Resources

Mineral Balance For Performance and Recovery

Photo by Harris Vo on Unsplash

So far, we have discussed a number of topics including digestion, blood sugar regulation, and fatty acids. Today I want to talk all about minerals and why they are so important. They are always important, but as we approach summer, they become crucial to sports performance. Let’s start with the basics – what are minerals?

Minerals are broken up into Major and Minor Minerals, based on their levels in the body. The Major minerals include Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, and Sodium. Calcium is the most abundant in the body amounting to 40% of the total mineral mass (only 1.5% of total body mass). Having balanced mineral levels are key for everyone, but they are particularly important for physically active adults. Too much or too little can really throw your entire system off!

The simplified mineral interaction chart below shows how some minerals interact with each other. Though this looks complicated, let me explain how to read it. If a mineral has an arrow pointing to another mineral, it means a deficiency of that mineral (or interference with its metabolism) may be caused by an excess of the mineral from where the arrow originates. And some pairs work in both directions – such as magnesium and calcium. If you have too much calcium, you may not be absorbing the magnesium you are consuming and vice versa.

Minerals serve a number of roles including: contracting and relaxing muscles, maintaining proper nerve function, regulating tissue growth and providing functional and structural support (think strong bones here).

An example of a mineral imbalance would be when an athlete gets leg cramps during short high-intensity or endurance type workouts or events. Without the proper balance of calcium and magnesium, this can happen easily since calcium regulates muscle contraction and magnesium regulates the muscle relaxing.

Even the microminerals can have a big impact on how you feel. For example, if you’re looking for peak performance (or just want to feel your best), you need to have proper levels of iodine. Iodine is essential in the production of thyroid hormone, which affects everything from metabolism to sexual hormones. Iodine is also key in nerve and bone formation which affects muscle memory and recovery.

Aside from performance improvements through better mineral balance, minerals directly affect your immune system. For example, most people are aware that zinc can support the immune system, but did you know that zinc is also important in the creation of stomach acid?! Since minerals are essential cofactors in creating enzymes which then convert fatty acids into prostaglandins (inflammatory regulators) – you can better understand why proper digestion is key. Isn’t it amazing how everything is truly connected in our bodies! Psst…If you haven’t been reading along, my last post on fatty acids discussed prostaglandins and how important they are for managing inflammation.

So now you might be wondering, “How do I balance my minerals? Do I take a supplement?” The short answer is – “It depends”. Many Functional Practitioners and some M.D.s will run tests for vitamin and mineral levels. If you have a known deficiency, talk to your Doctor or Practitioner about supplementing. Regardless of your mineral status, the best way to get your minerals is through your food. This is why variety matters! Eat all different colors of veggies, types of meat and seafood, and a variety of leafy greens. This will give you a full spectrum of minerals from your food.

Mineral rich foods include:

  • Shellfish
  • Cruciferous veggies (kale, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, bok choy, arugula, etc.)
  • organ meats (try making a chicken liver pate!)
  • Eggs ( WITH the yolks!)
  • Avocados (more potassium than a banana)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fatty fish (sardines, herring, salmon)
Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

And if you are going to hit a hard workout, you should consider adding electrolytes to your water. A simple pinch of high-quality sea salt is the cheapest method and is just as effective as the $20 sports electrolyte powder without the added sugar or sweeteners. (Note – there are some decent ones on the market now DM me for some recommendations)

Photo by Jason Tuinstra on Unsplash

Remember though that digestion is Queen in this cascade and if your digestion is not functioning properly, you may not be absorbing the minerals you are eating. It all starts with digestion!

Something else to look at is if any prescription or over the counter medications could be causing deficiencies of some minerals. This is very common, so ask your Pharmacist or Doctor about this when you start any new meds. And finally, times of high stress can also cause depletions, and some minerals are more prone to depletion from stress than others. Magnesium is a big one that is depleted with stress (physical and emotional). This is where supplementation can help support your system. A Nutritional Therapy Practitioner can also help evaluate ways to help you functionally support your body through food and/or supplements. If this is a concern for you, let’s talk. I’m here to help!

