Healthy Fats | An Essential Part of a Boxer's Diet
From low-fat diets to keto, the world of dietary fats is certainly a confusing one. Eating fats is essential for good health, but eating too much fat can result in health complications. There are healthy fats and not-so-healthy fats. As for boxers in the ring and at-home fitness enthusiasts, fats can be beneficial if the right sources and amounts are consumed.
WHAT ARE DIETARY FATS?
Here’s the skinny on fat: It is indispensable in a boxer’s diet, just like its fellow macronutrients protein and carbohydrates. In the body, dietary fats have several physiological functions; they are needed for the transport and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K, and they help regulate body temperature, hormone production, reproduction, and immune function. Dietary fats are great sources of long-lasting energy when carbohydrate storage is low.
On a molecular level, fats are an integral structural element of cell membranes, and since we have trillions (literally) of cells in the body, you can guess fats are pretty important. When it comes to nutrition, fats contain 9 calories per gram, while carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories per gram, making dietary fats more satiating and able to keep us full for longer.
NOT ALL FATS ARE CREATED EQUAL
You may have heard the terms “healthy” and “unhealthy” fats. Although this is fairly accurate, it’s important to know that all dietary fats will contain both kinds, saturated and unsaturated, in different proportions. No food contains 100% of one type of fat.
Saturated Fats: the “not-so-good” kind.
Fats’ bad rep comes from saturated fats, which are found in high amounts in most of America’s favorite foods (think: French fries, bacon, ultra-processed snacks). Consistent evidence indicates these saturated fats raise total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which prompts the formation of blockages in the heart and arteries, increasing the risk for cardiovascular (heart) disease.
Unsaturated Fats: the “good-for-you” kind.
Research shows that unsaturated fats can lower total cholesterol levels, including LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides (fat storage). Having lower total cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride levels is associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease. Fatty acids, the building blocks of fats, come in two versions--monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fats are essential, meaning we must get them from our diet. Polyunsaturated fats include the famous omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are both essential for good health but in different proportions. The focus should be on getting sufficient omega-3s, as these are linked to brain health, lower blood pressure, and reduced inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are highest in fatty fish and shellfish, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and soybeans.
HEALTHY FATS BOXERS SHOULD EAT:
- Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios
- Serving size: ¼ cup or one ounce nuts, 2 tbsp nut butter
- Seeds: Pumpkin, sunflower, chia, flax, and hemp seeds
- Serving size: ¼ cup or one ounce seeds, 2 tbsp seed butter
- Legumes: Peanuts and soybeans
- Serving size: ¼ cup peanuts, 2 tbsp peanut butter, ½ cup tofu or edamame, 1 cup soy milk
- Serving size: 4-5 olives
- Serving size: ⅓ medium avocado
- Dark chocolate (70% or higher)
- Serving size: one ounce
- Fatty fish: Salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, anchovies
- Serving size: 3 to 6 ounces
- Plant oils: Olive, avocado, flaxseed, sunflower, sesame oil
- Serving size: 1 tbsp
FATS THAT BOXERS SHOULD LIMIT OR AVOID:
- Red meat: Beef, lamb, pork
- Processed meats: Hot dogs, sausage, bacon
- Animal fats: Lard, bacon fat, the skin of poultry
- Whole-fat dairy products: Whole milk, butter, shortening, heavy cream, cheese
- Oils: Coconut oil and palm oil
- Fast food or “junk” foods: Hamburgers, French fries, ice cream, baked goods, pastries, chips, ultra-processed foods, and snacks containing hydrogenated oils
HOW DO FATS AFFECT A BOXER’S PERFORMANCE?
Although carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy, fats can be used as a major source of long-lasting fuel for muscles during endurance exercise. That’s because fats provide more than double the calories that carbohydrates offer per gram (reminder: calories equal energy). Consuming the appropriate amount of fats is also important for replenishing fuel stores after training, and leaves room for adequate carbohydrates and protein in the diet. When boxers consume adequate fat, they spare muscle tissue from breaking down to be used for energy, a process known as protein sparing.
HOW MUCH FAT SHOULD BOXERS EAT?
The reputation of dietary fat has gone to extremes—from low-fat diets and fat-free products to “give me all the fats” diets, such as in the keto diet. As with everything in life, balance is key. Dietary fats should account for 20-35% of a boxer’s diet. For a boxer consuming 3,000 calories per day, this equals about 66 to 116 grams of fat per day. However, saturated fats—the less desirable type—should be limited to less than 10% of your daily calories. Fats should be consumed as part of meals and snacks, but not right before a fight or workout (fats take longer to digest and can increase abdominal discomfort).
Here’s an easy way to get adequate fat in a boxer’s diet: enjoy a slice of avocado toast for breakfast, snack on a handful of nuts, drizzle olive oil in a lunch salad, and grill a piece of salmon for dinner. Don’t forget, all macronutrients--protein, carbohydrates, and fats—are absolutely essential for a great boxing performance in the ring, and a well-functioning body outside the ring, boxing training at home.
Now that you know how to best incorporate healthy fats into a boxer’s diet, learn more about how you can enhance your boxing and kickboxing training, muscle growth, and performance, by visiting the FightCamp YouTube Channel and Blog to get pro tips, drills, and exercises to keep you in fighting shape.
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The Author: Carolina Schneider, MS, RD is a registered dietitian specializing in plant-based nutrition and wellness. With a Master of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics and a background in Journalism, Carolina is passionate about evidence-based nutrition and educating individuals on how to eat well for good health. Her favorite boxing move? Uppercut. Favorite food? Sushi (unless you count chocolate as food). Her Instagram is @TheGreenRD.