Why Female Athletes Should Include Fat in Their Diets

We breakdown why fat should not be avoided, but instead consumed in moderation to fuel the high performance female athlete.

If you're like many other female athletes, you might be aiming to lose a few pounds to improve your body composition and amp your performance. One common approach to shedding weight is to limit or eliminate fat from your diet. However, fat is a critical nutrient, and cutting it out entirely can have a negative impact on your athletic ability.

Healthy fats are an enormous source of energy, delivering nine calories per gram, compared to carbohydrate and protein, which provide only four calories per gram. Since it is 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—plus, it protects vital organs and plays a role in many critical bodily functions.

Despite these benefits, people who research nutritional needs are typically flooded with claims that fat is terrible for your weight and health. This is true in the extreme. If you consume too much fat, you will gain weight and put yourself at risk for health problems. However, those same outcomes will occur if you eat too much carbohydrate or protein. Weight gain comes down to how many calories you consume versus how many you burn. It's just easier to gain weight by consuming fat, because it contains over twice the energy of carbs and protein.

In reality, competitive female athletes are so active that consuming  the amount of fat necessary to support their athletic performance will hardly ever result in serious weight gain or cause health problems.

Consume a balanced diet, one that contains a moderate amount of healthy fats—about 30 to 35 percent of the calories you consume each day, or 83 to 97 grams in a 2,500 calorie diet. There's 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 found in olive oil, nuts and milk. If you're an athlete looking to lose weight, you can lower your fat intake to around 20 percent of your total daily calories, but no less.

Look for a future post on the best ways to trim weight through a combination of training and nutrition.

Photo:  Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock