When I talk about flexibility, you probably think I am referring to it in the context of yoga, describing someone who is super bendy and can easily touch their toes, or maybe even someone who can go with the flow in life, work and play. But what does it mean to be metabolically flexible?
Our body uses glucose, sugar, for fuel. We also burn fat for fuel. In general our body doesn’t metabolize both glucose and fats for fuel at the same time, unless we are doing intense cardio exercise, but even then is will prefer to burn glucose first. When we are in a sugar fed state we are burning carbohydrates and some protein that has been converted into glucose. When we are in a fat burning state, referred to as ketosis, we are burning fat for fuel.
But what happens when your body isn’t fluent at making the transition between these two fuel supply sources?
Metabolic flexibility is the ability of our body to respond, and often to adapt, to conditional changes in metabolic demand whether by an increased or decreased need for energy, or a change in the type of fuel selection preferred at any given time.1 It is often referred to as the ability to move from a fasting state to a condition of being fed. In our high carb/low fiber American diet with multiple snacks filling the space between meals, we are seeing a rise in insulin resistance which is a key sign that there may be a lack of flexibility of the metabolism to seek its most efficient energy source and move from sugar burning to fat burning.2 This causes the lipids, or fats, to accumulate in the cells since they are not being utilized which drives chronic disease such as hyperinsulimia, hyperlipemia and metabolic syndrome. And it could be the reason you are craving that next high carb snack.
So what are some signs that you may be metabolically inflexible?
If you have not eaten for a few hours do you experience…
- Feeling hangry
- Shaking or trembling
- Heart palpitations
- Irritability, anxiety or moody swings
If you experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis when you don’t have access to that next snack, well – then you may want to assess your metabolically flexibility!
Try changing up your diet to include more fiber, and healthy fats found in avocado, seeds and nuts. Include healthy proteins and avoid highly processed carbohydrates found in breads, pastas and sweets. Maybe explore intermittent fasting or a 5 day fast mimic diet.
Take into consideration that the needs of men and women vary as well given the differences in our hormonal makeup. If you are not sure how to best balance your macronutrients, meet with a nutritionist to discuss your specific needs which are individual and vary depending on your lifestyle, age, energy level and some genetic predispositions.