For the past few decades, the health industry has addressed the unique needs of athletes and those who engage in frequent, intense activity primarily by focusing on protein supplementation and carb loading. Recent research highlights that this is only part of the solution. The increased physical demands and unique metabolism of highly active individuals requires increased minerals and additional hydration.
The greater incidence of injury and long term joint & mobility issues often seen in really active individuals can be directly traced to overly acidic pH levels in the tissues and chronic dehydration.
Increased Susceptibility for Active IndividualsIndividuals who are highly active are often fit, but fit does not always equate to healthy. Simple evidence of this comes from witnessing elite athletes who have suffered and sometimes died from cardiac events during their sporting careers. Some of the discrepancy between fit vs healthy can be understood by looking at the unique set of health challenges that active individuals face.
The bodies of highly active individuals are typically overly acidic and plagued by chronic inflammation. This is not an inevitable result of high intensity exercise, but instead the physiological process that occurs when individuals undertake demanding training regimens without adequately meeting their increased metabolic needs with sufficient levels of nutrients and hydration. The nutrients most often missed are minerals. For those who are exceptionally active, there is typically a great disparity between what the body requires and what the diet supplies. This disparity is a significant factor leading to the acidic, inflammatory environment that results in the body.
Groups of individuals most affected include:
- Children & teens who engage in competitive sports or dance
- Individuals who engage in moderate to high intensity work-outs 3+ times a week
- Elite athletes competing at the amateur or professional levels
The increased metabolic demands of active individuals include:
- Protein which is imperative to building and maintaining muscle mass
- Minerals are required for the processing and excretion of acids and toxins (including lactic acid)
- Hydration lubricates joints and is necessary for the health of all cells and tissues. Optimal hydration helps to ensure the optimal fluidity of blood - this is necessary for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the tissues as well as clearing lactic acid and other forms of cellular waste. It is important to drink adequate amounts of water, but to achieve proper levels of hydration, this alone is not sufficient. Often dehydration is compounded by electrolyte deficiency, making it difficult for the body to efficiently absorb the water being consumed. Correcting electrolyte deficiencies is imperative to ensuring adequate hydration. Sodium, Potassium and Magnesium are the electrolytes most often associated with dehydration.
- Carbohydrates provide fuel for muscles and assist in signalling the muscles to uptake protein
- Fat is an important fuel for endurance sports. Body fat insulates muscles and connective tissue thereby conferring protection.
Consequences of Nutritional Deficiencies
- Increased cellulite (in females)
- Hair loss (in both males and females)
- Development or aggravation of skin conditions (acne, eczema, psoriasis)
- Increased frequency and/or high reoccurrence of same injury
- Injuries that are disproportionately worse when compared to the event/impact
- Impaired healing
- Joint pain
- Stress fractures
- Increased acidity of tissues
- Chronic inflammation (contributing to a plethora of chronic ailments including (but not limited to): arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer)
The Naturopathic Approach
Below is a list of factors that are imperative to establishing a healthy, balanced system in highly active individuals. While all are important components of health, the degree to which each factor is relevant will always vary from one individual to the next depending on their underlying health issues and the level of activity that a person engages in.
- Determine nutrient demands and dietary strategy
- Address metabolic imbalances
- Balancing pH - each tissue and organ system has an ideal pH at which it functions best. When pH falls outside this range inflammation can be triggered
- Optimizing blood sugar control - poorly controlled blood sugar will cause dehydration
- Ensuring proper oxygenation of blood - nutrient deficiencies inhibit the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood; hypoxia (low oxygen) not only deprives tissues of oxygen but is also a trigger for systemic inflammation
- Regulating immune status - supporting and tonifying weakened immune systems or moderating overactive immune responses
- Correcting musculo-skeletal issues
- Improving posture & alignment to minimize pain, injuries and incidence of osteoarthritis
- The use of natural anti-inflammatories and joint-healing supplements to support muscle and joint health
- Acupuncture is an extremely effective tool for muscle and joint pain and to heal musculoskeletal injuries such as rotator cuff injuries, knee problems and sprains and strains.
- Strategies for improved recovery
- Supporting the body's natural inflammatory response to bring on a quicker and more complete resolution to the healing process.
- Organ specific detoxification - liver, kidney, colon, skin, lungs and voice are all important pathways of elimination. If the function of any one organ system becomes hindered it compromises the health of the entire system.
- "Brain Detox" - Head injuries compromise the blood brain barrier, causing individuals who have sustained concussions to be more susceptible to brain damage from environmental toxins. Supplementation with nutrients that have an affinity for the nervous system help to repair residual injury to the brain and strengthen the blood brain barrier.
To learn more about how to cultivate health while enjoying a highly active lifestyle, speak with your naturopathic doctor.