May 7, 2013

Burn Fat for Fuel? An Interview with Peter Defty of Vespa Power

I recently had the opportunity to talk on-line with Peter Defty, General Manager of Vespa Power Products, LLC, the manufacturer of the all natural Amino acid supplement Vespa CV - 25. Vespa supplements are made of naturally occurring ingredients that help tap the athlete's ability to burn fat for fuel and reduce the reliance carbohydrates during prolonged training and racing events. The objective of this fat burning approach is to provide athletes with steady energy levels, less bonking and intestinal issues and ultimately a competitive edge. Many elite and non-elite endurance athletes are reportedly experiencing strong training and race results by incorporating Vespa into their nutrition program.

Will: Peter, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Before we get into the specifics about Vespa, can you tell us a little about your background and experience in the area of sports nutrition?

Peter: Thank you for the opportunity Will. I have a BS in Plant Science from UC Davis so I have the university level biology which gives me the science background necessary to read and objectively assess peer reviewed journal publications, human nutrition and physiology textbooks and all kinds of other related material.

I also have been fortunate enough to surround myself with people of varied science backgrounds not necessarily tied to human nutrition and sports nutrition. I have found it critically important to seek out really sharp people and information even if their perspective  or the information given is not aligned with your own and listen, really listen and consider what they have to say.

In conjunction with all the reading I do, as an empiricist, I work with several athletes, including myself. These athletes are mostly all endurance athletes and their ages and  performance levels go from the super elite athletes who are setting course records to back of the packers who are chasing the cutoffs.  This gives me a great amount of "real world" results and information I can utilize to help others consistently get the phenomenal benefits we are seeing.

Will: Many athletes still believe carbohydrates are the holy grail of sport nutrition. However, there is another school of thought that says fat, or the metabolism of fat, is a superior energy source. This “fat for fuel” concept is foreign to many athletes. Can you explain this concept?

Peter: Yes, but before I start discussing the scientific plausibility for the "Fat as your Fuel" concept, I would like your audience to consider a basic few facts which the sports nutrition "experts" have largely ignored and so many athletes have paid the consequences of  not heeding nature.

To start with the human body has VERY limited glycogen storage capacity yet has virtually unlimited stores of fat, more than enough for even the leanest athlete to run 100 miler, complete an Ironman or ride a double century.  So why shouldn't fat make up the vast majority of our aerobic energy source for physical activity?

This is intricately interwoven with the second thing I would like the audience to consider which I will go through below. This is that for most of human existence we ate concentrated sources of carbohydrates 3-5 times a year, NOT 3-5 time a day!, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, DECADE AFTER DECADE. So when fruit was ripe or berries were ripe or we came across honey, brief periods during the year where these food sources were available, we gorged ourselves on carbohydrates and went back to where the main source of calories were from animal fats (including grubs).

So, while we are uniquely adapted to being able to consume concentrated forms of carbohydrates in their various forms this adaptation was not necessarily meant to be utilized constantly because there are "unintended consequences."

We have been led to believe carbohydrates are the answer and eating loads of carbohydrates is necessary for performance and vital health. What the nutrition "experts" missed (or have failed to tell us) are some  basics of human physiology. Let's just start with diet and the complex interplay of carbohydrate ingestion and the hormone, insulin.

When you do the math regarding fasting blood sugar in a human this works out to amount to 1 teaspoon of sugar, as glucose, in circulation, one teaspoon! This is normal and this is where your body prefers your glucose levels to be. Blood sugar is VERY tightly regulated.  So, say someone eats a whole wheat bagel. Basically they just dumped 8-10 teaspoons of glucose into their blood stream when the body likes to have 1 teaspoon. The body deals with this by secreting insulin so this toxic level of glucose can get back down to fasting levels and do so quickly.

