Dr. Andrew Myers: Nutrition and Strength
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Muscular strength is essential to virtually all sporting pursuits, from team sports such as football and baseball, to sports that emphasize explosiveness such as basketball, track, field, and martial arts. Even endurance sports like a triathalon have a strength component, because strength in athletes is simply the controlled application of mechanical force to a resistant surface or object. In running, it’s the ground. In swimming, it’s the water. In baseball, it’s the ball. In boxing, it’s your opponent’s face.
Strength (or power) also comes into play in training. Much of the training regimen for any athlete will be resistance training: the lifting of weights to cause muscle contractions. These can include weight lifting, body weight exercises, and core exercises. Over time, such action damages muscle fibers, and the recover from that damage through rest, hydration, and nutrition leads to muscle growth, increased metabolism, greater strength, and increased lean body mass.
Greater muscle strength also reduces the risk of injury as muscles are better able to support the joints and skeletal system and more resistant to exercise-induced trauma. According to the Mayo Clinic, strength training also improves muscle tone and coordination and reduces the decline in muscle mass that usually accompanies age.
Because the application of muscular force is anaerobic, strength-related exercise causes the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles. Depending on its duration, intense exercise requiring power and explosiveness – ski jumping, volleyball, powerlifting – taps into one of two anaerobic energy systems, neither of which rely on oxygen as a catalyst for the chemical reaction that produces energy. As the muscles are pushed to failure (pain or the inability to further contract without rest), lactic acid accumulates in the tissues. Beyond a certain threshold (the lactate threshold) lactic acid begins to cause fatigue, thereby negatively impacting performance.
This may not have a noticeable effect on casual exercisers, who either do not engage in anaerobic exercise intense enough to cause lactic acid buildup at sufficient levels or engage primarily in aerobic exercise, which does not cause lactate accumulation. However, the rigorous workouts and competitive performance of athletes, pro or amateur, makes the lactate threshold relevant.
The goals of athletes seeking to build strength are typically twofold: to build muscle while keeping body weight low. The more you weight, the more energy it takes to propel that weight through the motions of your sport. And, since fat does not exert force, it follows that reducing body fat must be a dietary goal alongside developing muscle.
Here are some ideal strength building foods:
Lean Meat – Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, can provide up to 30 grams of protein per serving with a low saturated fat content.
Fish – Salmon, anchovies, tuna, sardines, cod, tilapia, and halibut are some of the best options for athletes after their daily protein fix.
Egg whites – A typical egg white contains about four to five grams of protein, making this a power food for athletes.
Complex Carbohydrates – Brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and oatmeal are great examples of quality complex carbohydrates. These carbohydrates digest slowly and release their energy gradually, providing long-term fuel to muscles during difficult exercise.
Nuts – Nuts are an ideal protein sources for athletes who don’t eat meat. Nuts contain substantial protein as well as high levels of healthy fats that reduce inflammation and improve cardiovascular health.
Dr. Andrew Myers: Nutrition and Speed
Thursday, February 09, 2012
Speed plays a vital role for many types of athletes. Athletes who rely on speed ask their bodies to deliver explosive performance in short bursts designed to propel them forward on the playing field faster than their opponents. Athletic speed comes from the performance of the “fast-twitch” muscle fibers. These muscle fibers can contract quickly and with greater force than the blood-rich “slow-twitch” muscles, but these movements can only be sustained for a short time before they become painful. Athletes focused on speed train specifically for speed, forcing the muscles to work to decrease contraction time, improve “turnover” (the time it take to move one limb through a motion such as a stride or swim stroke and start the other limb on that same motion), and optimize the neural networks and motor pathways that carry the contraction signals to the muscles.
Many types of movement are part of the general term “speed”:
This is usually regarded as “first step” acceleration. In other words, how fast can an athlete go from being relatively motionless to at or near top velocity, especially in comparison to an opponent? The most common examples here would be a first-step dribble in man-to-man defense on basketball, a wide receiver running to get open in football, and a base stealer sprinting to the base in baseball. In all cases, quickness is more important than raw speed, because what beats the opponent is nearly immediate acceleration.
This is the fat application of muscular power; it can be thought of as “speed meets strength.” Jumping, in many forms, is probably the most familiar type of explosiveness: a basketball player rising for a dunk, a gymnast doing a floor exercise, or a boxer unleashing a lightning-fast combination of devastating punches.
