I analyze the wide, complicated world of sports nutrition and supplementation to build a personal wellness plan that will help me to become the best athlete I can be.
This post focuses on the nutritional aspects of optimal health and athletic performance. Building off of background physiological knowledge developed in part 2, I meticulously analyze all of the different aspects of nutrition I believe are relevant to me as an athlete.
I combine all of this nutritional analysis with the conclusions I made about supplements and ergogenic aids in part 1. The end result is a personal master wellness guide for optimal health and athletic performance!
- Nutrient Guide
- Nutrient Timing
- Personal Master Wellness and Athletic Performance Guide
- Conclusion: Plot Twist
My motivation for doing all of this research and analysis is that my life has always revolved around sports. Being the best athlete I can be has been a primary goal in my life for as long as I can remember.
I realized that sports nutrition and supplementation was an input to athletic performance I’d never given due thought to. This post series represents the culmination of a lot of research, analysis, and tumbling down the rabbit hole of the world of sports nutrition and supplementation.
As a reminder, this post is personal in the sense that I only analyze topics to the extent that they’re relevant to me as an athlete. Analysis and conclusions may differ, as everyone’s physiology, goals, opinions, and perspectives are unique.
For example, I eat a plant-based diet (a future post will explain the life journey that led me to this diet). Someone who eats eggs, dairy, and/or meat may have different nutritional aspects to consider than the ones I lay out in this post.
Also, someone less sociopathic towards athletic performance than me may have different goals than the ones this post drives towards 🙂
Potential trigger warning: this post focuses on nutrition and diet. It logically dissects the topic through an athletic performance lens. If you currently have or have had an eating disorder or any negative relationship with food or body weight, this may not be a good post to read as it may be triggering!
Without further ado, let’s dig in!
This section systematically covers every aspect of nutrition I can think of that is relevant to athletic performance. Macronutrients (fat, carbs, protein) are discussed first. Next are micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
The last two broad categories are dietary compounds (sugars, starch, etc.) and types of food (nightshades, superfoods, etc.). Each nutritional topic ends with a summary of key knowledge, and personal takeaways I make about what I need to keep in mind regarding that topic.
Fat is extremely slow to digest and convert to a usable form of energy. It takes about 6 hours! As previously discussed, it’s also slow to transport to working muscles to be used as energy. And even once it’s at the muscles, fat entails 20 metabolic steps vs. carbs, which take about 10.
Nonetheless, dietary fat is the most efficient fuel type in terms of calories/weight. Fat releases 9 calories energy/gram, compared to 4 calories energy/gram of carbs. To store an equivalent amount of energy in carbs, you’d be a lot heavier!
For this reason, fat can be a valuable source of fuel for long-duration, low-intensity exercises. This is especially true for activities where you’re carrying your own food (e.g the weight of the food matters), like backpacking. If the intensity of the activity is low enough and the duration is long enough, fat can be an essential source of energy.
Because fat has 9 calories per gram, it can be needed simply to get enough calories (energy) from your daily diet if you burn a lot of calories! The amount of food you’d have to eat to get the calories you need from carbs and protein alone would be enormous. It would be impractical to consume that much food.
Dietary fat also plays a number of helpful roles within the body. The federal Food and Nutrition Board recommends that 20-35% of calories should come from dietary fat.
However, after reading the China Study and learning about some of the politics behind that recommendation, it’s likely that consuming a lot less dietary fat than this is actually prudent!
Different Types of Dietary Fat
There are 4 different types of dietary fat: saturated, trans, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Trans fats are inarguably unhealthy: they are just used as a food preservative, and are actually banned in the US!
The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is chemical. Saturated fatty acids lack a double bond between individual carbon atoms, whereas unsaturated fatty acids have at least one double bond in the fatty acid chain. This makes saturated fats solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated dietary fats are healthy when consumed in the right amounts and play an important biological role. The verdict is less clear on saturated fats: some scientists claim that saturated fats are unhealthy, whereas others say they are OK to consume.
- Dietary fat is most efficiently used to store long-term energy
- Dietary fat is not a prudent source of fuel to consume either before or during exercise
- Dietary fat is important to bolster the overall energy supply within the body
- Trans fats are bad, saturated fat is debatable, mono and poly-unsaturated fats are good
- DRI (Daily recommended intake) for fats is 20-35% of calories, but optimal amount likely a lot less than that
My Personal Takeaways
- As a vegan, I’m not overly concerned with consuming too much dietary fat. A lot of the foods that contain high amounts of dietary fat are animal-based.
- Generally do not consume dietary fat as a fuel source before or during exercise.
- Exception to the above rule: For low-intensity, long-duration activities, especially when carrying my food (energy/weight ratio matters), fat is a very important fuel source.
- As someone who burns a lot of calories, I need fat in my diet just to obtain enough energy.
- Ensure that most fats I consume are of the “healthy” variety: mono/poly-unsaturated fats
Carbohydrates are used strictly as energy currency within the body. As previously discussed, they contain glucose, which is the primary source of fuel for the body, especially during exercise. Glucose can provide relatively immediate energy during exercise.
Carbohydrate Exercise Implications
In the first 15-20 minutes of exercise, the body uses glucose as fuel, while it waits for energy from stored fat to be supplied. Eventually, it starts burning fuel from a combination of fats and glucose.
However, remember how slow fat is to produce energy. This means that fat alone can only support very low intensity activity. Any excess energy demands need to be supplied by glucose.
Thus, during workouts, your body gradually gets depleted of its stores of glucose. If your workout lasts longer than an hour or two (depending on intensity), this fuel must be replenished. This replenishment comes in the form of carbohydrates.
When you’re depleted of glycogen (carbs), you slow down, because fat simply produces energy slowly. Endurance athletes know this as “bonking”, or “hitting the wall”. Bonking also has interesting brain implications!
Recall that the brain can only use glucose for energy. Thus, when glycogen is depleted, your brain gets fuzzy. It attempts to shut down exercise before you would theoretically need to from a muscular perspective.
As brain neurons misbehave, all sorts of bodily functions go awry. You can even start hallucinating if your brain is too deprived of glycogen, so there’s truth to stories you hear about ultra-endurance athletes or navy seals during hell week hallucinating.
Nonetheless, ingesting carbohydrates can bring the brain back within 10-15 minutes. Pretty spooky stuff!
The Path of Carbs Through the Body
When carbohydrates are consumed, the small intestine converts them to glucose to get carried in the blood.
This glucose first goes to the liver. The liver extracts what it needs in order to feed the brain. This is generally about 100 grams, or 2 clif bars worth, which can sustain the brain for up to 4 hours.
