Healthy Sources of Fat for Runners

What are the healthiest sources of fat for runners? Fat is not “fat” in the skewed image most the world has about this dietary necessity. As a runner where you get your fat and what kind of fat is in your diet can be a game changer to your training.

Our bodies use fat for:

  • Energy
  • Protection and cushioning
  • Insulation
  • Part of the structure of our cells
  • Source of anti-oxidants
  • Carry fat soluble vitamins
  • Add texture and taste to foods
  • Contributes to feelings of fullness

Types of fats

Saturated fats are generally found in animal products and are kept at room temperature. These fats tend to lower HDL (good cholesterol) and increase LDL (bad cholesterol). Also, they can block pathways that effect use of essential fatty acids. This type of fat should be eaten in moderation.

Polyunsaturated Fats are using liquid at room temperature (think oils) and include essential fatty acids which are needed on a daily basis. These fats are low in LDL but still should be eaten in moderation.

Essential fatty acids are essential because we must get them from our diet. They play an important role in our metabolism. Also, they are known for their role in athletic performance. They have many roles in our bodies including improving muscle function, vital for the function of the brain, help speed up metabolism, help prevent dry skin, provide material from which anti-inflammatory chemicals are made and help the functioning of vital systems.

Monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature. They are found mostly in olive oil, nut oils, nuts and avocados. There is a link between lower heart disease, lower rates of obesity and cancer due to this diet.

Trans fatty acids are unsaturated fats that do not naturally occur. They are made in food processing and change the structure of the original fat. Trans fats are extremely unhealthy and should be avoided as much as possible.

Cholesterol is in many foods that come from animals and is crucial to our metabolic function. Most of the cholesterol that we need is made in our bodies.

Triglycerides are derived from the fats eaten or can be made in the body from other energy sources. An excess in triglycerides are stored as fat and can be used as energy later.

Fats as energy

In a moderate level of activity glycogen stores will provide most of the fueling but their reserves are limited. For longer activity the body would use fat stores to fuel the body.

How much fat?

Fats should make up about 30% of total daily calories. Remember that at least 80% of these need to be from the best sources.

Fats in your daily diet

  • Oils (olive, sunflower, avocado, hemp, flaxseed)
  • Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, flax)
  • Nuts (walnuts, brazil, pecans, almonds, cashews)
  • Fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, trout)

Be careful on how much fat you are getting from dairy sources. This should be kept to a minimum.

Check food labels to make sure the types of oils and fats that are in your food. Avoid trans fats and hydrogenated oils. Stay away from fried foods and baked goods unless you know what is in them. Fat-free, low-fat and these “health” food labels do not always mean they are healthy. Most of the time the fat is just replaced with other unhealthy ingredients.