How to Consume Fats Responsibly
As health professionals, we tend to witness a lot of misunderstandings when we start talking about fat as a macronutrient. It has been like carbohydrates in that they have been scorned for decades as the culprit behind pandemic obesity. But once fat is more clearly understood, it becomes easier to sort through some of the myths and fallacies read or heard about today in society.
For many people, fat is something that can easily be identified within their personal food intake or diet. Everyone knows when they are eating fattening foods, or so it seems. You might also agree that most people know when they are consuming a high-fat meal and that it poses potential risks to controlling biometrics when done in excess. Obesity and high blood pressure (although there is no cause/effect relationship proven be- tween high blood pressure and obesity or fat, the two are often seen together) are also impacted by the excessive intake of certain fats.
Because performance and health are both affected by the type of fat consumed, it is important to know more about the quality of this energy-dense macronutrient. In addition to protein, fat is also an essential macronutrient in that the body does not synthesize all types needed for physiological function, and these fats are taken in through food.
Fats or fatty acids, all have a similar structure – a carbon backbone with hydrogen atoms arranged in varied concentrations along the carbon chain. Based on the number of hydrogen atoms attached, we rank fats as saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Saturated fats – these carbon chains or backbones are full, and can not take any more hydrogen at- oms as they will not fit. This type of fat is solid at room temperature.
Monounsaturated fats are called such because there is one slot along the carbon backbone or chain that can accommodate a hydrogen molecule. This type of fat is liquid at room temperature (olive oil, canola oil).
Polyunsaturated fats have several open slots along the carbon chain and are also liquid at room temperature. This group includes flaxseed oil and fish oils (omega group).
Trans fats are more problematic. The process of hydrogenating food creates trans fat. During this process, an unsaturated fat item is ‘super whipped’ with hydrogen atoms; these atoms then bind to the carbon backbone or chain to change the properties of the molecular structure, making the fat solid at room temperature instead of its former state, liquid.
Food labels are changing about disclosure related to trans fats. Up until recently, amounts under a certain threshold allowed the label to state that the food item was trans-fat-free but there are in fact, hydrogenated items listed on the ingredients list. Coach your client to learn and then look for the word hydrogenated on the food labels of items they consume, and to avoid trans fats completely. Even in small amounts, this type of fat is correlated with negative effects on LDL cholesterol, elevated triglyceride, and insulin levels.
Trans Fats are found everywhere! The following is based on current US FDA data:*
- 51% in baked goods (bread, cakes, cookies, crackers, pies)
- 22% in margarine
- 10% in fried potatoes
- 6% in potato chips, corn chips
- 5% in shortening
- 4% in salad dressing
- 1% in breakfast cereals
The body can only obtain omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids through the diet. Because of their role as precursors of other fatty acids that the body can not synthesize, they have been termed essential fatty acids. About 1 to 2% of the total energy intake should come from linoleic acid. For an average 2500-kcal per day intake, this is about 1 tablespoon of plant-based oil per day.
Foods such as mayonnaise, cooking oils, and salad dressings, whole grains, vegetables, and other foods readily provide this amount for us. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, or sardines provide the best sources of alpha-linolenic acid or its related omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (2).
Fat Use During Exercise
Research shows that regular aerobic exercise impacts the client’s ability to oxidize long-chain fatty acids and there is an increase in fat catabolism during submaximal exercise following aerobic training bouts. This is paired with a decrease in the number of carbohydrates broken down. However, even for endurance athletes, the improved capacity for fat oxidation can not sustain the level of aerobic metabolism generated when oxidizing glycogen for energy. As a result, well-nourished endurance athletes rely almost totally on oxidation of stored glycogen in near-maximal, sustained aerobic effort.
Consuming Fats Responsibly
Fat intake should comprise no more than 35% of total calories. Within that 35%, approximately 1/3 come from each of the different types of fat (saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated). If an individual needs to decrease their fat intake overall, this decrease comes primarily from saturated fat foods
Fish oil supplementation has been shown to be effective with regards to a variety of health markers (e.g., lowering lipid levels, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, enhancing recovery, etc) without the risks associated with consuming fish foods potentially high in mercury. Some medications and other contraindications could offset the practical advice or suggestion to use fish oil, so this is an example of the need to know your client and to know about fat supplements. As with all macronutrients, it is best to consume the majority of omega-3 fats from whole foods.
There is greater use of fat when exercising at lower intensities and this is because of the availability of oxygen. However, due to the lower intensity overall, fewer total calories are burned. Therefore, although the percentage of fat use is higher, the higher percentage is from a lower total calorie usage and the percents or ratio does not change.
To use an example, say you exercise for one hour at a lower intensity. During that 60 minutes, you burn 300 calories. From those 300 calories, let’s say that 60% comes from fat as a fuel source and the remaining 40% is from carbohydrates. In this example, 180 calories have come from fat usage and approximately 120 calories have come from carbohydrates.
If your intensity increased, and you exercised at a higher intensity for a shorter duration, you would have a change in the fuel used. The body’s systems would shift, making carbohydrate the primary fuel used. Consider a 45-minutes PA bout of higher intensity exercise, where 400 calories are burned. 240 calories would come from carbohydrate sources and 160 calories would come from fat fuel sources.
Interested in learning more about hiit training and metabolic conditioning? Check out the Metabolic Conditioning Coach course.
We are always burning a combination of carbohydrates, fat, and protein when we exercise, albeit at different rates. It is the many variables, including exercise intensity and duration, state of conditioning, and dietary intake, to name a few, that determine where the body is tapping for fuel.
The body burns what is needed and available and will burn whatever fuel is provided. If a high-fat meal is consumed, for example, there is more fat in the GI tube and therefore, more fat is metabolized. This doesn’t mean that we burn more body fat; available fuel from fat and fuel from stored body fat is different.
Likewise, if a high carbohydrate meal is consumed, carbohydrate provides more fuel during a bout of PA. Since the amount of glycogen stored in muscles is limited, the stores of glycogen are depleted somewhat after an overnight fast and if an exercise bout is undertaken in the morning after a nights’ rest, then it is more likely to see the fuel supply coming from fatty acids, in abundant supply.
The key with any successful fitness nutrition plan is to achieve an overall energy deficit, as stated previously, Therefore, the actual fuel source becomes less important than the overall deficit created. A small intake of food before a workout in this scenario would provide additional energy during the time when it is needed most. But instead of focusing on the fuel used dur- ing exercise, focus on the type of fuel consumed after exercise. If the main goal is to lose body fat, this awareness is both useful and effective for the client.
If you want to help clients with food, diet, weight management and improving the results of their fitness routines, the Fitness Nutrition Coach course is for you. You will learn about optimal nutrition, including proven techniques for increasing energy, optimal health and decreased dependence on medications. Instantly increase your job and career opportunities with this popular professional credential.
Become a Lifestyle Weight Management Specialist. Help your clients achieve their weight loss or weight management goals using the latest proven strategies.
You can become a Certified Personal Fitness Chef and expand your current personal chef business, or add a new profit center for your fitness or wellness business. Many personal chefs cook and coach people in groups to help more people and earn more money per hour. Some chefs provide weekly meal prep service for health-minded customers and athletes.
Check out what it takes to start a career in personal fitness training. This is your most affordable and fastest way to become a highly qualified personal trainer.
NESTA coaching programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.
That’s it for now.