Dietary Fat: The Good, the Bad, and the Essential


Dietary fat, a macronutrient often met with trepidation or even outright avoidance, holds a pivotal role in health and athletic performance. The human body requires relatively low amounts of fat. Still, it's vital to consume at least 3% of energy from omega-6 fatty acids and between 0.5% to 1% from omega-3 fatty acids to prevent deficiency (Thomas et al., 2016). This crucial element of our diet is composed of three categories: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (ACSM et al., 2000).

The Role of Fats in an Athlete's Diet

Fats are essential for the normal functioning of the body, playing an integral part in maintaining healthy hormone regulation (Helms et al., 2014). They also facilitate the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids (Lower, 2014). An inadequate fat intake can potentially harm healthy individuals by reducing testosterone production, affecting metabolism and muscle development, and impairing the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

In the realm of bodybuilding, dietary fat intake often includes a relatively high proportion of saturated fat (Spendlove et al., 2015). However, the general recommendation states that the proportion of saturated fat in total daily fat intake should not exceed 10% (Thomas et al., 2016). This highlights the importance of personal trainers helping clients understand dietary fat and its implications for health and performance.

The Balancing Act: Managing Fat Intake

While it's easy to demonize dietary fats due to their caloric density, the real issue lies in overconsumption. In the typical American diet, approximately 34% of calories come from fat, slightly above the recommended 30% or less. For athletes, a fat intake of 0.5-1.0 g/kg body weight is recommended depending on the training season (Kreider et al., 2010).  In Finnish physique athletes, fat intake averaged 64 g/day before the competition diet. Similarly, fat intake was around 53 g/day during the competition diet and 60 g/day during the recovery period (Hulmi et al. 2017.)

As personal trainers guide clients through nutritional balance, they should ensure the majority of fats come from monounsaturated or polyunsaturated sources, with minimal intake of saturated fats and trans fats. These professionals must consider multiple factors when advising on dietary fat, including the client's training regime, health conditions, weight goals, and other specific needs.

Navigating the World of Food Tracking

Food tracking can be a useful tool to monitor macronutrient intake, including fats. It provides valuable insight into a client's dietary habits and allows personal trainers to make appropriate recommendations. However, it's essential to note that food tracking may not be suitable for everyone. While it can help individuals become healthy, fit, and lean, there is potential for it to lead to eating disorder symptoms and psychological stress.

For most clients, it would be beneficial to track their intake temporarily to gain awareness of their food consumption, understand portion sizes, and learn to read nutrition labels. After this initial phase, the focus should shift towards non-tracking, habit-based strategies centered on internal cues like hunger and satiety.

Facilitating Change in Dietary Habits

Achieving dietary goals necessitates systematic changes in habits and behaviors over time. Research in psychology and behavior change provides numerous strategies that personal trainers can utilize in nutrition coaching. These strategies can help clients navigate their nutrition, making positive, informed changes to their dietary habits and overall health.

In conclusion, personal trainers are crucial in guiding clients through the complex world of nutritional information, particularly dietary fats. They can provide a balanced view, debunk myths, and offer essential advice while recognizing their boundaries and referring clients to nutrition professionals when needed. 

Reference list

  1. American College of Sports Medicine, Dietitians of Canada, & the American Dietetic Association. (2000). Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 32(12), 2130-2145.

  2. Helms, E. R., Aragon, A. A., & Fitschen, P. J. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 20.

  3. Hulmi, J. J., Isola, V., Suonpää, M., Järvinen, N. J., Kokkonen, M., Wennerström, A., ... & Häkkinen, K. (2017). The effects of intensive weight reduction on body composition and serum hormones in female fitness competitors. Frontiers in Physiology, 7, 689.

  4. Kreider, R. B., Wilborn, C. D., Taylor, L., Campbell, B., Almada, A. L., Collins, R., ... & Antonio, J. (2010). ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1), 7.

  5. Lower, L. (2014). The Effect of Dietary Fat on Vitamin Absorption. Journal of Nutritional Health, 24(2), 105-110.

  6. Mitchell, L., Slater, G., Hackett, D., Johnson, N., & O'Connor, H. (2017). Physiological Implications of Preparing for a Natural Male Bodybuilding Competition. European Journal of Sports Science, 19(3), 400-410.

  7. Spendlove, J., Mitchell, L., Gifford, J., Hackett, D., Slater, G., Cobley, S., ... & O'Connor, H. (2015). Dietary Intake of Competitive Bodybuilders. Sports Medicine, 45(7), 1041-1063.

  8. Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(3), 501-528.