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A Definitive Guide to Healthy Fats - Health & Fitness

Fats are as Important as Proteins and Carbohydrates
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Fats - a "four-letter word" in bodybuilding. In the past few years lifters seem to have been avoiding this substance in their diets as if it were the modern bubonic plague. Admittedly too much dietary lipid is responsible for a number of lovely conditions, including heart disease, cancer and obesity. Yet without fat, you'd begin to suffer from a number of other maladies, among them deficiencies of vitamins A, D, E and K and a diminished ability to grow and repair cells - critical to success in bodybuilding. Without a doubt you should curtail fats, especially those of the saturated persuasion, if you want to look and feel your best. If you go too low, however, you are simply shooting yourself in the foot as far as performance goes. Fat is a necessary component of all body cells. Without it you may be asking for a host of problems.

One problem characteristic of many bodybuilders is their inability to see the world in colors other than black and white. ("If cutting out half the fat from my diet will get me ripped, cutting out all of it will get me twice as shredded.") I know very well the consequences of nearly no dietary fat, as I suffered from anorexia nervosa not too long ago. As a matter of fact, that's how I got into bodybuilding. I was told I had to gain weight or I would die, so I started lifting weights to avoid gaining that body mass in blubber. In the worst period of my illness I was eating absolutely no fat at all - none. My hair was falling out, my skin flaking off, and I was constantly hungry. I reasoned that if 1 did not have my broiled flounder desert-dry or my baked potato sans beurre, I would blow up like a blimp. How wrong I was.

At present I eat a minimum of 10 percent of my calories in the form of healthful, un-saturated fat, which comes out to about 50 to 75 grams daily. I feel a lot better, have a healthy libido and, paradoxically, my body-fat level is lower than ever. In fact, until a few months ago I was eating less than 5 percent fat - barely enough to keep my hair from falling out. When I learned that too many carbs in the diet can smooth you out, I replaced those extra carbs with unsaturated oils, bringing my fat calorie allotment to over 10 percent. Instantly 1 began to harden up.

I want to first outline the basic properties of fat so that you have a clear understanding of what they are. Lipids are a class of oil-like substances whose characteristic property is insolubility in water. Like carbohydrates, lipids are composed of the elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The difference is that fat contains significantly more hydrogen and carbon. This higher ratio of these two elements to oxygen makes fat an extremely concentrated source of energy. The largest portion of dietary and bodyfat (over 95 percent) in humans is composed of triacyl-glycerols (triglycerides). This compound consists of two major units: a glycerol molecule, which is a type of alcohol, and three fatty acids attached to it. Fatty acids are chains of carb atoms with hydrogens attached, and can range in length from four carbons to as many as 22. When a fatty acid attaches to a glycerol molecule to make a triglyceride, a water molecule shoots off, leaving the two units firmly linked.

Fatty acids come in basically two types: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats have one bond connecting adjacent carbons, and each nonterminal carbon has two hydrogen atoms attached to its remaining bonding electron pairs. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are characterized by one or more double bonds between adjacent carbon atoms; consequently, unsaturated fats have less than the maximum possible number of hydrogen atoms. Monounsaturated fats have just one double bond per molecule, while polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds.

Examples of saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature, include egg yolks, butter, lard and whale fat. Unsaturated fats are found in many oils and seeds. The ratio of saturated to unsaturated fatty acids in a food lipid determines whether it is solid or liquid at room temperature. Lard, for instance, is nearly 100 percent saturated fat and is solid at room temperature. Canola oil, which is predominantly unsaturated, is a liquid at room temperature. The higher the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fatty acids present, the more likely is the lipid to be solid at room temperature.

One practical effect of dietary lipid on your plate is its ability to reduce the sense of hunger. This reaction is due to hormones in your gut such as enterogastrone and cholecystokinin that suppress appetite. Because of this and other reasons I believe the current fad of eliminating all the fat from your diet (in an attempt to lose bodyfat, for instance) has a number of harmful effects, the first of which would probably be simply lack of taste. As stated by authors Robert Garrison and Elizabeth Somers of The Nutrition Desk Reference, "The problem with lipid-free diets is that they tend to be boring with no meat, no eggs [not if you eliminate the yolks, you idiots], no butter or margarine, no salad dressings, no milk or cheese, no fried foods, no baked goods, no gravies, few sauces and limited vegetables." (Hey, wait a minute ... that sounds just like my diet!)