For more support in your efforts to improve digestion and mineral balance: Let’s work together!

fatty acids in nuts
Resources

Why Fat is so Crucial to Your Health and Recovery

Photo by Roberta Sorge on Unsplash

Let’s talk dietary fat, yep the fats we eat. For decades the media has demonized fat, telling us that too much fat would give us a heart attack and make us gain weight. Well, it turns out they based this on limited studies and inaccurate statistics. The truth is that processed carbs are the bigger player here! But this post is not addressing processed carbs (I’ll save that for a later post). In this post I’m going to explain why our body actually needs fat in order to properly recover from hard workouts, optimize our metabolism, hormones, and our overall health.

Fats play a number of roles in the body, but here are three key roles that I think are most applicable to active adults:

  • Fats provide a source of energy, especially for endurance type (low heart rate) exercise
  • Fats act as a building block for cell membranes and hormones which help to regulate inflammation
  • Fats aid in absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K – all which support immune function

There are three types of fatty acids – saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated – and we need all types, yes, even the saturated fats! In fact, saturated fats should be around 30% of total fat intake. Monounsaturated fats (Omega 9’s) should be the highest consumed at ~60%. And Polyunsaturated fats (Omega 3 & 6) should be around 10% of total intake. Saturated fats are those mostly found in animal fats as well as tropical oils. Monounsaturated fats are avocado and extra virgin olive oil as well as nuts like almonds, cashews, and pecans.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Despite (ideally) being the smallest percentage of our total fats, polyunsaturated fats deserve a little more attention. These fats are often identified as Omega-6 or Omega-3 fatty acids and the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 should ideally be consumed in a 2:1 ratio. Unfortunately, in today’s world of processed foods and inflammatory oils, we can see ratios as high as 20:1! Read those labels on your crackers, cookies, cereals, and even “healthy” products. So many are using canola, soy, or corn oils – and its actually quite hard to avoid them if not making a conscious effort. Corn oil has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 46:1!!! Remember, your average ratio should be 2:1! Read on to understand why this is so important…

Some Omega 6 & 3 fatty acids are actually good for you. Here are some examples of healthy Omega 3 and 6 oils:

  • Omega-6: sunflower oil, sesame oil, and safflower oil
  • Omega-3: fish oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts or oil, pumpkin seeds or oil

These oils should be produced from organic sources and cold pressed; not by using high-heat industrial processing which cause these oils to go rancid before they even hit the grocery store shelves.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

A balance of all three fatty acids help to control inflammation throughout your body because they are all precursors to the production of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. There are two anti-inflammatory and one inflammatory prostaglandin, and you need all three to heal from various stress and injuries since they control inflammatory function.

Its worth noting that in order for fats to be properly converted into these important prostaglandins and to do their job, your digestion, liver, and enzymatic function all need to be working properly. This is why my last post was dedicated to proper digestion.

Inflammation is something that I think most physically active folks understand well. Anyone ever feel sore after a hard workout?! That’s the body inflaming an overworked area to shuttle more blood flow there to allow for healing to happen faster. After the initial inflammation, the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins come in to help calm the system. This is the cycle of healing.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

So you are probably wondering where to start? If you are like many who think the low-fat diet is the answer to health, but you are still struggling to lose weight and feel your best, its time to try something old. Yes, I said old, because this is going back to a more ancestral approach to eating which utilizes a mix of fats in the diet!

Here are a few easy ways to incorporate some healthy fats into your meals without following recipes or meal plans:

  • If you typically steam veggies, rub them with extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or melted tallow and sprinkle with salt – roast them in the oven at 375F until lightly browned and tender
  • Opt for chicken thighs over chicken breasts (skin-on is even better)
  • Make your own salad dressings or mayo using avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil
  • Fry your eggs in grass-fed butter or ghee
  • Snack on nuts and seeds

Try eating this way and see if you feel any different. Do you feel satisfied for longer after a meal? Do you feel like you recover faster after big workouts? How is your mood and digestion?

Speaking of digestion, be sure to start slow. If you eat a very low-fat diet right now, your body will need some time to adjust, so take baby steps. But I think you will find yourself reaching for those frequent snacks less often and will feel more balanced!

Need more support in your efforts to improve digestion and get more fat? Let’s work together!

lemon water for digestion
Resources

What Healthy Digestion Feels Like

This is the first part of some educational segments on various systems that have a big impact on their overall health. The first will be on Digestion. I hope you find it helpful!

Do most people truly know what healthy digestion feels and looks like? I’m gonna go with no, not the majority. I wish I could meet my 28 year old self and tell her many things. But, most importantly I’d share what I’ve learned over the past 15 years about digestive imbalances and how to heal it early or prevent it altogether!

