Nutrition, often described in Far Side Cartoons as “FUD”, is a contentious and error prone topic. Contentious in that one can find an argument to include or exclude everything from meat to nightshades and Cheetos depending upon the source. Oh, precious Cheetos! Nutrition is error prone in that most people are not willing to experiment and see what really works for them. We hold our portfolio managers, mechanics and public utilities accountable for a desired performance, yet many are content with nutrition recommendations that perpetuate ill health, poor body composition and sub-par performance. Why? I have no idea, but it stinks of mommy or daddy issues so we can leave it to Dr. Phil to figure out the “why”.
I say buggar the why’s, lets figure out what works. In this vein I’d like to present a framework for evaluating your FUD, er, uh…Nutrition. This framework includes ample speculation that I THINK is correct, but I may be full of shit. It’s up to you to determine what if any of this has merit. YOUR experience is all that matters. This means if you want to get the most from your nutrition, training or really anything, you need to critically evaluate what you are doing, what results you are obtaining and make adjustments in accordance with your goals. This may seem obvious, alas, it is not!
Performance, Health & Longevity
The graph above describes the triple point of water. The triple point is the point at which temperature and pressure allows for the simultaneous existence of the solid, liquid and gas states of water. Alter the temperature or pressure and one will shift the states. I like this analogy when thinking about the interrelated concepts of Performance, Health and Longevity. Although the concepts are related there are points of divergence depending upon ones goals. Before we get to that, let’s define performance, health and longevity so we are clear on the respective meanings.
I like to think of performance simply as the ability to do what you want to do. This may be the Tour De France or chasing your grand kids. It has less to do with what you are doing and more to do with HOW you are able to do it. For this discussion lets assume we are looking at performances such as rocking the CrossFit Games or making the 2008 American Olympic Weightlifting team. This should conjure up imagery pretty specific to the event. One involves getting winded walking up a flight of stairs, the other involves frequent nausea and vomiting. Again, performance is up to you, it’s just the stuff you want to do.
Now, when we think about performance we usually want strategies that allow us to improve our work output, recovery, technique etc. This means looking for ways to train harder, longer or more frequently…and legally if that is of importance to you. Nutrition can play an amazing role in facilitating not only event specific performance but also the recovery and training that leads up to a given event. The preceding considered we might want a nutritional approach that facilitates BETTER performance. Nothing too earth shaking there so lets go back to our model of the triple point and ask the question “What affect does Performance have on Health and Longevity?” Glad you asked, lets define those concepts then come back to the question.
I view health as our ability to survive and thrive RIGHT NOW. What’s your blood pressure? Blood sugar? Mental outlook? Stress level? Immune response? Ability to survive falling off a 12’ ladder? This is perhaps a simplistic view of health but I think it works quite well.
What if we considered health (the moment to moment ability to survive) over time? We would have longevity. Longevity is health over the long haul.
Interestingly there are points of deflection among these concepts. Longevity CAN simply mean surviving for a very long time, however ones health may be such that any stressor, a cold, a fall, will be more than the individual can deal with. Conversely perfect health, as measured on the day-to-day level, may curtail longevity. People who have a cold here and there tend to have lower rates of cancer. An occasional drop off in health may translate into improved longevity. There is a Zen like twist to these elements that I find interesting. I think the point should be made that this is just a model, use it to the degree you find it helpful.
Now! Back to that question: “What affect does Performance have on Health and Longevity?” Hmmm…what type of performance are we talking about? You are likely aware that loads of endurance training may be at odds with health and longevity for reasons including oxidative stress, immune compromise and the attendant high carb diet necessary to fuel such efforts. If endurance sports are your thing that’s fine, it’s perhaps good to know some of the down sides so one might alter nutrition (higher fat diet, smart carb replacement) and training (more intense brief efforts and a shift towards QUALITY longer efforts). Similarly if you aspire to be a Super Heavy Olympic Lifter you may need to consume an amount of food and carry a body mass that is absolutely at odds with health and longevity. My take home message: How you approach your nutrition should have a bearing on your interests in performance, health and longevity.
I’m going to leave things there for now and hopefully this will spark some thought and comment. I will look at specific nutritional approaches next week on the blog but if you get a chance I highly encourage you to attend the Catalyst Athletics charity fundraisers coming up October 27 & 28 in Washington DC. You can find info on the Olympic lifting seminar here and info on the Nutrition seminar here. The event is to raise money for the Yeh family…you can read more about their situation here. I will expand on the topics of performance, health and longevity at the seminar and help attendees dial in their nutrition to meet their specific goals.