One look at a fitness magazine and trash cans immediately fill with whole eggs, meats and cheeses. Shopping lists become void of any animal product, and the dairy section of the grocery store might as well be the gate to Hell, and saturated fat the devil himself.

On the other side of town, IIFYM anarchists throw down whatever fat source they can find. Fried fish, or fish oil- it’s all fair game as long as those daily macro goals are met.

Somewhere in the middle, a well-informed consumer enjoys eggs at breakfast, steak for dinner, and plenty of olive oil, seeds and fish oils sprinkled in between. This person understands the benefit of a balanced diet, and while total daily intake matters, so too does the sources that comprise that intake. With so many misconceptions on dietary fat and what aspects of it actually matter- it’s time we set the record straight.


Energy Balance > Energy Source

Fitness “professionals” love to demonize specific nutrients to scare potential clients into taking action and following their “cutting edge,” and often-extreme diet plans. In reality, although other factors we’ll discuss later also play a role, it’s not a specific food or macronutrient that’s the cause of your stalled fat loss or muscle growth.

These fitness professionals show their ignorance by not making mention the importance of thermodynamics in weight management plans. When it all boils down, it’s not the fat or carbohydrate inherently making your weight management plans ineffective, but the total energy balance you’re attaining through your total daily intake. Fat, carbohydrate or protein: over or under eating any of these will cause you to fall short in your efforts. Not because you are having that whole egg in the morning.

Fat isn’t the enemy of weight change, and actually has MANY health and performance benefits for individuals- it’s simply more energy dense (more calories per gram) than carbohydrate and protein, thus requiring a bit of extra attention when incorporating into a diet. Now with that said, once your energy balance is adjusted for your current metabolism and expenditure- there are some more detail-oriented aspects of fat that can help you fine tune your diet for better, long-term performance and physique goals.

Roles of Dietary Fat in Health & Performance

  • Proper hormone function
  • Cell membrane health
  • Brain function
  • Nutrient absorption
  • Digestion
  • Energy production
  • Source of multiple micronutrients
  • Insulation

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

Now we can agree that total energy balance is the largest determinant in weight change. If you personally prefer more fat and less carbs in your diet- you can still lose weight by adjusting your total daily caloric intake to accommodate for the differing macro ratios. However the consideration most fitness gurus fail to understand and underline to clients is the different thermic effect of food (TEF) each macronutrient contains. When consumed, it takes more or less energy for protein, carbohydrate, and fat to each be metabolized and used by the body- leading to differences in total net calories from each, and differing strategies for how much of each to ideally consume.

Although over or under eating with either of the three macronutrients can disrupt body composition manipulations, fat gets the worst rap due to it’s much lower TEF. A lower TEF suggests that more net energy is retained by the body- making each gram more readily stored as body fat if not oxidized for energy or other bodily processes.

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