Junior Club Warrior

Why Low-Fat Diets Will Hurt Your Running

Why Low-Fat Diets Will Hurt Your Running

This is part five of the Running Warrior Performance Nutrition Series

(parts of this were excerpts from ‘Fast Track’ by Suzy Favor-Hamilton and Jose Antonio, Ph.D.)


Low fat diets are sure-fire way to ruin your health, your looks, and your performance, period!  Not eating fat, especially the healthy kinds called MUFAs and PUFAs, is a huge mistake.  MUFAs and PUFAs are short for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, respectively.

So what are these healthy fats that you need to eat?  Nuts of all kinds (e.g., cashews, almonds, peanuts [though technically it’s a legume not a nut]), fish fat (e.g., eat fatty fish such as salmon), and olive oil (e.g., use olive oil-based dressing).  

If you eat these 3 foods which have the right fats, you’ll be much healthier, and in the long-run (pun intended), you’ll be a better athlete.

Why should you eat healthy fats?  

  • The “healthy fats” aren’t stored as body fat as easily as the unhealthy fats such as the saturated variety.
  • You can eat more fat, still have a six-pack, and have more energy.
  • These fats are good for your heart!
  • Fats are a good way to get needed calories when you’re training heavily.  
  • Besides protein, fats are needed by your body!  If you don’t eat enough of the essential fats (linoleic and linolenic acid), you’ll feel lethargic and unhealthy.


So if you’re one of those who lives the “low-fat” lifestyle, STOP!  Fat is not the enemy.  Not enough fat will make your hair brittle, your skin dry, and your moods…well, moody!  Fat is needed for energy, hormone production, cell membrane structure and function, and a host of other very valuable things.  Let’s go over the different kinds of fats so that you can figure out which fats to limit and which fats to consume.  By the end of this, you’ll be a fat expert!


Three Main Kinds of Fat

The 3 main types of fatty acids are saturated, monounsaturated (MUFAs), and polyunsaturated (PUFAs).  A saturated fatty acid has the maximum possible number of hydrogen atoms bonded to every carbon atom.  Hence, it is “saturated” or completely filled with hydrogen molecules.  On the other hand, a fatty acid with one double bond is called “monounsaturated” because there are some “missing” hydrogens.. Fatty acids having more than one double bond between carbon molecules is polyunsaturated. (See Figure 1). All fat in foods have a combination of the three for the most part.  What’s different is the percentage contribution from each.  

Figure 1:  Chemical Structure of Fatty Acids

Saturated Fat
(i.e., saturated fatty acid)
Unsaturated Fat
(i.e., unsaturated fatty acid)
H   H
|   |
-C C-
|   |
H   H
H   H
|   |
-C = C-
Single Bond
Double Bond


Fat Facts – The Bad

Trans and Saturated Fats

These two fats are a deadly duo.  If you enjoy living, I’d suggest you limit your consumption of these fats.  An easy way to figure out if a fat is saturated is this.  Saturated fats are solid at room temperature.  So that delicious morsel of fat from that pork chop is probably high in saturated fat.  Trans fat (also known as trans fatty acids) are made when food manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats.  However, a small amount of trans fat occurs naturally in animal-based foods.  Just like saturated fats, trans fats are not your best friend.(7)  They can elevate the ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and thus increase your risk of heart disease.  Next time, read a food label.  If it says “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” then there’s trans fats in it.  You’ll find trans fats in foods such as margarines, cookies, snacks, fried foods and even peanut butter.  (See Table below).


Foods that Contain Bad Fats


Margarine (especially the harder varieties)



Snack Foods

Baked Goods

Anything Made with “Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil”

Certain Cuts of Beef (e.g. hamburgers)


Chicken Skin

Whole Milk

Whole Cheese


Does this mean that you should eliminate these foods completely from your diet?  No. First of all, it’s just not practical. And secondly, certain foods such as dairy and meat contain naturally occurring trans fats.  For instance, beef is a great source of zinc, iron, and protein.  Thus, eliminating beef from your diet isn’t the best option; instead, consume beef once or twice a week (rather than every day).  And then focus on the leaner protein sources (e.g., skinless chicken) or the healthy proteins with fat (e.g., salmon) most of the time.


