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The Importance of Fat and How It Can Improve Your Health & Performance

Fat is one of the most beneficial substances in your diet, and it is often the missing link in developing and maintaining good health and ultimately optimum performance. But a misunderstanding of the role of fat and a well financed misinformation campaign has misled the public and led to an epidemic of fat phobia.  Just think of the amount of money spent each year on low fat and no fat food and you’ll understand why you might not have been told the whole truth about fat.

Fat sources like vegetable oil, butter, fats in eggs, meat and cheeses and other naturally occurring fat can be harmful if over eaten. In fact, too much or too little is dangerous and hence the importance of understanding the role of fat and ultimately your personal needs for optimal health and performance.

Consuming a balanced amount of healthy fat helps maintain health, prevent disease and facilitate optimal performance. Eating too much of one type of fat, saturated fat, or too much omega 6 from vegetable oil can disturb the delicate balance of fat in the body. Eating processed fats, such as hydrogenated oil, and overheated fat, such as a fried food, causes dysfunction and disease. This means many mainstream foods and snacks are out: chips, french fries, and fried chicken.

Energy from Fat

The aerobic system depends on fats as the primary fuel for the aerobic muscles, which power us through the day. Fat produces energy and prevents excessive dependency upon sugar, especially blood sugar.  Fats provide more than twice as much potential energy as carbohydrates do because fat contains 9 calories per gram in comparison to 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate/sugar. Your body is capable of obtaining most of its energy from fat, up to 80 to 90%, if you’re fat burning mechanism is working efficiently. The body even uses fat as a source of energy for heart muscle function. These fats, called phospholipids, normally are contained in the heart muscle and generate energy to make it work more efficiently.

What happens if you have not trained your body to use fat as your primary fuel source? Then you must use more sugar for energy. Low blood sugar symptoms include: mood swings, mental or physical fatigue, clumsiness, headaches, depression, allergies and other physical and mental challenges, depending on your susceptibility to an excess or deprivation of sugar in the blood.  How can you avoid these sugar highs and sugar lows? By making sure you train your body to burn fat for energy. If your body is burning fat for energy while you exercise, your brain and nervous system will have enough sugar, which they require for energy. If the rest of your body takes too much of the brain’s energy supply of sugar (from your liver & muscles), the brain will not function at peak performance and neither will the rest of your body.

A second reaction to the body not having enough balanced fat for energy is that it will store fat. The body likes fat, think of all the foods with a high-fat content that you like to eat. Actually, the body likes fat so much; carbohydrates and proteins can be converted and stored as fat. In fact, the body stores fat in case fat is needed in the future- that could be tomorrow, next week or next month. Let’s take a look at some of the various body functions that require fat.

The Hormonal System

The hormonal system is responsible for controlling virtually all healthy functions of the body. For the hormonal system to function properly, the body must produce proper amounts of the appropriate hormones. Many glands, such as the adrenal glands, are dependent on fat for production of hormones according to Dr. Maffetone, well renowned author and coach to Mark Allen, six-time Ironman World Champion.

In addition to the adrenal glands, the thymus, thyroid, kidneys and other glands use fats to help make hormones. The adrenals also require a specific fat, cholesterol for the production of hormones such as progesterone and cortisone. The thymus gland regulates immunity and the body’s defense systems. The thyroid regulates body temperature, weight and other metabolic functions, the kidneys hormones help regulate blood pressure, circulation and filtering of blood.

Many people are rightly concerned about their percentage of body fat. But hormonal problems, and the related health problems that stem from them, can be seen in those who have fat imbalances or whose body fat is too low. For example, some women who exercise too much experience disruptions in their menstrual cycle, usually indicating a fat metabolism disorder. Many women also except the popular misconception of menopause is always accompanied by significant symptoms. In reality, women with properly functioning hormonal systems have only minor symptoms. Many women on a low-fat diet, or who have a history of following a low-fat diet and have not corrected fatty acid imbalances or deficiencies, experienced significant menopausal complaint bees often are related fatty acid deficiency. Without the right balance of fats in the system, the hormonal system can produce certain hormones.

Eicosanoid Balance

Hormone like substances, called eicosanoid, are necessary for normal cellular functions such as: regulating inflammation, hydration, circulation and free radical activity. Produced from dietary fat, eicosanoid are especially important for the role in controlling inflammation – the precursor to many chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s according to Dr. Maffetone.  Many people have inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, tendinitis and anything ending with “-itis” probably have an eicosanoid imbalance. But in many people, chronic inflammation goes on unidentified.

The balance of eicosanoid is also important for regulating blood pressure and hydration. An imbalance can produce high or low blood pressure or trigger constipation or diarrhea. Eicosanoid imbalance may also be associated with menstrual cramps, blood clotting, tumor growth and other problems.

