What to eat, drink, or not to eat or drink?
Let’s start with the drinks. Water. And a lot of it. An absolute must for us to survive. Water is used by the body for the optimal function of our cells, tissues, and organs. It is also a healing agent and cleanser. Our bodies are made up of 60-70% of water and it is recommended that we drink at least 8 glasses of good, clean water a day (and preferably a large warm glass on rising, with a pinch of Himalayan salt if living in a humid climate). It also is involved in numerous chemical reactions. The kidney’s for example, gauge the amount of water in our bodies (and make urine by filtering blood), and increase or decrease the amount of water excreted as urine.
If the intake of water is increased, we begin to be thirsty again (our body responds to the increase in drinking by increasing its messages to us about its desire to drink more). Staying hydrated also aids in detox and is important for holistic self-care.
When the body is in a chronic state of dehydration, it does not realize it. The body cannot clean the blood of waste and toxins, or keep the balance among water and salts (electrolytes). Everything in the body moves along with water, therefore if we are lacking it, we don’t absorb nutrients, we have decreased, stronger yellow urine output, dry skin, headaches, dizziness, muscle cramps, dry mucous membranes, fatigue, and dry mouth. Furthermore, the longer you remain dehydrated, it can cause poor skin, stomach ulcers, constipation, muscle pains, tightness, joint stiffness, backache, indigestion, heartburn, asthma, depression, water retention, angina and high blood pressure, low energy, and chronic inflammation of all kinds. Dementia and cancer are not out of the question either. Dehydration causes histamine production, which causes all the pain and inflammation.
What about electrolytes?
We all know they are an important part of performance, especially in hot and humid climates. Electrolytes are NOT JUST SALT! They are comprised of Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Chloride, Bicarbonate, and Hydrogen phosphate (what we sweat out!). In order to perform effectively, I suggest only drinking plain water (as opposed to electrolyte drink mixes) and taking salt stick salt tabs (which have all the electrolytes at the ratio you need not just salt- for example sodium in this tab is 215mg whereas some others may only have 15mg- shoot for 300 mg/hour so one salt tab and some food which naturally has sodium in it should be good) or gels (which also have all that you need if you are using the right brand. Not all gels are created equal, I use GU Energy for example) every hour with a good few chugs of water. Weather conditions and nighttime conditions may alter the use of the salt tabs. For example, if it's really cold then one would not need as many and could take them every 2 hours instead. Be mindful of eating too salty of foods during this process as well. Too much of high sodium items like jerky and salted nuts can throw it off, instead, opt for low sodium or no-sodium options to help keep control of your sodium intake.
One should aim for 24-28 oz of water every hour with their electrolytes. You can monitor your levels by your urine. Healthy amounts should mean urinating a light yellow every hour or two. If your urine is dark in color and you aren't going very often, then you need to drink more plain water. If your urine is clearer and you are going a lot, then you need more electrolytes or consider backing off of the water for a bit. Again, take into consideration the conditions. Obviously, if it's pretty warm that day you may need more.
RACE DAY OR LONG RUN HYDRATION? Well, this is what your perfectly fitting, Ultimate Direction hydration vests are for! I recommend using plain water only and controlling your electrolytes through gels and salt tabs as opposed to powder mixes. This way you know exactly how much to consume and shoot for per hour and not just “guessing” it when mixing your powder. Usually, just wing it? I’d recommend getting a coach to go over your individual needs with this… I mean after all, you just spent how long training for this race, now you're gonna “wing” it.
Can it aid in performance? Yes and no. The thing about caffeine is that we all process it differently. Caffeine is the largest psychoactive stimulant used by people, which speeds up the central nervous system.
Yes, caffeine is a drug, is legal, and is in most places, unregulated. However, it is classified by the FDA as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). That is because the typical dose is much lower than what is considered toxic (1 gram for an average adult). Spoiler alert: There is only about 120 mg of caffeine in the average brewed mug.
