Fats for Athletes

Dietary fat is one of the three major components of food (others are proteins and carbohydrates). Fats in the diet are essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and a focus on healthier fats (unsaturated and omega-3) are also beneficial for improved cardiovascular health. For athletes, fat is also an important energy fuel for exercise.

During moderate exercise, about half of the total energy expenditure is derived from free fatty acid metabolism. For events lasting an hour or more, fats may provide most of the required energy. The actual amount of fat used as an exercise fuel for the body depends on the duration of exercise, the intensity and the fitness of the athlete. Trained athletes use fat for energy more quickly than untrained athletes.

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In general, fats should be kept fairly low in the diet, less than 30% of the energy budget, but even lower if you are looking to reduce body fat levels. Fats won't directly impact athletic performance, but ideally reduced amounts pre-exercise will help gastric emptying for stomach comfort during the more physical types of exercise.

Of course, if you consume too much fat over time (or any other energy source for that matter), then it may be stored as excess adipose tissue and may hinder exercise performance.

See our section on weight loss for athletes, and weight loss in general. Also, not all fats are created equal - you should limit your intake of trans fatty acids and saturated fats.

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