By Claire Bacon, ACN, CNC
As I am writing this, I myself am recovering from a full-on weekend warrior event: the Reebok Ragnar Tennessee Relay. For a duration of 28 hours, eleven of my friends and I consecutively passed our Ragnar wrist strap 200 miles from Chattanooga to Nashville. We ran all day Friday, all through the night, and most of Saturday. It was an epic adventure that bonded us as friends, based on a mutual respect of our abilities, passion, and humor as we gleefully cheered each other on – to an amazing 3rd place finish! Looking back, I realize how many small decisions about fueling went into our individual performances, and that of the team.
It surprised most of us to realize that the median age of our team was 49. We had quite a few ladies over 50 years old who are still running at the top of their game. How inspiring is it to know you don’t have to hang up your shoes just because of a few more birthdays?!? While driving around in our van, we all had plenty of time to compare stories of PRs and racing in exotic locations. But we also talked about injury, recovery, and taking care of our bodies with longevity in mind. At the end of our trek, we all took note that we had done a great job at FUELING… we had no “bonking” (zapped energy) on the course, we had no digestive issues that sent us into the woods, and no perceived issues of “oh no, I shouldn’t have eaten that”.
Choosing your food wisely is important for any person to remain healthy, but it’s absolutely essential for any athlete looking to maintain top performance along with normal hormonal patterns, glycemic management, and restful sleep. Just because you work out a lot and have achieved a “fit-looking” body, doesn’t mean you’re healthy on the inside. All too often, the life of an athlete revolves around sugary snacks, caffeine, carb loading, high-glycemic starches and GUs, all in the name of having “energy to burn”. Nothing could be further from the truth, if you want to be a healthy and strong athlete for a long time into the future.
I have compiled some nutrition tips from these beautiful ladies, for your benefit as well as for your active family members. My goal is to dispel some myths regarding our fuel choices, so you can take this info into achieving your next level of success.
Fueling: Carb Loading
This is such an outdated concept, that you need a massive load of carbohydrates to keep your muscles moving fast. There are endurance events all over the country promoting their big “pasta dinner” the night before the race, but it’s more about having a cheap place to eat with your friends than actually doing something your body needs. When you eat carbohydrates (from grains, fruit and vegetables) any glucose that is not needed immediately for energy is converted into glycogen and stored for later use in the liver, and to a lesser extent, the muscles. Your body can store around 2,000 calories’ worth of glycogen, which is a lot more than most people expend, even in a vigorous workout. Sometimes I see people sucking down a GU within the first mile or two of an event. At that point, there is no way to have used up your glycogen reserve! Unneeded sugars will just inflame the body and suppress the immune system.
Nutrient Dense Fuel
One of the first things Dr. Bob taught me was that I can get the majority of the carbohydrates I need from vegetables, not grains. Gradually, I trusted this insight and started training with less empty calories. Eventually, with stronger digestion, my body became more of a fat burner and less inflamed from all the grains and sugars (less joint pain and muscle soreness, less desire to snack, and better skin). My favorite healthy fats to include on a regular basis are: avocado with sea salt, coconut oil with butter 50/50 for cooking, and liquid coconut MCT oil in smoothies. The medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil are readily used as energy, and are very easy to digest. Read an interesting study here.
Race Day Fuel
Certainly, on race morning and on days of long endurance training, more complex carbs make it into my diet. Breakfast might consist of a mash-up of nut butter, sweet potato, a piece of banana and cinnamon, or possibly a little oatmeal mixed with butter, coconut oil, hemp seed and cinnamon. I try hard not to grab a “protein” bar that often includes soy isolate and added sugar. But meals later in the day are always designed to offset the carb-heavy breakfast, by including nutrient-dense greens (kale or spinach), with other meat and vegetable sources of protein (chicken, fish, beans) and of course some healthy fat (avocado, coconut or palm oil, butter or ghee). I try to use anti-inflammatory herbs and spices whenever possible: fresh garlic, ginger and turmeric.
Fueling: Issues with Chocolate Milk
There is no shortage of professional athletes touting chocolate milk as the perfect recovery drink. But hang on a moment… although chocolate milk tastes great, check out these ingredients: Lowfat Milk, Liquid Sugar (Sugar, Water), Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Cocoa, Dextrose, Salt, Carrageenan, Guar Gum, Vanillin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3.
Milk on its own can be extremely hard for many adults to digest. As we age, our enzyme production naturally decreases, and milk sugars require a lot of the lactase enzyme to successfully be digested. If enzymes are insufficient, this can lead to uncomfortable bloating, diarrhea and gas. If you love milk, but get symptoms from the conventional, pasteurized stuff, try some raw, unpasteurized cheese or raw milk (labeled “pet milk”). Raw milk products still contain the beneficial bacteria and enzymes that contribute to its easy digestion; they are just a little tricky to find.
