The Important role of Fat in Strength and Performance!

As there are 8 essential amino acids that we are well aware off there are 8 essential fatty acids required by the body. Whilst, there are no essential carbohydrates, the carbohydrates we really need supply us with the minerals and vitamins to support healthy cellular processes within us, co-factors for growth and hormone precursors.

The essential fatty acids are 'essential' and support our hormone system, here we explore the ones that are synthesized from the essential amino acids (Protein) and which ones are synthesized from fatty acids (good fats) as well as which type of hormones are the strongest.

Main points

  • Cholesterol is a lipid that consists of more fats than proteins
  • Testosterone and Steroid hormones are derived from cholesterol
  • The influence of Steroid hormones exert on cells is stronger than that of peptide hormones
  • Hormones regulate the uptake of amino acids into muscle cells, essential to facilitate growth
  • A balanced intake of natural predominately goof fats can help prevent muscle breakdown

Is FAT a bad word?

Over the past few decades Fat has received a lot of negative press. This has been due to a preoccupation with the concentrated Calorific value of fats, some 9Cals per gram compared to 4.2Cals per gram of Carbohydrate (CHO) and Protein (Pro).

Whilst there is a relationship with fat and its role in coronary heart disease and such like, it is not necessarily the main candidate as consuming too much Carbohydrates and Protein can also be converted into fats. Interesting recent research has indicated a high correlation between refined sugar and cholesterol and coronary heart disease. This matter is subject of its own for now we will discuss the benefits of good fat in our diet.

Primarily we are talking about 'good fats' such as omega 3, 6 and 9, rather than saturated fats or trans fats. These are the fats that have many different roles in the body and can be converted in different ways depending on the body’s needs and requirements.


One of these applications we are referring to is the production of hormones; or more specifically naturally derived 'Steroid Hormones.' These are derived largely from cholesterol (a lipid or Fat) and just how similar they are in molecular structure is demonstrated below:

Cholesterol and Testosterone Molecules

These Hormones can be broken into two different categories, steroid hormones and polypeptide hormones. Hormone's role is primarily the same:

A Hormone is a chemical messenger substance made by an endocrine gland and secreted into the blood to regulate and co-ordinate the function of distant organs.

The hormone is exerted in two different ways. The most important are listed here:

Hormone type Steroid hormones Polypeptide hormones
Manufactured Derived From Cholesterol Fat Derived From Amino Pool
Properties Lipid Soluble Non Lipid Soluble Diffuse Easily Into Cells Do Not Diffuse Through Cell Membrane
Examples Testosterone, Cortisol, Estrogen, Progesterone Insulin, Growth Hormone, Noradrenalin/ Norepinephrine Adrenaline/Epinephrine

When looking at this table we can see that steroid hormones exert their effect from 'inside' the cell and interact directly with the cell nucleus. Whilst polypeptide hormones interact with the cell wall and rely on sending messengers inside.

In some way this explains why Insulin and Growth Hormone (GH) are only anabolic in the presence of other substrates such as carbohydrates or protein. It also strongly suggests that polypeptide hormones are not as powerful as their big brother Steroid hormones, and would need to be released in much larger quantities for longer periods of time to exert the same level of response.

The production of Testosterone and similar steroid hormones help to burn fat as a fuel source for metabolism, as well as assisting in the delivery of amino acids into muscle cells; therefore decreasing fat mass while increasing lean muscle mass.

This supports data on why resistance training yields results in body fat measurements as well as in strength gains. It therefore seems plausible that without adequate levels of correct fats in our diet, hormone production would be slowed due to an inability to synthesize the correct hormone balance?

An interesting observation in recent years has that with in groups of male subjects, where testosterone production is highly important as it makes them who they are. Men who followed popular very low fat diets whilst experiencing significant reductions in body fat initially went on to develop issue’s with female type fat deposit issues. Female fat deposits in men such as chest , thigh and buttock fat collection could be related to the body not receiving a sufficient supply of fat to start the chemical reaction required for testosterone production.

Testosterone, Growth Hormone and Fat connection

One recent study researchers looked closely at blood concentrations of free testosterone, testosterone and growth hormone (GH). This joint Finnish/American research was interested in which anabolic hormones would be sensitive to dietary intake of fat, both at rest and after heavy resistance exercise.

They found some surprising:

During the resting phase of the study a higher fat intake and lower protein intake was associated with increased levels of anabolic hormones in both sedentary and trained subjects.

During the active phase of the study however, the higher fat intake increased anabolic hormones in the trained subjects only.

These results from this study make more of an argument for increasing the healthy fats in subject’s diets further, as they are certainly in their training phase.

As a lot of current diet and nutrition logic applies plenty of reasons to consume descent quantities of Carbohydrates and Protein, but not fats. Where good fats are encouraged it's very common to find it limited to a coupe of small capsules a day or a portion of fish once or twice a week.

Many leading figures have been extolling the importance of goods fats in fact significant daily doses have been associated with many performance increasing including the ability to assimilate greater lean mass, reduce body fat and improve overall mood and performance levels.


With out doubt more research data is needed in regards to fats, hormones and their role in health and performance. As recent studies indicate that higher dietary fat seem to play a decisive role in the efficiency of hormones and in protein conservation. This researcher has found that this appears to be linked more with trained athletes than their sedentary counterparts.

See also: Arachidonic Acid.


Wilmore, J.H. & Costill, D.L. 1994. Physiology of Sport and Exercise: Human Kinetics

Tortora, G. J. 2002. Principles Of Anatomy And Physiology: John Wiley & Sons

Selye, H. 1978. The Stress of Life - revised ed: McGraw Hill Inc

Sallinen, J. et al: Relationship between diet and serum anabolic hormone responses to heavy resistance exercise in men. Int J Sports Med 2004 Nov; 25(8):627-33

Norrelund, H. et al: The decisive role of free fatty acids for protein conservation during fasting in humans with and without growth hormone. J Clin Endocrinal Metab 2003;88(9):4371-8