In Part 1 I suggested a surefire way to obtain essential fatty acids from supplements, getting the most nutritional bang for the least amount of calories. Now comes the fun aspect of fats—the ones you should eat. And make no mistake. They are meant to be an enjoyable part of your diet while helping you be a better, healthier athlete.
In addition to the essential omega-3s and 6s, we eat other fats that come mostly from two sources. The first is protein foods, like steak, chicken and whole eggs. We won’t go too deeply into this topic here, but I will provide some ground rules.
Bodybuilders should get most of their saturated fats from animal-protein foods. In general, the lower your carbs, the less harmful saturated fats are to you. When it comes to animal foods, “You are what your food ate”—meaning there’s a world of difference between organic grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken and eggs and the conventionally grain-fed varieties. Don’t be a drone and eat conventionally raised red meat twice a day in addition to mass-produced “industrial” eggs while on a high-carb, mass-gaining diet just because some pro bodybuilder does it. We want to emulate the way many pro bodybuilders look, not their life expectancy.
The other dietary source of fats is vegetables—oils, nuts and some vegetables and fruits, like avocado. They are foods that derive most of their calories from fat. The best ones to concentrate on are those rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which have many well-known health benefits. They can help burn fat, lower cholesterol, raise good cholesterol and normalize blood pressure, just to name a few. Get on the Web, and check out the thousands of references on the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet (which is high in olive oil), nuts and diets generous in monounsaturated fats.
Monounsaturates are the most stable unsaturated fats and are more resistant to oxidation and free-radical attack than any others. When your diet is excessively high in polyunsaturates, on the other hand, you become more susceptible to oxidative stress and free-radical reactions. That correlates to higher cancer risks, accelerated markers of aging and many other negative conditions. That’s partly my reason for advocating that people get the most polyunsaturated power from the least amount of fat—fish oil, evening primrose or borage oil.
My program advocates two or more tablespoons of unfiltered extra virgin olive oil. The greener the better. Not only is EVOO rich in healthful monounsaturates, but it also has powerful pigments and polyphenol antioxidants that are cardio protective. In fact, several supplement companies have isolated olive polyphenols and sell them in pill form as a powerful antioxidant.
An equally good alternative to olive oil is cold-pressed macadamia nut oil, which I introduced to the bodybuilding world several years ago. Macadamia nut oil has a sweet, buttery flavor that is more suitable for use in protein shakes, oatmeal and some savory foods than the more pungent-tasting olive oil. It’s great fuel when you’re on a low-carb or carb-modified diet. Macadamia nut oil has the distinction of being the most stable and heat resistant monounsaturated oil.
In my own diet I use my oils cold on salads or as a topping on carbs (what Italian doesn’t like to dip bread into olive oil?). Macadamia nut oil and virgin coconut oil are heat resistant enough to use in a light sauté. Health-conscious individuals should never deep fry. With the exception of macadamia nut oil and virgin coconut oil, all oils should be used unheated. Only purchase oils that are “cold pressed.” Store in airtight containers, out of direct light and away from heat sources.
Similarly, the nuts should be raw—meaning not roasted. They should be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator. All of these redundant storage rules and guidelines about contact with oxygen and heating are to protect the fats and oils from oxidation and becoming rancid. When most healthful oils are heated excessively, they lose their health-giving properties and in fact become pro-inflammatory and unhealthful. That often makes me wonder if the omega-3s in well-cooked salmon remain intact. I have my doubts.
Regarding nuts, I use raw nuts (organic when possible) to supply the balance of fats suited to an individual’s calorie needs. I place an emphasis on nuts that are high in monounsaturates—almonds, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts and macadamias, for reasons stated above. That certainly doesn’t preclude eating raw walnuts, sunflower seeds and others on occasion and in moderation. Peanut butter, which is a bodybuilder staple, is okay, but its nutrient and antioxidant profile is not nearly as impressive as those of tree nuts. Additionally, in order for peanut butter to taste reasonably good, it has to be made from roasted peanuts. Although peanut oil is mostly monounsaturated, the roasting process invariably creates oxidative activity and makes the peanut butter somewhat less healthful than it should be. Clearly, if you eat peanut butter, you should stick with “natural” varieties and not the ones with hydrogenated oils, sugars and other harmful additives.
Depending on your calorie needs, you can play with the relative quantities of fats in your diet. Any athlete on a diet emphasizing the right fats in the correct quantities and percentages will discover that street-smart fat intake is carbohydrate sparing. You need fewer carbs to fuel you and carb you up, and you can diet with a lower-carb plan without as much suffering or muscle loss. Conversely, if you are on a weight-gain diet, cranking up your calories with the proper fats will enhance the quality of your gains and help you bulk up to a greater extent than relying on mega-high carbs alone. All scenarios assume an adequate protein intake.
This commonsense approach has worked wonders for hundreds of athletes and nonathletes who have tried it for a least a couple of months. It’s a fresh look at a food group that should often account for 30 to 35 percent of our daily calories, which is a topic for a future article. —Ron Noreman
Editor’s note: Ron Noreman (RonNoreman.com) is a partner in Kamler, Lewis & Noreman LLP (KLNcpas.com), a certified public accounting firm that specializes in tax representation and management of professional athletes, nutritional-supplement companies and weight-training-equipment manufacturers. He has been a competitive bodybuilder for 35 years and has won numerous titles, is the founder of Alchemy Nutrition and offers contest-prep coaching and holistic-nutrition consultations. He has also formulated antioxidant supplements for prominent vitamin companies and served as a design consultant for Nebula and other equipment manufacturers.