Are Athletes Fit and Healthy?
That goes against the image gyms, fitness programs, and other exercise-related affiliations portray of glowing, muscled, well-toned women and men glistening in fitted attire and casually sipping bottled water or a protein shake.
Physical inactivity or being sedentary is a huge health risk among Americans. On the opposite spectrum (and far less talked about) is over-exercise, or what Maffetone and Laursen call, “the overtraining syndrome.”
Coupled with our modern-day highly processed, high glycemic diet, over-exercise can create or exacerbate chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and compromised immunity. “Ultimately, these symptoms reveal an unhealthy athlete,” they write.
Beyond Exercise: Maintain Peak Sports Performance with Chiropractic
So what’s the formula for a healthy athlete?
The right amount of exercise, of course, but also an intelligently designed diet and the right lifestyle factors. And that’s where chiropractic care comes in.
Based on the chiropractic approach, your body is an interconnected neuromusculoskeletal system. When one part of the system gets out of whack, others follow.
Chiropractors can remove imbalances to alleviate stressors on your body’s nervous system and restore the general health of your body.
Apart from housing the nervous system, the spinal column helps to anchor muscles throughout your body. Good posture, muscle strength, and spinal health are all interconnected. In other words, what impacts your spine also impacts physical performance. A healthy spine can support your body weight and the stressors of daily life, but the more your body and spine fall into disrepair, the less trauma and stress it can take.
When you bring the body back to its ideal state, you can ward off injuries, promote healing and repair, and maintain peak physical health as you grow older. One study that evaluated spinal alignment and range of motion among 317 people found that maintaining spinal alignment and back muscle strength could improve shoulder range of motion.
Specific Health Complaints in Athletes
Regular chiropractic visits can improve joint strength, muscle soreness, and increase circulation. But chiropractic adjustments can also address specific concerns that impact many athletes.
Research shows that heavy training can adversely impact your immune system while increasing inflammation and oxidative stress. Let’s look at how those three obstacles can impact your game, and how chiropractors can address these situations.
“While acute inflammation is a normal response to exercise training and helps athletes recover and adapt, inappropriate training intensity, volume, or both, especially when combined with a high glycemic/refined [carbohydrate] diet, can result in chronic inflammation and pain, increased [oxidative stress], a compromised nervous system, and various symptoms of maladaptation,” say Maffetone and Laursen.
Let’s unpack that paragraph, starting with chronic inflammation. This low-grade, often-silent type of inflammation can sabotage your workout in many ways, including muscle loss.
Tackling it begins with your fork. On average, we eat about 20 times more inflammatory fats compared to anti-inflammatory ones, whereas our Paleolithic ancestors ate about equal amounts. Inflammation is a big driver in nearly every disease.
To offset inflammation, increase the anti-inflammatory foods found in our Core or Advanced plans (more about that below) and decrease vegetable oils, processed foods, grain-fed beef, and other inflammatory foods.
The right nutrients including curcumin and fish oil can also help lower inflammation. So can your chiropractor: One study found that nine chiropractic lower back manipulations normalized inflammation for people suffering from chronic low back pain.
This common source of pain among athletes can stall performance, reduce the amount of time you get to exercise, and create disability. Low back pain can also impair your range of motion and strength.
Researchers find spinal manipulation therapy can moderately improve low back pain. With this method, chiropractors use their hands to apply control to a specific joint. Spinal manipulation can relieve joint pressure, reduce inflammation, and improve nerve function.
Heavy exercise can increase your risk for free radicals. “These nasty rogue molecules attack your cells and damage your DNA and slowly ‘wear you down,’ aging you from within,” says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., in The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer.
A certain amount of free radicals are normal and even healthy when your body keeps them in check. But when free radicals overwhelm your body’s natural antioxidant defence system, a condition called oxidative stress can occur.
