Optimal Running Performance
By Shawn Williams
June 6, 2002 - This information is a general overview of nutrition for athletes, to help them achieve their optimum performance. Keep in mind that many of the things talked about here can have dramatic affects as well as small affects, but when you are performing at a high level every little edge helps. Everything from healing faster, thinking sharper, reacting faster, and having more energy are just a few of the things I will be touching upon. Keep in mind that this is going to be general for the most part, and if you want to know more specifics about any nutritional supplement and how it works, or any specific disease process or concern you have, you can get in touch with me through email and I will be able to provide more details about most anything. * will mark things that are extra important.
Carbohydrates: There are both simple and complex. Complex is always better. Always select unrefined foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products. These products are more nutrient dense. For example, if you take a piece of white bread it is made by refined white flour (most are). All of the good nutrients have been taken from the flour. The whole wheat bread will have a lot more calories, but the nutrient value is far better, which is why it is a LOT heavier. That is basically why we eat is for the nutrient value, so you might want to try cutting out some of the refined carbs you eat a lot of like sodas, desserts, candy, pizza, and other stuff like that. Simple and refined carbs causes all sorts of fatigue problems and can lead to all sorts of disease processes from type 2 diabetes to decreased immune function and getting sick.
****** Probably one of the most important things to keep in mind is to stabilize your blood glucose levels in the morning. When you have not eaten all night long your blood sugar gets low. If the first thing you put in your body is cake, juice, and cereal you will get a major spike in blood glucose. This is bad for so many reasons. One, you will soon crash within the hour and your head will be bobbing all over the place at work or in class. Its not a normal thing, but most people do it and this is why. The most important thing you can do is to get some protein in the morning. Protein is a blood sugar stabilizer. Other things like berries have pectin (a soluble fiber) in them, which are blood sugar stabilizers as well. You don't have to go change your whole diet, just be more careful when during the day your eating the foods you are. Hold off on the sweets till afternoon. Make sure you do eat in the morning and stabilize the sugar. If you don't it is stressful to your body and you will produce your own cortisol. Cortisol is the source of soooooo many problems and its not something you want to deal with. Do your best not to SPIKE your blood sugar. Carbs can be good for you if you eat them correctly. Complex carbs take longer to digest and have a more spread out affect and don't spike blood sugar levels.******
****Water: The important thing to know about this is at the point when you are thirsty you have lost 25% of your performance levels. And it only decreases after that. So stay hydrated throughout the day.
Protein: Great for healing and growth. For muscles its best to eat not too long before you go to bed. The chemicals you produce when you sleep (especially GH growth hormone) aid in building muscle. Note that you can only absorb 20-30 grams of protein per sitting (2 hours in between sittings), so multiple small protein meals are great for you. The best sources are your meats and fish. The protein in eggs is what everything else is compared to. It's the best. Some people would be concerned about cholesterol. Well, eggs have lecithin in them, which acts as an anti-cholesterol agent, so it negates the cholesterol in the eggs. They are great for you. Yogurt, natural peanut butter, and nuts are also great sources.
Fats: There are many types. Animal fats are not good for you so try to eat your leaner cuts of beef and eat poultry. Stay away from trans fats too. Monounsaturated fats are the best for you, and the best source is olive oil. It is perfect to dip your wheat bread into. It reduces the bad LDL's and leaves your good HDL's alone. It should be about 15% of you diet. It is really good for you. The other fat that is great for you is omega 3. You can get this in fish (salmon is the best), flax seed oil, and some nuts. Among the many things they are good for, they help make up the myelin sheaths on your nerves. People tend to be deficient in these fats. It can noticeably increase the speed of nerve transmission, which means faster and clearer thoughts, and faster reflexes.
Now on to the good stuff!
A couple things to remember about vitamins, minerals, and herbs is to see how they are produced, how pure they are, the delivery system, is it in the active and most absorbable form, and how much crap like dyes and chemicals are added as preservatives. I'll talk about a couple of the best company's later.
Athletes, as they work out a lot, break down their cells. Free radicals are released into the body. They can be dangerous and cause fatigue, sickness, cancer, and if bad enough death can result. Antioxidants are very important for an athlete.
Vitamin A: A fat-soluble antioxidant. Good for the eyes, best form is found in beta-carotene and other carotenoids. Good sources are broccoli, carrots, spinach, peaches, and garlic. Too much can be toxic to pregnant females and their babies. It is good for vision and fatigue.
Vitamin D: Fat-soluble antioxidant. Required to absorb calcium in the intestine. D3 (cholecalciferol) is the most active form and is made by your body from sunlight. The next best is ergocalciferol, which is D2 and can be found in better supplements.
