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Recovering From An Injury – Part 3: Nutrition

One of the most constant messages that I share with my clients daily is the importance of consistency.  I encourage my clients to be better by 1% every day at something: sleep, food, hydration, flexibility, mental skills, warm up, cool-down, etc.

When it comes to developing sport-specific and cross training protocols, I always err on the side of caution because the ONLY two things that are guaranteed to slow down or even halt progression is an illness or an injury.  Avoiding an illness can be done by combining three things: 1) evaluating the body’s response to training volume and intensity, 2) eating enough quality and quantity of food to support the immune system, and finally, 3) allowing the body to rest long enough and deep enough to absorb the stress of life and rejuvenate itself nightly.

Unfortunately, avoiding an injury isn’t always as easy as it seems.  As the old saying goes within the athletic world, “It isn’t IF you are going to get injured, but WHEN”.  Once injured, how to deal with it is often as convoluted as nutrition –  Do I apply ice or heat?  Should I cast or not cast?, Should I exercise or rest?… just to mention a few. Before we can answer these specific types of questions, we must determine the type of injury – whether it is tissue related or bone.

The Body is the Sum Total of Bones and Soft Tissue

Think of the body’s musculoskeletal system and a combination of soft tissue and bones.  In addition to holding up the overall weight of the body (lean muscle mass and adipose/fat tissue), bones stabilize and work with muscles to create movement and maintain body posturing.  Visualize the muscles “pulling” against the attachment to the bone to create movement.  Without muscles, bones don’t move.  Without bones, muscles can’t pull.

Soft Tissue

Soft tissue has three major functions – to connect, support and to protect the organs of the body. There are also two types of soft tissue. The connective tissue includes tendons which connect muscles to bones; ligaments that connect bones to bones; fascia, skin, fibrous tissue, fat, and synovial membranes which serve as lubricants for the joints. The non-connective tissue are the muscles, nerves and blood.

Bone

There are 206 bones in the body that work collectively to support five major functions:

  1. Support: the framework for muscles, soft tissue and organs to attach.
  2. Movement: visualize bones as leverage points to generate movement.
  3. Protection: the skull protects the brain; the spine protects the nerves in the spinal column; and the ribs protect the lungs, heart and liver.
  4. Production of red blood cells: the center of the bone cavity is referred to as “red marrow” which is the source of production for red and white cells.
  5. Storage of minerals and lipids (fats): bones retain 99% of the calcium found in the body. Calcium salts help maintain calcium and phosphate ions in body fluids. The body stores lipids for energy reserves in the yellow marrow.

Two Types of Injuries

There are two types of injuries – acute and chronic. An acute, or impact injury typically occurs from an accident such as a head injury (concussion), broken bone, sprains, dislocations, Achilles tendon rupture, and rotator cuff tears of the shoulder. This type of injury requires immediate medical attention. A chronic injury, on the other hand, develops slowly and is persistent and long lasting. The pain is enough to capture your attention, but not so bad that it keeps you from continuing activity. A chronic injury is usually addressed with the RICE acronym – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

Nutrition Strategies to Heal as Quickly as Possible

Most people don’t realize it, but nutrition plays a vital role in the healing process. Key nutritional strategies when recovering from an injury include:

  1. Refrain from cutting back on calories. This is counter-productive to recovery as it actually will slow down the healing process. Fruits, vegetables, and lean protein are low on the calorie scale, but big on the nutritional density scale.
  2. Eat fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin C. Vitamin C helps make collagen, an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory that will facilitate the recovery process from the inside out. Sources: citrus fruit, bell peppers, dark greens, kiwi broccoli, tomatoes, mango and papaya.
  3. Consume protein-rich foods such as salmon, red meat, chicken, tofu, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. These types of food are high in amino acids which are the building block for new tissue and help prevent excessive inflammation.
  4. Eat foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, sardines, walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds. Not commonly known is that Omega-3 facilities new muscle generation reducing muscle loss during immobilization, as well as preventing excessive inflammation.
  5. Avoid Omega-6 fats which can increase inflammation within the body. These are found in corn, canola, cottonseed, soy, and sunflower oils.
  6. Add zinc to your diet. Zinc is a commonly deficient nutrient in the body but an instrumental component of many enzymes and proteins needed for tissue repair and growth. Sources: salmon, sardines, shellfish, seeds, nuts and whole grains.
  7. Eat more calcium-rich foods such as organic dairy, dark greens, sardines, broccoli, almonds, and seaweed. Calcium is a vital component to strong bones and teeth, along with aiding muscle contractions and nerve signaling.
  8. Be sure to get enough Vitamin D – whether naturally through exposure to sunlight or through your foods. Vitamin D facilitates the absorption of Calcium which speeds up bone rejuvenation, along with strengthening bones and teeth. It can also help shorten the recovery time after surgery.  Outside Sources include egg yolk, whole eggs, organic milk, salmon, sardines, tuna, shrimp, oysters, and liver.
  9. Consume foods such as free range meat, chicken and fish that are high in creatine. Creatine is known to reduce muscle mass loss, facilitate the development of muscle mass, and reestablish muscle strength.
  10. Eat more shellfish as they naturally contain Glucosamine, a vitamin known to facilitate the creation of tendons, ligaments, cartilage and speed up bone rejuvenation. Glucosamine also reduces pain associated with joint and bone injuries.

