When the word “anabolic” pops to mind, images of shaker bottles filled with delicious protein shakes are what comes to the forefront. Scarcely would you think of butter, CLA, or numerous other fats, since these couldn’t possibly be anabolic, right?
Wrong. If this was your belief up until five seconds ago, then this article is exactly what the muscle gods prescribed for you. If you’ve been stagnant for god knows how long, it may be time to fat-up (not literally) and enjoy the gains that you’ve been drooling over since you were a wee babe. Excited? (I know you are.)
Why Is Fat Important?
First off, it is important to debunk the notion that all fats are bad. Yes, there are some that have a special place in hell (trans-fats, for example), but it is unfair for all of them to be subject to the same level of unwarranted witch-hunting, with saturated fats being wrongfully indicted as causing heart disease just a few short years ago.1
Luckily, many health practitioners have seen the light, and now realize that good fats have a permanent place in our diets. They are especially important for regulation of men’s hormonal levels and sexual health.
So why exactly is fat important to our muscle building potential?
1. Fats Are Jet Fuel
This may sound counterintuitive to what has been force-taught to us over the years, but the fact is that fat was (and is supposed to be) our preferred energy source. Back in the day (we mean really back, like millennia), our prehistoric ancestors subsisted on a largely fat based metabolism because they lacked the luxuries of numerous fruits and strolling into supermarket junk food aisles. Food came primarily from hunting prey which, as you guessed, consisted of protein and fat. Fat is a more efficient energy source because it simply yields more calories per gram, as well as the fact that it requires alternative metabolism to compounds known as ketones. Ketones are excellent for sustained energy, without the crash and mood swings of carbs. A more consistent energy flow translates to the ability to work out longer.
2. Fats Synthesize Testosterone
Fats make cholesterol, which then promotes synthesis of testosterone, along with other hormones. Restricting fat intake suppresses the amount of testosterone that can be made.
There are dozens more benefits of fats, but these two are the most relevant to sculpting a physique you can be proud of.
Now on to the fun part—what to eat. Try to get more fats from these sources, and you’ll be halfway there.
Grass Fed Butter
Yes we know, butter doesn’t eat grass, but the cows that it is made from do. Grass fed butter is actually one of the healthiest sources of saturated fats on the planet, trumping the pseudo-substitutes, like margarine and its various spreads (which, ironically, are trans-fats).
Butter has been shown to increase HDL levels and increase the structural size of LDL particles to a more favorable size—a size not implicated in heart disease.2 Plus, add the fact that butter was consumed centuries before any trashy substitutes were available.
More benefits? You bet. Saturated fats are one of the best sources to increase testosterone levels, and butter doesn’t stop there. CLA is the often overlooked fatty acid in butter which is responsible for its beneficial effects on testosterone levels, and it can also be conveniently obtained from supplements. CLA can help in weight loss by making you burn more fat.
Besides CLA, butter is also naturally enriched with vitamins D, A, and K2—a rare vitamin that decalcifies arteries and further reduces the risk of heart disease.3 Another rare key ingredient in butter is butyrate, a short chain fatty acid that has a myriad of health benefits such as fighting inflammation, cancer, depression, and obesity. As you probably realized by now, grass-fed butter is one of the best fats there is.
The classic healthy fat the world over, everyone knows about olive oil. What many people do not understand, however, is its unique chemistry and effects.
Consider this. Did you know that olive oil is not the best oil for cooking? There are many more stable fats for cooking (such as butter or coconut oil), making olive oil (particularly extra virgin type) better suited for low heat cooking, or sprinkling on salads and using with foods that do not require cooking. In terms of health benefits, olive oil improves your HDL profile and can reduce risk of heart attack. That’s good and all, but how does that benefit our gains?
It doesn’t. But what does benefit is our muscles because it supports the ability to increase the conversion of cholesterol to testosterone in the leydig cells of the testes (at least in rodent studies).4 This benefit is extremely rare and not found in many other foods. Even better, a study conducted on men in Morocco found olive oil to have both testosterone and luteinizing hormone ( the hormone that signals testosterone synthesis) boosting effects, to the tune of 19.9% and 17.4%, respectively.5 Massive anabolic potential, to say the least.
Coconut Oil and MCT Oil
These are often used interchangeably, but are not truly the same thing. Coconut oil contains a high proportion of MCTs (medium chain triglycerides), but is not pure MCT oil. Consider MCT oil the concentrate. Regardless, MCTs possess unique traits from different fats, primarily that they are metabolized directly in the liver and converted to ketones. This makes MCTs particularly attractive when looking to increase energy output, or if you are on a low-carb ketogenic-style diet. It is a saturated fat, which by itself would indicate increased testosterone production, but it still reduces oxidative stress and damage in the testes.6
Red Palm Oil
While coconut oil gets the majority of attention, thanks to its MCT and saturated fat content, red palm oil, extracted from palm trees, is a very close runner up for the prize of beneficial anabolic fats. While it only contains about 50% as many MCTs as found in coconut oil, and less saturated fat (50% saturated, 50% unsaturated varieties), the true power of red palm oil goes deeper than its fat content.
Red palm oil is rich in carotenoids (vitamin A-like compounds) along with natural vitamin E (in the form of mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols). It is this combination of vitamin E compounds that makes red palm oil superior over compounds found in other fats and oils, such as olive, safflower, or sunflower.
We know that vitamin E is responsible for numerous health benefits, but the ones we are most interested in include:
- It helps reduce prostate cancer risk.
- It can help alleviate severity of hair loss due to medical conditions, such as androgenetic alopecia.
- It helps prevent hormonal oxidation in the testes, thus benefiting testosterone levels.
Red palm oil is not as stable as coconut oil for cooking, but it can be adapted for low heat preparations.
Give the Fats a Go
There is a sufficient array of fats for you to choose from that encompass many uses, ranging from cooking to sprinkling. In general, saturated fats are more heat stable and can be used for high heat cooking, while more unsaturated varieties are suitable for low heat methods or for use as toppings in salads and other foods.
1. “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease“, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010, PubMed-NCBI.
2. “Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials“,American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, 2003 PubMed-NCBI.
3. “Tissue-specific utilization of menaquinone-4 results in the prevention of arterial calcification in warfarin-treated rats“, Journal of Vascular Research, 2003, PubMed- NCBI.
4. “Influence of commercial dietary oils on lipid composition and testosterone production in interstitial cells isolated from rat testis“, Lipids, 2009, PubMed-NCBI.
5. “Effect of argan and olive oil consumption on the hormonal profile of androgens among healthy adult Moroccan men“, Natural product communications, 2013, PubMed-NCBI.
6. “Alcohol-induced testicular oxidative stress and cholesterol homeostasis in rats – The therapeutic potential of virgin coconut oil“, Middle East Fertility Society Jour, 2012, ScienceDirect.