Fats are deceivingly simple molecules. Fats are just atoms of carbon linked together in a chain. Assuming nothing is attached to either end of the chain (a free fatty acid) you will find a carbon surrounded by hydrogen (CH3) on one end, and on the other end you will find a few oxygen (COOH or COO-).

Surrounding all the carbons are hydrogen atoms. Now what gives various fats most of their biological character is the length of the chain and the number of double bonds. The more carbons the longer the chain. A double bond is what you get when you take away a few hydrogen and the bond "doubles up" on the carbon (see picture). These double bonds are very important and dictate (along with the length and shape) what type of fat it is and effect it will have on the body.

For example, a fatty acids chain with no double bonds is said to be "saturated" and is known as a saturated fat. These are fats that are hard at room temperature. Although much maligned, saturated fats do have a place in the diet of athletes as will be explained later in this chapter.

Put a single double bond in the fat and it is a "mono" unsaturated, and so on to the "polyunsaturated" fats as you make more double bonds.

Olive oil is an example of monounsaturated fat, and oils such flax, corn, soy bean, etc. are examples of polyunsaturated fats, as they have multiple double bonds. The more unsaturated a fat is the lower melting point it has and these fats are liquid at room temperature.

Highly unsaturated fats such as the "fish oils" EPA and DHA actually remain liquid at very low temperatures. This is why cold water fish have high levels of these lipids (fats).

Saturated fatty acid:

CH3-CH2-CH2-CH2-CH2-COOH (caproic acid) Unsaturated:

CH3-CH2-CH2-CH2-CH2-CH=CH-CH2-CH=CH-CH2-CH2-CH2-CH2-CH2-CH2-CH2-COOH (linoleic acid)

Like the essential amino acids, the body has two essential fatty acids it cannot make itself - due to a lack of the necessary enzymes - so they must be supplied by the diet and are aptly called the "essential fatty acids" or EFA's.

The two EFA's are linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (LNA). LA is known as an "Omega-6" fat and LNA is known as an "Omega-3" fat. Minimum requirements for the essential fatty acids are 3-6% of daily calories for LA and 0.51% of daily calories for LNA.

As with many vitamins and minerals, it is difficult to get optimal amounts of unprocessed essential fatty acids (especially the Omega-3 fatty acids) from our heavily processed food supply. The term "Omega-3 fatty acid" should ring a bell for the reader.

Fish oils are a well publicized Omega-3 fatty acid, which has been shown to have many benefits (Harris, W.S., 2001). Although early research told us we need a bit more LA than LNA, in practice I find that a diet higher in LNA gets the best results for athletes looking to build muscle with minimum increases in bodyfat.

Americans tend to get their fats from saturated fats, rancid fats and highly processed fats (which contain byproducts such as trans fatty acids), thus, giving fats a bad name. EFA's are not to be avoided as a "bad fat" because all fats are not created equal.

From a general health standpoint, EFA's are involved in literally thousands of bodily processes essential to our health and general well being. Immunity, aging, hormone production and hormone signaling... well, you get the point. As one would expect, EFA's have been found to have many health uses including

cholesterol reduction, possible cancer prevention and treating inflammatory conditions (Rose, D.P., 1992, Robinson, D.R., 1989, Serhan, C.N., 2000)

In particular, the Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-lipogenic (block fat storage), anti-catabolic, anti-inflammatory and they increase beta oxidation (fat burning!), improve insulin sensitivity, increase thermogenesis (Clarke, 2000) and a whole lot more positive effects we don't have the space, time, or need, to cover in this chapter. Recent research has found that EFA's, in particular the Omega-3 lipids, control gene transcription (Clarke, 2000). Omega-3 lipids appear to have the unique ability to enhance thermogenesis and thereby reduce the efficiency of body fat deposition.

For the more technically adept: Omega-3 lipids play essential roles in the maintenance of energy balance and function as fuel partitions in that they direct glucose toward glycogen storage and direct fatty acids away from triglyceride synthesis and assimilation, aiding fatty acid oxidation (fat burning).

EFA's exert their effects on lipid metabolism and thermogenesis by up-regulating the transcription uncoupling proteins, and increasing the encoding for genes producing enzymes involved in fatty acid utilization, while down-regulating the transcription of genes encoding for enzymes involved in lipid synthesis, such as fatty acid synthesis.

A lack of EFA's, in particular the Omega-3 EFA's, appears to be one of the dietary factors leading to the development of obesity and insulin resistance seen in Syndrome X. Syndrome X being process where by the body becomes resistant to insulin and a long list of health problems are the result, such as weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure and full blown diabetes (Reaven, G., 2001).

Of particular interest, the body makes something called prostaglandin - as well as other highly unsaturated compounds - from both of the essential fatty acids. Prostaglandin is a highly active short-lived hormone-like substance that regulates cellular activity on a moment to moment basis.

Prostaglandin is directly involved with regulating blood pressure, inflammatory responses, insulin sensitivity, immune responses, anabolic/catabolic processes and hundreds of other functions known and yet unknown (Kelley, D.S., 2001). The long and the short of all this, without going into a long and boring biochemical explanation: Omega-3 fatty acids are responsible for forming the antiinflammatory prostaglandin and Omega-6 derived prostaglandin are responsible for making many of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandin (in addition other products derived from EFA's of which there are many).

Obviously, it's a lot more complicated than that, but hey, I only have so much space to write and I see that glassy look in your eyes that tells me it's time to stop with the jargon...

It is probably easy to see from just reading this section that the metabolism of EFA's is quite complicated. Needless to say, the proper use and understanding of EFA's is important to maximizing your anabolic environment while keeping bodyfat to a minimum.

Although simple and much maligned, fats are involved in literally thousands of functions in the human body from hormone production to immunity to brain function and countless others. Every single cell in our body is surrounded by a lipid-layer and our brains are made mostly of lipids. Some additional information on fats and their functions in the human body, as it related to health and performance, will be covered later in this chapter.

Keep Your Weight In Check During The Holidays

Keep Your Weight In Check During The Holidays

A time for giving and receiving, getting closer with the ones we love and marking the end of another year and all the eating also. We eat because the food is yummy and plentiful but we don't usually count calories at this time of year. This book will help you do just this.

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