Essential Fatty Acids

I discussed the different types of fat in Chapter 4, but as you now know, a low fat diet is not necessarily the ideal diet. You need to include omega-3 and monounsaturated fats for an optimal healthy diet.

If everything is normal, there are only two essential fatty acids (EFAs) - linoleic acid (an omega-6) and alpha linolenic acid (an omega-3), but for optimal health, some other fatty acids may become conditionally essential. It is therefore good to consume diets rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid also, as these three are physiologically important (DoH 1991).

EFAs have a number of vital roles in the body, including as structural components of cell membranes and as part of the structure of prostaglandins, which have a variety of functions, including regulating steroid hormone production. Studies have shown that in very low fat diets there is a decrease in blood testosterone levels (Reed, et al 1993; Ingram, et al 1987), and even small decreases in fat intake below moderate fat intake levels, have shown a small reduction of testosterone production (Hamalainen, et al 1983). I do not intend to advocate loads of fat in order to boost testosterone levels, but I am demonstrating that too low fat diets for too long a period can adversely effect performance, and this is mainly due to insufficient intakes of EFAs.

Good intakes of EFAs may also decrease catabolism and increase growth hormone secretion (Dray, et al 1980), and of course, as discussed in Chapter 4, there are health benefits from consuming the right types of fat. EFAs have also been demonstrated to improve the action of insulin (Borkman, et al 1993; Phillips, et al 1994) and enhance the oxygen use and energy transformation required for optimal performance (Brison, et al 1981; Warner, et al 1986).

All sounds great, doesn't it? Well, why have I put EFAs in this chapter, and not in the Top 10 supplements list? Many bodybuilders consume flaxseed, linseed, evening primrose and borage oils to supplement some of these fatty acids. All of these are rich in one or more, but not all, of the aforementioned five fatty acids. This has lead to supplement companies producing 'designer fats' that contain rich amounts of all the above fatty acids. Some bodybuilders make up their own concoctions by combining some of the above fats. In my professional opinion, it is generally not necessary to supplement your diet with any of the above fats, provided you are getting adequate intakes from your diet. I would recommend:

♦ a serving of naturally oily fish three or four times a week, for example mackerel, salmon, trout, pilchards, sardines, kippers or sprats

♦ Include monounsaturated fat food sources, like olive or rapeseed oil. This could be via a high monounsaturated spread or olive oil in recipes or salads. Alternatively try one teaspoon of virgin olive oil per day (in a glass of fruit juice to hide the taste).

♦ Eat a balanced, varied diet, which may include some higher fat foods sometimes. Don't eat these foods too often, especially if you are trying to lose weight.

♦ If you cannot do any of the above and are struggling with your gains, it may be worth trying some of the above fats to supplement EFA intake.

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