If you’ve used my comprehensive Shred System nutrition plan you’ll know that I advise you to eat a very specific amount of fat each day.
You begin with around 0.4 grams of fat per lb of body weight, and towards the end of the program (when you’re leaner than you’ve ever been before) you decrease this to 0.3g per lb.
These numbers weren’t plucked out of thin air, of course.
They’re set this way because fat is a hugely important nutrient. As well as helping you to reach your calorie goals, it plays a major role in a successful physical transformation because it regulates the production of several key muscle building hormones, including testosterone and cortisol. This makes it possible for you to reap the benefits of all the hard training you’re doing in the gym, and sets the stage for your body to make use of all the protein you eat.
That being said, though, fat is still a very misunderstood macronutrient.
You can walk into any gym and meet people who either say you should avoid it completely, out of fear it’ll go straight to your waist, or people who tell you to shovel it in like there’s no tomorrow because it’ll actually help you lose weight.
With contradicting advice like that, it’s no wonder people are f**king lost with regards to nutrition!
So in this article I’m going to break down what dietary fat is, what it does, how much you should aim for, and what kind of results you can expect from doing it my way.
Fat: Why The Confusion?
The fearmongering surrounding dietary fat dates all the way back to the early 1980s.
In recent years we’ve seen both protein and carbohydrates receive their fair share of bulls**t headlines, but that’s nothing compared to what fat went through in 1980 when the National Dietary Guidelines published research saying it was the root cause of heart disease and obesity.
It caused mayhem.
Food companies scrambled to remove it from their products wherever possible, but people still wanted to eat treat foods, and this kickstarted the sugar craze which dominated the rest of the decade.
However, not all manufacturers thrived. A lot of them were unable to replicate the great taste of their products without the inclusion of fat (you see, it’s not the fat or the carbs that makes you crave more junk food, but rather the combination of the two), so when they saw how much profit their sugar-based competitors were raking in they decided to fight back. Staying away from dietary fat was still a priority in order to sell products, so in their haste they reverted to using something much more dangerous – trans fat.
Suddenly their foods tasted great again, but it came at a cost. This was a nasty motherf**ker of an ingredient – a man-made variation of fat which was developed in 1901 by German chemist Wilhelm Normann. Trans fat provides none of the nutritional values of regular dietary fat (we’ll discuss those in a sec) but still has all of the calories.
By the mid-1980s the populations cupboards were lined with foods which either consisted of mostly sugar, or a so-called healthy alternative made from both sugar and trans fat!
But perhaps the worst part is that all of this bulls**t was for nothing.
Fat did not deserve to be stained with such a bad reputation, and this was evidenced by the fact that, despite the radical measures which were taken, obesity levels soared to record heights!
At the turn of the millenium, we saw carbohydrates receive similar demonization when The Atkins Diet craze had everybody walking around with stinky meat breath and proclaiming carbs as “the enemy”, but that’s a topic for another post. Thankfully, fat received its long overdue apology in 2015 when a meta-analysis from Scottish researchers went on record to slam the original recommendations regarding dietary fat intake and declare that they were made without sufficient evidence. (1)
Optimize Your Fat Intake
In recent years we have seen how beneficial fat is, not only for general health but specifically for building muscle.
For example, the Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish (and commonly used in supplement form) have been shown to help the body retain lean muscle tissue, protect against the signs of aging, improve your memory, enhance your mood, protect against heart disease, boost your anabolic response to insulin (more muscle growth!), and they even play a small part in the fat burning process. (2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
That’s quite the list of benefits, huh?! Here’s more on those.
There are four types of fat you can eat:
- Saturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
- Monounsaturated fat
- Trans fat
The top three should be staples of your diet.
You might be surprised to see saturated fat up there, because it’s another nutrient which is often demonized, but there’s no reason to cut it out of your diet. In fact, interesting research shows that athletes consuming the proper amounts of saturated fats and monounsaturated fats maintain higher levels of free testosterone, and given that free testosterone has a direct link with how much muscle we are able to build, this is not something we want to miss out on! (7)
That being said, though, I don’t want you to get too caught up in where your fat sources come from. Trying to strike a perfect balance between 33% saturated fat, 33% polyunsaturated fat, and 33% monounsaturated fat isn’t productive advice for people who live in the real world, so instead I just want you to take a varied approach and focus on hitting your overall fat target each day.
