Performance Nutrition In 683 Easy Steps. Part I

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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

Phase Diagram

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.

Performance
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.

Health
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.

Longevity
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.

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  1. Scott Kustes
    October 22, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Nice post Robb. I think you wrote about this triple point theory in a CFJ or PM previously. Is that correct or am I out of my mind (or possibly both)? Prior to May, when I dislocated my shoulder another two times and got ready for surgery, I was pursuing a Performance goal. Since then, I’ve toned it down some and I’m pursuing more of a health/longevity goal. The shoulder surgery put it into perspective that I’d rather be an average to slightly above average CrossFitter and live to 95 than a fire-breather rocking out a 3 minute Fran and go into old age with aches and pains. Besides that, the shoulder has forced me to tone it down and I’ve found that heavy lifting with a couple of hard metcons per week is more enjoyable than the constant soreness of following the WOD, while still keeping me at a high level of fitness.

    Cheers
    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

    Hey Scott!
    I wrote about this several times in the PM and I am still mulling it around. I think your experience and how you manage your training is a perfect illustration of this concept. I wonder about the systemic inflammation from constant soreness…there might be some blood markers to look at for that. The orthopedic/joint integrity issue is perhaps one of the most important in this whole story. I have a client who is 78, orthopedically sound and pretty damn fit. Right after his session I have another client, a big strong guy, who has terrible knee and shoulder issues due to pushing things too far in several sports. The 2nd guy is 46 and from a crossfit/quality of life perspective he has about 1/2 the functionality of the man twice his age. It is really a stunning contrast, especially since their sessions are back to back.
    Robb

  2. Shaf
    October 23, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    That last comment, Robb, illustrates the dark side of sport (or even strenuous exercise). Competitive athletics are, by no means, good for you. Yet, if you enjoy them, where do you draw the line? Nobody likes to be some kind of half-asser, but, then again, nobody likes to be walking like they’re 85 when they’re 45, either.

    You are one mistake away from painful (or perhaps) injury when exercising with high intensity and a load (any exercise with done with high intensity can be injurious), and connective tissue is a long time coming back, if at all.

    I just ran into this myself, suffering a lower back strain while pulling some deadlifts last week. I’ve pulled hundreds or thousands of deadlifts over 20 odd years of lifting, and the signs were there that it would be a better day to do some sort of metcon or maybe some OLs instead of a slow, heavy lift, but I ignored them.

    So, is satisfying a taste for glory worth it? I knew a guy who was a competitive, Olympic runner, and his efforts were supported by the US Army. Now he’s a bitter old man who cannot get around without the help of a cane. His years of sporting glory were NOT worth it to him. “I’d give it all up to walk now” he’d say, and often.

    Examining “triple points” can be an exercise in chasing down continuously moving targets. My wife’s grandmothers are both in their mid-80s (her grandfathers both passed away, one early 2007, one in 2003). Both drive, though both are wore down with age. Neither ate paleo, or avoided smoke and drink, nor exercised other than for work or pleasure, never for health.

    Where’s the triple point for exercise? Sport? Nutrition?

    Are the three parameters above even the correct parameters? Health, longevity, and performance. Some might well swap out one of those for pleasure, or happiness, or competitiveness.

    Rambling on…

    Take care

    Steve

    Good Stuff Shaf!
    I think this is a good place for a bit of Zen and Economics. There are constant trade-offs with these scenarios and I guess it is entirely up to the individual as to where the emphasis goes. Look at Dan Gable’s career…what a dominant athlete! What a tough road into old age. Sometimes the fear of injury is the very thing that makes the activity worth doing…wacky stuff. No path holds a guarantee of anything but it’s interesting to think about ways of squeezing a little more juice out of a specific area, be it performance or longevity.

    Take care of that back! I hammered mine about three years ago when my abs were blown from Jim Baker sit-ups…never been the same since. A little competition has gone a long way!

  3. Allen
    October 23, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    I can’t believe the fundraiser is in a few days. I’m psyched to meet you and Greg.

    Allen-
    Me too Amigo! Make sure we are close to a buffet or some kind of 24hr market…Greg eats the equivalent of the GNP of Venezuela on most days.

    Robb

  4. Chris
    October 23, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    This is not totally related to this post, but I wondered if you had seen the research reported here:

    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-10/ucl-alh102207.php

    It struck me that it might have relevance to both IF / CR and low carb approaches to longevity.

    Also I understand that you are sympathetic to the arguments in “Lights Out”. A new study reminded me and made me think about the arguments in that book. My rambling thoughts are here:

    http://conditioningresearch.blogspot.com/2007/10/sleep-darkness-fitness-health.html

    Chris-
    I think there is HUGE relevance with that research. Gary Taubes discusses some material along that line in Good Calories, Bad Calories. His message is very similar tot hat found in Lights Out in that Ketosis/low carb is quite analogous to the fasting state. The IRS-1&2 pathways play into a number of disease states.

    We may actually see some kind of biotechnology that emulates this insulin knock-out action…I’d be a little surprised if it works but the research on mice is promising. In the mean time a low-is carb diet, intermittent fasting and smart training seem to be pretty good bets.

  5. Chris
    October 23, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    Great comments from Scott and Shaf by the way.

  6. Allen
    October 24, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Sort of a counterpoint to what Shaf said about his wifes grandmother’s my own grandmothers (one is late 80’s one is early 80’s) have always taken good care of themselves, did not work outside of taking care of their large families.

    My maternal grandmother still does her daily tai chi in the park with all the other elderly Taiwanese. My paternal grandmother watches what she eats, still takes daily walks and both have their wits about them.

  7. mike maloney
    November 7, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    Great Blog, found you through Straight to the Bar, wanted to tell you, i took your article, and posted it up on my blog. I gave you full credit, along with a linkback here.

    If you dont want your article on anyone’s blog, just letme know and ill try to push them to your blog to read it.

    Just wanted to let you know, it was a very interesting article.

    (Also, have you ever tried to change the permalink structure to your blog? you will get alot more traffic, if your post titles were actual urls too., just an idea)

    Hey Mike!
    Please use the info anyway you like, the link-back is fine. I am a complete idiot with all this stuff…I will try to modify things as you suggested…I may email you for some help!
    Robb

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