5 Remarkable Parts for Better Performance.
Athletes spend a lot of time talking bike components, running shoes, and the latest gadgets from apps to heart monitors. But the body’s natural components are really all we need for success, and more important than all the modern technology out there. While the human frame is greater than the sum of its parts, an understanding of how amazing it can be could bring a better appreciation of why we should care for it well. Let’s look at five key areas that contribute to better health and fitness, and help us train and compete up to our athletic potential.
Perhaps the most amazing feat accomplished by the human body is down at the bottom: the feet. As our contact with the ground, they regulate how well we workout and compete. One amazing feature of the feet is converting gravitational energy—generated during each foot-strike—to mechanical energy that propels the muscles moving us forward. The more efficient this mechanism, the faster and longer we go.
The running gait, with the body rebounding on compliant legs and unlocked knees, relies on the “return energy” system for the production of significant power. This biomechanical marvel relies on the tendons of the foot and leg to recycle the impact energy during each ground-strike. Helping the mechanism is the natural tension that stabilizes the tendons, propelling the body forward. The large springy Achilles is among those playing a key role in this energy-generating process. These tendons normally maintain a sufficient tautness, even at rest, and a reason to avoid trying to loosen them too much through stretching, aggressive massage or other therapy.
When the pounding impact of each foot-strike is not recycled properly to move the body forward, two common problems occur. First, the running pace slows. Second, all that gravitational impact force can cause stress and contribute to injury.
Nothing interferes with the foot’s energy return system more than shoes. Heel striking, thick soles, poor fitting and other shoe problems, including those not perfectly comfortable, can impair this important mechanism. The consequence can be less energy for activity, and more risk for injury.
Located under the front ribs on the right side, the liver is an incredibly busy organ (functioning more like a gland). It helps maintain a restful sleep through blood sugar regulation during the night (converting glycogen to glucose), makes bile for digestion, produces hormone for building muscle, and filters the blood to detoxify the whole body.
Toxins and other chemicals are plentiful in our body and environment. Some are normally produced during metabolism, especially with high levels of training. Others are consumed through food, water and air, from pollution or unnatural substances added during manufacturing.
The liver also regulates hormones, nutrients, and other natural substances that must be detoxified. When completing their healthy tasks, the liver must eliminate them to turn off their actions, otherwise maintaining proper biochemical balance may not occur.
Once detoxified, the liver disposes of all the substances via the gall bladder and through the gut. Thus, optimal intestinal function also plays an important role in this important process.
There may be clues, symptoms that liver detoxification is not efficient. This includes being sensitive to various foods and chemicals:
- Caffeine—you can consume only small amounts or none at all.
- Common chemicals such as perfumes, paints, cosmetics, and cleaning products.
- Foods such as grapefruit, turmeric, curry, chili, and cloves.
- Drugs such as benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan, Xanax), antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin), certain antibiotics (Bactrim, Erythromycin) and anti-fungals (Lotrimin).
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as aspirin, Advil, Aleve and many others can significantly interfere with liver detoxification, as can Tylenol. And more than small to moderate amounts of alcohol can do the same.
To successfully manage the different phases of detoxification, the liver requires a variety of nutrients. Especially essential are complete proteins, and various micro- and phytonutrients. These are best obtained from a high quality healthy diet that includes 10 or more servings of fresh organic vegetables and fruits, along with natural herbs and spices.
The body is powered by the aerobic engine, which contains energy generators called mitochondria. Of key important for endurance and speed is the ability of these cellular components to convert fat to ATP for energy. Many mitochondria are found in each slow-twitch, red, aerobic muscle cell, or fiber, part of almost all human skeletal muscles. Aerobic training and a great diet promote the process of energy production, but overtraining, stress, and junk food impair it.
In addition to exercise energy, much of the power produced by the mitochondria in each endurance muscle fiber is devoted to physical support of body structures. This helps stabilize joints, bones, fascia, tendons, ligaments and other muscles, preventing injury and speeding recovery.
A common clinical obstacle in endurance athletes is the combination of low energy (a restriction of stamina), and physical impairments (injuries). The cause is often reduced function of the mitochondria, as a key component of the entire “aerobic system.”
Obviously, real food is the ideal source of the body’s energy, and no manufactured product can improve or replace this. But even when eating the very best diet, without a great working gut, all that good food can go to waste. The entire intestinal track, from mouth through colon, plays a key role in obtaining the raw materials from food for optimal health and fitness. Vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts and other items undergo transformation to smaller particles both through physical reduction in size and chemical breakdown—the process of digestion. This allows the intestines to absorb nutrients: amino acids from protein, sugars from carbohydrate and essential fats, along with many micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and thousands of phytonutrients.
The gut is also where much of our immune system resides. So frequent infections, for example, often indicate a faulty gut. Both intestinal function and immunity are often the first areas to suffer under stress, whether due to overtraining, or any physical, chemical or mental-emotional strain.
The gut also has a lot in common with the brain, and both are in constant communication to help maintain optimal body function. For a period of time during fetal development, both of these amazing body parts were one.
At the top of the body’s list of remarkable parts is the brain. It regulates everything, including the important balance of muscle contraction and relaxation for a smooth efficient gait, the equilibrium of hormones for training, racing and recovery, and daily maintenance and repair.
Through its moment-to-moment body-wide evaluations, the brain also communicates with our conscious mind, providing vital information and “clues.” Some of these are quite obvious, like pain, while others less so, such as an imbalanced gait or the earliest stage of injury. This is particularly important when performance is starting to falter or something somewhere is just not right. “Listening to your body” is more than just a mantra.
With the brain’s information, we can rely on critical thinking (call it common sense) to make the appropriate adjustments to training, diet, and other lifestyle factors to fine tune the body or get back on track. In a real sense, the brain is our coach, physical therapist, psychologist, nutritionist, and best friend.
Unlike other sports equipment that is often replaced when it no longer works, human components repair themselves in many ways. In addition to food factors, detoxification, and good brain function, the recovery process, which involves relaxation, is an athlete’s powerful, secret weapon in getting stronger and faster while not breaking down. Although this might involve reducing the training or racing schedule when the body is too taxed, an important requirement is obtaining a minimum amount of nightly rest—seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Keep these amazing body parts working well, and reaching our human athletic potential is a reality.