Nutrition Series Fats

Learning about Fats

Do your members know the difference between Omega-3 and Omega-6? What about EPA, ALA and DHA? Fats are imperative to your health, and eating the right types of fats is what keeps athletes strong and trim curing low energy and keeping the weight down.

Omega-3 fatty acids are often found in marine and plant oils and are an essential fatty acid. That means your body can’t create these long polyunsaturated chains, and instead relies on what you eat to stockpile it for regular metabolic activities.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been tied to improvement of asthma symptomsinflamation reductionbrain development, reduction of tumor size for breast and prostate cancers, and prevention of cognitive aging.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be classified further as EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid). While the FDA has not yet set a daily value for any of these specific forms of Omega-3’s you can visualize them as a pyramid, with ALA as the base, DHA in the center and EPA at the top.

ALA forms the base because your body is capable of converting ALA to EPA and DHA, but can not create ALA itself – it must come from food. This is good news for vegetarians wo can get ALA through plant sources like seeds and nuts, in particular flax seeds and walnuts. However, it should be noted that less than 30% of the ALA is actually converted into EPA or DHA.

DHA is the fatty acid most used by the brain – and thus essential if you want to remain sharp and quick on your feet. In fact, almost 30% of your brain is composed of DHA fatty lipids!

EPA is essential for your body, but not in the quantities of ALA or DHA. EPA is shorter than DHA – and is manufactured by shortening DHA, allowing the body to create as large of a pool of EPA as it desires.

Dietary sources of EPA and DHA are typically cold water fish (salmon, mackerel, halibut, herring, etc.) but can also be found in various algae supplements.

When thinking about supplementing through fish oil look primarily at the amount of EPA and DHA present, not the total amount of fish oil. Common fish oil capsules currently have about 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA. You might be tempted to tell members to down a handful of pills after a severe workout, but be mindful that consuming more than 3g in a day has been shown to increase the risk of bleeding.

Omega-6 fatty acids are easy to come by with a wide array of dietary sources including poultry, eggs, avocado, nuts, most oils, and wheat. Omega-6 fatty acids break down into a ton of smaller chain fatty acids used by the body: LA (linoleic acid), GLA (Gamma-linolenic acid), Calendic acid, Eicosadienoic acid, DGLA (Dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid), AA (arachidonic acid), docosadienoic acid, ardenic acid, docosapentaenoic acit, tetracosatetraenoic acid and tetracosapentaenoic acid.

With so many downstream products you might think that a high intake of Omega-6’s would be good. However, due to our current dietary environment we get a huge excess of Omega-6’s in comparison to Omega-3’s – sometimes reaching almost 30 to 1! Optimally your diet would keep this ratio at 4 to 1 or lower. A usefull tip for your athletes to keep the Omega-6s in balance is to avoid over consumption of grains, grain fed animals and nuts high in Omega-6’s.
The problem with having a high Omega-6 ratio is that some downstream byproducts actually increase inflamation! Check out the graph below to get a bearing on the content of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in some foods.

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