Body Conquest Articles | Learn The Fats
Learn the FatsOne of the most enigmatic concepts about diet and nutrition concerns dietary fat. Fats have long since been given a really bad rap especially when it comes to controlling levels of body fat. It seems that fats are the scapegoat for those who are overweight. Therefore many are afraid to eat anything with a high fat content and this is true of the bodybuilding fraternity also. Fats in the diet actually has several important roles and care should be taken to make sure that for optimum health and sound results in the gym, your fat intake is as it should be. Don't give the good fats the cold shoulder; they are a necessary component of any good body builders' diet.
Certainly, there are many forms of fat to avoid especially if you want your well deserved muscles on show, not hidden under a blanket of fatty insulation. But, to say that "fats are bad for you" is somewhat misleading. Fat is both an indispensable and unavoidable part of nutrition. We have three major macronutrients for a reason-because they are all required to attain and maintain a healthy physique. Without it we would perish. So let's understand how dietary fats acts on the body positively so that we don't have a distorted view of fats importance.
Dietary fat alone does not make us fat. Often the true preventative to a lean physique is starchy carbohydrates. If you look in the shopping trolley of the average fitness trainee you are bound to see it full of low-fat and fat free items. But what those foods have instead is usually sugar, and sugar is a carbohydrate in its worst form.
This is precisely where dietary fats come into the picture. We are so afraid of fat we think that if we ingest any we will blow up straight away and this simply is not correct. If you were to consistently to eat a big helping of starchy carbohydrates at dinner time such as potato, white rice or pasta for two weeks, you would most certainly put on more body fat than if you were to eat two cups of vegetables along with 1 tablespoon of monosaturated or polyunsaturated oil each night for the same two weeks. In fact, with the first scenario you would almost certainly put on weight and with the second one, you would lose weight, most of it body fat. You are not convinced? Let me explain further.
Fat burns in the flame of fat. Fat taken in the diet, without starchy carbohydrates (but vegetables instead), along with a high protein intake, causes the body to burn fat as fuel and produce ketones. Ketones are the body toxins and by-products that your system throws off when fat is being burned. It is not advisable to maintain high levels of ketones in the body for extended periods of time. This is because the kidneys find it hard to process and throw off without a great deal of water. However if ketone presence is identified in the bloodstream and urine briefly, this indicates a continual dip into the body's fat stores. It is quite easy to check whether or not you are producing ketones. All you need to do is take a trip to your local chemist and purchase a packet of "ketostix" and they will provide you with the information you require via a quick and painless urine test first thing in the morning. You can then adjust your diet accordingly, although only diet like this for short periods.
THE FUNCTION OF FAT IN THE BODYFat serves as a protective layer around body organs such as the kidneys and heart to protect them from harm. Fat serves as a reserve energy source, which dates back to primitive man, where life often consisted of feast or famine. The body cannot store excess carbohydrate or protein, so excess of either was converted into fat. Fat was stored at the time of an abundant food supply. However, this fat storage was meant to be for a short duration and not for a matter of years as is happening in modern society.
Fat is also necessary for the synthesis of vitamin D, is a precursor for the sex and adrenal cortex hormones and fat forms an integral part of the cell membranes of every cell within the body. Therefore fats are an essential part of the daily diet in a healthy individual. This is particularly true of essential fatty acids of which we can glean from the name is crucial as our bodies cannot manufacture this type of fat so it needs to be ingested via the food system and/or supplementation.
Essential fatty acids are necessary for thousands of bodily functions. They are particularly important for the body builder in that EFA's help increase testosterone production, they also aid in the prevention of muscle breakdown, help to increase your hormone production and help to increase your HDL (good cholesterol), support and protect liver function, improve metabolism and increase nitrogen retention. EFA deficiencies can also alter the balance of calcium in the body. Cells will retain calcium more efficiently and thus calcium is less likely to be lost through leaky cell membranes. Muscle contractions are controlled through calcium ions and therefore as a bodybuilder maintenance of calcium within the working muscles is paramount. As well, the kidneys also work better by more effectively reabsorbing calcium. Conversely, symptoms of EFA deficiencies may include fatigue, dry skin, immune weakness, gastrointestinal disorders, heart and circulatory problems, growth retardation, sterility and mental problems.
SOURCES OF ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDSSo, where do we find these essential fatty acids and how do we incorporate them into our daily nutrition to promote a high-functioning physique? Monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats are filled with linolenic acid (omega 3's) and linoleic acid (omega 6's) that are helpful to the body, supplying lubrication to the joints, skin, teeth and hair. They are very important to a healthy body. If they are carefully ingested, their side effect is that they can promote fat loss at the same time! Yes, you read correctly, they can contribute to you losing body fat.
