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When you exercise it promotes your healing, boosts your immunity, improves circulation, and enhances overall health. But prolonged and intense exercise, like that of high performance athletes, can actually reduce immune function and damage your body tissues. Athletes push their bodies to the limit, and this creates special needs that go beyond what a typical person requires.
To optimize performance, you must give the your body all the raw materials it needs for proper function, while simultaneously preventing exposure to anything that interferes.
An increase in physical performance demands more raw materials than sedentary activity. This increase in activity creates a multitude of toxins which require even more raw materials to detoxify. Those who provide for these specialized needs will improve their performance, while minimizing damage to their health.
If you’re chronically short even one single nutrient, you will get sick. That’s a guarantee. Nutrients do not act individually, but they all interact with each other. You need a precise daily mixture of at least 59 essential nutrients to maintain health. For the athlete, nutritional shortages lead to impaired physical function, performance below expectation, more injuries, and slower repair times. Studies show that almost all North Americans are short several essential nutrients. This has a catastrophic effect on health, causing today’s epidemic of chronic degenerative disease and these nutritional concerns are especially important to athletes.
An athlete’s best friend and worst enemy is oxygen. While exercising, a person uses 10 to 20 times as much oxygen as sedentary activity. Free radicals are produced during oxygen metabolism, which damage your body’s cells. Exercise demands heavy oxygen input, and thus a large increase in free radical output. That’s how it works. Antioxidant chemicals protect your body from free radical damage by neutralizing & minimizing these free radicals. Because of this heavy oxygen demand, the athlete’s need for antioxidant chemicals is much greater than the needs of a less active person, and athletic activity in the absence of adequate antioxidants can cause significant damage. Free radical damage is a serious problem because the damage doesn’t end when the exercise stops. Free radicals cell damage may last up to 20 hours after exercise. Much of the muscle soreness and inflammation after strenuous exercise results from out of control free radical damage. Be sure to get adequate vitamins A, C, E, carotenes, etc., as these antioxidants protect tissues from free radical damage during and after workouts. For athletes, this translates to less tissue injury and shortened recovery times.
Antioxidants are important, while your diets are staggeringly deficient. For example: The RDA for vitamin C is 60 mg. The average North American gets about 114 mg, but recent research shows that at least 200mg are required. The RDA for vitamin E is 30 I.U. per day. The average person gets about 9 I.U., but recent studies show that 400 – 600 I.U. are necessary for good health, while athletes appear to need 800-1600 I.U. per day.
Since athletes need substantially more antioxidants than does the average person, supplementation is essential to maintaining health and performance.
Vitamins and Minerals. The importance of supplementation was demonstrated by a study of marathon runners in a 20 day, 312 mile run. The test involved hemoglobin levels, a measure of your blood’s ability to carry oxygen to your body’s cells. One supplemented group (given vitamin supplements including iron, zinc, vitamins B6, B12, C, and folic acid) actually increased their ability to carry oxygen with higher hemoglobin levels, and this coincided with improved performance over the same period. The control group (marathon runners without dietary supplementation) had declining hemoglobin levels as the race went on, and their athletic performance also deteriorated from excellent to marginal. It seems obvious that a decreased ability to transport oxygen would impair performance, and it does. Essential nutrients were used up by this intense activity, creating deficiencies. By the time day 20 of race rolled around, damage from lack of supplementation (malnourishment) becomes very evident in such things as an athlete’s hemoglobin levels. The greatest amount of free radical damage to DNA occurs in men who heavily exercise without any supplementation.
CoQ10 Muscle power is generated by conversion of the high energy compound ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to the mechanical force of muscle contraction. Your bodies store very little ATP, so it must be generated continuously. You can’t make sufficient ATP without CoQ10 (coenzyme Q10). CoQ10 supports every cell in your body by helping in ATP production, as well to prevent harmful lipid peroxidation, the harmful oxidation of fats, including cholesterol. 60 to 100 mg of CoQ10/day is recommended.
Ginseng Certain herbs, such as Siberian ginseng, can be used to improve recovery time from exercise. Lactate is a by product of anaerobic metabolism that causes muscles to function sub optimally. Expediting the clearance of lactate will shorten recovery time from exercise as well as allowing for more high intensity work. A recent study found that athletes on a herbal formula with Siberian ginseng significantly improved their lactate clearance after two weeks of intense work.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) – A recent study measured the effects of 800 mg of phosphatidylserine (PS) on muscle soreness during two intense two week training sessions. Cortisol is a hormone, which breaks down muscle tissue and produces muscle soreness. The subjects taking the PS had significantly reduced cortisol in their blood, less muscle soreness, and reported a marked increase in their feelings of well being. The study concluded that PS attenuates muscle soreness and reduces cortisol levels during recovery from exercise.
Another important nutrient is water. It is essential to keep well hydrated. Dehydrating a muscle a mere 3% causes a 10% reduction in performance. The quality of your tissues, their strength, performance, and resistance to injury, are all dependent on having an adequate supply of water. Lungs are 90% water, brains 76% and blood 82%. Since an athlete in heavy training can use over two gallons of water a day, dehydration is an ongoing concern. Water is an extremely important nutrient, and it frequently gets forgotten.
Injuries, Infections & Immunity
Many athletes fail to reach their potential because of constant injuries. Healthy tissues tend to be more supple, stronger, and less susceptible to injury. People don’t grasp the fact that immunity is linked both to the seriousness of an injury, and the time it takes to recover. Healthy tissues get injured less often, and recover more quickly. Athletic success requires not only good training, but also optimal nutrition and the resilience it provides.
Intense exercise reduces levels of glutamine and glutathione, both of which are essential to your immunity. Reduction in glutamine and glutathione suppresses natural immunity for hours after exercise. That’s why athletes are more susceptible to infection than the general population. In marathon runners, infections cause more days lost than injuries. A third of all marathon runners suffered an upper respiratory infection within two weeks of their race. One Soviet Olympic skier, whose team was studied, had six infections in the five months after the Olympics.
The solution to the athlete’s many special requirements is high quality supplementation: Vitamin E is an excellent antioxidant that can be used to minimize oxidative cell damage, thus helping to prevent injuries in athletes. Vitamin E can also help to protect the membranes of T-cells, thereby enhancing immunity. A study found that Olympic athletes who took 800 to 1600 I.U. of vitamin E per day, plus other antioxidants, during periods of training completed the three year study without a single infection. Vitamin C is another important antioxidant. Its concentration in certain immune cells is 150 times the concentration in your blood. When fighting an infection, these cells use enormous quantities of vitamin C. If the C is lacking, immunity declines.
Superior athletic performance is the result of numerous mental, psychological, and physical factors. Purely looking at the human body as a machine, attention to diet, proper supplementation, and adequate hydration are absolute essentials. Athletes have special nutritional needs brought about by their own activities. Extra care must be taken in eating only those foods containing high concentrations of nutrients. This requires the athlete to be educated, and to make the consistent and deliberate choices that provide optimal performance. This means avoiding processed and prepared foods, which are low in nutrient content and high in toxic content. Even with a quality diet, a supplementation program is vital for optimal performance. This should include the basics of a high quality multiple vitamin/mineral formula: vitamin C, vitamin E, quercitin, extra calcium, magnesium, and zinc, beta carotene, essential fatty acids, and CoQ10.
Proper diet training and supplementation will allow athletes to have superior performance without being slowed by the ill effects and will finish way ahead of the competition.
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