by Thomas Kurz
There are many nutrition systems, all offering more or less conflicting advice to athletes. Some of these are FDA Food Pyramid, Zone, Optimal Nutrition, Paleolithic Nutrition, Primal Eating, Chinese Medicine Dietary System, and Vegetarian Nutrition System. How can you tell the value of a nutrition system? How can you tell which is really healthy? Which is right for you?
There is a way of evaluating a nutrition system by looking at its long-term effects—for example, by looking at coaches and retired athletes. If they balloon soon after they cease to exercise often and intensively, then their nutrition knowledge is useless and their nutrition habits are unhealthy. Intense exercise offsets many deleterious effects of unhealthy nutrition, but as soon as one reduces the amount of exercise, the effects of eating badly come through. Nutrition practices that show unhealthy effects as one enters middle age, when youth’s intensity of exercise can no longer be sustained, must be detrimental to athletic potential during the age of peak performance.
Hard work and talent can overcome the deleterious effects of suboptimal nutrition—but why not optimize the nutrition in the first place?
To optimize nutrition one has to understand signs of healthy nutrition and unhealthy nutrition—in an individual athlete.
The key to optimal sports nutrition, just as with optimal exercise selection and dosage, is for the athlete to listen to his or her body and for the coach to observe the signs too and make adjustments on the go.
The signs range from those noticeable during and soon after a meal (feeling energized or sleepy, light or bloated), through those manifesting themselves several hours later or during the next couple of days (sweat, body smell, urine, stool, intestinal discomfort), to those that reveal a long-term nutrition status (fat deposits, skin, hair, nails).
What one can observe during exercise may be an effect of momentary influences that may, or may not, be changed in an instant. Effects of emotions and of food as manifested in the functioning of the digestive system cannot be changed in an instant; thus, these functions need to be monitored constantly. (Effects of emotions do manifest themselves in the functioning of the digestive system: for example, digestive disturbances of emotional origin.)
To sum it up: Whatever would compromise one’s survivability in “the wild” cannot be healthy. So any sign of a meal not agreeing with the athlete—feeling bloated, heavy, sleepy, hungry soon after a meal; having gas, abnormal stools; urinating frequently—should be investigated by a physician. If the sports physician can’t be bothered to monitor for signs of good function or dysfunction, but rather waits for a “disease entity,” then a better physician needs to be found.
If you have any questions on training you can post them at Stadion’s Sports and Martial Arts Training Discussion Forum