Eat fat to lose fat? It may sound contradictory. But by plotting your diet as scrupulously as the Los Angeles Lakers' game rotations, you can take control of your body's fat-burning power, said Director of the Lakers PRO Nutrition Program, Dr. Cate Shanahan, in an April 5 podcast.
Dr. Cate talked with podcast host Ben Greenfield about her research on how a high fat, low carb diet can transform the body's fat-burning mechanisms to use stored fat for energy. She is the author of "Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food" (click for details) and "Food Rules: A Doctor's Guide to Healthy Eating."
Whether you're a professional athlete or a desk-bound data processor, Dr. Cate emphasizes that cutting carbohydrates is critical to health and weight loss. Rather than stress about counting calories, she puts the emphasis on eating high quality protein (think grass-fed beef) and boosting fats.
But just as not all calories are created equal, Dr. Cate says that not all fats should be consumed. In particular, she recommends avoiding trans fats while enjoying whole dairy such as eggs and butter. In addition, she recommends eating more vegetables than fruits.
When it comes to animal protein, Dr. Cate advises preparing poultry, fish and meat with natural ingredients. For example, use olive oil rather than reduced fat substitutes such as low-cholesterol spreads.
Many people translate "food as fuel" as meaning that athletes should eat more carbohydrates. In reality, however, says Dr. Cate, fat is the ideal energy source.
The popular Paleo diet emphasizes avoidance of processed foods. Dr. Cate agrees with that concept, and she emphasizes the importance of being aware of your food's origins, such as grass-fed beef and wild fish.
And by feeding your body the right food, says Dr. Cate, you can train your body to burn fat. In contrast, consuming the high carbohydrate diet traditionally prescribed to athletes, and you are at risk of inflammation as well as weight gain and diabetes.
As far as her work with the Lakers goes, Dr. Cate recently talked about it in an NBA interview.
It's been incredible to witness what happens when you take an athlete eating the standard high-carb, low-nutrition diet and give them what their bodies really need. With the genetics these guys have, this is the best possible situation for showing what a diet can accomplish.
Tim DiFrancesco, Head Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Lakers, is such a believer that he regularly posts diet notes on his Twitter account, even re-tweeting gourmet magazine posts such as "Lamb chops grilled (or pan-seared) with lemon and thyme are surprising in their simplicity."
And the team agrees. Dr. Cate has educated them on the merits of their new diet, and they carefully "avoid sugar, processed foods and unhealthy oils – vegetable, canola, corn and other chemically engineered cocktails," according to CBS Sports.
"She's not pushing supplements on us," Lakers point guard Steve Nash said. "It's all natural foods. There's nothing processed; nothing unnatural. ... Although it is a bit of an extreme diet compared to the traditional diet, what works in its favor as far as a safeguard is that it is a natural diet."
And Dr. Cate isn't the only one who advocates high fat low carb diets for athletes. Steve Phinney is a physician-scientist who has devoted three decades to researching diet and exercise. He's the co-author of "New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great" and "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable."
But Phinney says that athletes appealed to him for something specific to their unique lifestyles. As a result, he conducted additional research on high fat, low carb ketogenic diets for athletes and crafted "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance."
In addition, scientist Loren Cordain and endurance coach Joe Friel have teamed up to create a Paleo diet designed specifically for athletes in "The Paleo Diet for Athletes: The Ancient Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance."
Host of the podcast Ben Greenfield also has authored a variety of fitness nutrition books, including his upcoming "Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life."