Coconut Butter: My Secret Weapon For Endurance Fueling & Recovery
Secret Training Techniques Of UltraPedestrianDo, Part Two
(The Way Of The UltraPedestrian)
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.