Nutrition for the Serious athlete

Nutrition for the Serious or Professional Athlete

This newsletter article focuses on the professional or serious athlete. It really does not matter which sport the athlete is involved in, but instead, it is critical to understand the importance of nutritional support that is required to protect the health of the athlete and enhance his or her performance. The athlete is always trying everything possible to enhance their performance.

Providing the proper macronutrients and micronutrients is not only a critical aspect of protecting one’s health but also enhancing one’s athletic performance. Even though athletes are usually very well informed about nutrition and supplementation, they are frequently confused because there is so much conflicting information that is being promoted to the athlete. This month’s newsletter will shine a light on this subject from a medical standpoint, and hopefully give the reader a much better understanding of what is necessary to achieve both goals of optimal performance and optimal health.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper—the “King of Aerobics”

I have always been a fan of Dr. Kenneth Cooper who first coined the term “aerobics” in the early 1970’s. He literally began the exercise craze that has swept the US and western world. Initially, Dr. Cooper recommended the equivalent of 15 miles of aerobic activity every week as the ideal amount of exercise an individual needed to receive the optimal health benefits of exercise. Whether it was 15 miles of walking or running really did not matter. The individual could even choose to swim, play racquetball or tennis, or ride a bike, as long as the aerobic output was equivalent to running or walking 15 miles per week. He felt that any amount of exercise above this recommendation was simply frosting on the cake and “Super-Exercisers” and professional athletes were looked upon as the healthiest people in the world.

In 1994, Dr. Cooper wrote a book called The Antioxidant Revolution [Thomas Nelson]. The main reason that he wrote this book was to caution everyone that over exercising could actually be dangerous to their health. When an individual has a mild to moderate workout, the number of “free radicals” they produce goes up only a little. However, when they have a hard workout, the number of free radicals goes up exponentially, or in other words, off the chart. If these excessive free radicals are not quickly neutralized by an antioxidant, they go on to create more volatile free radicals, damage the vessel wall, cell wall, DNA of the nucleus, proteins, and fats. Exposure to these excessive free radicals can damage your immune system and lead to diseases like heart disease, strokes, cancer, Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, and the list goes on and on. Dr. Cooper noted in his book that he was seeing “Super-Exercisers” coming into his AerobicCenter who were dying prematurely of heart disease, cancer, strokes, and a host of other degenerative diseases. These were individuals who were only 45 to 55 years of age. This is what led him to write this book in the first place. He wanted to caution the professional or serious athlete that if they were going to continue aggressive workouts, they needed to be taking high levels of antioxidants. This can help prevent the oxidative stress by neutralizing these excessive free radicals produced by this over exercise.

Nutritional Supplementation

I personally believe that all of my patients need what I refer to as an>Cellular Nutrition. It is important that this cellular nutrition includes a complete and balanced antioxidant and mineral tablet along with a calcium/magnesium tablet, and essential fats (flax seed or fish oil capsule). However, anyone who must handle excessive free radicals, whether it is the result of an underlying disease or excessive exercise, needs to be adding optimizers to the regime. I have taught my patients and athletes for years that balance is the key. You need to have enough antioxidants on board to handle the number of free radicals you produce. If this is accomplished, you don’t develop this oxidative stress that can lead to these serious health problems. The serious athlete needs to be adding potent optimizers to their cellular nutrition each and every day that they have a hard workout or are competing. This can easily be accomplished by adding an additional antioxidant tablet along with some additional grape seed extract (90 to 180 mg) and CoQ10 (60 mg gel-form). This cellular nutrition along with these optimizers will optimize your antioxidant defense system, repair system, and immune system. Your recovery from your hard workouts will be much faster, and your overall performance will be enhanced. Since your immune system is also being optimized, you will find yourself much more resistant to infections and illness. Clinical studies with marathon runners have shown that about one-third of these individuals experience a major viral illness two weeks prior to a major competition and another third will experience a major viral illness two weeks following their competition. How sad it is for athletes who train so hard and so diligently to have to withdraw or have a sub-par performance because they became ill.