To reiterate, I don't judge the current all-out craze of eliminating every last gram of fat from your diet and binging on carbs (while doing six hours of aerobics daily) to lose fat and build muscle to be particularly effective. For one reason, you may actually gain fat while doing the ultracarb approach. A number of factors apply here, including your constant hunger. If you don't eat any fat which has a high satiety value, you may be inclined to eat more total calories.

Yes, I know fat is converted into adipose more easily than carbs, but 10,000 calories worth of bread, rice and potatoes will make you mushier than the Pillsbury Doughboy. You're better off (and healthier) to eat fewer calories and more fat than to eat no fat at all, constantly stuffing your face with bagels and English muffins until your belly is bursting at the seams.

To confirm this idea, the authors of Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism state, "The fact that animals can be fattened on a predominantly carbohydrate diet is evidence of the apparent ease by which carbohydrate can be converted into fat." The message is this: A moderate-carb diet (about 50 to 60 percent) is proven effective for building muscle and reloading tissue glycogen levels when you're in heavy training, but don't go to the point where you need to have your "megacarb, 10,000-calorie weight-gain powder" delivered to you preblended in a cement-mixer truck!

Other groups of compounds related to fats include phospholipids (which are present in all cell membranes) and sterols (including cholesterol). Cholesterol, though it has gotten a very bad rap in the past few years, is actually an extremely important compound in the body. For instance, cholesterol is necessary for the formation of sex hormones (testosterone! testosterone!) and is an essential component of the plasma membrane of body cells. Since only animals synthesize cholesterol, strict vegetarian diets are obviously devoid of the substance. This is not really a problem, however, as your body is capable of synthesizing its own cholesterol from lipid and carbohydrate. There is an inverse relationship between dietary intake of cholesterol and bodily synthesis. The less you take in, the more your body produces. For this reason cholesterol is generally not considered essential in the diet.

Just as there are essential amino acids which the body cannot make, two essential fatty acids (EFAs) need to be provided in the diet - linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. If you don't consume these two EFAs regularly, dermatitis (dry skin) will result as well as other ill effects (including death if taken to an extreme). When I was anorexic I was eating zero fat. I thought I was going bald and literally had pieces of dandruff the size of corn flakes peeling off my head. My very low testosterone level gave me no aggressive drive in the gym. I trained like a wuss and was totally unable to "get it up" (the weight, that is). Thus, I believe an extremely low-fat diet may result in a depressed training drive and libido.

In addition to preventing dermatitis, EFAs are also an important growth factor - an effect that obviously has important implications for bodybuilding. Furthermore, EFAs are needed for the synthesis of prostaglandins, thromboxanes and leukotrienes (whatever the hell they are). To summarize the functions of all lipids in the body, 1 shall again glorify The Nutrition Desk Reference, which says: "Lipids work with other nutrients to perform life-supporting functions in every human cell. They are integrally involved in cell membrane structure, blood and tissue structure, enzyme reactions, the manufacture and utilization of the sterol hormones and the hormone-like prostaglandins, and in memory and nervous system operations. Finally, lipids constitute a structure for secondary sex characteristics." (Makes me want to go and scarf down an entire quart of Crisco straight from the container!)

One good source of EFAs is flaxseed. I've found a cereal product in the supermarket that is an excellent source of flaxseed. It is called "Uncle Sam Cereal." Besides providing a good dose of EFAs, the seed and fiber in the cereal act to keep you very regular. (Okay, for all you "sharper thans" out there, much of the fat isn't even absorbed, as many seeds are excreted. I think they should call it "Flaxative"!)

This cereal is also unusual in that it contains no added sugar. Even seemingly "healthful" cereals like Wheaties or Special K often contain some type of sugar (such as corn syrup) as one of the first few ingredients. You should avoid sugars, especially high glycemic-index sugars, whenever possible if you want to stay reasonably shredded (except after a workout!). Anecdotal evidence tends to suggest sources of this substance, and most other sugars, may smooth you out.

