More so than ever, professional athletes are paying closer attention to the foods they are putting into their bodies. Elite competitors understand the quality of food they consume directly correlates to their athletic performance. Athletes look to nutrition for a competitive edge, as well as a way to extend the longevity of their career. In this week’s post, we will focus on ways you can maximize your athletic performance and overall health using proper nutrition.
All foods are composed of three macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Fad diets, such as the ketogenic (high fat) and Atkins (high protein), claim that eating one macronutrient is the best for human health. However, for an athlete to perform at their highest potential they need to find a macronutrient ratio that best suits their sport and maximizes the amount of micronutrients they are consuming. Micronutrients refer to the vitamins and minerals found in food and are essential to human health and athletic recovery. Foods highest in micronutrients include organic fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, grass-fed meat, and wild caught fish and shellfish. In general, the best diet for athletes is one rich in diverse vitamins and minerals and has a balanced macronutrient distribution suited to a particular sport.
Different macros for different sports
Based on your activity level, there is a certain balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that will suit you best and enhance your performance.
The power sport athlete – sprinting, weightlifting, discus, football – will function best on a diet high in carbohydrates and protein. These athletes need quick burning fuel, and carbohydrates are the best source of energy for the body to metabolize in high intensity exercises. Power sport athletes will also require adequate post-exercise protein to repair the damage done to muscle tissues.
The endurance athlete – long distance running, swimming, rock climbing, cycling – will function best on a diet high in fats and carbohydrates. Dietary fat is the most energy dense macronutrient, but it is also the slowest to metabolize, making it ideal for endurance athletes who need to fuel their bodies for longer periods of time. Carbohydrates and protein are also important for these athletes as they need to restore muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores and repair damaged tissues following exercise.
Following these general guidelines, athletes from each subset should maintain a balanced macronutrient distribution. The endurance runner needs dietary protein to repair their damaged tissues following a long, grueling race, while the power sport athlete needs dietary fats to maintain the health of their cell membranes, brain, and nerves.
Adopt a lifestyle, not a diet
When we exercise and metabolize foods for fuel, metabolic waste products are created causing inflammation in the body. However, post-workout inflammation is not inherently bad and is beneficial to stimulating growth. Nevertheless, if an athlete is eating a pro-inflammatory diet, the compounding effect of exercise, plus poor nutrition, can create a state of chronic inflammation in the body. As a result of athletes continually breaking down their bodies and causing normal post-exercise inflammation, they need to ensure their diets do not cause more inflammation. The goal of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle is to increase the amount of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, while decreasing the amount of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
Foods that are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and lower inflammation levels include grass-fed meat, wild caught fish and shellfish, organic vegetables, fruits, stem tubers and roots (yams and sweet potatoes), nuts, omega-3 seeds (hemp, chia, and flax), and dark chocolate with a cocoa content greater than 85%. These foods are also the richest in micronutrients and should be the focus of any athlete’s diet.
Foods that are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and cause chronic inflammation in the body include refined sugars and grains, grain flour products, trans fats, alcohol, and refined omega-6 seed oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, and other vegetable oils). Dairy products and nightshade vegetables (white potatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, and tomatoes) may be pro-inflammatory for some athletes, and a food sensitivity test will help to determine if the athlete should be consuming these foods or not. Athletes who decrease their consumption of pro-inflammatory foods, while increasing their amount of anti-inflammatory omega-3 containing foods, will notice an improvement in athletic performance, mental focus, and muscle resiliency.
An excellent resource for anti-inflammatory lifestyle information is Dr. David Seaman’s ‘de-flame diet’.
We hope you enjoyed this week’s blog post on nutrition for athletes. Please reach out if you have any questions!
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
1. Use Magnesium, Not Melatonin
For a supplement option, utilize magnesium to promote healthier sleep. Magnesium can act as an inducer of GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the body. GABA helps the body slow down internal processes, especially in the nervous system. By decreasing facilitation of nerves, we help the nerves and the muscles they supply recover, which is extremely important for successful repeat athletic performances. Magnesium comes in many different forms or ‘chelates’, and research suggests that magnesium threonate is the best inducer of GABA in the body, and will ultimately be the best choice for athletic recovery during sleep. Other supplements supported by the research include chamomile, kava kava, and Valerian root.
However, be careful about the popular sleep supplement, melatonin. While very effective for some people, it’s important to remember that melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body. This means that if you are taking the hormone externally, you run the risk of turning off your body’s natural production of the hormone, so reserve this supplement as a last ditch effort.
