Sports nutrition: Fat - friend and foe

Race to Bayshore diet expert Miranda Monroe describes both the good and bad in fat.

Dietary fats are energy dense; oils and solid fats both contain about 120 calories per tablespoon, so less is more. That said, fat is a vital source of energy during lengthy, lower to moderate-intensity exercise and for the body at rest. As well as fueling up with carbs, Marc, Lauren and Anne will be relying on their body fat stores for energy on days they are doing slower paced, longer training runs, walking or prehab.

Essential fatty acids are used to make hormones, support the immune system, form cell structure, and fats assist in absorption of the vitamins A, D, E, and K. Including a small amount of fat as part of meals and snacks also helps to keep appetite under control and blood sugar steady after meals.

Not all fats are friendly though. To lower the risk of heart disease and inflammation, use sparingly those foods containing saturated fats (animal fat, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil) and trans fats (hydrogenated oils, fried and highly processed baked foods). However, since dairy and animal products provide high quality protein and nutrients to support strength and training, opt for leaner choices, such as 1% or fat-free milk, low-fat cheeses, and lean, trimmed meats.

Most of the fats we eat should come from fish and plant sources. These mono and poly unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and are more health promoting than their saturated and trans fat counterparts. Healthy sources of fat include fatty fish, nuts, seeds and their oils (walnut, chia, sesame, flax, grape), vegetable oils (olive, canola), spreads made from a vegetable oil base, avocado, olives, and soy.

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats play a role in immune function and decreasing inflammation, both important to the athlete and for everyday health. Specifically, adding fats rich in omega 3s from nuts (walnuts) & seeds (pumpkin, flax, chia), canola oil, and fatty fish (salmon, sardines, halibut, tuna) or free-range chicken eggs, to meals and snacks will help the Three Amigos stay healthy and support recovery as they increase training efforts during their Race to Bayshore.

The amount of fat an athlete needs depends on their age, gender, and level of training or overall energy needs. Some training programs have promoted high-fat diets to â??trainâ?? the body to rely more on fat use and save carb (glycogen) fuel to enhance endurance ability. However, current research does not support any performance benefit to â??fat loadingâ?? during training or before competition. Eating high fat foods before training or a race can slow down how quickly food leaves the stomach, which may lead to pain and other upsets, interfering with performance during exercise.

Try these healthy fat options to fortify your meals and snacksâ?¦

For Breakfast

Add walnuts or ground flaxseed to oatmeal or RTE cereal

Free-range or omega-3 chicken eggs, scrambled, poached or boiled

For Lunch

Spread sandwiches with avocado

Top salad with Kalamata olives

Rye crackers with sardines

As A Snack

Crunch pumpkin seeds, walnuts or almonds with a piece of fruit

For Dinner

Crust fish in sesame seeds before searing

Top salad with smoked salmon or anchovies

Cook or make a salad dressing with olive, canola, or walnut oil

To determine the right energy balance for you, consider working with a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition for a meal plan that is personalized to your body, your sport, your stage of training, and your goals. Contact Miranda Monroe via

for a consultation to put the science of sports nutrition on your plate with a personalized plan and practical meal planning strategies to help you achieve your performance goals.

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