Red blood cells burn some of what’s left over. Blood itself can hold around 300 grams of glucose. Then, glucose is sent to the skeletal muscles, which can hold about 100 grams of glucose, enough to sustain about 2 hours worth of running.
Finally, once liver, blood, and muscle glucose stores max out at around a combined 500 grams, excess glucose that isn’t immediately needed for energy is stored in fat tissue. What regulates this process of releasing glucose to tissues that need it?
The presence of glucose in the bloodstream triggers the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. As a side note, glucose is simply a type of sugar. That’s why the term “blood sugar” is very common, and has an association with insulin.
Insulin triggers various body tissues (liver, muscles, fat) to absorb glucose from the blood. In other words, insulin governs where the glucose gets sent in your body, as well as how fast this happens.
Insulin also moves amino acids into muscles, blunts the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and stimulates blood flow to muscle. Perhaps due to diabetes, insulin often gets a bad rap. The fact is that insulin is actually very essential, both during exercise and daily life!
The pancreas also regulates the reverse process of insulin release. When blood sugar is low, it releases a different hormone called glucagon, the antithesis to insulin. Glucagon triggers tissues to release glucose into the blood to raise blood sugar levels. (Remember glucagon? We discussed this hormone when talking about how fat cells get metabolized for energy!!)
This brings us to an important concept for carbohydrates: the glycemic index (GI). Simply put, it is a number from 0-100 that indicates how quickly that food can get used for energy by the body.
The glycemic index measures how “simple” the carb is, or how closely it resembles pure sugar. The higher the GI, the simpler the carb. The simpler the carb, the less complex the chemical structure is.
The less complex this structure, the faster the body can break it down to create glucose, or energy. (Remember that glucose is what gets used for fuel by your body in the energy pathways).
Foods with a higher GI trigger a higher “spike” in insulin, meaning the pancreas releases insulin faster. This is because these foods very quickly become glucose and are ready to be used as energy or stored!
A few examples of high GI foods: white bread, white rice, sugary cereal, potatoes, cookies, treats, dried fruits, etc. Essentially, foods that more closely resemble (or contain) pure sugar tend to be higher on the glycemic index.
Foods with a lower GI, on the other hand, have a more complex chemical structure. These complex carbs take longer for the body to digest/break down. Thus, they provide energy more slowly, but over a longer period of time.
A few examples of low GI foods: whole wheat bread or pasta, nuts, beans/legumes, non-starchy vegetables, meat, eggs, etc.
So which is better, for both exercising and daily health: low or high GI foods?
Or both 🙂
They are both important, because they each have tradeoffs, and fill roles that the other doesn’t. Read on to find out more.
Glycemic Index Exercise Implications
Complex carbs (low GI foods) are better for producing long-term, sustained energy. They result in a less immediate increase in blood sugar and glucose levels, but continually produce low amounts of glucose (as your body breaks them down) over a period of up to 4-6 hours, depending on the food.
Simple carbs (high GI foods) are better for producing short-term, immediate energy. Within 15 minutes, they supply glucose ready to be used for energy. Keeping all this in mind, let’s discuss some of the tradeoffs between the two:
- Complex carbs (low GI) are generally better to eat to fuel up hours before exercise.
This is because they will then be providing fuel for you during the exercise. If you were to eat high GI foods hours before a workout, your body will have already finished processing and storing the glucose by the time of your workout!
- Simple carbs (high GI) are generally better to eat as fuel during any moderate-high intensity workout.
Maintaining blood sugar levels during prolonged exertion can be challenging, and simple carbs can be very effective for providing instant glucose to the blood. Because of the intensity of the exercise, the energy is very often needed quickly.
Additionally, simple carbs take less energy from the body to process. This is very important when your body is already using most/all of its energy to support your workout. Simple carbs give your body quick energy, without requiring a lot of energy from the body to process.
This is why at ultramarathon aid stations, sometimes you’ll see athletes doing seemingly crazy things, like drinking soda or eating candy. In reality, it’s not crazy: they just need that quick energy, without burdening their body with processing complicated carbs.
- Simple carbs can provide a great pre-workout fuel (< 1 hr before starting exercise)
For all of the same reasons they are generally better to eat as fuel during the exercise.
- Complex carbs are great for a long, low-intensity workout/adventure.
You likely won’t need extremely high amounts of glucose in a short period of time, and so the slow, sustained release that complex carbs provide is a better form of energy for these activities. Otherwise, you’d have to constantly be eating simple carbs just to keep the supply of energy going.
Glycemic Index Dietary Considerations
Trigger warning: Definitely do not read this next section if you have or have had an eating disorder or any negative relationship with food or body weight!
Simple carbs tend to have less nutrients per calorie than complex carbs. Thus, getting too much of your caloric needs met from them can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Additionally, it can lead to weight gain. Why?
You need to consume more calories to actually get the nutrients you need. Your body knows this, so you’ll generally feel hungrier as your body is yearning for nutrients.
Also, because simple carbs lead to shorter-term, faster-releasing energy, you can end up eating more to actually get sustained energy throughout the day. If the foods you eat contain more glucose than you need for immediate energy, it gets stored in fat tissue.
Therefore, it’s harder to actually “burn off” the energy from high-GI foods, simply because you have less time to do it. If you couple a high-GI-food diet with a lack of exercise, then less of the glucose is needed for energy, and more gets stored in the body.
This does not mean to go overboard on a daily basis not eating simple carbs. After all, they provide quick energy, and that can be important, even outside of a workout context! It just means you need to have a healthy balance between low and high-GI foods.
- Carbohydrates are fuel for the body. When they’re depleted, bad things happen
- Insulin controls how glucose from carbs moves and are used in the body
- Complex (low GI) carbs provide long sustained energy, and simple (high GI) carbs provide quick energy
My Personal Takeaways
- Consume enough carbs before exercise to fuel up, during exercise to sustain activity, and after exercise to replenish. Also ensure daily carb needs are met.
- Consume a healthy balance of simple (high GI) and complex (low GI) carbs daily.
- Generally favor complex carbs 3-5 hours before exercise and simple carbs ~1 hour before exercise
- Eat a blend of complex and simple carbs during low-intensity, day-long activities
- Favor simple carbs during moderate to high intensity exercise, or if I need to raise blood sugar or get a quick energy boost
- Avoid low-carb diet and carb-loading strategies (see “Appendix: Nutritional Strategies” for details on why)
Protein is made up of amino acids. It is most efficiently used by the body to rebuild flesh, meaning repair/rebuild muscles. It also helps hormonal and immune systems function properly.
