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Are You a Fat Burner or a Sugar Burner?

Posted 12/13/2016 by UHBlog

Do you need to rev up your metabolism? We can help.

Are You a Fat Burner or a Sugar Burner

Metabolically speaking, there are two types of people – fat burners and sugar burners. Sugar burners, who generally store fat in their midsection, tend to prefer carbohydrates, which their body then burns for energy, while fat burners rely on a high-fat, high-protein diet.

“Eventually, (a fat burner’s) body will produce ketones, a fat derivative, which becomes the primary source of fuel,” says performance dietitian Katy Meassick, MA, RD, LD/N, CSSD.

You might think being a fat burner is preferable, but that isn’t necessarily so. Instead of burning off body fat, fat burners burn off fat from the food they eat. Further, research shows that both fat burners and sugar burners who try to lose weight do so at the same rate. However, the type of burner you are can have an effect on your fitness level.

“It depends on your overall energy needs,” Meassick says. “If you’re a long-distance runner or high-level athlete, you need carbs (sugar) for fuel to make sure your muscles have enough energy to continue your activity at the highest level. But research also shows if you eventually become a fat burner, your body will eventually adapt and burn fat.”

Experts disagree on whether – or to what extent – genetics, stress, physical activity level or overall diet can indicate if a person is a fat burner or a sugar burner. However, an athlete’s preferred fuel can be determined by measuring what is called VO2max, which, in turn, produces a respiratory quotient (RQ).

“If the athlete’s RQ is 1.0, they are using 100 percent carbohydrate (sugar),” Meassick says. “As it decreases, fat becomes the fuel source. If the athlete’s RQ is .71, this is the point where fat is burned for fuel.”

Meassick, who helps Cleveland Browns players refine their diets as a means of improving athleticism, says it’s generally better to be a sugar burner because sugar (carbohydrates) is the body’s preferred source of fuel. However, she points out, a fat-burning diet can be beneficial for epileptic children.

Some experts say it’s more common for sugar burners to become hungry, tired and irritable several hours after a meal. But Meassick says that’s likely due to a dip in blood sugar and can happen to anyone who goes longer than four hours without food or whose last meal didn’t include fiber or protein. To combat the lull in energy, she recommends protein-rich snacks and meals that incorporate both whole grains and protein.

In choosing carbs, sugar burners should remember that whole grains and complex carbohydrates provide more nutrition than refined grains. Meassick recommends passing over the white bread and fries in favor of whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, turnips and other root vegetables.

Those hoping to switch to a fat-burning diet shouldn’t load up on steak and bacon without seeking guidance.

“Talk to a physician or registered dietitian to make sure you’re safe in the way you’re doing it and that the meal plan is conducive to maintaining overall health,” Meassick says. “You don’t want to miss essential nutrients.”

Katy Meassick, MA, RD, LD/N, CSSD, ATC is a performance dietitian with University Hospitals, Cleveland Browns. You can request an appointment with a dietitian or any other University Hospitals healthcare professional online.

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