2. Avoid Late Night Workouts and Meals
Your late night workout or large meal close to bedtime may be disrupting your sleep. Working out late at night can increase levels of our ‘awake’ hormone, cortisol, and decrease the body’s natural release of our ‘sleep’ hormone, melatonin. Additionally, we induce a “fight or flight” sympathetic state when working out, which will make falling asleep more difficult. Shoot to finish your workout before 7pm to ensure that you give your body adequate time to calm down and relax before you go to sleep. If your schedule absolutely requires that you workout late at night, make sure to utilize effective down regulation strategies after your workout to turn off your sympathetic system and activate your “rest and digest” parasympathetic system. Excellent down regulation strategies include post workout foam rolling, static stretching, and deep breathing exercises.
Choosing to eat dinner late at night may also disrupt your sleep. Embedded in the lining of the digestive tract is the enteric nervous system, a complex web of neurons that has been called the ‘second brain.’ The enteric nervous system is important for the muscular contractions that move food through the digestive tract, the secretion of digestive enzymes, and communication with the brain via the vagus nerve. The importance of the connection between the gut and the brain via the vagus nerve cannot be understated, especially when one considers that 90% of the nerve communication moves from the gut to the brain. In regards to healthy sleep, it makes sense that an active digestive system will send stimulatory signals from the digestive tract to the brain, keeping us awake at night. Keeping this in mind, I like to finish eating at least 90 minutes before bedtime.
3. Foam Rolling for the Nervous System
Many professional athletes utilize massage therapy as a post-performance or before bed treatment. Massage has been shown to decrease cortisol levels (which are naturally high after exercise), while increasing serotonin and oxytocin, two hormones associated with relaxation and our parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ state. While most of us do not have access to a nightly massage, a 10-minute foam rolling session before bed can have a similar down-regulating effect on the nervous system and promote healthy sleep. Focus on the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, as these areas may be prone to tightness after a full day of exercise or after a long day of sitting at work.
4. Consistency is Key
As with any health and fitness related goal you are looking to achieve in life, consistency and adherence to a predetermined plan is essential. Make it a point to wake up, as well as go to sleep, within the same 60 to 90 minute time frame every morning and evening, even on the weekends. Do your best to schedule social activities during the day and evening so that you don’t feel like you missed out on anything by not staying up late on the weekends. Sporting events, outdoor activities like skiing and hiking, or a trip to the botanical gardens are excellent ways to have fun on the weekends without sacrificing your sleep schedule.
Want to learn more? Check out Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. Many of the ideas mentioned above are draw on methods from this book.
Post Written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
Sleep: Sleep is when our body can turn off and focus on internal processes of growth and recovery. Research suggests that athletes may have a harder time falling asleep and also do not get as high quality of sleep as non-athletes. In particular, athletes take longer to fall asleep once in bed, termed sleep latency, and also do not get as much deep sleep, or ‘slow-wave-sleep.’ One potential explanation is that competitive sports induce a sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ dominant hormonal state in the body. In this state, adrenaline and noradrenaline are secreted into the bloodstream where they cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, and blood flow to our exercising muscles. While this hormonal state is exactly what athletes need to sprint a 400m race, play four quarters of a grueling football game, or to knock their opponent out in a UFC cage fight, this state is not conducive for healthy sleep. The inability for athletes to turn off their sympathetic “fight or flight system” and allow the parasympathetic “rest and digest” system to take over is one of the main reasons athletes have trouble sleeping at night. Here are some suggestions on how top athletes can improve sleep hygiene and radically improve performance.
1. Avoid Blue Light
Limiting social media use and blue light emitting screen time 60 to 90 minutes before bed is the first step towards healthier sleep. Blue light can stimulate the frontal lobe of the brain, which among other functions, serves to help humans with complex problem solving. We all know the feeling of lying in bed at night trying to fall asleep while our brain continues to work out issues from the previous day. Additionally, excessive blue light exposure in the evening can disrupt the body’s natural sleep wake cycle, which is known as Circadian rhythm. The Circadian rhythm is directly influenced by light exposure on the eyes, and is important for regulating sleep, appetite, and hormonal release. When the Circadian rhythm is disrupted by excessive artificial light in the evening, the body’s natural release of our ‘sleep’ hormone, melatonin, is decreased. On the flip side, getting as much sunlight exposure during the day can increase the release of our ‘awake’ hormone, cortisol. If cortisol release in the morning and early afternoon is not adequate due to lack of sunlight, cortisol will be released in the evening, causing a host of health problems extending much further than poor sleep.
