Even though there is a great deal of focus on low carb diets right now, there are still many people who are avoiding fats in their diet, believing that these will have negative impacts on the results they see.
This is very far from the truth however, as fats should be a part of your diet regardless of whether your goal is muscle mass gain or fat loss.
As it’s one of the three major macronutrients, it’s needed for maintaining proper health and also has many positive effects on body composition when used properly in the diet.
Here’s what you need to know about dietary fats.
Fat and Muscle Building
In order to build a significant amount of muscle on your body, you’re going to need to consume excess calories. There really is no way around this as if you’re not supplying more energy than the body needs to maintain itself, it’s not going to have the energy to build new tissue.
One of the reasons why fat is so beneficial for those who are looking to build muscle is due to the fact that it’s incredibly calorie dense. At over twice the amount of calories per gram compared with carbohydrates or protein, it makes for a good addition to the diet when trying to increase your total calorie intake without feeling overly stuffed.
Additionally, it is a smart idea to include some fat in the diet, because when the fat intake is brought too low, circulating levels of testosterone are reduced.
Since testosterone is one of the primary hormones for building muscle, it’s vital that you do everything in your power to keep it elevated. Good fats to include when trying to build muscle are nuts, peanut butter and other nut butters, olive and coconut oil,
seeds, flaxseed oil, salmon and other fatty fish, and Omega-3 enriched eggs. While you won’t want to completely eliminate all saturate fat from the diet, you should try and take in a modest intake, with sources of saturated fat coming from higher fat cuts of meat, dairy products, and eggs. Trans fats should be avoided entirely. When building muscle, nuts, nut butters, and flaxseeds are very good options for helping keep your calorie level higher because they can easily be mixed into your shakes, oatmeal, or in the case of nuts, taken as an easy-to-transport snack that takes seconds to eat. You should be aiming to get a minimum of 20% of your calories from dietary fat, if not closer to the 30% range. Some individuals who have trouble dealing with large volumes of carbs may want to bring this intake even higher, closer to 40 or 50%.
Fat and Weight Loss
Next up, we look at why you should be including fat if your goal is weight loss. Many people do still believe that eating fat will make them gain fat, but this isn’t the case at all. If anything, it’s the opposite.
Dietary fat is more calorie-dense, this much is true, but it’s also going to go a long ways towards keeping hunger levels on an even keel and preventing blood sugar fluctuations that often cause binges when on a diet.
If you’re following a very low fat diet and take in a good dose of carbs, you’ll feel great for about thirty minutes, but then your blood sugar levels will crash and you’ll feel tired, irritable, and hungry. This could potentially lead you to just go off and eat more to try and fix the situation, putting you out of your total calorie intake budget for the day.
If you would have taken in some fat in the first meal however, then you wouldn’t have had that crash, hence you would have been able to stay the course until your next scheduled meal.
When dieting, the smart thing to do is structure your diet so that every meal contains some dietary protein, the meals right before and after your workout contain the vast majority of the carbs you’re going to be eating for that day, and the remaining of the protein meals will have the added fat to them.
This will help to optimize nutrient partitioning towards the muscle cells the most after the workout is completed, while helping to keep insulin levels low the rest of the day to prevent fat gain from taking place.
For those interested in fat loss, it’s going to be best to focus on getting your fat intake from the healthiest sources, since while you do need fat, it still will be limited due to the hypo-calorie nature of the diet.
Good options include nuts and nut butters (which rank very high in terms of satiety) and fatty fish due to their essential fatty acid content. These essential fatty acids really work overtime in the body, offering a number of positive health benefits – maintaining insulin sensitivity being the big one we want to focus on.
By having good insulin sensitivity while on a diet, you help enhance the body’s reaction to eating carbs, further reducing those energy swings referred to above and increasing the chance those carbs end up in the muscle tissue and not in the body fat stores.
Everyone on a diet should be aiming to get between 3-6 grams of essential fatty acids a day, taken in capsule form or consumed through EFA rich foods.
So, be sure you aren’t shunning dietary fat from your diet. It really is an important point of any diet; it’s just the amount and types that will be altered from goal to goal.
Andersen, G. et al. (2008) Dietary eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid are more effective than alpha-linolenic acid in improving insulin sensitivity in rats. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism; 52(3): 250-6.
Evans, WJ. Et al. (2004) Macronutrient considerations for the sport of bodybuilding. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Sports Medicine; 34(5): 317-27.