The Formula One engineers are working almost around the clock to get the cars to perform at there best. They are thorough in their analysis of aerodynamics, engine performance, weight, strength and other performance indicators of the car. After all the hours they put into the car, who thinks they fill the tank with just the cheapest, easiest, readily available fuel they find at the nearest gas station?
You’re right, they are equally thorough in their analysis of the fuels and how to trim the engine accordingly.
So what is the connection with triathlon, running, sports and most importantly human health and longevity? You guessed it right! Fuel.
Our fuels; the foods, drinks, supplements and the other things sometimes referred to as foods (but more correctly should be called chemicals) all have a great impact on our bodies and how well (or poor) we feel, sleep and ultimately how we perform! So what are the components of the human fuels?
There are three Macronutrients: Fats/Lipids, Protein and Carbohydrates.
There is also a great number of Micronutrients, also very important to us – but these will not be covered here today.
Proteins and Fats are essential for us to live. Carbohydrates we can live without. Wait! Without carbs? Yes! There are several indigenous groups that live (or used to live) without carbohydrates or with a very low carbs intake (Inuits and Eskimos are two examples – carrots and broccoli just doesn’t grow well in the ice).
The body transforms Fat (and to a lesser degree also Protein) in a process referred to as Lipolysis in which Fatty Acid and Glycerol is formed, and in turn transformed to Glucose or Ketone bodies in the liver in a multi-step process. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fueling brain-function. However, if there is very little carbohydrate in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. Ketone bodies have been proven to be a very efficient fuel.
We need to eat Protein every day to survive.
Proteins are the main building blocks of the body. They’re used to make muscles, tendons, organs and skin. Proteins are also used to make enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and various tiny molecules that serve important functions. Proteins are made out of smaller molecules called amino acids, which are linked together like beads on a string. The linked amino acids form long protein chains, which are then folded into complex shapes. There are 20 different types of Amino Acids, some of which can be produced by the human body and some that needs to be supplemented.
The recommendation is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, however to restore, gain muscles and for someone that is training the recommendation is 1.5-2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. For an athlete weighing around 75 kg it would mean around 150 grams of protein per day.
Carbohydrate rich foods often contains sugars and starches. Sugars and starch increases insulin levels in the body, it increases the appetite and are low in essential nutrients.
Processed foods such as sodas, fast foods ketchup, etc, but also foods deriving from grains such as breads, oatmeal, pasta, müsli and crops like yam, potatoes and rice are rich in starches and/or simple sugars.
Processed food also often contains industrialized trans fats, which have been shown to have a tremendously bad effect on the health. Eating a diet that promotes acidity in the body can lead to bones drained on calcium and weaker muscle mass. Artificial sweeteners, white rice, flour, pasta, bread, etc has an acidic effect. Most fruits and leafy green vegetables on the other hand has a net alkaline effect.
Fruits, vegetables also contains sugars like fructose and glucose but they also contain fibers and many micronutrients that are important to us. However if we juice them many of the healthy (and necessary) fibers are broken down. Many bought juices are also pasteurized which destroys some micronutrients even further and depending on temperature acrylic acids are formed. Slow juiced with pulp is better than fast centrifuged juice and raw fruits are better than slow juices.
The recommendation is a moderate intake of vegetables with every meal and to eat one or two fruits a day.
For the active athlete, the daily intake could look like this:
Slightly less carbs and proteins and slightly more fats in the off season or for someone not so active. Towards peaks a slight increase of carbs may increase performance for some. However the glucose storage levels in muscles and liver are very small and refills quickly, so carboloading for days with out end is not recommended. Carboloading should be of high glycogenic index foods that are easy to digest and only for one or two small meals and maybe a snack or two. The rest will just be stored as fat and is no use on race day.
Once you can’t store any more glucose or glycogen, your body stores any leftover carbs as fat.
Processed “foods” vs. real foods.
Organisms, plants and animals (direct and indirect) get energy from the sun. For plants and bacteria this is part of a process (together with water) called photosynthesis, in which glucose and oxygen is formed. This process is fundamental to life itself. The glucose can be converted into pyruvate which releases adenosine triphosphate (ATP, more about this later!) by cellular respiration.
Now to the fundamental question:
Would you rather use laboratory processed energy that has been around for only a short eye blink of time or would you prefer the natures own engineered energy system, fine tuned for billions of years, to fuel your body, and in turn effect your performance and training. (Compare to the Formula One engineers, would you bet on the team with multiple times as much experience, tests and years without end of fine tuning their car or the team with newbie, wannabe engineers that have just a tiny fraction of experience?)
The bottom line here is to eat things that takes their energy directly from the sun, or with as few steps from it as possible. This usually sums up to buying foods in the store or market that you can touch, pick, pour and see. Nearly everything that is hidden away in boxes, containers, bags have been processed in one way or an other!
ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
Let’s continue with a short chemistry lesson and let’s dive right into the cells of organisms including the fantastic human body.
Most cellular functions need energy in order to be carried out: synthesis of proteins, synthesis of membranes, movement of the cell, cellular division, etc. need energy to be performed. The ATP is the molecule that carries energy to the place where the energy is needed. In other words ATP transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism. Eventually ATP breaks (into ADP and P) and liberates energy that is used in reactions where it is needed.
Then a fantastic thing happens inside the cells!Metabolic processes that use ATP as an energy source convert it back into its precursors. ATP is therefore continuously recycled in organisms: the human body, which on average contains only 250 grams (8.8 oz) of ATP, turns over its own body weight equivalent in ATP each day.
In short: ATP transports energy which is needed for (among many other things) muscular work.
Muscles use glucose for fuel. Glucose is transported by ATP and can be made from fats, proteins and carbs.
Fats and proteins gives a more satisfying feeling but carbs increases insulin levels and increases the appetite.