Coconut oil had been wrongly villainized over the past 25 years as being bad for you owing to its high saturated fat content.
Turns out, it's not really that bad. In fact, coconut oil usage is now considered one of the best ways to up your game and take your performance to the next level, regardless of if you're an athlete or not.
What Makes Coconut Oil So Special?
Coconut oil contains is a unique type of dietary fat known as a medium chain triglyceride, or MCT. Compared to other types of fats that get broken down in the stomach and absorbed into the bloodstream, these saturated fatty acids are easily digested and immediately sent to the liver where they're used for energy production.
In contrast to long-chain fatty acids, MCTs don't require enzymes and bile for digestion. As such, they're easily absorbed and offer all the benefits of a ketogenic diet without having to follow such a restrictive plan.
But in addition to its MCT content, coconut oil also contains polyphenols and Vitamin E, both of which are antioxidants that can help improve your health.
Types of Fat Found In Coconut Oil
There are many types of saturated fats found in virgin coconut oil, the most abundant of which are lauric acid, myristic acid and palmitic acid.
The second most abundant fatty acid in coconut oil, this one is known to have antibacterial properties that can help fight infection and support cardiovascular health. It's also another very common kind of saturated fat found in dairy products.
Palmitic acid makes up about half of the total fat content of coconut oil and is also found in palm oil as well as human breast milk. It's great for boosting your metabolism and acts as an emulsifier so that the nutrients from other ingredients mix more readily with water.
Medium Chain Triglycerides
This is the main fatty acid found in coconut oil that gives it its very distinct taste as well as such great health benefits. It's also naturally present in human breast milk and helps to boost immunity and metabolism. Lauric acid is technically on the border of being a medium and long chain fatty acid, possessing the properties of MCTs but being very slow to metabolize.
For this reason, it is not the preferred choice in supplements.
A very short chain fatty acid (6 carbons long) that's easily absorbed, this one acts as an antimicrobial, antifungal and antiprotozoal. It also helps to dissolve gallstones! Overall, a very effective MCT for eliciitng benefits.
This is another medium chain fatty acid that is considered the most powerful of all MCTs. It's also antibacterial, antifungal, antiprotozoal and antiviral. Caprylic acid helps to kill Candida albicans (yeast) as well as Staphylococcus aureus (a common source of food poisoning).
It's important to note that caprylic acid has strong effects on the body, so it should only be taken at low dosages or during periods where you're just trying to get through your day without feeling sick. Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting is very likely if this is the sole MCT you use.
What Are The Benefits Of Coconut Oil?
Here are some examples of coconut oil benefits your health:
Fast Source Of Energy
Consuming MCT oil first thing in the morning is an excellent way to boost your energy levels. The body enters a state of ketosis quickly when MCT oil is ingested because it doesn't require the time and effort that other fats do to be broken down.
This makes it well suited for athletes or anyone that work early in the mornings before consuming a solid meal. Fasted cardio done using coconut oil can also reduce fatigue while increasing your work capacity.
Source Of Antioxidants
Many of the fatty acids found in coconut oil are antioxidants that can help to fight free radical damage in the body. This is part of why it's used so often in beauty products, since it boosts collagen production and tightens the skin while reducing inflammation.
Inflammation is a normal response to exercise, and many stressors that we face, and is generally a good thing as it can help protect the body from more serious problems.
However, inflammation can become excessive and chronic, which can lead to all sorts of health issues you're anxious to avoid. It's been shown that MCT oil suppresses TNF-alpha - a biomarker associated with inflammation and can help prevent inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer's.
Supports Immune Health
MCT oil is also known to help support the growth of healthy gut microbes which in turn supports immune function. These beneficial microbes, known as the probiotic bacteria, produce vitamins, break down fiber into short-chain fatty acids and improve gut motility.
These probiotic bacteria also comprise a large part of the immune system and help fight against pathogenic viruses, bacteria and parasitic organisms. You can see the utility of MCT or coconut oil during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Improved Cognitive Function
MCTs are also believed to help protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's due to their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. For this reason, MCT oil is often used in the treatment of epilepsy and other seizure disorders.
Studies dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century demonstrate that the frequency of seizure attacks is decreased when epileptic children are treated with a ketogenic diet.
Coconut oil is also great for brain health because of the saturated fats found in it which play a vital role in brain signaling, synaptic plasticity and neurogenesis (growth of new neurons).
Your brain is largely comprised of fatty acids and requires a steady supply of fatty acids from the diet to perform properly.
Boosts Hormone Function
When it comes to healthy hormone function, many experts feel that adequate cholesterol levels are essential because certain hormones like testosterone and progesterone are derived from this vital substance.
Consuming coconut oil can increase your blood lipid profile which is commonly associated with reduced risk of heart disease and increased testosterone levels.
Low fat diets are deleterious because they reduce circulating testosterone, which can result in bone loss and slowing of metabolism.
Additionally there is an association between coconut oil consumption and reduced risk of prostate cancer-which has risen to epidemic rates in the developed world over the past several decades.
MCT oil may also help with weight loss by improving satiety and suppressing appetite. Hunger is a strong motivator and one of the main reasons diets fail.
For this reason, it has become increasingly popular as a supplement among bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts who are looking to cut down on the excess calories without sacrificing essential nutrients.
