Fat is Amazing !
CONTRARY to popular belief, fat is essential for human health, given that fat molecules are a crucial component of cell membranes and that fat is also a vital source of energy during rest and exercise. On the flip-side, fat contains more calories than carbohydrate and protein and it is therefore tempting to reduce daily fat intake when making weight.
While the traditional advice was to reduce daily fat intake when attempting to lose body-fat, contemporary research (usually misunderstood by social media) now suggests that fat intake should actually be increased during a weight-loss program. In this article, I outline the basic types of dietary fat we typically consume each day, while also providing some simple recommendations on how to incorporate fat into your weight-loss programme.
FAT molecules are typically classified as saturated and unsaturated (which can further be categorised as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated) based on their chemical structure. Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature and are often present in animal sources e.g. red meat, butter, cheese, processed meats such as sausages, burgers etc.
Unsaturated fats are often liquid at room temperature (e.g. olive oil) and are also highly present in foods such as oily fish, nuts and avocados etc. The Omega-3 fatty acids are considered an essential fatty acid (meaning we must obtain them from our diet) and oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines etc) and some plant sources (e.g. flaxseed) are particularly rich in these fats. You should notice that many foods considered high in fat are also rich in other important food groups such as protein and important vitamins and minerals such as zinc and iron. For this reason, eliminating many of the foods described above often means that other components of the diet would suffer.
It is worth noting that fat contains more energy per gramme (nine calories) than both carbohydrate and protein (four calories each). Despite the health benefits of ingesting dietary fat (especially unsaturated sources), ultimately we must remember the golden rule of weight-loss, that is, you must expend more energy than you consume. In the context of fat intake, it is therefore often problematic to consume high fat in a diet given that you can very quickly increase your daily energy intake, the very thing which we should aim to decrease during weight-loss. As a general rule of thumb, I often believe that if an athlete consumes high-quality protein and natural food sources at appropriate times of the day, daily fat intake often takes care of itself.
FAT is stored in our bodies in both adipose tissue (this is the fat we are trying to lose during weight-loss) but also in our muscles (this is a particularly important energy source during exercise). Given that we will use ‘muscle fat’ for energy during training but that we also need to replace it for use during the next training session, it is therefore important that post-exercise meals and snacks between training sessions also contain some dietary fat.
In practice, this can simply be making oily fish part of your post-training meal, consuming Greek yoghurt as a snack and also adding nuts and/or avocados to salads and snacks (or adding them to smoothies). It is also worth noting that fat takes longer to digest so it is important to not consume overly high-fat foods prior to training or competition e.g. red meat, cheese etc.
THE amount of fat you can consume each day (while losing weight) is dependent on your training intensity and volume, how much weight you need to lose, how long you have to make your target weight
and perhaps more importantly, the amount of daily carbohydrate you consume. In my experience of working with professional boxers, footballers and cyclists, I have generally found daily fat requirements to be in the region of 1-1.5g/kg of body mass per day.
For example, a 70kg athlete could consume 70-105 g of fat per day. This fat intake should be obtained from a variety of both saturated (e.g. eggs, dairy) and unsaturated (e.g. oily fish, nuts, avocadoes etc) fat- rich foods. Although red meat could be limited to two-three times per week, highly processed meats such as sausages and burgers should likely be avoided at all times when a fighter has to make weight.
DONT FORGET THE CHECKLIST !
- ENSURE OILY FISH IS CONSUMED AT LEAST THREE TIMES PER WEEK
Make choices such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring etc for lunches and dinner. Tinned salmon and sardines can also form the basis of a protein and fat-rich snack.
- DON’T THROW AWAY THE YOLK AT BREAKFAST
Eggs remain one of the most effective protein sources and the yolk is also a good source of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. It is a myth that consuming two-three eggs each morning will raise your cholesterol.
- ADD AVOCADOS AND NUTS TO SALADS AND SNACKS
Avocados and nuts (a palm-sized portion) are a simple source of fat to add to salads and snacks. Both sources could also be added to smoothies and are especially useful as mid-afternoon snacks.
- AVOID DIETARY FADS
Remember, the bottom line remains that we must expend more calories than we consume in order to lose weight. Adding spoonfuls of coconut oil to coffee are calories we simply do not need!
- AVOID PROCESSED FOODS
Highly processed foods such as convenience and confectionary products (e.g. ready meals, ice cream, crisps, processed meats etc) are often rich in both saturated fat and sugar and should be avoided at all costs!