Chapter 6 – Solving Peak Performance Challenges
In Chapter 6, Eberle takes a look at some of the more common issues endurance athletes have to deal with, and how nutrition can impact them.
Muscle Cramps: Muscle cramps can be common, and very painful. Usually caused by overexertion, muscle cramps can also be triggered by dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or mineral deficiencies. Staying hydrated is key, and using a sports drink will help with both hydration and with keeping electrolytes in balance. Potassium and sodium are the key electrolytes, and a diet rich in foods such as bananas, potatoes, pinto and kidney beans, tomatoes, spinach, dried fruit and dairy products all help with this. Adding salt to foods will also help with sodium levels. Unless you have a family history of high blood pressure, or a medical professional has restricted your salt intake, endurance athletes generally require more sodium than the popular guidelines (~2500 mg per day or less). A salt restricted training diet can actually lead to medical problems caused by electrolyte imbalances. Finally, mineral deficiencies such as calcium deficiencies are often blamed for cramps. Although unlikely to cause cramps, some athletes have found boosting their calcium intake can reduce their occurrence.
Runner’s Diarrhea: Intestinal issues of any kind are no fun an race day. Runner’s tend to suffer from this more than other endurance athletes usually due to the jostling and lack of blood flow to the GI tract. The best defence is staying well hydrated before and during activity. As well, high fibre foods eaten too close to the time you exercise can actually increase the risk of diarrhea. Caffeine and artificial sweeteners may be other triggers. During training, pay attention to what works before long runs, and stick with foods that have been successful in the past.
Iron-Deficiency Anemia: The body requires iron to transport oxygen through the blood. Athletes with anemia have low blood iron levels, and their muscles receive less oxygen and produce more lactic acid. This causes fatigue, and can present as muscle burning, shortness of breath, nausea, frequent infections, sensitivity to cold, respiratory illnesses, and a pale appearance. Women require more iron than men because of losses due to menstruation. A diet low in iron rich foods can trigger recurring bouts of anemia. As well, vegetarians have a higher risk as iron in plants is not absorbed as easily as iron in meat products. If you suspect anemia, a doctor can diagnose you with a simple blood test. Once diagnosed, treatment will depend on the level of anemia. Often dietary adjustments are sufficient for low level anemia; iron supplements can be prescribed for more severe anemia.
Food Allergies and Intolerances: Only 1-2% of the population actually suffer from food allergies (where the body produces a histamine reaction to the ingested substance). However, approximately 25% of the population thinks they have allergies, which are likely intolerances. I know I’m in this group – I can’t tolerate coffee, and refer to it as an allergy, but it probably isn’t. The issue with food intolerances is that the more foods you eliminate from your diet, the less variety you eat, and the harder it becomes to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need. If you are restricting entire food groups from your diet (such as dairy, due to a lactose intolerance), working with a sports nutrition specialist can ensure you are getting adequate nutrients from other sources.
The rest of chapter 6 goes in depth into eating disorders, PMS, pregnancy, and breast-feeding. All of these are important issues athletes face (particularly female athletes), but the fact is, none of them apply to me, so I skimmed these sections and am choosing not to review them in depth.
Next week is chapter 7, on vegetarian nutrition!