Insulation

The body’s ability to store fat permits humans to live in most climates, even those of extreme heat or cold. In areas of warmer conditions, stored body fat provides protection from the heat. In cooler areas, increased fat storages below the skin prevents too much heat from leaving the body.

In warmer climates, fat prevents too much water from leaving the body, which can result in dehydration that causes dry, scaly skin.

Digestion

Because so many people digest food poorly – a common result of stress, they do not always absorb the nutrients in foods. Your diet may be the best in the world but it’s all for nothing if you can’t properly digest and absorb the nutrients they contain. Bile from the gallbladder triggered by fat in the diet, helps aide in the digestion and absorption of fats and fat soluble vitamins.

Most of the fats and the diet are digested in the small intestine – this process involves breaking the fat into smaller particles. The pancreas, liver, gallbladder and large intestine are also involved in the digestive process. Any of these organs not working properly could have a negative effect on fat metabolism in general, but the two most important organs are the liver, which makes bile, and the pancreas, which makes the enzyme lipase. If there is not enough fat in the diet, not enough bile will be secreted according to Dr. Maffetone.

The secretion of bile into the small intestine makes your dietary fat digestible. Certain lipase containing foods such as avocados & extra virgin olive oil can greatly aid digestion of fat.  Fat also helps regulate the rate of stomach emptying. Fats in a meal slow stomach emptying, allowing for better digestion of protein. If you’re always hungry, it may be because your meals are too low in fat and your stomach is emptying too fast. Fats also slow the absorption of sugar from the small intestine, which keeps insulin from rising too high or too quickly. Additionally, fats protect the inner lining of the stomach and intestines from irritating substances in the diet, such as alcohol and spicy food.

Supporting Function

Fat offers physical support and protection of vital body parts, including the organs and glands. Fats acts as a natural, built in shock absorber, cushioning the body and various parts from the wear and tear of everyday life and helps prevent organs sinking due to the downward pull of gravity.

Vitamin and Mineral Regulation

Most people know that vitamin D is produced by exposure of the skin to the sun. However, it is actually cholesterol in the skin that allows this reaction to occur. Sunlight chemically changes cholesterol in the skin that allows this reaction to occur.  Sunlight chemically changes cholesterol in the skin through the process of irradiation to vitamin D-3.

This newly formed vitamin D is then absorbed into the blood, allowing calcium and phosphorus to be properly absorbed from the intestinal tract. Without the vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus would not be well absorbed and deficiencies of both would occur. But without cholesterol the entire process would not occur as outlined by Dr. Maffetone.

There’s another important connection between calcium & fat. Calcium needs to be carried from the blood and taken into the bones and muscle cells. For this to happen, certain prostaglandins, made from fat, are needed. If there is not enough fat to make adequate prostaglandins, too little calcium enters the bone. When this happens, the results can be stress fractures, osteoporosis and collapsed vertebrae. Without enough calcium in muscles, tightness, spasms or cramping can occur since calcium is needed to relax muscles. Unused calcium may be stored, sometimes in the kidney’s as stones or in the muscles, tendons or joint space as calcium deposits, often called bone spurs.

Besides vitamin D, other vitamins including A, E and K rely on fat for proper absorption and utilization. These important vitamins are present primarily in fatty foods, and the body cannot make an adequate amount of these vitamins to ensure continued good health. Additionally, these vitamins require fat in the intestines in order to be absorbed.  With this in mind, a low fat diet could be deficient in these vitamins to begin with and also could further restriction their absorption.

Taste

Face it, people love food with fat in them but are too guilt ridden to enjoy the food they are eating.  Fat does not have to be an unhealthy addition to your diet if properly balanced. Fat not only tastes good, it makes you feel good both physiologically and psychologically as well.

Fat (along with protein) satisfies your physical hunger. People on low fat diets often claim that they are always hungry. Of course they are, without fat in their diet they can’t achieve the feeling of satiety.  And as a result, the brain just keeps sending the same message over and over “Eat More”. Because you never really feel satisfied, the temptation to over eat is irresistible. In fact, there’s a good chance you can actually gain weight on a low-fat diet by overeating trying get that “I’m not hungry anymore feeling”.

Top 5 Vitamins to Aid Muscle Recovery

Maintaining an exercise regimen is tough. You make time, set attainable goals, and create a schedule of fitness-boosting routines. However, once muscle soreness sets in, it can be hard to maintain the routine, let alone move in the morning.

The pain can become unbearable, but sore muscles can be soothed without a pill. Before rifling through the medicine cabinet, try these five naturally-occurring vitamins to help speed recovery. Include them in your post-workout meal for optimal—and tasty—results.

Vitamin C

This powerful antioxidant boosts the production of collagen—connective tissue that helps repair skin tissue, tendons and blood vessels. Vitamin C also helps flush the muscles of lactic acid.

