It is hard to make improvements in the gym when you have to drag your butt in the door. It is even harder to make gains when you haven’t recuperated from your last workout and your shoulders and knees ache. Is this level of effort worthwhile when the payoff is mediocre at best?
Dietary fats seem to be the last piece of the puzzle for most fitness-conscious people. Maybe it is our natural tendency to think of all fats as the same; that greasy stuff that adds richness to our diet and either makes foods roll luxuriously across our tongue or drips grotesquely down our chin while eating “road food.”
But by taking things to that next level, and scientifically adding specific fats into your diet in precise ratios, you can trigger major changes in your physique. The best nutritional addition needed by those who believe they are already eating well would be the inclusion of EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids) to their daily diet. This can have a profound effect on their appearance and physical performance. As a side effect, EFAs bring about a multitude of positive health benefits, and that’s not such a bad thing.
What are EFAs? EFAs are a group of polyunsaturated fats that cannot be manufactured by the body. As such, they must be consumed as part of your eating plan. The two types of EFAs (differentiated by their chemical structure) are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Of the two, omega-3 fatty acids are more deficient in the typical diet and this, in addition to their remarkable benefits; require greater quantities to be added than omega-6 fats in order to create an optimal athletic diet. Omega-9 fats are non-essential (since the body is able to manufacture them) and more commonly found in the normal diet, so they can be supplemented in smaller quantities. Balancing the proportion of these fats can have rather dramatic effects.
Just to familiarize yourself with some of the types of omega-3 fats: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is metabolized in the body and converted to DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid). DHA and EPA can also be directly consumed to bypass the conversion process. Synthesizing these fats is an enzyme-dependant function that becomes less efficient as one ages, which is why it is wise for bodybuilders older than thirty to supplement fats directly in these forms.
EFAs as a Macronutrient
The optimal bodybuilding diet is far lower in carbs than the diet of the average “civilian.” The typical dieting strategy of gradually replacing starchy carbs (rice, potatoes, pasta and breads) with low calorie, fibrous carb sources (steamed broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, salads) is a simple and universally-effective tactic. The next step is to replace some of your carbs with protein and fat, giving you a slowly-releasing energy source that does not cause dramatic insulin fluctuations.
But simply consuming any type of fat can have negative metabolic consequences. Eating saturated or transfats can increase insulin sensitivity, making it easier to gain unwanted bodyfat. These are also the ugly fats responsible for all of the negative artery-clogging health problems that have given fats such a bad name.
On the other hand, EFAs have been shown to decrease insulin sensitivity, which increases the tendency of the calories you ingest being driven into the muscle and liver (in the form of glycogen to fuel your training) rather than being driven into fats cells to plump you up. Controlling insulin sensitivity is one of the best ways to improve both your physique and your performance in the gym or in any sport you should choose.
Health Benefits of EFAs
On a cellular level, lipids are a part of every cell membrane. Even in extremely ripped individuals, a three-percent bodyfat level seems to be about the bare essential needed for survival. The attempt to be any lower than this would compromise health with no benefit to your level of rippedness (or is the proper term rippedosity?).
In regards to health, EFAs seem to exert their most remarkable health benefits on the heart and cardiovascular system. Even a modest inclusion of fish oils in the diet has been shown to have a remarkable effect at improving the
HDL/LDL ratio and dramatically decreasing the risk of heart attacks. By limiting saturated and transfats and replacing them with the healthier omega fatty acids, there is a decrease in the risk of strokes, arthrosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) and heart attacks. The incidence of sudden death from heart attacks is greatly decreased in those that have a greater level of healthy fats in their diet. High blood pressure is often dramatically turned around (without the need for prescription drugs) simply be adding gram quantities of EFAs. If you suffer from any of these conditions, discuss the inclusion of EFAs into your diet with your chosen health care provider. If you do not suffer from these conditions, you should consider EFAs as a possible preemptive deterrent to developing any of them.
EFAs have been shown to decrease inflammation. They can help lessen allergic reactions and protect against inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Krohn’s disease, lupus and asthma. If joint inflammation is a particular problem, it is a good idea to try a product containing Evening Primrose Oil, such as Beverly’s Joint Care. The fats contained in this formula (as well as the other active ingredients) encourage the elimination of inflammation while lubricating the joints. For those that have decided to make intense training a lifetime habit, the importance of this cannot be overstated. Healthy joints mean less time nursing injuries and more time pushing big weights.
Fats have an integral function for the brain and nervous system. The myelin sheath, which forms the protective coating of nerves and is responsible for transmitting nerve impulses is compromised primarily of fat. A whopping 20% of the dry weight of the brain is made of EFAs, which is why fish oils are often referred to as “brain food.” Ample supplies of EFAs have been shown to assist with the brain’s ability to properly manufacture neurotransmitters (such as serotonin which has been shown to reduce stress). Studies have indicated that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may have a positive effect on bipolar disorder (manic depression), attention deficit disorder, mood, visual function, pain regulation and feelings of general well-being (as well as improving cognitive abilities such as memory and response time).
The omega-3 and omega-6 fats are also synthesized by the body to create eicosanoids, which are hormone-like substances that regulate a variety of body functions. These can affect blood pressure, recovery and immune function, blood clotting and a host of other important effects. A proper balance of omega-3 and omega- 6 is important to ensure a greater production of “beneficial” eicosanoids. Since omega-3 fatty acids are the most difficult to obtain in the typical diet, it is recommended that you supplement them with a product that biases their formula towards higher levels of omega-3s.
EFAs for Bodybuilding
Now here are the two benefits that we, as bodybuilders, REALLY care about — Essential Fatty Acid’s effects on bodyfat loss and muscle gain. The good news is that the results are impressive! The same reduced blood viscosity that makes fish oils so valuable at preventing heart attacks also means that they cause an increase in bloodflow, resulting in faster recuperation (washing away of waste byproducts of intense training and replenishing vital nutrients) and greater endurance (more oxygen delivered in the bloodstream).
EFAs have been shown to increase metabolic rate, discourage fat storage and encourage the burning of stored body fat. Even if you keep your percentage of calories from fat the same, but replace saturated fats with EFAs, you will cause a major shift towards leanness. This makes EFAs a potent fat-burning facilitator, metabolic amplifier and fat-storage nullifier. The effects are almost impossible to believe!
EFAs have positive benefits to all the major muscle-building hormones. We’ve already discussed their effect on insulin sensitivity, which is hugely important in bodybuilding. They also help with hormone synthesis (including providing the structural basis of testosterone). If that wasn’t enough, EFAs have a positive effect on growth hormone release and are vital to proper functioning and manufacturing of eicosanoids and prostaglandins.