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Importance of Fat for Athletes

By Mike Samuels

With the emphasis of an athletic diet plan often placed on carbohydrate, it can be easy to overlook fat. Low-fat diets aren't necessarily best -- certainly not when it comes to athletes. Fat not only acts as a source of calories, it can also boost energy and aid recovery.

Eat Fat, Get Fitter

Fat contains over double the number of calories per gram than other macronutrients do, with 9 calories per gram compared to just 4 calories per gram in carbohydrate and protein. This means that if you have a small appetite and struggle with eating enough calories to fuel your training, eating more fat-dense foods may help.

The Good Stuff

Fruit and vegetables are important in any diet for athletes, as they contain a host of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins, meaning they are better absorbed and utilized in the presence of fat, notes nutrition and exercise professor Donald Jump of the Linus Pauling Institute. Not only that, but fat plays a role in cell membrane structure and hormone production, keeping you healthy and performing at your best.

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How Much and Where From?

The amount of fat required each day depends on your overall calorie intake. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach recommends that 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calorie intake should come from fat. For an athlete consuming 2,600 calories per day, this would mean getting between 60 and 100 grams of fat. Stick mainly to unsaturated fats found in fish, nuts and nut products like butters and oil, avocado, olives and olive oil.

A Fine Balancing Act

Despite the health and performance benefits of getting fat into your diet, your focus should still be on carbohydrates. A study from a 2004 edition of the "Journal of Sports Science" found no evidence to show that a high-fat diet that restricted carbohydrate intake had any benefit over a typical higher-carb diet. Aim to get between 45 and 60 percent of your daily calories from carbs.

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