It's mid-morning on a busy day when hunger pangs usually set in and lunch is still but a distant dot on the horizon. But today is different. I'm strangely fortified with a feeling of satiety. I'm brimming with purposeful energy and my conscious brain has a sharp sheen, keeping me focused. What's more is that I ate no discernible solid for breakfast. Rather, a veritable slick of strong coffee lathered with a heaped tablespoon of butter—the kind of breakfast that Withnail might have cobbled together with leftovers after a big night.
This was premeditated, though. I had drunk a mug full of bulletproof coffee (also known as butter coffee), an old world tradition that has re-emerged as a potent performance enhancer. The term was coined by American health guru Dave Asprey, who has harnessed his experience of drinking yak tea with butter at 18,000 feet in Tibet (it gave him astounding energy levels) into this turbo coffee. Mingma Tseri Sherpa, one of the world's leading mountaineers and 19-time Everest summiter, tells me, "We often drink tea with yak butter and salt. It's good for our health and we mostly drink it during winter. It's very common fuel for sherpas and climbing."
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This isn't about spooning any old butter into any old coffee, though. Margarine and instant coffee won't cut it. With bulletproof coffee, the quality of the ingredients is paramount. The coffee must be the lowest toxin and most high performance possible (I've used two spoonfuls of Guatemalan Finca Santa Clara brewed with filtered water), the butter must be organic, unsalted and grass fed (a heaped spoon of organic Yeo Valley for me) and the key is to add a spoon of virgin coconut oil (I use Takamaka from the Maldives) to keep you going for up to six hours while burning fat. Replacing breakfast, I blended away until I had a frothy, latte-like mixture, poured it into a mug and glugged it down. It tasted good, but I felt as though I'd just poured a vat of castor oil into my stomach.
The health credentials of bulletproof coffee, as has been cited everywhere recently, are impressive. Caffeine is a known performance enhancer that increases metabolism, reduces the perception of exertion and generally keeps you buzzing. Grass-fed butter, as well as boasting cancer fighting antioxidants, is actually a super food for the heart—full of good cholesterol and vitamin K2, which decalcifies arteries and conjugated linoleic acid that burns body fat.
Changing misguided western government policies on fats has been like turning round an oil tanker, despite research over the last few years finding no correlation between dietary saturated fat and increased cardiovascular disease. There have of course, too, always been low rates of heart disease in the foie gras-eating French and the blubber eating Inuits. Finally, the coconot oil contains lauric acid to boost the immune system and medium chain triglycerides (MCT's), fats that act like carbohydrates, metabolizing directly in the liver and giving more energy per gram. As Dr. Bruce Fife at the Coconut Research Centre in the US, says, "It's the healthiest oil on earth, the oil really boosts metabolism and increases energy because it is more likely to be burned as fuel than stored as body fat."
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It's exactly this thinking that has seen more athletes—especially marathoners and ultra runners like myself—training on fat burning ketogenic diets, using fat as a more efficient fuel source than carbs. But of course, your body must adapt to this way of eating. A ketogenic diet can be tough, and you will need to cut down on the carbs. For example, bulletproof coffee won't work if you've had five mojitos and a bag of doughnuts the night before or if your body is only used to using a high GI (glycemic index) diet. If you snack on carbs, your body may store the fat instead of using it as fuel, which is where the coconut oil is a great catalyst to help your body adapt.
Half an hour after the potion has gone down, the caffeine comes on smoothly. An hour later my stomach is making a few noises like a troubled engine, but I am wearing my new armor and I feel great. It's as if the butter and coconut oil have dumbed down the jittery effect of the coffee and delivered a bigger, longer lasting (the fats slow the absorption of the caffeine) smack to my being. I make a few dynamic phone calls I had been putting off, answer emails I had been procrastinating on, and, by the time I go out on a 10km run at lunchtime, I am floating in a depersonalized way. I overtake other runners in the park without breaking sweat. I'm totally spaced out and suddenly drawn to bastardize American Psycho quotes—"There is an idea of me, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory"—and though I can hide my cold gaze from the other runners, and they could sense our lifestyles are probably comparable, I'm the one drinking bulletproof coffee.'
But after a storming run, I start to slip from my pedestal and teeter onto a cliff of tiredness. I also become aware of a bouncing bomb in my colon from a giant oil slick heading south. Just as I head to the sofa to watch TV, the titanic build up of butter plays out the Last Tango in Paris from the inside going out. My mind had been bulletproofed but my arse had not.
Caution how you proceed with this potent brew. Start with small doses. Bulletproof coffee isn't for the faint of heart.