Broken Bone Specific Nutrition for Healing

In addition to Calcium and Vitamin D mentioned above, the following nutrients will facilitate the recovery process associated with a broken bone:

  1. Arginine – This amino acid is needed to produce a fracture healing compound known as nitric oxide.  Sources: free range meat, organic dairy, seafood, raw nuts and oatmeal.
  2. Inositol – Like Vitamin D, Inositol helps improve the absorption of calcium to strengthen bones and teeth.  Sources: cantaloupe, grapefruit, organs and prune.
  3. Boron – This powerhouse helps increase both calcium and magnesium retention while increasing the effectiveness of Vitamin D.  Source: raisins, prunes, Brazilian nuts, apples, bananas, celery, broccoli, chickpeas
  4. Magnesium – Facilitates bone strength and firmness. Sources: almonds, cashews, potato skins, brown rice, kidney and black-eyed peas and organic milk.
  5. Silicon – Critical element in the early stages of bone formation. Sources: whole grains, carrots, green beans, red wine, beer, brown rice, barley, oats, raw nuts, seafood and organ meats.
  6. Vitamin K1 and K2 – Improves bone strength.  Sources: kale, spinach, broccoli, egg yolk, organic dairy, organ meats, prunes, kiwis, avocado, blackberry, blueberry, grapes, hard cheese, dark chicken meat, real butter.

Top Five Nutrition Habits

  1. Consume half of your body weight in ounces of water (150 pounds /2 = 75 ounces) over 8-10-hour day.
  2. Eat every two hours to stabilize blood sugar levels – maintain mental clarity and consistent energy levels.
  3. Every time you eat, consume a fruit, a vegetable and a high-quality fat/protein item.
  4. Consume your food without the distraction of a phone, TV or computer to maximize the absorption of micro and macro nutrients.  Literally get more out of your food!
  5. Eat out no more than one time a week to avoid foods loaded in preservatives and sugars.

Take away message…

When you become injured (at any level), you are always in a race against space and time.  Understanding how to offset the inflammatory process, without slowing down the healing process, giving the body the invaluable vitamins, minerals and necessary macro nutrients to heal, repair, and grow can be directly influenced by what, when, and how much you consume and supplement.  The greater the attention to detail, the quicker the recovery!

How to Fuel Properly for Optimum Performance

Proper nutrition is such an instrumental component of performance, yet is overlooked by 90% of the racers at the starting line. A few years back, a research project associated with human performance (equipment, altitude training, endurance training, strength training, etc.), revealed that the most powerful influence on performance was attributed to hydration and nutrition habits.  Nail your nutrition and the results were stellar; miss your nutrition (even by a little) and the results were devastating.

After spending the last six to eight months training for your big race, the last 24 hours should be quite simple – exercise lightly, hydrate properly and eat correctly (quality & quantity).

Fighting Fatigue

With proper nutrition, you can offset the negative effects of fatigue in three ways:

Muscle Glycogen Depletion

Muscle glycogen is the major energy source during training and especially racing.  When your sugar storages (in your liver and muscles) are depleted, your ability to go fast for any period of time will be diminished.

Decreased Blood Sugar Levels

Blood sugar is the major fuel for the brain (from your liver) and muscles during training and racing; the higher the intensity, the quicker your body depletes itself of sugar.

Dehydration

When a muscle becomes dehydrated by as little as 3%, that muscle can lose between 10-20% of its contractile strength and also incurs an 8% loss of speed.

Nutritional Timing

Proper nutrition is all about topping of your body’s natural fuel tanks (muscles and liver) to ensure that you have enough stored energy to finish your race strong.  By choosing the correct foods at the correct times, you can delay the onset of fatigue on race day (as outlined below).