If you don't care for cereal, flaxseed oil is another fine source of EFAs. I use a capsule product called "Natural Brand" that I got at GNC, and it seems to fit the bill. If you want a simpler choice, you can just use any good, minimally processed brand of canola oil available in most supermarkets. Dr. Michael Colgan in Optimum Sports Nutrition states that extra-virgin olive oil contains a type of fatty acid that has been shown to elicit positive effects on blood cholesterol and blood lipids. (Note: Virgin olive is devoid of linolenic acid.) Other oils can be "good" or "bad," depending on the amounts and types of fatty acids they contain and the degree to which they have been processed. Good oils have mainly unsaturated fats and are decent sources of EFAs, while bad oils are chiefly saturated fatty acids and are poor sources of EFAs. In particular, Dr. Colgan recommends flaxseed, pumpkin seed, soybean, walnut and canola oils as the good sources of essential fatty acids. You can use your choice of oil in recipes, on salads, or in your blender protein shakes as I do. (Yum, yum!) A word of caution, however, in using oils to get your fats: Keep the container refrigerated and tightly closed. Atmospheric oxygen reacts with the double bonds in unsaturated fats to spoil them, rendering them toxic and potentially harmful to the body.

You may have read recently in other magazines or articles about the "ergogenic" effects of relatively high doses of flaxseed oil. I totally agree. I take 25 to 30 grams per day of flax oil, and once I started doing this, my testosterone level went through the roof. How do I know this? Well, for starters, I got hornier than a 500-strong trombone choir when I started on the stuff, and secondly, I feel a hell of a lot more aggressive in the gym. Additionally, I have a newfound zit problem that makes my upper back look like a lunar landscape. To make my results totally excellent, 1 seem to be growing a lot faster, my skin has taken on a healthy hue, and I feel more energetic. This evidence and anecdotal reports I have heard from others suggest that flaxseed oil may be one of the most important supplements you will ever take. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it is someday sold as an aphrodisiac (right alongside yohimbe, of course). To the contrary, you should avoid saturated fats in the diet whenever possible. This rule applies to bodybuilders as well as "normal" folk. Saturated fats are hypercholesterolemic - that is, they raise the level of cholesterol in the blood. As you know, high cholesterol is a precursor to the wonderful condition called a heart attack. According to Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, "Research spanning four decades has generally led to the conclusion that saturated fats are hypercholesterolemic and that polyunsaturated fats are hypocholesterolemic [they lower blood cholesterol]." Garrison and Somers also state: "As much as 80 percent of the serum cholesterol variability can be explained by the level of fat in the diet. Teaspoon for teaspoon, saturated fats are twice as effective in raising serum cholesterol as polyunsaturated fats are in lowering it."

I am including this discussion of saturated fats and their role in heart disease, etc., which some of you might consider irrelevant to bodybuilders, because nobody is invulnerable to the effects of poor lipid nutriture. I have gotten the impression that many lifters think they are absolutely immune to the consequences of eating fatty meals merely because they work out. Nonsense! While exercise certainly has been shown to have beneficial effects on blood cholesterol, heart disease and other nutritional maladies associated with a high fat intake, don't take this fact as an excuse to be a friggin' Mr. Macho, stuff-yourself-with-steak-and-whole-eggs lardass glutton in the off-season!

In the same vein, one classic bodybuilding doctrine I often hear-and which never fails to throw me into a major hypertensive crisis-reads something like, "In order to gain muscle, you have to eat meat. Meat is muscle, so you need to eat as much as possible if you want to get big. Sometimes I eat 20 ounces of steak at one sitting. I don't worry about fat until contest time. You can't get huge if you don't eat meat." To be frank, this line of reasoning has got to be one of the most nutritionally retarded theories I have ever head. (Talk about stone-age thinking!) To paraphrase the text in Nutrition In Exercise and Sport, many athletes, especially bodybuilders, have embedded in their psyche an insatiable desire to consume animal flesh. This idea probably goes back to the ancient Greeks, who believed that meat was necessary for gains in skeletal muscle size and strength. (Yeah, but imagine how huge 'n' hard the early caveman bodybuilder would have been if he had eaten nothing but pterodactyl egg whites!)