Which brings me to your fat target.
At the head of this article I mentioned that I like to set a trainee’s fat at 0.4 grams per pound of body weight. I do this because it’s enough to ensure you can reap the testoserone elevating benefits fat offers, alongside increased levels of the peptide hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1) which also assists in the muscle building process, without it being such a big chunk of calories that it makes your diet feel too restrictive. (8, 9)
There do not appear to be any performance benefits which are achieved by going above this level, other than using the calorie dense nature of fat to boost your calorie intake if you’re trying to gain size, so that’s why I use 0.4g/lb.
In recent years it has become trendy to follow diets which are much higher in fat – it seems every workplace has one guy who dumps butter in his coffee and gives macho names to all his meals (like protein bombs, or ballistic soup) – but while I’m certainly not against fat as a nutrient, I wouldn’t recommend doing this. In 2018 a study from Norway found that LDL cholesterol, which is considered a signpost for cardiovascular risk factors, skyrocketed by 44% after just three weeks of following a very high fat diet. (10, 11)
That’s a crazy increase!
These results were doubled-down in 2021 when a study published in Nutrients came to the same conclusion, advising that:
“The elevated LDL cholesterol should be a cause for concern in young, healthy, normal-weight women following this kind of LCHF diet.”
We want none of those risk factors and all of the results, so with this in mind, a person with a target body weight of 180lbs would shoot for about 72 grams of fat per day. Seeing as there are 9 calories per gram of fat, that translates to 648 calories from fat. Adjust this to suit your targets.
My Go To Fat Sources
Now that you’ve set your target, you’re good to go!
I’m going to finish this article with a few ideas to help you decide where you’d like to get your fat intake from. You’ll probably find it quite easy to hit your target each day because fat is often a secondary macronutrient in many protein-based foods, so you should be well on the way just from trying to eat protein.
By setting your target to 0.4g per lb this gives you a little wiggle room because it keeps you above the minimum threshold to unlock the muscle building benefits we disacussed earlier (which is 0.3g/lb) while also affording you the ability to incorporate some variety into your diet without worrying about going over your target.
|Nuts / seeds||Fat (per 100g)|
|Legumes||Fat (per 100g)|
|Soy beans (cooked)||9g|
|Fruit||Fat (per 100g)|
|Fish / sea food||Fat (per 100g)|
|Dairy||Fat (per 100g)|
|Meat||Fat (per 100g)|
|Lean ground beef||17g|
|Poultry||Fat (per 100g)|
|Lean ground turkey||8g|
- Harcombe Z., et al. Evidence from randomised controlled trials did not support the introduction of dietary fat guidelines in 1977 and 1983: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Open Heart (2015).
- Smith G. I., et al.Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr (2011).
- Smith G. I., et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia–hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clin Sci (2011).
- de Barros T. T, et al. DNA damage is inversely associated to blood levels of DHA and EPA fatty acids in Brazilian children and adolescents. Food Funct (2020).
- Yu Y-H., et al. The function of porcine PPARγ and dietary fish oil effect on the expression of lipid and glucose metabolism related genes. J Nutr Biochem (2011).
- Muldoon M. F., et al. Serum phospholipid docosahexaenonic acid is associated with cognitive functioning during middle adulthood. J Nutr (2010).
- Mínguez-Alarcón L., et al. Fatty acid intake in relation to reproductive hormones and testicular volume among young healthy men. Adian J Andol (2017).
- Heald A., et al. The influence of dietary intake on the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system across three ethnic groups: a population-based study. Public Health Nutr (2003).
- Whittaker J., et al. Low-fat diets and testosterone in men: Systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention studies. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2021).
- Retterstol K., et al. Effect of low carbohydrate high fat diet on LDL cholesterol and gene expression in normal-weight, young adults: A randomized controlled study. Atherosclerosis (2018).
- Buren J., et al. A Ketogenic Low-Carbohydrate High-Fat Diet Increases LDL Cholesterol in Healthy, Young, Normal-Weight Women: A Randomized Controlled Feeding Trial. Nutrients (2021).