Women, Healthy Fats and Overall Fitness
By Alysa Bajenaru, RD
If you’re a woman who exercises regularly, you have probably heard conflicting messages about the best way to fuel your body, specifically when it comes to fat intake. For many years, low-fat, high carbohydrate diets were recommended for weight loss, general health, and exercise performance.
But what we have learned more recently is that women specifically need more fat in their diet, especially as it relates to overall fitness.
Why Women Fear Fat
Let’s just be honest: women are under a huge amount of pressure to look a certain way, especially in a fitness environment. Thinking “leaner is better,” many female athletes choose diets that are too low in calories and then wonder why their energy and fitness levels suffer.
Talking about adding more fat into your diet might make alarm bells start going off in your head. Thanks to decades of bad diet advice, we have been taught to fear fat. The problem is, when we don’t get enough fat in our diet, we are doing one of two things: replacing fat with sugar and processed foods, or not eating enough calories overall.
Okay, Convince Me. Why Should I Eat More Fat?
As women, we naturally store more fat in our body than men. You can be the fittest woman in the gym and still have more body fat than the man on the machine next to you. While this might seem frustrating, it can actually work to our advantage. You see, our bodies were designed to use this extra fat efficiently as fuel for exercise.
Here’s how: women generally have a lower respiratory exchange ratio than men. Women also have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone. Both of these things cause our bodies to be much better at burning fat than carbohydrates. So if you are not eating enough fat, you won’t have as much stored energy to burn, and you won’t be able to exercise as efficiently.
Adequate fat intake is also important in providing fat-soluble vitamins needed for bone health, energy levels, and hormone production.
How Much Fat Should I Eat?
20-35% of your calories should be coming from fat. That means if you are consuming 2000 calories a day, you should be eating 44 grams of fat at the very least.
What Kind of Fat Should I Eat?
Not all fats are created equal. It is important to choose high-quality fat sources found naturally in lean protein foods such as nuts, seeds, nut butters, salmon, fish oil supplements, avocados, and eggs. Avoid trans-fats and highly processed foods.
Here are some simple ideas for adding healthy fats to your diet:
- Add a tablespoon of almond butter to your toast in the morning.
- Make your own trail mix using a variety of nuts, dried fruit, and coconut flakes.
- Add two tablespoons of avocado to your favorite smoothie recipe.
- Add a sprinkle of hemp hearts or chia seeds to a salad.
- Choose a high-quality fish oil supplement and take it daily.
So if you’re a woman, don’t fear the fat. Start exercising more efficiently by adding these healthy foods into your diet. You were made for this!