• Ian Cramer

Fats role in Plant-Based Athletics; Part 1 of 2

Updated: Oct 18, 2019

A recreational triathlete named Bill is looking to lose a little weight and improve his athleticism. Bill heard about the benefits of a diet higher in fat from his friend. He learned about how the energy from fat can sustain him for longer periods of time and how consuming more fat will cause his body to metabolize and burn more fat, which is what he’s looking for. He thought it sounded intuitive so he wanted to give it a try. Plus, he’s been hearing a lot about a high fat Ketogenic diet on social media and about how carbs lead to weight gain. Among other things, his friend recommends eating more high fat dairy, bacon, beef, lard and some nuts and seeds to induce ketosis. He starts eating more of what his friend recommends and feels OK at first. In the short term he notices some constipation yet some weight loss. His workouts are still going OK. A month later, he’s lost a few pounds but has carb cravings from hell. His energy is pretty low and his training plan has transitioned to more intense workouts at a higher percentage of VO2 max. One week into these intense workouts, he knows something is wrong. He can’t get through half of the intervals before he is running out of energy. When he rests, he’s able to get in a few more intervals, but he can’t complete intervals back to back. Bill was able to do similar workouts last year without a problem and realizes the only thing that has changed is his diet. He decides to do a little more digging into a high fat diet and athleticism and wonders if he made the right decision. Maybe Keto worked for you in the short term, but you are seeing an athletic plateau or unwanted changes in your blood lipids and that’s why you’re here. Keep reading.

"Cholesterol, by definition, is only found in animal products. Although cholesterol is necessary for human health, humans have no physiologic need to consume any of it from our food because our bodies produce all of the cholesterol we need"

Fat is a highly concentrated form of energy, providing 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for carbs and proteins. You get over DOUBLE the calories for the same weight! Because of this caloric density, fat is a potent energy source. Even the leanest athletes have between 50,000 and 100,000 calories of stored fat within their bodies. And despite what I’ve been saying about carbs and the importance of eating a carb-heavy plant-based diet, all athletes need to consume ample amounts of fats, too.

Like protein, fat is in pretty much everything, including many plant foods. As health conscious adults and athletes, we want to pay attention to the types of fats within food. I’m going to keep this discussion to whole-foods, be they fruits and vegetables or chicken breasts or eggs. A clear distinction between animal products and plant foods is animal foods contain significantly more fat. Additionally, the fats within animal foods, by and large, are saturated. Those saturated fats have been clearly linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease, 13,41,49,77. An excellent book that highlights these risks is Oversaturated, by podcast guest Dr. Evan Allen, MD. This poses a problem when athletes assume that they need to consume animal products to get adequate amounts of protein. In the short term, you may not notice the effects of eating these foods, but it’s abundantly clear that long term, the risks for chronic diseases, including strokes, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, go up.

Cholesterol has also been linked to many western chronic diseases, and by some has even been said to be the sole factor that can predict a heart attack. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, saw clinical arrest and reversal of late stage heart disease. “In patients adherent with the dietary intervention...99.4%...avoided major cardiac events” after a 3.7 year follow-up. Of the 21 patients who weren’t adherent, these patients had a 62% event rate including strokes, stents, coronary artery bypass and cardiac deaths. (80). One of his main talking points that is corroborated by the work of W.P Castelli and his work with the Framingham Study is having never seen a heart attack in someone having a blood cholesterol below 150. Cholesterol, by definition, is only found in animal products. Although cholesterol is necessary for human health, humans have no physiologic need to consume any of it from our food because our bodies produce all of the cholesterol we need for hormone regulation, building cell membranes etc. Benardot [49] adds “Nearly every cell in the body has the capacity to make cholesterol”. He also adds that blood cholesterol is more closely associated with fat intake than cholesterol intake because the greater the fat consumed, the greater the emulsifying agent that must be produced to digest and absorb it. This emulsifying agent is called bile, and is 50 percent cholesterol. The bile is absorbed with the consumed fat which increases the bodies’ pool of cholesterol.

Part 2 of 2 coming soon.

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