Editor’s note: Athletes of all ages know that their individual strength and conditioning levels can mean the difference between winning and losing. But are they the only factors? In his latest blog, Dr. Erik Lundquist explains the important contributions of nutrition, recovery, and detoxification in optimizing your athletic performance.

shutterstock_52649770_-_webAs athletes we all want to get the upper edge on our competition so that we can outperform them and dominate to victory. I am always amazed when I see athletes who make choices that can diminish their overall performance like smoking, drinking alcohol or eating large quantities of junk food.

When patients come to me for advice for improving their athletic performance, I counsel them on these three components:

  1. Optimal nutrition
  2. Adequate recovery
  3. Reduced toxin exposure

Optimal Nutrition

In order for the body to function at its highest level it needs all the nutrients that will help it to do so. This requires eating plenty of nutrient dense, low calorie foods.

What do I mean by this? There are certain nutrients that our body can only get from the diet. These “essential nutrients” include omega-3 fatty acids, vitaminsessential amino acids found in protein and minerals such as magnesium, calcium and iron.

shutterstock_38183767_-_webMost fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans are nutrient dense/low calorie foods. Take for example spinach. Did you know that 100 calories of spinach provides more protein (and 1000 times the essential nutrients) than 100 calories of beef? Not to mention, 100 calories of beef is approximately 1 ounce whereas 100 calories of spinach is more than a whole bag of pre-washed spinach.

On the other hand, most junk foods are low nutrient/calorie dense. For example, a 12-ounce can of Coca Cola® Classic provides 120 calories, 39 grams of sugar, and zero protein calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, or vitamins.

By limiting our intake of calorie dense, low nutrient foods such as soda, chips, sweets and fatty foods our bodies can function more efficiently and effectively.

Adequate Recovery

shutterstock_75181063_-_webAppropriate rest is necessary for the body to recover and restore its energy stores.

Most teenagers need an average of at least nine hours of sleep per night for optimal performance. This is practically unheard of today, given all the demands placed upon them from academics, athletics and jobs. In fact, most teenagers only average 5-7 hours of sleep per night, which means almost all teenage athletes are under-performing.

Complicating this is the popularity of energy drinks, which contain high amounts of either caffeine or guarana, which contains one of the highest caffeine concentrations of any plant. Consuming large amounts of caffeine not only makes it difficult to fall asleep at night, it also

  • Affects long term memory and learning ability
  • Limits the benefits of creatine, a natural compound found in muscle tissue. (Supplementing the diet with creatine is thought to enhance athletic performance and help build lean muscle tissue.)

A recent study showed that sleeping burns more calories than watching TV or playing video games. So relaxing in front of the TV or a game console does not equate to adequate rest and recovery!

Reducing Toxin Exposure

shutterstock_141337372_-_webUnfortunately we live in a toxic environment. From pesticides to heavy metals, plastics and artificial foods that we ingest, air pollutants that we inhale, we are continually coming in contact with multiple chemicals that can impair athletic performance. Studies have shown that athletic performance and especially endurance suffers when pollutant levels are high.

I recommend limiting your exposure when possible and eating a healthy diet that will help the body’s natural ability to detoxify. This includes getting plenty of:

  • Organic fruits and vegetables
  • Plant-based proteins, such as soy
  • Nutrients to support detoxification, including catechins from green tea, glucosinolates from cruciferous vegetables, resveratrol from grapes, isoflavones from soy, and polypheonols and anthocyanidins from berries
  • Fluids, such as filtered water
  • Rest

In addition, some athletes will see improvements when they avoid foods containing common allergens such as gluten (from grains) and casein (from dairy) as well as processed and modified foods containing stimulants or synthetic chemicals.

By Erik Lundquist, MD

Graybill Temecula