Facts about Fats

All fats share a common glycerol backbone made up of three carbons (triglyceride), the variation comes from differing fatty acids and the placement of fatty acids on the glycerol. There are two major types of fats; saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are without double bonds in their fatty acid chain; these fats are responsible for increasing heart disease. There are varying degrees of saturation in fats depending on how many double bonds and where in the fatty acid chain the double bonds occur. Olive oil contains large amounts of the monosaturated fatty acid, oleic acid. Monosaturated fatty acids have one double bond; oleic acid is shown to improve blood pressure and glucose metabolism. Polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds and include fish oils. Fish oil contains large amounts of omega 3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory; the omega refers to the position of the double bond within the fatty acid end of the polyunsaturated fat.


Another difference in the double bonds of fatty acids are the cis or trans configurations. Most naturally occurring fatty acids are cis resulting in a “hair pin” shape. The trans configuration, which produces a straight molecule, is the result of hydrogenation and is manufactured by food producers. These manmade fats are more detrimental to health. Their straight shape allows more to fit into your cell membrane than their bent backbone, cis shaped, cousins.


Just as the human body requires consumption of essential amino acids, it also requires the consumption of a couple essential fatty acids. Linoleic acid (omega-6) and linolenic acid (omega-3) play key roles in many bodily functions, but our bodies are unable to synthesize them.  Common sources of omega-6 are vegetable and other plant derived oils; omega-3 most notably comes from fish. The recommended intake of omega-6 to omega-3 is about a 7:1 ratio, western cultures consume these in a 17:1 ratio. With omega-6 being over consumed and vastly out numbering omega-3’s, they take the place of omega-3’s in the cell membranes. Without the proper balance between these two there is the opportunity for many different physiological abnormalities.


There are two phenomena guiding the usage of fat as energy for the body. The first is the metabolic crossover effect. The body utilized fat as fuel while at rest and during low intensity exercise, as the intensity increases there is a point when the body crosses over to carbohydrates as its main fuel source. This is known at the metabolic crossover effect. It occurs in all athletes but at a higher intensity for endurance athletes as their bodies have been trained and are adapted to utilizing the more abundant supply of fat while exercising at higher intensities. The second phenomenon is the duration effect which explains the reduced dependence on carbohydrates as fuel for prolonged, low intensity exercise. Again in trained endurance athletes their bodies are able to use fat earlier in their exercise bout, lessening their reliance on carbohydrates. In summary, conditioned endurance athletes start using fat a fuel earlier in exercise bouts and continue to use fats over a wider range of intensities compared to non-exercisers.


Athletes need to ensure they are ingesting the proper amount of dietary fat. If not enough fat is consumed, reductions in performance and testosterone levels may be experienced. In turn, too much fat adds ‘dead weight’ the athlete must carry around. Our recommendations are in line with the National Strength and Conditioning Association in that fat should account for 20% to 35% of total caloric intake for athletes. That 30% of fat should be composed of 10% saturated, 10% polyunsaturated, and 10% monounsaturated.


Saturated fats

Animal fat (ex: beef, dark chicken meat)


Polyunsaturated fats

Nuts, cheese, fish


Monounsaturated fats

Vegetable oils (ex: olive and canola oil), peanut butter






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