I once read this at a sports therapy clinic: “Great nutrition makes a good athlete great. Poor nutrition makes a great athlete good.”
This begs the question, “So what is great nutrition?” Is it more protein shakes and vitamin supplements? More eggs in your smoothie? And what other factors need to be considered for athletic performance? Raising athletes and being married to an athlete, I have asked the same questions but from a scientist’s perspective.
One hidden factor that athletes might not consider is their daily exposure to toxins and how nutrition can play an important role to combat that exposure. The body is constantly trying to detoxify itself from endogenous (derived internally) substances, such as its own dead tissue, cholesterol, and uric acid. It is also trying to eliminate exogenous (derived externally) substances such as microbes, dioxin, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and other chemical residues. We live in a world of environmental pollution — from toxic chemicals to radiation. The average American tests positive for 270 chemicals, including rocket fuel, Teflon, plasticizers, lead, mercury, pesticides and petrochemicals. Further, scientists estimate that we all carry at least 700 contaminants in our body, regardless of whether we live in a rural area, a large city, or near an industrialized zone.
For athletic performance, detoxification is accomplished by sweating and movement, which stimulates movement of the lymphatic fluid. What gets left out, typically, is proper support for the liver to cleanse the blood circulating in the body. That nutritional support comes from the plant kingdom, mostly, and the modern diet, for most, is seriously lacking in that level of variety of plant life.
The liver is a powerhouse organ for detoxification. There are Phase I and Phase II enzymes that help in this process (some believe there is yet another Phase III set of enzymes). Phase I enzymes are involved in what I’ll call the first stage, or “tagging” foreign substances for removal in the body. These enzymes unfortunately also generate loads of free radicals in the process and this can lead to secondary damage to the cells. An adequate supply of phytonutrients (plant nutrients) is critical to prevent such damage. This tagging of foreign substances so that the body can remove them requires Phase II enzymes to complete the process, which also requires a higher level of plant nutrient intake.
The body is a miraculous machine and, when it is operating optimally, it can repair damaged tissue and cleanse and remove dead material and foreign chemical pollutants. However, without the variety of plant matter in the modern diet, this process of detoxification remains incomplete. I try to educate people about effective and doable ways to detox daily for optimal performance.
Mitra Ray has a bachelor’s of science degree from Cornell University and completed her Ph.D. in biochemistry at Stanford Medical School. She has done extensive research on degenerative diseases and nutrition as preventative medicine.