You’re probably familiar with the old saying, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
And as it turns out, the most recent, scientific research has actually proven it true! You simply can’t look, feel, or perform your best if your body is biologically-imbalanced or deficient in the fundamental nutrients it needs to at the cellular level.
Because the human body is composed of trillions of different cells carrying out hundreds of specialized functions, it’s easy to see why achieving and maintaining good cellular health is essential for optimal health and performance. Just as you can’t build a house without a foundation, your body can’t function fully or efficiently without healthy cells.
When our cells become deficient in key nutrients, they start to break down and we begin to experience symptoms which are typically grouped together and labeled as an illness or disease. When this happens, we are often encouraged to focus on an external fix rather than an internal cure. We default to using pharmaceutical products or nutritional supplements in an effort to alleviate the effects without addressing or even identifying their precipitating cause. The more comprehensive (and lasting) solution to looking, feeling, and performing better is to work from the inside out; to satisfy your body’s most fundamental needs by nourishing and protecting its cells.
To be healthy, your cells require a variety of essential nutrients. The five linked most significantly to improved health, appearance, and performance include:
For a number of physiological reasons, endurance athletes, especially women, are susceptible to iron deficiency. Intense training increases the body's demand for iron, yet exercise can deplete iron stores through tissue inflammation, sweating, and destruction of red blood cells with impact (for example foot strike).
Because iron contributes to the formation of hemoglobin in your blood - oxygen can’t be transported from your lungs to your muscles without hemoglobin - and is a catalyst for the enzymatic processes involved in energy production, it’s a critical health and performance factor. Despite what your doctor might say, you don’t have to be anemic to be suffering from low iron. Less than optimal iron levels can cause unexplained fatigue, heavy legs, slow recovery, and poor athletic performance.
The problem is that evaluating your serum iron level (what your doctor will typically do) is not an accurate assessment of your body’s iron stores—how much iron your body actually has available to use. In order to accurately assess your iron level, you need to measure your serum ferritin, the protein responsible for transporting and storing iron in the body. If you are any kind of endurance athlete (especially a runner), you should know your ferritin iron level.
Need to boost your iron level? Restoration is best approached through a combination of dietary adjustments and the use of an absorbable, food-based formula, if needed. Foods contain two types of iron: heme and non-heme. If you are deficient and you want to boost your ferritin quickly, the best choice is heme iron found in lean red meat, poultry and shellfish because your body absorbs heme iron 2-3x times more efficiently than non-heme iron. However, you can also boost it with plant-based non-heme sources like spinach, legumes, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, and even dark chocolate, among others.
Optimizing your level of vitamin D3 is one of the most important thing you can do to support your health and improve your health and athletic performance. Vitamin D3 controls or influences almost every physical process in the body; it is essential for peak athletic performance because it controls muscular strength and recovery, physical reaction time, balance and coordination. It is not only a building block for the entire hormonal system, but responsible for activating immunity and regulating bone, brain, and cardiac health.
Due to a chronic lack of sunshine, overuse of sunscreens and lack of synergistic nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin K2, almost 85% of the population is deficient (less than 50 mg/ml) in vitamin D3, even those who train regularly outdoors. In order for your body to fully recover from any illness or injury, it’s essential to optimize your vitamin D3. Less than optimal levels of this key nutrient can inhibit normal hormone production and, as a result, the body’s recovery response.
If you don’t live in a climate that allows for year-round sun exposure, supplement with some additional vitamin D3. Research has consistently shown that 1000–5000 IU per day is a safe and adequate dose. Good food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, mushrooms, eggs and vitamin D fortified foods such as most types of milks and milk substitutes. Because the process of digestion interferes with vitamin D3 absorption, if you need to use D3 supplementation, sublingual sprays are typically more effective. The goal should be to maintain a level between 50 and 65 mg/ml.
If you begin taking a vitamin D3 supplement, make sure to also take 400mg of magnesium and 150 mg of Vitamin K2 (to assist with the absorption and utilization); then assess your blood level after four months of use to make sure you’re not over or under supplementing. At-home test kits are widely available both online and in most pharmacies.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Both Omega 3's and Omega 6's are classified as essential fatty acids - meaning the body cannot make them and we must get them from our diet. Both types are critical to our health and performance - some of the functions include: supporting brain function, regulating inflammation, providing energy, and boosting our immune system. However according to recent research, most Americans consume 10 times more omega 6 than omega 3 fatty acids (mostly thanks to refined vegetable oils like soy oil that are ubiquitous in the modern diet). This dietary imbalance may explain the rise of many diseases that stem from inflammation in the body such as asthma, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases.