Fat Facts – The Good

The MUFAs and PUFAs

Researchers have known for many years that high fat intake, at least in the form of olive oil, does not have any apparent negative health effects.  Furthermore, we know that monounsaturated fats are less likely to be stored as fat.  So keeping that svelte physique is not a problem if you eat the good fats.  For instance, in an eight week study done on mice, scientists found that non-exercising mice fed the beef fat gained more fat than those fed a monounsaturated fat.(8)  So what’s good for your pet mouse must be good for us, correct? Well in this case, yes.

MUFAs are healthy fats found in nuts, avocadoes, and oils.  Olive and canola oil are greater sources of MUFAs.  According to Chris Lydon, M.D., author of Look Hot, Live Long, she states that “unsaturated fats can help reduce circulating triglyercides and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes!”  For example, a 30-week study in which subjects consumed lots of peanuts, which is high in MUFAs, lowered serum or blood levels of fat (specifically triglycerides) and reduced cardiovascular disease risk.(9)  


Table – A Brief List of Some Darn Good Fats!

Food % PUFA % MUFA % Saturated
Salmon 45 38 17
Herring 27 47 26
Walnuts 56 28 16
Cashews 6 70 18
Macadamia nuts 10 71 12
Almonds 17 78 5
Peanuts 29 47 18
Canola oil 37 54 7
Olive oil 8 75 16
Avocado 10 70 20


PUFAs represent quite a varied number of fats.  Most Americans get plenty of linoleic acid (an omega-6 PUFA) but usually not enough of linolenic acid (an omega-3 PUFA).  Linoleic acid is found in corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils whereas linolenic acid is found in high concentrations in walnuts and flax, along with some in soybean oil.  Thus, some PUFAs are more beneficial than others.  And then there are the omega-3 fats found in fish oil or fat (e.g., eicosapentanoic acid or EPA, docosahexanoic acid or DHA).  These fats are great for you; yet, most of you would rather stick a nail in your thumb then eat fish.  Most of us tend to eat too much of the omega 6 fats found in vegetable oils at the expense of not enough omega 3s.  You should eat a 1:4 ratio of omega 3s to 6s.  Yet most of you probably eat closer to a 1:20 ratio; meaning you consume 20 times more omega 6s than 3s.  So if in doubt about the kinds of fat to eat of the PUFA variety, do the following:  eat fish.  And if you don’t like fish, add some flax oil to your protein powder and get your good fats that way.  Fish is such a great source of fat (and protein) that it deserves special mention.

Somethin’ Fishy Here…

Fish is one of the best foods you can eat, period!  The protein is great and the fat has tremendous health benefits.  The omega 3 fats found in certain fish (for example salmon) are something that no athlete should be without.  Why are these so important?  It’s these tongue-twisters: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  Greenland Eskimos who eat lots of fish, more fish than a starving shark, have a lower incidence of heart disease, arthritis, and psoriasis.  Many have attributed this to the large quantities of fish fat they consume.  The beneficial effects of fish fat are numerous; however, with regards to muscle, fish fat’s anti-inflammatory role may be of benefit to injured muscle.  Why is this good?  Inflammation is a normal and necessary component of skeletal muscle adaptation to intense exercise.  Take some fish fat, or better yet, eat lots of fish, and perhaps you’ll speed up your post-exercise recovery process.   The best sources of EPA and DHA are the cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout and pilchards. EPA and DHA fatty acids make up 15-30 per cent of the oil content of these fish.  And unlike chicken, you want to eat the skins of these fish.  

Another cool thing with EPA is that it helps prevent muscle wasting with certain diseases.  This doesn’t mean you should wait until you’re wasting away before you visit the local fish market.  On the contrary, what it does indicate is that fish is a potent health food.  According to sports nutritionist, Douglas Kalman, M.S., R.D. of the Miami Research Associates, “Fish is the best source of the omega 3 fats, DHA and EPA; and it would behoove all runners to consume fish regularly.”  In summary, fish fats can do some amazing things (see Table below).


