Importance of Eating Fat for Athletes

03 Feb 2015, Posted by Dougie in Blog Articles

Something that often gets a bad rap in the media is a diet rich in fat. Although this is somewhat true, the underlying factor is actually the type of fats you are consuming and your daily energy requirements. Fats play an integral role in any diet however they are especially important for endurance athletes. The vast majority of us understand the importance of protein and carbohydrates for for muscle recovery and refueling glycogen stores, but no idea where fat fits into the equation, and why are continuously led to believe they are harmful.

At low levels of exercise intensity the primary source of fuel is fats and this fuel source can last for extensive periods. In well trained athletes the body becomes more efficient in burning fat at higher intensities as a fuel source, hence well trained athletes can train/race for longer without requiring additional fuel = greater endurance.

There are good fats and of course bad fats which we need to take into consideration when looking at our dietary intake. ‘Trans fats’ are the bad fats you want to avoid which are found in frozen and highly processed foods (Chips, doughnuts, burgers, Pizza etc). Saturated fats on the other hand, I believe to be beneficial to my health and training/racing performance and  I list some of these later on.

4  reasons I believe fats have increased my triathlon performance and overall well being

1. Increase time until fatigue
Due to the body having large fat stores and MY body being efficient in burning fat, this has increased my overall endurance capacity. As I become fitter and more efficient towards key races, my body burns more fat as a fuel source during long endurance sessions and I am therefore more sustainable

2. Maintain lean muscles mass

With large training hours comes mammoth energy requirements. Being a very sustainable fuel and high nutritional source of calories; fats therefore suffices large energy requirements and protects muscle from being broken down

3. Reduced injury

Fats help with inflammation (Omega 3) which can promote muscle recovery and assist with minor injuries to ensure they don’t become major problems. Throughout my triathlon training I have never once had an injury that has kept me out of action for more than a week. This can be contributed to smart training but also providing the correct nutrition to the muscles and joints

4. Greater energy levels

Eating good fats enables me to feel healthier and have more energy. The reasons above contribute to this but some other reasons I believe this occurs are

  • Overloading on carbohydrate can leave you feeling heavy and lethargic
  • I feel fuller for longer when consuming fats in conjunction with protein
  • Fats are rich in calories and also vitamins and minerals


5 of my favourite types of good fat

1. Coconut Oil/MCT Oil

This stuff is amazing!  There are numerous studies out there that suggest it can shred your body fat when combined with physical activity. I am a firm believer that when I am aiming to lean up before a key race yet maintain muscle mass, coconut oil is king. Look for a virgin coconut oil that has been cold-pressed

2. Avocados

The perfect fruit which has such a long list uses. When in hard training I aim to eat 1 Avo per day. The monounsaturated fats are a sustainable source of fuel and will also reduce bad cholesterol.

3.Grass fed butter

Butter is one of those products we have been lead to believe is not good for us. I strongly disagree with this and studies are now changing the way we think about butter. Packed with fatty acids and essential vitamins, I really enjoy butter in my coffee combined with coconut oil as an early morning kick starter.

4. Fish Oil

Packed with omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, fish oil supplements and/or fresh fish is fantastic for a broad range of health benefits. Wild caught Salmon is a favourite of mine which is also rich in protein. Be wary of fish and supplements which may be high in mercury and other nasties. A higher price will generally get you a superior and purified/clean product

5. Nuts

Nuts would have to be my favourite snack throughout the day and are full of good fats and protein. On top of my list is Walnuts, Almonds and Brazil nuts, but generally a good bag of mixed nuts suffices the buds. Activated nuts are the new craze as the nutrients are released from a soaking and drying process in which they are readily digestible.

All of the above foods are available at Prahran health Foods and we encourage to approach our friendly staff for more information. A well balanced diet for an athlete includes carbohydrates, protein and fats. Always consult a professional if you are unsure of the best diet for your lifestyle.

Author: Ryan Bourke (Triathlon Coach | CF Racing)