I mentioned on Monday that I have 3 half marathons coming up: La Jolla Half, Rock ‘N’ Roll San Diego and then SeaWheeze. My goal for these races is going to be to achieve a PR of 1:45:00 or less so a pretty intense training schedule is going to be necessary.
With an increase in training intensity also comes necessary adjustments in my diet. I learned some VERY valuable lessons training for my marathon last year and am still dealing with the consequences of over training and denying my body necessary nutrients.
For this next training cycle I’m going to make a point to honor my body and really pay attention if I’m feeling weak, extra sore, unmotivated, pains..etc. If that happens I’m not going to feel bad taking a rest day (or two). As for food not consuming enough healthy fats was a major issue that lead to my hormones getting completely thrown off. I’ve been to many doctors appointments and have done a lot of reading on my own on the importance of healthy fats for athletes and it really inspired me to write this post.
It’s one thing to just say “healthy fats are good for athletes” and another thing to explain WHY!
Types of fats:
There are different types of fats: trans, saturated and unsatured (mono and poly). Without getting too scientific let’s break it down:
- Bad fats: Trans fats- The primary dietary source of trans fats is in processed foods as ‘partially hydrogenated oils’. ALWAYS look for this on an ingredient list. These fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol. Eating trans fats also can increase your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke…no thanks.
- Limit fats: Saturated fats- There is a lot of debate over saturated fats which are commonly found in foods like fatty beef, lamb, poultry with skin, butter, cheese, whole milk dairy…etc. The American Heart Association recommends limiting these fats to 5-6% of calories/ day. So if you eat 2,000 calories no more than 120 should be from saturated fat (13g). I personally prefer whole milk dairy options over low fat due to high amounts of sugar commonly found in fat-free/ low fat options but who knows. I kind of take the stance that as long as saturated fats are in the form of real food and I eat them in moderation I’m fine.
- Good fats: Mono and polyunsaturated fats- Unsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood which can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. AND polyunsatured fats provide essential fats your body needs but can’t produce itself like omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. You must get these nutrients from foods like fatty fish such as salmon, nuts, seeds, tofu…etc. Yes, these fats have incredible health benefits but like anything should be consumed in moderation.
Signs that you may not be consuming enough fats in your diet?
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms take some time and really think about your diet. Are you eating enough quality nutrients?
I know for me I was very low in energy, had crippling anxiety to the point of panic attacks, always felt like I was going to faint, had strange vision issues in stores and felt like my body never recovered from challenging workouts.
- dry/flaky/ dull skin
- always feeling hungry
- you’re always cold
- brain fog/ trouble concentrating
- low energy
- feeling light headed/dizzy
- changes in menstrual cycle/ missing period (women)
- feeling extra anxious/ slightly depressed/ unmotivated
- you suffer from sensory overload at crowded places (malls, stores, restaurants)
- always feeling sore even days after a workout
Food = Medicine!
*If you are experiencing any of these symptoms please remember I am not a doctor and if you are concerned about your health please consult your doctor.
How much fat should I eat?
The American Heart Association recommends a diet that includes 25-35% of total calories from fat with the majority coming from unsaturated fat. If you consume 2,000 calories per day that is about 40-62g of unsatured fat. Less than 7% of those calories (or 16g) should be from saturated fats and 0 should be from trans.
*Please note fat requirements vary based on health issues and activity levels.
How can you incorporate more healthy fats into your diet?
Some of the best sources of healthy fats include avocados, almonds, walnuts, eggs, fatty fish like salmon, flax seeds, olives, chia seeds, grass-fed meats, full-fat dairy…etc.
A couple easy ways to add some extra healthy fats into your diet:
- Whip up a morning smoothie with almond butter, nuts, seeds, whole milk yogurt, fruits and veggies. I LOVE this coconut kale smoothie recipe!
- Snack on things like hard boiled eggs, nuts, seeds, Perfect Bars, Rx Bars…etc.
- Add olives or avocado into a salad at lunch or dinner
- Cook with healthy oils: avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil
- Make a point to have fatty dish or some grass-fed meat once a week
What is fat’s function in the body and why is it so important for athletes?
So what on earth does fat even do for your body? GREAT QUESTION!
Again to make this as basic as possible fats provide energy for your body and are necessary for the growth and development of your brain, hormone production, blood clotting, skin maintenance and transporting/absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K).*
So let’s bring this fat discussion back to the role it plays with runners/ other athletes and their health and performance.
Runners often obsess over Carbohydrates and protein and forget that fat is also an important building block. Like stated above healthy fats are so important for cardiovascular strength, hormone balance, building lean muscle and combating inflammation all VERY important things for athletes. This is elaborated in more detail below…
- Caloric value: fats provide the body with energy. During short-duration or low-intensity exercise carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel but for longer or more intense exercise fats are the primary energy source.
- Hormones: Hormones are chemicals that control the balance of biochemical reactions in your body, driving growth, development, recovery and overall health. Many hormones are produced from molecules derived from essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Steroid hormones that control how your body responds to high energy demands and maintain mineral balance, and sex hormones that drive muscle growth are derived from fat. A lack of fat in your diet will prevent these hormones from being in balance, impairing athletic performance and recovery.
- Inflammation: Exercise-induced damage to your muscles increases in strength and endurance intensity. This damage leads to inflammation in the muscles. When muscles are inflamed, they are sore and also losing strength and range of motion. Omega-3 fatty acids especially are needed to regulate the level of inflammation in your body. A diet low in omega-3 fats, while high in the more common omega-6 fats, can bias your body towards inflammation, impairing exercise recovery, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
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Do you try to incorporate healthy fats into your diet on a daily basis?
What are some of your favorite sources of healthy fats?
What’s your opinion about consuming whole milk dairy?