Chinese and Western Medicine agree that on the long run (pun intended) extreme endurance training depletes the body. The purpose of this article is to give you a few dietary suggestions on how to minimize the negative effects of your training and help enhance your performance.
Western Medicine is concerned about excess inflammation, overwhelmed immune system, heart enlargement, etc. while Chinese Medicine worries about that the long training sessions, irregular work schedules, competition anxiety, stress, overindulgent lifestyle deplete first our Qi, the yin and/or yang, body fluids and last our Jing. Jing is our life essence, we must not waste it. If we run out of it we have nothing left and we die…
Chinese Medicine believes we are born with a certain amount of Jing. We can’t increase the amount we have, it is allotted to us when we are born and is based on our parent’s health at the time of our conception. Therefore some have very strong Jing, some very weak, but it’s what we do with what we have matters most.
Having a balanced mindset, getting quality rest & sleep, following a moderate lifestyle, exercise routine (yoga, tai chi) and proper diet allow our body to transform food into vital essences that we use as energy throughout the day. When done well, our bodies work off of what we are making each day and we leave our resources (Jing) alone for times of emergency (work deadlines, the last 5miles of the marathon). Jing is like a savings account that you use only when necessary.
SO WHAT IS THE PROPER DIET?
✅ EAT FOR YOUR CONSTITUTION
Chinese Medicine believes that everyone is unique and has a constitution (something you born with), therefore you should eat according to your unique constitution. We are all a mixture of Yin and Yang, although we may be predominantly one or the other.
How do you know which one are you?
If you like to sleep on a warming blanket with layers of clothes on, tend toward feeling cold and prefer warm liquids, if you crave the sunlight & warmth, if you fatigue easily and like to sleep a lot, have an introverted personality, tend to be quiet and have a weak voice, a slower running pace, and you need longer recovery time for rest and rejuvenation you are more of a Yin person.
Because your own fire is low you should avoid iced and cold beverages, ice cream, raw fruits, vegetables and salads, raw energy bars. Most of your foods should be coming from warming soups, stews, dishes with rice, quinoa, lentils, black beans, lamb, beef and chicken, garlic and onions and drinks made with warming spices: ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cloves and black tea. Basically choose cooked foods over cold smoothies, health bars, sandwiches and salads.
If you tend towards feeling hot, sleep with a window open even during the winter, if you are easily angered, irritable, very emotional, have an outgoing personality, loud voice, suffer from insomnia, if you like cold liquids and you are very active, have a faster running pace you are likely to be more a Yang type of person.
You will benefit from a plant-based diet (wheat, mung beans, watermelon, fresh fruit juices, green tea, peppermint tea, lemon and many of the green leafy vegetables such as celery and cucumber, and colorful fruits) because they have a cooling effect on the body. You should avoid eating hot and spicy foods and limit your intake of meats and alcohol.
✅ EAT RED MEAT, AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK
The size of your fist is sufficient. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, eating meat, especially red meat, helps to build blood. Blood is required for healthy growth, reproduction, emotional well-being, and pain free muscles and joints. When there is blood deficiency, you experience anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, thinning of your hair, and problems with your fertility, your period, your tendons and muscles. From a Western Medicine perspective red meat is used to treat general weakness, increase energy, overcome deficiencies post training, during illness, tiredness, pre and post surgery. Meat contains plenty of good quality protein, iron, and zinc (helps wound healing) - and strengthens the bones & tendons.
Wild animals and wild fish are also worth adding to your diet when you have the opportunity. They usually have less saturated and more healthy fats, because most of these wild animals themselves eat a diverse diet of plants.
If you do not eat meat increase your intake of mushrooms (shitake, black ear and white ear mushrooms), baked or fried tofu (prepared with warming spices such as ginger and onions), darker beans (adzuki, lotus seed and mung bean), black sesame seeds, dark leafy green vegetables (water chestnut, celery, spinach, broccoli, green beans, snow peas, sugar peas, bitter greens) wolfberries and cherries to prevent blood deficiency, fatigue and injuries.
✅ EAT ROOT VEGETABLES
Beets, carrots, yam, yucca, parnships, potatoes grow in the dark, they absorb a great amount of nutrients from the soil and therefore are very nourishing. From Western Medicine perspective [root vegetables] help endurance athletes build stamina (glycogen stores) and keep them fuller longer.