*****Vitamin E: One of the best fat-soluble antioxidants. It works synergistically with vitamin C. It has been proven to increase athletic performance. It helps the tissues in the body and healthy red blood cell membranes. It is one of the safest vitamins and one of the most widely taken for heart patients. The active form is d-alpha tocopherol. Stay away from the d,l-alpha tocopherol. It is worthless and inactive. Note that you must have zinc in the body to maintain healthy level of Vit E.
Vitamin K: fat soluble antioxidant, good for bone formation and repair.
******The B vitamins I'm about to go over are very important for athletes, and everyone. A really good B complex is pretty inexpensive and well worth it for most people. I'll go through each one individually. Keep in mind they tend to be heavily depleted in vigorous exercise, drinking alcohol, and woman on the pill. They are incredibly important for you to replenish. They play a huge role in energy, thinking, and are involved in most functions of the body. This is also why athletes sometimes hit walls, or plateau's when they are working out, whether its the weight room or running a certain time and you just can't break through. If you experience that, fatigue, headaches, or are cold all the time, or your memory isn't very sharp a good B complex is the place to start.
B1: Thyamine pyrophosphate, increases circulation, breakdown of carbs for energy, and one of the best things to take for thinking on all those tests along with B 2, 3, 9, and 12.
B2: FAD or FMN, this is the vitamin that turn urine fluorescent yellow. It's a normal thing though don't worry. It's a water-soluble vitamin. Great for cardio athletes and memory. It is also important in the breakdown of carbs into energy.
B3: niacinamide or nicotinic acid, inositol hexaniacinate is the only synthetic form of a vitamin that is best. Great for energy and increasing memory.
B5: pantothenic acid, the anti-stress vitamin, enhances stamina, releases energy from fats for longer and more sustained energy.
B6: pyridoxal phosphate. Involved in more functions than any other nutrient in the body. Very important for energy, headaches from depletion from pill, alcohol, or vigorous exercise.
B9: Folic acid; memory, fatigue, and incredibly important for neurological growth of babies so pregnant females need alot.
B12: cyanocobalamin, important for the heart to keep homocysteine levels, which is the number one indicator of heart disease. Many of these B's are found mostly in meats especially B12, so vegetarians also show signs of deficiencies.
*****Vitamin C: ascorbic acid, take 500 to 1000 mg per day. Works synergistically with Vit E. Enhances immunity, one of the best antioxidants, and is involved with over 300 functions in the body.
**** Coenzyme Q10: (ubiquinone) very expensive but is great for energy, athletes, and aids in circulation.
***Pangamic acid: (B15) This used to be illegal in the U.S. For a long time it was used by Russian athletes who dominated the Olympics in several sports a while back because of it. It increases that rate of natural creatine phosphorylation, makes energy, and has anabolic affects. The best thing is there are no known toxicities. You can take a lot of it. It's hard to find, but I found some in the form of calcium pangamate. It might be interesting to try.
Minerals: best to take at night for healing, Vitamins are best to take in morning for function. The next set of nutrients are minerals.
Calcium:(calcium citrate or calcium malate are two of the most absorbable forms) The latest rage is coral calcium. Most abundant mineral in the body. A couple of things you need to be aware of. Calcium needs an acidic environment to be absorbed, so the concept of Tums with calcium in an antacid is one of the most ridiculous things ever. Most important for woman teens to start taking 1500 mg per day throughout life. This is why. For ease of explanation I will use percentages. Say that 60% calcium is the cutoff for calcium leading to osteoporosis and essentially having weak bones. Women especially need to get that level up to 85-95% because when they hit menopause it drastically reduces. So being at 62% before menopause won't do it. Tons of new research is being done now on calcium and it is important to watch it. I can give more info if you're interested.
*****Chromium: maintains normal blood sugar and HDL levels that are the good ones. Can help with fat loss and lean muscle gain. It has been used specifically for athletic performance.
Copper: helps with superoxide dismutase, which is the most important antioxidant in the body.
Iron: This is a good thing for your RBC's, but keep in mind that athletes can get what is called physiological anemia, which is when athlete's bodies are working efficiently they make the best use of the iron that they can, so anemia on a blood test might not be because of low iron, it might just mean that the athlete's blood is working very well.
Magnesium: very important to take with Calcium. It is the number 1 cause of muscle spasm if it is low. Found in dark green leafy veggies and nuts.
Manganese: aids in healthy bone, skin and cartilage
Potassium: Helps to regulate water balance. Found mostly in bananas, which is one fruit that will spike your blood glucose.
