Tara Gidus

The Fat Factor

Low-fat foods were all the rage about 20 years ago, but we’ve learned that not all fat is bad and we actually need fat!  However, many runners still fear that fat will make them fat or increase their cholesterol levels. Are low-fat foods really the best option for your training? Many “fat-free” products are loaded with sugars and refined carbohydrates, which defeat the purpose. Fat often gets the rap for being the bad guy when in actuality it plays an essential role in your health and training.


How do you know what type of fat to eat or how much of it to eat? Rule of thumb is to opt for unsaturated fats versus saturated fats. Some heart healthy “good fats” are avocado, oils, olives, seeds, and nuts. So how can fat affect the diet of a runner?


Prevent Cravings. When eating a diet low in fat, people often wonder why they are craving ice cream sundaes and cookies. Often this is because they are trying to eat no- or low-fat during the day so at night or on the weekend they “cheat” and feel guilty. Fat actually promotes fullness because it digests slowly over 3-4 hours, whereas carbohydrates tend to be digested much more quickly.


Fewer Injuries. When consuming a low-fat diet, especially among women, injuries tend to increase. The most common injuries are stress fractures, iliotibial band problems and tendonitis. These types of injuries can vary in severity, but they can clearly impact training and race performance.


Improved Hormone Function. Fat aids in the production of testosterone, cortisol, estrogen and progesterone. These hormones help utilize fat as a fuel source for metabolism and directing amino acids into muscle cells, which increase lean tissue mass. When these hormone levels are low, your ability to recover from exercise is compromised.


Better Vitamin Absorption. Fats are needed as the transporter for fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are key for building muscle and keeping a healthy immune system. Remember to choose full fat salad dressing to increase absorption of the nutrients in your salad.


Fights Inflammation. Polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 fatty acids are essential in the diet, meaning you have to eat foods like salmon, tuna, halibut, mackerel, sardines, algae, walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds for your body to get the necessary building blocks that it needs. DHA and EPA are two omega-3 fatty acids that are plentiful in cold-water fish and are concentrated in the brain and retina of the eye. Athletes can benefit from these fish because they fight inflammation, improve mental focus, keep joints healthy, and speed recovery between workouts.


Tweet how you consume fat in your diet to me @DietDivaTara.


Known as the "Diet Diva," Tara Gidus is a nationally acclaimed nutrition expert and the official nutritionist of runDisney.