Fat, as most people understandably assume, makes you fat. Well, they’re wrong. The amount of fat you consume doesn’t have to correlate with the amount subcutaneous or visceral fat in and on your body, so long as you play your cards right. In fact, large amounts of fat in your diet can be an extremely useful tool in your arsenal for building muscle and burn body fat.
So, if you take one thing away from this post, let it be this;
Consuming lots of dietary fat does in equal an increase in body fat
Without wanting to get too scientific (partly because you’ll get bored, but mainly because I’m not a scientist), fat is a key nutrient for muscle building for three reasons;
1. It helps create a hormonal environment that’s optimal for muscle building – animla fat can help maintain or boost testosterone levels because it contains cholesterol
2. It contains vitamins and minerals which aid with the absorption of other muscle-building nutrients, including protein
3. Because fat is so calorie dense, it can provide provide a welcome boost to your daily calorie intake if you’re trying to gain mass
Of course you’ve all heard everyone from Phil Learney to Maude from accounts talk about ‘good fats’ and ‘bad fats’, but what does that actually mean? Most of us know ‘good fats’ are derived from sources like fatty fish Salmon, Mackerel), nuts and seeds, Avocados and olive oil, but even those that understand this still perceive ‘saturated fat’ to be a dirty word and the sole cause of heart disease and obesity. This simply isn’t the case, and has been disproved by countless studies – for more on this, do yourself a favour and pick up Nourishing Traditions, the most eye-opening nutrition book I’ve ever read.
Saturated fat is NOT your enemy in the constant battle against fat gain (the real nemesis, as has always been the case, is excess calories). As mentioned above, fat is an incredibly useful dietary tool for those looking to build muscle, lose fat, and most importantly, improve health. Is that a green light to pick up the phone and use those Dominos vouchers that have been kicking around for a while? No, but it does mean introducing a few new elements* to your diet that make your goals easier to achieve AND make your food taste better.
*Be aware that fat contains over double the amount of calories per gram than fat and carbohydrates, so if you are counting calories (not that you necessarily need to) don’t use the following too liberally
The health benefits of Olive Oil have long been touted, and for that reason it’s probably the least surprising fat source on this list. Weighing in at 100% fat, this is a true ‘pure fat’ in every sense of the word. One tablespoon of this packs around 125 calories, making it a very simple and relatively cost effective way of bumping up the calories in your diet – you only need 4 tablespoons over the course of a day splashed over meat, rice or veg to add a very respectable 500 calories to your daily intake.
Go for Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) over the standard version. EVOO has been cold pressed (the oil mechanically squeezed out of the oils) rather than treated with heat or chemicals to extract the product. On that note, there some debate around cooking with (heating) olive oil and whether it’s safe or not.
If cooking with low temperatures, there shouldn’t be a problem with using it, but Olive Oil is prone to oxidation and degradation to the nutrients when used with high heats for long periods of time. Simply put, there are better fats to cook with. Best to pour it cold over salad, rice and meat.
There’s a massive buzz around Coconut Oil in nutrition circles at the moment, so much so that the news is even filtering down to the calorie-counting masses, it’s even available to buy in major supermarkets. Coconut Oil is the people nutrition hero of 2014, but why?
Traditional nutrition dogma dictates that saturated fat is ‘bad for you’, so it;s surprising that Coconut Oil is so popular when it boasts almost 100% saturated fat (it is one of the few plant fats with such a profile). Where it differs from most other saturated fats is that it contains Medium Chain Triglycerides which are metabolised much like carbohydrates, i.e. very quickly, meaning it’s a great alternative to simple carbohydrates as a pre-workout energy boost.
Coconut oil is also great for cooking (partly because it is a predominantly saturated fat), it isn’t sensitive to heat and therefore its nutritional profile isn’t degraded when using it for cooking. It also makes vegetables and meat taste great. Unless you hate Coconuts, in which case it makes them taste disgusting.
Flax Seed Oil
Before you go out there and start glugging gallons of this stuff, a warning – tastes like a tramps boot soaked in dog piss. Yep, it’s vile. That said, the taste is pretty much masked when compared with other strong flavours (I can’t taste it if it’s poured on seasoned chicken). So why eat it?
Flax seed oil is one of the very few food sources rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s have tonnes of general health benefits (heart health being the most widely reported) as well as indirectly aiding muscle gain, for this reason they are highly sought-after. Salmon is one of the best animal sources, but plant-based sources like Flax seed and Walnuts provide a slightly cheaper way of obtaining this essential fatty acid.
Like olive oil be careful when heating Flax Seed Oil, it can degrade the nutrients.
Possibly the most surprising addition to this list, butter as long been maligned as the harbinger of heart disease and obesity, in fact if you believe all the bad press around this innocent form of fat, you’ll probably not go within a 5 meter radius of it for fear of instant death. Grow up.
Butter probably warrants its own article, but in the name of brevity, here is some of the good shit it contains;
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K2 (high in butter from grass-fed cows)
- CLA (some of you have probably taken this in pill form as a metabolism aid)
Butter is also great for cooking because the vitamins it contains are fat soluble (i.e. they aren’t destroyed when exposed to heat). If you’re currently using margarine in the belief that it’s ‘healthier’ than butter then throw it in the bin now, it contains artificially produced trans fats.
Shove some butter in with your eggs from now on.
Another important point to note about all these types of fats is that in populations where they are consumed frequently and in high quantities, there are very few instances of obesity or other weight-related diseases. Fat is NOT your enemy, in fact I’d guess that most people aren’t eating enough of the right types of fat.
For those looking to to gain muscle, upping fat intake is a no brainer – it’s an easy way to add more calories that will benefit your general health to boot. For anyone looking to lose fat consider this: fat is less likely to be turned into body fat because it actually has a function in the body (unlike carbs, which just provide energy), also, if you consume fat in place of carbs in the hours leading up to your workout, your body is more likely to acclimatise to using fat as an energy source – meaning you’ll burn more body fat fat.