Day before a Race (8 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight) –  Consume six to eight small meals distributed throughout the day approximately two hours apart.  Choose items made from high quality carbohydrate sources: real food smoothies, brown rice, pasta, quinoa and dark breads.  Convenient snacks include fresh fruit and high quality energy bars (the Paelo Ranch Protein bars are ideal!)

Morning of the Race (75-150 grams of carbohydrates depending on your body size) – Consume your last meal two hours before your race start time to allow for complete digestion and purging in a relaxed environment.  Food items should be easily digestible and of the highest quality: real food smoothie, almond butter on a bagel or toast, slow cooked oatmeal with raisins, 2-3 egg omelets with a bowl of brightly colored fresh fruit.

After the Race – Liquid calories  are the easiest to consume and are converted quickly to “feed” the body’s needs: protein for muscle regeneration and sugar for the muscles and the liver.  

By implementing these nutritional tips and hitting proper hydration levels, you will see your body produce new levels of speed and a new level of performance! Work Smart, Not Hard! 

Eat Your Way to Your Potential

New research suggests that changing the way you eat could result in your body being able to adapt to the stress of training – especially hard training!

We all realize that nothing causes the human body to adapt to training and racing except sport specific training and racing. However, through proper eating – quality, timing and quantity, you can improve your ability to adapt and absorb hard, interval type workouts.

Between food and sleep, you have THE two key elements to improvement – sleep allows the body to rejuvenate and the food provides the vitamins, minerals and macro nutrients (carbs, protein and fat) to rebuild the torn down muscle tissue, hormonal system and the cardiovascular system.

I always have my clients focus on health and wellness first and then performance. I utilize several tools to ensure that my clients are recovering adequately and consistently improving. You are either getting healthier, stronger and faster or you are not – there isn’t any middle ground. It is just a physiological fact.

What is Adaptation?

When you train, one of the adaptations is an increase in the development of mitochondria within your muscle tissue. Mitochondria are the cellular power plants which are responsible for producing a majority of the energy you use during endurance training and racing. Through consistent training, your body naturally produces chemicals that tell your body to produce additional mitochondria. This concept is not a new one, but is intriguing because we have become acclimated to the idea that training improves endurance by enhancing the production of mitochondria within the muscle tissue. But what if I told you that eating fruits and vegetables may produce the same effect? Let’s take a look.

Food to Help You Train Harder and Faster

While trying to determine the true source of obesity and develop that “wonder pill” that will help offset the negative health issues associated with obesity, research has tripped upon some intriguing results associated with endurance training and racing.

The area of research has stemmed around polyphenols and flavonoids. Please don’t get caught up with the big words and become intimidated, the concept is what I want you to take away, not the actual pronunciation! Both of these nutrients are found in fruit and vegetables and are available to the human body in many different types, but with similar functions within the body.

Resveratrol is one type of polyphenol which is found in red grapes (and also red wine!). In a 2006 edition of the science journal Cell, mice that were supplemented with Resveratrol had a 33% higher peak oxygen uptake and lasted nearly 50% longer before exhaustion.

When researchers took muscle samples of the mice, there was 2.5 times greater mitochondria within the muscles. Also increased was Citrate Cynthase, a key enzyme to producing energy within the muscles, along with additional triggers telling the muscle to produce more mitochondria.

Here is an interesting observation on behalf of the researchers. The mice that were supplemented with the resveratrol, were also able to complete more exercise on a consistent basis which in turn improved the fitness level of the mice which allowed them to longer and faster. This is a huge observation when you consider an athletes ability to get fitter involves being able to go both longer in duration (active recovery workouts) and faster (high quality interval workouts). An additional health benefit to consuming polyphenols is an improved immune system which will keep you from becoming run down, sick and away from training – hence improving your consistency. Another key factor within the world of health, wellness and ultimately performance.

Research completed here in the US has been researching another polyphenol called Quercetin. Mice that were supplemented with quercetin showed significant increases in the molecular triggers within the muscle tissue, indicating that their bodies were preparing to produce more mitochondria. After only seven days of supplementation, the mice were able to run 40% longer before becoming exhausted.

This research has validated that this supplementation has benefited individuals “less fit”. However, when you consider most athletes are running deficient in micro and macro nutrients within their bodies, this research validates that when these nutrients are present within the body, athletic performance improves.

