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Why does fat play such an important role in the diet of athletes and people on weight loss? Can I reduce the number of fats to a minimum while on a reducing diet, but only eat more protein when using a muscle gain program? In this article, you will find answers to not only the above questions, but also what sources of fat in food products are the best and which are best avoided.

People practicing sports recreationally and professional athletes try to maintain a fairly low level of body fat. The only discipline in which fat is beneficial is sumo, especially since it is almost impossible to gain so much muscle mass. In other disciplines, excess body fat has a negative effect on speed, strength and endurance.

In the case of people who are on a reduction diet, it is similar - for them, fat is the number one enemy and a component of the diet that is best to eliminate completely. As it turns out, such behavior is not entirely right. Too low level of adipose tissue can cause various types of problems, especially felt by women. The consequences of the shortage can be serious and long-term, which will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

How to put theory into practice and choose the right amount of fat in the diet depending on the goal we want to achieve? What amount of fat will be optimal for me and will not cause it to accumulate in the most problematic places?

The role of fats in an athlete's diet

Fats are one of the main nutrients, along with proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins. Lipid compounds are essential for life and have many important functions in our body.

Despite this, eating foods rich in fat is usually not recommended due to their negative impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and even cancer. They are eliminated especially often in the case of athletes who are afraid of excessive fat gain. For the sake of good shape and figure, they minimize all sources of fats - both saturated and unsaturated, forgetting the importance of unsaturated fatty acids, especially those that the body is unable to independentlysynthesize, i.e. omega-3 and omega-6.

  • Fats accelerate muscle regeneration after training

Omega-3 fatty acids are divided into long-chain acids: elicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and short-chain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are found in oily fish, but the body can also make them from ALA. EPA and DHA are then converted into hormone-like substances such as prostaglandins, thromboxanes and leukotrienes. These substances are responsible for blood clotting (thanks to them, blood clots are formed less often), improving the body's ability to respond to an injury or bacterial attack, increase the tension in the walls of blood vessels and take care of the immune system. Research has shown that people who consume the most omega-3 fatty acids are the least likely to experience heart attacks. Prostaglandins play a huge role here, by reducing the ability of red blood cells to clot and lowering blood pressure.

Prostaglandins are of particular importance from the point of view of athletes. They are responsible for the proper functioning of the respiratory, digestive and cardiovascular systems, and also reduce inflammation. As a result of intense training, the athlete's muscles are particularly vulnerable to microtrauma and inflammation. The latter, despite being undesirable, play an important immunological role. It is inflammation that allows you to remove not only dead cells, but also build up spare fibers in the muscles, which can lead to muscle enlargement.Prostaglandins are therefore largely responsible for post-training muscle anabolism and contribute to faster muscle regeneration .

  • Fats increase muscle growth

The next hormones built on the basis of fatty compounds are steroids, including testosterone, the most important male sex hormone, positively influencing muscle development, increasing libido and the quality of life of men. More than two decades ago, a study was conducted to check the relationship between the amount of fat in the diet and the level of testosterone in men. In the experiment, the administration of a large portion of milk fat resulted in a drop in testosterone levels by almost 50 percent in all volunteers. For this reason, for a long time, men were advised to drastically reduce animal fats in favor of plant fats. Only later research verified these erroneous views.High animal fat diets, high in saturated fatty acids and cholesterol, have been found to help maintain high testosterone levels . And vice versa: nutrition with significantthe level of vegetable fats, devoid of cholesterol and rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, leads to a decrease in testosterone levels. The only exception are omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have a positive effect on the production of this anabolic hormone.

One of the latest studies proves that the highest increase in testosterone occurs as a result of consuming a fat mixture containing monounsaturated fatty acids in relation to saturated fatty acids such as 2: 1. Thus, total fat consumption may be a factor in the production of androgens. Low-fat diets (providing less than 20 percent of the daily caloric intake) are a factor that can lower testosterone levels. On the other hand, the extremely high supply of this macronutrient also adversely affects the level of androgens, which forces us to be moderate in the supply of fats. Therefore, in the case of men, not only the quantity but also the quality of fat is important.Saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids have a positive effect on the production of testosterone, and unsaturated fatty acids from the omega-6 family have different properties .

