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The Skinny On Healthy Fats

The Skinny On Healthy Fats

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If you were given a quiz on important dietary factors to support health, weight loss and even performance goals, what factors would spring to mind?  Caloric intake would certainly be included.  I realize it's not very sexy, but like it or not, if you are knocking back more calories in chips, dips, beer and caloric-laden foods, your six pack will remain a pipe dream.

Adequate protein intake would be another big one, particularly regular intake of high quality protein sources like whey protein isolate such as that found in the entire family of NytroWhey premium proteins or BioQuest's MyoZene.

Healthy restriction of carbohydrates is a good consideration, particularly carbohydrates that are high glycemic, calorically dense and not necessarily loaded with nutrients.

Others might mention vitamins and minerals as they begin to reach for answers and others would likely point to their favorite thermogenic.  But a number of folks would likely overlook the positive impact of healthy fat and many people don't fully understand the potential positive impact of the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

Good Fats Vs. Bad Fats
Like protein and carbohydrates, fats also have a class system.  They can be saturated or unsaturated and the latter can be mono- and polyunsaturated fats.  For years, ingesting high amounts of the saturated fats was considered to be less healthy and would increase your risk for heart disease.  But recent, larger studies have come to question this old adage. And surprise, surprise, it turns out that loading up the diet with nothing but unsaturated fats may not be the best practice.  Just good old simple moderation.

Fats can also be classified by the number of molecules contained within them and longer chains of molecules are conveniently called long-chain fats.  Longer chains of fats require more steps involving digestion and chains of molecules that are of a medium length are called (you guessed it) medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).  Triglycerides is just science-speak for fats.  MCTs are unique in that they actually escape some of the digestion and for this reason they have been uniquely used as replacements for other fats in studies related to both exercise performance and weight loss.  Technically, MCTs are fats that are 6 – 10 molecules long while long-chain fats exceed 10 molecules and most commonly are 16 – 18 units in length.

Increasing Performance
For several years, MCTs were primarily reserved for hard-core bodybuilders that incorporated them into their diet as a healthy replacement for other fats, and by endurance athletes who spend hours competing and training.  In these studies, the potential for MCTs was examined in high amounts to serve as an energy source during prolonged endurance exercise, but the results were not supportive.  In two studies using very highly trained endurance cyclists, subjects were given high amounts of carbohydrate and MCTs (32 and 85 grams of MCT, respectively) and in both situations the high MCT intake actually reduced exercise performance because of stomach distress 1, 2.  Like so many other things, more is not necessarily better!

More recently, a published study required recreational athletes to consume a much smaller amount of MCTs (6 grams) each day over a two-week period and complete a 40-minute bout of moderate-intensity exercise that was immediately followed up with a period of high-intensity exercise until each study participant was exhausted3.  When compared to ingesting longer-chain fats, MCTs significantly increased the time the athletes were able to exercise and the authors also found that blood lactate concentrations (a metabolic by-product that can accumulate excessively and is associated with fatigue) were lower when compared to eating longer-chain fats.  In addition, the study participants also reported that the exercise felt easier (lower ratings of perceived exertion) when MCTs were consumed3.  

MCTs and Weight Loss
Increasing the amount of calories burned or expended is commonly discussed by weight loss experts as a means to promote positive changes in weight loss and weight maintenance.  Two recent review articles highlighted that a number of peer-reviewed published studies have reported an ability of MCTs to increase energy or caloric expenditure 4, 5.  For example, the same research group has published two studies to indicate that adding MCTs to a diet significantly increases the rate of calorie burning in overweight men who supplemented their diet with MCTs6, 7.

In addition to increasing the amount of calories burned, other studies have also indicated that MCT ingestion can work in other ways to improve health.  For example, published studies report that MCT ingestion can improve the oxidation of fat, which essentially means that the rate and extent to which fat molecules are broken down in the body is increased 8.

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Several studies have been published by St-Onge and colleagues and their research work consistently supports the notion that consuming a diet with added amounts of MCTs increases both calorie burning and fat oxidation, but most importantly can also increase the weight loss that occurred 6.  In one investigation the scientists reported that the amount of fat lost was significantly greater when MCTs were added to the diet when compared to adding longer-chain fats 7.  Finally, a systematic review of the literature performed in 2012 indicated that a total of six published studies are available that indicate MCT ingestion favorably reduces body mass as part of a greater program 5.

In conclusion, successful weight loss typically requires that a number of strategies be employed.  First and foremost is the absolute need to reduce caloric intake below the amount you typically burn each day.  This is one of the most critical factors and one that many people struggle to achieve.  In addition to reducing calories, increasing protein intake to a level 2x the RDA and reducing carbohydrates are also common strategies.  Oh yeah and don't forget you need to be exercising! 

For many people, fat intake is misunderstood and challenging to implement in a positive fashion.  Outwardly, restricting fat intake is not healthy and negatively impacts vitamin and hormone metabolism.  For this reason, adding an MCT supplement to your regimen such as ProSource's premium-quality MCT Oil is the easiest way. Many folks add a tablespoon of MCT Oil to a salad as a dressing or they mix it in with their protein supplement. Be sure to seek out a superior source of MCT Oil derived from preferred palm and/or coconut sources, like ProSource's MCT Oil. Oh, and on a similar note, many proteins and meal replacements tout their healthy fat content, when in fact they contain significant amounts of cheaper, nutritionally useless corn oil. You probably won't be surprised to discover that better products like NytroWhey Elite contain added MCTs as a healthy source of fat. Yet another reason to love the stuff!

Do you take a healthy fat supplement? If so, when and how do you take it? What is your experience with it?


1.    Goedecke JH, Clark VR, Noakes TD, et al.: The effects of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion on ultra-endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2005, 15:15-27.
2.    Jeukendrup AE, Thielen JJ, Wagenmakers AJ, et al.: Effect of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion during exercise on substrate utilization and subsequent cycling performance. Am J Clin Nutr 1998, 67:397-404.
3.    Nosaka N, Suzuki Y, Nagatoishi A, et al.: Effect of ingestion of medium-chain triacylglycerols on moderate- and high-intensity exercise in recreational athletes. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo) 2009, 55:120-5.
4.    Clegg ME: Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2010, 61:653-79.
5.    Rego Costa AC, Rosado EL, and Soares-Mota M: Influence of the dietary intake of medium chain triglycerides on body composition, energy expenditure and satiety: A systematic review. Nutr Hosp 2012, 27:103-8.
6.    St-Onge MP, Bourque C, Jones PJ, et al.: Medium- versus long-chain triglycerides for 27 days increases fat oxidation and energy expenditure without resulting in changes in body composition in overweight women. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2003, 27:95-102.
7.    St-Onge MP, Ross R, Parsons WD, et al.: Medium-chain triglycerides increase energy expenditure and decrease adiposity in overweight men. Obes Res 2003, 11:395-402.
8.    St-Onge MP and Jones PJ: Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2003, 27:1565-71.

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