After a tough training session, the muscles are left with microscopic tears that, when healed, make athletes stronger and faster. Omega 3’s serve as powerful, anti-inflammatory compound that speeds the recovery process. They also reduce the risk of overuse injuries by boosting blood flow and increasing range of motion. According to the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, omega 3 fatty acids will improve an athlete’s reaction time. Because the human brain is almost 60% fat, omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to improve cognitive function and visual processing. Nerve endings, neurons, and muscles membranes are also nourished by omega 3 fats.
In addition, omega 3’s have received plenty of attention for their heart-health benefits. With an adequate and appropriate dosage, they have been shown to decrease both heart rate and the amount of oxygen the body requires during exercise. The end benefit? A hard-working athlete’s perceived rate of exertion is reduced.
Omega 3’s come in three types—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is mostly found in plant-based foods (like avocado, spinach, walnuts, chia and flax seeds; in order to be utilized in our bodies, it needs to be converted into the EPA or DHA. However, since only a small percentage of AHA gets converted, most is either used as energy or stored as fat. We can get the long-chain fatty acids, EPA and DHA, from fish and fish oil supplements; But even if you are making an effort to eat lots of fish and avocados, your omega 3 level is probably low. So supplementation is usually needed to have adequate omega 3's in our diets (along with improving the balance with the omega 6's).
Including daily omega 3 fish oil supplementation in your diet has been proven to enable the body to better burn fat for energy while exercising. The added bonus? Burning more fat means burning less muscle. And improved muscle mass contributes greater strength and fitness gains.
While we’ve often been told about the important bone-building function of calcium, we haven’t really heard that much about magnesium. But without magnesium (and several other key nutrients), taking calcium alone doesn’t really do anything for our bones. In fact, taking too much calcium can lead to serious illness and accelerated aging!
Without magnesium, there would be no life—plant or animal—on earth. This often-overlooked mineral is the fundamental starting point for the sunlight-chlorophyll-magnesium chain. Do you remember learning about how light energy from the sun fuels the process of photosynthesis in your high school biology class? As it turns out, this process is magnesium-dependent.
Magnesium enables plants to convert light into energy. Since animals and humans obtain their food supply by eating plants, the entire food chain begins with magnesium. And chlorophyll—the ‘life blood’ of plants—is virtually identical to the hemoglobin found in red blood cells. The only difference is that chlorophyll contains a magnesium atom which makes it green; hemoglobin, an iron atom which makes it red.
After oxygen, food, and water, magnesium is the most critical element present in the human body. A full three-fourths of all enzyme production is magnesium-dependent—including the production of ATP (which creates energy at the cellular level). Many other cellular processes also are controlled by magnesium, including the creation, repair and protection of our DNA and the transmission of messages along nerve cells.
Unfortunately, the average American gets only about 40 percent of their recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium. And remember: the RDA is a minimum standard for preventing disease, not for optimizing health.
In addition, the American diet is high in protein and calcium, which increase magnesium excretion and the body's need for even more magnesium. High amounts of phosphorus (common in processed meats like pre-packaged lunch meats, sodas, and energy drinks) bind dietary magnesium, making it difficult to absorb. Add to this the use of caffeine, sugar, table salt, alcohol; mental and physical stress; chronic pain, low thyroid function, high blood sugar, and heavy sweating and it should come as no surprise to learn that 90 percent of the U.S. population is suffering from an unrecognized magnesium deficiency.
Obviously, athletes are at a greater risk for becoming magnesium deficient than their sedentary counterparts. A marginal magnesium intake coupled with the increased magnesium demands (resulting from the accelerated metabolism of strenuous exercise and injuries; mental and emotional stress and the sweat-induced loss of magnesium) can lead to a severe deficiency. It’s one of the reasons why seemingly healthy, young athletes die suddenly from heart arrhythmias.
Despite its key role it plays in energy production, many coaches and athletes don’t have magnesium on their ‘radars.’ But its basic and fundamental importance should not be overlooked. Strength and endurance can both be improved with targeted supplementation--especially if an athlete is deficient.
An optimal magnesium level contributes to enhanced endurance and strength by increasing metabolic efficiency, muscular contractility, cardiovascular efficiency, lactic acid release, and blood sugar control while decreasing oxygen consumption. As an added bonus, it prevents unwanted calcification in the joints.