  • Fats as a source of vitamins increasing the body's exercise capacity

Fats are necessary for the absorption of vitamins soluble in them. Therefore, low-fat diets are poor in vitamins A, D, E and K. Lipids enable not only the absorption, but also the transport of these compounds and the conversion of beta-carotene into vitamin A. The body is able to produce some amounts of vitamin D on its own under the influence of UV rays and vitamin A from beta-carotene contained in many fruits and vegetables, but obtaining the right amount of vitamin E may be a much more serious problem.

The latter is in the right dose only in vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, egg yolks - and it is an important oxidant that protects the body against harmful attacks of free radicals. There is a reason why it is called the vitamin of youth - it slows down the aging process of the skin, prevents heart disease, and - importantly for athletes -reduces muscle soreness after intense physical exertion . So think twice before eliminating nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils from your diet, as you may run the risk of free radical damage.

If your diet does not contain enough fats, vitamin D (similarly to A, E and K) will not be absorbed.

It is also worth mentioningvitamin D3, which significantly improves the body's exercise capacity . Research shows that people withhigh levels of vitamin D3 show much better results in sports compared to people whose levels are below normal. Meanwhile, most of us are deficient in vitamin D even in the summer months when the body is exposed to the sun's rays. In winter, the situation is even worse. Hence the importance of additional vitamin D3 supplementation in the amount of approx. 2000 IU

  • Fats provide energy to working muscles

Fats are primarily a source of energy. It is concentrated energy because fats provide about 2.5 times more energy than carbohydrates. The process of their metabolism is much more complicated, so it takes the body much more time compared to carbohydrates.

Products rich in fats are the optimal source of energy, especially in sports where long-term effort prevails. Despite the fact that fat metabolism is much slower than that of carbohydrates, it is more efficient.

  • Fats ensure the body's hormonal balance

Lipids also play a very important role in women. They take part in the production of estrogen, as well as the transformation of this hormone into its active form. Thanks to them, women can maintain the menstrual cycle and hormonal balance. Extreme fat deficiencies can lead to irregular periods or its disappearance. Hormonal problems in women usually begin when the level of adipose tissue drops below the 15% threshold.

Worth knowing

Fat can accelerate weight loss

You should not be afraid of he althy sources of fat, i.e. those rich in omega-3 acids. Scientific research has proven that lipid compounds from this group activate the so-calledbrown adipose tissue , which increases metabolism, i.e. the conversion of fat and carbohydrates into energy. If there is a lot of it in the body, it is better at burning excess calories.

The influence of body fat on sports performance

In endurance sports such as endurance running or cycling, excess body fat can make it harder to accelerate, slow down your speed and fatigue more quickly. In explosive sports, such as sprinting and jumping, it is very important to move quickly, and the excess body fat interferes with slowing down your movements and reducing physical performance. In disciplines where categories are divided according to weight (e.g. boxing, judo), more emphasis is placed on body weight, especially in the season. People with the highest percentage of muscle mass and the lowest percentage achieve the best results in these disciplinesadipose tissue. When it comes to bodybuilders and bikini fitness contestants, the same is true. In order to win cups and be on the podium in their category, their body fat must be only 6-7% of the body composition (in the case of women, only a few percent more). Even an amateur training in the gym 1-2 times a week strives to obtain a relatively large muscle mass, while maintaining a low level of fat, so that his muscles are clearly visible.

From a sports point of view, adipose tissue is an unnecessary ballast that reduces the performance of physically active people.

This will be useful to you

How much fat in a reducing diet?

The amount of fat in a reduction diet should be around 15-20% . Of course, don't forget about the quality of the fats you consume. During the weight loss process, it is often recommended to reduce not only the number of calories and the amount of fats, but also carbohydrates (by about 10-15%), and also increase the supply of protein accordingly. If we reduce the amount of carbohydrates below our daily energy expended, glycogen stores will decline quickly and fat burning will increase, as well as protein oxidation - an undesirable process, as it can lead to loss of lean body mass. Therefore, increasing the amount of protein in your diet helps prevent the loss of lean tissue. To significantly speed up the weight loss process, add at least 2-3 hours of training a week.

How much fat in your diet for muscle mass?