Protein also plays various crucial roles during exercise in the body. In addition to being a direct source of energy in dire circumstances as previously discussed, protein speeds up insulin release, which during exercise is vital. This allows muscle cells to absorb glucose. Evidence suggests protein may speed up insulin release by as much as 50%.
Amino acids are building blocks your body uses to make proteins.There are 20 different amino acids our body utilizes.
It can endogenously produce 11 of them, making them “non-essential” (we don’t need them in our diet). 9 of them must be included in our diet, and are thus considered “essential”.
As discussed in part 1 of this post series, 3 of the 9 essential amino acids are known as BCAAs (branch-chain amino acids). They are particularly important for rebuilding muscle after exercise, but evidence suggests they also help reduce muscle breakdown during exercise!
Because of the role it plays in rebuilding flesh, protein is particularly important to consume after workouts. Nevertheless, it should not be neglected before workouts and on a daily basis due to the other essential roles it plays in the body!
However, while protein is important, over-focusing on getting too much of it can be problematic (see Appendix: Nutritional Strategies: High Protein Diet).
Protein is commonly associated with animal-based foods and meat. As it turns out, plants actually have a lot of protein also!
Indeed, an entirely plant-based diet generally contains a lot of protein! Additionally, all plant-based proteins are complete, meaning they supply all of the essential amino acids, including the BCAAs.
For athletes, consuming 1.2-2 g/kg. protein/day is recommended, endurance athletes at the lower end of the range, bodybuilders at the higher end of the range.
My Personal Takeaways
- Protein is important for rebuilding muscle. Ensure I eat enough protein after workouts
- Protein plays a number of other physiological roles, so ensure I get enough protein daily
- An entirely plant-based diet supplies adequate sources of protein
- Avoid an ultra-high-protein diet (Appendix: Nutritional Strategies: High Protein Diet).
Micronutrients (Vitamins and Minerals)
Vitamins: Essential organic compounds. Regulate metabolic processes, energy synthesis, neurological processes, prevent cell destruction (meaning they help prevent cancer! See Appendix: Cancer)
Minerals: Inorganic elements. Provide structure for tissue, components for enzymes and hormones, and regulate metabolic and neural control.
Acquiring adequate vitamins and minerals through diet is extremely important. Luckily, plant-based foods are very rich in vitamins and minerals. Next, I will investigate a few vitamins/minerals particularly relevant for exercising and working out.
Free radicals are unstable atoms in the body that can cause cell damage. They get created over time, but stress, exercise, and lifestyle factors also play a role. Free radicals are believed to be a primary factor in aging.
Plants are the best-known sources of antioxidants. Brightly-colored foods are generally very rich in antioxidants, like bell peppers, carrots, spinach, grapes, berries, and fruits.
My Personal Takeaways
- Antioxidants are important for overall health by combating free radicals
- I get plenty of antioxidants eating a plant-based diet, so I don’t need to make a specific point of acquiring them
Electrolytes are minerals in your body that have an electric charge and help your body conduct electrical activity. To list a few of their many functions, they:
- Help move nutrients into cells and waste out of cells
- Balance cellular pH levels
- Enable muscle contraction
- Balance bodily fluid levels
- Tons of other essential functions.
Cramping is a common bi-product of having a low electrolyte balance because electrolytes are necessary for muscle contraction.
The most relevant electrolytes are: sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, bicarbonate, and magnesium. To some extent, they all must be acquired through diet and fluid intake.
Electrolytes are a topic to consider for athletes in particular because you lose electrolytes during physical exertion, primarily through sweat.
They are less of a concern outside of workouts and activities, including fueling up before and recovering after workouts. This is because plenty of foods, including fruits and vegetables, contain plentiful amounts of electrolytes.
Endurance athletes are especially concerned with electrolyte balance. This is because they are oftentimes exercising at a decent intensity continuously for 2 hours or more, and can’t very easily “snack” during races or workouts.
Generally, you need to be cognizant of electrolyte balance and replenishment only during activity, and only if it lasts 2 or more hours.
Recall from post 2 of this series that the body actually needs water to produce energy. It’s required for fuel metabolism because ATP (body’s energy currency) releases energy when it reacts with water (hydrolysis). So the body needs both electrolytes and water to sustainably produce energy.
Electrolytes and hydration are two concepts inextricably linked with each other. For biological reasons (electrolytes maintain osmotic pressure within cells), the balance (ratio) between electrolytes and water must be carefully kept for muscles to function properly.
During physical activity and especially from sweat, your body loses both water and electrolytes. It needs water to produce energy, and it needs electrolytes to be in the proper balance relative to water.
However, if you only rehydrate to replenish water, your electrolyte balance gradually lowers relative to water. This can be problematic if it gets too low, since electrolyte balance is essential for so many things.
Signs of low electrolyte balance are “bonking”, cramping, or disorientation. Basically, muscles start to shut down.
In fact, electrolyte balance is so crucial to the body, that your body will get rid of water (even when you are dehydrated) if your electrolyte balance is too low, to try to correct the problem!
So a low electrolyte balance can even contribute to dehydration, even if you’re actively rehydrating, because the body will just reject the water. Pretty wild!
And no, the solution is not to avoid rehydrating (this is called “dehydration”) because remember the body needs water to produce energy.
What is the solution? You need to replenish both water and electrolytes during extended exercise bouts. How can you do this?
As stated earlier, most foods have adequate electrolytes in them. So if you are able to eat during whatever activity you’re doing, you generally don’t have to worry about electrolytes, especially if you eat foods containing salt.
In a perfect world, the fluids and food you use to replenish with would contain exactly the same electrolyte concentration as your sweat output. However, of all the electrolytes, sodium is the main concern during endurance activities.
This is because for shorter exercise bouts, the other electrolytes won’t get decimated to a degree where it will affect you. For longer exercise bouts, you can replenish those other electrolytes by consuming food!
Sports drinks are popular for marathon-type activities because it’s harder to eat food, and more likely that food you would eat won’t necessarily have the electrolytes you need. However, many sports drinks don’t have enough sodium. So some athletes use salt capsules, electrolyte tablets, powders, gels, or chews.
There are some general rules when it comes to electrolyte replenishment:
- Replenish 50-80% of lost electrolytes during exercise. Any more leads to stomach issues, any less leads to performance issues.
- Consume 300-1000 mg sodium supplementation/hr for ultra-endurance activities.
Ultimately though, electrolyte and fluid replenishment is more of an individual art than a science. Each individual needs to trial and error to see what works for them.
- Electrolytes are ions that are essential for exercise and bodily function
- Water is essential to produce energy, but the ratio of electrolytes to water is crucial for proper muscle functioning
- Most daily diets supply adequate amounts of electrolytes
My Personal Takeaways
- Only worry about electrolyte balance during activity: not before, after, or daily.
