Friday, May 18, 2012

Feeding The Engine & Your Computer

As active professionals and amateur athletes, we spend a considerable amount of time stressing our minds and bodies. The Law of Conservation of Energy, as applied to our physiology of the human body, suggests that we balance the simple equation of input/output. When energy (calories) expenditure equals to energy intake, we tend to keep our bodyweight and meet our bodily needs for activity and normal functioning. This equation, obviously, shifts when you participate in endurance activities, be it work, sports, or sustained wakefulness.

With the plethora of television programs by celebrity medical practitioners (Dr Oz, The Doctors) we are introduced at an accelerated rate tips and factoids that are aimed at helping us ‘live longer and stay younger’. Nothing too complex as long as we avoid excessiveness, exercise discipline in our eating, sleep adequately (7 hours, at least), and manage our stress well.

Here are some of my learning and leanings in recent months:

1)    Increase your intake of antioxidant-loaded foods, especially if you indulge in endurance sports. Aerobic activities involve larger intakes of oxygen, and the pool of free radicals in your body (if unattended to, nutritionally) can accelerate the ‘aging’ process. Seek organic sources of fruit concentrate if you cannot get them straight from the fruit (for example, pomegranate juice and tart cherry are not as popular so are harder to get freshly pressed). Avoid watered-down versions of the juices. You are better off buying the organic version and diluting it yourself.
2)    Eat colourful vegetables. The traffic-lights remind us of eating veggies that are ‘red, green and yellow’: we can then enjoy plant pigments and natural chemicals from lycopene to chlorophyll to beta-carotene. Have a rainbow of colourful plants that include variations like purple, orange and blue.
3)    Drink clean water, regularly, in small amounts. It takes 24-48 hours to properly hydrate our body. Water is found both within and outside of our muscles. The intra-muscular (within) water is most critical to performing well at races, as well as a hectic corporate life. Ensure your water is as fresh as possible, and bottled water is not the best source as it is contained in plastic vessels, sitting for weeks or months on the retail shelves. Drink from a glass bottle.
4)    Have a healthy breakfast. This is, perhaps, the most important meal of the day after a night of ‘fasting’. A whey protein drink is a convenient and effective form of restoring your blood sugar level to normal. Otherwise, consume low glycemic index (GI) foods with protein added. Eggs are natural foods that should not be avoided as it has all the metabolisers within to digest this complete food. Great news: An avalanche of recent reports indicates that coffee is touted to be loaded with antioxidants and may deflect some major illnesses including some forms of mental disease. I drink a cup 2-3 hours before a race, as it helps me be alert, and metabolises fatty acids.
5)    Eat a small nutritious snack within 30-60 minutes after exercising. The window of opportunity for recovery is determined by this period of cessation of activity, when your body needs to repair damaged cells and restore its energy sources (glycogen, blood sugar). Whey protein (which is closest to mother’s milk) is a useful ingredient during this time. Choose a whey protein with no artificial sweeteners (as these are toxic and carcinogenic in large consumptions).
6)    Avoid whey protein during a race as it builds up nitrogen that is best kept after a race. Instead, use a soy-based protein as it reduces this fatigue build-up, and keeps your appetite sated. Focus on proteins which are complete (all 22 amino acids, with the Essential Eight). Branched-Chained Amino Acids (BCAAs) are most vital after strenuous endurance or strength activity.
7)    Our bodies take a slump around 1-3pm. Stand up, and take a walk! Activity reduces release of your serotonin levels. Serotonin, long thought to be encouraged by high-carbohydrate meals and certain foods (like turkey, because of its natural-occurring tryptophan) it is just ‘that time of the day’.
8)    Reduce your intake of table sugar and simple sugars. Whether you seek a sleek set of washboard abdominals, or want to perform to the best of your athletic ability, reduce your intake of high-GI carbohydrates. Snack foods and breakfast cereals contain lots of the cheap flavour enhancer, corn syrup. Even sports-gels and drinks contain this energy-sapping sweetener.

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