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Fat is important in the diet of athletes. It is associated with the fat-soluble vitamins. About 2,500 calories are stored in the muscles for energy use. If you don’t get enough fat in your diet, muscle glycogen stores may be great, but muscle fat stores may be deficient. Aerobic endurance exercise uses both.

Of course, too much fat, and in particular certain types of fat (saturated, hydrogenated, especially trans hydrogenated) are unhealthy.

Fats are often triglycerides; three fatty acids attached to a glycerol backbone. Some fatty acids are necessary for health and cannot be made by the body—we have to obtain them from our diet. These are essential fats.

Essential omega-3 fatty acids are important for hormone function, immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth.

They are most plentiful in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines (packed in water or oil), herring, and black cod (sable fish, butter fish). Healthy fats are also found in omega-3 fortified eggs, nuts, and seeds.

How Much Fat do Athletes Need?

Not too much, not too little.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) states that there is no performance benefit in consuming a diet with less than 15 percent of energy from fat, compared with 20 to 25 percent of energy from fat. Additionally, there is no scientific basis on which to recommend high-fat diets to athletes.

About 20 to 35 percent of daily calories can appropriately come from fat. Limit saturated and trans (hydrogenated) fats to one-third of the 20 to 35 percent of total fat. The American Heart Association recommends avoiding trans fat because it raises the bad LDL cholesterol and lowers the good HDL

To reduce unhealthy fat, eat less full-fat dairy products such as butter, cream, and full- fat cheeses. Reduce or eliminate fatty meats and products made with shortening or margarine. Avoid products made with coconut or palm kernel oils.

See Appendix A for a list of popular foods and their macronutrient distributions.

Next: Fueling Before, During, and After Exercise

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