- Don’t worry about electrolyte balance unless doing long, intense cardiovascular exercise > 1 hour, especially if I’m sweating.
- Either use plain salt tablets or sports drinks/supplements along with water to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes
- Combine personal anecdotal evidence with the science of electrolyte loss for the particular activity I’m doing to figure out a specific electrolyte rebalance plan
Sodium and Salt
Sodium is a chemical element, abbreviated Na, that also happens to be an electrolyte. “Salt” is a molecule, NaCl, or sodium chloride. As previously discussed, a lot of sodium is lost in sweat, which is why sweat can taste salty.
Table salt and a lot of salt we ingest is NaCl, but you can also get sodium through baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate), and preservatives (sodium nitrate).
The average diet contains about 2300 mg sodium per day. As just discussed, sodium is essential, but like most things, needs to be balanced. Too much can cause high blood pressure.
My Personal Takeaways
- Dietary salt, when consumed moderately, is actually healthy as it provides electrolytes
- Getting too much sodium or salt is something I need to be aware of since I love salty snacks. But I’m pretty active, and don’t get a ton of my calories from salt, so I’m not too concerned.
Potassium is also a chemical element that happens to be an electrolyte. Because of this, people associate potassium (or lack thereof) with cramping. In reality, it’s no more important at preventing cramping than the other electrolytes.
My Personal Takeaways
- Most plant-based foods are rich in potassium, so I don’t need to worry about obtaining it specifically.
Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Hemoglobin is an essential protein in red blood cells. Iron is used to make hemoglobin, so it is essential for the production of blood.
My Personal Takeaways
- Plant-based diets have adequate iron, so I don’t need to worry specifically about it. Plus, I eat about 4 large bowls of frosted mini wheats per day, each of which has around 90% of recommended daily value in it!
Trigger warning: Definitely do not read this next section if you have or have had an eating disorder or any negative relationship with food or body weight!
Sugar gets a lot of attention from people, and generally has a reputation of being “unhealthy”. However, as we discussed, sugar is actually just energy used by the body. Glucose is a type of sugar!
When people talk about sugar from a dietary context, they’re generally referring to foods that are very simple carbs, meaning foods with a glycemic index close to 100 (pure glucose). As we discussed in the Carbohydrate section of this post, these foods aren’t inherently “bad”. They play a very important role in supplying energy quickly to the body.
There are a few points about sugar worth noting. Most of these are the same points already made about high GI foods taken to an extreme:
- People refer to sugar as “empty calories”. What they mean by this is that sugar doesn’t produce a lot of nutrients like vitamins and minerals per calorie it gives you. Thus, if too many of your calories come in the form of sugar, you can end up with nutrient deficiencies.
- As discussed in the Carbohydrate section, it’s easier with sugar to end up consuming more food than you actually need for energy than it is with other foods, like more complex carbs. This can lead to weight gain if coupled with lack of exercise.
- Foods high in sugar release dopamine, which can increase cravings for more sugar.
- If sugar is consumed in very high amounts, it can tax the pancreas and insulin system. If this happens too often, the insulin system can malfunction. This can lead to diabetes.
If sugar is consumed in moderate amounts, it is actually beneficial and healthy for individuals, athletes in particular. It is a very valuable source of fuel!
- Sugar is simply pure glucose: the simplest of carbs, with a glycemic index of 100
- There are health implications to eating too much sugar
- If consumed moderately, sugar is a beneficial energy source for individuals and athletes
My Personal Takeaways
- I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so unlike salt, consuming too much sugar daily is something I personally don’t need to worry much about
- Utilize sugar strategically for pre-workout and mid-workout fuel
Starches are complex carbohydrates, which are foods with a low glycemic index. As a reminder, these foods are broken down into glucose and energy over a longer period of time than high-GI foods and sugars.
Since this has already been discussed in depth, I will keep this section brief. Any negative connotation you’ve heard with starch is likely from the idea that consuming too many carbohydrates are unhealthy.
It is true that if more carbohydrates are consumed than is needed for immediate energy and muscle/liver storage, excess gets stored in fatty tissue. However, carbs are the primary fuel source for your body.
Consuming a low-carb diet is not optimal, especially for athletes (see Appendix: Nutritional Strategies: Low Carb Diet). Starches are a healthy part of a balanced diet.
My Personal Takeaways
- Starches are complex carbohydrates. They are an integral part of a healthy diet, and provide essential fuel for the body.
Cholesterol is used to form cell membranes and structures. It synthesizes hormones, vitamin D, and other substances. The liver actually creates cholesterol, so it’s not strictly needed to acquire from diet.
That being said, it’s generally OK to acquire cholesterol from your diet, since to a point the liver adjusts to produce less cholesterol to compensate if some is being supplied from the diet.
However, problems can arise if an excess of cholesterol is consumed. This can cause blood cholesterol levels to rise, and is associated with heart diseases and other health problems.
Nonetheless, if cholesterol is consumed in moderation, it’s not a major concern.
- Body synthesizes cholesterol on its own. You don’t need to acquire it through diet, but you can up to a certain point.
- Too much cholesterol can be unhealthy.
My Personal Takeaways
- Most high-cholesterol foods are animal-based foods. There are some plant-based foods with high cholesterol, but I don’t consume a lot of these foods, so cholesterol is not something I need to worry about in particular.
Creatine phosphate is used as an energy store for short-term, high-intensity efforts. It is stored in muscles and the body produces it naturally, but it can also be obtained through diet by consuming animal-based foods.
My Personal Takeaways
- I tried creatine supplementation to raise my baseline levels since I’m vegan, but it didn’t improve my athletic performance, so I stopped.
Types of Food
Tom Brady and his diet have made “nightshades” somewhat infamous. Brady does not eat them or anything derived from them, claiming they contribute to inflammation and are unhealthy. But what are nightshades? And is what Brady says true?
Nightshades are foods derived from flowering plants from the solanaceae family. This includes the following: potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cayenne pepper, red pepper, chili powder, paprika, and marinara sauce.
Nightshades supply a variety of healthy minerals and nutrients. Some people (like Brady) believe these foods contribute to inflammation, but there’s actually no compelling concrete evidence to support this. And even if it were true, inflammation is not something to be avoided for athletes.
- Nightshades are foods derived from the solanaceae family, like potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers.
- They contain an abundance of minerals and nutrients
- There is no compelling evidence they contribute to inflammation, and even if they did, that would be a good thing
My Personal Takeaways
- Eat them! Or at least don’t avoid them 🙂
“Processed food” is another term with a bad rap in nutritional circles. It’s somewhat arbitrary to apply a precise definition. In general, a processed food is one whose nutritional composition has been changed through things like cooking, freezing, canning, fortifying, or preserving.
