Macronutrients Fat Requirements

Fat. The very word sends a shiver up the spine of the leanest athlete. Without a doubt, fat is the most misunderstood and maligned of nutrients.

Most people - including educated people who should know better - take a "fat is fat and should be avoided" approach to eating. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially when trying to put on quality mass.

Are all fats created equal and should we avoid fat, if trying to gain lean mass? The answer to both questions is a resounding no!

It's interesting to note that people have no problem accepting the fact that there are different types of carbohydrates with different effects on the body, as described above. The terms "simple" and "complex" or "high glyce-mic" and "low glycemic" get thrown around all the time when referring to carbohydrates.

The same holds true for proteins. Terms such as "complete" and "incomplete" proteins or "high biological value" as well as other terms are applied to proteins whenever we read an article on the topic.

People seem to have no problem understanding and accepting that there are large differences in the types and quality of carbohydrates and proteins they eat, but often think of all fats as being equal, without any unique effects of their own.

"Fat is fat", they will say. They are told to avoid all fats and to consider fat as the enemy of the athlete or the person trying to shed some weight. As briefly outlined previously, fats have just as many biochemical differences and effects on the body as carbohydrates and proteins do.

There are many different types of fats, such as monounsaturated, saturated, polyunsaturated, omega-3, omega-6, as well as many others. Within this group are even more lipids (fats) such as alpha-linolenic (ALA), linoleic (LA), EPA, DHA, GLA, CLA and so on. The idea that "a fat is a fat, and all fats are bad for you and should be avoided" is, of course, ridiculous advice and is based on outdated research and sheer ignorance of the topic.

M'Fat is fat', they will say. They are told to avoid all fats and to consider fat as the enemy of the athlete or the person trying to shed some weightV

There is no doubt that certain fats such as saturated and trans fatty acids should be limited or avoided if peak performance, long-term health and/or weight loss is the goal.

On the other hand, a great deal of recent research is showing that moderate fat intakes, of the right types of fat, do - in fact - have a place in the athlete's diet, as well as the average person concerned with long term health, weight loss and performance.

So, the trick is to learn to see fats as a group of lipids that have their own unique effects on the body. We can, then, shed the old notion that fat is the enemy of the athlete, because it's simply not true.

With that in mind, we will continue to outline the fat requirements for this chapter when an optimized anabolic environment for growth is the goal.

As most people are aware, hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone, i nsulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and insulin are major anabolic (muscle building) hormones.

It's well known that a particular hormonal milieu is needed to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat in response to exercise. For example, a weight lifter with inadequate testosterone levels will find it virtually impossible to add muscle mass even though he is weight training and eats well. A good diet and training regimen is essential to increase strength, muscle mass, and performance. Yet, without adequate anabolic hormone levels, he is essentially spinning his wheels. This known fact has been responsible for some athletes turning to synthetic versions of anabolic hormones, such as anabolic steroids and man-made growth hormone, as well as other compounds. What are overlooked by many people, however, are the effects that macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) have on the production of anabolic hormones.

Testosterone is generally considered the king of anabolic hormones, especially in men. Anything that can positively and safely affect testosterone levels is considered a plus for athletes concerned with building muscle and increasing strength.

Although essential for increasing muscle mass, testosterone has many functions in the human body ranging from libido, to immunity, to depression. So an increase in testosterone levels can have many positive applications.

"Testosterone is generally considered the king of anabolic hormones, especially in men. Anything that can positively and safely affect testosterone levels is considered a plus for athletes concerned wi th building muscle and increasi strength. ^

This is particularly true for men and women (yes women need testosterone too!) who suffer from low levels of this essential hormone.

Although high carbohydrate, low fat diets have been all the rage for the past decade or so, they may be particularly hard on testosterone levels. For example, one study examined 30 healthy male volunteers who were switched from their customary diet that supplied 40 percent of energy as fat, to a diet containing significantly less fat (25 percent of energy) for 6 weeks.

The study found a statistically significant drop in serum testosterone levels (from 22.7 nmol/l to 19.3 nmol/l), free testosterone and other androgens. This study also found that a higher ratio of saturated fat to polyunsaturated fat was positively correlated with higher testosterone levels.

Another study that had two groups eating approximately the same ratios and amounts of carbohydrates and fats, found a "mixed" diet that included animal products resulted in higher testosterone levels than a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. Several other studies appear to confirm the effects of dietary fats on testosterone levels, as well as other dietary variables.

However, there is a ceiling of how much fat should be eaten to achieve optimal testosterone levels. Studies suggest that 30 percent of calories from fat appears to be the proper amount of fat needed, as diets higher than 30 - 40 percent showed no extra advantage. The lesson here is, for optimal hormonal production of anabolic hormones in athletes, adequate fat is essential.

Knowing that information, we will set up the fat requirement of our anabolic diet with fat comprising 30 percent of total calories.


To determine total fat for a 200 lb. person, we need to start with the total calories. 30% of the total calories will be from fat. Since fat provides 9 calories per gram, dividing by 9 will give us the total grams of fat for the day:

Total calories from fat: 3640 kcal x 0.30 = 1092 calories Total grams of fat = 1092 kcal/9 kcal per g = 121.3 g

The One-Third Rule

Now that we have the total amount of fat figured out, we need to decide on what type of fat, since different fats have different effects on health, testosterone levels, etc.

As research has made clear, some saturated fat is needed for optimal testosterone production. What I suggest to people is that they follow the one-third rule: one-third of your fat allotment should come from unprocessed polyunsaturated fats with high omega-3 contents (e.g. flax, hemp, Udo's Choice, fish oils, etc). Another third can come from monounsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil, avocados, etc.). The final third should come from saturated fats that are already found in red meat, whole milk, butter, etc.

This ratio allows for optimal testosterone production, quality weight gain, and performance, without sacrificing your health in the process. I have found this to be a highly successful strategy for quality muscle gains with minimal body fat increases (though body fat is still dependent on other factors such as total calories, activity levels, genetics, etc).

If you divide the total fat grams per day (121) by 3 you get slightly over 40 grams of fat. That's approximately 40 grams from high omega-3 EFA rich oils, 40 grams from monounsaturated fats, and 40 grams from saturated fats, all divided over the day's eating.

If you divide the total fat between 6 meals, you will find that each meal requires roughly 20 grams of fat per meal. A half-tablespoon of flax oil mixed in a protein drink (7 grams), another half-tablespoon of olive oil over a salad, and the naturally occurring saturated fat in, say, a 5 ounce piece of lean red meat, will cover our 200 lb. example.

You will notice that the above comes close, but does not follow a perfect one-third rule for fats, but different meals can have different ratios of fats as long as the total for each is met each day. Life is too short to sit around trying to get it perfect with each meal!

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