This is the type of speed most people think about when they hear the word - speed in a line, such as on a running course. This kind of speed might have to be sustained for several minutes of the athlete is engaged in something like a one-mile race or a goal-to-goal run on the soccer field. Fast turnover of the legs is vital to sustained speed.
This is speed applied to non-linear movement, the ability to quickly contort the body to move laterally as well as vertically. Agility also involves such qualities as flexibility and strength, but, in an athletic setting, it demands speed first and foremost. Examples include mogul skiers, soccer players, and football running backs, all of whom must change direction with lightning speed during the course of their sports.
Maintaining sufficient stores of needed nutrients at the cellular level enables your body to respond to the demand for speed. Muscles can contract more powerfully to provide explosiveness. Nerve impulses reach muscle more quickly to direct the body through agility moves. The mitochondria in the cells manufacture the additional energy necessary for quick “first step” action, whether playing in a pickup basketball game or diving for a shot as a soccer goalie. Muscles gain the ability to maintain speed longer during the anaerobic activity of sustained running or cycling, allowing you to spring on the track or pass other cyclists on the triathalon course.
As it is for most of the body’s systems, nitric oxide is a critical element in producing athletic speed. NO controls the vascular tree that directs blood flow to the areas of the body screaming for oxygen and nutrients during a sprint or other speed-based activity. By controlling the dilation of blood vessels, NO also regulates blood pressure as the body changes position, such as in a 50-meter swim or a hurdles race. This helps to maintain blood flow to the brain and other critical areas of function that are affected by dynamic movements of the body.
When a runner, or other speed athlete, engages the anaerobic system and the mitochondrial energy sources that power muscles during the fast movements of a sprint or cycling race, NO optimized the transport of glucose to working muscles. By allowing blood to flow more freely, NO enables critical systems to receive energy, shed heat, and get the oxygen they desperately need.
Sufficient levels of NO are therefore critical for optimal speed, and, as they cannot come from exercise if the athlete lacks the energy, oxygen, or circulatory volume to engage in intense work, NO promotion must come from diet and supplements. Proper supplementation is the key to unlocking the potential of NO, which, in turn, unlocks the maximum energy contained in the food you consume and the oxygen you breathe.
Nutrients for Speed
Because intense speed training and competition so readily deplete the body of key nutrients, athletes who desire peak performance should not limit their nutritional intake to dietary sources alone. Despite the news that supplement use is currently falling among athletes, we would like to see this trend reversed. As more and more athletes become aware of the importance of augmenting dietary nutrients with unadulterated nutrients in supplement form, we believe this will occur.
There are several nutrients that have been shown to be beneficial for the sprinter, runner, or other type of athlete seeking to increase speed.
As part of natural mitochondrial respiration, the process by which chemical reactions produce fuel for our cells, various types of free radicals form in the tissues. Exercise amplifies this effect while depleting the body’s supplies of antioxidants. Antioxidants are the body’s main defense against the cell-damaging properties of these molecules, which is why the foundation of antioxidant intake must be a widely varied diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables.
Creatine is one of the primary fuels for the kind of short-term muscle use that occurs during sprints, speed skating, and other intense, speed-based sporting activities. Unfortunately, natural creatine levels in the body decline with age, leaving athletes with less quick-release energy for short-burst, high-intensity workouts or competitions. Added to the natural decline in fast-twitch muscle fiber and stride length that also come with the passage of time, its easy to see why speed-based athletes tend to lose their ability to remain competitive at high levels sooner than endurance athletes do.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Speed workouts damage muscles, resulting in inflammation and soreness. By minimizing this tissue inflammation, a a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can both reduce post-workout pain and reduce the risk of injury. Consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids has also been shown to speed up the body’s basal metabolic rate, aiding in fat loss and the maintenance of lean body mass – an obvious competitive advantage for runners.
Supplementing with arginine optimizes the ability of the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels, to produce nitric oxide, the powerful gas that relaxes and expands vessel walls to allow for greater circulatory volume. Consuming sufficient arginine through supplements improves NO production and blood flow, allowing the muscles, tissues, and organs used during all phases of competitive running to perform more efficiently and recover more quickly.
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