Table – Health Benefits of Fish Fat

  • Treatment with EPA improved blood vessel function in individuals with heart disease. (10)
  • EPA and DHA can reduce risk of death from heart disease.(11)
  • EPA can reduce injury to the heart.(12)
  • EPA and DHA can lower blood fat (triglyercides).(13) (14)
  • Besides the wondrous benefits of fish fat, the protein in fish is excellent was well.  There’s no single food that provides health and fitness related benefits as well as fish.  


Just the Fat Facts

Here’s an easy to follow summary on fat.

  1. Eat fish fat once a week; they lots of the healthy PUFAs (omega 3s).
  2. Use olive oil based salad dressing; the MUFAs are great for you.
  3. Eat nuts; they have lots of the healthy MUFAs.
  4. Fat should make up roughly 30% of your calories.   Don’t follow a low-fat diet!
  5. Limit intake of saturated and trans fats (basically avoid processed foods).  Perhaps eat red meat a twice per week; Eat whole eggs every other day.

If you are thinking of trying CLA, MCTs, or diacylglycerol to see if it helps you, talk to a sports nutritionist first.

Youth Running Plan Guidelines

Youth Running Plan Guidelines

Road racing used to be something just for the adult runner. Now we are starting to see a great number of road races including events for kids such as the last mile of the marathon, “Kid K’s”, and the Mile Fun Runs. The timing could not be better with childhood obesity at epidemic proportions in our country. Adults need to be careful however in making sure their children are prepared for the event and participating in an event that is appropriate for their age and fitness level. Injuries and life threatening illness (heat stroke) can occur if proper care is not taken. I have provided some safe and effective guidelines for getting your child ready to participate in the program below.


Training Plans to complete up to 1.5 Miles:


Day 1, 2, & 3 Get out your watch and start out as easy as can be. Run for a minute, walk for a minute, run for a minute, walk for a minute, until you have run a mile. Don’t worry about how long it takes you but maybe on the 3rd day, just make a note.

Next week Day 4, 5 &6 Run 2 minutes, walk 1, run 2, walk 1 etc.

Next week Day 7, 8, & 9 Run 3 minutes, walk 1, run 3, walk 1

Next week Day 10, 11, 12 Run 5 min., walk 1 min. run 5 min. walk 1 min. and so on

Next week Day 13 Run 7 and see if you can run more, walk if need be for a minute, then finish the mile.

PLAN 2 (All running)

Each day run only a 200m lap (half of track) When this becomes easy double your distance. When 400m is easy double again and so on.

**Use a Daily Running Journal to keep track of your progress! Free downloads are available along with other great kid running tips at www.kidsrunning.com.


Stretching Guidelines:

Stretching…It’s just something you’ve got to do if you are a runner. Some people like it, some hate it, but it’s the rules! It keeps you relaxed, flexible, increases your range of motion, and keeps you injury free. Stretch all of the major muscle groups in your body, but pay close attention to your legs. www.Kidsrunning.com has great pictures and descriptions of these important stretches you can view online or download and save in your journal.


Things to Remember:

  1. Don’t bounce
  2. Keep it comfortable. Never stretch until you have pain.
  3. Count to at least 10…slowly. Better yet, count to 20.
  4. If you need to practice your math skills, count down from 20 to 0.
  5. Don’t stretch a cold muscle. Make sure you’ve jogged around a little before you stretch.
  6. Stretch a bit before you run. Stretch a lot after.


Advice on Shoes & Apparel:

Shoes: How to get a good fit:
*Shop for shoes at the end of the day when feet have expanded.
*Measure both feet and allow for a half-inch (thumb-width) between the end of the foot. Then fit the shoes to the larger foot.
*Try on the shoes with the socks that will be worn most often with the shoes.
*Make sure the heels don’t slip.
*Go for a short test run/walk to make sure the new shoes are comfortable.
*Don’t be tempted to buy fad-shoes with an elevated heel/sole. These are dangerous for sports activities.
*Break the shoes in gradually. Don’t wear brand new shoes for a race.

Check for the development of blisters (prevent with wicking socks and band-aid-type blister prevention aids).

