FAT: It's Role in Health and Fitness
Paul Skinner, MS RD LD

During my high school years and as a neophyte bodybuilder, what called my attention to Mike Mentzer were his use of the words and phrases "arbitrary," "genetics" and "training to failure." Although I was not a deep philosophical or scientific thinker at that time, I knew there had to be "rules" or "laws" to follow that would allow for muscle growth. Up to that time, I had received hit or miss information from bodybuilders who happened to have large pecs and/or biceps giving out advice based on hearsay, muscle magazines, or their own personal experience. In other words, Mike stated things that gave precise meaning, and he discarded anything that was ambiguous or vague. This was important to me, because I intuitively saw things as an equation, and Mike put forth the "high intensity" exercise equation in his articles and books. I make this point, because such an equation also applies to nutrition.

According to Joanne Sharkey, Mike's business manager and closest dear friend/confidante, she is still receiving many questions about nutrition. Many feel that Mike did not fully address this issue as in-depth as he did the high intensity aspect in his books and articles. Mike worked diligently on perfecting the "Heavy Duty" system and felt that nutrition was secondary to inducing muscular size and strength. In other words, Mike seemed to be communicating that nutrition was not overly complicated and that a certain amount of Calories (300-500) above maintenance level provided most adequately for muscle growth.

I believe if Mike were alive today, he would venture into the direction of a complete valid theory on nutrition just as he did with his "Heavy Duty" system. I say this because even though many bodybuilders and exercise scientists are realizing the fact that many weight trainees are over-training, many gyms and companies are pushing supplements and their own invalid nutrition hypothesis in order to keep bodybuilders buying supplements and living in the gym. The science points in the direction of logic, and the supplement and gym industry goes the other direction. As Mike said, "You either go forward or backward, you do not stand still."

I went through Mike's works again to look up some of the pertinent points that he had made on the subject of fats. This entailed trying to find out what he said about the nutrient and how it fits in to our diet.

In regards to fat, Mike basically stated that it sheaths the nerves, synthesizes many enzymes, and aides in the digestive process. He also added, unless directed by a physician; do not consume less than 15% of Calories from fat. I would further add that fat contains essential fatty acids (linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid) that cannot be produced by the body. Fat is a carrier of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat also provides that feeling of fullness that gives us satisfaction and increases the flavor and palpability of foods.

In my last article, I pointed out that higher (not extreme) protein diets are gaining more credibility, however, the main battle today is whether we should eat a low-fat or low carbohydrate diet. I say this, because I am troubled by all the low-carbohydrate foods being marketed today. I heard on the news recently where a nutritionist was quoted as saying "the fat-free craze of the 90's is being replaced by the low-carbohydrate fanaticism of today." The problem with too much consumption of low-carbohydrate shakes, bars and other snacks, made typically with "sugar alcohol," is this may lead to over-consumption of Calories thus defeating the purpose of weight loss or weight maintenance. Remember, when one marginalizes one nutrient, they tend to replace it with another-the end result typically being over-consumption of Calories, because of the mind set that one "can eat as much as they want" of a particular macronutrient. In other words, if it is "low carb" or "fat free" the implicit message sent by the manufacturer without a doubt is "eat all you want, you will not get fat."

I don't think nature is a perfect well-oiled machine, as some would believe, however, I do agree with Mike Mentzer, when he quoted Sir Francis Bacon words approximately 500 years ago, "that in order for nature to be commanded it must be obeyed." In my articles on carbohydrates, nature is not only being disobeyed but bastardized in the sense that carbohydrates are being either stripped of their natural fiber, or fruit juice or fruit drinks are being consumed in place of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The manufacturing industry has also done the same thing to unsaturated fats. When I discussed processed carbohydrates in my previous articles, I zeroed in on the fact that most margarines and shortenings contain trans-fats while many baked goods, potato chips, and other snack foods usually have the pernicious combination of trans-fats and processed carbohydrates. The telltale ingredient that identifies a trans-fat is "partially hydrogenated oil." It raises the LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and lowers the HDL-cholesterol. There is also evidence this type of fat may damage blood vessels, therefore precipitating a heart attack or stroke (read my previously posted article "Carbohydrates Not the Enemy-Part II for a description of trans-fats).

Fat, however, has been maligned for quite sometime now and not all fat is detrimental. In fact, certain fats are desirable and beneficial for good health and athletic performance. It has been found that fat, because it is Calorie dense, supplies runners with sufficient energy to meet training needs. Runners tend to make more of an enzyme known as "lipoprotein lipase" that removes triglycerides and produces HDL-C. If not enough fat is supplied, then production of HDL-C is reduced.

Now with bodybuilders, "Heavy Duty Training" is a basic carbohydrate burning activity. Therefore, Mike's recommendation of 60% carbs, 25% protein, and 15% fat does in fact hold water (actually the carbohydrates converted to glycogen in the muscles hold water-small attempt at humor here) and, therefore is a valid break down of the macronutrients for a productive anaerobic workout.

Fat should not be eliminated or marginalized to a very low limit where almost none is consumed. This type of dogma has been preached to the public for too long also and has led to lack of satiety and over-eating. Some research has uncovered that when you limit fat severely, thus replacing it with simple sugars (even if Calorie intake is within maintenance level), this may cause the body to convert the sugar into saturated fats.

In order to simplify things, the following are my recommendations:

  1. Buy fresh lean meats, fish, poultry, pork, veal, lamb. No processed meats or "coated meats."
  2. Grill, bake or broil meats.
  3. Choose cold water "fin fish" for the positive effects on blood vessels (such as, salmon, trout, and cod).
  4. Drink low-fat or skim milk, and eat low-fat dairy products.
  5. Avoid foods with "partially hydrogenated oils" as an ingredient.
  6. Choose liquid fats at room temperature as a rule (e.g. Olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil).
  7. Use little butter or half-n-half (or 2% or skim milk) instead of margarine or non-dairy creamers to eliminate the intake of trans-fat.

Finally, people of Mediterranean countries, such as Italy and Greece, consume the majority of their fat Calories from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These consist of foods such as olives, olive oil, along with good carbohydrates such as fresh vegetables, whole grains, dried beans and fruits. They tend to limit their intake of saturated fat and red meat. The result tends to be a lower prevalence of heart disease and stroke.

Next month, I would like to discuss some of the dangerous supplements that so-called natural bodybuilders are taking. These supplements can be just as dangerous as steroids or any illegal drugs. In addition, even if supplements are benign, they typically do not have the ergogenic firepower described on the label, and purchasing them will tend to drain your financial resources.

Editorial Note:
Thank you for sending your emails of appreciation regarding Paul Skinner's articles, and we are pleased that you find them beneficial to your needs. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to respond to each question individually, however, if you have a topic relating to nutrition that you would like to have addressed in future articles, please send an email to Joanne Sharkey at Mikementzerco@aol.com.

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