But, just as importantly, to help promote glucose use high levels of insulin suppress fat burn via beta-oxidation in the cells and production and use of ketone bodies for brain and nervous system function. On the receptor sites of adipose (fat) tissue insulin functions to promote fat storage and strongly inhibits the release of fat. These are the immediate "unintended consequences" of concentrated carbohydrate consumption. There are many other possible "unintended consequences" that can crop up over time like intestinal issues, insulin resistance, weight gain, energy swings, heart disease, cancer, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome etc.

The alternative is optimized fat metabolism, or OFM. By focusing on optimizing fat burning capacity (which is aerobic only) not only does the athlete tap into the virtually unlimited energy source but even the "strategic" use of carbohydrates becomes a much more powerful and sustainable part of the OFM equation.

Generally carbohydrate sources contain 3.5-4 calories / gram while fats, especially saturated fats can contain up to 9.6 calories / gram. But because the pathways to unleashing the tremendous energy stored in fat is so much more complex and not as well studied for sports nutrition, lipid metabolism has only been considered for low intensity physical activity for most athletes and, at best, moderate levels in well-trained endurance athletes.

Phil Maffetone was one of the pioneers in fat metabolism as a competitive tool with his Maffetone Method of HR training which happens to be an important part of the training component of OFM. Phil, via Mark Allen and others, demonstrated pretty clearly from a results/observational evidence perspective that fat does, indeed, play a vital role. If one follows Phil's writings you can see his shift more and more into the camp of carbohydrate restriction as another means to enhance this ability to tap into fat at higher and higher levels of physical activity.

So,  if consuming lots of carbohydrates induces a strong insulin response, then sharply restricting them obviously brings insulin levels down and increases insulin sensitivity. When this happens at the level we are doing with the VESPA/OFM program the body makes a profound metabolic shift in which it prefers to burn fat aerobically, especially saturates. So now the saturated fats, the ones we have been told are harmful, become our most potent source of base energy.

This level of carbohydrate restriction is termed "Nutritional Ketosis" and the goal is to get an athlete at or near this level for a prolonged period during their base building or off season so this fundamental shift can get set. This is the foundation for the program. Once this occurs the hormones and enzymes necessary for the various pathways of fat metabolism are up-regulated and insulin levels get down and in metabolic balance only then can the true power potential of fat be truly realized.

Unfortunately almost all the studies done in the past 60 years utilize a diet which prevents fat metabolism to be fully expressed because there are too many carbohydrate calories in the baseline diet for an athlete to get themselves into nutritional ketosis or a "fat adapted" state. This, by definition means the athlete is going to get a carbohydrate response because the athlete is much more dependent upon carbohydrates for aerobic fuel no matter how much their training has helped them to burn fat.

There are several benefits to a high rate of fat metabolism. First, it is much more efficient from a standpoint of ATP production, producing 4 times the ATP per molecule. Due to this efficiency of oxidation the RQ is lower. When you make a shift toward higher fat oxidation then you have less oxidative stress and less lactate load. In real world terms this results in less muscle soreness and the much faster recovery VESPA/OFM athletes see.

More interesting is that VESPA appears to keep athletes in high levels of beta-oxidation / ketosis even when they take in carbohydrates, so the carbohydrates work even better because they are being used on top of the this huge aerobic fat burning base for threshold aerobic and anaerobic effort levels.

Will: Vespa is not a  fuel, an electrolyte replacement or an energy drink. What exactly is Vespa and how does it work?

Peter: While every ingredient is important the key fat burning ingredients are the Wasp Extract and Royal Jelly which are Peptides from the Asian giant wasp and European honey bee. You can think of VESPA as a fat-burning catalyst which triggers a significantly higher rate of beta-oxidation in the muscle and ketosis in the liver.

Will: What is Vespa made from? How does it differ from other branch chain amino acid supplements that can be purchased over the counter at your local pharmacy?

