I love it, I believe in it and I depend on it!
I'm talking about the macronutrient FAT – somewhere in the mid 50's fat got a really bad rap. A brief history lesson – Eisenhower had a heart attack in 1955 and his health became a major topic of discussion. Because he ate sausage, bacon, a hamburger for lunch and lamb for dinner they immediately decided to cut fat from his diet (no one questioned the 4 pack a day cigarette habit, lack of fruits and vegetables or almost non-existent exercise routine) and people started questioning the role food plays in health.
In 1957 Ansel Keys published a 5 country “observational” study showing that the countries with the highest mortality rate had the highest levels of saturated fat in their diet and the countries with the lowest levels of saturated fat were living the longest (US/Canada worst and Japan/Italy best). From there the American Heart Association published a decree that in order to reduce the risk of heart disease you should reduce intake of saturated fat. From that point on – we saw the effects of the “Non-Fat” movement. Obviously we have not gotten any healthier – in fact we are MUCH worse that we were in the 50's in terms of obesity, type 2 Diabetes, heart disease and childhood mortality.
The question comes into play - “Do athletes need fat and how much?” The simple answer is yes, probably more than you're getting now and probably a different kind. This article isn't about ketogenic diets, training high fat/low carb or becoming fat adapted (that will be another post). My main concern is keeping athletes healthy and free from injury so they can participate in their sport of choice for as long as they like.
Fats provide our body with fuel and it is 100% necessary to maintaining health, performance and avoiding injury. Fat is considered a 'protein-sparing' energy nutrient. This means that by consuming it you are allowing your body to use protein for muscle building and the production of enzymes, hormones and antibodies instead of for energy. Fat protects our organs, moves vitamins and minerals throughout our body and keeps our brains firing on all cylinders. Some interesting research data to support the need for fat in the athlete diet:
- A study form the University of Buffalo found that female runners who got 30% of their daily calories from fat were SIGNIFICANTLY less likely to get injured than those who ate less fat.
- Another line of research has shown that higher-fat diets increase fat oxidation during prolonged exercise and thereby increase endurance.
- The most elite American endurance athletes maintain relatively high fat diets according to Men’s Health and Outside Magazine.
- The European Journal of Sports Science points out that endurance athletes who maintain higher levels of dietary fat intake have a 19% lower rate of injury, a 31% lower incidence of illness and may athletes recorded better levels of recovery when maintaining adequate fat intake.
- Female athletes who maintain adequate levels of fat intake are able to keep normal menstrual cycles thereby stabilizing hormones and maintaining bone health.
Working with a nutritionist is a great way to make sure you're getting the right amount of all the macro and micronutrients in your diet. Some of the healthy fats I love to include in my daily meals are: avocados, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, olives, cold-pressed oils, MCT oil, omega 3's from fish like salmon and sardines and yes – even the saturated kind from animals every now and then like steak, chicken thighs, ghee and bacon.