Modem science tells us much of past dietary belief is part of what Fred C. Hatfield calls a "nutritional age of ignorance." I realize the following radical statement will probably throw all you loyal carnivores into a big-time pandemoniac rage, but here goes: You absolutely, positively do not need to eat meat in order to build muscle! Two basic reasons: 1) Egg and whey are the highest quality protein sources by far. 2) The accompanying nutrients (and not necessarily the meat protein itself) are probably responsible for the increases in size and strength associated with such intake. For instance, creatine, iron, B12 and carnitine are relatively abundant in meat, but you can supplement these substances without the fat. Even if you did have some proven, physiological requirement for animal flesh in the interest of building muscle, you'd probably keel over from a massive myocardial infarction (look it up!) after years of carnivorous bliss while doing squats or some other repetitious, rhythmic movement (!). To those of you who still insist upon eating a side of beef every day at the eggsclusion (hint, hint!) of other protein foods-despite all the health consequences of a concomitant high fat/cholesterol intake - I have only one piece of advice to give: Better wash it down with a glassful of Drano. (That'll clear out your arteries.) Only joking, only joking, only joking!

One type of lipid currently in wide use in bodybuilding is the so-called medium-chain triglycerides. Advocates of this substance maintain MCTs bypass the normal metabolic pathways leading to fat storage. According to Dr. Colgan (OSN), they provide a readily available source of energy and, though I shall question him (and others) on this point, "[MCTs]... are not deposited as bodyfat no matter how much of them you eat."

Ironically, MCTs are produced from primarily coconut oil (lauric and caprylic acids) and palm kernel oil (capric acid), which are saturated (read: unhealthful, to be avoided) fats. Dr. Hatfield, author of Hardcore Bodybuilding: A Scientific Approach, also strongly advocates MCTs. He asserts: "MCTs are quickly absorbed, protein sparing (anticatabolic), and provide greater energy for longer periods. MCTs deliver twice [emphasis his] the energy of CHO, reduce cholesterol, enhance the absorption of amino acids, induce thermo-genesis, diminish your food efficiency ratio (it takes I more food than normal to gain weight) and cannot contribute to stored bodyfat because they're used exclusively in the . mitochondria of your muscle cells where they're converted to ketones."

Personally, I am not a big fan of MCTs because of the ketone bodies formed from them and the resultant physiological consequences associated with a ketogenic state (such as disturbances in the body's pH balance). You can certainly have a little bit of MCT oil if it floats your boat, but provided what is said about MCTs and ketones is true, I would not recommend using it for long periods of time or in large amounts. If Hatfield's assertion that MCTs are ketogenic is correct, pouring it all over your salad or other foods may not be such a good idea (unless you like ketosis). Moreover, many bodybuilders apparently go pigs-in-shit crazy with MCTs during precontest prep when their bodies are already in a state of ketosis. Seems to me that this would only serve to compound the problem rather than help it. (Okay, so MCTs spare protein and provide energy, but who wants to go around urinating your brains out?) I would suggest keeping your carb intake high enough to prevent the formation of excessive ketones and to i provide energy, but low enough so that your ' body burns fat at a reasonable rate. This process may require some trial and error. To evaluate your intake, ketostix are available in most drug stores and are an accurate determinate of ketone status.