It has also been shown to help prevent the development of insulin resistance, another hallmark of diabetes which can lead to serious health complications down the road.
For these reasons, MCT oil is now used for everything from baking ketogenic desserts to cooking Italian food with unique sauces that are heavy in fats but low in net carbohydrates .
The fact that they lend themselves easily to the production of ketone bodies also makes dieting easier with this alternative energy source.
And on that note:
MCTs Help You Get Into Ketosis Faster
Ketosis refers to the state where the body is burning ketone bodies for energy, instead of glucose. This can be highly favorable for someone on a ketogenic diet, which is also done for medical purposes in some cases.
Highly ketogenic diets are used to treat epilepsy (especially infantile spasms), Alzheimer's disease , cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and to achieve weight loss.
The ketogenic diet can also reverse pre-diabetes or significantly improve control in persons diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes .
Generally speaking, a dietary ratio of 4:1 fat to non-fat (carbohydrates + proteins) is used for ketosis induction. To put it in perspective, the average American diet consists of 65% carbs and 20% fat.
The switch from a glucose based metabolism to a ketone-based metabolism is tough in the beginning.
For the first week or two, work capacity is usually dimninished, but after that it gets much better.
This is where MCTs can come in handy- because they are absorbed more readily by the body than long-chain fatty acids, you will get the energy faster during your workout .
In addition to this, fat based energy systems are more efficient in terms of sustainable work output. The maximum power output is not achieved as when using glucose, but the work capacity is much greater.
For this reason MCTs have been shown to improve strength and performance in athletes who switch from a glucose based metabolism to ketone-based , as well as endurance athletes.
Coconut Oil Is The New Smart Fuel For Athletes
Athletes have been using MCTs for years as a means to improve their performance during training sessions and races since medium-chain triglycerides provide quick bursts of energy. This makes it an excellent alternative to the sugars and other carbohydrate based fuels which are used by traditional sports drinks .
Coconut oil is made up of 60% MCTs, making it a rich source of readily available energy that can be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and taken directly to working muscles. With long-lasting effects, this makes it particularly beneficial for endurance athletes.
Coconut oil is no longer considered a bad fat, but rather an incredible superfood that you should be eating on a regular basis.
How To Use Coconut Oil For Athletes
The easiest way to use coconut oil as a pre-workout is by adding it to your protein shake. You might not like the taste of coconut, but there are ways around that problem.
For example, powdered MCT is available and its flavorless and ideal for getting the benefits of coconut oil without having to go through the process of mixing it into a sports drink.
Another way is taking it as a capsule, or you can try coconut milk powder which is now available in most health food stores. Studies show that MCTs are particularly effective as an energy source when they are taken right before or during a workout .
Taking it first thing in the moerning before fasted cardio is another approach that some athletes take, and while it may seem like it adversely affects fasting,there are many testimonials to show that it works.
How Much Coconut Oil Can One Take?
Most people will tell you that the right amount of coconut oil for you is between two tablespoons and four tablespoons per day depending on your size and energy demands. It's important to note that it's crucial not to overdo it and go beyond 4tbsp/day as too much coconut oil can cause upset stomach. It may even give you diarrhea if you're particularly sensitive, so it's important to assess your individual tolerance.
How to Use Coconut Oil For Baking, Cooking and Eating
Another great way to get more MCTs into your diet is by replacing your vegetable oils with coconut oil.
It is very heat stable, which means it can be used for cooking or baking without oxidizing and creating free radicals in your food, so it's a great alternative for high temperature cooking.
Coconut oil can be used to sauté vegetables or fry eggs. You can add it to smoothies , use it instead of butter when making pancakes, or add it to oatmeal .
Consideration When Using Coconut Oil
While we can sing high praises about coconut oil add day long, it's not without some possible downsides.
It May Increase Hunger
Yes, even though it is useful for weight loss and can blunt appetite, it can also do the opposite. In some cases it can actually increase hunger, so if you're using it to aid with weight loss it may be best to use caution and only include a couple tablespoons of coconut oil per day.
People who consume more than 6 tablespoons a day may experieince an increase in the hormone ghrelin and Neuropeptide Y which trigger hunger, as opposed to blunting it.
It's High In Calories
Coconut oil is high in calories, which may or may not be something that concerns you depending on your nutritional approach. Although MCTs are metabolized differently than other fats , it's also important to note that coconut oil is very calorie dense even though it doesn't lead to a high insulin response.
This means you need to make sure you keep track of your total calories if you're going to be using coconut oil regularly in your diet, and ensure that you're eating fewer calories than you expend to lose weight.
Might Trigger Fatty Liver
Before you get worried, it's important to establish that moderation is key, as with anything else. High doses of coconut oil, while still beneficial for overall health, can increase fat storage in the liver even in the absence of weight gain.
Coconut oil is definitely not a cure-all superfood, but it does have many uses and is quite tasty. It's one of the healthiest oils you can use on a regular basis, especially if you're trying to lose weight or watch your waistline in general.
It supplies all-natural medium chain fatty acids , and there are virtually no risks associated with it when used in moderation.
It can be useful for those with impaired gallbladder function as it doesn't require bile to break down and digest like longer chain fatty acids.
Adding it to your diet in place of synthetic fats are a definite move in a healthier direction, so don't miss out on all it has to offer.