With the naturally occurring milk sugars, the added sugar and added dextrose (another sweetener) you’ve got a whole lot of sweetness that can add up to empty, unneeded calories. Lowfat milk is not the health product the dairy industry wants us to believe. Check out this study comparing the effects of low fat vs. full fat milk here.
Carrageenan, which has no nutritional value, is often used as a thickener and emulsifier to improve the texture of ice cream, yogurt, and other processed dairy foods.Some animal studies have linked carrageenan to ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, along with other stomach problems.
Guar gum can be a problem for some people due to cross-reactivity within the same botanical family. If you feel you are sensitive to increased inflammation caused by legumes,stay away from guar gum.
Vitamin A Palmitate sounds good, but it’s a questionable ingredient. Read more here.
Bottom line, pasteurized chocolate milk has the potential to inflame many people’s digestive systems and create mucus elsewhere in the body. If it works for you, great. But for most adults, I don’t believe it lives up to the marketing and hype.
Fueling: Digestive Power
We always say in our nutrition consults that the appropriate food and supplements for you are purely individual. What is right for you might not be right for another. This was so obvious at dinner mid-race Friday night. We chose a restaurant with the most options in Cowan, TN; actually we may have chosen the only restaurant in Cowan, TN! Most of us got some combination of easy-to-digest chicken, sweet potato and a little salad, with water. But we had one crazy girl (there’s one in every bunch!) who ordered a steak and salad. We were all shocked! “For real, how will you digest that in time?” But somehow she did! You should have seen the smokin’ run this little 5′-0″ powerhouse threw down two hours later. Some people have superb hydrochloric acid production that can break down tough proteins very quickly. For the rest of us, we have Zypan. 🙂
Several people I have spoken with since the end of the event have asked how sore I am. “Oh my gosh, you must be so sore!” But I’m not, and it’s certainly not due to being perfectly trained up for the event. For sure, I was under-trained. I attribute the lack of soreness to being very careful about my food choices leading up to and during the event. No inflammatory gluten, no dairy, and less of my individual sensitivities like almonds. Plus I supported my digestion and recovery well with enzymes such as:
- protease, and
- hemicellulase, etc.
These enzymes are like magic Pac-Men that help you digest your food or that clean up tissue debris when taken on an empty stomach. I also treated myself to some anti-inflammatory Boswellia Complex with Black Currant Seed Oil along the way.
What’s the problem with Advil, Tylenol and other OTC anti-inflammatories? Basically, they shut down the communication between the brain and the site of injury. You may not feel the pain, but then the brain is also not sending the repair troops down there to fix the damage. All you’re doing is delaying your healing response more comfortably. Not only that, but acetaminophen is associated with something you really don’t want: sudden liver failure.
Fueling: Performance Enhancing
A friend of mine asked me recently, “Do you have any supplements that are performance enhancing, that could get you disqualified or in trouble?” I guess to someone who is not familiar with clinical nutrition, but has only heard of the scandals in the professional sports world, “supplementation” is a scary word. The answer is yes and no. Yes, we have many supplements that build the body up:
- to increase resistance from the effects of physical stress,
- to feed the circulatory system what it needs to work efficiently,
- to increase the oxygenation of tissues, and
- to ease the effects of nervousness when you’re on the spot.
But no, none of what we have available is illegal or banned from any sport that I’m aware of. We do not promote the use of hormones or anything artificial that would present any sort of problem like that.
For this particular race, my extra (non-maintenance) support consisted of:
- Drenamin and Ashwagandha Complex for my adrenals, to deal with the stress of intense exercise with little to no sleep,
- Cardio-Plus to support my heart and oxygen-carrying capacity,
- Betafood (beets!) to promote nitric oxide, and
- Boswellia with Black Currant Seed Oil to assist with recovery.
These were on top of my regular digestive support and minerals that I enjoy every day. But by no means were these the only choices. If you are doing nutrition with us, you probably have something “performance enhancing” in your pill box, too!
Maybe for you it’s Adrenal Desiccated, Eleuthero, or Tribulus for an extra boost in hormonal power. Or maybe you like Cataplex B-Core, Cyruta Plus or Vasculin to promote cardiovascular health. Sometimes, we recommend taking a few extra of these before a workout. If you have suffered an injury, you may have benefited from Ligaplex I or Divine Nature Inflammation Response (available in-office). These are our favorites to speed healing and repair of your ligaments and tendons.
Everything you put in your mouth has the power to take you towards vibrant power and longevity, or towards a slow, malnourished death. The choice is yours!