Ask A Nutritionist! (May/June 2008) -The Run-Down on Fat


How much fat should be have in our diet?  As runners we all try to be as lean as possible to run faster is this wise?

Rest assured eating fat does not make us fat.  Consuming any type of calories in excess of what your body can utilize leads to weight gain.  Refined sugars are converted to saturated fat when consumed in excess of what the body utilizes.  While there is little reason to believe that increased fat consumption will improve performance, keep in mind that fats are needed in the body for several vital functions and by severely restricting fat intake you might be putting yourself at risk for disease.

In addition to being an energy source, fat is necessary for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K.  Also, essential fatty acids (those the body can not synthesize) including Omega-3 are required for crucial functions.  As well, fats help us feel full and provide foods with much of their flavour.

As runners, our primary fuel comes from carbohydrates, however, we still require adequate sources protein and fat in our diets.  Health Canada recommends a fat intake between 20-35% of total calories for adults.  Most runners should consume about 0.4-0.5g of fat per pound of body weight.  Unless you are an athlete that has trouble keeping weight on because of large energy expenditures such as ultra-marathoners, or other endurance athletes, consuming calories from fat in amounts greater than 30% is not recommended.

Though each gram of fat contains 9 calories, more than twice the calories than that of protein or carbohydrate, not all fats are created equal.  While it can be difficult to know what to eat here are some guidelines to keep you on the right track.

Avoid: All trans-fat, deep fried fat, hydrogenated fat, modified fat and rancid fat.

Reduce: Saturated fats (solids at room temperature) from animal origin such as lard, butter, high-fat meats, full-fat dairy, as well as vegetable derived sources including coconut oil, palm kernel oil.  Remember that in addition to being a source of protein, all animal products contain a certain level of fat, some fattier than others.  The worst offenders are fried products, processed cheese, full fat dairy, ribs, corned beef, sausage and hot dogs, bacon, and luncheon meats.

In Moderation: Unsaturated fats including avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds and their respective oils.

Increase: Omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed oil, soybeans, walnuts and cold water fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna & halibut) and fish oil.  The believed benefits include improved oxygen and nutrient delivery to the muscles and other tissue, improved aerobic metabolism, reduction of inflammation caused by muscular fatigue.

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