Health Nutrition

The importance of fats in runners’ nutrition

Fats are an important part of our diet and also play a crucial role in running. Colin Glattfelder, sports and exercise scientist, provides information on the key aspects.

Author: Colin Glattfelder, sports and exercise scientist, Medbase Checkup Center




Not all fats are the same. There are different types of fats, including saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats. Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products such as butter and meat, as well as in some plant oils such as coconut and palm oil. Unsaturated fats are mainly found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Trans fats are the result of chemical processes and are mainly found in processed foods such as margarine and fried foods.

Mediterranean cuisine uses many healthy fats

While saturated fats and trans fats are generally considered unhealthy as they can increase the risk of heart disease, unsaturated fats are considered healthy. The main ones include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The former are widely used in Mediterranean cuisine.

Monounsaturated fatty acids

  • They are found in foods such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
  • They are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) levels in the blood while simultaneously increasing HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) levels.
  • Additionally, they provide a concentrated source of energy for endurance activities such as running.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids

  • These are found in foods such as fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, herring), flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
  • The most well-known polyunsaturated fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly known for their anti-inflammatory properties. They play an important role in supporting heart health and brain function. They can also aid recovery after intense exercise by reducing inflammation and promoting muscle regeneration.

What role do fats play in nutrition, specifically for runners?

Fats are an important source of energy and play a crucial role in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. For runners, they are particularly important because endurance sports like running require a lot of energy. Additionally, fats help promote satiety and maintain stable blood sugar levels, which is important for consistent energy supply during training or competition.

Are there recommendations on how much of which fats runners should consume?

The Swiss Society of Nutrition (SGE) recommends athletes to have a moderate intake of healthy fats. About 25-35% of total calorie intake should come from fats, with most of it coming from unsaturated sources such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. However, it is important to consider individual needs and goals and, if necessary, be guided by a nutritionist.

When does the body rely on fat metabolism during running?

During running, the body relies on fat metabolism, especially during longer, less intense training sessions. As intensity increases, the body tends to use carbohydrates primarily as a source of energy. This means that fat metabolism is particularly important during slower runs and endurance activities, as the body’s fat reserves are used to generate energy.


Runners who train regularly and intensely have increased energy needs. In this context, fats can be an important source of energy. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids also play an important role in muscle regeneration and cardiovascular health. However, it is important to focus on a balanced diet, and no more than 35% of total calories should come from fats.

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Medbase is the largest multidisciplinary sports medicine network in Switzerland and offers specialised sports medicine services for athletes, clubs and sports associations at all levels of activity in the fields of sports medicine, sports physiotherapy, performance diagnostics and training advice.

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