How Athletes Can Choose the Best Dietary Fats

Athletes need adequate energy, especially during high-intensity and/or long duration training. Together, the three macronutrients—carbohydrates, proteins and fats—are essential to providing athletes with the vigor they need.

Many athletes tend to focus more on carbohydrate and protein intake and often sell themselves short on fat. But fat is just as important to maintain body weight and health, and to maximize training.

Understand Why Fat Is Important

Fat is an essential nutrient that provides energy, energy storage and insulation. It supports multiple body functions. Fat deposits in the body protect organs, such as the kidneys, heart and liver. Dietary fat is energy-rich, providing 9 kcal/g of energy, and adding flavor to meals as well as making them more filling and satisfying.

More: Dietary Fat and Endurance Athletes

Fat provides fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6). Essential fatty acids are necessary for human health, but the body can't make them. Therefore, we must get them from the food we eat.

Depending on their composition, fats are categorized as saturated or unsaturated. Unsaturated fats include polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) and monounsaturated fat (MUFA).

More: 3 Reasons to Eat More Fat

Know How Much Fat You Need

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Position Paper on Nutrition and Athletic Performance recommends athletes get 20 to 35 percent of their total energy intake from fat. This provides adequate fat to replenish fuel stores after training and leaves room for adequate carbohydrates and protein in the diet. Getting less than 20 percent of daily energy from fat hasn't shown any benefit to performance. High-fat diets are also not recommended for athletes.

It's a fine balance. Eating too much fat will promote fat storage in fat cells and adipose tissue. Eating too little fat can cause essential fatty acid deficiency, which may lead to skin integrity problems, hair loss, poor wound healing, fatigue and poor mental function.

More: Healthy Fats: How Much Should You Eat?

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