By Brendan Brazier
Becoming a great athlete requires work. Hard work, that’s a certainty. But the often-overlooked “smart work” can play an equally large role in athletic success. While there’s no substitute for diligent training, there are a few natural nutritional “helpers” that can directly complement the effect of exercise for a compounded performance boost.
The best way to enhance the odds of becoming a better athlete is to put the body in a position in which it can physically and mentally handle progressively longer and more intense training. This is achieved by adopting a nutrition program that will support the fueling and regeneration process of an active person, which is significantly above and beyond that of a sedentary individual. The fundamentals on which this high-performance body can be constructed are, as you would expect, from the building blocks that you supply it. Nutrient-rich, plant-based whole foods are the foundation on which optimal health (and eventually performance) can be created. Studies have shown that, when consumed after a workout, plant-based whole foods enable muscle tissue to grow stronger in a shorter amount of time than would be possible with the consumption of refined, fractionalized low-quality food.
Once this foundation of solid health has been built by means of premium building blocks, higher levels of both mental and physical performance can more easily be obtained. As I set my sights on professional triathlon racing in 1997, I began to search for additional ways that nutrition could boost my performance as opposed to simply improve my health. While I had already achieved good health, I felt it was time to take my well-being (and my athletic performance) to the next level, beyond a simply solid bill of health.
There are a few nutritional steps that can be taken to get a greater rate of return on the time and energy invested in training.
Enhance cardiovascular output
Rhodiola helps dilate blood vessels allowing for increased blood flow throughout the body. This will reduce energy requirements placed on the cardiovascular system and naturally enhance endurance and the ability to perform intense physical work efficiently. Those who take rhodiola before a workout will enhance their body’s ability to recover by quickly normalizing their heart rate after the workout.
One trait of augmented fitness is an increase in red blood cells, which causes the blood to become thicker. Ginger will help keep the blood at the ideal viscosity so that it can be pumped efficiently throughout the body, which will increase energy (by conserving it) and boost performance.
Turmeric increases circulation, acting as an aid in delivering blood and oxygen to working muscles.
Since keeping the heart rate as low as possible is one of the chief ways of improving endurance, the muscular system as a whole also needs to be considered.
Improve muscular efficiency
If two runners are equal in every respect except for muscular strength, the stronger will be faster over any distance. The lower percentage of maximum strength needed for each stride will translate into improved efficacy and therefore greater endurance. If one runner can squat 10 percent more weight than another, their muscles will not have to work as hard to move the body forward, which will translate to significant endurance gains. When muscles don’t need to work as hard, they don’t require as much oxygen or circulating blood, and therefore will not put as much demand on the heart. This will lower the rate at which the heart beats and significantly improve endurance. Greater strength does equal greater endurance. But, as with the heart, there are nutritional steps that can be taken to enhance the fluidity of the muscles, essentially allowing them to move with greater ease and requiring less energy for each contraction.
Kombucha is a form of tea that has been fermented using microorganisms. It is exceptionally rich in organic acids, active enzymes, amino acids, and polyphenols and is distinguished as a health elixir. Significant for the athlete, it can directly enhance performance by acting as a natural muscle relaxant. This allows muscles to move with greater fluidity and ease, which results in less energy expenditure and ultimately enhanced endurance. Kombucha culture is also exceptionally good for removing toxins from the liver, which will result in quicker recovery following a workout. Enhanced mental clarity and a smooth, sustained state of well-being is another benefit of drinking kombucha, which will reduce anxiety before physical exertion or other demanding events.
Sodium and potassium are electrolytes that play a vital role in optimal hydration. The correct balance of electrolytes and fluid will help maintain hydration, which in turn will enhance muscle function, heart efficacy and mental sharpness. Since sweat is comprised of water and electrolytes, water alone will not fully maintain or restore fluid levels lost through sweat. Without complete hydration, blood will thicken and increase the workload placed on the heart, leading to premature fatigue. Inadequate hydration will also result in muscle twinges and cramps.
Regular exercise causes inflammation. The more aggressive the muscle contractions, the more inflamed they will become. This inhibits performance in two major ways. Inflamed muscles will not be able to move smoothly, requiring more effort (energy) for each contraction, which will cause the heart rate to rise and endurance to fall. The recovery rate after exercise will be reduced, requiring more time between workouts leading to the inability to train more.
Anything with chlorophyll is highly alkaline-forming and will significantly reduce inflammation. Spinach and other leafy greens are ideal.
When taken immediately before exercise, devil’s claw has been shown to prevent inflammation and promote fluid muscle contractions. Devils claw has also been shown to temporarily reduce the effectiveness of pain receptors, allowing the athlete to push harder during physical activity and achieve a higher level of performance.
Ginger and turmeric have also been shown to reduce inflammation when taken immediately before physical exertion.