Since the weather is warming up nicely and we’re already running and biking on the trails, I thought this would be a good time to talk about what to eat and use to enhance performance. The next two articles will summarize and highlight foods and key ingredients that have research to back them, since there is a lot of misinformation out there about what works. This will improve what is going in and out of cells, optimize calorie and nutrient use, increase oxygenation and maximize removal of metabolites and help you feel like a super star!
Nutritionally, one needs to consume good quality vegetable or animal protein. Wild fish, especially salmon, halibut, herring and sardine is the most easily broken down and utilized, has the essential fatty acids DHA & EPA which lubricate the joints and protect nerve tissue, and is anti-inflammatory. Organic poultry is good, or if you are a red meat fan, lamb, bison or wild meat, since these are not inflammatory like pork and beef. If you are vegetarian, nuts, seeds with beans and legumes are best. Protein is used to build muscle and repair tissue and any extra is used for energy or is eliminated.
Therefore, it should be increased for regular exercisers proportionate to what you normally consume and the number of hours you are exercising. For example if your calorie intake is 2000/d, then increase your protein by 100-150 gm/d.
Complex carbohydrates high in fibre are also essential, for they provide long-term energy, protein for tissue building and fats for lubrication and nerve tissue support. In terms of grains, quinoa, brown rice, oats and millet are your best choices, since they are alkalinizing. Also included are 2-3 fruit, especially the dark fruits, for example cherries, berries, plums, canteloupe, rhubarb, apricot, papaya, peach, kiwi and pomegranate. Bioflavinoids give them their dark colour and are not only anti-inflammatory, but minimize allergies and help you be alkaline, which maximizes the body’s ability to remove metabolic waste products like lactic acid and prevent bruising. Don’t forget those veggies! 5-6 veggie servings during the day, especially the green ones like kale, swiss chard, arugula, cilantro, parsley, collards, beet tops and cooked spinach are super foods. Not only are they packed full of vitamins and minerals, but, they keep you alkaline as well. Note though, I’ve had a few folks in recently that have developed skin rashes from putting raw spinach in their smoothies. It is best to cook spinach, because it will break down the oxalic acid.
Fat intake should be low to moderate with the majority of them omega 3, 6 and 9’s. High fat intake slows the body down, can increase the percentage of body fat, decrease the blood flow due to clogging and increase the load on the heart. The worst offender of this is anything from a cow or pig. Therefore, use olive oil or coconut oil for cooking, use olive or seed oils for salads and the rest and include those nut butters like almond, cashew or hazelnut. Sesame seed (tahini) or sunflower seed butter (not peanut since it is a legume) are rich in omega 6’s and fish or ground flax, pumpkin, hemp, chia seeds or their butters have omega 3’s. Minimize luncheon meats, bacon, ham or foods cooked in animal fat.
The duration and intensity of the activity determines the needed calories, protein and other nutrients.
Always remember to minimize alcohol, cigarettes, and stimulants, such as coffee, tea, herba mate, honeybush, rooibos or sodas. This reduces the load the liver has to detoxify, therefore it can focus on degrading breakdown products from your workouts. Stimulants leach valuable minerals from your bone which weakens them, makes you acidic so you can’t move lactic acid from your cells and increases cortisol release which diminishes your immune system. Especially important is having NONE before an event, otherwise, you’re more likely to “hit the wall” and not perform as well.
Iron- rich foods may be needed to maintain the oxygen capacity of the blood. These are red meats, like lamb, bison or wild meat, organic liver, oysters, green- leafy veggies, prunes and mushrooms.
Sport nutrition dietary guidelines are:
• 40% fruits/veggies
• 60% whole grains, legumes and starchy veggies
• animal- fish, poultry, lamb, bison, wild meat, eggs and goat or sheep dairy
• vegetable- nuts and seeds, beans and legumes
• saturated- meats, eggs and dairy
• unsaturated- fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, nut, seed and vegetable oils
Whenever the activity increases sweating, the fluids need to be replaced, as well as extra minerals, so drink an extra cup of alkaline water per hour of exercise with ¼ c of diluted dark fruit juices with minerals (a Vitamin C buffered powder with calcium, magnesium and potassium). For long events or on hot days, an electrolyte solution can be added to the water to provide calories and energy. Also, drink alkaline water 2-3 hours before the event to fill the tissues and throughout the activity as well.