Oxidative stress becomes a key player for disease and premature aging. While free radicals can create oxidative stress at any time, athletes are especially vulnerable during or after exercise. Overtraining-induced oxidative stress can decrease physical performance while increasing muscular fatigue and muscle damage.
To offset the oxidative stress that can impair physical performance, you need sufficient amounts of antioxidants. A wide array of colorful produce contains antioxidants like vitamin C. Nuts and seeds are a great source of vitamin E.
A few well-chosen supplements mentioned below can also support your body’s antioxidant defense. Take whey protein, which can boost levels of glutathione (your body’s primary antioxidant).
Chiropractic care can also help: Research shows that regular visits to the chiropractor can positively impact oxidative stress and DNA repair.
Altogether, that spells bad news for your physical performance, but also overall well-being. To counterbalance your increased risk for sickness and infection, you’ll want to combine the right amount of exercise with a nutrient-rich diet along with the right supplements and lifestyle factors.
This article provides specific strategies to naturally optimize immunity even during your most physically intense days. And yes, that includes chiropractic care: Research shows that spinal manipulation can support a healthy immune system.
9 Ways to Maintain Peak Performance
Being fit, maintaining peak physical performance, and staying healthy starts with your workout.
At the same time, what you do around your fitness routine becomes equally important to manage chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, immune support, and other obstacles that can impair performance.
The right foods, nutrients, and lifestyle factors can address multiple fitness-related factors including strength, resilience, and repair. These nine strategies create an excellent foundation for any athlete to stay in peak condition.
1. Eat a nutrient-dense diet that optimizes performance. A wide array of plant foods along with optimal protein, healthy fats, and the right carbohydrates keep your body performing at peak level. We’ve designed two plans that incorporate optimal amounts of these nutrients to maintain your “A game.” Depending on your performance needs, you’ll choose our Core or Advanced Plan. Both plans provide the nutrients you need for peak performance while creating a practical plan that anyone can follow. The Core plan is practical and flexible for everyday life. While both plans are ideal for athletes, think of the Advanced Plan as higher-level nutrition. This plan will retrain your body to use fat as fuel, limit inflammation, and restore cell membrane function.
2. HIIT in moderation. Excessive high-intensity training — or the overtraining syndrome — can become a problem, but moderate amounts can benefit you. Research shows high-intensity training can improve muscle power, support hormonal balance, and so much more. Our MaxT3 program provides a full-body workout in just 12 minutes: The perfect amount of time to gain all the benefits of high-intensity exercise without risking over-exercise.
3. Focus on recovery and repair. If you’ve worked out hard for three days in a row, trained vigorously for a marathon, or otherwise over-extended yourself physically, you probably know how over-exercise becomes counterproductive. For one, it can become an invitation for muscle injuries, which are extremely common among athletes, that can create pain, dysfunction, and the inability to practice. Balance intense workouts with recovery days. That doesn’t mean you have to be inactive. A brisk walk, restorative yoga class, or stretching become excellent complementary exercises to your intense workouts.
4. Optimize sleep. Researchers find many athletes don’t meet their sleep quota. That’s unfortunate since sleep duration and improved sleep quality in athletes can improve performance, reduce the risk of injury and illness, and optimize overall health. Recovery and repair start with amazing sleep. Aim for at least seven to eight hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep. Intense workout days might require more. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, consider a quality sleep supplement.
5. Manage stress. Your mental health can impact physical performance more than you might imagine. Athletes are vulnerable to mental health problems including substance misuse. Injury, overtraining, and burnout are among the factors that fuel psychological stress, which subsequently can impair physical performance. Overtraining can also trigger or exacerbate depression, anxiety, and other mood imbalances. You’re likely familiar with the feel-good endorphins that follow a good workout, but find other strategies to alleviate stress. Yoga makes a great complementary workout that simultaneously improves mental health. Alternately, consider meditation, deep breathing, or massage to de-stress.
