Not every athlete trains to win a race but most athletes train to maximize the potential of performing well on race day.
While your definition of race day success may be to simply complete the race distance and have fun along the way, there are a great number of athletes who pursue the many possible methods of getting the most out of the body through training, in order to meet performance standards on race day.
One of those popular methods is metabolically efficiency, which in simple terms, means burning fat in order to preserve carbohydrate stores.
As desirable as it sounds to an athlete to become more metabolically efficient, manipulating your diet and fueling strategies in an effort to become a better fat burner is not a requirement to be a better athlete.
The idea of marginal gains lies in the strategy (or method) of trying to gain the 1% competitive advantage. In other words, big successes from a small change.
With lots of confusion on how to properly become "metabolically efficient" or what it means to be metabolically efficient, it's important to stress that metabolically efficiency is much more than one tiny change in your training.
While this concept of metabolic efficiency is not new and there are many scientific truths and notable results in becoming great at burning fat as an endurance athlete, as a Board Certified Sport Dietitian, I don't view this dietary and training strategy as a necessity for all endurance athletes, as it can actually delay athletic development and heighten an already unhealthy relationship with food and the body.
Without proper guidance on how to become "metabolically efficient", it's very easy to assume that not eating before a workout or fueling during a long workout is good so not eating after a workout and restricting food later in the day, is even better.
Metabolic efficiency is not a diet plan - it's a sport nutrition strategy that may take your performance to the next level, but it is not a requirement. And due to athlete non-compliance, results are often positive and extreme in the beginning but do not last long term.
I my opinion, for the majority of athletes, I see "metabolic efficiency" as a method that provides marginal gains and has more cons than pros.
Whether you want to become more efficient at conserving glycogen or you look to burning fat as a way to remove unwanted body fat and lean up, it's important to remind you that your success as an athlete starts with nailing the fundamentals.
This post is not to disagree with the concept of metabolic efficiency but instead, to encourage you to nail the basics before following a more extreme dietary and training methodology.
You must make smart choices with your daily diet and training regime in order to stay consistent with training while keeping your body in good health.
Eating a small banana with a smear of nut butter before a 90 minute run and consuming 150 calories of a sport drink and 20 ounce water spread over a 90 minute run may not fit the metabolic efficiency fueling standards but it will help you have a great workout and will likely keep your immune system strong during a time when it's very easy to get sick (sick = no training = loss of fitness).
Not eating before a workout or not fueling during a long workout will not help you gain the competitive edge if your training methods are haphazard, you don't sleep well, you have poor coping skills when it comes to stress, your daily diet is inconsistent, unbalanced and you have an unhealthy relationship with food and the body.
Although it sounds extremely sexy to say that you are "metabolic efficiency training", the truth is that most athletes (even the elite ones) still have a lot to gain from continuing to nail the basics and progressing on with the developmental process, than simply restricting carbohydrates around workouts or performing workouts in the fasted state (as these are the two ways that I hear of athletes performing "fat burning" workouts).
It isn't until you have maximized your fundamental athletic capabilities that you will need to search for and attempt that one ethically safe way to gain the competitive edge.
Perhaps at that time, metabolic efficiency training can be the choice method for achieving the 1% advantage over your competition.
BUT.....until then, you haven't yet reached the marginal gain status of your athletic career.
Until then, make sure your daily diet strategies do not reduce the effectiveness of your training and above all, do not sabotage your overall health.
If you do feel as if metabolic efficiency is necessary in your training, consult with a sport dietitian who is specializes in the area.
If you consult with me on the topic, you better believe that I will dive deep into your lifestyle choices, training methods, sport nutrition practices, dietary patterns and relationship with food and the body to discuss the many ways that you are not getting the most out of your body as an athlete.
For the majority of athletes that I work with, the missing link as it relates to body composition struggles and nutrition issues in training and on race is not because athletes are not metabolically efficient but because there is a clear limiter in the daily diet or sport nutrition regime...most common reasons include; an unhealthy relationship with food and the body, not using sport nutrition products properly (timing/quantity), poor nutrient timing or consistently not planning healthy and balanced meals.
From my experience in working with athletes, I encourage you to get to the truths of your daily diet and training regime before assuming that working out in the fasted state is the missing link that when accomplished, will improve your health, improve your body composition or improve your performance.
Now is the perfect time to learn how to make great daily nutrition habits as you follow a well laid training regime to keep you consistently training throughout the holiday season.