One of the concepts of duration events is carbohydrate loading using complex carbs such as grains, pastas, pancakes and whole grain breads. This needs to be done 4-5 days before an endurance event. The complex carbs are reduced to 40-50% of diet and protein and fats are increased. This depletes the glycogen in the muscles and liver. 2-3 days before, increase the complex carbs to 70-75% of diet (at least 3 big meals). This increases the stored glycogen, which can be easily converted to useable energy.
Now, let’s examine some of the supplements that have been proven to improve performance.
1. A good high quality multi-vitamin/mineral is crucial in capsule form. Many B vitamins are lost rapidly with exercise and anti-oxidants reduce tissue irritation, as well as inflammation and remove free radicals that deplete energy. Usually a combination of Vitamin A, B’s, E, beta carotene, selenium, and cysteine can be found. Also, a non-citrus Vitamin C should be taken to bowel tolerance. This helps to prevent bone, tendon, ligament and disc injuries, in addition to keeping the adrenals balanced to minimize cortisol release.
2. Potassium is lost during sweat, which is important for nerve conduction, muscle and heart function and helps prevent muscle spasms. It is important to replace after exercise periods and eat potassium rich foods during the day (green leafy veggies, bananas, raisins, apricots, whole grains, seeds and nuts).
3. Calcium/Magnesium is used for muscle contraction and relaxation, cell and bone strength, nerve signaling and delivery of oxygen.
4. Iron is especially needed for women to carry oxygen and is part of the muscle protein that is used for energy and endurance.
5. Chromium helps stabilize blood sugar for those that find it difficult to maintain exercise without finding they need to eat something during exercise or they feel faint, nauseous or light-headed. (This also helps those that find even without exercise they have to be careful they eat every couple of hours or can’t skip meals without problems where blood sugar is not being properly controlled).
6. Zinc is often deficient and is critical to the functioning of many hormones, as well as keeping the adrenal gland handling stress and the immune system functioning well.
7. Bioflavinoids improve Vitamin C’s effectiveness, are immune boosters, keep vessel walls strong to prevent bruising, improve circulation and prevent varicose veins.
8. Silica is needed if elasticity and flexibility are a problem. However, I have folks take this only during the week and not on weekends, since it can be irritating to the kidneys.
9. Amino acids should be sufficient by eating protein in foods. But, if someone takes protein in a concentrated form, they should use a general formula of the L forms (not D or DL, since the body can’t break these down) to provide protein they are not getting in meals.
Folks that are involved in training at least 3-4 times per week and consider competing at some level should consider the following supplements. For those that are interested in faster recovery more quickly or want to increase their level of fitness rapidly, these may be helpful to you as well.
1. L-carnitine enhances athletic performance by improving the utilization of fats, which therefore increases the energy production in the cells. This increases the use of oxygen and reduces the build-up of acids and metabolic wastes. (Note- NEVER USE DL carnitine since it is TOXIC!)
2. Co-Q10 has been proven to improve performance and increase exercise capacity, by providing more oxygen to cells, which increases efficiency of the energy cycle, is an anti-oxidant and neutralizes some free radicals.
3. ATP fuel enhances performance by providing immediate ATP to the body to be utilized for energy.
4. NADH is similar to ATP, it can improve exercise endurance, by providing the metabolite that converts into easily accessible energy. (This has also been used for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia to help maintain energy).
5. Ribose is a concentrated complex sugar compound that can be utilized for quick energy in an event that requires a burst of quickly metabolized “food” for those that use glucose concentrates in gels, squeeze tubes etc.
6. Glutathione is a powerful anti-oxidant and involved in metabolic detoxification, which can minimize the build-up of waste products and metabolites. It may also help to prevent tissue damage.
7. L Glutamine can often be depleted especially with over-training, so needs to be considered with athletes at risk.
8. Bromelain/Curcumin are natural anti-inflammatories. One needs to take these between meals to help reduce inflammation in muscles and joints.