Coconut oil contains mostly medium-chain fatty acids with an especially high concentration of Lauric Acid. When consumed, lauric acid is converted to a substance called monolaurin, which has antiviral and antibacterial properties. Capric acid found in smaller concentrations in coconut oil has similar beneficial properties. Strengthening of the immune system is especially important in athletes. Moderate exercise generally strengthens the immune system. However, intense or prolonged exercise can actually weaken the immune defenses. By incorporating coconut oil into the diet, athletes will be able to train harder and longer with a lower risk of infections during peak training.
Medium-chain fatty acids are also metabolized quickly. In contrast, foods with long-chain fatty acids tend to be stored in fat cells for energy storage. The medium-chain fatty acids contained in coconut oil are metabolized much like carbohydrates and are rarely stored in excess. Therefore, coconut oil actually increases metabolic rate one of the ways that this beneficial oil helps maintain a healthy body weight.
The people of New Zealand have historically consumed a lot of coconut oil accounting for about 30% of their total calorie intake. The prevalence of heart attack and high cholesterol is rare in this population. Coconut oil reduces total cholesterol, triglycerides, phospholipids, LDL, and VLDL cholesterol levels and increased HDL cholesterol in serum and tissues. Coconut oil also lowers LDL oxidation attributed to the high concentrations of polyphenols present in the oil. The end result of these benefits for the athlete is less atherosclerotic plaque buildup on the artery walls. Plaque buildup in athletes effectively reduces blood flow to the heart limiting the amount of oxygen to the heart and muscles and ultimately reducing maximum oxygen intake. For any athletic competition lasting longer than 2 minutes, reductions in maximal oxygen intake hinders performance.
An added benefit of coconut oil is that medium-chain fatty acids can improve endurance exercise performance. Increasing consumption of medium-chain fatty acids lowers the amount of carbohydrates that are burned during exercise. This has two important advantages. First, glycogen stored in the muscles and liver is spared, which allows the athlete to perform longer before fatigue sets in. Second, because carbohydrates are spared, fat becomes a primary source of fuel, which helps athletes to maintain a lean, healthy body weight.
Coconut oil also aids with weight loss by decreasing the appetite during a meal and afterwards too. The fatty acid blend in coconut oil helps people feel satisfied earlier in a meal and helps to stabilize blood sugar levels over the next few hours to maintain energy levels and avoid hunger.
Finally, coconut oil has a stimulating effect on the thyroid gland. When there is adequate thyroid hormone, LDL cholesterol is converted into anti-aging hormones such as progesterone and DHEA. These hormones are ultimately converted to testosterone a hormone with proven benefits regarding strength in athletes. Furthermore, these hormones have antioxidant properties and improve the speed of nerve transmissions the latter benefit being helpful in sports requiring fast reaction times. However, when thyroid hormone is low, LDL accumulates in the blood and ultimately can begin the process of atherosclerosis with the accompanying health risks and negative impact on endurance and performance.