As a coach of elite athletes I was forced to think about nutrition as a factor in performance and from an early stage. I have send hundreds of athletes to a special lab to test for nutritional deficiencies we tested the complete range of minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids, amino acids, organic acids, neurotransmitters and hormones. It is obvious that undiscovered nutritional deficiencies e.g iron, or nutritional imbalances, may limit the development of the full potential of the athlete. Some coaches, dominantly focusing on biomechanics or mental aspects of performance, do not like to take nutrition into consideration. Although I put a lot of time and effort in nutritional and molecular biochemistry, I did not turn into a food-fundamentalist nor a nutrition-nut, for whom some foods are considered almost like lethal poisons and other foods are panacea or miracle foods. And their taboo-list of forbidden foods becomes longer all the time: no alcohol and milk (obvious isn’t it?), no white carbs (too much fast carbs), but now also no whole-grain carbs, (because of the gluten), no preservatives, no coffee (although coffee is basically one of the healthiest drinks out there, no acidic foods (stomach acid has a of pH 2.5, that’s pretty acidic).
But instead: take anti-oxidants (sure?), and the latest superfood fads like: Chia seeds, Go-Ji berries, etc. Too bad the people that ate them before they became fashionable in the Western world didn’t know this, otherwise they would have been a lot healthier and lived a lot longer. Most of these miracles foods were eaten by people whose average life span is a lot less than ours, of course for various reasons, but at least the miracle foods did not work miracles there.
Let’s get real about nutrition in sports: it’s complicated, since the thousands of different chemical components that you get into your body with your daily meals, will interact (or not) with the thousands of different metabolic pathways in your body.
An example: take ginger, the simple spicy root that is often used in the Oriental kitchen or in ginger beer. Ginger contains 477 different chemical substances of which we know from 135, what their effect on the human body. So of those 342 other components left, we don’t have an idea what they do to the human body. (1) But logic and history tell us that their effect cannot be too bad for us, since it is still very hard to get sick or to die from ginger poisoning. So, yes, it’s complex and still unknown territory for the largest part.
We also come to the conclusion that even if the diet and nutritional intake all over the globe can be completely different from one country to another, if is never the only explanation for the differences in health and life-span.
Please forget the idea that certain people, communities or countries have a longer lifespan only because of their nutrition. We have seen many examples, explaining that these people know the secret of longevity. Of course, fishermen in Okinawa live longer than average, not because of their diet only, but mainly because they have a very active lifestyle, live in a relative un-spoilt environment, have a strong sense of purpose and of community, strong family ties and social coherence, they live more in balance with their environment and respect it. So eating a lot of fish and seaweed only doesn’t get you there. This applies to almost all of these groups.
Since lifestyle apart from nutrition is so important, one starts to realize why fast food might be unhealthy, not only because of its composition, but because the process of eating has become detached from social and psychological advantages of food. Think about producing food yourself, shopping for food, cooking together and enjoying a meal together, sharing the happy and unhappy moments of the day with people you love and…. taking the time for this. Food should not be fast. Running your 100 meter should be fast. But having dinner together should not. Buy the food that your grandmother would recognize as such, or even better: grow some yourself (square foot garden), buy your food from your local producers and suppliers, buy food from the people who are still proud of their products (Slow Food), and enjoy every bite and every sip (a free lesson in mindfulness too).
And why should food be fast anyway? Certainly if your enjoy eating it, you would like to prolong the pleasant sensation. To save time you say…. but time for what? More time to look at your smartphone if you have mail? More time in front of the TV that you barely watch? More time for work? If this is what you want to do with your life… fine too, go and eat fast food often or eat pre-fab-food, so you can save a lot of time.
We are all victims of the illusion of efficiency, think about this and you will start to see that most measured developed to be more efficient, or really aren’t. or just left us more time for doing more inefficient things.
If time was money we all should be very rich, but instead we are getting poorer all the time, because in many people’s lives time is seems to be lacking. No, I am not Amish or technophobic, we have to use technology as a tool to make our lives better, and be happier. But be honestly did and does technology really do that or are have you become you a tool of technology?
Try to spend a week without smartphone or laptop, can you really still do that?
And are some sobering statistics about our happiness: we claim to be happy in all kinds of enquiries, but in the western society 15% of the adult population is taking antidepressants, another 10% takes anti-anxiety medication, and apart from that there are the sleeping pills, the ADHD medications, the cannabis users, the people who still smoke, or the people who numb their nervous systems with alcohol and the people who get their little dopamine-kicks from the beeping of their phones. Any idea how happy we really are, without the help of these chemicals?
By the way, is not said that people from other societies are happier than us in general, they sometimes don’t have these medications to their disposition, or cannot afford them, or the use of these medications does not end up in the statistics. It just show that a lot of people are not or no longer adapted to modern life as it is.
But here are my tips: slow down, dare to slack, do nothing, be lazy ……..
1-Schulick, P: Ginger. Herbal Free Press, 1994.
More statistics about the use of medication: http://psychcentral.com/lib/top-25-psychiatric-medication-prescriptions-for-2011/00012586