The biggest macronutrient that often gets overlooked with endurance athletes is the adequate consumption of fat in their diets. In general, while training at higher intensities and longer duration the more carbohydrate fuel is needed and at lower intensities and longer duration more fat is needed. These levels depend on individual physiology but the key is to fuel for the type of training and competition you are attempting. This may change slightly from workout to workout or week to week. This is why the right balance of carbs, protein and fat is essential. (Here is a more detailed and awesome article on this topic here).
Out of all the macronutrients fat has been getting a bad rap for many years. Fat has been blamed for clogging your arteries and causing heart attacks and strokes as well as contributing to obesity. The fact is the recommendations and scare tactics to avoid fat have been based off poor and shoddy science and government politics.
- This started in 1958 when Ancel Keys did a study on seven countries
- He only included the seven countries that consumed a high-fat diet and had high amounts of cardiovascular disease. He left out countries such as Holland and Norway that have a low cardiovascular disease and consume high amounts of fat and countries like Chile, which consume a low-fat diet and have a high cardiovascular disease.
- He cherry picked his data to prove his theory; it got massive media attention and government policies picked it up and ran with it.
- Multiple studies looking to a population of almost 350,000 people found no correlation or evidence to suggest saturated fat causes heart disease, stroke or increases your risk for it (1, 2, 3).
- Fat is your primary energy source for the body.
- Help maintain the health of skin and hair.
- Regulates body temp.
- Supports immune system function.
- Insulates internal organs.
- Fat aids in absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K.
- The four types of fat consist of saturated fat (long and medium chain), monosaturated fat, Trans fat (natural and artificial), polyunsaturated fats.
- Long chain saturated fat (myristic, palmitic, and stearic acid) are saturated fats found in dairy and animal products like cows, lamb, and pork. They also have a small amount in egg yolks and coconut.
- These long chain sat fats make up 70-80% of all stored cellular energy in the body.
- Medium-chain saturated fats are highest in breast milk and coconut products. They do not need bile to break down and are easily digestible.
- Medium-chain saturated fats are high in lauric acid that has been shown to have anti-viral and antibacterial immune properties.
- They promote weight loss.
- Monosaturated fats are high in oleic acid and are typically found in macadamia nuts, olives, avocados.
- Monosaturated fats help reduce oxidation of LDL, lower blood pressure and reduce blood clotting formation (4,5)
- Natural trans fat is found in animal products because it is formed by the bacteria in the stomach of grazing animals. It is in the form of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
- CLA has been shown to help with type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of cancer (6).
- This is why it is important that your meat products come from organic and grass-fed animals.
- Artificial trans fats are found in packaged foods, doughnuts, fast food, frozen food, chips, cookies, crackers, etc..
- This is the type of trans fat you should avoid at all costs. (5).
- Main categories are omega 6 and omega 3.
- These help form membranes and regulate gene expression and cell function.
- Omega 6- Essential is linoleic acid (LA) and non-essential is arachidonic acid (ARA).
- LA is in high amounts in nuts, seeds and industrial oils.
- Omega 3 consists of ALA, EPA, and DHA.
- Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) is found mostly in plant foods. ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA, but the conversion is less than .5 percent in most people and is highly dependent on B6, zinc, and iron. (7, 8).
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are mostly found in seafood and small amounts in other animal products. EPA and DHA are the active forms your body uses.
- And imbalance of omega 6 to omega 3 has been shown to have negative health consequences. Research has shown that many Americans or the modern diet have ratios of 10:1 to 20:1 of omega 6 to omega 3. However, if you are eating an adequate diet in omega 3 and eating natural foods that are higher in omega six such as avocados you should be ok. So the key is limit your processed food and industrial oil consumption and increase your omega 3 (9).
What Fats And How Much Should I Eat For Optimal Performance?
- Fat will make up the rest of your diet after the consumption of protein and carbs. Depending on your health state this could be 20-70% of your diet. The majority of athletes usually fall into the 25-40% range.
- 1g of fat = about 9 calories.
- The amount of fat that you consume in your diet again is greatly dependent on individual physiology and training.
- Great sources of fat include fish, seafood, grass-fed animal products (beef, lamb, bison, pork, organ meats, etc), coconut oil, butter, ghee, avocados, nuts and seeds (including oils and nut butters), full fat dairy, eggs, tallow, duck fat, olive oil or lard.
- Fats you should avoid consuming high amounts of include margarine, rapeseed oil, canola oil, all variety of vegetable oils, soybean oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil. If it was man-made and highly, processed don’t eat a lot of it.
- Consuming fat especially saturated fat will not make you fat or cause heart disease.
- Adequate fat consumption can be a significant source of energy, especially for endurance athletes.
- Fuel according to your training and competition. This may change slightly from week to week and workout to workout.
- Intake of fat in your diet is based on individual needs and performance.
- Fat has tremendous health benefits.
Paul Nottoli D.C. is a functional medicine and Integrative Diagnosis provider, sports injury and soft tissue injury specialist. He is co-owner Vitality Chiropractic Center in Aurora, IL and founder of healthisgeek.com. He also has a podcast called Health Geeks Radio on iTunes.
Read more running related articles on our Full Potential Running blog.