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Antioxidants Fats Vitamins and Exercise

Posted Mar 04 2009 12:00am

Antioxidants Fats Vitamins and ExerciseBuilding large, strong muscles is not easy on the body. Intense exercise forces the body to adapt in several ways. One of the ways in which the body adapts is by building bigger and stronger muscles. This is called hypertrophy, and that is a good thing. Building bigger and stronger muscles is what the strength athlete strives for every day of his and her life.

The problem with intense exercise is that it also causes the body to produce certain hormones and other chemicals that can be damaging to the bodies immune system and organs. In fact, some of the byproducts of exercise can become free-radicals and be very destructive to the cells of the body. Thus, the athletes need for certain free-radical scavengers, or antioxidants, increases.

Clearly, good nutrition and exercise go hand in hand, especially if building large, strong muscles while burning fat is a goal. This is true for the average person. It is even more so for the athlete. Health amounts of antioxidants help the athletes body defend against the damage affects of free radicals caused by exercise. Of equal or more importance to the athlete than antioxidants is healthy fats.

Healthy fats are necessary for an efficient metabolism, for the creation of energy, for the sparing of vitally important muscle glycogen, for a healthy circulatory system, for healthy brain function and more. You simply cannot get the best results from any exercise program unless you have a good intake of healthy fats that are rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 lipids.

Finally, the need for certain vitamins, minerals and co-factors can increase depending on how much stress we are exposing ourselves to. However, the human body is a marvelous machine, capable of making many of the the vitamins we need, provided we have a heathy dietary intake of fibers, fruits and vegetables and good protein sources. That said, it stands to reason that the sedentary persons need for vitamins and minerals will be somewhat different than the needs of an athlete. The athlete will always need more of these and the other fuels already mentioned. The question is, how much more? That’s a tough question to answer.

Clearly, if you want to get the most from any exercise program, you must have a diet that is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and certain fats. That just makes good common sense. However, there seems to be a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about what makes up a good nutritional intake as well as what makes a good exercise program. Science is coming out with new data every day, and much of the data is conflicting, often coming to conclusions that are diametrically opposed.

My own personal opinion is that a healthy diet is one that allows you to more than adequately recover from whatever stress you expose yourself to. Within that context, a healthy diet will have certain elements in place that provide for good hydration, free-radical damage repair, optimal levels of energy that is sustainable even during times of stress, and good strength of muscles and bones. A healthy diet contain optimal levels of health fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Sounds complicated? Not really. Keep reading.

There are two positions or two schools of thought regarding dietary intake.

I see some validity to both statements, but I also see errors in both lines of reasoning.

Logic compels me to make the point that moderation is always a good rule to follow. No one will ever find me suggesting that mega-dosing on vitamins and minerals is a good idea. Anyone that suggests you mega-dose on vitamins and minerals needs to remember the fact that the human body is a brilliant machine that, under normal conditions, has a tremendous, innate and almost endless capacity to compensate for the stresses that we can expose it to. Mega-dosing on vitamins and minerals, willy-nilly, can upset the delicate natural balances within our bodies that enable this compensatory capacity we depend on for day to day survival. So, I would not use this site to sell the notion that in order for you to be healthy, you need to be quaffing down handfuls of pills and drinking gallons of liquids. However…..

At the same time, the premise of position number one is fraught with faulty assumptions that lead to profound questions:

  • Most people simply do not eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. That is a fact of life. In fact, there is not a single person on the planet that has the perfect diet. So that fact alone creates some huge problems for the “eat your fruits and vegetables” crowd. It is simply not realistic. Very few people eat enough fruits and vegetables and everyone I know always cheats and eats garbage on a regular basis.
  • Moreover, how can the FDA, or anyone for that matter, be certain that 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables contains all the nutrients the average person needs? Who is the average person, and what criteria are these expects using to determine that? And since the data that stipulates what the average person needs is always changing, it’s clear, therefore, that no one really knows what any single person needs in their diet in order to be optimally healthy. And what about the person that is not average? What are their needs? Do you begin to see the problem here?
  • Furthermore, assuming for the moment that the FDA stumbled upon the holy grail of daily nutrition requirements, what guarantee can anyone have that the three red peppers, two mangos and two bowls of salad they ate today contain the specified amount of all the nutrients the FDA says we need? What sort of soil was the food grown in? How nutrient dense was that soil? How long have the vegetable and fruits you are eating been sitting on the shelf at the grocery store before you bought them, and how does that affect the nutrient value of the food? FOr that matter, how long have they been in your refrigerator? How much of the naturally occurring nutrients remain in the vegetables and fruits we eat? So you see, position number one is so overly simplistic and illogical as to be downright obtuse.

Position number two makes the most sense to me. It seems the most realistic, too, in my opinion, and is more in line with my philosophy.

No two people are the same. Moreover, no two lifestyles are the same. Some folks have medical conditions and allergies to certain foods, such as certain types of fish, eggs and nuts, that can predispose them towards nutritional deficiency in certain areas. Some folks have digestive issues that could lead to malabsorption of certain nutrients. Again, this can lead to nutrient deficiency in those individuals. And what about folks that have bad habits like smoking, eating large amounts of pro-oxidant foods like friend foods, fast foods etc? Finally, athletes that engage in very intense exercise have been shown to produce high levels of damaging hormones that are potentially free-radicals. So, as you can see, a persons nutritional needs is a very individual thing.

To complicate matters even further, if we can accept that nutritional needs vary from person to person, then a hard and fast rule of how many servings of fruits and veggies falls flat, especially if the nutritional value of that food is questionable.

So, while supplementation is clearly a good idea for some people (and I would argue for all people – especially athlets), position number two can be taken to extremes. The solution is not to cram your cupboards with 30 different bottles of vitamins and minerals, all the while forgoing a reasonable diet full of fruits and vegetables. The solution lies somewhere in the middle.

The rule of moderation would dictate that a person eats a reasonably healthy diet that includes:

If you are an athlete, you might wish to include a good whey protein powder. It might even be a good idea to have a good energy supplement on hand to keep you pumping iron and doing all the things you need to do without getting tired during the day.

OK, so you have decided you need to make some changes in your diet, but the question is what do you do? Well, I alluded to it in the short list above. However, if you are asking me what products you should buy and where to get them, I must then defer to my own experience. I cannot suggest something I know nothing about. So, click Supplement Brands And What To Buy to see what I am doing and what I suggest.

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