Sports Nutrition Guide: Section 4 - Lipids (Fats And Oils)!

Regardless of what type of athlete you are, a scientific based sports nutrition program can help you get the edge you need. Read this series for more details.

Refer to the Awesome Muscles Online Podcast Seminar Series with Daniel Gastelu for more information about these and related sports nutrition, training, fitness, and weight maintenance topics.

Sports Nutrition Guide Online
Section 4: Lipids

The third major macronutrient group is lipids (fats and oils). Lipids have many vital body functions and are an essential part of every cell. In the diet, lipids are found with important essential fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.

They are also a source of essential fatty acids (EFA's), such as linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid, which have both a structural role and various metabolic roles in the body, including the production of neurotransmitters and steroid hormones. Lipids also make foods taste better-one of the characteristics that often leads to their over consumption.

New research on athletes has shown that in addition to maintaining the proper daily intake of lipids for health, there are certain lipid supplements that can help boost health and performance too.

[ Q ] What is the difference between fats and lipids?

A: Lipid is the scientific term used to describe a diverse group of biomolecules that vary considerably in composition and structure; contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen; and are insoluble in water.

Fats and oils are therefore subcategories of lipids. Fats are solid at room temperature, and oils are liquid at room temperature. Fats and oils consist mainly of triglyceride molecules. Other lipids include cholesterol and phospholipids.

[ Q ] What are the main functions of lipids in the body?

A: Lipids provide the body with fuel; aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins; act as energy store-houses within cells; and supply the essential fatty acids important to growth, development, and health maintenance. In addition, lipids provide protective padding for body structures and organs, supply building blocks for other molecules, serve as building blocks for all cell membranes and other cell structures, and provide the body with insulation from cold.

[ Q ] What are essential fatty acids?

A: The two primary essential fatty acids are linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. These two fatty acids cannot be made in any significant amount by the body; therefore, it is essential that they are ingested on a daily basis from the diet.

Under certain circumstances, a third fatty acid called arachidonic acid, which the body makes from linoleic acid, becomes essential if dietary intake of linoleic acid is deficient. Linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid are both unsaturated fatty acids that are eighteen carbon atoms long.

In addition to their structural roles in the body and their roles as precursors of important biomolecules and hormones, these two fatty acids are also used for energy.

[ Q ] How do eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) fit into the lipid picture?

A: These two fatty acids were plunged into the media limelight in the 1980s when scientists examining the traditional diet of Eskimos in Greenland - high in fats and animal proteins - discovered that these people experienced a very low rate of cardiovascular diseases.

Upon further examination, researchers discovered that one of the health-contributing factors was the cholesterol-lowering effect of EPA and DHA-also referred to as omega-3 fatty acids, but note that the essential alpha-linolenic acid is also an omega-3 fatty acid. In the body EPA and DHA are made from alpha-linolenic acid.

There are studies documenting the improvement of athletic performance using anywhere from 2,000 mg to 4,000 mg per day of EPA and DHA from eating fish and taking EPA/DHA dietary supplements. Researchers have observed improvements in strength and aerobic performance as well.

On the athletes tested, these improvements included increased strength in the bench press, faster running times, reduced muscular inflammation, and farther jumping distances. Scientists speculate that these effects are due to the beneficial functions of EPA and DHA.

These functions include growth hormone production, anti-inflammatory action, enhanced oxygen metabolism, and lowered blood viscosity (blood-thinning effects). This leads to better oxygen and nutrient delivery to the muscles, and improved recovery after rigorous bouts of exercise and training.

In addition to getting EPA and DHA through supplements, these fatty acids are found in high amounts in cold-water fish, such as cod, salmon, sardines, trout, and mackerel, and in lower amounts in tuna fish - an economical source of low-fat protein.

[ Q ] What exactly are MCT's?

A: Commercial medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) products were first made in the 1950s using extracts of coconut oil. MCT's contain saturated fatty acids with chains of six to twelve carbon atoms. Part of the interest with medium-chain triglycerides comes from their use in clinical settings where patients had problems digesting and absorbing long-chain fatty acids.

Apparently, MCT's tend to behave differently in the body than long-chain fatty acids. They are more soluble in water and can pass from the intestines directly into the bloodstream. Normally, fatty acids travel through the lymphatic system, eventually arriving at the liver and then into general circulation-a rather slow process.

But because of their shorter carbon-chain configuration, it appears that the body favors MCT's as energy substrates. However, recent studies on long-distance athletes taking MCT products have not yet shown any significant results.

