Don’t Play The Nutritional Numbers Game

The more vitamins and minerals you eat, the less you will have to understand about nutrition.

Runners are driven by numbers. In racing, a second or two can make the difference between placing in your age group or walking home empty handed. In training, calculating split times, lactate threshold values and recovery times are critical elements to improving your fitness. To be a successful athlete, numbers are a big part of the equation — and most often the part that is over-appreciated.

A stopwatch requires power to measure time, but the value of its reading is only as good as the body’s ability to make it happen. As a result, nutrition is no less a culprit, perhaps even more, of the numbers game then splits. Where the focus of those numbers are placed, however, can have a huge impact on one’s overall performance.

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Unfortunately, the weight of attention for the majority of society is almost exclusively placed upon calories, and the athlete is no exception. Sports nutrition is laden with formulas to help determine performance, but the daily diet of athletes is driven by calories, or caloric consumption, of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Subsequently, the numbers, quantities and appearance of vitamins and minerals on the athlete’s plate have been marginalized and need resurgence in foundational nutrition. Without them, one’s macronutrients cannot be effectively utilized and converted into energy, which limits the body’s ability to perform and recover.

Just because you’re fit doesn’t mean you’re healthy, or vice versa. Knowing the difference between the two will go a long way to a sustainable lifestyle. Racing or recreational running doesn’t intrinsically make one healthy.

Athletes require more diligence in regard to their nutritional program as a result of the physical and emotional stresses placed upon the body. Its important to understand that nutrition is more then just carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and that fueling is not just about what you eat while training and racing. These three elements are critical, but it’s vitamins and minerals that allow for their conversion into a useable form of energy for the body. A deficiency in the supporting structures to one’s overall nutrition program can lead to diminished energy production, inefficient repair of tissues and cells, excessive weight and a depressed immune system — all of which contribute to sub-optimal performance. If you’ve experienced a plateau in your training, are overweight or have recurring injuries, an assessment of your micronutrients would be a good place to start.

Everything Needs Support

Unfortunately, there are no guidelines for athletes relative to micronutrient intake, but many vitamins and minerals operate in unknown ways by interacting with other nutrients in the body. Here are just a few that have more particular importance for runners.

B-vitamins (1, 2, 6, 12) are critical for the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins in the body and aid in the production of hemoglobin in red blood cell formation that helps transport oxygen to the body. These nutrients also help with the repair of damaged cells due to the metabolic tax created from training and racing. This helps you prevent and recover from injury and intense workouts.

Vitamin C and E are antioxidants that help build, protect and repair the immune system, aid in the production of collagen (which helps connect muscle and bone as well as the uptake of iron) and is associated with the presence of Vitamin B for the transport of oxygen.

Vitamin D plays a major role in bone support and structure. It needs calcium in the body to effectively perform this role.

Pantothenic Acid and Biotin are also major players in the breakdown of macronutrients and the subsequent production of energy.

Potassium and Sodium are key electrolytes that help balance fluid absorption and distribution. In addition to potassium and sodium, there are another dozen or so electrolytes that keep an athletic body functioning properly.

RELATED: Should you take a multivitamin?

Avoid Calories and Numbers

Calories are an elusive concept of what food really is. The more you try to understand them the less you will know about how to nourish yourself. Eating a diverse diet based in whole foods is far more important than the numbers on a label. Athletes need more food then the average sedentary individual, but how many athletes are actually doing the appropriate math? The common breakdown of the athlete’s diet is generally seen as 50-55 percent carbohydrates, 20-25 percent protein and 10-15 percent fats, leaving seemingly little room for anything else.

“Sports” nutrition is for the competitive athlete looking for finite results and top performances. For the rest of us, nutrition is about staying healthy, participating in the events we enjoy and being competitive at a level that lets us get us to work on Monday. Those efforts become hampered when diets become measured by numbers, caloric intake crests over 3,000 and there are is co-efficient for vitamins and minerals in the formulas available. A crucial part of nutrition is left to the general recommendations given to all of society known as RDA (Recommended Daily allowance). This is defined by the amount of intake for 97 percent of the population that does not show signs of deficiency. This is a slim line of health for anyone, especially for those who require more of their bodies. Plus, all of these numbers are listed on labels. When was the last time your apple or broccoli came with one?

Focus on the Foundation

The point of foundation nutrition is not to begin to calculate one’s vitamins and mineral intake, but rather to shift the focus away from the macro elements of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. To ensure your body is getting the levels of vitamins and minerals necessary one must focus on what they eat on a daily basis. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are easy to see but trying to isolate and recognize the micronutrients would be a maddening exercise. Make sure your diet contains a variety of local and seasonal vegetables from the land and the sea; dark, leafy greens; whole, sprouted grains; legumes, grassfed meats, and fresh fruits. The more vitamins and minerals you eat the less you will have to understand about nutrition.

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About The Author:

Adam Kelinson is the author of The Athlete’s Plate: Real Food for High Performance. His business, OrganicPerformance.com, is dedicated to restoring foundational nutrition for an active life of health and sustainability through workshops, retreats and performance cooking.

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