The Perfect ‘Diet’ For Fitness

Words: Dr Ryan N HARRISON

During the course of researching this topic, this author looked at several different approaches and found that while they had many things in common, they also varied in significant ways. As a Holistic Health Practitioner and someone who has enjoyed exercising for the last 10-12 years, I found myself drawn predominantly to one of the theories more than to the others. As a result, what I write here will be primarily taken from that source: Thrive, by Brendan Brazier, ultra-marathon champion and professional vegan athlete.

Who is an athlete? According to the Houghton Mifflin Company Dictionary, an athlete is “a person possessing the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility, and endurance, that are necessary for physical exercise, or sports, especially those performed in competitive contexts.” I bring this out early, because it’s really important that you realise that this mini-course is going to be geared towards a relatively small population, aside from people who are dedicated to sports and exercise in the context of competition, or otherwise.

While much of the information here is generally helpful, some of it may actually be detrimental to those who are not interested in such ‘hardcore’ athletic pursuits. This is not a mini-course on weight loss, nor is it directed at staying generally fit and healthy. Rather, this is about nutrition for training and is intended for your use as much as athletes who desire nutritional counsel. That said, let’s get down to business.

Stress 

You might find it strange that this mini-course on nutrition begins with a section on stress. I found that odd, too, as I worked my way through Thrive. There is wisdom, however, in taking this road, and you’ll find later that the nutritional aspects of this mini-course directly connect to the concept of stress and its effect on the body.

Stress is anything that causes strain on the body, regardless of its origin. There are actually several kinds of stress: pollutants in the air and water, job dissatisfaction, poor nutrition, relationship problems, exercise, etc. Stress isn’t necessarily a problem, though it certainly can be. “In amounts that our body is capable of adapting to, some stresses are beneficial. Exercise, for example, is a stress.” If you exercise, and then rest, your body will grow stronger. However, if you stress the body continually from multiple directions and it never gets a chance to recuperate, or rest, you will find yourself swiftly on the road to ill-health and a shorter life-span.

There are basically three categories of stress —

Uncomplimentary Stress. This is stress that produces no yield, no benefit. This type of stress should be completely eliminated, or reduced as far as possible. Examples include poor nutrition, worry, poor planning, and environmental stressors [such as toxins in the air and water].

Complementary Stress. This is stress that instigates growth and stimulates renewal within the body. Exercise in proper amounts and with adequate rest/recovery time is complementary stress; the right balance of exercise strengthens us, mentally and physically, once we’ve recovered from it.

Production Stress. This is ‘a wise and necessary way to stress yourself to yield a positive payoff.’ Examples include physically demanding exercise sessions to prepare for competition, working overtime, working on personal or family problems, and taking calculated risks. This kind of stress can be seen as a fun and challenging part of life, with a rewarding pay-off — just viewing it this way can reduce its negative impact.

Stress breaks the body down in varying degrees. In some ways, this is good — this is how we grow stronger. If we have the resources to facilitate recovery from stress, then this process is healthy. If you lack the proper resources, it can be detrimental. All this is to say that “it’s not in our best interest to take on projects that ultimately slow our progress.” A far better approach is to work on one aspect, become proficient, and then move on to the next.

In the context of nutrition, we need to recognise that change is a stressor and so is changing one’s diet. Unfortunately, what often happens is that those who are making positive changes actually are more likely to discontinue them than those who make negative ones. This is because those who see themselves as making a sacrifice to try and achieve better health want their investment to pay-off quickly. Slow progress usually leads to dwindling interest. ‘Any physical deviation from the routine will be perceived as stress. Even if the change is a positive one, the body must first adapt.’

So, if an athlete changes their diet to improve performance, muscle tone, endurance, etc., the immediate result could be unexpected detoxification: the body’s way of eliminating toxins accumulated over years of poor quality food consumption. This means that the first few days on an optimal diet may actually not be pleasant. And, naturally, the poorer the quality of the previous diet, the longer the detoxification process will last.

We know that optimal health is about balance. “To be a serious competitor in any demanding sport requires that health must occasionally be overlooked.” However, with proper precautions, a healthy athlete is actually able to train at unhealthy levels a few times throughout the year, in the name of performance. Such intense training does, indeed, stress the body and will actually lower its immunity to illness and toxins; during these high-stress times, optimal nutrition is of paramount importance. It is literally the difference between sickness and health.

Nutritional Stress 

It is possible to put unnecessary stress on the body simply by eating foods that are not good for it. When not provided the nutrients that it requires to function optimally, the body tries to, in a sense, ‘self-medicate.’ This is where cravings come from, which are the body’s way of making itself feel good. Giving into cravings, however, perpetuates a vicious cycle in which the source of the problem is never really addressed. “The most effective way to permanently break the cycle is to reduce ‘uncomplementary’ stress by eating a nutrient-rich, whole food diet; one which contains sources of easily digestible protein, fibre, whole grains and vegetables as a low glycaemic form of carbohydrate, essential fatty acids from nuts and seeds, along with vitamins and minerals.”

What this means is that the foods you eat need to be packed full of nutrition — not cheaply produced, mass-farmed foods. Otherwise, your body will develop cravings to fill in the gaps with things that will make it ‘feel good,’ even if only temporarily.

For an athlete, or someone who wants to be fit, energy is just about the most important thing there is. You need it to exercise and perform. Without it, you cannot be an athlete at all. This requires that the athlete assesses the energy provided by food by considering its net gain: what we are left with once the food has been processed for energy by the body. We all know that we get energy from food. But, consider this: the more energy the body has to expend to digest, assimilate and utilise the nutrients in food, the less energy we are left with to use as we please.

“By consuming more easily assimilated foods, a large amount of energy can be conserved. There are two main reasons for this; the first being that the nutrient-rich easily digested foods can be assimilated with less expenditure, and the second is that when more nutrient-rich foods are present in the diet, the body does not have to eat as much as if it were ‘average’ foods.” Essentially, this means that you need to eat less and, therefore, digest less, but you end up with a huge net energy gain to be spent, however, you choose. Or, rather, however your body chooses, which will likely be to improve immune function and speed up the restoration of cells damaged by stress.

Foods that offer a superior net gain in energy are:

  • Alkaline-forming, high in chlorophyll
  • Rich in enzymes, raw and alive
  • Rich in prebiotics and probiotics
  • Best consumed in liquid form.

Another way that many self-sabotage their efforts is by taking too many supplements. While it may be common practice to take as many as you can afford [just to be sure you’re getting everything you need], an excess of synthetic fat-soluble vitamins [A, D, K, E] can actually load up the fat cells, and eventually lead to toxicity. Athletes who are concerned about getting their vitamins can rest easy, if they consume whole foods on a daily basis. The fibre contained in the complete foods doesn’t permit overconsumption, making them the best option.

Dr RYAN N HARRISON, PsyD, MA, BCIH, EFT-ADV, HHP, NC, MH, QTP, LWM, HSM, is a holistic health educator and consultant in private practice. He also holds a post-graduate degree in transpersonal psychology and certifications as a nutritional consultant, holistic health practitioner, spiritual counsellor, and quantum-touch. Aside from being an advanced practitioner of EFT [Emotional Freedom Techniques], Harrison teaches and lectures in conventional and online forums. He lives in California, US. 

 

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