Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Coconut Butter: My Secret Weapon For Endurance Fueling & Recovery

Coconut Butter: My Secret Weapon For Endurance Fueling & Recovery

Secret Training Techniques Of UltraPedestrianDo, Part Two
(The Way Of The UltraPedestrian)

photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras

     You may never have heard of coconut butter before, but it has become widely available in recent years. Coconut butter differs from coconut oil in that it is the whole meat of a ripe coconut finely ground into a paste, similar to peanut butter or almond butter. Coconut butter is in no way related to cocoa butter, which is made from cocoa beans. Coconuts are the fruit of a variety of palm tree, whereas cocoa beans come from the fruit of the cacao tree, a relative of cotton and okra.

     Coconut butter is extremely palatable and flexible as a food (try stirring two tablespoons of coconut butter and two teaspoons of curry paste into simmering veggies and serve over rice). But my interest in it is as a fuel. I have been eating coconut butter for two years now, and it has helped fuel me for my biggest accomplishments, including my Double Wonderland and Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim to Rim adventure runs.

     Medium Chain Triglyceriedes The main benefit of coconut butter as a fuel for endurance athletes is its fats, which are Medium Chain Triglycerides. MCTs are a unique form of dietary fat that impart a wide range of positive health benefits, including helping control appetite, boosting immune function and purifying blood (due to its lauric acid content), stimulating metabolism, promoting calcium absorption, and regulating blood sugar levels. 

     But the most important thing about MCTs for endurance athletes is that they are immediately metabolized and used by the body, not stored as fat, as Long Chain Triglycerides are. According to Ward Dean, MD, and Jim English, "MCTs are an especially beneficial supplement for fueling physical exertion, given their high energy density content, rapid rate of absorption and quick metabolic conversion into cellular energy. Additionally MCTs can be quickly mobilized in the post-exercise recovery phase to rebuild muscles and prevent the breakdown of proteins (catabolism) that can occur when the body is putting a maximum demand on the body’s energy reserves." (From NutritionReview.org)

     Training Your Body For Fat Fueling This makes coconut butter an ideal food for training your body to metabolize fat. I make an effort each morning to make the first thing I eat high in healthful fats in order to switch on my body's fat prioritization. A couple spoonfuls of coconut butter is perfect for this because it is palatable and easy to eat. It can also be spread on toast in place of butter, or stirred into hot cereal or oatmeal, among myriad other uses.

     Low Oxidation Rate Because coconut butter oxidizes slowly it does not go rancid. It can be  stored unrefrigerated for up to two years. Coconut butter lasts and carries well for extended backpacking trips, and will easily survive an extended stay in a drop bag or food cache.

     Very Low Cost Per Calorie Perhaps the best news of all regarding coconut butter is its incredibly low cost per calorie, as little as $8.00 for a jar containing over 2800 calories. Compare that to specially marketed energy gels, where $8.00 will buy you at most 600 calories. For shorter runs I package a 200 calorie serving in small baggies or plastic wrap, twist the top shut and seal it with a small piece of tape. For multiday efforts I melt the coconut butter and pour it into a resealable plastic jar and eat it by the spoonful directly from the container. 



     Coconut butter is readily available from any natural foods co-op or health food store, including the big chains. It can also be ordered from natural food retailers on line, or made at home from scratch. Artisana has recently started packaging it in single serving pouches, which are convenient for short trips.

11 comments:

  1. Excellent post! For those where ordering from amazon is not possible (or desired) and do not have access to coconut butter, here's an easy why to make your own coconut butter for unsweetened coconut flakes: http://tinyurl.com/lhuswgs Currently in New Zealand, the only coconut butter is the stuff you put on your skin. I don't recommend trying to eat that ;)

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    1. Thanks for the link, Lynette.
      Yes, don'c confuse cocoa butter with coconut cutter! :D

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  2. How do you 'turn on your bodies fat prioritization' when you are mixing coconut butter with things like toast, oats and rice? I agree that you need carbs to fuel the fat fire but to include such simple carbs with the coconut butter first thing in the morning seems (to me anyway - and I'm not a nutritionist) to be counter productive. Wouldn't it be better - assuming you want to prioritize fat metabolization - to start the day with fats ONLY and then slowly add simple carbs as needed to keep that fat fire burning? Perhaps I'm splitting hairs in which case feel free to tell me so. :)

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    1. Martin,
      I should have been more clear in my post. I eat one or two spoonfuls of straight coconut butter (sometimes almond butter) in the morning, and I consider that to be optimum. I offered the other examples as ways people can introduce coconut butter into their morning routine. My understanding is that the majority calorie source will be metabolically prioritized. So if 40% of the calories in a meal are from fat, 30% from carbs, & 30% from protein, fat will be prioritized. But I prefer a straight fat food first thing in the morning.

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  3. Ras, what recommendations do you have for mixing the coconut butter with other healthy foods on Grand Canyon R3s and the like? I generally enjoy eating it straight up, but can envision a scenario that after 10 hours or so my body may want some variety and will let me know in less run productive ways...

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    1. I find it very palatable with things like dried mango and crystallized ginger, just chewing them up together. One thing I like about coconut butter is that it's kind of bland, so I can choke it down even when it isn't all that appealing. I just chew it a little bit, then wash it down with a few swigs of water. For fat fueling, you just need to keep the proportion of calories from fat in the 40% and up range. But to my palate coconut butter mixes well with many flavors, from sweet to savory.

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  4. I've made raw "almond joy" balls, which are basically coconut butter, almond meal/flour, a little honey, unsweetened coconut and cacao nibs. They carry really well on long runs. I make my own coconut butter in the Vitamix.

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    1. Sarah, I used your recipe (minus the almond meal) and it worked perfectly for me. I love the crunch given by the cacao nibs.

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  5. I've also been using my Vitamix to make a coconut butter goo. I start with 2 cups of dried shredded organic bulk coconut and blend on high. Then added two more cups of the shredded , 4 dates pitted and nice pinch of cardamon and three finger pinch of salt. I vacuum seal these and it makes about 8 goos for a total of $3. They will last for a long time (months / years) once vacuumed.

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  6. I used coconut butter balls (coconut butter, a touch of honey, cocoa nibs, rolled in shredded coconut to avoid sticking, I forgot to add a pinch of salt) as a source of fuel yesterday and I had constant energy for my 10h race.
    I also used some Perpetuem, about half the recommended amount per hour, and 2 small chia bars, so I think my sugar intake was relatively low and a large portion of my energy came from the coconut.
    I loved the mild taste of coconut butter , not needing to wash it down with water. And I was amazed at how even my energy levels where. It worked perfectly for that race..

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