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Most popular diets emphasize cutting calories and avoiding fat to lose weight. Such diets may be appropriate for people looking to shed extra pounds. For athletes, however, they can convey the false impression that all fats should be avoided. In reality, healthy fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—are critical components of a diet for energy and other performance benefits.
Fats are an enormous source of energy, delivering nine calories per gram, compared to four calories per gram for carbohydrate and protein. Since it’s easily stored in the body, fat provides sustained energy, especially for low-intensity exercise like walking or jogging. Fat also prevents the breakdown of muscle protein and promotes faster recovery after a workout. Finally, fat protects vital organs and plays a role in many critical bodily functions, such as transporting vitamins, controlling hunger and creating strong bones.
Most athletes should incorporate healthy doses of fat in their diets. Sports nutritionists recommend that fats comprise 35 percent of daily caloric intake. No need to shy away from fatty foods such as red meat or dairy, but it’s good to eat a variety of different fats, particularly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in olive oil, nuts and milk.
To improve overall health, the American Heart Association recommends eliminating foods with trans fats—like margarine, cake mixes, and most fast food—and limiting consumption of foods high in saturated fats to less than seven percent of your daily calories. To put that into perspective, a person eating 2,000 calories per day will hit the seven percent mark by eating one teaspoon of butter, one coffee creamer, one slice of bacon, or a half order of McDonald’s small French Fries.
Organic Peanut Butter (2 tbsp)
For a healthy fat and energy rich meal, use organic PB on your toast or bagel
Total Fat: 15 g
Saturated Fat: 2.5 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 4.5 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 8 g
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (1 tbsp)
Combine EVOO with balsamic vinaigrette to make a delicious and healthy salad dressing
Total Fat: 13.5 g
Saturated Fat: 1.9 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.4 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 9.9 g
Avocado (1/5 fruit)
To eliminate unhealthy fats, sodium and unnatural ingredients, substitute mashed avocado for mayo or butter on a sandwich or toast
Total Fat: 4.5 g
Saturated Fat: .5 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: .5 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 3 g
Almonds (1 ounce)
Fill up on-the-go with this nutty snack, loaded with healthy fat for energy
Total Fat: 14 g
Saturated Fat: 1.1 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 3.4 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 8.7 g