Sources: Citrus fruits, green peppers, red peppers, raspberries, broccoli, sweet potatoes, blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, pineapples.

Vitamin D

In addition to aiding in the absorption of calcium to build strong muscles and bones, vitamin D helps reduce inflammation and regulate the immune system.
Sources: Fatty fish, liver oils, fortified milk products, fortified cereals, meats, eggs, sunlight.

Vitamin E

During strenuous exercise, a protein, creatine phosphokinase—also known as CPK—seeps into the bloodstream. Vitamin E increases blood circulation and helps rid the body of CPK more efficiently. It also protects cells from damage-causing free radicals.

Sources: Sunflower seeds, almonds, fortified cereals, wheat germ, olives, avocados

Vitamin B

The B complex is comprised of eight vitamins, that help the body perform a variety of functions. They ease the breakdown of proteins and carbs, boost muscle repair, and assist with cell development. A lack of B vitamins can increase muscle cramps and aches.

Sources: Legumes, swiss chard, kale, dates, pomegranates, squashes, salmon, dairy, whole grains

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is known for its vision-boosting powers, but from a recovery standpoint, it helps the immune system and major organs function properly.

Sources: Organ meats (high in cholesterol so limit consumption), salmon, dairy, pumpkin, cantaloupe, carrots, apricots

How to Fuel Properly for Optimum Performance

Proper nutrition is such an instrumental component of performance, yet is overlooked by 90% of the racers at the starting line. A few years back, a research project associated with human performance (equipment, altitude training, endurance training, strength training, etc.), revealed that the most powerful influence on performance was attributed to hydration and nutrition habits.  Nail your nutrition and the results were stellar; miss your nutrition (even by a little) and the results were devastating.

After spending the last six to eight months training for your big race, the last 24 hours should be quite simple – exercise lightly, hydrate properly and eat correctly (quality & quantity).

Fighting Fatigue

With proper nutrition, you can offset the negative effects of fatigue in three ways:

Muscle Glycogen Depletion

Muscle glycogen is the major energy source during training and especially racing.  When your sugar storages (in your liver and muscles) are depleted, your ability to go fast for any period of time will be diminished.

Decreased Blood Sugar Levels

Blood sugar is the major fuel for the brain (from your liver) and muscles during training and racing; the higher the intensity, the quicker your body depletes itself of sugar.

Dehydration

When a muscle becomes dehydrated by as little as 3%, that muscle can lose between 10-20% of its contractile strength and also incurs an 8% loss of speed.

Nutritional Timing

Proper nutrition is all about topping of your body’s natural fuel tanks (muscles and liver) to ensure that you have enough stored energy to finish your race strong.  By choosing the correct foods at the correct times, you can delay the onset of fatigue on race day (as outlined below).

Day before a Race (8 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight) –  Consume six to eight small meals distributed throughout the day approximately two hours apart.  Choose items made from high quality carbohydrate sources: real food smoothies, brown rice, pasta, quinoa and dark breads.  Convenient snacks include fresh fruit and high quality energy bars (the Paelo Ranch Protein bars are ideal!)

Morning of the Race (75-150 grams of carbohydrates depending on your body size) – Consume your last meal two hours before your race start time to allow for complete digestion and purging in a relaxed environment.  Food items should be easily digestible and of the highest quality: real food smoothie, almond butter on a bagel or toast, slow cooked oatmeal with raisins, 2-3 egg omelets with a bowl of brightly colored fresh fruit.

After the Race – Liquid calories  are the easiest to consume and are converted quickly to “feed” the body’s needs: protein for muscle regeneration and sugar for the muscles and the liver.  

By implementing these nutritional tips and hitting proper hydration levels, you will see your body produce new levels of speed and a new level of performance! Work Smart, Not Hard! 

Eat Your Way to Your Potential

New research suggests that changing the way you eat could result in your body being able to adapt to the stress of training – especially hard training!

We all realize that nothing causes the human body to adapt to training and racing except sport specific training and racing. However, through proper eating – quality, timing and quantity, you can improve your ability to adapt and absorb hard, interval type workouts.

Between food and sleep, you have THE two key elements to improvement – sleep allows the body to rejuvenate and the food provides the vitamins, minerals and macro nutrients (carbs, protein and fat) to rebuild the torn down muscle tissue, hormonal system and the cardiovascular system.

I always have my clients focus on health and wellness first and then performance. I utilize several tools to ensure that my clients are recovering adequately and consistently improving. You are either getting healthier, stronger and faster or you are not – there isn’t any middle ground. It is just a physiological fact.

What is Adaptation?

