We’ve covered carbohydrates and protein, but the picture is not complete without fats. Including healthy fats in your diet will help you bring your athletic performance to an optimal level. Fats make up the membranes of each of our cells, and energy is produced within each cell. So, we need plenty of healthy fats so that our cell walls are strong and sturdy and energy can be produced efficiently.
Fats also store the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. All of these vitamins are essential for a healthy body, and without the fat, we lose our stores of them.
When we have the right balance of carbohydrates and fats, we are optimally burning carbohydrate stores to fuel our workouts and also our brain. And as these carbs are being burned, fat stores are also being burned. Therefore, a little extra healthy fat in the diet actually helps us burn more fat during our workouts. Fat-burning comes to a halt when our balance of carbs and fats is off and we are not utilizing them properly inside our bodies. While most people do not burn fat very easily, athletes have the ability to mobilize and burn fat stores during exercise if their workouts are frequent.
The best sources of healthy fats include lean meats, fish, eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Fats, Exercise Intensity & Endurance
During low-intensity exercise, the body will use fat-burning as its major energy source. Since the demand for energy is slow, fat is more easily burned. During long endurance exercise (90 minutes or more), the body begins to run out of stored glycogen (carbs). The body wants keep some glucose stores to fuel the brain and central nervous system (remember, the brain can only use carbs for energy, so our body protects the brain by keeping some carbs on hand at all times). So, it releases a hormone called glucagon into the blood. Glucagon stimulates the fat tissues to release the fatty acids into the blood, which are then used as fuel. When exercising for longer periods of time, eating during a workout is absolutely crucial. This allows for maintenance of blood glucose levels and ensures there is enough glucose for the brain and muscles. When you eat during long workouts, you extend your glycogen stores for 3-4 hours, which allows you to perform optimally for much longer periods of time. Sometimes just a banana or orange slices is enough. Some people prefer the goos/gels, or things like shot blocks or sports beans. Anything with some sugars and electrolytes works.