Macronutrition

Athletes tend to be the world’s best or worst eaters. I have heard so many serious athletes tell me in my office that one of the reasons they work out so hard is so that they can eat anything they want. Well, there is no doubt that well-trained athletes have a greater margin for eating whatever they would like without suffering near the consequences of normal individuals. However, can you imagine how well athletes could perform if they not only were in excellent condition, but were also providing their body with optimal nutrition? Especially athletes who have to perform for great lengths of time, like crosscountry runners, marathon runners, track and field performers, golfers, soccer players, football players, or basketball players. Any time you must be at your peak both mentally and physically for greater than one to two hours, how you take in your fats, proteins, and carbohydrates is very critical to your performance. For years, athletes have been told that they need to “carbohydrate load” prior to any competition in order to optimize their glycogen stores (source of quick energy). However, over 85 to 90% of the carbohydrates most of them were consuming were either highly-processed or high-glycemic. This leads to a roller-coaster ride for your blood sugars, which ultimately causes you to fall into this low-blood sugar range or hypoglycemia. You must realize that our brain thinks on blood sugar.

In order to remain focused and have the ability to concentrate, your blood sugars need to be stable. However, when your blood sugars are vacillating and dropping into this hypoglycemic or low blood sugar range, you can become weak and easily lose your focus. This also causes the release of our stress hormones that are needed to get this blood sugar back up into a normal range. However, it can also cause this vicious cycle of roller-coaster blood sugars to continue. What is sad is the fact that you can easily maximize your glycogen stores by simply eating the good lowglycemic carbohydrates. This will also stabilize your blood sugars and allow you to be mentally alert for prolonged periods of time during your workouts or competition.

Many athletes, especially power-athletes, feel they must be consuming high quantities of protein. This again is a fallacy. Your body needs protein, but it also needs fats and carbohydrates. If you are going to have any chance of optimizing your athletic performance, you need to be consuming good proteins, good fats, and good carbohydrates. The protein is critical for helping to repair muscle; however, good fats are needed to provide the hormonal production your body needs along with producing the body’s natural anti-inflammatories. Good carbohydrates provide the body’s preferred fuel source—glucose, along with all the important antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins these foods contain.

In my book, Healthy for Life, I discuss this problem in detail. I also give very specific guidelines regarding good fats, good proteins, and good carbohydrates. Any serious or professional athlete is going to be able to optimize their performance significantly by following these basic guidelines. You can order this book on my web site. Remember, you never should go hungry; however, when you do become hungry you should eat good proteins, good fats, and good carbohydrates. This way you will be providing your body with the nutrients it requires for optimal function.

Hydration

When I ran in high school and college track, it was absolutely forbidden to drink any water during our workouts. It was as if you were a pansy if you needed to drink water. How ironic it is to learn that when we lose even 1% of our hydration, our strength can decrease up to 15%. Fortunately, athletes in all sports are encouraged to drink water during workouts and competition. It is essential to remain well-hydrated for peak performance. However, I must caution you, what the body needs is water not sugar. Sports drinks are the worse thing that you could drink during competition, because although it provides water and some electrolytes, it also is loaded with highglycemic sugars. When you are working out or competing you may note a boost to your energy for a short 15 to 20 minutes; however, within a very short time your blood sugar will come crashing down along with you. Please, just drink water, or at the most drink water with some electrolytes, but nothing with sugar.

Rest—the Over-Training Syndrome

Finally, I want to discuss the principle of rest. The body actually becomes stronger during rest. Any muscle that has been broken down through training needs time to repair and heal itself. This simply takes time. If you are continually breaking down your muscles in an attempt to “get in shape,” your body will eventually collapse—the Over-Training Syndrome. Rest is not only critical but essential for the peak performance of the athlete. Your body needs at least 2 days of complete rest during the week. For weightlifters, you should not work a muscle to exhaustion without allowing that particular muscle or muscle group to rest for at least 4 days or ideally for 1 week following that workout. Now I realize that during your competitive season, it is difficult to get 2 days of complete rest—especially for team sports. However, most coaches now realize that rest along with light workouts is essential for optimal performance. If your muscles are becoming weaker instead of stronger, if you are not recovering as quickly from your workout, if you just do not feel well, consider the fact that you may be developing the “over-training syndrome.”

Incre
asing your antioxidant supplements will help; however, rest is critical. The sooner you recognize this problem, the sooner you can recover from its horrible consequences.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this will give you some guidelines for anyone who is a serious or professional athlete. This is also great information for anyone who is just trying to develop a modest, consistent exercise program. Exercise is critical for optimal health. The serious athlete along with the professional athlete needs to take extra precautions in order to optimize their performance and at the same time protect their health.