A FIT DIET
Perform Like a World-Class Athlete
In part two of this two-part series, Dr. Barry Sears explains how his secret dietary weapon not only worked for professional athletes, but can work for the average person as well.
Read Part One: Build a Better Athlete
To understand how these stories of improved athletic performance come from the application of my dietary recommendations, you need to understand how your muscles respond to your brain. This is what I refer to as “physical intelligence”.
Just what is physical intelligence? Simply stated, it is the ability to command your muscles to move according to your desires. There are 236 muscles in the body, each composed of numerous bundles of muscle cells. Each muscle cell has neural connections to the brain so that the complex symphony of contractions and relaxations can be orchestrated to provide movement. We all move our muscles in this way. Great athletes just do it better than the rest of us.
World-class athletes have a grace of movement that is simply impossible for us mere mortals to re-create. Their physical intelligence is probably genetically greater than the average person’s, but it is also honed through constant practice that reinforces those neural networks that make their majesty of movement possible. And as I described above, this natural talent can be taken to an even higher level by using my dietary recommendations to orchestrate an improved hormonal harmony that results in greater physical intelligence.
The Myth of High-Carbohydrate Diets
For years, coaches, trainers, and nutritionists have told American athletes that the more carbohydrates they eat, the better they will perform, especially in endurance running. (In fact, it’s very much the same thing that most of us were told to do to lose weight.) Considering all the sports energy drinks and pasta that American runners consume, it isn’t hard to understand why the last American male to win the Boston marathon was Greg Meyer in 1983. The fact is that winners of the Boston marathon don’t consume the typical carbohydrate-loading dinners on the day before the race. These winners know intuitively that excess insulin from too many carbohydrates is an athlete’s worst nightmare.
The three greatest fears of an athlete during competition are the following:
- Low blood sugar (“bonking”) for the brain
- Decreased access to body fat for energy
- Decreased oxygen transfer to the muscle cells
Let’s see how my dietary recommendations help athletes to avoid these three killers of physical performance. First, my dietary plan stabilizes insulin levels. High levels of insulin increase the likelihood that all three performance problems will occur at the same time:
- Excess insulin lowers blood sugar levels and simultaneously prevents the release of stored glycogen from the liver to restore blood sugar.
- Excess insulin prevents the fat cells to release stored fat for energy.
- Excess insulin decreases blood flow by increasing the production of arachidonic acid and ultimately “bad” eicosanoids, which reduce oxygen transfer to muscle cells.
What is the best way to increase insulin levels to induce these adverse performance effects? Eat lots of pasta or drink “sports energy” drinks composed of sugar water.
How did this myth about the benefits of carbohydrate loading come about? More than thirty years ago, the following experiment was done. For several days, well-trained athletes were put on a high-protein diet that was virtually free of carbohydrates. Within a few days, virtually all the stored carbohydrate in their muscles was depleted. They were then tested on a treadmill, and—not surprisingly—their performance was below par. Then the athletes were loaded up with high-carbohydrate meals for the next three days and again tested on the treadmill. Now their performance was enhanced.
The researchers concluded that a high-carbohydrate diet improves athletic performance. Was this the right conclusion? Or should the conclusion have been that if you don’t eat any carbohydrates at all, you are going to feel and perform poorly? I think the data are very clear that it is the latter, since not a single study in the past thirty years has proven that consuming a high-carbohydrate diet for more than seven days improves performance. I am still waiting for just one experiment to prove the hypothesis that consuming a high-carbohydrate diet for an extended period of time improves performance.
On the other hand, numerous studies with elite athletes that demonstrate that eating an adequate amount of carbohydrates (but not too much) combined with higher levels of fat for seven days will dramatically increase their performance. In addition, the extra dietary fat (and lower carbohydrate intake) also improves the lipid profile of elite athletes, thus lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease. How is it possible that fat-loading instead of carbohydrate-loading can dramatically improve athletic performance and improve cardiovascular health? I’ll answer that question below.
The Importance of Dietary Fat
Fat can be an athlete’s greatest ally. Simply increasing the levels of fat in the diet can enhance performance in endurance athletes. This is because muscle tissue contains far more calories of stored fat than stored carbohydrate as an energy source. In fact, it contains nearly twice as much. By increasing the fat content of your diet, you can increase the levels of intramuscular fat, thereby giving yourself an unfair advantage over your competitors in a long-distance race. This is especially true in ultra-marathons (distances greater than fifty miles), for which high-fat diets are the norm.
To get the most enhanced athletic performance, however, you need to consume the right type of fat. The fat you consume should help increase the production of “good” eicosanoids or at least it should not cause any increase in “bad” eicosanoids. The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil will boost your production of “good” eicosanoids and can therefore become your primary dietary tools (especially when combined with small amounts of GLA)*. Monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts) come in second. They won’t improve your levels of “good” eicosanoid, but they won’t increase your “bad” eicosanoids either. On the other hand, a high intake of omega-6 fats will increase your production of arachidonic acid. The result is an increase in “bad” eicosanoid production and decreased physical performance. “Good” eicosanoids, on the other hand, increase athletic performance in the same ways that they increase brain and cardiovascular performance: they increase blood flow and decrease inflammation. When you increase blood flow, more oxygen is delivered to your muscle cells so that greater endurance is maintained at a higher energy output. The “good” eicosanoids also decrease inflammation, improving recovery rates after a workout; this allows you to train harder the next day. The combination gives you an edge over your competitors.
Your Own Secret Weapon
The first written reports of my work with the Stanford swimming team appeared a 1993, in an issue of the magazine Swimming World. The article was titled “Stanford’s Secret Weapon.” It described my dietary recommendations, but it never disclosed the real “secret weapon”: my Eicosanoid Status Report (yes, it’s the same one that appears on page 98). Each week, every Stanford swimmer filled out an Eicosanoid Status Report, and the coaches faxed the reports to me. On the basis of their individual physiological changes during the previous week, I would individually alter each swimmer’s essential supplementary fatty acid pattern by changing the ratio of fish oil to GLA, just as had done with the Los Angeles Rams. This ensured that by the time the national championships, the Olympic trials, or even the Olympic Games rolled around, the athletes would be in the optimal hormonal zone.
I knew that controlling insulin was important, but controlling eicosanoids would be the real key to success. That was Stanford’s real secret weapon, just as it was for Garret Giemont and the Los Angeles Rams.
Sometimes things go in strange cycles. Several months ago, Marv Marinovitch (who initially introduced me to Garrett) called and asked if I was working on anything new for athletic performance. Marv already had all of his athletes following my earlier dietary program, as they had been doing for the past ten years. I told Marv about the new pharmaceutical-grade fish oil I developed. I suggested that he start some of his athletes with 2 tablespoons per day, which would provide about 16 grams of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, plus a trace of GLA. Two days after he got the oil, he called me and said “Doc, this is amazing. My athletes can go through longer training sessions and recover faster. Is there some type of drug in this oil?” My reply was, “Only good science.”
You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to gain improved strength and endurance from my dietary recommendations. Regardless of your level of physical activity, performance will be increased because of improved blood flow and stabilization of insulin levels. You might not have the genetics, training, or discipline of a world-class athlete, but you can at least eat like one.
Read Part One: Build a Better Athlete
Note: Only follow these recommendations for long-chain omega-3 fatty acid supplementation if you are using pharmaceutical-grade fish oil.
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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