Lean mass gain can be achieved by combining the right type of strength training with a balanced diet. Strength exercise provides a stimulus for muscle growth, while diet is the fuel that provides energy to help your muscles grow at the right pace. To gain muscle mass - without fat - you need to combine both.

Fats in a diet for muscle mass should provide 15-30% of calories . However, if you are counting on a quick effect, you must also remember about the right caloric content of the dishes, the supply of protein and carbohydrates. To gain muscle mass, increase your caloric intake by about 20%, i.e. calculate your BMR (Daily Caloric Requirement), add your physical activity and multiply by 1.2. In practice, most athletes need to add about 400-500 kcal more to their daily diet. You need to take into account a correspondingly higher protein intake due to the strength training performed (1.4-2.0 g / kg body weight). To build muscle mass, very intense training is necessary, during which the fuel is muscle glycogen. For this reason, you must consumeenough carbohydrates. If you exercise with low levels of muscle glycogen, you run the risk of excessive muscle breakdown, which is counterproductive. Carbohydrate should make up about 60% of your total caloric needs.

Best and worst sources of fat for athletes

We divide fatty acids into saturated and unsaturated.

Saturated fatsare composed of carbon atoms linked by a single bond. They have a firm consistency at room temperature and are therefore called solid fats. They are found mainly in animal products such as fatty meats, lard, butter, cheese. They are often added to processed foods such as biscuits, cakes and pastries. The saturated fat also includes palm oil used in the production of margarines and confectionery.

Saturated fatty acids are considered to be the major contributors to heart disease because they can raise blood levels of total cholesterol and the harmful low density (LDL) cholesterol. The Department of He alth recommends eating no more than 10% of your total caloric intake of saturated fatty acids. For athletes who aim to achieve peak performance and maintain good he alth, it recommends that saturated fat be eliminated or minimized as the body has no use for them.

Unsaturated fatty acidsdivide intomonounsaturated and polyunsaturated .

Monounsaturated fatshave slightly less hydrogen than saturated fats because their chains contain one double or unsaturated bond - hence their name. Oils high in monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature, however they can clot at cool temperatures. The best-source products include olive, rapeseed, almond, peanut and hazelnut oil, as well as avocados, olives, nuts and seeds. Monounsaturated fatty acids are very beneficial to he alth, as they can lower total cholesterol, and especially the LDL fraction, without affecting he althy cholesterol with a high density of HDL lipoproteins. The Department of He alth recommends consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids up to 12% of your total caloric intake.

Polyunsaturated fatshave the least amount of hydrogen - their carbon chains contain two or more double bonds, hence the prefix "multi" in the name. Oils rich in polyunsaturated fats are liquid both at room temperature and when cold. Most oils are plentiful in their sourcesvegetable and fatty fish oils. Polyunsaturated fatty acids can lower blood LDL cholesterol, but they also slightly lower "good" HDL cholesterol. If you eat a lot of fat on a daily basis, you should at least partially replace polyunsaturated fat with monounsaturated. Due to the above facts, the Department of He alth recommends that the proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids should not exceed 10% of the total caloric intake per day.

Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two families:omega-3 and omega-6 . To stay he althy, we need both omega-3 and omega-6 fats. The recommended ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is 1: 4 - unfortunately our diets are poorer in the former. The appropriate proportion of EFAs in the diet is important from the point of view of maintaining the proper functioning of the body. As a result of metabolic changes, omega-6 acids produce pro-inflammatory compounds, while omega-3 compounds produce anti-inflammatory compounds. Long-term excess of omega-6 fatty acids in the diet favors the weakening of the immune system and excessive tendency to inflammation.

Below are tables where you will find products that are the main sources of each type of fat, so that you can learn more about lipids in an easier way to choose what is best for you.

