Fats are under-appreciated, misunderstood and often considered the nutritional bad boys of the macronutrients. The reality is that fats are essential to health and vital to life itself. If used properly, they can be almost as important as protein in getting lean, becoming huge and staying healthy enough to optimize your training results and athletic longevity. Of further interest to bodybuilders is keeping the inflammation of joints and connective tissue under control—and keeping your cardiovascular system healthy, your immunity strong and your metabolism optimal doesn’t hurt either.
This will not be a laundry-list article about the benefits and properties of essential and nonessential fatty acids. If you need that information, there are hundreds of places from which to get it. As such, I’m not providing references. (In any event, references in many bodybuilding magazines and nutrition books are a joke. As an example, an article states that the mineral boron increases testosterone and cites a reference in small print at the end. When you look at the actual study—and the writers or editors are betting that you won’t take the time—you find that postmenopausal chipmunks with an artificially induced mineral deficiency had an increase in testosterone when their diet was supplemented with boron. It’s a huge hoax to cite such a study as proof of anything relevant to humans much less that it increases testosterone in healthy bodybuilders. Reader beware.)
The focus here is the practical application of widely known facts about fats that can help you get the most out of this class of nutrients. No brain surgery, just a commonsense road map based on the most current science about fats.
In the broadest terms, there are two classes of essential fatty acids—omega-3s and omega-6s. “Essential” means that the fats must be supplied in your diet, as the body cannot manufacture them from other substances. If someone is deprived of all essential fatty acids long enough, he or she will get sick and eventually die. Protein is essential to life as well. Interestingly, there is no dietary necessity for carbs—although by mentioning it, I am not in any way recommending the total elimination of carbs from any diet plan, just pointing out that they are not required for survival.
Now, here’s where a little street smarts helps. The potent end product of omega-6 digestion and metabolism is gamma linoleic acid. GLA is the physiologically active component of omega-6 metabolism—essentially the octane in omega-6 gasoline. The best sources of GLA are evening primrose oil or borage oil. In my program, I use four grams of evening primrose oil or three grams of borage oil in capsule form. The oils need to be cold pressed (processed from seeds without heat), hexane free (extracted without the use of a harsh chemical called hexane that degrades the fatty acid) and stored in a dark, air-tight bottle that keeps light from coming in contact with it. I use slightly more evening primrose oil than borage oil since borage is somewhat higher in GLA, but you can use them interchangeably. Once the bottles have been opened, stored them in the refrigerator. Look for brands that come vacuum packed, which eliminates the need for refrigeration prior to opening.
My logic is, why mess around with 500 to 800 calories of safflower, sunflower, soy or other omega-6 oils to get what 30 or 40 calories of borage or evening primrose oil can provide? Additionally, omega-6 oils are extremely susceptible to oxidation, free-radical attack and in excess promote inflammation. The more omega-6s you have in your system, the greater the oxidative stress and the more antioxidants you need for protection. I mentioned soy oil above. Bodybuilders should never use soy oil. It is extremely high in phyto-estrogens, which can have potentially feminizing effects and can make getting rid of lower-body fat sheer hell. (We’re trying to get into posing trunks and tank-tops, not Wonderbras.) Watch out for soy oil in Chinese food and salad dressings. It’s common in prepared foods, as it’s cheap and has a very light flavor.
Omega-3 fatty acids come from vegetable and animal sources. The most common vegetable source is flaxseed oil. Flax is a great source of omega-3s, but it does not contain the end-products of omega-3 metabolism—eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. EPA and DHA provide the octane in omega-3 gasoline, accounting for so many of health, wellness and fat-loss properties that omega-3s provide. Once again, check out the easily accessible prevailing literature on this for more information—it’s important. By the way, you heard it here first—flax has some potent estrogenic properties. I used it for years; now I avoid it like the plague. The estrogenic effect of flax has been widely recognized outside the bodybuilding world in holistic health and mainstream publications. (Harvard Health Publications—okay, it’s one quasi reference, but I assure you that it checks out.)
I get my omega-3s from fish-oil capsules—four grams per day. Find a brand that is tested for impurities, heavy metals and pesticides. If the capsules repeat on you, try having them at the beginning of your largest meal. If that doesn’t work, try enteric-coated capsules, which digest in the intestines, not the stomach. Always buy from reputable brand. Cheap, rancid fish oil tastes like week-old sushi (not that I’ve sampled that lately). As with GLAs, store the fish-oil capsules away from light and heat, and once a bottle is opened, keep them in the refrigerator.
Again, the logic is, why play around with three or four tablespoons of flaxseed oil (even if you ignore its estrogenic properties) when you can get the power of the omega-3s in 40 calories of fish oil. Case closed.
Next time I’ll get into optimal fat selection in the food.
Editor’s note: Ron Noreman (Ron
Noreman.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 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 design consultant Nebula and other equipment manufacturers.