat low carb to be metabolically efficient. Hey, did you read #1? Seriously though, there are 5 different dietary strategies that will improve metabolic efficiency. Is low carb one of them? Yes. But there are four others also. Do you want to know an interesting secret? There is no conclusive definition of low carb. There is for nutritional ketosis but not low carb. If you lower your daily carbohydrate intake, guess what? You are controlling your carbohydrates and as long as you manipulate your protein and fat intake, you will improve your metabolic efficiency.
- But the performance research studies say there is no benefit to low carb. As I enjoy a chuckle, I should mention that 1) there is benefit but you can’t just read the conclusions of these studies and 2) aside from Jeff Volek’s new study (FASTER study), there hasn’t been research done on truly "low carb" individuals. Carbohydrate researchers have tried but have not done such a good job in the past (most of the subjects on “low carb” still consume about 3 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight…which is not low carb). Granted, it could be lower carb for that person but as a whole, it is not fair to label it as low carb. In fact, one of the research studies I present and dissect in my Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist Level I certification course highlights the need to actually read these studies and not jump to the conclusion. As I recall, this study reported no performance improvement of a “lower carb” diet. Looking at the results, the fat adapted group actually rode 1.3 miles farther than the higher carb group (and this was during a 1-hour time trial after a 4 hour moderate intensity ride so don’t try to use the low intensity excuse). Oh, and did I mention the lower carb group had an average power output that was 11% greater than the high carb group? Yeah, as an endurance athlete myself, I would take that any day in a competition!
Okay, I think that’s a good start to help you understand just a fraction of what is really happening behind the scenes. My team at eNRG performance are continually developing the implementation strategies and testing methods to help everyone understand this concept better. And, if you hear of someone not fully grasping the metabolic efficiency concept, feel free to pass along my contact information to them. I’m happy to help educate!