Dietary sources of saturated fatty acids

Kind of acidFood sourcesAction
myristic, palmitic, lauric acidsmilk fatincrease the LDL cholesterol fraction ("bad" cholesterol)
stearic acid, myristic acid, arachidic acid, behenic acidsolid fatslead to blood clots and atherosclerotic changes in blood vessels, thus increasing the risk of ischemic heart disease

Dietary sources of monounsaturated fatty acids (omega-9)

Kind of acidFood sourcesAction
oleic acidolive oil, unrefined rapeseed oil, cold pressedreduces total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol

Sources of omega-3 and omega-9 polyunsaturated fatty acids

Kind of acidFood sourcesAction
alpha-linolenic acidrapeseed oil, soybean oil,LinenThey reduce the concentration of triglycerides, reduce the concentration of total cholesterol and LDL fraction
eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)oily sea fish: mackerel, herring, salmonThey reduce the concentration of triglycerides, reduce the concentration of total cholesterol and LDL fraction
linoleic acid, arachidonic acid, docosapentaenoic acidsoybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, grape seed oilreduce the concentration of total cholesterol and LDL fraction

With so much information on fats, how do you choose the best sources of fats?

Fatty fish such as mackerel, fresh (not canned) tuna, salmon and sardines are undoubtedly the best sources of DHA and EPA. If you are a vegetarian or you don't like fish, you don't need to worry as some vegetables will contain quite high amounts of ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid). The richest plant sources are linseed, linseed oil, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, canola and soybean oil. Smaller amounts of ALA are also found in spinach, kale and sweet potatoes.

The addition of fat to a meal slows down the secretion of gastric juice, so by incorporating fats into the dishes, we will achieve a state of satiety faster.

Currently, the food market is so developed that you can buy omega-3 enriched products, e.g. eggs, bread, fruit juices. As for omega-6 fatty acids, it is easier to meet the demand because they are found in frequently consumed products: vegetable oils, margarines based on sunflower oil and many processed products based on these oils and fats (fried products, cookies, biscuits ).

Generally speaking, the most important thing is moderation in eating all types of fat.Remember that these foods should not typically exceed 15-30% of your total caloric intake . Most people, unfortunately, eat much more of them. Use spreadable fats sparingly, choose those high in olive oil, and avoid those containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

Choose only good quality margarines produced by esterification, i.e. containing less than 1% trans fatty acids (producers are not obliged to indicate the amount of trans isomers in their product on the packaging, so if you want to check whether the margarine eats contains, look on the label for the words "partially hydrogenated fats" or "… partially hydrogenated").

For salads, choose oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids ormonounsaturated fatty acids: olive oil, linseed oil, nut oils. Choose oils for frying: rapeseed or coconut, because they have a high smoke point, so that no harmful substances are produced during the process of heating to high temperatures. These fats are much he althier than oils rich in omega-6 fats, such as sunflower and corn, which interfere with the formation of EPA and DHA.

Include nuts and seeds in your diet - they provide omega-3 and monounsaturated fatty acids, and are also a source of many vitamins and nutrients. Also, don't forget about fish: eat 1-2 portions of oily sea fish a week (e.g. herring, mackerel, salmon).

Worth knowing

How omega-3 fatty acids can support sports performance?

Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can increase strength and endurance by improving aerobic metabolism, the critical energy system for all types of activity. The benefits of consuming omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • improvement in the supply of oxygen and nutrients to cells thanks to a reduction in blood viscosity;
  • improvement of oxygen metabolism;
  • possibility of extending training and increasing its intensity;
  • improvement in the release of growth hormone in response to sleep and exercise, acceleration of regeneration;
  • anti-inflammatory effect, preventing strains on joints, tendons and ligaments;
  • less inflammation due to overtraining, promoting wound healing.
According to an expertAgata Dąbrowska, personal trainer, fitness instructor, dietitian Certified personal trainer of international class, fitness instructor, dietitian and a graduate of Chemistry at the University of Warsaw. She has been involved in sport for 4 years. A great enthusiast of fitness and he althy eating. A real volcano of energy that can motivate almost everyone to fight for better he alth and a beautiful figure. Privately, she loves to cook. In her kitchen, every dish can be made fit. Its motto is: "To be successful, the first thing you have to do is fall in love with the hard work."

The author of the article is Agata Dąbrowska - a certified international personal trainer, fitness instructor, dietitian and a graduate of Chemistry at the University of Warsaw. She has been involved in sports for 4 years.

A great enthusiast of fitness and he althy eating. A real volcano of energy that can motivate almost everyone to fight for better he alth and a beautiful figure. Privately, she loves to cook. In her kitchen, every dish can be made fit. Herthe motto is: "To be successful, the first thing you have to do is fall in love with the hard work."

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