Eating properly to sustain an active lifestyle is a quandary we’re presented with time and again. Quite often the attempt to demystify one’s nutritional requirements becomes a minefield of information that is constantly being refreshed with new products, media frenetics, and the latest fad diet. Athletes are also challenged by performance product marketing—touting perfected formulas and guaranteed results—while the majority of sports nutrition is focused on the macronutrients of one’s diet, namely the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. For all of the energy spent on these things it’s surprising how much focus and discussion remains in regard to what athletes don’t eat. For a population of people whose food intake is paramount to their success, this seems to be counterintuitive to those efforts. What gets lost in this discussion is the importance of one’s foundational diet: the daily consumption of vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, essential fatty acids, and amino acids that are all equally as essential to your nutritional program.
Your sports nutrition plan is only as good as your foundation nutrition plan. Many athletes are missing the foundation of their nutrition: the micronutrients and elements that provide the platform for their diet that will, in turn, support the major ones. If you are properly choosing the right foods, the wrong ones are naturally excluded from the paradigm. Let’s take a look at the essential elements of a sound nutritional foundation and how to make them a part of your daily diet.
1. Micronutrients and Minerals
Studies have shown a varying decrease in available nutrients amongst almost all vegetables due to soil depletion resulting from improper agricultural techniques. Subsequently, unrelated studies have shown that the majority of the entire population is nutrient deficient in some way. As a result, we are SOS—a Society on Supplements. But, these are not real food and there is no supplementation for it. Micronutrients are responsible for anti-inflammation, anti-oxidants, anti-viral, respiratory and immune boosters, as well as cellular repair aids. These are your folic acids from greens like kale, arugula, and chard as well as your carotenoids, lignans, and flavonoids. For the athletes who are continually fighting off sickness or unable to completely recover from injury, this is the first place that I look. Minerals are required for proper functioning of muscle contractions, bone construction and ATP processing. Among the most common are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, chloride, potassium, and sodium. Are you plagued with cramps, or unable to sustain longer workouts? Most often, I find this to be the answer. Increase your consumption of sea vegetables, lacto-fermented foods, bone broths, sprouted foods, bananas, and raw dairy.
2. Essential Fats
Unfortunately, fats have been demonized by society and athletes for all too long, leaving us with products void of any nutritional value or asset to our bodies. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat soluble and crucial to the overall wellness of an individual. Omega 3, an essential fatty acid, plays a role in almost every major bodily function as well as a huge anti-inflammatory that can be found in fish oils as well as plant based oils. Scott Jurek, the world’s greatest distance runner, includes fatty acids into his daily diet.
3. Amino Acids
These are the building blocks for proteins and metabolic acids, what its macronutrient relative requires for proper muscle repair. The body does not store amino acids, which makes it a crucial component of one’s foundational nutrition. These can be found in a variety of food sources that help to support a diversity of foods in one’s diet. Sprouted nuts and seeds, grassfed meats, whole grains, like quinoa, and dried beans are all good sources of amino acids.
Your nutrition is only as good as your ability to absorb it. Ultimately, all of these foods have the inherent enzymes for digestion and bio-absorption of the necessary nutrients that your body needs. Logically, if one’s digestion is hampered or the product going in is inferior to begin with, the body will not get the nourishment that it needs. Processed foods and industrial agriculture have created digestive distress and nutrient deficiency as a result of stripped foods, synthetic fertilizers and chemical–cides. Your food needs to be fresh and as unadulterated as possible for your body to uptake it. Enzymes are what facilitate that process.
5. Bringing it All Together
The body will be much happier and capable of recognizing and processing food that it can relate to — not supplements, but whole foods that are as local, seasonal, and organically grown as possible. Leave the abacus and shopping list at home while you visit your local farmer’s market or food coop and purchase a changing diversity of products. Focusing on your foundational diet will keep you at and above your nutritional baseline as opposed to always trying to get there. Imagine your genetic potential once you have a solid platform to build upon!