An introduction to the benefits healthy fats have on athletic performance and other associated factors that affect performance is long overdue. Like its counterparts of carbohydrates and protein, fat plays a vital role in the human body. Without its presence in the proper amounts, every type of athlete will be rendered far less capable when the time comes to compete. Below you will be provided with 4 key pathways that contribute to your athletic success, or a lack thereof.
*Nervous System Output
*Fat loss effects
The Nervous System
There are several channels by which fat increases performance. Some of this improvement involves specific hormones that are elevated when we consume adequate levels of fats. But there is one structural component of our body’s nervous system that is produced by dietary fat sources. Myelin sheaths!
When it comes to pure, raw athletic ability, we can all agree that speed kills! And with speed comes the need to contract our muscles faster and more frequently. The simple fact is that the myelin cover wrapped around specific parts of a nerve cell (axon) allows signals for muscular contractions to initiate at a rate that is two times faster than unmyelinated nerve cells.1 Fortunately, a majority of our peripheral or outer nervous system houses myelinated cells.
Leptin is one of the most powerful metabolic regulators of the human body. It’s produced from fat cells along with another adipokine (fat-releasing hormone) called adiponectin. Both are vital to burning both carbohydrates and fats for energy, boosting our metabolism, and stalling appetite. 2 The reality is that the one thing we tend to despise and remove from our bodies at almost any cost benefits us tremendously.
Furthermore, brown fat is a type of fat that is rarely discussed and which consumes other types of fat circulating the body and is activated in colder environments. Lastly, creatine re-synthesis during exercise is reliant upon our aerobic system which utilizes fats to keep the system burning. So if we aspire to operate at high intensities regularly and increase our energy production, we are going to need fat to allow effective recovery periods to occur so that we can resume high-intensity efforts. 3
You may have heard stories from legendary powerlifters and strongmen alike, about how they felt so much stronger with more fat in their diet. One plausible theory, with this idea in mind, deals with our joints. Fortunately, our body naturally constructs pads made of fat and other forms of essential connective tissue to absorb high amounts of physical force to help prevent injury and keep the body performing. A classic example is the fat pad which resides between our heel bone (calcaneus) and the underlying plantar fascia- a common potential injury site for many.
Fat Loss Effects
Last but certainly not least, fat could help boost testosterone levels as well as provide increased calories to promote a better “fed state.” In other words, the extra calories can help reset our metabolism higher during dieting periods. Couple this with the fact that fats appeal to our palate and you can see how they make dieting easier. The concept of adequate levels of healthy fats (i.e. 20-30%) is a bit counterintuitive but makes sense after you consider the science. Moreover, Omega 3’s could boost you metabolically.
And in case you were wondering about specific fat intake on Testosterone which can help influence fat loss, look no further. According to a study by a researcher named Volek and 2 others, a mixture of fatty acids at higher levels can boost Testosterone and vice versa. 4
#1-“The Nervous System.” Natural Health School, www.theherbspecialist.com/9_3.html.
#2-Roussell, Mike. “8 Forgotten Fat-Loss Weapons.” Shape Magazine, Shape Magazine, 10 Dec. 2015, www.shape.com/weight-loss/tips-plans/8-essential-fat-loss-hormones
#3-Hansen, Travis. “Practical Applications for Athletes in General Preparation.” Just Fly Sports Performance, Just Fly Sports Performance, 17 Mar. 2018, www.just-fly-sports.com/practical-applications-general-preparation/.
#4-Volek J, Kramer W. Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. http://jap.physiology.org/content/82/1/49. Accessed February 12, 2017.