Top Foods for Improved Training Performance – Part 1
Nutrition is the language of our cells –it dictates how we look, feel, function and perform. It is drastically undervalued when compared the uncountable list of benefits proper nutrition can yield. For this reason, I have decided to write about my top choices of foods that support physiological or neurological changes to favour improved training performance. My initial thoughts were to create a ‘top 10 foods’ article but anyone who knows me, will understand that I really love getting into the nitty gritty detail.
This will be a 5-part series ranging through meats, nuts, seeds all the way through to vegetables and fruits.
The primary focal point for strength performance is to increase neurological drive (supporting dopamine and acetylcholine production) whilst avoiding any suppression (which would be induced from any GABAergic or serotonergic actions). This will optimise drive, motivation, muscle contraction, muscular tone, focus and clarity whilst avoiding any inhabitation or relaxation.
Other key factors to look at when improving performance would be to ensure that there are optimal levels muscle carnosine levels to buffer PH and offset fatigue, support thyroid function, improve blood flow, support DNA formation, strengthening structural connective tissue and activating the correct pathways to supply the body with available energy stores.
For optimum strength performance, you preferably want to avoid carbohydrates pre-training to ensure there is no pump-induced fatigue and to minimise serotonin secretion – therefore fats and proteins are best choices.
This being said, everyone is individual and what will be highly beneficial for one person may not reap similar effects in another due to food intolerances, nutrient status, hormonal levels and genetic code.
Bone Broth – Do you even bone though?
This is classed as ‘natures multi mineral’. For thousands of years humans have consumed bones, with theories going as far back as Palaeolithic eras. Bone broths contain bio-available minerals (easily absorbed by the body) such as; calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur to chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine.
Cooking bones in a broth releases a combination of nutrients that support:
- Healthy joint mobility and function
- Collagen biosynthesis
- Modulating appropriate immune and inflammatory responses
- Improved gut health
- Joint health is a key limiting factor on strength and performance. The neurological system will inhibit strength as a self-safety mechanism to protect the joints by preventing any further damage.
One of the most valuable components of bone broth is gelatin, this acts like a soft cushion between bones that helps them move without friction. Gelatin also provides us with building blocks that are needed to form and maintain strong bones; helping take pressure off aging joints and supporting heathy bone mineral density. Weight training can increase bone density, joint health and mobility but only when it is complemented with an appropriate nutrient regime to feed the specific prosperities to do so.
Another key nutrient in bone broth is collagen, this is found in everything from our joints, bones, ligaments and tendons all the way down to the cellular level. Collagen supports the function of chondrocytes, these are small cells found within the cartilage of joints. Chondrocytes produce mucopolysaccharides and the formation of new collagen that keep joints cushioned and lubricated. Research done by the Department of Nutrition and Sports Nutrition for Athletics at Penn State University found that when athletes supplemented with collagen over the course of 24 weeks, there was significant improvements in joint comfort and a decrease in factors that negatively impacted athletic performance. (Clark KL1, Sebastianelli W, Flechsenhar KR, Aukermann DF, Meza F, Millard RL, Deitch JR, Sherbondy PS, Albert A)
Another powerful nutrient that supports joint health and functionality in bone broth is hyaluronic acid; this acts as a “shock absorber” for joints. It holds water and forms a gel-like substance, lubricating and cushioning joints by surrounding tissues found around nerves (predominantly found in the synovial fluid between joints).
Bone broth is also loaded with glycine. This is classed as a ‘conditionally essential’ amino acid. It is used in the synthesis of haemoglobin, creatine, porphyrin, bile salts, glutathione and the nucleotides DNA and RNA. Glycine is involved in gluconeogenesis (the manufacture of glucose), it helps drive glucose into cells acting similar to the function of insulin. ‘When glycine was ingested with glucose, the plasma glucose area response was attenuated by > 50% compared with the response after the ingestion of glucose alone’ (Mary C Gannon, Jennifer A Nuttall, and Frank Q Nuttall). This means that the athlete with be able to have a slighter high carbohydrate intake to restore glycogen levels, support mTOR, mitigate cortisol and improve training performance.
Glycine also assists digestion by enhancing gastric acid secretion. Research found that only certain proteins stimulate gastric acid secretion, glycine being one (Wald A, Adibi SA.) – thus helping protein digestion and assimilation for enhanced recovery from workout to workout.
Bone broths help mediate appropriate immune and inflammatory responses due to the nature of healing the gut wall (due to nutrients such as proline, glutamine, arginine, gelatin and collagen). This will improve the gut walls integrity and prevent intestinal damage and permeability. If the gut wall becomes permeable, undigested food, toxins and pathogens can pass through the intestinal barrier and into the blood stream, resulting in a hyper-vigilant immune and inflammatory response to address the ‘foreign invaders’. A healthy response is required for appropriate modulation of training-induced inflammation and endocrine function to enable efficient recovery and optimise super-compensation for growth and development.
Last but certainly not least; roughly 66% of neurotransmitter (chemical brain messengers dictating functions throughout the body) production is made within the gut. If there is any distress or down-regulation in the gut, neurotransmitter production will decrease – resulting in a decrease neural drive.
If the gut wall is inflamed, there is high chance that the brains barrier (blood-brain-barrier) will also be inflamed due to inflammatory stimulation from the vagus nerve, a nerve connecting the gut directly to the brain. This will decrease the brains performance and neurotransmitter reception in the brain.
Go hard or go bone.
