By Paul Stevenson
In part 1 of this 3 part series I explored protein in more detail. In this article I explore fats in more detail examining their roles in the body and why I stress the importance of them to my clients on their health and performance, as today’s media can cause quite confusion.
Dietary fats, also known as lipids, come in distinct chemical types. Of most relevance here are triglycerides and dietary cholesterol. Generally speaking, 90% of our daily fat intake will come from triglycerides. There are 4 different types of triglyceride:
- Trans Fat: Most of the trans fats people will consume will come from processed foods, most notably things like vegetable oil and margarine.
- Saturated Fat: Found almost exclusively in animal source products and are typically solid at room temperature. One notable exception is coconut oil, which contains a lot of saturated fat in the form of medium-chain triglycerides.
- Mono-unsaturated Fat: Liquid at room temperature and almost exclusively found in olive oil.
- Poly-unsaturated Fat: Almost always liquid at room temperature, the most notable poly-unsaturated fats are Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are referred to as ‘essential fatty acids’ because they are essential to good health and a long-enough deficiency will result in a host of health problems. For optimal health, ratios of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids should be no more than 4:1 (Simopoulos, 2002).
The average western diet is generally deficient in Omega-3, leading to an unfavorable Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio which promote the pathogenesis of many disease including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune disease (Simopoulos, 2008). As well as the health benefits that Omega-3 fatty acids, they also confer many benefits for improved body composition.
Most notably they help reduce chronic inflammation levels, help lower cortisol levels, thereby reducing catabolic activity and increasing nutrient partitioning (Noreen, et al, 2010). Omega-3 fatty acids can also increase testosterone production (Macaluso et al, 2013) and increase muscle anabolic signaling and protein synthesis rates after meals.
The importance to Omega-3 fatty acids is clear to see, and therefore supplementation of Fish Oil is a recommendation we regularly use at with our Sydney CBD and Chatswood personal training clients, particularly if someone does not eat much oily fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel.
Unlike protein intake, which is usually set around 1.8g/kg for most of my clients, intake of fat can be highly variable. Every client will be given a minimal amount of essential fat, but their requirements beyond this amount depend on a number of factors:
- Total Calorie intake: This will vary on a client’s goal, current body fat levels and training level. For example a male beginner with 30% body fat looking to lose body fat would need a larger caloric deficit than someone more advanced and leaner at the same body weight. Given that protein requirements usually stays fixed, this leaves far fewer calories to assign to the other macronutrients.
- Carbohydrate requirements: A clients’ carbohydrate requirements are largely dictated by their activity levels. More active individuals will have a greater requirement for carbohydrate than more sedentary individuals. So again, once protein has been assigned, and you determine your carbohydrate requirements, then you are left with how much of your diet can be made up of fats.
- Body Fat %: Generally speaking, the leaner an individual is, the more insulin sensitive they are. This means that carbohydrates are generally much better tolerated by leaner individuals. This means there is less of a requirement for fat in these individuals. The converse is true for individuals with more body fat.
Fat has been demonized in the past as being the cause of obesity, which led to a low-fat craze in the 90’s. Fat is usually blamed because it is more calorie dense than both protein and carbohydrate at 9kcal per gram with both protein and carbohydrate are 4kcal per gram.
Fat also makes a lot of food palatable, increasing the likelihood of over-eating. Official recommended daily intakes (RDI) for fat are as follows:
- Men: 95g (30g saturated)
- Women: 70g (30g saturated)
These recommendations are for the sedentary population. People involved in regular strength training should generally be aiming for these as a minimum, unless restricting calories in the short term for a specific goal. The minimum fat intake for an individual should be no less than 40% of basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Going below this threshold will likely result in negative health outcomes, such as amenorrhea, cessation of a women’s menstrual cycle. One of the main reasons fat intake is so important for strength trainees in particular is the fact that fat intake is positively correlated with testosterone levels (Volek, et al, 1997).
Given that there is a dose-response effect of testosterone on muscle strength and size as the more testosterone you have, the bigger and stronger you get, the importance of keeping levels higher in strength trainees cannot be over-stated.
Take Home Points:
- There are 4 types of triglyceride in the diet. Trans-fats should be minimized where possible and eating a minimally processed diet consisting mainly of whole foods will achieve this. A good balance of the other 3 triglycerides saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fat is desirable.
- Fat intake can be highly variable but should go no lower than 40% of BMR to avoid any potential health issues that can arise from very low fat intakes.
- Fat is extremely important for general health and anyone wanting to improve body composition. Indeed, fat intake is positively correlated with testosterone levels in people engaged in regular strength training.
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- Simopolous, A, “The Importance of the Ratio Between Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acids”, Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, 2002.
- Simopoulos, A, “The Importance of the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio in Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases”, Experimental Biology and Medicine, 2008.
- Noreen, E, et al, “Effects of Supplemental Fish Oil on Resting Metabolic Rate, Body Composition and Salivary Cortisol in Healthy Adults”, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2010.
- Macaluso, F et al, “Do Fat Supplements Increase Physical Performance?”, Nutrients, 2013.
- Volek, J, et al, “Testosterone and Cortisol in Relationship to Dietary Nutrients and Resistance Exercise”, Journal of Applied Physiology, 1997.