I have a nasty suspicion that if you are consuming adequate carbohydrates, MCTs would be of no benefit at all, and may in fact cause you to put on fat. At this point I must give credit to the late Dan Duchaine, who wrote about the topic in a question-and-answer column in Muscle Media 2000 (July 1995). Mr. Duchaine was certain MCTs can be converted into bodyfat just like any other dietary lipid, provided your CHO intake is adequate and/or you are not a diabetic. I agree, and I will present a similar explanation to Duchaine's. To illustrate this point requires a bit of biochemistry, but bear with me. In a nutshell (well, actually, eggshell), the break-down of glucose, fatty acids, glycerol and certain amino acids results in the formation of a metabolic intermediate called acetyl CoA. Normally acetyl-CoA enters the Krebs cycle to yield energy and other products, and all is well and good. In a situation of low carbohydrate intake, however, there is an entirely different ball game. Complete, normal , fat metabolism yielding C02 and water grinds to a halt as a consequence of f acetyl CoA buildup. The result is a very unhealthy and potentially dangerous condition known as ketoacidosis or just ketosis. Ketones are organic acids formed from excess acetyl CoA that can either fuel certain tissues, such as the brain, or be excreted in the urine. Ketogenesis occurs only in the absence of a substance called oxaloacetate, which is derived from the partial metabolism of carbohydrate and is "pushed" into the TCA cycle along with acetyl CoA. In the face of a diminishing oxaloacetate pool, acetyl CoA cannot enter the Krebs cycle and thus accumulates, necessitating the synthesis of ketones. In contrast, if adequate dietary carbohydrate is provided, fat is oxidized into carbon dioxide, water and energy. This process is precisely what physiologists are referring to when they describe complete fatty acid oxidation as "burning fat in the flame of carbohydrate."

Foods for Gaining Mass or Losing Fat

Mr. Duchaine's take on MCTs, as well as my own, was basically the following: Since the regulation of fatty acid oxidation i: closely linked to carbohydrate intake (for ths aforementioned reason coupled with secondary hormonal influences of blood glucose concentration and its effect on insulin and glucagon), clearly the metabolic fate of MCTs is also dependent upon your CHO status. In the assertion "MCTs cannot be stored as bodyfat no matter how many of them you eat," there is an implication that MCTs in and of themselves elicit a ketogenic response in the liver. Therein lies the problem.

Ketone formation is controlled by the carbohydrate you eat and the hormones that go with them, not fat. Therefore, Duchaine insisted MCTs "cannot be turned into bodyfat no matter how many you eat" if and only if your carb status is below par. This is to say MCTs follow exactly the same metabolic pathway as any other fat in the presence of a normal, nonrestrictive carbohydrate intake. Nevertheless, MCTs in the presence of low carbs and lipolytic hormones (glucagon) certainly do provide an efficient source of ketones since they are taken up and metabolized by the liver very quickly. By the same token, calling MCTs "fatless fats" may be a bit misleading, since in the starvation state most anything you shove into your face will be burned for energy. I say being burdened with ketosis is too unhealthy and dangerous for most people, anyway, unless you want to feel like a big piece of shit. Why not just stay lean all year so that you can get shredded without all the unnecessary consequences of starvation or overdieting?

Well, guess that's all I have to say about fat for now. In the meantime get crackin' with those egg whites for a grade A physique. Right now I'm drinking another delicious "egg fuel" shake with a couple of teaspoons of flaxseed oil added for good measure. With crushed ice blended in, it has the texture of a gourmet milk shake-and it takes eggcellent! Think I'll go now and pop a few zits, then maybe do the nasty with my naughty magazines (tee, hee!) 'cause I had a few too many grams of EFAs today and I can hardly contain myself. Hey, which came first, the chicken or the Eggman? The chicken. The Eggman has yet to get laid.


Is all this scientific jargon giving you a pain in the balls/ovaries? (Gotta be nonsexist, now.) I'll bet my eggheadedness probably gets annoying after a while. To give you some practical "just tell me what the hell to eat" advice, I have compiled an alphabetical listing of 23 of my favorite bodybuilding foods. (Yes, I do occasionally eat foods other than eggs.) Next to each listing is an indication of how I think this food rates as overall bodybuilding cuisine. Five stars is the highest rating, and a half-star is the lowest rating. Also, I suggest what purpose this item is best for (i.e., musclebuilding, fat loss or both) and list fat (in grams) and percent of calories from fat. Finally, using some of these foods, we'll build two hypothetical diets for two 200-pound bodybuilders with moderate to high metabolisms. One is trying to build freaky mass, and the other is slowly trying to lose fat. You'll notice the protein and fat (about 300 and 60 grams respectively) remain the same for both, but the carbs drop about 20 percent for the fat-loss guy or gal. Please be acutely aware that since I am not a registered dietitian, you should view these diets only as rough guidelines and consult your physician before making any drastic changes. I would also recommend a good multivitamin/mineral pill. That much said, get crackin'!

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