Peter: VESPA is a synergistic blend of naturally-occurring, minimally processed ingredients. VESPA is not just another Amino Acid supplement composed of a mixture of synthesized amino acids in their various forms. Naturally-occurring peptides and proteins are very different than a product composed of free branch-chain amino acids that are formulated to mimic the composition of the naturally-occurring substance. It would be like hydrolyzing meat and getting the amino acid profile of the proteins and then trying to make meat synthetically. It can't really be done. This makes the cost to produce VESPA ridiculously expensive compared to other products and there is no scalability in site.

Will: Do you recommend using Vespa in training? Or just in races? Please explain.

Peter: If the athlete is really serious about their performance and health then using VESPA in training is vital. Because of the lower oxidative stress and lactate load etc. the recovery is phenomenal which means the athlete can withstand a higher training load whether duration or intensity and be able to recover and adapt quicker and at a higher level.

A couple of caveats to make this work well: Always do a long slow warm-up to prime the muscles with oxygen so you can burn fat at a high rate. This takes patience and time but pays huge dividends. This includes and is especially important for fat adapted athletes before doing a workout that is high on intensity rather than cardio.

Use VESPA as directed for all training except for easy shorter recovery workouts.  The exception would be if you were doing a recovery run during the morning or day and you had to work after. Then I recommend you use it so you are not dragging yourself through the day and having to resort to caffeine, sugar etc. to get through.

Stretch out both your VESPA use to 3-4 hours along with trying to minimize caloric intake to help train your body to stretch itself in terms of fat burn for your long duration training.

Hydration: When you shift toward higher fat burn you need to be more on top of proper hydration. This means loads of water and electrolytes, mainly salt, while exercising.

In terms of cost, while VESPA seems very expensive on the shelf on a per unit basis, most long term VESPA users actually comment on the value and that it really does not cost that much more than the conventional approach (some believe using VESPA/OFM saves them money!) because when using VESPA you are dramatically reducing intake of calories of other supplements like gels or shot blocks and you are not needing to take a ton of supplements and not eating nearly as much. This is separate from how much better they feel, that they no longer bonk, get sick or are sore for days after an event.

Will: What other food/nutrition, if any, should be taken when using Vespa?

Peter: VESPA/OFM makes "Strategic" use of concentrated carbohydrate calories in the diet and fueling for that synergy translates into game-changing performance. So what we find for many is to sharply restrict carbohydrates in the weeks leading up to an event, especially in the taper then, depending upon the type of event, "sneaking" some carbohydrates in with the pre-race meals. This is what we call our "Carb sneak."   It is not a carbohydrate loading per se but enough to top off glycogen levels without wrecking your insulin sensitivity and fat burning capability. The night before a race many of us eat a medium rare ribeye, NY or T-bone steak with a baked potato buried in butter, sour cream and salt. The fat from the butter and sour cream not only serves to provide loads of fat calories but, more importantly serves to sharply blunt the glycemic load of the starch in the potato. This way you do not get a sharp and rapid increase in blood sugar thus no huge insulin response.

Now when using VESPA and being OFM fat adapted athletes are advised to use concentrated forms of carbohydrates during their competitions and hard workouts which simulate race conditions. Since the athlete generally takes in significantly less calories using VESPA and being fat adapted and  we want to make this as  easy as possible we recommend the athlete use whatever calorie sources work best for them whether it is gels, shot blocks, fruit, potatoes, aid station foods, etc.

The only thing we do say is to never take in a large slug of food at a time when exerting significant physical activity. This keeps the digestive tract working despite down regulation of blood flow to the internal organs during exercise and prevents any significant spike in blood sugar. During exercise there is an insulin "muting" response so insulin sensitivity is higher and less insulin is secreted.

When hot we recommend focusing on hydration and restricting calories to simpler sugars and as a "sugar drip." This is because at high temps the body sharply down regulates blood flow to the internal organs and sharply increases blood flow from the muscles to the skin surface to sweat to cool the body.  The capacity for digestion is simply not there.

During the cool temps we advise higher intake, especially if cold and wet to maintain core body temps. The athlete is also able to process/digest more complex foods that would have higher levels of fat and protein under these conditions.

