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By: Alexa McDonald, RDN, CDN
Fat is an essential fuel for our bodies, but still tends to cause a lot of confusion. Although low-fat diets were all the hype in the 90’s, they compromise both health and athletic performance. No evidence has found improved performance with fat intakes below 20%.
Instead, inadequate stores and intakes affect bone health and even reduce testosterone levels, decreasing muscle mass and strength. In addition to keeping the body strong and healthy, fat works as a concentrated-calorie source to fuel exercise and keep athletes fuller for longer. And, in the case of fat, too much of a good thing is definitely a thing. High fat intakes, even when healthy, can result in a higher caloric intakes and weight gain when calories in are greater than calories out. No matter who the athlete or what the exercise, proper fat intake is an important part of training, performance, and weight maintenance.
As the intensity of aerobic exercise increases, the percentage of fat burned decreases, increasing the use of carbohydrates. Studies found that peak fat-burning occurs at 68-79% heart rate max. However, at intensities higher than this, our bodies actually work harder and ultimately burn more calories and even fat. With these points in mind, a “fat burning zone” may exist, but may not make that much difference in the scheme of things. Yet, there still may be hope for this myth. Regular aerobic activity actually increases the body’s ability to burn fat, making a fat burning zone more about frequency than intensity.
Fat intake is recommended at 20-35% of daily calorie intake. For an estimate, multiply weight in pounds by 0.45 for an average recommendation of grams of fat per day. Overall, less than 10% of your total calories should be from "bad" saturated fats, such as bacon, butter, cream cheese, and trans fats should be avoided completely. At least 20% of calories, and the majority of your fat intake (if not all), should come from “good” fats, such as olive oil, fatty fish, nuts/nut butters, seeds, and fatty fish, like salmon and mackeral.
When planning a fueled and balanced diet with essential dietary fat, keep these tips in mind:
Balanced Nutrition for Health & Performance.
I'm Lexi, a Certified Sports Dietitian and Yoga Instructor. I work with individuals, teams, and groups to find fuel and balance within their diets for health and performance.