Over the decades, the public’s opinion of dietary fat has gone from one end of the spectrum to the other & back again. Fat is important for many of the body’s functions and components. The confusion stems from the fact that some fats are healthy and some are not as much. The healthiest fats are the unsaturated fats, which mostly come from plants and fish. The not-so-healthy ones are the saturated fats, which primarily come from animals. Notice I didn’t say “bad” when talking about saturated fats. You do not have to avoid them completely, but just be careful not to take in too much. High intake of saturated fats over time can lead to higher levels of LDL-cholesterol in the blood, which can then lead to clogging of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Trans fats, on the other hand, are very bad for us & should be avoided. Here are sources of all three:
Unsaturated fats (usually liquid at room temperature):
• Plant oils, such as olive oil, canola oil, corn oil
• Nuts, seeds and nut/seed butters
• “Buttery” spreads that come in a tub (best are Smart Balance, Earth Balance, Benecol); these are not “fake”, but a blend of unsaturated oils
• Fatty fish
Saturated fats (usually solid at room temperature):
• Meat fat/high-fat meats (steak, ground beef, bacon, sausage, processed meats, etc.)
• Any foods that have been deep fried
• Cheese, ice cream and other high-fat dairy
• Coconut oil
• Processed foods
• Foods that have been deep fried
*Of note—many food manufacturers have been eliminating trans fats from their food processing, knowing that consumers are becoming educated about them
It is best for athletes to strive to get about 20-30% of their calories from fat, depending on their stage of training. That’s about 55-83 grams of fat per day for someone taking in 2500 calories. Only about 10% of calories should come from saturated fat. That translates to no more than about 25 grams of saturated fats for that 2500-calorie diet.
If you choose to try the latest high-fat diet craze (also known as the ketogenic diet), be sure to get the majority of your fat intake from unsaturated fats to prevent any deleterious effects on your cholesterol levels. Bear in mind, however, that while the ketogenic diet (or any high-fat diet) may be effective in weight loss, it has not been shown to improve performance in athletics (though, in some athletes, weight loss itself can improve performance).
Janet Carter, MS, RD, LD, CPT, CLS
Coming Soon: Performance Nutrition Basics, Leg Three; Protein: Really the superstar?
This blog is written using the most updated scientific information available. The author has no financial stake in anything that’s discussed, nor is she benefiting financially from writing the blog article. In other words, you are receiving un-biased, science-based sports nutrition information from an experienced professional who is also a seasoned endurance athlete.