As a sports nutritionist I come across a diverse amount of people each day. What gets my attention the most is the group of people I call “the justifiable or the deserving”. This is collective group who will always justify their reasons for consuming junk or unhealthy food.
I always hear statements of “you only live once so enjoy it while you can” or my “grandmother lived to 90 and ate badly”. Then yesterday I commented on a Instagram post where an individual is posting her weight loss journey. I commend the commitment of the individual its admirable and important, but the types of foods posted are mostly unhealthy. In no uncertain terms, weight can drop with a calorie deficit especially combined with exercise but the type of calories you are consuming play the most crucial role in fortifying your health. Their justification was that this particular food was for a group of triathletes. Well that rocked me a little because in a way it was justification that because they were doing a triathlon they deserved this food. Well this is where the sports nutritionist in me stepped out and I decided to set the record straight by writing this blog.
In all honesty I am sure many of us had relatives who were not exactly the best when it came to eating healthily and lived to a ripe old age. When I think about the circumstances they lived in with not much technology, attachment to mobile phones and computers and in some cases very little television this for sure had lower stress levels on their lives. Second to that there was a stage where the quality of food they ate was actually way better than the quality of food that we have been seeing for many years on our shelves.
As technology progressed so did the complete demand of life. Technology has kept us on our toes constantly available with little ability to shut out the world. Simplicity has disappeared and complexity has entered our lives which has put more demands on our shoulders. The food and beverage industry itself has become an incredibly powerful health destroyer. Food demand has increased especially ready or easy to prep foods due to less time available for the average human being.
Cheap fillers are used to keep costs down and all the way back to the farms where fortified, force fed and antibiotic treated livestock has become the norm. Then we have processed meats, cereals, genetically modified and synthetic additives. The industry will create anything that is attractive to the human brain to drive up the craving and demand to enrich themselves constantly. I won’t get into the debate of ethical and unethical right now as the focus on this blog is the justifiable and the deserving. In other words the athlete who feels that day in and out they burning off so many calories that they earned the junk and will get away with it.
Well I am sorry to burst the bubble here, but this could not be further from the truth. It is quite clear that every single active person will go through many stresses over a 24 hour period to anything such as possible lack of sleep, work stresses, family stresses, travel stresses, exposure to pollutants and much more. There is one additional stress though an athlete places on his or her shoulders and that is called exercise. Believe it or not physical stress is a stress on the body and the more your train and the more intense the training the higher the physical stress. The problem now is that you are adding even more stress to your life. Sure exercise can be a form of stress relief but endurance sport is way more stress on the body than just some stress relief. Hours of exercise create major physical demands on the body. Muscle damage, elevated heart rate for prolonged periods of time and a major change of how the engine’s organs operate in this environment over time. Is endurance sport damaging? Absolutely volume and intensity play a major role of stress and damage to the body. Let’s face it one of the biggest habits of most athletes is they don’t know when to rest, how to rest, how to recover and how to adapt. It is always a case of more is better.
I have been witness to heart attacks, organ failures, severe injuries and illness. Oh but athletes are healthy right? Wrong!
It all depends on how that athlete treats his or her body and that is the where I get to my main point. There three main aspects I look at when it comes to an athletic endurance lifestyle.
These three elements are absolutely crucial to counteract the stresses you are placing on your body. Exercise needs to be structured in a way that is not over reaching, damaging and that an athlete can actually benefit from his exercise and get much stronger over time. Not just externally but internally meaning a stronger immune system and a much better conditioned cardiovascular system as well as improved function of all his or her organs.
In relation to sleep, this is the time the body does all its repair work. Late nights, early mornings and sleep sacrifice will only do you harm long term. The lack of sleep will definitely weaken you, leave you in a state of fatigue and has also been shown to cause cardiovascular issues over time. This is not a direction you want to head in.
Nutrition is the third element of this little triangle. What you consume will ultimately determine how your body copes with the stresses you place on it. When you place major physical demand on your body you need to give it the correct nutrition. I have often used the comparison of a motor vehicle to a human being. Put the foot down on the gas in your Lamborghini or Ferrari and you better have proper high octane fuel. Fuel is what you place in your body from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep. Place lower grade diesel fuel in your sports car and watch what happens over time. That engine will eventually seize either in the form of illness or injury. No this is not an exaggeration. Having worked with amateur and professional athletes over the years I can honestly say that if you do not fuel with proper intent you will eventually break.
Below is a nice little graphic I put together for a presentation showing how important the role of nutrition is through an athletes cycle.
A proper balance between training, resting (sleep) and nutrition needs to be a focal point for a healthy athlete.
It is a new era and the lifespan of the human being is without a doubt climbing due to medical technology, science and health awareness. These days when a healthy individual reaches the age of fifty he or she has most likely not even hit half way yet. I wrote a previous blog called The Fork in the Road. (Click to read). You can play the games with your body when you are young but I can promise you that you will pay for it later when you are older.
So back to those who feel they earned their junk. Why don’t you think about what your body actually needs and give it the proper fuel to fortify, strengthen and improve. Aim for longevity and health not just emotional decisions for self satisfaction, and long term irreversible damage.
I will leave you with this quote which was popularised by the famous baseball player Mickey Mantle “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
all the best
Mark Wolff is a certified exercise & sports nutritionist, endurance nutrition and physiology expert with over 20 years experience. An endurance multi-sport athlete with a running, triathlon, mountain biking and weight lifting background, he works extensively with professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports disciplines as well as those just wanting to change their lifestyles. He firmly believes that a person can only reach their full potential when their health and nutrition is given the proper focus. Mark’s focus on nutrition and physiology is not just on training and racing, but he places major emphasis on recovery, immune system health, emotional stability, stress management and performance. Mark is co-founder of 32Gi, a sports nutrition company, focused mainly on health and endurance nutrition. He is also co-founder of Rapid Recover focused on pneumatic compression equipment to improve circulation for recovery and health.