Sports Nutrition Basics
There are a couple of ways to look at your nutrition needs for running a marathon – that is long-term needs and immediate short-term needs, both of which have to be considered if you’re going to do a great job. I’m going to cover both in this talk, and it’s not too late for you to improve both for this upcoming marathon.
Sweat Contains 60 Essential Minerals
It may be tempting to only look at the immediate needs of this upcoming event, but it takes long-term nutrition as well. Consider this: an athlete sweats out more in one day than a sedentary person does in 2 weeks. And as we all know, that’s not just water coming out in your sweat.
Let’s consider this from a bookkeeping point of view. Sweat contains 60 (that’s six-zero) essential minerals. All of these are on their way out of your body faster – that’s a subtraction, like spending money that you don’t really have – coming out of you 15 times faster than a couch potato. Exercise without nutritional supplementation is a negative, going deeper into a debt that is only eventually paid off with illness or death.
Now when I say an athlete spends that much, you might be thinking well, I’m not at the top of the elite athletes, not an Olympian, not even a national competitor yet. That’s okay, because I am addressing these words to all of you – if you even go to a gym three times a week, or run a couple of times a week – this applies to you. And here’s the bottom line, if you do not replace those minerals you lose every time you work out, you are not going to make it to a healthy old age. And worse yet, you are going to simply go downhill miserably the last 10 to 15 years of your life.
Long Term Nutrition
Long-term nutrition even if it starts now, shortly before the marathon, has to consist of more than the average sedentary person uses:
- More minerals
- More vitamins
- More antioxidants
- More amino acids
- More enzymes
So here is what you should take as far as nutritional supplementation goes:
- Liquimins Vita Minerals – 1 capful/day
- Trace Minerals Research “Electrolyte Stamina”, 2-3 packets/day separately
This will give you the basic minerals that you need, plus the water-soluble vitamins, as well as a good start on antioxidants.
I also like the food-source nutrients a lot because of their bioavailability. They really don’t have the high-quantity that athletes need for intense activity, but can be used on your days off from training. They are, however, the best quality and most bio-available. So alternate one of these with the above. These bio-available nutrients are (choose one): New Chapter’s “Every Man” or “Every Woman,” that’s 6 tablets/day.
The other main one in this category is “Living Multi,” which is 9 tablets/day. So choose one of those for a high-quality whole food source of nutrients.
If you feel that that is too many pills to swallow, or if your budget does not permit either of these latter two, and if you only engage in moderate exercise, please consider at least getting “Only One” by New Chapter, which is just one tablet.
These will round out your intake of enzymes and phytonutrients, in addition to basic vitamins and minerals.
As far as food intake, that cannot be ignored, and supplements will never take the place of it. Here this evening in Whole Foods, you are right now in the Rolls Royce of food stores – or maybe it’s the Toyota Prius, because it’s environmentally in the vanguard. What I mean is the very high quality and large variety of organic foods here. And they are not paying me to say this. I am here tonight on a volunteer basis. And I’m mainly talking about the produce aisle and the meat section.
First, fruits and vegetables. Folks these are not an option; these are not for other people; these are not just for vegetarians. You cannot, repeat: cannot be healthy without whole fruit (not juiced), whole fruit and vegetables.
I want you to spend quite a bit more time in the produce aisle than you have before. I want you to buy at least one vegetable that you don’t remember ever eating, or that you haven’t eaten since childhood. And if that means you go home with brussel sprouts or rutabaga, so be it.
You have to have at least four fruits and/or vegetables per day. And I would like you to have more like ten. If that means you have to get a cookbook and learn to cook, so be it. If that means you have to rely on Organic Bistro, which is a pretty new brand of organic TV dinners, that’s a good option. Their ingredients are only whole organic foods, without preservatives or additives.
And if you’ve never really relied on your own cooking, if you need to get started on how to cook whole food from scratch and keep your day job, that is a major theme of my book, Choose Your Foods Like Your Life Depends On Them.
Next I want to mention meat, because most of us eat at least some meat and/or poultry and/or seafood. For vegetarians, stay tuned, and I’ll get to you in a moment.
Here there are more and better options for meat than there was anywhere even a year ago. Now you have the option of 100% grass-fed organic beef, and poultry. No hormones, no antibiotics. There are options in fish for wild Alaskan and other wild caught seafood. So consider those.
If You Are Vegetarian
If you are vegetarian, you have to go to a bit more trouble to get adequate protein. The reason we all need protein is that the body breaks protein down to amino acids. Those amino acids are then used as the bricks and mortar, building blocks of the proteins that make up our own bodies, that is the flesh and bones, the various structures that comprise the body.
For vegetarians, I would be careful of soy, unless you have it fermented, such as in traditional Asian foods, such as miso, tamari, etc. But if you have it in larger unfermented doses, such as soymilk or soy protein powder, which are unfermented, it is too similar to the female hormone estrogen. And this we really don’t need. Not even post-menopausal women can gain much from soy, much less anybody else.
However, there is a more serious threat from soy for an athlete. And that is that soy is popular in agriculture right now because it grows in depleted soils that have been over-farmed. It does this because it is very good at grabbing minerals out of the soil. Well when those same soy molecules get into your body, they grab the minerals out of you too. For this reason, soy is known as a goitrogen, or something that can damage the thyroid gland, the thyroid being very mineral-dependent.
Soy is particularly bad for an athlete, because as I said in the beginning, athletes are sweating out minerals like a hole in your wallet can spill money. So the last thing you need is soy.
If you are vegetarian, then what I would do is alternate whey protein powder with rice protein, to get the benefits of both. But also keep in mind that an excellent complete protein can be made by combining a whole grain with a legume. Think of the Latin American solution to that: rice and beans. Also lentils and millet make a delicious, protein-rich combination that would benefit anyone, not just vegetarians. When it comes to legumes, think of some you have not had before, perhaps black-eyed peas or navy beans.
