Contributing Monkie Brendan Brazier
Published on May 28, 2009
To become a great athlete requires work. Hard work, that’s a certainty. But, the often-overlooked smart work can play an equally large role in athletic success. While there’s no substitute for diligent training, as I found there are a few natural nutritional “helpers” that can directly complement the effect of exercise for a compounded performance boost.
We know that the best way to enhance the odds of becoming a better athlete is to put the body in a position in which it can physically and mentally handle progressively longer and more intense training. This is of course achieved by adopting a nutrition program that will support the fueling and regeneration process that an active person requires, one that’s significantly above and beyond that of a sedentary individual. The fundamentals on which this high-performance body can be constructed are, as you would expect, from building blocks that you supply it; food. Nutrient-rich, plant-based whole foods are the foundation on which optimal health (and eventually performance) can be created. Studies have shown that, when consumed post-workout, plant-based whole foods enable muscle tissue to grow stronger in a shorter amount of time than would be possible with the consumption of refined, fractionalized low-quality food.
Once this foundation of solid health has been built by means of premium building blocks, higher levels of both mental and physical performance can more easily be obtained as a logical next step. As I set my sights on professional triathlon racing in 1997, I began to search for additional ways in which nutrition could boost my performance as opposed to simply improving my health. While I had already obtained health, I felt it was time to take my well-being (and therefore my athletic performance) to the next level, a level beyond a simply solid bill of health.
As my career progressed I learned the fundamentals of what synergistic combinations it would take to improve performance. For example, the heart muscle must be strong to be able to efficiently pump large volumes of blood around the body. The value of this becomes magnified when dealing with those who are athletic. Since the heart is a muscles and therefore can be strengthened by exercising it, the more aerobic activity that’s performed, the stronger the heart will grow. As a direct result of its increased strength, each beat will pump a greater volume of blood around the body than that of a weaker heart, hence reducing the number of beats required to transport the same amount of blood throughout the body. And, for a runner, for example, a lower heart rate means the ability to speed up and travel farther before fatigue sets in. In short, this is the fundamental way in which to improve physical endurance.
There are a few nutritional steps that can be taken to get a greater rate of return on the time and energy you invest in training.
Enhanced cardiovascular output
Rhodiola is one of them. It helps dilate blood vessels, thereby allowing for increased blood flow throughout the body. This will reduce energy requirements placed on the cardiovascular system which in turn will naturally enhance endurance and the ability to perform intense physical work efficiently. Those who take Rhodiola before a workout will enhance their body’s ability to recover by quickly normalizing the heart rate post-workout.
Ginger is another. Since one trait of augmented fitness is an increase in red blood cells, (which causes the blood to become thicker), ginger will help keep it at the ideal viscosity so that it can be pumped efficiently throughout the body, which will in turn will increase energy (by conserving it) and boost performance.
Additionally turmeric increases circulation, thereby acting as an aid in delivering blood and oxygen to working muscles.
Since keeping the heart rate as low as possible is one of the chief ways of Improving endurance, the muscular system as a whole needs to be looked at.
Improved muscular efficiently
If, for example, two runners are completely equal in every respect except for muscular strength, the stronger will be faster over any distance. The lower percentage of maximum strength needed for each stride will translate into improved efficacy and therefore greater endurance. If for example one runner can squat 10% more weight than another, his muscles will not have to work as hard to move the body forward, which will translate to significant endurance gains. When muscles don’t need to work as hard, they also don’t require as much oxygen or circulating blood and therefore will not put as much demand on the heart, which in turn will lower that rate at which it beats. A significant improvement in endurance will be the result. Greater strength does equal greater endurance. But, as with the heart, there are nutritional steps that can be taken to enhance the fluidity of the muscles, essentially allowing them to more with greater ease and therefore requiring less energy for each contraction.
Kombucha is a form of tea that has been fermented using microorganisms. As a result, it is exceptionally rich in organic acids, active enzymes, amino acids, and polyphenols and therefore is distinguished as a health elixir. Significant for the athlete, it can directly enhance performance by acting as a natural muscle relaxant. This allows muscles to move with greater fluidity and ease which therefore results in less energy expenditure and ultimately enhanced endurance. Kombucha culture is also exceptionally good for removing toxins from the liver which will result in quicker recovery following a workout. Enhanced mental clarity and a smooth, sustained state of well-being is another trait of kombucha, which reduces anxiety before physical exertion or other demanding event.
Sodium and potassium are classified as electrolytes, which play a vital role in optimal hydration. The correct balance of electrolyses and fluid will help maintain hydration, which in turn will enhance muscle function, heart efficacy and mental sharpness. Since sweat is comprised of water and electrolytes, water alone will not fully maintain or restore fluid levels lost through sweat. Without complete hydration, blood will thicken which will increase the workload placed on the heart, leading to premature fatigue. Inadequate hydration will also result in muscle twinges and cramps.
As we know, regular exercise causes inflammation. The more aggressive the muscle contractions, the getter inflamed they will become. This inhibits performance in two major ways. First, is the muscles are inflamed; they simply will not be able to move smoothly. More effort (energy) will be required for each contraction causing the heart rate to rise and endurance to fall. The seconded way in which inflammation will hinder performance is by reducing recovery rate after exercise. This will translate into more time required between workouts, which of course directly leads to the inability to train more.
Anything with chlorophyll is highly alkaline-forming, therefore will significantly help reduce inflammation. Spinach and other leafy greens are ideal.
However, when taken immediately before exercise, Devil’s claw has been shown to prevent inflammation from occurring and as such promotes fluid muscle contractions. Devils claw has also been shown to temporarily reduce the effectives of pain receptors, thereby allowing the athlete to push harder during physical activity, achieving a higher level of performance.
Ginger and turmeric have also been shown to reduced inflammation when taken immediately before physical exertion.