Caffeine affects our central nervous system and tolerance varies by individual. The interesting thing about caffeine is that, similar to alcohol, it treats all of us differently. Where I might be able to fall asleep soon after drinking coffee, you might not be able to.
For some, a small amount of caffeine will have positive effects such as enhancing mood, increasing alertness, and the ability to concentrate. For those who are more sensitive, it can cause insomnia, headaches, irritability, and jitters.
Recent international studies have shown that caffeine has demonstrated protective effects against Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease when consumed in moderation (resource: kicking horse coffee).
Like a bruski the night before a big race? Well, there is no harm in that, or is there?
Alcohol is a diuretic. It makes the kidneys release more water (aka urine), but there have been studies that show one would need to consume moderately and a stronger about of alcoholic beverages in order for this to take place in any significant way (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537780/) So maybe one before the big day may not be bad, but consistently you will affect your performance because you will not recover as effectively. Keep in mind, if you are dehydrated even slightly, you will fatigue much quicker.
But wait! There is another aspect to drinking alcohol and performance. Alcohol interferes with the way your body makes energy, especially if consumed in large amounts. It decreases vitamin and mineral absorption and therefore depressing your immune system too. So if you are drinking consistently, including that night before, you are only hurting your performance… but hey maybe one isn’t so bad?
Moving on to food.
Meat. Ahhh yes, the big one. Some like it, some despise it. But how does it affect your performance? The bottom line, meat does cause inflammation. That inflammation can be countered some if consumed with alkalizing type plant foods like avocado. However, as Americans, our problems with meat typically occur due to (1) Quality of the meat and where we get it from, (2) The amount we eat (both in a single serving as well as how many times a week), and (3) How we cook it. Now before my meat eaters go crazy on me, listen up. I’ve studied this a lot. I grew up hunting, fishing, and farming and instill that in my offspring today. From what I can gather (and please take this with a grain of salt, there is a lot of controversial information and WE ARE ALL STILL LEARNING)
(A) Almost all meat in the U.S is injected, produced, or cooked poorly leaving us with disease, cancer-causing grub (poultry being the worst).
(B) That is not to say that all meat is created equal. There certainly has not been a lot of research or many studies on wild game or wild fish, in which, I would recommend switching to if you are a meat-eater. Wild game (elk, bison, deer, etc). There is a risk with it as well, it does depend on how it was processed (even meaning, how it was cleaned and cooled at the time of the kill too). What about “free-range” though? Well here are the standards for chickens... Doesn’t sound as “free” as I’d like them, and certainly not as free as the elk roaming across the Rockies.
“HFAC's Certified Humane® “Free Range” requirement is 2 sq. ft. per bird. The hens must be outdoors, weather permitting (in some areas of the country, seasonal), and when they are outdoors they must be outdoors for at least 6 hours per day.”
We also eat too much meat and in large quantities. That we should all know and realize. Your body can only process so much, not only of meats, but beans take some blame here too. Keep your meat portions to a card deck size and really 1x a week for red meat is sufficient but if you are a daily red meat eater, shoot for 3x a week instead of 7!
With cooking meat. Boiling is one of the best ways to do it. Include a bit of apple cider vinegar and you will reap the benefits of the vitamins and minerals “bone broth” gets its name for (the vinegar helps extract these). Grilling, roasting, baking, broiling, steaming, press cooking, and slow cooking are some of the other healthiest ways to cook meat.
So what is meat even good for then?
Wildgame for example is the most organic leanest meat out there. They don’t have any antibiotics or pharmaceuticals, no hormones, and a low risk for foodborne illnesses. I mean confined factories? No thanks...they aren’t good for the animals, people, or our environment. So where does the performance or health part come in? They are low in cholesterol, fat, high in protein, iron, zinc, omega 3’s (and lower in omega 6’s which increase inflammation!), therefore helping athletes avoid anemia (iron deficiency), reduce inflammation, increase the immune system and provide quicker recovery and muscle building. Wild fish like salmon is also a great source of protein, B vitamins, potassium, selenium, antioxidants, as well as fights against heart disease, obesity, and more.
