Is the title somewhat deceiving? Well, I’ll be upfront and tell you now that downing a concoction of chocolate milk and coconut oil is not going to help you shed any weight, unless we’re talking about diarrhea. And we’re not talking about diarrhea.
So what am I talking about? Two major concepts I want you to understand: a) the glycogen resynthesis period (otherwise known as the anaBROlic window), and b) carnitine palmitoyltransferase I (CPT-1). Big words, yes, but important nonetheless. What both of these concepts have in common is that they are your answer for burning fat when you normally cannot. In this first part of the series, I will explain the first concept in depth. In the next part, I will go over the second and tell you why coconut oil is so damn great.
An easy breezy physiology review
Fat loss physiology
Losing fat is a two-stage process: first we must mobilize fatty acids (remove them from the fat cell), and then we must oxidize them (send them into the mitochondria to be burned and ultimately used for energy). The first does not necessarily lead to the second, because we can always re-esterify fatty acids, which means we reincorporate them into the fat cell. For this reason, I recommend practicing caution whenever you hear a claim that some food or some diet increases fat mobilization, because this is not synonymous with fat loss.
When we consume carbohydrates, special cells in the pancreas secrete the hormone insulin. Among a myriad of other consequences, insulin release inhibits fat oxidation. This makes sense, because it is a strong signal to the body that “we have incoming glucose, so we do not need to keep burning those precious fatty acids for energy.” Like most biochemical mechanisms, this is great for primal human survival but terrible for dieting. (As an interesting side note, the same guys and gals with the genetic “gift” of easily losing fat would’ve been the first to die off 10,000 years ago, when entire weeks without food required readily stored body fat for a continued source of energy.)
At the same time, you may have heard that insulin plays an important (though not technically essential) role in muscle-building. Its primary objective is to shuttle glucose into cells of the body. When it is sent into myocytes (muscle cells), this happens via a channel called GLUT-4. This is how we get the muscles the energy to contract hard, and it is also how we begin the process of glycogen storage. Interestingly, though muscles are mainly built through an increase in actual fiber (cell) size, when we routinely fill them with glycogen, it is not unlike routinely filling the stomach with food. The message is, “Hey, muscles, we need room for all this glycogen we need to store. Go get bigger or something.”
Post-workout chocolate milk
This brings us to the most God tier post-workout food, chocolate milk. Not only does it contain a good deal of sugar (to promote insulin secretion), the dairy protein is famously insulinotropic (promotes insulin secretion as well), the amino acid profile is great for building muscle, and it tastes great to boot.
But now we're conflicted, right? Insulin shuts off fat oxidation, which is bad. But it also builds muscle, which is good. Well, after an intense session of resistance training (the kind of serious lifting that goes on at the TrueFN studio), we will have depleted glycogen to a certain extent (this especially occurs througher higher repetition - or slower contraction - training), and for a period after the training bout, we will preferentially store incoming glucose as muscle glycogen. This period is known as the glycogen resynthesis period, but you may know it better as the anabolic window. To clear the air, I’m sorry but the supplement companies are toying with you when they make erroneous claims about needing to get carbs within 30 minutes of your workout. The resynthesis period is peaked for around 2 hours but continues on a small-grade level for almost 24 hours after the bout. You’re going to be fine if you don’t eat carbs right after, but it is pretty advantageous.
You don’t need me to tell you that this is the perfect combination - super-insulinotropic chocolate milk and glycogen-depleted muscles screaming for a refill. While glycogen is depleted, the body has turned to stored fat for energy (aka we're losing fat).
Word of caution
Keep in mind this is all a matter of amounts. If you are only moderately “exercising” for 30 minutes, you likely will not have depleted enough glycogen or elicited enough of an endocrine response (think testosterone, cortisol, growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, etc.) to keep insulin from shutting off fat burning. As well, if you are consuming a disproportionately large bolus of carbohydrates, you will fill out muscle and liver glycogen stores and the rest will just go towards fat accumulation (not necessarily fat conversion).
What defines disproportionately large? According to nutrition wizard Lyle McDonald’s speculations, it should take around 100 to 150 slow reps or 150 to 240 faster reps per bodypart to fully deplete glycogen. Do not base your training around this, though. It is a theoretical model, but it can be used to get a better understanding of the degree to which training stimulus and glycogen resynthesis are related.
The next article in this series will look at the similar, yet importantly distinct, story involving coconut oil and CPT-1. Drink your chocolate milk and stay tuned!