Written by Lauren Killey
Fat has developed a bit of a bad reputation in the health and fitness industry; particularly to those who are dieting. Though fat as a macronutrient does not cause fat gain, it is the macronutrient with the highest calories per gram (1g = 9 calories) meaning it is very easy to over consume calories when they come from fat sources. When setting a client’s fat intake, this must be taken into consideration.
However, fat intake is vital for hormonal health, so we must ensure our clients are getting the minimum intake necessary for optimal health. The minimum recommendation for health is around 0.8g-1g per kg of body weight for males and females. The exception to this will be those doing mini-cuts or competition prep which need a more drastic drop in calories for short periods of time or those clients who PREFER higher fat diets and may benefit from lower carb and higher fat splits according to their individualized calorie intake (given they are still receiving the minimum requirements for health).
Let’s take a deeper look into the impact of fat on hormonal health.
Fat is the second most primary fuel source for the body after the primary source, carbohydrates. Fat can be broken down into: saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Breaking these categories down further, we have the unsaturated fats: polyunsaturated (Omega-3 and Omega-6) and monounsaturated (olive oil, peanut oil, nuts, and avocado.) Our polyunsaturated fats are essential and cannot be produced by the body, meaning they must be consumed via adequate food sources.
Though Omega-3 and Omega-6 should be consumed at a 1:1 ratio, Omega-6 is far more common in the Western diet and often over-consumed, whilst Omega-3 is under-consumed. Omega – 6 is often found in vegetable oils, sunflower and walnut oils, red meats and commonly consumed fried food. Omega-3 will often require a more conscious effort for optimal consumption as foods rich in this fat source are not as commonly consumed. Fish products, flax-seeds and chia seeds are ideal sources of Omega-3.
As a coach providing nutrition guidance, you should recommend that your client is receiving optimal fat intake as this is vital to ensure optimal production of hormones. Fat intake will aid in the production of cholesterol. Cholesterol (HDL) is the precursor to our sex hormones, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. If our clients are not receiving adequate fat and cholesterol (HDL) intake is low, they may experience hormonal imbalances impacting their health. Ensuring our clients are eating around 0.8-1g of fat per kilogram of body-weight will help us to prescribe adequate amounts. For example, a 60kg female should aim for 48-60g of fat per day. If using the recommended 1:1 ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6, our female client will aim for 24-30g worth of fat from each. This may mean 30g of fat from red meat or walnut oil and another 30g of fat from salmon, nuts and chia seeds.
Fat intake and healthy fats are essential for hormone production and maintenance of proper hormone function as certain fats, such as those found in Omega-3 fat sources, will aid in the rebuilding of cells and stabilization of hormones. For males, fat intake, in particular, Omega-3 fatty acids may be positively associated with testicular function, whereas Omega-6 intake may have a negative impact. For females, Omega-3 can assist with balancing FSH levels and sex hormone, testosterone.
The key take away when it comes to prescribing fat intake to your clients is to ensure you are setting the minimum amount for healthy hormonal function – and you are educating your clients around a diet which includes the optimal balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acid intake through a variety of foods eaten each day.
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E, Ouladsahebmadarek et al. 2014. Hormonal and metabolic effects of polyunsaturated fatty acid (omega-3) on polycystic ovary syndrome induced rats under diet. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3976750/
Lidia Mínguez-Alarcón et al. 2017. Fatty acid intake in relation to reproductive hormones and testicular volume among young healthy men. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5312216/