Fat vs. Sugar: The Two Kinds of Fuel

a caveman running with a lot energy given by fat and sugar
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Getting our bodies to burn the right kind of energy could be the answer to many health ailments and a key to longevity as well as weight loss.

When the body needs energy, it has the choice of burning fat or sugar. If you’re trying to lose weight, or simply to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it’s a good idea to know the factors that influence that decision.

If the body perceives that it needs to burn energy quickly, it turns to sugar as its fuel of choice. Sugar is readily available; it is present in the bloodstream and in muscles, so it’s easy to access.

Longer-term needs cause the body to burn fat, the body’s equivalent of storage fuel. That’s why exercise gurus say that the duration of physical activity counts as much or more than the activity itself.

Running two miles in ten minutes is impressive, but because it’s such a short amount of time the body burns sugar. Walking three miles in an hour isn’t going to win anyone the race, but it’s also more likely to cause the body to burn fat instead.

The time factor may seem inconvenient for people today. Busy schedules may offer only a small amount of time for exercise, and devoting the time and frequency to train the body to burn fat may be difficult.

Many people would much rather their bodies function in a way that burned fat first and sugar later, since that would help avoid some modern medical issues such as diabetes. But there are good reasons why the order is not reversed.

Back in cavemen times, the need for quick bursts of energy was rare. When the body demanded fast action, it was typically a survival situation. That’s why we still experience the fight-or-flight response today.

What our ancestors really needed was more extended energy, to walk the miles needed to track down game, to find the fruits and vegetables needed for dinner and to endure long periods of little food at all.

Fat was stored in order to provide the human body with the resources required to get the job done in such situations, to add that extra supply of energy for when sugar wasn’t there, food was harder to come by and long distances had to be traveled to get necessary resources.

It was those needs of the cavemen that continue to influence how our bodies process energy today. It’s simply a matter of where human evolution initially led us.

To burn fat instead of sugar, your brain needs to believe that the sugar stores are becoming depleted and it needs to access the fat stores to compensate. This has led to some debate as to what the best approach is.

Some fitness experts argue that it’s better to have a longer workout with less intensity, like an hour-long power walk around the lake. Others advocate a higher-intensity workout that burns more total calories, because the body will need to eventually burn the fat to replenish those calories lost.

Other tips to burning fat include staying hydrated and fueling up beforehand with fruit or whole grains. Replenishing some of what your body loses with a post-workout light snack will also keep metabolism high, which helps burn calories and fat even after the workout is over.

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Rudi Cavemen

RUDI is the storyteller of the tribe. He knows a great many tales about the animal gods. To him, nature is a friend that should be cared for.

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