As we mature, we may become more aware of our physical limitations; at the same time, we gain the knowledge and expertise to push those limits to the edge. For people who enjoy the physical side of life, vigorous and rigorous activities can be wonderfully pleasant. The personal growth, improvements in performance, and mental strength that develops with dedicated practice and animated play provides much satisfaction. A feeling of connectedness with others develops, both through team play and in knowing that other people world-wide are also enjoying similar activities. The lessons learned in physical training can be applied to all walks of life; patience, persistence, goal setting, repetition, teamwork, etc. An integral part of vibrant health, high levels of physical fitness certainly carry many rewards.
Being active as regularly as we would like may prove to be a challenge, and recovery from activity is often slower than expected. The weekend warrior is not the only one at risk here. Most of us fall into a routine of activity that rarely changes. The runner who goes for a bike weekend, the soccer player who swims and surfs for the first time in years, the once a year skier, all are at risk of overtraining. Sore joints, stiff muscles, lethargy, acute injuries, and amotivation are just a few of the initial symptoms of overtraining. Feeling "it's too much effort," increased resting heart rate, dread of exercise, and chronic aches, pains and injuries are additional warning signs that you may be experiencing long-term overtraining.
Sports scientists, fitness trainers, athletes and coaches have put tremendous energy into improving training techniques. Cross training, weight training, build up and taper down strategies, phased training, and specificity of workouts have all contributed to the perpetual crashing of all athletic records and the increased intensity of team and individual sports. The "impossible" four-minute mile is now a common event, run not just by world class milers but by high school boys and even men over forty. But training harder has not always translated into training smarter. Sports injuries, both mild and severe, are at an all-time high. Burnout often hits young athletes before they ever reach their prime. Many professional sports are how dominated by teenagers and the thirty year old athlete is becoming a rarity. It is the considered opinion of this author that the problem lies not in poor training techniques, but in the haphazard methods that most athletes apply to their recovery.
There are four basic factors that can compromise the body's ability to recover from training. These are insufficient sugar, salt, water, and/or rest/sleep. It is important to learn how these four factors function and interact. Utilizing this knowledge to your best advantage is well worth the effort required in modyfying your regime. You will reap the healthy harvest of more speedy recovery and the ability to push your physical exertions to new and perhaps unimagined heights. Optimum recovery will also put you at less risk of injury and extend your ability to enjoy an activity filled life.
The Role of Sugars
Simple sugars, in the form of glucose and/or fructose, are utilized by every cell of the body to fuel energy. There are three sources of this sugar in the body: muscle glycogen, liver glycogen, and blood sugar. Liver glycogen is mostly held in reserve as fuel for the brain. When we are active, the body will first use predominantly muscle glycogen to fuel the muscles, and little blood sugar. It takes approximately two hours of high intensity aerobic activity (70-80% V02 max.) to use up most of the available muscle glycogen. During this period and for about an hour more, the percentage of blood sugar being used is constantly increasing until finally these supplies also run dry.
Reestablishing blood sugar to normal levels and replenishing muscle glycogen supply are absolute requirements for efficient and effective recovery. This can be done most easily through the consumption of fruit shortly after exercise is terminated. While blood sugar will rise fairly rapidly after the consumption of fruit, muscle glycogen supplies are slow to replenish. During exercise, and to a reduced rate for about two hours after, the blood is rich with the enzyme glycogenase, which doubles the body's ability to convert sugar into muscle glycogen. For this brief period it is possible to replenish glycogen at double the normal rate, thus fostering a speedy recovery.
Should the exertions be long enough or intense enough to seriously deplete supplies of muscle glycogen, it could take twenty-four hours to bring levels back to normal, even at optimal replenishment rates. If we don't take the opportunity to replenish blood sugar and muscle glycogen stores directly following exercise, forty-eight hours may elapse before they are refilled. Thus, it is extremely important to supply sufficient fruit sugar before, during and immediately after intense exercise, especially when of intense or long duration.
Bananas and dates contain the sugars and related nutrients that allow for optimum rate of uptake. Blended with enough water to provide adequate rehydration (as sugars cannot be properly converted to glycogen without an ample stock of water) bananas are, perhaps, the perfect food for this aspect of recovery. Acid fruits high in sugar such a pineapples, tangerines, certain oranges and grapefruits also provide the glucose and fructose necessary for quickly replenishing blood sugar and water needs. It is for this reason that after most running races bananas and oranges are provided free of charge to all participants.
The Role of Mineral Salts
Salts in the body play a vital role in virtually every function of each cell. There are at least twelve mineral salts in the body, each being used for its own specialized functions. Salts take the form of electrolytes (positively and negatively charged ions) and create the osmotic pressure that fosters fluid movement through the semipermeable cell membranes. Mineral salts are responsible for the flow of nutrients into the cell and the elimination of the waste products of cell metabolism. Without the osmotic pressure, i.e. electric potential, created by dissolved mineral salts, there would be no life. With too little salt the body ceases to function. With too much salt we die of dehydration. It is imperative that we maintain the homeostasis of this delicate relationship.
Sodium and potassium are two of the key minerals involved in electrolyte balance. Sodium is the main extracellular mineral while potassium is the main intracelllular mineral. Nutrients "ride" into the cell on potassium. Cellular metabolic waste is carried out of the cell hitched to sodium. Too little or too much of either of these minerals in relation to the other spells trouble in terms of recovery. While all fruits are good sources of potassium, bananas, dates, and avocados are the best. Celery and tomatoes are two of the highest vegetables sources of sodium.
While you cannot live without minerals, especially sodium, too much of it is just as severe a problem as too little, though an excess is much more common. It is not recommended that salt (sodium chloride) be added to any of your foods, nor should food be consumed that already has salt added, as a sufficient quantity is supplied in a healthful diet. When you have more sodium in your system than is required it will be eliminated via the kidneys and, upon exertion, the sweat glands. Symptoms of too much sodium include elevated blood pressure, kidney failure, edema and concurrent weight gain, dry skin, and thirst. With the excessive perspiration that may accompany intense athletic work or recreational endeavors, sodium will be lost from its extracellular compartment. Intracellular potassium will be pumped out of the cell to maintain electrolyte balance. Along with the potassium, water will leave the cells. The resulting weakness is a common symptom of heat prostration.
To maintain the acid/alkaline balance of the body, the acidic by-products of metabolism and physical activity must be neutralized by alkaline minerals. Chlorine, sulfur, and phosphorous, the acidic minerals, should be consumed only in relatively small amounts. Sulfur is present in the amino acids cystine and methionine, the latter is an essential amino acid, and is found in small amounts in all fuiits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Phosphorus is also present in all foods, but is concentrated in foods rich in protein. Chlorine is found almost exclusively in combination with sodium in the form of common salt, a good reason to limit its use. Alkaline minerals are more abundant in nature, and should make up the bulk (approximately 90%) of our caloric intake.
This concludes part I.