Dun...Dun...Dun...Dairy! Yup, be done with it. There is nothing healthy about it. There are numerous research studies on this that even the government tries to hide. Protein, Vitamin D, and calcium are what the hype is about, but you can easily, more healthily get that from other sources. And besides, I mean is it really natural to drink milk from another mammal? We are the only ones that do. Dairy is linked to numerous cancers and diseases that far exceed almost every other type of “food.”
So then do I really have to eat a lot of Plants?
YES!!! ORGANIC no pesticide, no chemicals plants! Plants can reduce the risk and even reverse diseases and cancers! One may question, how does an athlete perform off of plants? A lot of ways but here are a few...
It is low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol helps improve blood viscosity or thickness. That helps more oxygen reach the muscles, which improves athletic performance. Plant-based diets improve arterial flexibility and diameter, leading to better blood flow. Plants are easier to digest and they help us absorb nutrients better. One does need to consider slowing down and chewing their food well though too! They are loaded with too many vitamins, minerals, and health benefits to list… just eat them :)
Antioxidants are very much needed nowadays. Our bodies are fighting not only what we put into it, but the toxins our environment provides too. Plants are loaded with antioxidants (and no you can’t just take a supplement, research shows antioxidant supplements do not work!). Consider adding red cabbage (the highest antioxidant) into your smoothies and salads.
Got a leaky gut? Runners trots?
Leaky gut condition happens when the mucus membrane lining of our small intestine becomes unhealthy or too permeable (leaky), allowing proteins to cross. This occurs when unknown proteins in the blood trigger an anti-inflammatory response because the immune system thinks they are a threat. This is the cause of food intolerances or food sensitivities. It can cause further food intolerances as digestion is further impaired. Antioxidants reduce inflammation!!!
What about enough protein?
Here’s the part where I recommend a PLANT FOCUSED diet. One that focuses on eating a majority of plants, with a little bit of wild game/fish. BUT!.. That little bit of wild game will not be enough protein either...so whether you are a meat-eater or not, consider these items daily for optimal protein intake (protein- repair and rebuild muscle that is broken down during exercise and to help optimizes carbohydrate storage in the form of glycogen).
Lentils, chickpeas, nuts, seeds, spirulina, quinoa, broccoli, spinach, and so much more!
So what about the bad aspects of plants?
Well, this is why I say PLANT FOCUSED not entirely plant-based. There are some “not so good” in plants as well. They are actually pretty smart organisms wanting to protect themselves as we do. Seeds for example have antinutrients. Some bad guys are associated with plants: Phytates, Lectins, glycoalkaloids, and oxalates to name a few.
Phytates or phytic acid impairs the absorption of iron, zinc, and calcium and may promote mineral deficiencies. These are mostly in nuts and seeds. They can damage our intestinal lining, and trigger inflammatory responses in the body. Antinutrients are often responsible for food sensitivities, allergies, digestive ailments, and autoimmune diseases. They can cause symptoms such as headaches, joint pain, and asthma (resource: https://www.kevinstock.io/health/health-dangers-of-eating-seeds/). Soak, sprout and ferment are what is recommended if you do eat them!
Lectins are another big one. Lectins are a family of proteins found in almost all foods, especially legumes and grains. Some people claim that lectins cause increased gut permeability and drive autoimmune diseases. While it's true that certain lectins are toxic and cause harm when consumed in excess, they're easy to get rid of through cooking. However, if consumed in excess you're looking at brain fog and a decrease in mental performance as well (and if you are consuming gluten with it, you're in trouble). So what should we do? Be sure to soak and cook your legumes, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, etc), and grains well!!!