Walnuts, deep green vegetables, mackerel, tuna, salmon, herring, cod liver oil, flaxseed or linseed oil are all good, nutritious sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Often it is not feasible to get a sufficient supply of omega 3's from the diet. This is where supplements of fish oil capsules or flaxseed oil either by spoonfuls in protein drinks or in salad dressings may be necessary. Sources of omega 6's include foods such as nuts, seeds and the oils made from them, such as safflower, sunflower and almond oils. Evening primrose oil, avocados and some grains are additional sources of omega 6's. Usually it is easier for most people to ingest satisfactory amounts of omega 6's in their diet.
Cold pressed oils, either polyunsaturated or monosaturated are the best source of oils. These oils are extracted from their source without the use of any heat process which is beneficial because heat can destroy the nutrient content of the oil. To protect the nutrients from sunlight, the oil is bottled in dark glass bottles and stored in a dark cupboard (or fridge). Various nutrients (especially the anti-oxidants Vitamin C and Vitamin E in plant oils can be destroyed by heat or light).
How can you tell if you are getting enough omega-3's? According to Dr. Udo Erasmus, probably the worlds' foremost expert on dietary fats and the author of the bestselling book Fats that Heal; Fats that Kill, the best way to measure oil requirements is by how the skin feels. "If your skin is soft, smooth and velvety, you have enough oil. I've seen bodybuilders who have really dry knuckles. They need more oil. I work with bodybuilders whose knees hurt. They need more oil. But the skin is the easiest way to tell". 1.
FATS TO AVOIDSaturated fats are the type of fat that you should avoid; they are poison to the bodybuilder. These fats are found in meats, some dairy foods, normally used in baking and a host of processed foods. The saturated fats are the ones which are harmful to your body, and that turn into stored body fat, oxidizing and creating the potential for disease. One way to easily identify saturated fats is that they will be found in solid form as opposed to unsaturated fats which will be found in liquid form such as oils.
Particularly harmful are 'trans fats'. This is when hydrogen is added to oil under pressure. During hydrogenation oil is heated in very high temperatures and is mixed with nickel and hydrogen is forced through it. The unsaturated fatty acids that aren't hydrogenated are then converted to what is known as trans-fatty acids. Trans-fatty acids increase your LDL which is your bad cholesterol levels and decreases your heart protecting good cholesterol. Stay away from trans-fatty acids. So that you know what to look out for, look for words such as hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated in the ingredients list and avoid at all costs. Trans fatty-acids are found in many foods including cereals, shortenings, biscuits, dry crackers, vegetable oils and margarines. Fundamentally if you see a word starting with "h" on the label, then get the "h" out of there. Look for and replace your food with straight, unhydrogenised oils such as peanut or soy oil.
If you are wondering why you can never lose enough body fat to appear muscular, lean and fit, ask yourself if you are taking in too many starchy carbohydrates and not enough cruciferous vegetables (e.g. cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli) and are you supplementing with grams of monosaturated and polysaturated fats? If you aren't then its not much wonder you don't have much energy, are always tired grumpy and lugging around a spare tyre.
Fats should generally constitute about 20% of your daily diet, although of course individual requirements can differ according to your body type and goals. Remember that one gram of fat contains 9 calories while protein and carbohydrates both contains 4.5 calories per gram. So fat is twice the calorie dense food that the other two macronutrients are. Keeping that in mind, don't think of fat as a food equal to carbohydrates in terms of volume. A good rule of thumb is to ingest approximately one tablespoon of flax-seed oil with each of three or four meals a day. If you are eating five or six meals a day, adjust your oil intake to teaspoons instead.
It is fair to say that there are "good" fats and "bad" fats. Bad fats will make you fatter, good fats do not. Fortunately, the body recognises them as "good and necessary" and puts them to use for healing and growth as soon as you take them Good fats produce fat burning enzymes and this is a good thing because it means that in order to lose fat we need to ingest fat....it just has to come from the appropriate source. So stop seeing fats as the ultimate weapon of mass destruction to a great physique and start viewing them as a crucial and most important part of your eating plan. Act now and start adding EFA's to your diet.
References:Erasmus, Dr E. Fats that Heal; Fats that Kill, Philadelphia (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1999)
Roblin, Lynn. "Not all fats are created equal", The Toronto Star Health Talk, June 24, 1998