6. Minimize environmental toxins. “Tobacco smoke, air pollutions, pesticides, herbicides, contaminants in our water — all of these form free radicals… that contribute to the aging process and the diseases that kill us,” says Bowden. You can’t eliminate toxins, but you reduce your exposure and their impact. Filter your water, buy organic whenever possible, and consider a professionally designed detox plan. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides excellent guides for produce, household cleaners, and beauty products.
7. Listen to your body. The “no pain, no gain” exercise mantra is woefully outdated and potentially dangerous. Take soreness: Most people get a little sore after a hard workout, but soreness is different than muscle pain. You can push yourself physically and still be tuned in with how your body feels. No athlete should have to live with pain or other discomforts. Address any concerns with your chiropractor or other healthcare professional.
8. Visit your chiropractor regularly. Your chiropractor can address issues that help you better adapt to exercise. One systematic review found that chiropractic care also helped prevent and treat sports injuries. In fact, researchers here found chiropractic care significantly more effective than conventional treatments to prevent lower limb muscle strain and other injuries.
9. Get the right nutrients. A full spectrum of supplements that benefit performance is both dependent upon an individual’s current nutrient intake and lifestyle. Consider working with a chiropractor or other healthcare professional to design a nutrient plan that works for your performance needs. Among the most-studied supplements for athletes:
- Whey protein. This quickly absorbing protein powder provides the amino acid precursors to support lean body mass, muscle synthesis, recovery and immune health. Grass-fed whey is especially rich in the amino acid leucine to support muscle protein synthesis. In addition, whey helps build your master antioxidant glutathione.
- N-acetyl-cysteine. Intense, strenuous, or over-exercising (conditions that happen to us all sometimes) can contribute to oxidative stress. Research shows that along with plenty of plant foods, using antioxidant-based supplements can potentially provide additional benefits to protect athletes. Glutathione deficiencies can increase oxidative stress, increasing your risk for disease. Whey protein can boost glutathione levels. So can N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), a sulfur-containing amino acid, which can also help reduce inflammation. Look for a NAC powder that also contains glycine, one of glutathione’s three amino acids.
- L-Glutamine. Prolonged exercise and heavy training can decrease levels of this amino acid potentially impairing immunity and increasing infections in athletes. Supplementing with L-glutamine post-exercise can reduce soreness and support faster recovery. L-glutamine also supports the synthesis of glutathione, which can reduce muscle fatigue.
- Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs comprise 35 percent of the essential amino acids in muscle protein that can stimulate muscle synthesis and reduce exercise-related muscle breakdown. BCAA supplements can also increase recovery rates (including muscle soreness) among trained athletes. Strength & Recovery complex combines an ideal ratio of BCAAs with L-glutamine.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Over-exercise induced inflammation can leave you sore, fatigued, and not performing optimally. Supplementing with omega-3s can lower inflammation, reduce post-exercise soreness, and provide other benefits for athletes.
- Magnesium. Your muscles contain about 27 percent of your body’s magnesium. Requirements for this mineral increase as your physical activity levels do. Magnesium deficiencies can lead to pain and muscle soreness that can impede performance. Supplementation can improve performance for various types of exercise. Liquid magnesium makes an easy way to get this crucial mineral. Take it before bedtime for a calming, relaxing effect.
- Curcumin. The active ingredient in the spice turmeric carries impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits providing a double boost for athletes. However, curcumin absorbs poorly. Combining this nutrient with BioPerine® Black Pepper Extract can improve its bioavailability.
In other words, just because you hit the gym four times a week, maintain strong muscles, or participate in competitive sports doesn’t mean you’re healthy.
That’s where lifestyle factors come in. Healthy athletes can consider chiropractic care as a tool for optimizing performance and health. A chiropractor can address many fitness-related concerns, help prevent injury and other obstacles that plague athletes, develop nutrition plans specific to one’s lifestyle, and support the exercise-related recovery that becomes more important as you grow older.