Will: Who are some of your more notable athletes that are using Vespa? How has Vespa helped them achieve success?

Peter: Naoko Takahashi put VESPA on the map in 2000 when she won the Sydney Olympic Marathon and set the world record at the time in Berlin. She then got sponsored by a Japanese company who made a synthetic version and never did do anything after. VESPA has had several athletes win Olympic gold medals and other world class events that get a lot more press than ultra-endurance. Sammy Wanjiru used VESPA. In the last 2 years of Pro Cycling VESPA can compete because the policing for banned substances has really gone up. Tour du France leader in 2011 and "King of the Mountains" Winner in 2012, Thomas Voeckler uses VESPA. These big name athletes do not say anything because it is their competitive advantage and we do not pay big money sponsorships because we cannot afford to due to the cost to make the product and keep the price point where it is.

In ultra-endurance there are several notable athletes / performances from VESPA/OFM athletes. These include last year's (2012) winner and course record setter of Western States; 2012 USATF 50 Mile Champion, 2012 Mad City 50K Champion, 2012 Ice Age 50 Mile Champion, Zach Bitter. More recently, Mike Morton did the unthinkable and ran weekend to weekend back to back 100 milers, won both and set a CR on the second. Mike started on the VESPA/OFM program in December and has noticed the difference. Jon Olsen and his performance at the World 100K (Second US Male) and winning North Coast 24 hour 13 days later coming within 7 miles of the US record at that time. Elite Women like Nikki Kimball, Devon Yanko (formerly Crosby-Helms), Caren Spore, Jennifer Benna and Jenny Capel are all on the program

But, just as important as elite level performances there are VESPA/OFM athletes who are doing equally phenomenal performances. Betty Smith, age 61, finished The Bear 100 Miler in under 30 hours. She was the first female over 60 to ever finish The Bear.  If you look at the finish times you can see that finishing The Bear under 30 hours is quite an achievement. Bill McCarty, age 65, finishing weekend back to back 100 Milers (Razorback 100 & Beyond Limits 100) this past March. Compared to Mike Morton's back to back 100's Bill took twice as long for each. Bill is set to run Keys 100 in early May and has 6 100 Milers on his schedule for 2013.

Our goal is to get people of all ages and abilities back to burning "Fat as your Fuel." Not only for optimal performance but, more importantly, for optimal health. VESPA/OFM is a fully integrated, cutting-edge program which, observationally, is getting those results. VESPA is one crucial component of the larger OFM picture.

Will: Peter, you have provided some very thoughtful responses and have given my readers an important perspective when it comes to nutrition and ultra running and endurance sports in general. Thank for sharing your insights here and for taking the time for this interview.  


Anonymous said...

Good article your secret is out..haaaaa

Regional College Of Pharmacy said...
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it's all about pace said...

well written piece... tons of good info. thanks Will

Jon said...

Nice interview Will! I definitely agree with the points about carbohydrate based diets. Haven't tried Vespa but it sounds interesting

Jennifer said...

I learned a lot from the interview. Most of us usually focus on carbs and we don't much about the benefits that fats can give to our body. Vespa can really help utilize our body's fats so we can use it as an energy source.

Will said...

Thanks all for your comments (even if you are promoting your own products).

Anonymous said...
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zapatillas running said...

Hi, fantastic and complete blog, I really like.

Debra Horn said...

What is the difference if any between "nutritional ketosis" and ketosis? What do you do to determine if you're in ketosis?

Andy Benkert said...

One of the better overviews of the fat-burning process and ketosis I've seen on a blog. Thanks for sharing the info. I used to use Vespa, but have been hesitant since being diagnosed with T2 diabetes 7 months ago. Maybe I'll do some testing to see how it impacts me.

I've found another product that works well - Generation UCAN. It's a powder mix of something called "super starch" and provides a good amount of carbs, but it doesn't impact blood sugar too much. Used a couple packets at a recent 50K and felt great the entire race, no issues with energy or GI. I did eat a little during the race (turkey, cheese and avocado wraps), but nothing like I used to.

