Peak nutrition —
Special to the Weekly
VAIL – Check your food pyramid at the door. Local nutrition expert Benjamin Stone, PhD, of Sigma Performance, will turn what you thought you knew about nutrition on upside down.
Stone has a master’s in nutritional biochemistry form Oxford and a doctorate’s in exercise physiology. He combined the two to form Sigma, and has since been working with some of the top athletes in the country, including those from the U.S. Ski Team and various members of the U.S. Triathlon Team.
“A very important takeaway is that people are not taught how to eat,” Stone said. “I can’t think of anything that will have greater fundamental changes on someone’s health or an athlete’s performance than the their source of fuel they use to do everything in their day.”
As one of the most sought after nutritionists in the country, Stone will join Dr. Inigo San Millan, Director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center; and Dr. Dennis Lipton, an internal medicine practitioner at the Vail Valley Medical Center in a panel presentation with the Vail Symposium and the Vail Vitality Center on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Grand View room.
The trio of experts will investigate breaking research in the world of sports nutrition, as well as how this research is spilling over in to the realms of vitality and longevity in the general population.
Before the program, we caught up with Stone and scribed with fury as he destroyed common misconceptions and detailed his approach to improving performance, athletic and otherwise, through nutrition.
Vail Symposium: Let’s start with why you were most attracted to the field of nutrition versus everything else you are qualified to do?
Ben Stone: Nutrition seemed to be the area the fewest number of people had it right. When I first started Sigma, I was coaching endurance athletes, and I found that on the nutritional side of things, people were clueless.
On the side of elite athletes, think about this – you might spend three or four hours in a day training, but you are alive for 20 more hours in a day and what you are eating and doing in that time has a massive impact on what you want to achieve. You ask someone what they are doing nutritionally in that time and they really have no clue. They might eat when they are hungry. When you pair your nutritional paradigm with your daily activities and your training, that is when athletes start seeing big gains. That is also when the general population starts feeling better.
VS: What are the most common misconceptions athletes make about their beliefs about nutrition? How does that contrast to the general population?
BS: Well, really there are three. 1. Calories in are calories out. That is simply not true. I can’t even get in to it. It just isn’t true. 2. Fat is bad. Food scientists and groups like NewScience.org are getting big federal grants to explore our nutritional values and they are effectively flipping the food pyramid upside down. 3. Protein. People think protein is the end-all-be-all silver bullet for recovery, weight loss and fueling.
VS: How has research done with athletes spilled over in to the general population’s interest in increasing longevity and vitality?
BS: Athletes are a group of people who are most interested in finding out the perfect human diet. They expect the most out of their bodies. It makes sense athletes are the first to see improved nutrition result in improved performance.
For instance, athletes were among those that pioneered a whole foods approach. They found that when they omitted processed things from their diet, they didn’t get sick, they had more energy, and they felt better, all of which are essential characteristics to athletes. That whole foods approach really evolved from an athletic hypersensitivity to feeling well and crossed over.
But athletes are also unique. They work their bodies much harder than the general population. Seeing what athletes do can disillusion people into thinking it is healthy. Look at sports drinks. The average person does not need Gatorade, but it is the most popular drink at a gas station. People buy it because it is sweet and tastes good. But that is not its intended purpose. It was designed to allow athletes to perform at a higher level for a longer period of time. The average person does not need that carbohydrate supplementation. Understanding nutritional relevance is very important. It is definitely something we will look at in the program.
VS: With all these changes, what do you find is the average person’s capacity to change their nutrition habits?
BS: I’ve been doing nutritional consultation with Sigma for almost five years. I was coaching endurance athletes before that for three years. You can take a few different approaches to changing someone’s habits. You can scream it in their face, or you can take the time to sit down and educate them on why change is critical. My work is evidence-based and I apply it in a way that people can make use of it. I try to help people understand why they are doing it and how the changes can help them.
These are some easy things to change:
Stop counting calories. Think about eating like income. If you were making $100,000 a year and then went to making $40,000 a year, you can’t expect to live the same way. The same is the case for calories. You can’t just slash them and expect to function normally.
Another change is to add more good Mediterranean fats to your diet. You have to look at what types of food you eat and when you eat it to make effective change. You have to put the calories you eat to work.
Another tip: before a low intensity workout, don’t eat. If it is an easy walk or slow run, not eating will cause your body to become dependent on fat.
VS: What do you make of trends such as cleanses?
BS: There is not a ton of scientific evidence that supports this is healthy. Maybe if you are trying to purge your body of some toxicity or heavy metals. I can’t dispute that. But I would say if you are going to do a cleanse, you better have figured out every other aspect of your life that you can feasibly change that has been scientifically tied with chronic health. It is like cleaning your truck. You have a lot to change before you should be concerned about the tiny details. A cleanse is like step 127 when people should really be concentrated on step number eight.