Lace Up & Fuel Up: The Runner’s Guide to Healthy Fats

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

As runners, we’re well aware of the pivotal role nutrition plays in our performance.

We carefully consider our carbohydrates for quick energy and our protein for muscle recovery, but what about dietary fats?

Often misunderstood and unfairly labeled as “bad,” fats are, in fact, indispensable to our well-oiled running machines.

In this article, I’m sharing the full guide to dietary fats for runners. More specifically, I’ll delve into the world of healthy fats, exploring their significance in maintaining energy levels, enhancing endurance, and contributing to our overall well-being.

So, let’s lace up and embark on a journey to discover how the right fats can fuel our running success.

Fat Is Not A Villain

Fats have gotten a bad rap over the years, often being labeled as “bad” and “unhealthy.” But, in reality, dietary fats are an essential part of a balanced diet, especially for runners.

While the scientific terminology can be overwhelming, it’s important to understand the different types of fats and their roles in the body. Saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are liquid.

But it’s not just about their physical state; these two categories of fats have very different impacts on our health.

The Good—the Unsaturated Fats

Let’s talk about the good guys in the fat world – the unsaturated fats. Unlike their saturated counterparts, unsaturated fats are the superheroes of the fat world, with a host of health benefits to offer. These fats are chock-full of disease-fighting antioxidants, including vitamin E, which helps reduce bad cholesterol levels, decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

The Many Shades of Good Fats

Now, let’s dive into the many remarkable roles that fats play in your body. It’s not just about calories; it’s about keeping your entire system humming along smoothly:

  • Vitamin Transport: Fats act as the body’s personal chauffeur for vitamins A, D, E, and K. They ensure these vitamins get where they’re needed, making sure you get the most out of your nutrients.
  • Cellular Function: Fats are like the architects of your cells. They maintain the structural integrity, keeping your cells in tip-top shape.
  • Immune System Support: Here’s a secret – fats are your immune system’s best friend. They help keep it strong and ready to defend you from invaders.
  • Hormone Harmony: Fats have a knack for playing matchmaker with your hormones, particularly estrogen and testosterone. They ensure these essential hormones are produced in just the right amounts.
  • Inflammation Control: Fats can be your body’s peacekeepers, helping to control inflammation. This is crucial for your overall health and comfort.
  • Glowing Hair and Skin: Want radiant hair and skin? Thank fats for their role in keeping your locks luscious and your skin glowing.
  • Energy Reservoir: Think of your stored fat as a savings account for energy. When you’re active, your body taps into this reserve to keep you going.
  • Bodyguard and Insulation: Fats are like your body’s personal bodyguards, protecting and insulating your vital internal organs. They create a protective cushion, ensuring your organs are safe and snug.

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Monosaturated Fats

Now, let’s take a closer look at monounsaturated fats, often referred to as MUFAs. These fats are like the smooth operators of the unsaturated fat world, and they bring more to the table than just good cholesterol levels.

MUFAs stand out because of their unique structure. They contain a single, double bond, which gives them a fluid quality. This fluidity is not only fantastic for your cholesterol levels but also plays a role in maintaining stable insulin levels.

Studies have sung the praises of MUFAs when it comes to cardiovascular health. Incorporating sources of monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, and the beloved avocado, into your diet can be like giving your heart a protective shield. Research has even shown that they may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

The Polyunsaturated Fats

Now, let’s dive into the world of polyunsaturated fats, often referred to as PUFAs. These fats are like the dynamic duo of the unsaturated fat universe, packing a powerful punch with their multiple double bonds in their fatty acid chain. But what makes them truly essential are the omega-3s and omega-6s they bring to the table.

PUFAs are your go-to source for those essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These nutrients are like the building blocks of optimal body functioning, playing a crucial role in various bodily processes.

When it comes to heart health, PUFAs are the unsung heroes. Studies have shown that incorporating polyunsaturated fats into your diet can work wonders. Not only can they help reduce harmful cholesterol levels, but they also give a boost to the good kind of cholesterol. It’s like they’re handing your heart a protective shield.

You can find PUFAs in a variety of foods. From corn and soybeans to sesame and safflower, they’re sprinkled generously throughout nature’s pantry. Nuts and seeds are also excellent sources of these heart-healthy fats.

Additional resource – A list of ketogenic foods

The Bad—The Saturated Fats

Now, let’s talk about the not-so-good guys in the world of fats –saturated fats. Picture them as the villains of the dietary fats universe, the antagonists clogging up your arteries and increasing your risk of heart disease.

But here’s the good news: you don’t have to let them take center stage. By replacing saturated fats with their unsaturated counterparts, you can lower your bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, instead of reaching for that creamy ice cream, consider healthier options like nuts and seeds. Your taste buds may not notice much of a difference, but your heart certainly will.

Keeping an eye on your saturated fat intake is crucial, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Take a moment to scrutinize food labels and make informed choices. Remember, having a little bit of these bad guys now and then won’t cause too much trouble, but an excess can lead to serious consequences.!

The Ugly—The Trans Fats

Now, let’s dive into the ugly truth about trans fats – the sneaky, silent killers of the food world. These little troublemakers lurk in many of our beloved processed foods, alluring us with their irresistible taste while wreaking havoc on our health. What sets them apart from other fats is that they are entirely human-made and don’t exist naturally in foods.