*After the age of ten, the American Podiatric Medical Association recommends a good sturdy running shoe. So right about now would probably be the time to get to the running store to have your child’s specific biomechanics evaluated. Buy a good fitting shoe that meets his/her structural needs. There are many types: cushioned, stability, motion control, to name a few. Later, you can buy from a catalog such as Road Runner. Sports, which also can help with fit/needs and has a good return policy if the shoes don’t work for you. For children under 10 years old a general, sturdy fitness shoe is fine.
*Be sure to keep an extra supply of laces around, both the right length and in good condition so that your children can always keep their shoes tied properly. If your child can’t tie, try the elastic curly laces. They turn the shoes into slip-ons and result in a snug fit. Then spend some time, teaching them how to tie. If you follow the suggestions above, you will be meeting the most basic need for running gear – a good running shoe.



Lightweight, light-colored clothing is best. Ventilated shorts and t-shirts let heat dissipate.. DO NOT wear long sleeves or long pants or sweat suits. Purposefully running in sweat suits on hot days to lose water weight is dangerous!


Proper Hydration & Heat/Humidity Precautions:

Parents should know that active children do not adjust to hot temperatures (greater than 95F) as well as adults. Their body surface, as a proportion of their overall weight, is much greater than an adult’s. So they produce more heat during physical activity and they sweat less than adults. This reduces their ability to get rid of body heat.

In addition, kids often don’t drink enough to replenish the fluids they lose during prolonged activity. This can lead to severe dehydration and potentially life-threatening heat illnesses. Here are some simple tips to help your child stay safely hydrated while exercising or playing outdoors in the heat:

  • Know the physical condition of the child. Lack of physical fitness can impair the performance of any child who is active in the heat. Dehydration of more than 3% of body weight increases a child’s risk of a heat-related illness. For kids participating in organized sports, set practice schedules during cooler hours, especially if the child isn’t in great shape.
  • Acclimatize them to the heat. Gradually introduce young athletes to the heat. Slowly increase the intensity and length of workouts over 10 to 14 days. This helps train their bodies to drink more, increase blood volume, and sweat more. Sweating helps release heat from the body.
  • Give them water or sports drinks. “The key is water and electrolytes,” says Albert C. Hergenroeder, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of the sports medicine clinic at Texas Children’s Hospital. Children and teens who exercise hard or play sports on hot days (with temperatures between 79 and 84 F) should cut back their time on the playing field by taking more frequent breaks, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Young athletes should be well hydrated before they begin to play. Then, during play, coaches or parents should make sure children drink often, even if the children aren’t thirsty. The AAP recommends five ounces of cold tap water or sports drink for a child weighing 88 pounds, and nine ounces for a teen weighing 132 pounds. One ounce is about two kid-size gulps.
  • Know the weather conditions, and plan accordingly. Know the heat index: It’s the combination of high air temperatures and humidity that’s most dangerous. Exercising in a relative humidity of 35% and an air temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit may cause heat illness. Even dry climates can have high humidity if the sprinkler systems run before early morning practices. Avoid practice sessions during the hottest time of the day. Schedule the hardest workouts for early morning or late afternoon/evening.
  • Use Sunscreen! When a child is going to be exposed to the intense summer rays of the sun, apply at least SPF 15 sunscreen and have them wear protective eyewear that filters out UVA and UVB rays. Consider having the child wear a visor that will shade their eyes and skin but will allow heat to be transferred off the top of their head.
  • Watch them closely. Watch your athletes before, during, and after practice for any signs of trouble. Pay special attention to athletes who eagerly compete at or above their capabilities. If a child looks sick, take him or her off of the track or course. Monitor the child closely while the child rests and drinks fluid. “Kids with moderate heat injuries — not heat stroke, but heat exhaustion — may look fine 15 minutes later if you give them something to drink and allow them to cool down,” says Hergenroeder. “But they’re still dehydrated. They should take the day off, and you should keep an eye on them when they come back to practice tomorrow.”
  • Have an emergency plan.Parents and/or staff should all be trained in first aid. Make sure everyone involved knows what to do during an emergency.

Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson-Mathis, MD.