In reality, the “processing” of food exists on a spectrum. One end of the spectrum (low processing) are foods like bagged spinach or nuts. The other end of the spectrum would be things like frozen, pre-made meals.
Processing isn’t always bad. It can fortify foods with vitamins, like milk or juice that has been fortified with vitamin D. In general though, there are a few concerns to be aware of with processed food:
- It can be high in sodium (described above), because salt is often used as a preservative
- It can be high in added sugars (described above)
- It can contain more artificial ingredients, which the body doesn’t process as well as natural ingredients
- It can have more calories for less nutritional value
Just like with most topics we’ve covered, processed foods can be consumed in moderate amounts, but can be unhealthy if overindulged in.
- The degree to which foods are “processed” exists on a spectrum
- Processed foods can be fortified with healthy vitamins
- Heavily-processed foods are generally less healthy than “less-processed” foods, but are OK to have to some degree as part of a well-balanced diet
My Personal Takeaways
- Consume processed foods in moderation. Balance them with less-processed, whole foods, but don’t avoid them completely
The term “superfood” is a marketing ploy applied by companies and individuals to their products to get you to buy them. Seriously.
Sure, there are foods that are nutritionally dense and healthy overall. But the idea that one particular type of food or product can supply a large majority of your nutritional needs or create some crucial health benefit unattainable without that food just doesn’t make intuitive sense.
The human body is a complex machine with many different nutritional needs. If you take anything away from this post it should be that isolated nutrients and foods don’t supply all needs and shouldn’t be consumed in excess. This includes “superfoods”.
The idea of superfoods also doesn’t make sense from a global health perspective. Some foods touted as superfoods only grow in certain regions.
If these foods were truly essential for health, we’d expect that people living in regions where those foods were unavailable would have health problems. I’ve yet to find convincing evidence that this is the case for any food touted as a “superfood”.
- The term “superfood” is relatively meaningless and is used by people to make money
- A healthy diet includes a wide variety of whole foods all consumed in moderation
My Personal Takeaways
- Don’t avoid so called “superfoods”, but don’t specifically seek them out either
Probiotics are bacteria that live inside our body. They are essential to our health. They play a role in all of the following things, and this list is not complete:
- Regulate your digestion tract
- Modulate white blood cell immune response to help it use an appropriate amount of force
- Break down carbs for energy
- Rid body of toxins
- Absorb fatty acids
- Promote repair of damaged tissue
Certain things can destroy these microorganisms, like chemicals, toxins, food preservatives, pesticides, and chronic stress . Antibiotics generally wipe out all bacteria from your body when taken, including the healthy bacteria, which is one reason why they should only be taken when needed.
Because probiotics are so essential and can be killed, should they be actively replenished through diet? This is the goal of fermented food and beverages, like yogurt or kombucha.
However, it doesn’t make sense that consuming these would be strictly needed to replenish bacteria. If that were the case, then people who never consumed fermented food and beverages or took probiotic supplements would be in a world of hurt.
So the body must be capable of generating and managing probiotics on its own. However, it’s possible (more research is needed) that consuming probiotics through diet can help the body along, perhaps replenishing bacteria faster and more efficiently.
- Probiotics are microorganisms that play many essential roles in our body
- Various environmental and lifestyle factors can kill your body’s probiotics
- While not strictly essential, consuming probiotics through diet may help the body replenish probiotics
My Personal Takeaways
- Consuming probiotics isn’t essential, but it can’t hurt and there’s a chance it helps. Drink kombucha (the tea in kombucha has other health benefits as well) a few times per week.
Vegan Dietary Concerns
There are several additional vitamins and foods I analyzed that are particularly relevant to me since I eat a vegan diet. Because this may not be relevant for all readers, I put that section in the Appendix: Vegan Dietary Concerns.
We’ve now extensively analyzed numerous nutritional topics and the various benefits they provide. But what is the optimal timing of nutrition?
Does it matter when you eat certain foods? The previous section touched on this topic, but here we will break this down further.
The bottom line is that for most people, for most cases, the specific timing of nutrition just isn’t all that important. What’s far more important is the quantity and quality of the nutrients and food, which was discussed at length in the previous section.
If you are working out, there are some more specific concerns to be aware of, but even then, the hype behind “nutrient timing” is overblown.
It is important to maximize your fuel stores before a workout. On the other hand, digesting takes energy. This can increase the digestive requirement during the workout and leave less energy available to your body to support the actual muscle contraction needed for your chosen activity.
These two opposing goals need to be balanced. Complex carbs take about 4 hours to fully digest to be used as energy. Thus, eating a full meal with a healthy balance of complex carbs 4-6 hours before a workout is a solid strategy.
Ingesting a light carb/protein snack 30-60 minutes before exercise to top off fuel stores and protein availability can also be prudent, if your stomach can handle it.
A mix of protein and carbs before the workout is best. Carbs supply the fuel. Protein helps your body produce the insulin needed to utilize the fuel and increases the resilience of muscles against breaking down.
You generally only need to worry about nutrition during exercise if it’s greater than an hour in duration. The two main things you need to consider are glucose (carbs) and electrolytes.
Electrolytes have already been discussed at length. A general rule for carbohydrate fuel replenishment during exercise is to consume 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour, but this varies significantly and is more of an art than a science.
Remember that the type of carbohydrate also matters. Simple sugars give energy faster, complex carbs provide lower energy over a prolonged period of time.
After a workout, the most important concerns are to replenish your fuel stores, and help your body recover and rebuild muscle. The idea of a post-workout “golden period of replenishment” is largely a myth. The reality is that your body will take the nutrients at any time.
However, the longer you wait to supply the needed nutrients, the more delayed your body’s recovery processes will be. So sooner is generally better.
Additionally, if replenishing faster is particularly important (such as if you’re doing multiple workouts a day), you definitely need to replenish as soon as you can after the workout.
A general rule of thumb is to consume food at a 2:1 carb:protein ratio after a workout, but this does not need to be followed rigorously. It’s more of a guideline to help you ensure you get adequate carbs and protein after a workout.
If you want more information on this topic, here is a great article on nutrient timing.
Personal Master Wellness and Athletic Performance Guide
This personal wellness guide contains recommendations I will follow to pursue optimal health and athletic performance.
Recommendations are divided into the following categories, based on when I should follow them:
- During workout
Within each broad category, recommendations are classified based on whether they are nutrition-related, supplement-related, or something else.
More details justifying each of the recommendations below have been covered somewhere in this post series. This guide is a high-level summary encapsulating all of the recommendations.
