Vail Daily Health: Gaining the athletic edge |

Vail Daily Health: Gaining the athletic edge

Dr. Elina Chernyak
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – As the margins of competition become ever tighter, athletes in the Vail Valley and beyond are looking for more innovative and natural (and legal) ways of gaining an edge. Along with traditional training, there are other key challenges to be mastered; eating well, strengthening the immune system, improving mental clarity, and getting restful sleep while traveling through different time zones. All of these factors are as important to the professional athlete as fine-tuning of technique through practice.

Physical training is imperative, but I believe that maximum results can only be achieved by improving “cellular performance” as well. Body chemistry, along with nutritional demands and deficiencies, influence how an athlete feels, performs and recovers. As we’ve seen many times, even the best athlete can lose the day because of a simple cold.

More top athletes are starting to recognize the importance of integrating a functional medicine approach into their training strategies. Functional medicine focuses on treating the underlying causes of disease rather than the symptoms. It involves several key principles that also seem to mirror competitive athletic principles; a view that every system in the body is connected rather than operating on its own, that each person possesses a unique set of physical variations that must be evaluated and considered, and that there is a constant yet dynamic balance of internal and external factors at work. Similarly, any imbalance in the interconnected system will hinder optimum performance. The heart of functional medicine treatment lies in nutrition, using targeted nutrients to overcome deficiencies and fight disease.

Top athletes know that a detailed, comprehensive and health-oriented training regimen leads to improved performance and longevity of career. Perhaps the best example is Lance Armstrong, who has worked closely with functional medicine doctors and nutritionists not just in his fight against cancer, but also to improve performance through diet and prevention. Clearly, he’s been so successful with this approach that even his mitochondria are wearing yellow jerseys! Mr. Armstrong’s understanding and use of “alternative” strategies have helped him reach amazing success even after cancer, and has changed the way many professional athletes now go about their business.

Athletes are indeed fit, but not always healthy. They demand a lot from their physical machinery, so its imperative that they obtain knowledge not just from their coaches and trainers, but also from their doctors. When working with athletes I start by getting important information on both their competitive career and their ‘civilian’ life. I treat them as comprehensively as any other client, but with close attention paid to the extraordinary physical stress they experience. I collect laboratory evidence that reveals accurate data on how the body is functioning and repairing itself. Detailed results from specific blood tests administered for each individual reveal the first signs of hidden breakdown in the body, and provide a road map for treatment, enhancement of overall health and ultimately, to the podium.

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Despite the façade, athletes can develop problems quite easily, and may do damage to their bodies that will manifest later in life. But through individual biochemical analysis, we can identify and address functional and nutritional deficiencies in order to help prevent illness, improve cellular function and repair, boost energy levels and enhance mental acuity all at once. Everyone, athletes especially, should not just be concerned about getting the right mix of proteins and carbohydrates, but also taking in the right amounts of high-quality micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. (A list of my top 10 nutrients can be found on my Web site).

With a solid foundation of health, athletes can enjoy the challenges and successes of their disciplines without the distraction of getting ill or run down. More importantly, they can enjoy a good level of fitness and health way beyond their competitive years. To be active and able into older age is the true reward. Researchers are discovering how many ways we depend on specific nutrients to promote optimal physical performance, and many findings are coming from the front lines of elite athletic training. Working with people who are as much interested in their health as you are in their health creates a true, partnership model of healthcare in which the patient and doctor combine their knowledge not just for the sake of a “winning mentality,” but also for a “winning vitality.”

Dr. Elina Chernyak is an Osteopathic Doctor specializing in Integrative Medicine in Edwards. For more information, call 970-306-2737 or visit If you have a question you’d like to ask Dr. Elina, please e-mail

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