✅ EAT LOCALLY AND EAT FOR SEASON
Nature has the perfect plan for providing the appropriate foods in each given season. The fruits and vegetables that ripen in the summertime (broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, spinach, cucumber) tend to be on the cooling side and not recommended for use when the weather is cold. In wintertime choose a more warming diet (yam, potatoes, carrots, beets) because it’s cold outside and we need warming foods to keep us warm and nourished.
❌ DO NOT COUNT CALORIES
Food is a tool in endurance sports. It is also to be enjoyed.
The best part of endurance training is that you can eat anything you want [well mostly anything], because you are going to burn it off. If you are hungry eat, do not starve yourself.
What more important is: most of your calories (65-75% of your daily intake) should be coming from carbs. Mostly from complex carbs (oatmeal, sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn, pumpkin, squash, beets, whole grain bread, lentils, beans and peas) to help restore your glycogen stores and help keep you going. Simple carbs (sugar, sports drinks, gels etc.) have a place in your diet during a race or long training days.
❌ NOTHING COLD
Chinese Medicine believes that anything cold, (ice cream & iced drinks) slow down organ functions and cause stagnation. The body likes to keep its core temperature steady at about 100° F. and the stomach requires a warm environment to properly function. Cold slows your digestion, causing bloating, fatigue, pain and in women painful periods, cramps and may prevent you from getting pregnant (you need to provide a warm home for your growing baby). The person already always feeling hot (Yang), will be even hotter because the body needs to generate heat to warm up the cold fluids.
Chinese Medicine is advocating for drinking room temperature or even warm liquids. Warm improves circulation & blood flow and reduces painful contractions.
❌ DO NOT FAST
Especially as an endurance athlete. Neither Western nor Chinese Medicine advocate fasting or frequent detoxification regimes because [in Chinese Medicine] these practices tend to deplete the body’s energy. The human body is well designed to eliminate wastes and toxins, and a number of organs play a role: the kidneys and the liver draw substances out of the bloodstream and process them for the body to excrete as waste. Fasting stresses the body, forcing it to operate on stored nutrients. Just eat healthy, train & sweat and you won't ever have to detox or do cleanses.
❌ LIMIT YOUR INTAKE OF ALCHOL
1g of alcohol = 7kcal so it's pretty high in calories. (Protein & carb 1g = 4.2kcal, fat 1g = 9.3kcal)
Alcohol is an anti nutrient: it inhibits the normal metabolism of vitamins; it increases the urinary excretion of calcium and magnesium; it interferes with the normal metabolism and storage of nutrients; it inhibits optimal glycogen restoration. It’ll take up to twice as long to replace glycogen stores in athletes who have consumed alcohol compared with athletes who have not. Alcohol also affects the central nervous system, resulting in reduced motor skill function, lower cognitive function and behavioral changes, all of which impede the athletic endeavor. These effects may be long lasting, having a measurable effect for hours or days after alcohol consumption.
You train hard to be the best version of yourself. Adding supplements that claim to boost your performance and give you a mental or physical edge can be very tempting. But be careful, there is so much misinformation out there:
1. Dietary supplements are regulated differently than conventional foods and drugs. Manufacturers are not required to prove that a supplement is safe before it is sold, or even that it works. The FDA can take action to remove or restrict the sale of a supplement only after it has been on the market and been shown to be unsafe.
2. Most products advertised as having ergogenic properties do not, and those that do work would lose their ergogenic properties if you followed a diet plan that satisfied your energy and fluid need. Most supplements are taken to counter ongoing dietary shortcomings. Think about it, it is cheaper, safer and more effective if you correct your diet. (For example: the amino acid delivery from protein and amino acid supplements is more than 10 times more expensive than the consumption of a small piece of chicken or meat and the chicken is known to be safe. Also: a single ounce of meat provides about 7000mg of high quality amino acids vs a typical amino acid supplement provides only between 500-1000mg.)
3. Long term safety studies have rarely if ever been performed.
4. Many herbs sold as ergogenic aids have no known chemical content or known active ingredients.
5. The legality of some of these products is also in doubt. Studies have shown that many of the supplements are laced with banned substances not listed on the label. Regardless of whether this contamination is purposeful or a result of poor quality control, this could place you at a risk of failing a banned substance blood or urine test!
So instead of focusing on a magic bullet - take a safer, cheaper and more realistic approach: have a balanced diet that satisfies your energy and fluid needs. Always support growth and improve your performance naturally. Use supplementation only when real foods are not practical or not available.
Make these changes in your diet and notice how you feel. I guarantee that you will feel superb and will be able to perform better.
Happy training :-)