Learn to Burn

Whether you’re a world class athlete and need to access body fat to efficiently fuel your athletic event; or, you need to lose 5, 10, or even 100 lbs, the proper combustion of fat is essential to your health and performance.

To get through “the wall”, the athlete must access his body fat for energy. Whether it is during the late innings of a game or while running the last miles of a race, glucose—glycogen (carbohydrates) can only take you so far. The proper burning of fat is the difference between success and failure for losing unwanted pounds or setting your own personal record.

Insulin: “The Fat Hormone”

As sweet, starchy foods (High Glycemic Carbohydrates) are consumed, your blood sugar will rise. The body will now secrete insulin to control this. Basically, insulin controls blood sugar by converting sugar to fat and storing it in the body. That’s why insulin is nicknamed “The Fat Hormone”. Hormonally, when you eat a high glycemic (sugar) food, by secreting insulin your body is saying ‘make fat, store fat’. All seems well and good. Blood sugar stays normal, and the tired feeling some feel a few hours after a glycemic meal (bread, rice, macaroni, potatoes, etc.), can be cured with a nap. Not so good, though, when you’re trying to burn fat for energy, or shed those extra pounds. When you are physically active (working out), saying ‘burn fat’, you don’t want to be saying chemically (insulin) ‘make fat, store fat’. At best, you would be an inefficient fat burner.

This summer, I was talking to a tri-athlete who was feeling bad after not performing well at a race. Although he did all the necessary training and felt very good leading up to race day, on the day of the race he ‘just did not have it’. There could be different reasons why this athlete did not perform well that day. Let’s take a possible scenario relevant to the theme of this article.

The triathlon was at 8:30 am. The athlete had black tea and a bagel for breakfast at 6 am; caffeine (a stimulant) and starch (a double sugar). Remember, sugar + sugar = starch. When we eat starch, we eat 2x sugar. That’s right, the bagel is sweeter than a packet of sugar. Assuming our athlete is healthy and normal, his fasting blood sugar at 6 am would have been approximately 85. After eating his stimulating sugar load, the blood sugar would be rising 6 am-8 am. To prevent it from rising too high, the body secretes insulin. Let’s say, by 8 am, his blood sugar has peaked to 115. Now, his body is saying ‘make fat, store fat’ because that’s how insulin controls blood sugar. By 8:30 am, our athlete’s energy level (blood sugar level) drops back to 85. That sounds all right, but here is the problem:

The on-off production of insulin is not instant, like a light switch. Since insulin is a hormone, it takes time for its production to start and to stop. Like the thermostat in your home, if the heat is set at 70º , the furnace fires when the heat is below 70º and turns off when heat reaches 70º. By the time the furnace has switched off, the temperature has already reached 72º. It works similarily with insulin. When blood sugar comes back down to 85, insulin shuts off. By the time the process completes, too much insulin has already been secreted and we pass our mark. Instead of the system returning to the 85 level, blood sugar could drop to 70 or 65. That’s how feedback mechanisms work; that’s how hormones work.

From having a glycemic meal, our athlete ends up with less energy for his race than if he did not eat at all. If you ever want to be flat for a race, just have your blood sugar below fasting level. Maybe, with training we will one day be able to teach our body feed forward regulation: putting in certain amounts of energy at set times to maintain optimal energy levels for performance. (More on this technique in a later article.)

For now, let’s rely on the efficient release of fats, and for that, we must keep insulin at bay. I know, I’ve kept this article at a very basic level just to convey a general understanding. There is also insulin resistance, syndrome x, and metabolic profiles, but that takes us to another level of understanding and is not needed for this article.

What about our friends, struggling to lose 5, 10, or 100 lbs? In this example, let’s set the stage with a low fat diet and high intensity workouts. For some reason, the body is not responding to this with weight loss. Why? A low fat diet sounds like a high carbohydrate diet. Again, insulin could be the problem. Yes, in the end, calories burned greater than calories consumed will lead to weight loss— even on a cupcake diet. But here, we are concerned with health, fitness and the efficient burning of fat. For this, insulin must be controlled.

“If it’s not green, it’s mean plus protein.” What does this catchy little saying mean? When talking about fat burning and weight loss in general, I usually compare fat burning to burning a big log in a fireplace. Put the log in the fireplace and prepare your mind for seeing a thinner you. Remember, what the mind perceives, the body achieves.

Instead of laying the log on the floor, put it on a rack. Quality proteins and good fats will help support your burning process. On the rack, air flows around the log better, for a more efficient burn. That’s it! Get up and get out; fresh air is waiting for you. While you’re outside, add some movement. Mr. Muscle needs to be fed. Want to ignite the log? Get some fire fluid to start the process. The fire fluid of the human body is water. The body burns its fire in water, which is called hydrolysis. Hydration, hydration, hydration! How much? Hydrate until your urine is clear and plentiful, and we’ll take it from there.

Put some twigs, brush, and kindling wood under the big log to get it really burning efficiently. How much kindling wood? The more the merrier, so you end up with pure ash instead of big black pieces of charred wood. The kindling for the human body is low glycemic vegetables. Yes, you can be on a high carbohydrate diet, but it must be low glycemic. How much? The more, the merrier. The word ‘unlimited’ is used; thus, the saying “if it’s not green, it’s mean.”

What happens if the fire gets too hot? Pour some water on the log. If you start losing weight too fast, or reach your goal, increase your glycemic carbohydrates. Want to put the fire out alltogether? Smother it with sugar. But, why would you ever want that?

Let’s recap:

Want to burn fat efficiently—

  1. remove the obvious sweets, cake, pies, cookies, candy, soda, etc.
  2. add fresh air with some exercise for Mr. Muscle3. 
  3. consume quality proteins and the necessary good fats
  4. hydrate—you know how much 
  5. enjoy unlimited amounts of low glycemic vegetables (salad, string beans, broccoli, cabbages, etc….bring it on!)

Follow the above guidelines and ‘learn to burn’.

I juice and I am proud.

*Before undertaking any training or weight loss regimen, it is always best to check with your doctor first.


  • I remember that you used to support the 40 30 30 (or something like that) combination of fats/carbs/proteins a la BetaBar. Is this formula also a part of this discussion? Also, if you can summarize with more examples of “good” fats it would help us better understand how to “burn” fats.

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