- Carbs: Eat roughly 5-7 g/kg per day, but follow intuitive eating more.
- Protein: Eat roughly 1.2-2 g/kg per day, but follow intuitive eating more.
- Fats: Ideally < 20% calories. Unsaturated fats better, saturated ok, trans fats terrible.
- Hydration: Ensure fully hydrated, use thirst/pee color as a guide.
- Consume processed foods, sugars, and cholesterol in moderation to avoid too many empty calories, but don’t go overboard on avoiding.
- Drink kombucha most days for the health benefits of tea and to achieve any potential health benefits of probiotics
- Minimize alcohol: Forcing the liver to metabolize alcohol on top of its other numerous important roles inhibits the other tasks (Appendix: Importance of Liver)
- If training for an explosive sport, consider creatine monohydrate supplementation. Take 25 g/day for 5 days, and 3-5 g/day thereafter. Use a well-researched, vegan product (creatine is usually not vegan). Be aggressive about hydration while taking. Objectively evaluate performance to ensure it is helping.
- If doing a sport that involves anaerobic energy production, consider beta-alanine supplementation. Take 2-5 g. daily, and use a well-researched, vegan product (beta alanine is usually not vegan). Objectively evaluate performance to ensure it is helping.
- Drink soy milk and orange juice fortified with vitamin B12 and vitamin D daily.
- Meditation: Use if desired to combat stress, help focus, or improve sleep
- Sleep: Try to average 9 hours per night and have a regular circadian schedule to create a pattern within the body. Sleep is essential for workout recovery. It reduces glucosteroid levels, which weaken the immune system and prevent muscles from rebuilding.
- Experiment with Wim Hof breathing as a form of active recovery and a positive stressor on off days.
- Hydration: Ensure fully hydrated, but don’t drink too much too close to exercise.
- Eat a complex-carb meal 4-6 hrs before
- Eat a light carb/protein snack 30-60 minutes before (about 50 g. Carbs, 5-10 g. protein)
- Avoid eating high-fat meals too close to workout because it takes a long time for the body to digest and convert to usable energy, and puts extra stress on the body to digest.
- Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) supplementation: Experiment with using it before a sport that involves anaerobic energy production. Take 25 g mixed with 500 ml of water 60-90 mins before, but experiment with dosage and timing. Drink over a period of 15-20 minutes. Objectively evaluate to see if it improves performance. It could cause gastrointestinal distress that outweighs the positive effects.
- Heat: Apply local heat for specific relevant body parts, ensure whole body warmed up.
- Utilize deep breathing and positive visualization techniques before competition, for calming myself, focusing myself, and placebo/positive mentality.
- Wim Hof breathing: Experiment with using it before a workout that either involves anaerobic energy production or a lack of oxygen to see if raising blood alkalinity helps the workout performance.
- Carbs: Consume during intense cardio > 1 hr. Rough guideline is 60 g/hr, but listen to yourself. If doing longer (all day) workout at lower average intensity, try to get carbs through food. Use low-glycemic index carbs for more sustained energy, high-glycemic index foods (sugar) for quick energy.
- Electrolytes: Consume during intense cardio > 1 hr, especially if sweating a lot or drinking a lot of water. Worry mainly about sodium. Rough guideline is 300-1000 mg sodium/hr, but listen to yourself. Acquire via salt tablets, powders, gels, or sports drinks. If doing longer (all day) workout at lower average intensity, replenish through food.
- Hydration: Rough guideline 0.5-2 L fluid/hr of intense exercise, but drink when you feel you need to. Either drink pure water, or combined carbs/electrolytes/water drink. Use thirst/pee color as a guide.
- Positive mentality: Always try to think positively, for placebo effects.
- As close as possible after workout, eat what you’re craving. Rough guideline 1 g./kg of carbs, 0.5 g/kg of protein post-workout, but follow intuitive eating more.
- If craving, eat salts after workout to replenish lost electrolytes.
- Use the recovery tools discussed in this post to recover from workouts and injuries. Specifically, try to either stretch or roll out post workout.
Conclusion: Plot Twist
There you have it.
First, hours upon hours of research investigating supplements and thinking through a personal decision making framework (part 1). Diving deep into exercise physiology and the body’s energy pathways (part 2).
Finally, systematically analyzing every conceivable aspect of nutrition I can think of (part 3). A 3-post series all culminating in a master personal wellness guide for how to be the best athlete I can be.
I applaud you for sticking with this series, and really hope you learned a lot! Because after all of my research and analysis on sports nutrition and supplementation, I can reduce my personal wellness guide to 2 high-level points.
And to some extent, these 2 points are more important than the detailed wellness guide above!
Important Point #1: Intuitive Eating
Listen to what your body needs, and eat that thing. This is more important than carefully counting and analyzing everything. Why?
Because individual physiology and nutritional needs are unique! Everyone truly is different. Careful counting and analysis reduces your ability to intuitively listen to your body and determine exactly what you need. Ultimately, your own body knows what it needs, so the more you listen to it, the better off you are.
Important Point #2: Intuitive Living
From all the research that went into this post, I realized how complicated nutrition, supplementation, and physiology are.
Millions of components interact together in trillions of ways to form the brilliant, beautiful, fascinating living human body. Thus, it is very difficult to isolate specific supplements or nutrients in studies.
For this reason, we really can only concretely analyze the system through a ‘blackbox” perspective, whereby we observe how groups of inputs affect high-level outputs. The problem is that this blackbox perspective is riddled with things like bias, incomplete information, corporate interests, corruption, and limited volume of studies/observations.
The truth is that even with all the research that has been done, we are just scratching the surface with our knowledge. In other words, our understanding is incomplete.
With a drastically incomplete picture, it is very difficult to deductively reason about individual supplements, aids, foods, and other specific components. It is nearly impossible to logically confidently conclude certain strategies are optimal.
What does this all mean? It means I recommend following a few simple guidelines.
- Listen to how you feel. Trust your intuition about what is good or bad for your body.
- Trust your intuition when evaluating specific foods, nutritional strategies, or supplements.
- Be very skeptical of certain supplements or nutrients in isolation. Bodily inputs are enormously complex, and all work together in concert to nourish the whole.
- Research and knowledge are useful, but don’t overthink sports nutrition and supplementation. It’s easier and better to live simply and trust your body.
In other words, did I over-analyze all of this? Yes. But as the “Analytical Aspergian”, that’s what I do!
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for the next post!
Various forms of “low-carb” diets are all the rage, especially for people trying to lose weight. I believe that they don’t work for this purpose, but will leave it to those more qualified to dive into this topic.