Common side effects reported in these studies include abdominal cramping and diarrhea. If you plan to experiment with MCT's, you should use formulas that also contain the essential fatty acids.

[ Q ] What does CLA stand for, and is this ingredient useful for athletes?

A: Conjugated Linoleic acid occurs naturally in foods. The Conjugated Linoleic Acid found in supplement products is usually a group of related unsaturated fatty acids, with CLA being the most abundant. Other fatty acids typically include conjugated linoleic acid, linoleic acid, and oleic acid.

CLA has become popular as a weight loss and bodybuilding supplement. This popular use of CLA is based in clinical studies which revealed that people who were resistance training and taking CLA, showed an increase in lean body mass and a reduction of body fat mass.

Significant increases in strength were also reported from this research. Other researchers have pointed out that CLA also has other beneficial health effects. Some scientists conclude that CLA has regulatory effects on muscle mass and energy production from body fat.

However it works, CLA, according to the preliminary data, may have value for people who need to burn fat while preserving muscle mass, particularly athletes.

Based upon the research to date, the recommended daily dose of CLA ranges anywhere from .01 percent to 2 percent or more of daily caloric intake. One study proposes that, for a 165-pound person, a 3,500-milligram-per-day dose might be effective, with the range being 3,000 to 5,000 milligrams per day.

Daily intake goals of this magnitude require supplementation. Most people ingest less than 1,000 milligrams per day from food sources, which are largely limited to meat and dairy products. For example, cheese averages between 2.9 milligrams and 7.1 milligrams of CLA per gram of fat.

To reach a 3,000-milligram CLA dose, you'd have to eat several pounds of cheese a day. That's a lot of unwanted dietary fat. For people wanting therapeutic results, it makes much more sense to consume CLA supplements.

[ Q ] What other lipids have beneficial effects on athletes?

A: Recently, attention has turned to a special phosphate lipid called phosphatidylserine (PS). PS is derived from the lipid lecithin. Lucas Meyer, Inc., a manufacturer of phosphatidylserine, has performed many clinical studies on the biological effects of PS. The original research focused on PS's ability to improve memory, concentration, and learning.

More recently, researchers have found that PS can protect the body from tissue breakdown caused by the catabolic hormone cortisol, which is produced by the body during exercise and periods of mental stress and plays a role in molecular breakdown. In this way, PS intake can help protect your muscles and other tissues from breaking down.

A recent study conducted on athletes who were using PS discovered that there was a reduction of muscle soreness and an improvement in tissue buildup and muscle formation. Moreover, an overall sense of well-being was observed by the athletes taking PS. Therefore, PS may give you the mental edge that is important to any athlete who is undergoing the rigors of intensive training.

Researchers believe that the group of athletes taking PS probably experienced less muscle soreness because the amount of cortisol in the body was reduced, which in turn reduced the amount of muscle breakdown and tissue damage. In the case of using PS for memory, studies have found that taking 100 mg three times a day produced fast results.

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The studies using PS on athletes report that ranges between 300 and 800 mg a day, taken in divided dosages with meals, are safe and effective.

[ Q ] How can I maintain a dietary intake of healthy lipids without overdoing it?

A: For starters, avoid adding fats to your foods. This is one of the biggest sources of fat in the diet. Added dietary fats include oils and butter used in cooking and high-fat dips and spreads. Also, stay on the lookout for high-fat foods, such as baked goods, breads, and cream cheese.

Additionally, it is wise to keep your total fat intake to below 30 percent of your total daily calories, or to as low as 15 percent depending upon your specific sport requirements during the competition season.

You should minimize your intake of saturated fatty acids and cholesterol, which occur mostly in animal products. You should also include a high quality supplement in your nutrition program that contains the essential fatty acids-especially in the pre-season and during your athletic season. Trimming visible fats from beef and pork and removing the skin from poultry are good nutritional habits.

Another guiding rule is to never overeat at any particular meal. Every time you overeat, the excess calories are stored as body fat. While on the subject of body fat, it is always a sound practice to avoid having excess fat on your body. This only creates dead weight that will slow you down and impair your performance.

As you develop your sport nutrition skills and focus on the proper protein and carbohydrate intake, the fat management part of your diet will automatically fall into place.

Don't reprimand yourself if you occasionally have the urge to spread some mayonnaise on a sandwich or to use high-fat salad dressing, just as long as it doesn't become the norm. And always remember that it is extremely important not to lose control of your eating habits around an important competition.

You can read my recent article titled "Good Fats, Bad Fats" for more health information about this subject.

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