Fats have very often received a bad press, and a lot of this publicity is warranted. However, fats are not all bad news and deserve consideration for the roles that they may play in enhancing/maintaining athletic performance. In order to be able to make an informed choice, athletes need to understand how fats are utilised in the body. It will also be valuable for them to understand some of the benefits of eating the correct fats.

Fat Metabolism

Fatty acids are stored in the body as triglycerides, mainly in adipose tissue, as well as some in the muscles. It gets there after absorption, the triglycerides are packaged into chylomicrons. Chylomicrons are the largest and lightest group of aggregates known as lipoproteins. They progress round the body and are slowly modified to very low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and also high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Free fatty acids may also be carried bound to blood albumen, called non-esterified fatty acids (NEFAs).

Thirty minutes after a meal containing fat, chylomicrons start appearing in the blood, peaking at approximately two and a half to three hours. As they circulate, lipoprotein lipases in the blood vessel walls release fats, free fatty acids, and glycerol. These are used to fuel muscle contractions and other metabolic processes needed at this time.

Fat is very often seen as ‘the bad guy’ in our diet, but it is important to remember that fat and the fatty acids it is made up of play a very important part in keeping our body functioning properly.

Saturated fat is normally solid at room temperature. It is found mostly in meat and dairy products (such as whole milk, butter and cheese) as well as in coconut and palm oils.

Monounsaturated fats (an Unsaturated Fat) are normally liquid at room temperature but start to solidify at refrigerator temperatures. They are found in oils such as olive oil, rapeseed oil and sesame oil. Monounsaturated fats are preferable for cooking. The high consumption of olive oil in Mediterranean countries is considered to be one of the reasons why these countries have lower levels of heart disease.

Polyunsaturated fats (an Unsaturated Fat) are normally liquid at room temperature and in the refrigerator. They are found in certain plant oils such as safflower, sunflower and soybean.

Trans fats can be found in some margarine, many fast foods, most commercially baked goods, snack foods and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils (such as deep-fried chips).

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