Learning to Love Liver
Organs meats are incredibly abundant in B vitamins, these are essential in detoxification, the citric acid cycle (energy production), neurotransmitter conversions amongst many other key functions within the body crucial for training performance and recovery.
Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) is one of several enzymes that degrade dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. COMT introduces a methyl group to catecholamines, donated by the nutrient S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe). Nutrients such as 5-methylfolate (bioactive B9) or methylcobalamin (bioactive B12) support the production of SAMe (Goodman JE, et al. Carcinogenesis. 2001). This is crucial for training performance as the accumulation of too much epinephrine or norepinephrine can lead to over-excitation ‘burn out’ from central nervous system (CNS) fatigue.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with elevated levels of homocysteine (a proinflammatory molecule), fatigue, weakness and adrenal dysfunction (consequently leading to poor energy regulation and a lower androgenic profile).
The recommended minimum intake for B12 is 2.4mcg per day, this is easily hit from beef liver which supplies over 70mcg per 100g (now this may seem extremely high when compared to the RDA, due to it’s nature of being a water-soluble vitamin, toxicity levels are far higher, with no signs of oral toxicity from up to 2,000mcg).
Liver also has a considerable amount of folate (roughly 290mcg per 100g). In 100g of beef liver, there is just over 70% of the RDA requirements for folate (sitting around 400mcg) however this is roughly 3 times less than the optimal levels. We must note, folate is different to folic acid – folate is the bioavailable form that the body actually requires rather than the synthetic version, folic acid, which can place your body under greater amounts of stress dependent if you have a defect in the MTHFR gene. Folate is quintessential for proper methylation whilst also assisting with the recycling BH4 back from its used form, BH2 (Coppen A, et al. J Affect Disord. 1989). This is a key co-factor for the conversion of dopamine (amongst other neurotransmitters) and nitric oxide – thus increasing neural drive and performance whilst increasing the delivery of nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood to throughout the body.
Now I am going to talk about nucleotides, this is a classification of nutrients that are very powerful but unfortunately only known by a minority within the strength and performance world. You name it, Liver is incredibly abundant in this nutrient. They form the backbone of the DNA double helix – this is the most basic genetic material found in the nucleus of a cell that helps forms a blueprint of life. Nucleotides serve varied roles in energy metabolism (integral role of fat, protein and carbohydrates metabolism), enzymatic regulations, signal transduction and as structural components of coenzymes.
Dietary nucleotides are needed by certain cells and their functions for cellular regeneration, largely within the gastro-intestinal tract. Epithelial cells are situated within the intestines, their own production is too low to cover there needs for mucosa growth and its repair process (Sanderson IR, et al. J Nutr. 1994). Within the intestinal flora, specific strains are unable to produce their own nucleotides such as bifidobacterium longum (Rossi M, et al. Arch Microbiol. 2000). The health of the gut dictates your recovery capacity, and you can only train as hard as you can recover. This is done through mediating appropriate immune and inflammatory responses whilst optimizing nutrients digestion and assimilation required for new cellular turnover.
Another aspect how nucleotides can drastically support optimal recovery is the formation of lymphocyte and macrophage cells (Coffey RG, et al. Fed Proc. 1985). These cells are required for appropriate immune function and therefore your management of your biochemistry from training induced stress and inflammation. They have a fast proliferation rate which places a very high demand on nucleotide availability, therefore having a bigger pool of nucleotides means that they have a more efficient production rate.
Nucleotides support the oxygenation of blood, as erythrocyte cells are unable to produce their own nucleotides (Micheli V, et al. Quad Sclavo Diagn 1983). This will increase the circulation and flow of blood around the body to optimize performance and nourish muscles and organs with nutrients in order to heal.
Dietary nucleotides have indirect benefits to support other organs and metabolic processes such as liver function, repairing damaged DNA from oxidative stress and support RNA formation required for the formation of new proteins.
Nucleotides have also been shown to reduce post-exercise immunosuppression and hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) axis activation, whilst also lowering cortisol and creatine kinase (J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Feb) therefore favouring a physiologically anabolic state.
Upcoming in Part 2
I will move away from the carnivorous perspective and delve more towards the vegan side of nutrition with Brazil Nuts and Coconuts.
ABOUT JAKE CARTER
Since starting in the health and fitness industry at the age of 15, I have always strived for personal and professional development. Hungry for information and committed to progress, I am persistently investing in my own education and training.
The catalyst for this ‘hunger’ was when I became injured not long after becoming self-employed as a personal trainer. This was a huge wakeup call and I feared that I would not be a true representation of what I was capable of achieving as a coach, especially whilst being so young when compared to the rest of the team that I was working with. To overcome this, I buried my head in books; listened to countless podcasts; and experimented with various holistic health and fitness protocols on myself – particularly focusing on nutrition, as this was the only variable I could still control whilst injured. Eventually, I managed to save enough money to attend courses and seminars from many of the worlds industry leading figures. Needless to say, I healed my injury, but most importantly, I was left with a passion to learn which has only grown stronger over the years.
This desire enabled me to accumulate an extensive background on nutrition that resulted in me teaching nationally to a group of gyms with a network of over 400 personal trainers and coaches, at the age of 20.
I am now honored to be able to teach internationally along with private mentorships with students from all over the world. This is where students benefit from the culmination of almost a decade of intensive research and experimentation, to gather a comprehensive understanding of the most effective and results-driven nutrition protocols that allow us to manipulate the human body.