Objective: The present study examined the effects of varying dietary fat levels on nutrients in female and male endurance runners.
Methods: Three diets (low, medium and high fat) were designed for each subject using their food preferences and three-day food records. Each diet was eaten for 28 to 31 days. The diets were self-selected from seven-day sample menus. Twelve male and 13 female runners between 18 and 55 years of age who averaged 42 miles/week participated in the study. Daily food intakes, activity records and weekly palatability/hunger scales were completed.
Results: Dietary fat intakes, as a percent of total energy intake (%E), averaged 17%E, 31%E, and 44%E on the low, medium and high fat diets, respectively. Energy consumption was less than their estimated energy expenditure (EEE) on all diets. On the low fat diet, the female runners were consuming approximately 60% of their EEE. As dietary fat increased, the difference between calorie intake and estimated energy expenditure became less and the subjects were less hungry on the two higher fat diets. For all subjects, as energy intakes increased, so did carbohydrate intake. Therefore, carbohydrate intake was not different on the two lower fat diets. Irrespective of gender, calcium and zinc intakes, which were below 1989 RDAs, increased with increasing fat intakes, between the low and medium fat diets. Zinc intake was also higher on the highest fat diet. Essential fatty acid intakes for females on the low fat diet were less than 2.5%E. Half of the female runners ate less than the RDA of calcium and zinc on the low fat diet and Fe on the medium fat diet.
Conclusion: This study suggests that endurance runners may not be consuming enough calories on a low fat diet and that increasing dietary fat increased energy consumption. On the low fat diet, essential fatty acids and some minerals (especially zinc) may be too low. A low fat diet could compromise health and performance.