Sports Nutrition & Diet For Athletes
–by Dr. Michael Colgan
For more than 50 years, up to the early 1990’s, a balanced diet meant eating three square meals a day from the Four Food Groups, meats, dairy foods, grains, and fruits and vegetables. This official “balanced diet” was conceived by commercial interests primarily as a ploy to sell high-fat meats and dairy foods. It had nothing to do with human health. On the contrary, because of the high- fat load imposed on the American population, the Four Food Groups caused a great deal of our current epidemics of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Dr. Denis Burkitt among many others amply documented the increases in disease and degradation caused directly by following the Four Food Groups. But the commercial greed behind the scam was too powerful. Thousands of text books were written and tens of thousands of well meaning, though not very intelligent, teachers and dieticians were trained to spread this false gospel, until it became accepted public knowledge. If you think it incredible that the teachers and the public could be so easily fooled, remember it is only 100 years ago that most folk believed in sorcery and church leaders condemned unfortunate women as witches.
It took 20 years, from 1970-1990 of continuing objection to the Four Food Groups by thousands of scientists, including us at the Colgan Institute, to finally beat the food lobbies and have the scam thrown out. In 1992 the US Department of Agriculture reluctantly introduced the Eating Right Pyramid. It wasn’t what scientists had asked for, but it was a compromise with the food lobbies, especially the cereal lobby. But at least it was going in the right direction. The new pyramid reduces the fat content of the diet and apportions food somewhat in relation to its requirements by the human body.
The big remaining problem is the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group. The Pyramid advises you to eat twice as much of this category every day as any other. Both the evolutionary history of humans, and the new science of nutrition, show clearly that the vegetable and fruit groups should constitute the largest part of the diet at the base of the pyramid.
Also, the Pyramid makes no distinction between whole grains and the poor excuse for them presented in most cereal goods, as white flour or so-called “enriched” flour. In fact, most breads and cereals labeled “whole grain” in the United States are still made primarily from white or enriched flour. These edibles are about as related to the foods we evolved on, as that ghastly glop called “fruit leather” is to real fruit. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of well-meaning teachers are now imparting this new false gospel of a balanced diet to their students. If your goal is athletic excellence, leave it to the wannabes.
Balance and Completeness
The First Principle of sports nutrition, is that you eat only those ancient nutrients upon which the human body evolved. The Second Principle, is that you design your diet so that you receive a complete and proportionate mix of these nutrients every day. To assist you to follow these principles, we developed a food pyramid that more accurately reflects human evolutionary heritage and bodily needs.
The Food Pyramid For Athletes reverses the position of grains and fruits and vegetables. Ancient man lived primarily by foraging for wild edibles. In his book The Power Of Superfoods, my friend Sam Graci provides a delightful account of this history and the effects on health. Vegetables and fruits therefore should form the solid base of your diet.
The Athletes’ Pyramid
Our ancestors did not process foods either. They ate grains whole including the germ and the essential fiber, which are removed from modern white and enriched flours. So our pyramid stresses whole grains, and organically grown, to mimic as far as possible the grains upon which we evolved.
The Athletes’ Pyramid consists of 20 servings daily. The first 10 at the base, that is, 50% of your diet, should consist of fruits and vegetables, unprocessed of course, and organically grown if you can get them. The second layer of the Athletes’ Pyramid, that is, 20% of your diet, consists of 4 servings of whole grains, again organically grown and minimally processed. The third layer of 4 servings, that is, 20% of your diet, consists of dairy foods, eggs, meats and fish. The top layer consists of one serving of fats and sugars, excepting essential fats, that is, 5% of your diet.
The top layer also includes 1-2 servings of whey protein isolates, either ion-exchange or cross-flow membrane extracted, plus 1-2 servings of multi mineral/vitamin and adjunctive nutrient supplements. These are included because of the degradation of our food supply discussed in previous chapters, and well documented in numerous other writings.
Admittedly, inclusion of pills and extracted whey proteins is a compromise, though a necessary one forced upon us by modern life, if we are to get anywhere near to matching the amounts and the complete range of essential nutrients found in ancient foods. The necessity of the whey protein is well documented.
The Food Pyramid for Athletes forms the Sixth Principle of Sports Nutrition: Make the Food Pyramid for Athletes the basis of your nutrition.
The Glycemic Index
First developed by Dr. David Jenkins in 1971, to assist diabetics to stabilize their blood sugar, the Glycemic Index measures the magnitude of the blood sugar response to different foods. Pure glucose, one of the worst foods, is taken as the standard, representing a 100% blood sugar spike.
I should mention however, that some lists use white bread as the 100% mark, which makes glucose 138-142, depending on whose standard you take. These variations confuse a lot of people. The pure glucose standard is more accurate, because the blood sugar spike to white bread varies considerably depending on the flour used to make it, baking methods, the age of the bread and numerous other factors. So here we will stick to the glucose standard used with diabetics.
It is not only diabetics who should strive to maintain blood sugar stability. This strategy applies to all of us if we want optimal health. The science is well documented.
Suffice to say here that eating a low-glycemic diet:
- Enables your body to gradually learn to produce energy more easily from its structure, and to be much less dependent on the food in your gut.
- Minimizes the hypoglycemic effect of sudden intense exercise.
- Increases the free fatty acids in the bloodstream, thereby enabling you to spare muscle glycogen during exercise.
- Reduces your appetite for quick sugars and carbohydrates that spike blood sugar.
- Maintains insulin sensitivity and efficiency.
- Keeps blood stable, including during exercise. Blood sugar stability is essential for growth of muscle and strength and for the even flow of energy.
The evidence that a low-glycemic diet gradually changes your body towards optimum performance, is now so strong that I have made it the Seventh Principle of Sports Nutrition: Eat a low-glycemic diet.
To assist you to eat low-glycemic foods, Tables 3 and 4 show a short list of common foods extracted from the Colgan Institute Glycemic database. Of necessity, many of the broad categories, such as whole-wheat bread are given an average glycemic index number derived from the varying scores of numerous different brands.
Nevertheless the numbers are sufficiently accurate to plan a good diet. Avoid the high-glycemic list and eat heartily from the low-glycemic list. Meats, fish, eggs, and whey protein isolates are not included because they are all low-glycemic. When eaten together with high-glycemic foods, they also have the added advantage of lowering the overall glycemic index of the meal.
Summarizing the First Seven Steps to Glory
- Take into your body only those ancient nutrients upon which humankind evolved.
- Design your diet so that you receive a complete and proportionate mix of all the nutrients every day.
- Avoid, expel or neutralize all chemicals invented by man.
- To effect a lasting benefit, stick to your nutrition plan for at least two years, and preferably indefinitely.
- Design your nutrition and training to suit your genetic individuality and the particular demands of your sport.
- Make the Food Pyramid For Athletes the base of your nutrition.
- Eat a low-glycemic diet.
Now you are ready to consider the minerals, vitamins, adjunctive nutrients and anti-oxidants that will speed your progress. Stay tuned. That’s coming up next.
Excerpted from “The NEW Sports Nutrition Guide” by Dr. Michael Colgan
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Renowned scientist, lecturer and best-selling author, Dr. Michael Colgan‘s professional memberships include the American College of Sports Medicine, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the British Society of Nutritional Medicine. He is also on the Council of International and American Association of Clinical Nutritionists.