ISSA SN Chapter 5: Lipids and the Athlete: Energy and Growth Factors
ISSA SN Chapter 5: Lipids and the Athlete: Energy and Growth Factors

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    Chapter Goals:

    • Describe and define the main terms that relate to fats and oils.
    • Now the types of lipids and their main functions.
    • Find the nonessential and the essential lipids like the fatty acids.
    • Know how the lipids will affect the health and athletic performance.


    Lipids make up the third major part of the macronutrients. Like the carbs, these lipids are going to be made up of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. These are going to be needed for the fat soluble vitamins of A, D, E, and K. essential fatty acids play a lot of roles in keeping the integrity and the function of cell membranes. They are also a major source of energy for the body to use, they add palatability to meals, and play critical roles in other biophysical and biochemical functions like synthesis of steroid hormones. 

    Lipids are most prevalent for energy in the body as triglycerides.

    Significance of lipids:

    • Essential fatty acids are contained in parts of every cell, even the muscle cells.
    • The essential fatty acids are needed for our growth and recovery, and just the overall well-being.
    • Fatty acids are important for energy, and especially so for endurance athletes.
    • Saturated fat intake and cholesterol intake is needed to be kept at a healthy level of intake in order to avoid the development of coronary artery disease and consuming too much is associated with other diseases. 
    • Intake of lipids daily is needed for vitamins and minerals. 
    • Omega 3 fatty acids cause good effects on the cardiovascular system and they act as moderators for inflammation. They may potentially have roles in improving strength and performance aerobically. 

    Lipids – The Most Misunderstood Macronutrient

    These fats have the worst reputation of all the macronutrients due to the name fat. There are many links relating saturated fats and cholesterol levels to obesity, cancer, and heart diseases. 

    The main problem regarding lipids is that many people just receive way too many in the diet, or way too many of the unhealthy forms of fats.  

    When we look at athletes, we see that getting enough lipids in the diet is not usually going to be a problem. We really just look at the types of fats going into the body and can manage the health that way. 

    About the Different Lipids

    Lipids are found in plants and animals, but those two sources differ chemically. 

    These are the major lipids that we find in the diet and the body:

    • Triglycerides
    • Fatty acids
    • Essential fatty acids
    • Omega 3 fatty acids
    • Gamma Linolenic Acid
    • Medium Chain triglycerides
    • Phospholipids
    • Lecithin
    • Cholesterols

    Triglycerides and Fatty Acids

    These are the fats and oils in our diet and the fat that we store in the body. they make up about 98 percent of the fats within our diet.

    Fats are going to be solid when at room temperature, and then the oils are going to be liquid at room temperature. 

    Triglycerides means three, so there will be three fatty acid chains attached to some 3 carbon glycerol molecule.

    Saturated fatty acids will have the max amount of hydrogen atoms possible and no carbon atoms with double bonds.

    Monounsaturated fatty acids have just one double bond.

    Polyunsaturated fatty acids will have more than the one double bond. 

    The Essential Fatty acids

    The composition of the fatty acids will depend on whether or not the origin is from an animal or from a plant. 

    The special functions of the essential fatty acids are going to be:

    Their presence in the phospholipids, which make them vital for the membranes of the cells.

    Their function with eicosanoids and as precursors of them. They are there for many physiological processes.

    They are involved in some ways throughout the transfer of oxygen in the lungs and the alveolar membrane. 

    They are used for forming structures in all cells.

    They maintain the nervous system and the brain functions.

    They are used for producing prostaglandin  for metabolism functions.

    They are used to make healthy hair and skin.

    The healing of our wounds relies on these.

    The enhancement of growth can be found with these.

    Eicosatetraenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid

    These are both made in the body from essential fatty acid and found in the primary human tissues as regular parts. Dietary sources have major benefits when taken in, even though we can manufacture it in the body.

    Gamma Linolenic Acid

    This is another part of vital fatty acids an may be made in the body from linoleic acids.


    These are the second big class of lipids and are next to triglycerides. These are the prime lipids for structure in all animals and parts of all cells. The main function is going to be the integrity of the structure of the cell membranes. The membranes are made up of a phospholipid bilayer. This is one of the most important parts of the cell. 


    Lecithin is a phospholipid that has choline attached to phosphate molecules and two fatty acids. it has a lot of linolenic acid in it.


    This is related to another phospholipid by the name of phosphatidylserine. 


    This is a member of fats known as steroids. They are made by the body and only are found naturally in foods that originate from animal sources. There are highest in our liver and egg yolks. Also found a lot in meats, poultry, whole milks, and cheeses. 

    Cholesterol has some important functions like being a precursor for many bile acids, also a precursor for sex hormones and other hormones of the adrenal glands, a precursor for vitamin D, and a vital aid in the nervous system and the brain. 

    We need a constant supply of cholesterol for our health, but it has been linked with many cardiovascular diseases, and we should keep our intake to under 300 mg every day.

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    Medium-Chain Triglycerides

    These have saturated fatty acids with chains that have 6 – 12 atoms of carbon. They are high in caprylic acid and capric acid. These are both saturated fatty acids. 

    Trans Fatty Acids

    These are also simply called trans fats. They are made during the hydrogenation of vegetable oils. Hydrogenation is what we do when we add hydrogen atoms to the unsaturated fats, removing their double bonds. 

    Trans fats have been found to increase the levels of bad cholesterol in the body. this is from the LDL, or the low density lipoproteins. These are the bad cholesterols, as they are often called. 

    Lipid Digestion

    Lipids takes the longest time of all the macronutrients to digest. This is because of their inability to dissolve in water and their structures are more complex and harder to break down. When they pass through our mouth and stomach, we retreat them for the main processes of digestion to occur in the intestines. So, most of this whole process is going to take place in the small intestines, where the liver bile assists in getting the fat to come in contact with the enzymes to split them. Along the walls of the intestines, they will be coated with protein and the put into the lymph system to circulate. 

    60 – 70 percent of the total fat taken in will go through the lymph system and then the medium and short fatty acid chains will enter the blood stream. The cholesterol and fats will transport with the use of special proteins known as lipoproteins. 

    Fats are always being constantly broken down and resynthesized and used for energy. 

    You Are What You Eat

    The type of fat you take in will affect your body and its composition of fatty acids. vegetarians have been seen to have more unsaturated fatty acids than the meat eating counterparts. A body that has more unsaturated fats may have more resistance to some cell damage that may happen.

    How Much Lipid Does an Athlete Need?

    The total fat intake should stay lower than 30 percent of the total calories you take in each day. And the amount of saturated fat should represent less than 10 percent of total calories. Essential fatty acids should be 1 – 2 percent of total calories. 

    The total calories from fat are going to vary on the sport of choice, the size of the athlete’s body, and their own personal needs that vary person to person. 

    Fats and Athletic Performance

    Excess body fat needs to be avoided; it is simply dead weight that will slow you down. 

    Fat intake needs to be lower than 30 percent of your whole intake in one day but may change with some sport goal.

    Minimize the intake of saturated fatty acid and forms of cholesterol. 

    Eat meals low in fat prior to training or competing as this allows the stomach to empty out much quicker and the nutrients get to the body faster.

    Include sources that are good for essential fatty acids, DHA, EPA, and gamma linolenic acid.

    ISSA SN Chapter 5: Lipids and the Athlete: Energy and Growth Factors 1
    ISSA SN Chapter 5: Lipids and the Athlete: Energy and Growth Factors 2
    ISSA SN Chapter 5: Lipids and the Athlete: Energy and Growth Factors 3

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