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Fats are a wide variety of water-insoluble chemicals, including all fats and oils in the diet and in the body. Fats, (lipids), are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, similar to carbohydrates and protein. The ratio of oxygen to carbon and hydrogen is much lower in lipids than carbohydrates, making lipids a more concentrated energy source. The type of fat in the diet has an important role in general health and the onset of several chronic diseases.

Good Fats For Bodybuilders

The good fats in our diet are unsaturated fats and are further divided into two categories:

  • Monounsaturated: e.g. olive, canola, and peanut oils, nuts and avocados
  • Polyunsaturated e.g. Omega-3: herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna, flax seed, canola oil, and walnuts. Omega-6: corn, safflower, soy, and sunflower oils, nuts and seeds.

These fats are termed “good fats” because they help to decrease our chances of getting heart disease by decreasing our bad cholesterol (LDL) and increasing our good cholesterol (HDL). We need to ingest two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, α-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid) from all the foods we eat, as the body cannot make them. A lack of either of these essential fatty acids will result in deficiencies and problems such as scaly skin, dermatitis, and reduced growth. Studies have shown that people with diets high in α-linolenic acid and longer chain omega-3 fatty acids, common in countries where larger quantities of fatty fish are consumed, have a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Bad Fats For Bodybuilders

The bad fats in our diet are:

  • Saturated, e.g. meat, poultry, butter, cheese, cream, and whole milk, coconut, palm and palm kernal oils, processed foods e.g. cookies, crackers, chips and baked goods
  • Trans fat: Stick margarine, shortening, packaged cookies, pastries, crackers, candy, fried foods, very small amounts found naturally in meat, poultry, and dairy products.

They are termed “bad fats” because they increase our bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduce our ability to remove it from our bodies. The worst of all these bad fats are trans fatty acids. Although they are classified as unsaturated fatty acids they behave more like saturated fatty acids in the body. They are found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as margarine and shortening, with lower levels found in meats and dairy products. Both types of fat heighten the risk of heart disease and it is recommended to keep intake as low as possible whilst including these fats as they may provide valuable nutrients. Saturated fat and trans fats are primary contributors to heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and can aggravate inflammation in the arteries, elevate triglycerides and lower healthy high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol & Bodybuilding

Cholesterol is a wax like substance belonging to the steroid family. It is required for the formation of many essential substances in the body, including steroid hormones, vitamin D and bile salts. Cholesterol is not a dietary essential because it can be synthesised by the liver. Low density lipoproteins are considered bad cholesterol because they transport cholesterol to cells of the body. High density lipoproteins are considered good cholesterol because they carry cholesterol away from the body cells and back to the liver (for excretion).

The Right Fats Help Bodybuilders

Proper consumption of dietary fats protect against heart disease, free radical damage, and cancer, increase the metabolic rate and fat burning, increase muscle mass, and increase production of hormones like testosterone. If you are a bodybuilder, during off season, keep your fat intake to 20-25% of total daily energy intake1,2. Your diet should contain more unsaturated than saturated fat. i.e. <10% saturated + trans, 10-15% monounsaturated, and 7 to 10%  polyunsaturated.2 Whilst certain fats can clog arteries, make us fatter, and accelerate our ageing dietary fats, used properly, can enhance your physique and in fact may help you to increase your ability to burn fat better.3

Fats For Bodybuilding

  • Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids as they cannot be produced by the body.
  • MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides) - unique fats with a shorter chain length than many of the other fats, which provide more energy with less fat storage. It may also help with increasing the ability to burn fat.4
  • CLAs (Conjugated Linoleic Acids) – a type of fat found in meat and dairy products of cows, goats and sheep. A 2007 meta-analyses showed that at recommended doses of 3.2g/day, supplementation of CLA can increase lean body mass by 1%5 and decrease fat mass of 50-80 g/week.6

1. NHMRC ‘Nutrient Reference Values’ – www.nrv.gov.au
2.  Lambert, CP, LL Frank and WJ Evans, 'Macronutrient considerations for the sport of bodybuilding' (2004) 34(5) Sports Medicine 31
3.  Burke, LM, B Kiens and JL Ivy, 'Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery' (2004) 22(1) Journal of Sports Sciences 15
4.  Clegg, ME. "Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance". International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 2010; 61 (7): 653–679
5.  Schoeller DA, Watras AC, Whigham LD. ‘A meta-analysis of the effects of conjugated linoleic acid on fat-free mass in humans’. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Oct;34(5):975-8.
6.   Leah DW, Abigail CW and Dale AS, ‘Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humans’. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007 May; 85(5), pp. 1203-1211.

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