Quercetin is found naturally in onions and apples – so maybe that saying that an “apple a day keeps the doctor away” may not be far-fetched. Research provides overwhelming evidence that quercetin can help reduce the stress of high intensity training and support the immune system. So this falls right in line with my desire to have my clients healthy first, then fit and fast!

Fruits and Vegetables Aren’t The Only Source of Improved Speed!

All natural herbs and spices are an excellent source for polyphenols as well. For example, research is validating that cinnamon has shown to stimulate the production of mitochondria within muscle tissue.

Before you Overdose on Supplementation

It is imperative that you realize that this research on quercetin and resveratrol is just that – research. As I mentioned earlier, the realization of these mitochondrial production levels within the muscle tissue came as a byproduct of researching obesity at a chemical and muscular tissue level. With this in mind, the improvements associated with physical performances cannot be overlooked. Factor in the all-natural source of these elements: fresh fruits, vegetable, herbs and spices, and you have another way to improve your immune system and make you more resilient to high intensity training.

Four Tasty Sources of Polyphenols

Blueberries – one of the highest polyphenol contents of all foods; benefits include enhanced aerobic function and off-setting the development of cancer. Add blueberries to your salad and top off your Greek full fat yogurt for additional nutrients, fiber and flavor.
Cinnamon – not only loaded in polyphenols, it helps reduce the insulin response to high glycemic meals, which helps you stabilize blood sugar levels and burn carbohydrates more efficiently. Add cinnamon to your all natural oatmeal.
Dark Chocolate – look for chocolates that have over 75% cocoa. In addition to having high polyphenol content, it has been shown to improve blood flow to working muscles. Consume high quality, dark chocolate as a mid-day snack (unless you can have a glass of red wine instead!).
Nutritionally Green Smoothies – these products are derived from real fruits and vegetables and provide a hefty dose of vitamin and minerals per scoop. They are easily absorbed by the body because it isn’t broken down through the digestion process in the gut. A scoop can easily be added to soups, broths, and smoothies to add to the nutrient value.

Grocery Shopping For Better Speed

Stock up on these items the next time you head to your grocery store:

  • Dark Chocolate
  • Red kidney beans
  • Blueberries, Strawberries
  • Acai berries
  • Olives
  • Spinach
  • Walnuts
  • Chestnuts
  • Cherry juice
  • Green tea/coffee
  • Cinnamon, Sage, Rosemary, Spearmint, Thyme, Tumeric
  • Cloves, Dried Mexican Oregano, Basil, Curry, Celery Seed
  • Flaxseed
  • Black Elderberry

Creatine Supplementation & Dehydration

The Effects of Creatine

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the effects of creatine. The truth of the matter is – creatine does do exactly what it claims to do: FOR SOME ATHLETES. However, before we discuss if creatine supplementation is beneficial as an athlete, it is imperative to evaluate its role in your everyday health.

First, the human body produces creatine daily to sustain the demands associated with exercise. Creatine is regenerated through your body’s normal bodily functions (assuming you are eating a sufficient diet and complementing this with 7-8 hours of sleep daily). However, if your body senses the presence of creatine on a regular basis, it will stop producing it within your body. This internal evaluation system cannot be “tricked”.

Second, creatine has been shown in endless amounts of research to cause dehydration among athletes of all sports backgrounds. Muscle cramping and spasming along with feelings of nausea are not uncommon with an athlete that reacts negatively to the supplementation of creatine. Keep in mind that even the slightest level of dehydration causes the contractile strength within the muscles spindle cells to diminish – not an ideal scenario for athletes. To make the situation worse, athletes that are training and racing in hot parts of the country are at a disadvantage in regards to dissipating the negative effects of internal heat (created by working muscles and internal body systems like digestion and respiration.) The scientific term for this is the Endothermic Process: your body’s ability to rid itself of heat. The only way that your body can rid itself of heat is through sweat at the skin level.  If you happen to be riding or racing in a highly humid environment, your ability to cool down is hampered again because water can not evaporate against another molecule of water. This causes you to overheat internally which ultimately slows down your internal bodily functions which manifests itself in the form of slower speed.

Side note, in clinical studies, creatine has been documented to increase the contractile strength of a muscle; however, the additional lactic acid (a by-product of burning carbohydrates) that is produced due to the higher levels of output has resulted in larger than normal levels of blood lactate. This surplus of lactic acid can not be effectively cleared from the circulatory system through the blood vessels and, in turn, becomes counter productive.

Bottom line: should athletes supplement with creatine: NO. Instead, they need to spend more time developing a comprehensive training and nutritional program that will provide the human body the elements it needs to perform at an optimal level.