Expose yourself to as much natural sunlight during the day as possible, then turn off your phone, television, and artificial light in your homes to quiet your brain before bed.
2. Skip Your Afternoon Cup of Coffee
The half-life of caffeine is around 5 to 8 hours depending on the rate at which your body metabolizes caffeine in addition to your individual sensitivity to caffeine. This means that if you consume a standard cup of black coffee at 4pm with 100 mg of caffeine, 50 mg of caffeine will be circulating in your bloodstream when you go to bed at 9 or 10 pm. As you can imagine, caffeine circulating in your bloodstream will negatively affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter, suggests setting a ‘caffeine curfew’ for yourself. Ideally, your caffeine curfew will be around 12:00 pm to ensure that most of the caffeine has metabolized out of your bloodstream by the time you are winding down for bed. Foods such as dark chocolate, breakfast cereals, and pudding all contain caffeine so should be avoided after your curfew. Common headache medications such as Excedrin and Bayer also contain caffeine and use should be limited after your curfew. Finally, females should be aware that common PMS medications contain caffeine, since the diuretic effects of caffeine help decrease bloating.
For some, meditation before bed can help improve sleep quality. Taking just 10 minutes before bed to perform a guided meditation is an excellent way to induce a sense of relaxation in the body through the use of breathing techniques and focusing on body awareness. Performing deep, slow breaths through the nose induces a state of relaxation in the body which is conducive for healthy sleep. Popular apps include Calm, Headspace, and Waking Up.
Another excellent option to improve sleep is to read before bed. Reading before bed is the best way to turn the brain off and relax the mind from the events of the day. However, while reading self-help novels or books related to your job or career are important, they seem to keep the brain in problem solving mode and are not helpful for falling asleep, so stick to fictional or other genres that will help you decompress.
Want to learn more? Check out Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. Many of the ideas mentioned above draw on methods from this book.
Post Written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
This is a recipe I love to eat for any meal of the day. It takes very little prep time and makes several servings. Enjoy!
- 1 medium spaghetti squash (about 21⁄2 pounds)
- 4 tablespoons butter, ghee, or coconut oil, divided
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 medium carrot, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1⁄2 medium yellow onion, minced
- 1 small red bell pepper, diced
- 1 pound chicken (ground or diced chicken breast) I have also used ground beef in this recipe and its delicious as well
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1⁄4 teaspoon Continue reading Buffalo Chicken Casserole
Packed with nuts, dates and cinnamon, these Paleo Nut Energy Bars are perfect for pre or post crossfit sessions, ski/snowboard day, cycling a century ride or a coffee shop commute.
10 min Prep Time
17 min Cook Time
27 min Total Time Continue reading The World’s Greatest Paleo Nut Energy Bars
4 things you can do at home to keep your shoulders healthy and pain free
Much emphasis gets put on the rotator cuff and it’s importance to shoulder health. Yes the rotator cuff is very important, but the rotator cuff consists of only 4 very small muscles, whose primary function is stabilization and keeping the shoulder properly in the socket. The rotator cuff cannot do its job on its own and needs a ton of help from the muscles and joints around it.
In order to truly keep our shoulders healthy Continue reading Healthy Pain Free Shoulders
Preventing Carpal Tunnel and Elbow Pain
Preventing Carpal Tunnel and Elbow Pain in the Workplace
When people sit and type all day they often get concerned about carpal tunnel and elbow pain.
The repeated typing, finger flexion, and wrist flexion tightens down our finger and wrist flexors creating shortness of the muscles and ligaments. Combine this with poor posture, the typical American diet, stress, and we have a recipe for carpal tunnel like symptoms and elbow pain.
Most carpal tunnel like symptoms aren’t true carpal tunnel Continue reading Carpal Tunnel and Elbow Pain
Desk Ergonomics: For comfort and pain relief
How to Set Up your Desk
Your computer set up whether sitting or standing should look like this.
- Computer screen directly in front of you at eye level. Bring your computer to you. If you have to lean forward to see your screen it is either too small or too far away. Bring the computer closer or zoom in on your screen. Straining with the eyes will cause Continue reading Desk Ergonomics
Take a look at some of the best athletes in the world and their posture.
All these athletes have very strong postures. Notice the Continue reading Better Posture for Better Performance