But correcting a magnesium deficiency can be difficult. From an evolutionary perspective, the human body became adapted to a diet that included an abundant supply of magnesium which means that it never had a need (or mechanism) to store it. Magnesium is both poorly absorbed and easily excreted by humans.
The bottom line? It’s essential to regularly eat magnesium-rich foods including:
- Green leafy vegetables (chard, spinach, and kale)
- Raw cacao and dark chocolate
- Nuts and seeds
- Vegetables (peas, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, asparagus, and Brussels’ sprouts)
- Seafood (salmon, mackerel, and tuna)
- Whole grains (brown rice and oats)
- Legumes (black beans, chickpeas and kidney beans)
- Fruit (figs, avocados, bananas and raspberries)
In addition to eating these foods, almost all female athletes will benefit from taking 250mg of supplemental magnesium daily. I can recommend MagSRT from Jigsaw Health, Life Extension Slow-Mag and Ancient Minerals topical magnesium spray. In addition, consider taking a 20-minute soak once or twice a week in a hot bath with two cups of epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) added. Epsom salt baths are not only a great way to relax, but an excellent source of transdermal, magnesium support.
Until a few decades ago, researchers paid little attention to the colorless gas molecule called nitric oxide (NO) and even less attention to its role in human health and performance. Because nitric oxide molecules are so small and have such a short life span (just a few seconds), scientists didn’t give them much credit--for anything.
But all that changed during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the powerful (albeit fleeting) significance of nitric oxide as an important, cellular communicator was discovered. In 1992, the American Association for the Advancement of Science declared NO the ‘molecule of the year.’ Its physiological importance was officially recognized in 1998 when a Nobel Prize was awarded to the three scientists who identified its key benefits to the cardiovascular system.
For the recovering athlete, these benefits mean more open and flexible blood vessels, improved blood flow, and a corresponding increase in the essential nutrients and oxygen that damaged tissues need for repair.
Nitric oxide also acts as powerful antioxidant by neutralizing a free radical known as superoxide and promoting the formation of glutathione, a critical antioxidant. It facilitates the transmission of messages between nerve cells contributing to improved memory and learning capacities, better sleep, and a more positive mood. It supports the immune system by helping the body fight off infections.
The amount of nitric oxide found in your body following physical exercise is a reliable predictor of your overall fitness capacity. You can measure and track your nitric oxide level using a simple and relatively inexpensive salivary assessment at home.
While nitric oxide levels can be low for a variety of reasons including arterial damage, eating too few dietary nitrates, insufficient stomach acid, imbalanced mouth bacteria, too much (or too little) exercise, and excessive stress, the greatest threat to your NO level is your age. When we’re young, our bodies produce large amounts of NO in the endothelial lining of the arteries which keeps them supple and expandable (to accommodate for changing blood flow requirements). By the age 40, however, we produce half the amount of NO we did at the age of 20. By the time we reach 70, we are capable of producing only 25 percent of what our bodies need.
After the age of 40, our risk of cardiovascular disease begins to increase while our potential for peak athletic performance begins to decrease. This is why older athletes lose their responsiveness to training; they have to work harder in order to derive the same training-related benefits they achieved when they were younger.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to support your body’s ability to produce NO, regardless of your age. The most important of these is to use food as your medicine. Begin by eating plenty of nitrate-rich vegetables. The nitrates that are naturally found in vegetables are converted into nitric oxide by the body. Since this conversion process begins with the healthy bacteria found in the mouth, make sure you chew your food well and consume any liquids (like soups or vegetable juices) slowly.
The foods with the highest nitrate content include red beets and leafy greens such kale, arugula, chard, and spinach. In order to increase your intake of these nitrate-rich vegetables, you could add steamed or roasted beets and some leafy greens to a blended protein drink. However, using a high-nitrate certified beet juice powder like our PureClean Powder is one of the easiest, most effective, and most economical ways to boost their intake of dietary nitrates, since you will get a more concentrated level of nitrates than you will from the fresh beets you buy at the store.
Want to get the power of beets but don't like the taste? Start your day with UNBEETABREW™️, the world's first beet-infused performance coffee or use our BEET'UMS™️ beet-infused chocolate chews during your training or even at the end of the day as a tasty treat. Both are tasty ways to boost your nitrate level easily every day!