Whether your goal is weight loss or the building of lean muscle, fat is probably something you’re doing your best to avoid, but should you be?
A low-fat everything diet may not actually be helping you out as much as you might think.
Why is fat important for muscle building?
Fat is your body’s preferred source of energy, it is also the most efficient as it contains more calories per gram than carbohydrates – about 9 calories per gram. Dietary fat also helps your body absorb vitamins, and promotes proper growth and development. The American Heart Association recommends that between 25% – 35% of your daily calories such come from healthy fats.
The way fat digestion occurs is different to that of carbohydrates. Firstly, when your body breaks down and absorbs fat, it is a much slower process than with carbohydrates. The majority of fat is broken down in the gut via enzymes called lipases and eventually make their way into the bloodstream as free fatty acids. As with sugar, once the free fatty acids are in the bloodstream, they can be used for one of two purposes, either for energy or stored for later use.
The exception to the above is that of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). These are smaller than other forms of fat and can therefore pass directly into the bloodstream without requiring digestion in the gut. Two great sources of MCTs are coconut oil and grass-fed butter.
When fat is being used as your body’s primary energy source, you are actually “training” your metabolism to use fats more frequently and more efficiently. Your body becomes better adapted to using your fat stores to fuel your activity when there are not enough calories immediately available.
Another important factor is that fat makes cholesterol, which in turn promotes the synthesis of testosterone – your principle muscle building hormone. In other words, the less fat you have in your diet, the less testosterone can be made.
It may sound counterintuitive – including fat in your diet can result in higher energy levels and lower body fat, but dietary fat intakes does not directly relate to fat gain. However, before you go swapping the greek yogurt for ice cream, it’s important to understand the distinction between different types of fat.
Unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature. It is mostly in oils from plants. Evidence shows that if you eat unsaturated, it may help improve your cholesterol levels.
Monounsaturated fat – This fat is in avocado, nuts, and vegetable oils, such as canola, olive, and peanut oils. Eating foods that are high in monounsaturated fats may help lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol, whilst keeping levels of your “good” HDL cholesterol high.
Polyunsaturated fat – This type of fat is mainly found in vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, sesame, soybean, and corn oils. Polyunsaturated fat is also the main fat found in seafood. The two types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids – found in foods from plants like soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed. They can also found in fatty fish and shellfish. Salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout, Atlantic mackerel, and Pacific mackerel are great sources of Omega-3.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found mostly in liquid vegetable oils like soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil.
Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. It is mostly in animal foods, such as milk, cheese, and meat. Poultry and fish have less saturated fat than red meat. Saturated fat is also in tropical oils, such as coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter.
For a long time, saturated fat was something to be avoided, however recent studies suggest this advice may be somewhat misguided. A regulated diet, complemented with saturated fat may actually have some benefits:
Saturated fat can affect hormonal production in a positive way. Think testosterone.
Saturated fats can actually help your body retain omega-3 fatty acids better and help to convert to its final usable form (DHA).
Saturated fat can help strengthen your immune system.
Saturated fat can help strengthen your liver.
This is a fat that has been changed by a process called hydrogenation to increase the fat’s shelf life. Trans fat should be avoided as much as possible as there are little, if any healthy benefits from eating it. Trans-fats are commonly found in:
Snack foods, such as chips and crackers.
Some margarine and salad dressings.
Foods made with shortening and partially hydrogenated oils.
*The views and/or opinions expressed in the blogs are not necessarily those of Training Nation, but of the author