LAST WEEK, I started a conversation around fats that specifically addressed why, as runners, they play an important part of your diet. After some comments I’ve been seeing, combined with a frequent question I get through my personal sports nutrition consultations, I thought it would be worth clearing up some confusion about coconut oil.
Is it good for you? Is it bad for you? How much should you have? The list of questions goes on and on.
Over the past year or so, there has been a lot of hype around coconut oil—its place in the diet and its many and varied all-purpose uses.
The black and white of it is that coconut oil is a fat. More specifically, coconut oil is a saturated fat. This is where things start to get a bit cloudy.
Saturated fat has long been associated with negative health effects, including it’s capacity to raise the level of cholesterol in your blood and increase risk of heart disease. The murky area is that we’ve now learned that the type of saturated fatty acid matters, and the type in coconut oil (medium-chain fatty acids) is what sets it apart from butter, dairy, and all other animal saturated fats (long-chain fatty acids).
It’s these medium-chain fatty acids that are being credited for coconut oil’s health benefits.
4 benefits of coconut oil for runners:
Our body metabolizes medium-chain fatty acids differently than long chain. Medium-chain fatty acids get metabolized in the liver and then quickly converted to energy from our cells allowing us to use the fat immediately for fuel rather than depositing it into fat tissues, as we do with long-chain fatty acids. That fact alone should be enough reason to add coconut oil into your prerun eats.
Coconut oil also has a high polyphenol content—antioxidants that protect the body from stress and disease. And running just happens to put a tremendous amount of stress on your body, weakening your immune system. Having this extra boost of antioxidants offers great protective benefits.
Fats digest more slowly than carbohydrates, helping you feel fuller for longer. For weight loss and weight maintenance this is quite beneficial, helping you feel both satisfied and full for a longer time after a meal and helping to prevent overeating.
For running, it will also help push your endurance thanks to its ability to boost energy metabolism during both high and medium intensity runs. Consider including a tablespoon into your pre long-run meal.
Coconut oil is as good for your skin as it is for your diet. Feel free to use it as a remedy for dry, chapped lips and skin and for chafed skin from long runs. Plus, you can use it as a hair conditioner to nourish your scalp and get rid of dandruff and even rub it on your belly to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy.
Like other healthy fats and oils, coconut oil is a “good fat” but should still be eaten in moderation. Include it into your diet in small proportionate amounts, such as around 1 tablespoon in a meal, not exceeding more than 2-3 tablespoons per day (depending on your personal dietary and caloric needs).
Try substituting it for other oils in cooking and baking, in place of butter on your toast, or stirred into your prerun oatmeal. You can also get coconut “mana” or butter, which offers the same benefits and is very tasty spread on toast or on a date before a run!