When you train, one of the adaptations is an increase in the development of mitochondria within your muscle tissue. Mitochondria are the cellular power plants which are responsible for producing a majority of the energy you use during endurance training and racing. Through consistent training, your body naturally produces chemicals that tell your body to produce additional mitochondria. This concept is not a new one, but is intriguing because we have become acclimated to the idea that training improves endurance by enhancing the production of mitochondria within the muscle tissue. But what if I told you that eating fruits and vegetables may produce the same effect? Let’s take a look.

Food to Help You Train Harder and Faster

While trying to determine the true source of obesity and develop that “wonder pill” that will help offset the negative health issues associated with obesity, research has tripped upon some intriguing results associated with endurance training and racing.

The area of research has stemmed around polyphenols and flavonoids. Please don’t get caught up with the big words and become intimidated, the concept is what I want you to take away, not the actual pronunciation! Both of these nutrients are found in fruit and vegetables and are available to the human body in many different types, but with similar functions within the body.

Resveratrol is one type of polyphenol which is found in red grapes (and also red wine!). In a 2006 edition of the science journal Cell, mice that were supplemented with Resveratrol had a 33% higher peak oxygen uptake and lasted nearly 50% longer before exhaustion.

When researchers took muscle samples of the mice, there was 2.5 times greater mitochondria within the muscles. Also increased was Citrate Cynthase, a key enzyme to producing energy within the muscles, along with additional triggers telling the muscle to produce more mitochondria.

Here is an interesting observation on behalf of the researchers. The mice that were supplemented with the resveratrol, were also able to complete more exercise on a consistent basis which in turn improved the fitness level of the mice which allowed them to longer and faster. This is a huge observation when you consider an athletes ability to get fitter involves being able to go both longer in duration (active recovery workouts) and faster (high quality interval workouts). An additional health benefit to consuming polyphenols is an improved immune system which will keep you from becoming run down, sick and away from training – hence improving your consistency. Another key factor within the world of health, wellness and ultimately performance.

Research completed here in the US has been researching another polyphenol called Quercetin. Mice that were supplemented with quercetin showed significant increases in the molecular triggers within the muscle tissue, indicating that their bodies were preparing to produce more mitochondria. After only seven days of supplementation, the mice were able to run 40% longer before becoming exhausted.

This research has validated that this supplementation has benefited individuals “less fit”. However, when you consider most athletes are running deficient in micro and macro nutrients within their bodies, this research validates that when these nutrients are present within the body, athletic performance improves.

Quercetin is found naturally in onions and apples – so maybe that saying that an “apple a day keeps the doctor away” may not be far-fetched. Research provides overwhelming evidence that quercetin can help reduce the stress of high intensity training and support the immune system. So this falls right in line with my desire to have my clients healthy first, then fit and fast!
Fruits and Vegetables Aren’t The Only Source of Improved Speed!

All natural herbs and spices are an excellent source for polyphenols as well. For example, research is validating that cinnamon has shown to stimulate the production of mitochondria within muscle tissue.

Before you Overdose on Supplementation

It is imperative that you realize that this research on quercetin and resveratrol is just that – research. As I mentioned earlier, the realization of these mitochondrial production levels within the muscle tissue came as a byproduct of researching obesity at a chemical and muscular tissue level. With this in mind, the improvements associated with physical performances cannot be overlooked. Factor in the all-natural source of these elements: fresh fruits, vegetable, herbs and spices, and you have another way to improve your immune system and make you more resilient to high intensity training.

Four Tasty Sources of Polyphenols

Blueberries – one of the highest polyphenol contents of all foods; benefits include enhanced aerobic function and off-setting the development of cancer. Add blueberries to your salad and top off your Greek full fat yogurt for additional nutrients, fiber and flavor.
Cinnamon – not only loaded in polyphenols, it helps reduce the insulin response to high glycemic meals, which helps you stabilize blood sugar levels and burn carbohydrates more efficiently. Add cinnamon to your all natural oatmeal.
Dark Chocolate – look for chocolates that have over 75% cocoa. In addition to having high polyphenol content, it has been shown to improve blood flow to working muscles. Consume high quality, dark chocolate as a mid-day snack (unless you can have a glass of red wine instead!).
Nutritionally Green Smoothies – these products are derived from real fruits and vegetables and provide a hefty dose of vitamin and minerals per scoop. They are easily absorbed by the body because it isn’t broken down through the digestion process in the gut. A scoop can easily be added to soups, broths, and smoothies to add to the nutrient value.

Grocery Shopping For Better Speed

Stock up on these items the next time you head to your grocery store:

  • Dark Chocolate
  • Red kidney beans
  • Blueberries, Strawberries
  • Acai berries
  • Olives
  • Spinach
  • Walnuts
  • Chestnuts
  • Cherry juice
  • Green tea/coffee
  • Cinnamon, Sage, Rosemary, Spearmint, Thyme, Tumeric
  • Cloves, Dried Mexican Oregano, Basil, Curry, Celery Seed
  • Flaxseed
  • Black Elderberry