Athletes and Fat

July 21, 2010 at 2:57 pm Leave a comment

I want to talk about the last macronutrient: fat.  (I have previously talked about the other two macronutrients:  Carbohydrates and Protein.  See previous blogs for more information.)  Fat should comprise about 20%-35% of your diet.  Fat is not only a major energy source, but it also provides insulation against extremes in temperature, protects the body and internal organs from injury, maintains the cell membranes, delivers fat-soluble vitamins (the very important vitamins A, D, E and K), contributes to palatability and taste of food and gives a higher satiety level to foods.

The body can assemble all the fatty acids it needs except for two.  These two essential fatty acids are linoleic acid (Omega-6) and linolenic acid (Omega-3).  Omega-3 is needed to make arachidonic acid.  Omega-6 is needed in the construction of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  I only mention these because the initials are often seen on food and vitamin packaging labels and I want to give you a sense of what they are all about.  EPA and DHA are important for growth and development, especially of the eyes and brain.  They are also involved in the prevention and treatment of heart disease.  Omega-3 and Omega-6 can be found in vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, and fish.

The right kind of fat is important.  Healthy fats are unsaturated fats:  monounsaturated fats (found in nuts, avocado and olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (found in corn and safflower oils, salmon, walnuts and sunflower seeds).  Saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol contribute to heart disease are the kind of fats you want to limit (or eliminate in the case of trans fats) in your diet.  Whenever you eat food from an animal, you cannot avoid saturated fat and cholesterol unless you are eating non-fat dairy products such as yogurt, cottage cheese and milk.  Cholesterol, deemed the villain in diets, is found in animal products.  Saturated fat is found in meats, coconut and palm oils.  It is interesting to note that grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fat and higher in unsaturated fat than grain-fed livestock.  Partially hydrogenated oil contains trans fat and is a common ingredient in commercially prepared foods such as crackers, cakes, and cookies.  It can also be found in fried foods such as doughnuts.  Margarine and shortening contain trans fat.

According to the American Dietetic Association, there is no performance benefit to a very low-fat diet (<15% of total calories) compared to a diet consisting of a moderate amount of fat (20%-25% of total calories).  The danger in a very low-fat diet is that it does not meet the demands for growth and development in young athletes and also the energy demands for sufficient endurance.  This type of diet, in the long term, can deprive the body of essential nutrients and the fat-soluble vitamins as well as contribute to abnormal menstrual cycles in females.  Vitamin D, one of the fat-soluble vitamins, is very important in maintaining bone health, among other things.

Let’s take our hypothetical 150lb. person who consumes an average 2000 calorie diet.  The range of fat consumption should be between 20% and 35% of total calories.  An average intake of 2000 calories would mean a 150lb. person should consume 400-700 fat calories.   That would be healthy fats calories, of course!

Suggested sources of fat:

Food                          grams of fat            calories from fat

Olive Oil (1T)                13.5g                   119  calories

Canola Oil (1T)             14g                      124  calories

Almonds,raw (23)        14g                      126 calories

Walnuts (7)                    18g                      162  calories

Cashews,raw (1 oz.)     12.4g                  111  calories

Peanuts,raw  (1 oz.)      13.9g                  125  calories

Salmon,cooked (4 oz.)  14g                     126  calories

Avocado,raw (1/4)           6.7g                   60  calories

Edamame (1 cup)             11.5g                103  calories

Chicken breast                   3.1g                   27.9 calories

Brown Rice (1 cup)            1.8g                  16  calories

Egg                                         5.3g                  48  calories

Sunflower seeds  (¼ cup) 14.1g              127  calories

Pumpkin seeds (1 oz.)       11.9g fat         107  calories

Next week:  Nutrition for triathletes!

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Organic vs. Local Peanuts vs. Almonds vs. Walnuts vs. Cashews!

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