What I will discuss here though is how terrible of a strategy this is for any type of athlete, or anyone who works out at all. If you’ve paid attention, you realize that carbohydrates supply glucose, which is an essential form of energy, to the body.
A low or no carb diet means low or no energy! Energy is what allows you to do anything athletic, for any type of workout.
As previously discussed, without supplying glucose to the body, your body must rely on either fat oxidation or protein metabolism to provide energy. Fat oxidation can only support very low-intensity activity, and takes a long time to get going.
Protein metabolism involves breaking down skeletal muscle to supply energy. It’s inefficient, and has a very low overall energy store! Breaking down skeletal muscle for energy is any athlete’s worst nightmare.
With a low-carb diet, you are extremely prone to running out of glucose and bonking (discussed previously) during extended exercise. And even more importantly: your brain needs energy in the form of glucose!
If you take it to the extreme and supply no carbohydrates to your body, your brain will break down your muscle to acquire protein to try to supply the glucose, but even then will likely not have enough for optimal functioning.
- Low-carb diet -> very little energy, muscle breakdown, less-than-optimal brain functioning -> poor athletic and mental performance
Carb-loading is a strategy popular amongst endurance athletes. The logic is that in the days leading up to an event, you consume more carbohydrates than is typical from your daily diet to “maximize” the stores of glycogen in your body.
Unlike the low-carb diet, carb-loading actually has some science to back it up, and the logic makes intuitive sense. However, I do not believe it is an effective nutritional strategy, for several reasons.
Reason 1: Controversial science
First of all, the science behind whether you can actually raise muscle glycogen levels to “higher” than their normal value is somewhat controversial. Recall that any glucose not immediately needed by the liver, red blood cells, and muscles (which can store about 500 grams) generally gets stored in fat cells, which is not the purpose behind carb-loading.
Reason 2: Not that beneficial for performance
So the only way carb-loading would be beneficial is if the muscles somehow stored more glycogen than they normally do, and this fact is up for debate. Even if they could, doing it wouldn’t be that beneficial. An athlete who started an endurance race with a lower supply of glucose would simply need to refuel earlier than the athlete who “carb-loaded”.
Reason 3: Negative tradeoffs with increasing carb intake
For sake of argument, let’s suppose muscle glycogen levels can be saturated higher than their normal capability. In my opinion, carb-loading would have other negative tradeoffs that would make the glycogen increase not worth it.
From a mathematical standpoint, you have two options to increase carbohydrate intake in the days leading up to an event:
- A higher percentage of your caloric intake comes from carbohydrates, and a lower number of calories (relative to normal) comes from protein and/or fat.
- To keep raw calorie count coming from protein or fat the same while increasing carbs, overall caloric intake increases
Each of these options is detrimental.
If you drop the number of calories coming from protein and/or fat in the days leading up to an event, this can have negative consequences. As we’ve explored, fat is a useful long-term energy storage and fuel source (especially for longer endurance events) and plays other physiological roles within the body.
Protein is used to rebuild muscles and tissues, and also plays other roles. Research shows it helps absorption of glucose and production of insulin. Dropping either fat or protein intake (relative to normal) in the days leading up to an endurance event seems like it would create negative consequences.
Increasing overall caloric intake seems equally detrimental. Your body isn’t used to handling the extra calories, and it doesn’t have time to adjust to them before your event. Additionally, endurance athletes usually engage in a “taper” in the days leading up to an event.
A taper is a reduction in training volume to ensure muscles and mind are refreshed and fully rested before the event. A taper combined with an overall increase in calories could lead to a feeling of being “bloated” in the days leading up to the event, and possibly even lead to weight gain, neither of which are ideal for optimal performance.
- The science behind carb-loading is controversial.
- Even if it’s true, carb-loading simply isn’t that beneficial.
- Trying to increase carb intake days before an event can actually be detrimental.
As discussed in the Protein section, protein is essential for rebuilding muscles and recovering from workouts. Thus, it gets a lot of attention from athletes, especially power athletes looking to gain muscle mass.
And it is generally true that athletes, in particular power athletes or those looking to build muscle, need more protein than the average individual. However, this is only true within reason.
More protein is not always better, and some individuals tend to go overboard with their diets, thinking that the more protein they have, the more muscle they will build.
Over-focusing on getting too much protein, just like carb-loading, can be problematic. There are several reasons for this, some of which are similar to carb-loading.
Reason 1: Negative tradeoffs with increasing protein intake
The math with this and carb-loading is the same. In order to increase caloric protein intake (relatively speaking), there are two options:
- A higher percentage of your caloric intake comes from protein, and a lower number of calories comes from carbohydrates and/or fat.
- Overall caloric intake increases
Option 1 has negative tradeoffs, especially for athletes. Recall that energy for activity comes from carbohydrates (glucose) and fat (triglycerides). Decreasing intake of these fuel sources decreases overall energy availability.
This is problematic for athletes. The potential gains they’d get from more protein would likely be counterbalanced by having lower quality workouts (e.g doing less sets or reps in the weight room) due to lack of energy.
Option 2, increasing overall caloric intake, isn’t ideal either. This may not matter as much to a power athlete or an individual with the sole goal of muscle mass increase, as compared to an endurance athlete.
However, increased calories can lead to weight gain, which power-based athletes would be sensitive to. It also increases the burden on your body to process the extra calories, and if the body doesn’t want them, it may actually be physically difficult to consume that much protein.
Reason 2: Diminishing returns
The reality is the body only needs a certain amount of protein to effectively rebuild muscles: 1.2-2 g/kg. protein/day for athletes, lower end of the range for endurance athletes, higher-end for bodybuilders.
Past this point, increased protein starts to provide diminishing returns, and even becomes detrimental. The body simply doesn’t have a need for the extra protein that an ultra-high-protein diet may target. It essentially goes to waste, and forces the body to process stuff it doesn’t need to.
It would be like dousing your lawn with 10 feet of water per week: it just doesn’t need that much, and extra amounts past a certain point are not helpful and potentially detrimental.
Reason 3: Cancer
To build off of the last point, there is one particularly notable detrimental effect to too much protein: it can cause cancer.
I’ll leave it to the experts to justify this inflammatory point. Suffice it to say there is convincing evidence that a very high-protein diet can cause cancer, if the majority of the protein is coming from animal-based sources.
- Overall, protein is an important tool for athletes and everyday individuals alike to rebuild muscle.
- However, too much protein is not beneficial and can actually be detrimental.
Vegan Dietary Concerns
There are some nutrients that cannot be found in plant-based foods, or are believed to be found in lower amounts in plant-based foods. In this section, I analyze these nutrients to see if they are a problem for me and whether I need to build them into my overall health and wellness plan.