The Third Major Component Of Food; Fat
So we talked about two of the three main components of foods: carbohydrates (that is, fruits and vegetables) as well as protein (meats and the vegetarian alternatives). Now I have to address the third major component of food, which we have been taught to cringe when we hear, and that is fat.
I would not have a low-fat or non-fat diet. One, it does not work for weight loss or anything else. And because the brain is 60% fat, and requires high-quality fat, you can become depressed and/or cognitively debilitated without fat.
The important point is to get high-quality fat into your diet, and for that, you need the Omega-6, Omega-9, but especially the Omega-3 fats, which are especially loved by the body and brain.
I can’t recommend highly enough that you get cod liver oil, especially during the winter months. Cod liver oil has all the advantages of fish oil, that is being a basic brain food, and it also has Vitamins A and D, which are necessary for strong functioning of your immune system, as well as many other cancer-preventing, bone strengthening and other benefits. I like the Carlson’s and the Nordic Naturals brands, because they are distilled.
If you are vegetarian you will get some of these benefits from flax oil. And to supplement Vitamin D, you are living in the best place on earth. Arizona gets more sunlight per square foot per unit time – that is the least cloud cover – than anywhere else in the world. And with mild temperatures in the middle of the day, try to have the face and lower arms exposed for an average of 20 minutes per day. Or you could get an hour on Saturday and an hour on Sunday. And I mean without sunscreen. Don’t sunbathe for hours or fall asleep in the sunlight. But a judicious two hours a week of sunlight in divided doses is great for getting your vitamin D intake.
Water of course is critical. You know that by the time you get thirsty, you are way late in hydrating yourself. If your urine is amber colored, you are way late. With drinking water, the trick is to make a routine out of it, so you don’t get into that deficit. Early in the day, get about half of your total daily intake, so that getting busy or distracted later doesn’t mean that you have to get dehydrated.
I promised to get to the immediate needs of the upcoming marathon. For intense events of more than 90 minutes duration, you should start going into a high-carbohydrate diet for two to three days before the event, because that is a good amount of time to stock your glycogen storage full for the event. This would be about 70 percent of your calories coming from carbohydrates.
Endurance athletes eating such a diet have been able to exercise longer than when on more typically balanced diets of 40-30-30, which is carbs, proteins, and fats.
Here is where many athletes make a huge mistake. Carb loading for them becomes sugar loading, and the bike stores and other stores that appeal to athletes are full of sugar treats. This is about the biggest mistake you can make. If you eat a lot of sugar days before an event, you are seriously compromising your performance. And if you consume sweets on the day of the event, you are inviting a surge of insulin, which will dip your blood sugar too low when you need it most to complete the job of the marathon. Worse yet, sugar draws your body fluids into the GI tract, the place that you least need those fluids to be during your marathon. This sets you up for muscle cramping, dehydration, nausea, diarrhea – who needs that?
Now if you want something that tastes like a sports drink and will give you sodium replacement during a long run, here is one that will not create the kind of problems that are caused by sugar or high fructose corn syrup or honey or maple syrup or any of those sugars.
So when I say load up on carbohydrates, I mean high-quality carbohydrates, which are complex carbohydrates, namely vegetables, whole fruits (not fruit juice) and whole grains. These are the only kinds of carbs that will do you any good – I don’t care how many different brands of sugar bars and sugar drinks are in the sports stores.
If you have any doubts about what I’m saying, please check out the research at Colorado State University, and summarized on their website, www.colostate.edu.
And no, you don’t need the fluorescent-color so-called sports drinks for the event. By the time of the event you have been getting plenty of minerals, so what you do need is water. Water is what you have several cups of, that is 6-7 cups on the day of the event, before the event, and it is what you carry with you throughout the event.
But if you have had a little too much water, you risk hyponatremia. Some symptoms of hyponatremia are headaches, muscle cramping, nausea, abdominal bloating, confusion, fatigue. So this is a sports drink that is good to pack with you. You take a quart bottle of water. Add a 1/3-teaspoon of sea salt and two droppers full of liquid stevia. Stevia is sweet, tastes pretty good for cold or room temperature beverages, and has zero glycemic index, so it does not act like sugar in the body. Nor is it an artificial sweetener. It comes straight from the plant, and you could grow it in your back yard if you wanted to. Before the big event, when you’re mixing this up, add two droppers full and see if that is sweet enough for you. If not, add another half dropper full, and another, tasting it with each addition. I would get the liquid stevia, not the powdered, because the liquid is easier to handle.
Sodium is the only electrolyte that you would want to replace during the event. The others can wait for after the event. That is, hyponatremia (which means low sodium in the blood) is a problem at times, whereas the other electrolyte deficiencies, such as hypokalemia – low potassium, or hypomagnesemia – low magnesium generally don’t present a problem during athletic events.
The pre-event meal is two to four hours ahead of time, and only about 1000 calories, again high in complex carbohydrates: vegetables, fruits, whole grains.
Now for after the event, when your heart rate settles down and you’ve cooled off, within the hour afterward, you have some nuts and a banana. This will replace your sodium and your potassium respectively, without messing with your blood sugar, and being appealing taste-wise.
These are basic guidelines that seem to work for the majority of athletes. However, there is some value in considering individual variation regarding carbohydrates. For example, some people do better on carbs in general than others. And it is worth considering that fats provide long-term energy, and should not be totally neglected before a race, and should still be 10-15% of total calories. To see how much you as an individual may vary from these recommendations, see William Wolcott’s work on Metabolic Type.