Glycoalkaloids. They are a group of nitrogen-containing compounds that are naturally produced in various cultivated and ornamental plant species of the Solanaceae family. This large family of plants includes commonly consumed vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. They are neurotoxins and enzyme inhibitors. Say what?! Yup, the solanine is toxic! Even in low amounts and unfortunately, they can’t be cooked out. It can be helpful to let’s say, peel away the skin of a potato (since it’s mostly concentrated in there), don’t eat unripe, sprouting or green potatoes! Side note: I learned this one when my puppy got into some potato peels… google it, very sad stories of the damage green peels and potatoes, in general, can cause a pup ;( … and us.
Oxalates. Oxalates are a natural substance in many foods. They bind to calcium during digestion in the stomach and intestines and leave the body in stool. Oxalate that is not bound to calcium travels as a waste product from the blood to the kidneys where it leaves the body in the urine. This becomes a problem for the kidneys. Oxalic acid is a magnet for minerals, especially calcium. Oxalic acid grabs calcium and forms calcium oxalate – the main ingredient in kidney stones.
These oxalate crystals build up into bigger and bigger crystals. They bioaccumulate. As they accumulate the body deposits these sharp crystals throughout the body – in joints, muscles, and especially the kidneys (resource: https://www.kevinstock.io/health/health-dangers-of-oxalates/).
Leaky gut peeps can see an increased amount of absorption of oxalate. The bummer...they can’t be reduced or eliminated by cooking. The highest foods with oxalates are sweet potatoes, spinach, beets, rhubarb, and chocolate. So it’s suggested that you eliminate them from your diet, especially if you have kidney stones/problems.
CONFUSED YET?! I sure am…
To sum it all up. There are a few ways to go about this overwhelming experiment. And that is all that it is right? It’s not an ALL OR NONE principle. We are all individuals, with individual working bodies, will individual taste buds that need to be individually nutritiononized!
Limit your nutrition for 6 weeks, taking out the plant poison type foods, dairy, gluten, soy, and crappy meat! See how you feel, slowly add in certain foods in phases. Keep a journal on your energy levels, how you feel, if you scored a personal best, or completely tanked.
3 weeks, 9 meals. Think of 3 meals you already enjoy that are plant-based (like pasta and marinara sauce that could be easily tweaked to whole grain pasta with some added veggies). Then think of 3 meals you already eat that could be adapted ( like beef chili to just bean chili or wild game chili), and the last 3 is to discover new recipes! Check out these sites: (a) https://www.ruggedrunning.com/nutrition (b) www.forksoverknives.com (c) www.straightupfood.com (d) https://www.motherearthliving.com/cooking-methods/call-of-the-wild
Get yourself a printout and laminate it or a dry erase board. Put it on the fridge and go for this daily dozen plus one optional (resource: How not to die, Dr. Greger, I’m adding the optional one).
Servings- fruits/veggies, beans, greens, typically ½ cup-1 cup is a serving, Nuts/Seeds- ½-2 tablespoons is a serving and spices ¼ teaspoon. In doubt go for the larger amount. Notice exercise is also included.. Dr. Greger recommends 90 minutes daily (and this can be spread out during the day). As athletes, you are all most likely getting that or rotating through something like that with a shorter recovery run in between.
Number of Servings: DAILY
3X Other Fruits
1x Cruciferous Vegetables
2x Other Vegetables
3x Whole Grains
5x Beverages (water people! 16oz+ per serving)
1x (other protein)--> wild game, wild salmon type (maybe not daily but after what I researched and just wrote, I’d say this deserves a mention. OPTIONAL
Bowl of oats, spices, nuts, seeds, and berries
Smoothie for a snack
Large loaded salad with veggies, beans, and more
Carrots and hummus (¼ cup of hummus counts as a bean serving!)
Rice, veggies, and wild game/fish or beans for dinner!
We didn’t touch on junk, processed, or fried foods. Those are a given! Don’t eat them AT ALL. Drink lots of water, replace your electrolytes, eat moderate portions of wild game meat and be sure to include a variety of plants for peak performance!
You can find more specifics through your nutritionist, coach, or doctor.