Fat: The Building Blocks of Muscle

by Allen Gil August 29, 2015

Fat: The Building Blocks of Muscle

Physiologically, in order to gain muscle mass, you must consume more energy than you burn while focusing on high-intensity resistance training. Of course, your caloric needs depend on your individual physical activity level and personal goals. Bodybuilders and strength athletes for example, require significantly more calories than a non-athlete, but both can utilize fat for muscle building.

Understanding Your Diet & the Macronutrients in It

Calorie intake comes from any of the three macronutrient groups: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Each of these macronutrients has specific and very important roles in the body’s functions and metabolism. To build muscle mass, we not only need adequate amounts of protein, we also need sufficient carbohydrates and fats. The amount of each of these three nutrients can be estimated through calculations based on weight, sex, physical activity, and personal goals. Also, depending on the training schedule, the amount of each nutrient may vary.

But there are many ways a person can use the three macronutrients to help build muscle. Today, we’re going to look at how increasing muscle mass is possible even with increased fat intake.

Building Muscle with an Unlikely Macro: Fat!

Fat is an essential nutrient in the human diet. It provides energy (needed for endurance), and it is responsible for transporting fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat is an energy dense macronutrient that provides 9 kcal/gram of energy. Diets too low in fat (<15%) have not shown any sports performance-related benefits and should be avoided for the average healthy person. Similarly, high-fat diets (>35%) should be avoided because they increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.

The acceptable macronutrient distribution range incorporated in the 2010 dietary guidelines recommends that 20-35% of daily calories come from fat. It is very important to mention that there are different types of fats, all with their own purpose, but that we should generally focus on consuming larger amounts of the healthier fats available, especially when trying to increase our calorie intake and build muscle. You’ve probably heard of these so-called “healthy fats” and maybe even noticed them on food labels. They are:

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These fats are a key family of polyunsaturated fats. These are essential fats, which means the body cannot produce them so they must be obtained from your diet. They are an integral part of the cell membrane affecting the function of cell receptors, and they are the starting point for blood-clotting regulating hormones. Omega-3s help to lower blood pressure as well as prevent inflammation that can lead to heart disease. Not too shabby, right? There are three main omega-3 fatty acids (Harvard)

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Desacohexaenoic acid (DHA)

Found in fish like salmon, white tuna, mackerel, trout, halibut and sardines

Alpha linoleic acid (ALA)

Found in nuts, flax seed, flax seed oil, vegetable oils, and leafy greens

2. Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Also essential polyunsaturated fats. They are found in sunflower, corn, and safflower oils, cereals, whole wheat breads, and some meats. They play important roles in growth and development. Linoleic acid (LA) accounts for 85-90% of the Omega-6 fatty acids available in the diet.

The ratio recommended for these essential fatty acids is omega-3>omega-6 because of the pro-inflammatory properties of some omega-6 fatty acids. 

3. Monounsaturated Fats

Examples of these fatty acids include olive oil, peanut and canola oil and avocados, as well as almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame. These fatty acids have beneficial properties that assist in lowering bad cholesterol and promoting heart health.

4. Saturated Fats

These are mostly found in animal products (beef, chicken, and pork and their by-products (processed meats, dairy products, etc.) and should be limited because they contribute to clotting of the arteries. Coconut is a plant source of saturated fats, and its consumption should be monitored for this reason.

Don’t Forget Fat if You’re Working Out for the Gains

A balanced diet is essential for overall health and also for building muscle because it needs the calories to work, repair and refuel itself. So don’t be afraid of fats, they are an important nutrient that helps your body function optimally as the amazing machine that it is.

Get Your Fill Of Omega-3s

Allen Gil
Allen Gil


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