I suffered through lactose intolerance for many years without realizing the cause of my numerous bathroom visits. Did I mention we would talk about poo, cause yeah, that’s part of digestion and impossible to leave out of the conversation! Then, after the birth of my son, I had a terrible yeast overgrowth (gut dysbiosis) issue that caused fatigue and brain fog I have never thought possible! All of those burbs, flatulence, and consistencies of stool are all cues our body is sending you about the health of your digestion. However, without the education to translate and decode it, it might feel like your body is speaking to you in another language!

So why is digestion so important? I mean, you eat, you poo…right?! What’s so complicated? As long as you’re eating healthy foods, you should be good. Well…not exactly. See, you are what you absorb, more than you ‘are what you eat’. And every cell in your body depends on the digestive system to provide the nutrients it needs for structure and function. So if there is an imbalance in the digestive process, this can often cause downstream health issues. Not to give a full on biology lesson here, but it truly helps to understand all of the parts of your digestive process and I think pictures help. Below is a simple diagram from Wikipedia that should guide you when I start spouting various organs and sections of organs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_digestive_system#/media/File:Sobo_1906_323.png

Digestion could be thought of as a north to south process – starting at the brain and ending in elimination. In a healthy digestive process, your body would be in a parasympathetic state (often referred to as rest and digest). This is because digestion actually starts in your BRAIN. What? Ok, before I lose you, this is a real thing. Just thinking about your food, preparing it, smelling it. This all prepares your body to start the digestive process. Your salivary glands even perk up and get ready to receive food into your mouth.

So you have thought about your food, its on your plate in front of you. So now you place the food into your mouth and chew. Yumm! The longer you chew, the better broken down the food particles are before you send them down your esophagus and into your stomach. Additionally, enzymes for carbohydrate digestion start releasing in the MOUTH. So chew those carbs up until its like a smoothie consistency (typically 20-30 times).

Once you swallow, the food travels to your stomach and gets ‘washed’ with HCl (or stomach acid). Something you may not realize is how important protein consumption is for your stomach acid levels to be optimal! Protein stimulates the release of a hormone (gastrin) which tells the body how much HCl to produce and essentially jumpstarts protein digestion. Note that the stomach is not actually absorbing many nutrients. Its mainly preparing the partially digested food (now an acidic liquid called chyme) to go into the small intestines where nutrients will be absorbed into the body.

As the chyme moves into the small intestine, the gallbladder releases bile and the pancreas releases pancreatic juices which help to further break down the macronutrients into nutrients that the body can absorb into the bloodstream. The small intestine is surprisingly long, averaging 20 feet and covered with villi and microvilli which create a type of brush boarder which helps to increase the area in which to absorb nutrients from the chyme.

The large intestine absorbs the few remaining nutrients, but mostly it is absorbing water. The microbiota in the large intestine have been sitting there patiently waiting for prebiotic fibers (from your fruits and veggies) to make valuable nutrients like B vitamins and some important amino acids. A balanced microbiome is critical to optimal digestion, so keeping these “bugs” happy is important! Any sort of imbalance and your body will send you signals through digestive upset and sometimes even skin irritations (like acne or eczema). As for what’s left, well, its the remaining waste (toxins, fiber, and dead microbes) that’s eliminated (yep, poo).

Still reading? All of this is to explain how things SHOULD work. If you’re not properly digesting and breaking down your foods, the undigested macronutrients in the chyme will irritate the small intestinal lining and over time cause what many refer to as “leaky gut”. This is because the junctions of the lining, which should be tight, open up due to inflammation and allow undigested food particles into the blood stream. This can cause inflammation throughout the body and present in many different ways.

The overall take away is that if every upstream (northern) digestive system is out of whack, then everything downstream (south) will suffer. And if your digestive system is under stress, your entire body will feel the effects via inflammation. It may not be right away, but over time, they can add up to many common health concerns. Your digestion is paramount to your overall health!

I’m currently studying to be a NTP (Nutritional Therapy Practitioner) and will graduate in late fall 2020! I am so Excited to pursue my passion in this way. And as an NTP I can help you address your digestive concerns and teach you ways to support your body. Around the holidays, I’ll be taking on a limited number of clients but feel free to reach out on my social media outlets if you want to learn more!