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The Importance Of Dietary Fat Consumption In Marathon Training

Posted Dec 20 2008 5:57pm
Many women I know are training for marathons and while it is common to hear them talk about footwear and training logs, rarely do I hear them discuss the nutritional component of marathon training.

A common attitude amongst runners is that the less you weigh, the faster you'll run. This leads many female runners down the road of consuming a lower-fat diet.

However, research out of the University of Buffalo found a direct correlation between lower dietary fat consumption and injury in female runners. The study found that women whose diet consisted of 30 percent of calories from fat were less likely to be injured than women whose diet consisted of only 27% of calories from fat.


Eighty seven healthy adult female runners aged 18 - 53 and running a minimum of 20 miles/week, participated. Most subjects were competitive at the local and regional running levels and a few were national caliber athletes. Those with a current injury to the lower extremeties and/or low back or any who were pregnant within the past year were excluded.


Subjects were contacted every three months for one year and asked about the frequency, intensity, and duration of their running; about any changes in their health or menstrual status; and to describe the occurrence of any running-related injuries.

A "running-related" injury was defined as any musculoskeletal injury to the low back or lower extremities of an overuse nature that occurred as a result of participation in running with one or more of the following consequences:
  • reduction in the amount or level of running (including a decrease in the usual distance, frequency, or speed of training runs or races),
  • a need for medical advice or treatment, or adverse social or economic effects (such as the inability to go to work due to the injury).
All existing medical records were obtained to confirm injury diagnosis.

The Results

Forty-seven subjects reported a running-related injury to the foot, ankle, knee or hip during the study period. Stress fractures and tendinitis were the most common problems.

Those female runners who were injured were more likely to be consuming "significantly lower intakes of total fat" and calories from fat compared with the study participants who did not sustain an injury. In fact, the researchers conducted a logistic regression analysis to predict with 64% certainty which of the female athletes would be injured based on their dietary fat intake.

No important differences were observed in total intake of carbohydrates, protein, fiber, or other vitamins and minerals between injured and non-injured runners.

Susan's Two Cents

While the 2007 study noted above did not address injuries in male endurance runners, a previous 2000 study did confirm that endurance runners may not be consuming enough calories on a low fat diet and that a low fat diet could compromise health and performance of both male and female runners.

Fat is crucial for both health and athletic performance. The key is to choose the right types of fats. The healthiest are found in:
  • Flax
  • Soybeans
  • Fish
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Almonds
  • Olives
  • Avocado
You can read more about the importance of essential fatty acids in the November 3, 2008 EFA Catapult Fitness Blog posting.

Train hard; stay strong.



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