Mark Allen: Nutrition
Question: What happens when you train for endurance events?
Answer: You burn a lot of calories!
Question: What happens when you train more?
Answer: You need even more calories!
But what does not get talked about very often is what happens to your need for micronutrients when your training increases. The need for additional calories to cover the expenditure is fairly closely tied to the overall volume you are training. As that volume increases, the need for calories follows fairly linearly. However, when your training increases, your need for many micronutrients can be double or triple what your calorie increase is. Two of the biggies in this category are your need for heart-healthy omega-3 oils and antioxidants. Then finally, if you factor in a lifestyle that is chock full of stress, you deplete a lot of minerals, like sodium and magnesium, at high levels even before you take your first step training.
Probably most of you eat a fairly healthy diet thinking that you are covering all your nutritional needs. You might be. But likely even if you get in enough calories you are being nutrient starved. Research into this a number of years ago revealed that autopsies done on long time endurance athletes showed that many of them had cells that looked like a person who had been malnourished! Fit and healthy are not necessarily bed partners!
Part of the challenge in even getting a good start at replacing the micronutrients you need has to do with the nutrient density of the foods today. Certainly we all consider most foods like fruits and vegetables to be rich in some of the key things you will need like antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. However, take a look at these stats:
"A Kushi Institute analysis of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 found that average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables dropped 27 percent; iron levels 37 percent; vitamin A levels 21 percent, and vitamin C levels 30 percent. A similar study of British nutrient data from 1930 to 1980, published in the British Food Journal, found that in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19 percent; iron 22 percent; and potassium 14 percent. Yet another study concluded that one would
have to eat eight oranges today to derive the same amount of Vitamin A as our grandparents would have gotten from one."
There are many reasons why this trend has happened: depleted soils from monoculture farming, intensive yield practices, increasing the size of fruits and vegetables without increasing their nutrient content, pesticides, etc. But the take away thought is that even a healthy diet may be leaving you nutrient poor. In addition, even on a macronutrient level many foods have been "modernized" to create strains that look nothing like what our ancestors ate. Take something as basic as corn, for example. One study found that ancient corn was about 32% protein, whereas today's corn can have a protein content that barely cracks 3-4%.
I am not really offering a solution to the challenge facing endurance athletes and their nutritional needs. It's simply a call to make sure you do eat high quality food as often as possible, foods that have all their nutritional parts intact and are not refined. You have a better chance of getting higher nutrient density from your fruits and vegetables if purchased from local organic farms; however, even that is not going to be a total guarantee. Supplementation is another solution, but just like the depleted foods, there are few product lines of supplements that actually have nutrients in a form that the body can utilize efficiently or that have a high enough concentration of nutrients to have a physiological effect on the cells in your body in terms of bringing their health up to an optimal level.
I think I'm going to go eat a carrot!