Selenium: Activates glutathione peroxidase, which is a powerful antioxidant. It is very good to protect against cancer.
Vanadium: Bone growth and glucose control.
*******************Zinc: component of more than 300 enzyme systems, great for immunity and healing especially after vigorous exercise. VERY IMPORTANT. It is deficient in people who drink a lot and eat a diet high in carbs.
Herbs: The next set are herbs which can be as strong as drugs but have much fewer side effects. There are tons more that I know about that I won't mention here, just ask and I can fill in more info if you are interested.
Alfalfa: One of the most nutrient dense food because its roots structure goes 60 feet into the ground. Good to put on a salad.
Aloe Vera: Good for wound healing and constipation
Bilberry: Excellent for vision, and is very safe
*****Boswellia: (boswellic acid), good to keep around. It is in a cream and pill form. It works great and is as strong as other non steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines but it doesn't cause the stomach problems. Good to put the cream on sprained ankles.
****** Arnica Montana: it is actually a homeopathic remedy. I've had some experience with it and heard some amazing stories about it. It basically stimulates your immune response after injury (like a badly sprained ankle) and drastically reduces healing time. Doctors are using it a lot now pre and post surgery and having great results. They dissolve under your tongue in a few seconds. You can find it in some herbal stores and online. The sooner you can take it after injury the better.
Catnip: great for insomnia, not that any runners have a problem with that.
Dandelion: Long roots hence lot of nutrients. It's the only diuretic that works without depleting potassium.
Echinacea: Good for immune function and flu. Don't take more than 10-14 days at a time.
************Garlic: This is one of the best things for anyone. Best to chew one the cloves to get the allicin out. Great for you heart, decreases platelet stickiness, calms the stomach, and a wide range of other things including supporting immune function.
I'm not going to include ginseng. It is an herbal speed and should not be taken regularly. If you are interested contact me.
Ginko: Improves circulation in the brain especially which is why memory and brain function can be seen, but a good B-Complex is better.
St. John's wart: it is an antidepressant and should not be taken for long periods and not everyday. People way over use this. Its very common and not used properly and that is the only reason I mention it now. It basically keeps serotonin around longer which makes you feel good, but it not for an everyday thing, so if you know someone taking it everyday its not a good idea.
Tea tree oil: Good to prevent scarring and for athletes foot. And superficial yeast infections
The rest are sporadic vitamins, minerals, herbs and thoughts.
Inositol: calming effect and has an anti-cholesterol effect.
Bioflavinoids: Used extensively in the treatment of athletic injuries especially pain relief, bumps, and bruises. They are found widely in citrus fruits.
Germanium: Helps with cellular oxygenation
Alpha lipoic acid: strong antioxidant, and recycles vit E and C. Aids in the absorption of coenzyme Q10.
Chondroitin sulfate: Tough and flexible cartilage and CT. Attracts water into joints which maintains them and keeps them healthy.
Acidophillis: Great for female athletes with yeast infection problems. Also good for general digestive function.
As I was saying before there is a lot more I didn't touch on, so if you have questions about anything I mentioned here, or have other questions about other supplements, or if you have specific symptoms of diseases your interested in treating nutritionally feel free to ask and I'm sure I can help. Just about anything you can think of. My email is is firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are a couple companies that produce the best vitamins for several reason which include, Da Vinci Laboratories, Metagenics, and Anabolic Labs. Be sure when you are shopping for this stuff to buy the active forms, pure nutrients, a microcrystalline cellulose delivery system, and not a ton of extra junk. If there is 700 ingredients think twice. Some of the higher grade things cost more, but you certainly get out what you put into your body. A lot of this stuff really isn't that expensive though. Just realize that most of the stuff at Walmart is crap. Don't waste your money. I encourage you though to look around and see what is available and what it is that you are specifically looking for. The most important thing though is to try to supplement these things from eating the right foods of course, so if you need food sources on something let me know please. Stay away from preservatives when you can. It's the best place to start. I would recommend a GOOD B-complex which is only $8-12, and a good multivitamin. The rest of the stuff you can experiment with. All I ask is that if something works especially well for you let me know about it.
*******Don't forget: cigarettes have over 200 known carcinogens in them. Meaning 200 things know to cause cancer.
*******The other big thing to remember the way most people die besides accidents are disease processes that can be avoided with proper nutrition and exercise.
******* Just because you are an athlete an in good shape doesn't mean you can eat anything you want. You need to actually eat better or at some point your body won't perform to the level you want it to.