Why use coconut based products in your sports diet?
Coconut contains a form of saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). These differ from long chain fatty acids (LCT) found in other oils, in that they are relatively soluble in water and are therefore rapidly absorbed by the body.
MCTs are transported in the blood through the hepatic portal system and as a result they bypass the fat storage cells. This makes them less susceptible to being deposited in those cells and consequently stored as fat. Instead, they tend to be metabolized by ‘fat burning’ and utilized for energy. This makes coconut interesting from both a body composition and an endurance sports perspective.
A 2010 study1, which looked at the comparative effect of MCTs and LCTs on cycling performance, found that blood lactate levels and perceived exertion rates were significantly lower after ingestion of MCT-containing food compared with LCT-containing food. Time to exhaustion at 80% peak VO2 was also significantly longer.
As with all products, coconut based product intake should form part of a well balanced diet and will not on its own substantially increase the performance of the (recreational) athlete. Coconut can however offer several health benefits for any athlete and should be included regularly in a sports diet.
Next to being a great source of nutrients if you are looking to lose some body fat and being a good way to fuel your body with the necessary building blocks, coconut provides some other very interesting benefits that should be considered when thinking about your diet and food intake:
- It is energy dense, so provides a good source of easily digested extra calories. Try the chunks of raw coconut available from supermarkets as a quick snack between meals.
- It contains a wide range of metabolically important micronutrients, including zinc and vitamin C, as well as the electrolytes.
- It is a safe fat to use when cooking at high temperatures as it does not break down as quickly as unsaturated fats such as olive oil and vegetable oils.
- If you are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk proteins, coconut milk and cream make great alternatives.
- The caprylic acids found in coconut oil have been shown to have anti-microbial actions and will help to fight against infection, while lauric acid in coconut converts to monolaurin, which is thought to play a role in the immune system. Try adding a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil to recovery drinks and smoothies.
1 Nosaka N et al. Effect of ingestion of medium-chain triacylglycerols on moderate- and high-intensity exercise in recreational athletes. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2009. 55(2): 120-5