The Skinny on Fat

With all the “Fad Diets” out there today, it’s tough to know what is right approach is for you, as a fighter. There’s the Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet, the Caveman diet, No Carb, No Fat, all-Vegan, Vegetarian and an endless variety of programs you can follow. It is true that there isn’t one diet that works for everybody. Many people try different kinds of programs, variations on some and ultimately stick with the one they find the most success with.  Having said that, there is one common mistake that health conscious eaters too often make and that’s in the misperceptions they have about fat.

To begin with, when browsing the supermarket shelves it doesn’t hurt to be a cynical shopper.  Don’t believe the food labels and look very closely at the nutritional information found on the back of the packaging.  It is not uncommon to find products promoted as “low fat” or “fat free” and being marketed as healthy. However, fat free doesn’t always mean that it’s better for you.  We have been taught by food companies and television that, in broad terms, fat is bad. They have led us to believe that the more fat you take in through your mouth, the more fat will build up on your body. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Humans need some fat in our diets. It is essential to our health and well-being. For example, the human brain is made up of about two-thirds fat. Myelin (the protective sheath that covers the communicating neurons) is composed of 70% fat. Also, when it is divided into fatty acids and glycerol, fat is converted and used for energy in our body. Our bodies are partially comprised of it and run off of it, so refraining from fat is unhealthy and can ultimately hurt you.

So why is it we are constantly told to avoid of all fats?  It is mostly due to a misinterpretation of the facts and/or general lack of nutritional knowledge. You don’t want to throw out all fat, just supplement the bad with the good. There is such a thing as “good fats” and “bad fats”. Good Fats, like the essential fatty acids found in olive oil, avocados and fish will provide you with the nutrients needed to keep you healthy and reduce joint pain, arthritis, and inflammation. Bad fats like Trans Fat can be found in foods like lard, potato chips and margarine. They can also be found on the ingredients listed under “hydrogenated vegetable oil”. These Trans Fats will increase your risk of disease, elevate cholesterol levels and lead to obesity.  Now, how does this apply to you as a fighter?

As mentioned earlier, having the incorrect balance of fat in your diet has shown to increase join pain, arthritis, inflammation and heart disease. All of these ailments are not only are bad for your health, but will affect your daily life and unquestionably take away from your athletic performance. These kind of conditions, although not entirely threatening, can shorten, if not end your boxing career. Plus, ironically enough, eating fat is crucial in weight loss. If you don’t eat any fat, your body will keep/store whatever fat it already has. It does this as a defense mechanism, thinking that “I’m not getting any fat, so I will keep what I’ve already got in order to survive”. If you don’t put some thought into your food choices, you could be giving your brain a rest, but are making your body work harder to compensate for it.

Ultimately though, we’re not talking about overhauling your diet, just giving it a tune-up.  One easy change is to opt for olive oil as your salad dressing of choice.  Using this in place of a most common dressings, that typically contain hydrogenated vegetable oil, is a good start. If you are going to make a salad, top if off with half of an avocado, some olives or nuts and a side of fish like salmon or sardines. These are all ideal examples of foods that have good fats that will help you as opposed to hinder your gains. Supplements can also be used. Fish, Krill, and Flax oil are all good choices that can easily be added to your daily supplement regimen. Going the supplement route, although convenient, shouldn’t be a complete substitute for a healthy diet.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with false information about nutrition.  The bad public image that fat has been labeled with is just one of the many nutritional misperceptions that exists.  The best advice is…don’t believe everything you hear or see, especially when the manufacturers are the ones giving you the information.  Read the labels just like you would when sizing up an opponent, then pick the right eating strategy from there. And before you touch gloves, be sure to settle on one that feeds your fighting spirit.

Spencer Ward is a Nutritionist with the Acupuncture Center in Overland Park KS.