The importance of good fats in our diet – particularly for endurance training
Something that has historically gotten a bad rap in the media is a diet rich in fat. Although this is somewhat true, the important factor is actually the type of fats that are being consumed. Fats play an integral role in everyone’s nutrition, especially those whom are physically active. The vast majority of us probably understand the importance of protein for muscle recovery and carbohydrates for refuelling glycogen stores, but may have no idea where fat fits into the equation and why we are continuously led to believe they are harmful.
At low to moderate levels of exercise the primary source of fuel for the body is fats and this fuel source can last for extensive periods. In well trained athletes the body becomes more efficient at burning fat as a fuel source, hence why well trained athletes can train and race for longer at higher intensities without requiring additional (carbohydrate) fuel – they have greater endurance.
There are good fats and, of course, bad fats which we need to take into consideration when looking at our dietary intake. ‘Trans fats’ are the bad fats you want to avoid and they are found in frozen and highly processed foods (chips, donuts, burgers, pizza etc). Listed below are some good fat types that you should be aiming to eat and a brief explanation of why they are important for your endurance training.
4 reasons good fats will increase your athletic endurance and overall well-being
1. Increase time until fatigue
Due to the fact that even a lean athletic body has quite a large amount of fat stores (much greater than glycogen), endurance is increased when more fat is used for energy as opposed to glycogen. As you become fitter the body becomes more efficient and will thus will burn more fat as a fuel source and therefore increase the muscles’ endurance.
2. Maintain lean muscles mass
With large training hours come greater energy requirements. Being a very sustainable fuel and high nutritional source of calories, fats can provide for large energy requirements and protect muscles from being broken down.
3. Reduced injury
Fats help with reducing inflammation (omega 3) allowing muscle recovery to occur faster and helping to prevent minor injuries from suddenly become major problems. Providing the muscles and joints with the correct nutrition on top of adopting smart training principles will ensure you lower the risk of injury
4. Greater energy levels
Eating good fats will enable you to feel fuller for longer whilst providing more energy. As well as the reasons listed above this is also caused because:
- Overloading on carbohydrate can leave you feeling heavy and lethargic
- Consuming good fats in conjunction with protein will prevent blood sugar spikes and leave you feeling satisfied
- Fats are rich in calories but also vitamins and minerals
My 4 favourite types of good fats to enhance performance
1. Coconut Oil
This stuff is amazing and there are many studies that have proven it will actually cause a decrease in your overall amount body fat. I am a firm believer that when I am aiming to lean up before a key race, yet maintain muscle mass, coconut oil is king. Look for a virgin coconut oil that has been cold-pressed.
The perfect fruit with an incredibly long list of uses. When in hard training I aim to eat 1 avocado per day. They contain monounsaturated fats that are a sustainable source of fuel and will also reduce levels of bad cholesterol. Weight loss, skin and eye health and overall cardiovascular health are also promoted by eating this super-fruit.
3. Fish Oil
Packed with omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, fish oil supplements and/or fresh fish is fantastic for a broad range of health benefits. Wild caught salmon is a favourite of mine which is also rich in protein. Be wary of fish and supplements which may be high in mercury and other nasties. A higher price will generally get you a superior, cleaner and more pure product.
Nuts would have to be my favourite snack throughout the day and are full of good fats, protein and fibre. On top of my list are walnuts, almonds and brazil nuts but generally a good quality bag of mixed nuts satisfies the taste buds. Activated nuts are a new craze whereby nutrients are released and are readily digestible through a soaking and drying process.
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