Vitamin B12 is essential for many different roles in the body. However, due to an evolutionary quirk, it must be obtained through our diet.
Vitamin B12 exists in living organisms. Theoretically it would be obtainable by eating plants, because the soil has organisms with vitamin B12. However, most of the fruits and vegetables you buy in a store have been cleaned off adequately such that they no longer have vitamin B12. Thus, vegans need to supplement to obtain B12.
My Personal Takeaways
- I personally drink soy milk and have orange juice every day that is fortified with B12, so I don’t need to supplement on top of this.
Vitamin D is needed for calcium synthesis, and is primarily obtained from the skin being exposed to UV-B rays from the sun. These electromagnetic waves react with cholesterol in your skin to produce vitamin D.
A lot of people are deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D is impractical to obtain through a plant-based diet, and still somewhat difficult to obtain sufficiently from an omnivorous diet.
Furthermore, living at north or south latitudes makes it difficult to obtain Vitamin D from the sun in the winter. Even if you’re outside on sunny days, the sun isn’t high enough in the sky to provide UV-B to skin contact for sufficient vitamin D production.
My Personal Takeaways
- In the spring, summer, and fall, I get enough vitamin D from the sun that I don’t need to worry.
- In the winter, I obtain enough Vitamin D from the soy milk and orange juice I drink daily, since it is fortified with enough Vitamin D.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
These acids are important for heart health. They are obtainable from plants, but most people get them from eating fish. So vegans just need to be cognizant they are consuming enough plant-based foods that have them.
My Personal Takeaways
- I eat chia seeds and hemp hearts every day with my cereal to fill this need
Creatine has been discussed extensively in all 3 parts of this series already, so I won’t go into detail here. It cannot be obtained from a plant-based diet, but doesn’t need to be because the body produces it on its own. Supplementation can help to raise baseline levels for athletes.
My Personal Takeaways
- I tried creatine supplementation, but it didn’t improve my athletic performance, so I stopped.
Taurine was discussed in part 1 of this series. It is a non-essential sulfur compound found in various body tissues. Like creatine, it is only found in animal-sourced foods, but is non-essential because the body produces it.
Vegans have lower levels of it generally, but studies have yet to conclusively show that having higher levels of it are beneficial for athletic performance.
My Personal Takeaways
- Don’t worry about it now, but keep tabs on it for future athletic performance research.
This was also discussed in part 1 of this series. Just like creatine and taurine, it is only found in animal-based foods but is non-essential. Unlike taurine, there is convincing research to show beta alanine supplementation may be able to improve athletic performance.
My Personal Takeaways
- Consider taking as a supplement to improve performance in anaerobic activity
There are a few other nutrients that came up in my research as potentially lacking in a plant-based diet. I analyzed them and determined they are not lacking in my diet, but I list them here for sake of completeness.
Choline: Tofu has it, and I eat a lot of tofu
Iodine: I get it from salt
Selenium: Adequate amounts in plant-based foods
Carnitine: Naturally produced by body, doesn’t need to be supplemented through diet
As I collected research for this post, it seemed like cancer kept coming up. I didn’t even have a good understanding of what cancer even is, so I figured I’d add a section briefly explaining what I found out about it.
Cancer is a genetic disease where “genetic errors” force disruption of normal cell functionality. Essentially, DNA gets damaged and affects genetic code that controls how cells divide, grow, and spread.
Cell division is an essential bodily function that occurs as part of a process to repair damaged muscle and cell tissues. Under normal circumstances, this process is modulated, and division stops when it is no longer needed.
With cancer, damaged DNA causes cells to divide when they shouldn’t. In this way, cells start repeatedly dividing, and each child cell contains the damaged genetic code that propagates further undesired cell division. Cancerous cells continue to divide uncontrollably, and this uncontrolled cell division is known as a tumor.
Cancer can theoretically happen naturally, but external factors are known to play a role in damaging DNA and spreading that damage.
Importance of Liver
Before researching exercise physiology, if you asked me to create a list of bodily tissues and organs most essential for optimal athletic performance, there would be many items at the top of the list: the heart, red blood cells, fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers, and the brain, among others.
The liver would have been very low on this list for me.
However, if you’ve paid attention during these posts, it may have become apparent to you how essential the liver truly is for athletic performance. Among other roles, it:
- Synthesizes beta alanine: Important for the production of carnosine, which helps buffer against hydrogen ion buildup and muscle acidosis during anaerobic glycolysis.
- Stores glycogen to feed the brain: It literally stores the fuel that powers your brain!
- Synthesizes cholesterol: This cholesterol is essential for many things, including maintaining the fluidity of cell membranes, and producing vitamins (like vitamin D) and hormones (like testosterone).
- Reprocesses lactic acid: Converts it to glucose to be used as energy
- Clears waste from the body: It is basically the garbage and recycling for your entire body
In light of all of these roles, I believe the liver is a significantly underrated component when it comes to optimal athletic performance.
1: Do carbohydrates become body fat: https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/does-carbohydrate-become-body-fat
2: Glycemic index of foods: https://www.nhrmc.org/~/media/testupload/files/low-gylcemic-meal-planning.pdf?la=en
3: Plant-based protein is complete: https://tenderly.medium.com/busting-the-myth-of-incomplete-plant-based-proteins-960428e7e91e
4: Good and bad fats: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good
5: Healthline antioxidants explained: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/antioxidants-explained
6: NIH antioxidants overview: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants-in-depth
7: Free radicals overview: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318652
8: Healthline electrolyte supplementation: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/electrolytes#supplements
9: Electrolyte sources for marathon: https://runnersconnect.net/electrolytes-sources-for-marathon/
10: Race day nutrition electrolytes: https://trailrunnermag.com/nutrition/race-day-nutrition/what-you-need-to-know-about-electrolytes.html
11: Electrolytes for runners: https://runnersconnect.net/electrolytes-for-runners/
12: Processed food health concerns: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318630
13: Processed foods pros and cons: https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/processed-foods-whats-ok-and-what-to-avoid
14: Benefits of probiotics: https://perlmanclinic.com/the-benefits-of-probiotics/
15: Nutrition timing: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/nutrient-timing
16: Post exercise anabolic window: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3577439/
17: Pre and post workout nutrition timing: https://www.eatright.org/fitness/exercise/exercise-nutrition/timing-your-pre-and-post-workout-nutrition
18: Vegan dietary considerations: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-nutrients-you-cant-get-from-plants
19: The China Study: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Study
20: Cancer Causes: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/genetics
21: Wikipedia Cancer Overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer_cell
22: Roles of Dietary Fat: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/dietary-fats