Maybe these two together could be potent! :-)

Peter said...

@Debra Horn:

The reason for the term "Nutritional Ketosis" is because in today's world Ketosis is commonly viewed as either "Starvation Ketosis" (i.e. when a human is "starving") or "Ketoacidosis" which is a life-threatening situation that occurs in T1 diabetics where the liver is making runaway / toxic levels of Ketone bodies to the point where the body cannot buffer the acid load...interestingly enough insulin, at low levels, controls ketone production by the liver and this is why ketoacidosis only occurs in T1 diabetics....ironic, in a T1 diabetic the glucose will kill you if you don't have a lot of insulin to deal with it and if you have no insulin then the ketones will kill you....

Peter said...

"Nutritional Ketosis" (NK) is a well-fed Ketogenic state instead of a starving one or where ketone bodies are too high....when in NK the body does NOT catabolize muscle protein and does not negatively impact the kidneys and other organs as is commonly believed. When in NK the body makes a fundamental shift to "ft as fuel" and it prefers saturated fats.

Peter said...

@Andy Benkert: I do have a bias for sure but I do recommend you use VESPA and get yourself fat-adapted by through carb-restriction... You can order the books "The Art & Science of Low Carbohydarate Living / Performance on the VESPA site. I work with Drs. Phinney & can put T2 diabetes into remission.

With VESPA we have a handful of T1 diabetics who absolutely swear by using VESPA because it keeps their blood sugar level during exercise. eaither case, feel free to contact me.

Jean Pommier said...

Great interview, Will, thanks for sharing! I'm a big believer, this really works!

Trailmom said...

I've been using Vespa and UCAN for ultras this year, and it's worked really well for me. I take one about every 90-120 minutes (alternating b/n the two products). Granted, there are many ways to fuel, but for me, this combo is simple and it works (steady energy) stomach issues, no low blood sugar moments, and I don't have to worry about aid station food. I did a training run in the mountains recently (8+ hrs) on 2 UCAN (1 was pre-run), 1 Vespa, 1 applesauce pouch, and one VFuel gel. I'm pretty sure it helps that I'm eating low-carb, high-fat now, too. I used to take in 100-150 calories of mostly carbs per's definitely easier being fueled by fat (my own). :-)

Anwell Steve said...

Very great interview! It's my first time to hear about Vespa, but I hope this is not only intended for athletes but for entrepreneurs and busy professionals as well. I would love to hear another update from this.

Anonymous said...

Let's say I wanted to try a no-carb approach for a month or two. I could see how I'd do that in regular life, but what would I bring with me on, say, a 4 hour training run? What to eat during a 12 hour race? Would you suggest actually eating high-fat foods? I would think they'd be hard to digest, but am open to the idea. Very interesting.

Peter said...

@Anwell, Steve: Hi Steve, Yes, by shifting to "fat as fuel" you become "Blood Sugar Stable" so the mental clarity and focus along with emotional stability come into play.....we constantly get this "Observational Evidence" sort of feedback and there is scientific literature out there for the plausibility. I know of some high school/college students who used it for exams and surgeons who used it for long surgeries. For many working professionals who are making the transition taking a VESPA at 9 am and 2pm instead of a snack at 10 & 3 gets them off the energy swings and transitioned to "fat as fuel"....another big benefit most see is loss of fat/water weight with a slight increase in lean body mass.

Peter said...

@Anonymous: For a 4 hour training run if you are properly adapted a VESPA 30 minutes before and at 2 hours along with plenty of salt and water should be all you need.
We generally recommend "srategic" use of carbs so having a gel while running during those 4 hours is not the end of the world using VESPA and OFM. VESPA appears to keep the athelte locked into a high fat burn even when carbs are used....the problem with high fat ketogenic diets alone is the when carbs are introduced it can kick you out of ketosis.

With high fat foods, digestibility is an issue when exercising so unless you are craving them generally some easily digested carbs are all you need.