The process of creating trans fats is like a scene from a food lab Frankenstein experiment. Vegetable oils undergo a chemical transformation called hydrogenation, where hydrogen is added to liquid oils to make them solid and stable at room temperature. This process extends the shelf life of foods, which is why trans fats sneak their way into countless packaged and processed items.

Now, here’s the scary part – studies have shown that trans fats can unleash devastation on our health. Not only do they raise the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, but they also lower the levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, a double whammy that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Sadly, avoiding trans fats can be a tricky task since they pop up in many of the processed foods we adore. You’ll find them in baked goods, lurking in fried foods, hiding in margarine, and even disguising themselves as seemingly innocent snacks like crackers and candy bars.

But here’s a glimmer of hope: in recent years, many food manufacturers have begun removing trans fats from their products. The FDA has taken a stand, banning the use of trans fats in processed foods. This means we’re slowly witnessing a decline in the amount of trans fats in our diets.

Foods rich in healthy fats for balanced nutrition: raw egg yolk in fresh cut half avocado on gray stone background. Ketogenic low carbs diet or clean eating concept, top view with space for text

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Healthy Fats Needs In Runners

Here comes the golden question: How much fat should a runner be chowing down on? According to the experts, a good rule of thumb is to aim for about 15 to 25 percent of your daily calorie intake to come from healthy fats.

If your daily calorie intake is around 2800 calories, you’re looking at less than 600 of those calories coming from dietary fats. In simpler terms, that’s about 65 to 75 grams of fat per day.

Now, that might sound like a hefty chunk, but let’s clear something up – not all fats are created equal. As a rule, steer clear of those pesky saturated fats that hang out in animal products and instead cozying up to the likes of nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish.

Note – The rules are different if you’re following a ketogenic diet, which will have you getting more than 70 percent of your calories from healthy fats. This, as you can already tell, runs in the face of traditional running nutrition wisdom. Here’s how to combine keto and running the right way.

The List

Here is a long of fat-rich foods.

  • One cup of Brazil nuts = 93 grams
  • One cup of whipping, heavy cream = 88 grams
  • One cup of whole Filberts (hazelnuts) = 84 grams
  • One cup of dry and roasted cashews = 63 grams
  • One cup of pistachios = 60 grams
  • One cup of walnuts = 62 grams
  • One cup of silvered almonds = 53 grams
  • One cup of dry, roasted, whole almonds = 47 grams
  • One cup of sliced almonds = 45 grams
  • One ounce of ghee = 28 grams
  • One cup of half & half cream = 27 grams
  • One cup of fresh coconut = 27 grams
  • One ounce of whole macadamia = 21 grams
  • One ounce of pecan = 20 grams
  • Two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter = 17 grams
  • Two tablespoons of creamy or smooth peanut butter = 16 grams
  • One ounce of dry roasted peanuts = 14 grams
  • One ounce of pine nuts = 14 grams
  • Two tablespoons of reduced fat, peanut butter = 12 grams
  • One tablespoon of lard = 12 grams
  • One tablespoon of regular butter = 11 grams
  • 2 tablespoon of Nutella = 11 grams
  • ½ cup of evaporated whole milk = 10 grams
  • One cup of whole goat milk = 10 grams
  • One ounce of white chocolate = 15 grams
  • One tablespoon of almond, hazelnut, walnut, and truffle oils = 13 grams
  • One tablespoon of soybean, olive, canola, safflower, corn, and sesame oils = 13 grams
  • One ounce of pepperoni = 13 grams
  • One ounce of dark; 70%, chocolate = 12 grams
  • One ounce of Camembert = 12 grams
  • One ounce of Havarti = 11 grams
  • One ounce of extra black 82%, chocolate = 10.5 grams
  • One ounce of regular cream cheese = 10 grams
  • One ounce of Gorgonzola = 10 grams
  • One ounce of America, processed, cheese = 9 grams
  • One ounce of goat cheese = 9 grams
  • One ounce of regular cheddar = 9 grams
  • One cup of whole milk = 9 grams
  • One tablespoon of whipped butter = 8 grams
  • One cup of regular chocolate milk = 8 grams
  • One ounce of Danish cheese = 8 grams
  • One ounce of Gouda = 8 grams
  • One ounce of Edam cheese = 8 grams
  • One ounce of Parmesan cheese = 7.3 grams
  • One cup of regular yogurt = 7 grams
  • One ounce of shelled and cooked peanuts = 7 grams
  • One ounce of brie = 7 grams
  • One ounce of Feta cheese = 6 grams
  • One ounce of whole mike mozzarella = 6 grams
  • One ounce of fresh Mozzarella = 5 grams
  • One ounce of ground beef = 5 grams
  • One ounce of low-fat cheddar = 5 grams
  • ½ cup of cottage regular cottage cheese = 5 grams
  • One cup of low-fat chocolate milk = 5 grams
  • One cup of 2% fat milk = 5 grams
  • One cup of low-fat yogurt = 4 grams
  • One large egg = 4.5 grams
  • One small egg = 3.5 grams
  • Two tablespoons of reduced-fat peanut butter = 2.5 grams
  • One cup of almond of, low-fat almond milk = 2.5 grams
  • ½ cup of 2% low-fat cottage cheese = 2 grams

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