Cyclists need not be scared of fat

Fat gets something of a bad rap in the media. Thanks to those people who can’t say no to that extra helping of chips or six pork pies, the entire focus of nutrition is about handling obesity. That means fat is a target for most reports, research and headlines. But we need fat. Without it, we won’t be cycling anywhere for very long.

Team Sky riders apparently eat 100g of fat per day within their carefully controlled diet. Good quality fats such as fish or olive oil are essential ingredients in a very complicated web of nutritional needs. Without them our bodies cannot function normally let alone cope with the rigors of a long ride.

Good fat

You will already know there are good fats and bad fats. This is a little misleading as there is no such thing as a bad fat, only a bad diet. Saturated fats are those regarded as bad, yet our body needs a certain amount of them per day to work normally. The same for trans fats and unsaturated fats.

Sources of saturated fat – Meat, dairy products, cheese, snacks, processed foods, palm oil, coconut oil, crisps, chocolate and many packet snacks.

Sources of unsaturated fat – Olive oil, rapeseed oil, linseed oil, Avocado, nuts, oily fish and seeds.

Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that make up unsaturated fats remains liquid at room temperature.

Why we need fat

Fat is not only converted into energy when we need a boost, it also performs some useful tasks around the body. Fat helps the body absorb vitamins such as A, D and E. Fat in the form of Omega 3 fatty acids helps prevent blood clotting in the arteries and regulates your heart rhythm. Both functions are quite useful!

Omega 3 is a fat that our body cannot produce on its own so we need omega 3 fatty acids in our diet. Oily fish are a good source which is why it is suggested we eat two portions of them per week.

Quick fat facts

  • All types of fat produce the same amount of energy, 1g of fat = 9kcal or 37kj of energy. In contrast, protein and carbohydrate gives us only 4kcal or 17kj of energy.
  • The current guidelines are a maximum of 30g of saturated fat per day for men and 20g for women. Children should have as little as possible.
  • Anything with more than 17.5% of fat is regarded as high fat. Low fat contains 3% or less.
  • Eat unsaturated fat over saturated wherever possible by choosing skimmed milk over semi, lean meat over processed meat, grilling food instead of frying, using olive oil instead of lard or butter and swapping packet snacks for fruit or nuts.

Fat isn’t bad for you, quite the opposite. Fat is essential. Too much fat in your diet is what is bad for you. Getting the balance right isn’t easy but if you want to live a potentially longer and healthier life while cycling how and where you want, it’s a balance you’re going to have to strike.


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