A FIT DIET
Build a Better Athlete
If my dietary recommendations can help prevent heart disease and strengthen your heart, can they also improve athletic performance? The answer is a resounding yes.
Though I initially developed my dietary plan to treat patients with cardiovascular disease, I did much of my early field-testing of supplemental fish oil on world-class athletes. I decided to start with athletes because I’ve found they are generally more motivated to stick with a dietary program than patients with cardiovascular disease.
My first interaction with world-class athletes came more than a decade ago with the Los Angeles Rams. A friend, Marv Marinovich, who is also a top trainer of elite athletes, introduced me to their strength coach, Garrett Giemont. Garrett, like most professional coaches, was always looking for safe new ways to give his athletes a performance edge. I told him about my theories on hormonal control for improved athletic performance. He listened politely, and then said, “OK, I’ll do the flip test.” He told me that every Tom, Dick, and Harry would walk into his weight room with some new magic elixir for improved athletic performance. To weed out the snake oils, Garrett devised the “flip test”: He read all the supporting medical literature (if there was any), and if it made sense to him, he would use the product himself for two weeks. If he didn’t see any significant benefits, he would flip the product back to the sender. He also told me that more than 99 percent of the all products brought to him were flipped back.
I thought Garrett’s flip test made sense, and I provided him with my earliest prototypes of fish oils containing small amounts of gamma linolenic acid (GLA). I described in detail how the fish oil plus GLA would increase the body’s production of “good” eicosanoids. The increase in these eicosanoids causes the enhanced release of growth hormone from the pituitary gland, and this would increase muscle mass. These same “good” eicosanoids would increase blood flow and oxygen transfer to improve endurance. Third, I told him, “good” eicosanoids are superb anti-inflammatory agents and work like aspirin to relieve pain. Finally, the combination of increased growth hormone release (to repair damaged tissue) and decreased recovery from pain would allow the athlete to recover at a faster rate from either an intense workout or a game.
In essence, I promised him four things that all athletes—regardless of their sport—can benefit from:
- Increased strength
- Increased endurance
- Decreased pain
- Increased recovery
Two weeks later, Garrett called me, and said let’s talk. I had passed his flip test because everything that I predicted (better endurance, improved strength, less pain after a workout, and decreased recovery time between workouts) had occurred. Now that I had Garrett’s attention, he told me his goal wasn’t to improve his football players’ endurance, as much as it was to maintain their strength during the season. NFL players train during the off-season to build up their muscle mass because they know they’ll suffer numerous muscle injuries during the season. Usually by the end of the season, most NFL players are pretty badly beaten up, and their strength is usually significantly lower than at the start of the season. Garrett figured if his players could maintain their strength during the season, they would have a competitive edge.
Although he was convinced of the benefits of the fish oil plus GLA combination* from his own experience, Garrett further experimented on a few of his players. One of them was Doug Smith, an All-Pro center for the Rams. After a few weeks taking the combination of fish oil and GLA, he came back to Garrett and said, “Coach, I’ve got to quit taking this stuff because I am getting stronger in the middle of the season, and that just doesn’t happen.” Garrett told Doug that there were no illegal performance enhancers, like steroids, in these products, and convinced him to keep using them.
Over time, Garrett and I added some improvements to the program. First, we started experimenting with cycling different ratios of fish oil and GLA, and Garrett found he could produce extraordinary strength results in his players. (The cycling was necessary to prevent a build-up of arachidonic acid, which may result from a build-up of GLA in the tissues.) Second, we tried to get the players to maintain a more consistent protein-to-carbohydrate balance. This is easier to do with NFL players than other elite athletes, since they didn’t have any problem with eating protein. What they had to do was cut back on some of their carbohydrate intake.
Garrett wanted to keep his new “secret weapon” to himself, and I just wanted to see if elite athletes would comply with my dietary program. I figured if this program was too difficult for athletes, who are used to following the advice of their coaches, then how could I expect the average heart disease patient to comply? But even with disciplined athletes, I found that getting them to be consistent with their meals was a constant challenge.
Soon after I meet Garrett, I was introduced to the Stanford University Swim coaches, Skip Kenney and Richard Quick. I explained to them the potential of using my diet and fish oil (coupled with the right amount of GLA) to improve athletic performance. I discussed the results Garrett and I were getting with the Los Angeles Rams, and I believed their swimmers could also benefit greatly from this approach. But before trying out the program with the Stanford swimmers, I suggested they both do Garrett’s “flip test.” Two weeks later, both of them called me and said, “Let’s get going.”
To be frank, not all of their swimmers agreed with my dietary recommendations, since in this sport a high-carbohydrate diet was considered the norm. However, 1992 was an Olympic year, and every swimmer had the ultimate goal to make the Olympic team. Several of the swimmers decided to listen to their coaches about changing their diets. One said, “Coach, if you think this will help me make the Olympic team and maybe even win a gold medal, then count me in.”
The rest—as they say in Hollywood—is history. Those Stanford University swimmers who followed my dietary recommendations and supplemented their diet with the fish oil plus GLA combinations won seven Gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Not bad for the United States, but truly amazing for a single university in the United States.
In the last three Olympics, athletes that I have personally worked with have taken home 21 gold medals. You might say those athletes were already in their prime, and any dietary program really wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
That’s why I love the story of Dara Torres, who won two gold medals in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Dara was well past her prime when she competed in this Olympics at age 34. Dara had been an Olympic swimmer in 1992, but for the next eight years she developed a successful modeling and TV career. Then, in 1999, she got the urge to go back to the pool and give it one more try.
Swimming is sport for young athletes. Most world-class swimmers hit their prime during their early 20s. Competing at the world-class level in swimming at age 34 is like playing NBA basketball at age 65. It just doesn’t happen.
Bottom line, Dara decided to give my dietary recommendations a try, and she applied the same dedication to my dietary program as she doing with her training in the pool. As a result of her discipline in both the pool and at the dinner table, Dara became the oldest gold medal winner in swimming in Olympic history.
Read Part 2: Perform Like a World-Class Athlete
BRIEF GLOSSARY OF TERMS
The building block of many of the “good” eicosanoids is gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Taking
high doses of fish oil can sometimes decrease the activity of the enzyme that is needed to produce GLA. You can, though, get GLA in your diet. All you have to do is eat two bowls of slow-cooked oatmeal (not the instant kind) every week because you won’t need very much.
Eicosanoids (eye.kah.sa.noids) were the first hormones developed by living organisms and are produced by every cell in your body. Although they might be considered to be primitive hormones, they control everything from your immune system to your brain and your heart. There are two kinds of eicosanoids: those that promote inflammation (pro-inflammatory) and tissue destruction, and those that stop inflammation (anti-inflammatory) and promote healing. You need to have both kinds in the proper balance in order to be in a state of wellness.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and
Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose,
treat, cure, or prevent any disease. As with any natural product,
individual results will vary.
Excerpted from The Omega-Rx Zone. Copyright © 2003 by Barry Sears, Ph.D. Used by permission
For more information about Dr. Barry Sears, his incredible fish
oil supplements, or the popular Zone Diet, please visit www.zoneliving.com.
If you purchase any Zone Labs, Inc. products, part of the
proceeds support CBN ministries.
Dr. Barry Sears is a leader in the field of
dietary control of hormonal response. A former research scientist
at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his efforts over
the past 25 years to the study of lipids and their inflammatory
role in the development of chronic disease. He holds 13 U.S. patents
in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal
regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.
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