Most people believe that being active and physically fit directly correlates to being physiologically healthy. Our overall physiological health relates to how healthy all of organs and cells are, versus our physical fitness which simply looks at how well we can carry out activities without becoming overly fatigued. When we confuse the two and think because we are physically fit, our bodies are also healthy, sometimes negative or even tragic consequences arise.
Take for example, Dale Basescu, one of triathlon’s earliest pioneer professionals, died just a few years ago in 2016 at age 60 during a training session in the pool.
Dale was a top triathlon competitor in the 1980's, and was considered one of the top 10 in the world at the Olympic distance for several years. After retiring from the sport, he continued to live a healthy lifestyle, even becoming a practicing chiropractor in CA. So when he announced to friends just a few months before his death, he intended to return to the sport at aged 60, it didn't seem out-of-place. On one of his comeback events about a month before his death he won his age group with a time of 2:19 (at the Olympic distance)!
Yet this top athlete, who was obviously still very physically fit, passed away of a heart attack while swimming, something he had been doing all of his life.
As saddening as Dale’s passing is, it highlights a much more important issue - the facts are that many people die each year during physical activity and a high percentage of them are very physically fit. The problem is that many active athletes aren't even looking at their overall health, assuming because they are active and fit, they are fine.
The numbers don’t lie.
I have assessed hundreds of athletes over the years from weekend warriors to Olympians and found that almost all have significant metabolic imbalances in key health factors such as vitamin D, omega 3, magnesium, nitric oxide, heart rate variability and adrenal and anabolic hormones.
The cold, hard science bad news is that the high-level training required to perform these intense endurance events is metabolically stressful and creates high levels of oxidative and inflammatory stress. And as much as they bring pride, accomplishment and achievement, marathons, triathlons, endurance runs and cycling races, intense functional fitness challenges and obstacle mud runs are not good for your health!
The potential for the loss of a life (like with Dale) is nothing less than tragic. But there’s a larger tragedy that needs to be recognized here—the fact that a little knowledge and the use of a few simple, dietary interventions could have prevented these (and 95% of all related) deaths from happening.
But there is good news…
With proper training, nutrition and targeted nutritional supplement support, you can minimize the damage and come out on the other side a stronger, higher achieving and more resilient athlete.
So why don’t more people follow through.
The problem is that we, as a species, aren’t that good at practicing the principles of prevention. We evolved, after all, by establishing life goals that would simply allow us to survive another day. Worrying about the catastrophic, but relatively small, risk of dropping dead while running wasn’t programmed into our genetic code.
Our desire to succeed, on the other hand, is a well-established human trait. During the early 1980s, a researcher named Bob Goldman began asking elite athletes if they would take a drug that guaranteed them a gold medal but would also kill them within the following five years. More than half of the athletes said "yes" to the proposition. When he repeated the survey bi-annually for the next decade, the results were always the same—about half of the athletes said they would die for a gold medal.
So if you’re one of those people who are ruled by results, consider this: You can dramatically improve your health and performance by doing the these simple things outlined below.
1. Optimize your ESSENTIAL FATTY ACID levels.
Achieving an optimal omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio will boost your body’s ability to utilize oxygen, produce and maintain adequate hormone levels and recover more quickly from an intense, physical effort.
Get started by eliminating ALL processed fats and omega 6 oils (such as corn, soy, canola and cottonseed) from your diet while simultaneously increasing your intake of the essential fatty acids (found in salmon, grass-fed meats; pumpkin, hemp or chia seeds). Most people will need to take a HIGH-QUALITY fish oil supplement (don’t bother wasting your money on what’s on the shelf of your local grocery store or pharmacy) to achieve good results.
And don’t just think you are taking enough, check your omega 3 levels to make sure your Omega Index is over 10% with an inflammatory ratio of less than 3.
2. Maximize your MAGNESIUM intake.
The average person consumes only about 20% of the total amount of magnesium the human body needs to function well. And stress, caffeine, carbonation and the random use of calcium supplements (which inhibit magnesium absorption) deplete most of this meager intake. In a classic (but less than humane) experiment, magnesium-deficient animals that were placed under some form of intermittent stress ALL suffered from sudden (cardiac-related) death by the time the experiment was completed. The take home point? The conditions these animals were subjected to are not so different from those we face on a daily basis.
Adequate magnesium levels are the key to any athlete’s health and performance; they are necessary for cellular energy production, muscle function, growth and recovery.
After assessing your need for more magnesium (this can be done easily and inexpensively at home), you’ll need to add plenty of magnesium-rich vegetables to your diet and use a topical magnesium oil (the most rapid and reliable way to eliminate a deficiency). I also recommend a chocolate-based whole-foods supplement powder rich in vegetables, fruits and botanicals.
3. Optimize NITRIC OXIDE.
Nitric oxide is a short-lived molecule that enhances blood flow and oxygen to the tissues.
FYI. The medication, nitroglycerin, which has been use for years to treat cardiac angina works by stimulating nitric oxide.
Stress, training and a lack of intake of foods rich in dietary nitrates such as beets, dark green vegetables, dark chocolate and berries lead to a depletion in the amount nitric oxide. And to makes matters worse, as we get older our ability to produce nitric oxide de leading to greater likelihood of vascular spasm and clotting which can lead to sudden death.
But by optimizing nitric oxide levels with nitrate-rich dietary supplements such as high nitrate organic beet juice powder, you will help your body open blood vessels to lower blood pressure and deliver oxygen more effectively to the cells. When this happens you dramatically reduce the risk of sudden death but greatly enhances the ease of performing physical activity.
4. Monitor your RECOVERY status.
The high physical and mental stress of training and racing can create an overload in the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which is responsible for controlling our primitive fight or flight response. When the SNS is dominant, you limit your reduce your ability to utilize oxygen for energy, reduce your ability to burn fat for energy and limit recovery ability as your body is in catabolic (breakdown) mode. This all resorts in poor performance, and makes you more prone to fatigue, injury, and illness.
Even more problematics, a high level of SNS tone, causes the natural variation of the heart to become regular inhibiting its’ ability to function optimally.This heart rate variability (HRV) measure has been is a very useful marker for stress and training load and has been directly linked to sudden cardiac death.
New smart phone technology now allows you to monitor your HRV and determine your SNS levels and state of readiness. This information can not only inform how long, how fast and how frequent your body is able to go without going into overload but it can tell you when it is time to get more rest and recovery. In addition, by using HRV feedback while performing relaxing/quieting techniques and/or meditation you can train your body to have a greater SNS resilience.
5. Avoid EXCITOTOXINS in your food.
Food additives such as MSG, hydrolyzed protein soy protein isolate and concentrate, natural flavoring, sodium caseinate and aspartate (from aspartame) can over stimulate the heart and cause cardiac arrhythmias. This can become even more of an issue when magnesium stores are low because the body’s glutamate receptors (which influence cardiac health) become so sensitive that even small amounts of excitotoxins can result in “unexplained” sudden death.
6. Support KEY METABOLIC and NUTRITIONAL factors.
Support your health with a comprehensive nutritional supplement program that includes whole food nutrients, vitamin D and K, omega 2 fats, essential amino acids and nitric oxide support. Your body, your performance and your family will thank you!
The major point of this article is that you should never mistake physical fitness for physiological fitness and health.If you do, for many results are less will be less than expected, for some the result will be injury, fatigue and other metabolic issues and for a small but growing and unacceptable minority, sudden death will be the result. However, the outcome is almost completely within your control! And if you focus on the 6 recommendations above, you’ll drastically reduce your risk of suffering from sudden death due to exercise. And feel a whole lot better, too!