Macronutrient Basics – Fats – Part 2
Food must be looked at as an energy source, where a carbohydrate is a fuel that burns up rather quickly, fat is actually a fuel that will burn for much longer. This bodes well for the human body because the longer one’s body is metabolizing the food it is ingesting the less likely it is to suffer from any kind of insulin spike which causes us to feel exhausted following a meal. As well, this long slow energy release that the ingestion of fats gives an individual will increase satiety between meals and can leave one feeling less hungry, long term. Fats are also essential to brain, cell, heart, nerve, eye, lung, digestion, organ function as well as immunity systems in the body.
So exactly how much fat can be safely ingested in a day? Because each individual is so different it is hard to estimate proper amounts; however, most individuals can intake about 20-30% of their caloric intake in fats. If one was to break that down, that would mean for 1800 calories/day an individual would want about 40 grams on a daily basis, with about 2.5 more grams for each additional 100 calories that would be ingested.
What’s It Good For?
Chemically, fats are considered to be triglycerides, which are the combination of a glycerol “backbone” and the combination of several fatty acids. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble which means that they can only be ingested and absorbed in conjunction with fats. Fat plays a vital role in maintaining healthy skin, healthy hair, protection of vital organs, the maintenance of core body temperature, as well as the promotion of healthy cell function.
Fats are also considered to be long term energy resources for the body whereby the fat is dissociated into its components, and the glycerol can be converted to glucose by the liver to use a source of energy.
Fat can also act as a buffering system against harmful diseases that may be attracted to the body. When a certain substance reaches an unsafe level in the bloodstream, the offending substance can then be stored in fat tissue to help decrease its prevalence in the blood. This helps to protect vital organs and can be removed or ejected from the body at any time through means of excretion, urination, oil letting, and hair growth.
When Do I Eat It?
Fats are considered to be a source of long term energy for the body. Appropriate times to ingest fats would be for breakfast to help prolong the digestion of the complex carbohydrates, as well as pre-workout (more specifically, MCT fats as discussed later). To ingest fats at other times of the day can be appropriate; however, when getting later into the evening it is not as necessary that the body have direct fat sources available as it no longer requires long term energy when its intended goal is sleep and rest.
Fat is also not necessary after workout bout, as the dominant nutrients being ingested should be in the form of carbohydrates to replenish immediate energy resources as well as protein to help with the repairing of muscle tissue.
Saturated vs. Unsaturated Fats
Saturated and unsaturated fats differ predominantly in their melting points as well as their energy content. On a chemical level, an unsaturated fat contains less carbon-hydrogen bonds than that of a saturated fat; however, with identical numbers of carbon atoms, and thus is less likely to “pack together” and form a solid structure at room temperature. This formation of a solid structure at room temperature (as found in a saturated fat) can cause atherosclerosis if the ingestion of these fats is too high which can put an individual at high risk for heart disease and other cardiovascular related illnesses.
It is more appropriate when ingesting the long chain triglyceride fats that the majority of the fats being taken in by the body be in unsaturated form (either mono or poly-unsaturated forms). These types of fats are more readily available forms of energy and will not work to clog arteries and raise blood pressure.
Trans fats are extremely rare in nature and are typically formed for food preservation. Chemically, a trans fat contains a kink in the molecule that prevents the fat from stacking efficiently; however, these fats are not as susceptible to metabolization as other fats, and thus put the body at a greater risk of coronary heart disease
Medium Chain Triglycerides
Most Long-Chain Triglycerides are first hydrolyzed in the small intestine to long-chain fatty acids. These acids are then taken by cells from the small intestine and transported via the lymphatic system to the body. Our body then takes these long-chain fats and distributes them to various tissues, more specifically into our liver and our adipose tissue (fat tissue). When used effectively, these fats can be burned off and used as long-term energy sources for our body to store and use later. What this all means is that long-chain fats are for long-term energy, and because the process by which they break down is so long ones body takes time to efficiently use them, and one will generally not store their fat intake as fat on one’s body.
One of the most overlooked items in pre-workout nutrition is the idea that only complex carbohydrates need to be ingested to optimize performance. However, what one needs to consider are the types of exercise bouts that one is partaking in. The issue with a dominantly carbohydrate-based pre-workout meal is the body tends to burn off these stores relatively quickly, so one’s body is forced to tap into a further form of energy, and if this form is not available one will tend to suffer from low-blood sugar (whereby, one would suffer from a large headache and forced to stop exercise). This is where Medium-Chain Triglycerides come in, as these types of fats are considered ketogenic, or rather they produce “ketones” in our body more rapidly than LCT Fats because they are absorbed rapidly by our small intestine. The metabolism of MCT results in these ketones being carried by the bloodstream to other tissues of the body, where they are used for energy production and utilization at a much more efficient rate. One could almost consider an MCT fat the hybrid of a complex carbohydrate and a Long-Chain Fatty Acid, and thus they are perfect nutrition for exercise bouts lasting 30 to 75 minutes in duration.
A bonus benefit of MCT fats is that recent studies have found that these Medium-Chain Triglycerides increase the “thermogenic effect” of our bodies, and in turn they cause one’s body to burn more calories even when they are not exercising! One of the most abundant sources of MCT fats is actually found in coconut. Supplementing coconut-oil, as well as unsweetened coconut-meat into ones pre-workout meals is a great way to insure that one’s insulin is stabilized and that they will be set up for a very effective, and very productive workout.
Chemically, omega fats are essential unsaturated fatty acids with a double-bond starting after the third carbon atom from the end of a carbon chain. These fatty acids cannot be synthesized by the human body but are vital for normal metabolism. As well, these fats have shown evidence towards the increase of blood circulation when ingested which can help to prevent and reduce the visibility of varicose veins as well as other scarring and blood clot formations. As well, due to increases in circulation a reduction in blood pressure is also a common outcome which can help to reduce the prevalence of heart attacks and other cardiovascular related diseases.