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OCTOBER 18, 2011 * Nutrition
Nutrition Edge - Vol 7

Synchronizing Nutrition to Your Metabolic Rhythm: How Functional Eating Can Raise Your Training Level

One of most significant recent findings in sports science has been the discovery that timing nutrient intake over the course of the day can produce dramatic gains in overall fitness. We now know that the key pathways responsible for replenishing muscle energy stores, reducing metabolic stress and building and repairing muscle are not continuously in the “on” position. Each of these pathways has a unique metabolic rhythm that is programmed into our DNA.

What is exciting is that once you understand the programming for each of the metabolic pathways that determine our level of fitness, you can synchronize your nutrition to allow your body to operate in an ultra-efficient mode. This new concept is called Functional Eating and it can dramatically improve performance, increase lean body mass and overall energy levels. Over every 24-hour period we have three primary functional intervals:

7:00 A.M. to 9:00 A.M. - When you are sleeping your body calls upon energy reserves stored in muscle and fat cells to maintain minimal function. This involves cortisol. Just prior to daybreak, cortisol levels are highest. The morning interval is critical to reduce cortisol levels and prime your metabolic machinery.

9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. - We are hardwired to be active during daylight hours. As a result, the metabolic machinery that converts food into energy is in a heightened state of activation during this time.

5:00 P.M. to 11:00 P.M. - During this period of the day the pathways responsible for building and repairing protein are most active.

Functional Eating is not a complicated process. All you have to do is follow these seven simple principles:

  1. Never skip breakfast. The ideal breakfast consists of about 80% carbs and 20% protein. This ratio will not only reduce cortisol levels but also replenish muscle energy stores depleted while you were sleeping.
  2. Eat high-carbohydrate foods between 9:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M. to ensure that the muscles and brain have sufficient energy.
  3. Decrease consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods dramatically throughout the afternoon and evening.
  4. Consume 55 percent of your daily calories by 1:00 P.M. to parallel the body’s energy needs.
  5. Eat high-protein foods between 5:00 P.M. and 8:00 P.M. The protein turnover circuit is most active during this period because it is not competing with the pathways responsible for generating energy.
  6. Keep fat intake to a minimum in the morning and throughout most of the day, but increase your intake of healthy (mainly plant) fats in the evening. Since these fats are especially potent suppressors of hunger, this strategy helps keep you full in the period between dinner and bedtime.
  7. Whenever you work out, make sure you pay close attention to your fueling and recovery nutrition.

Functional eating represents a dramatic change from conventional eating plans. Conventional plans are based on the body’s 24-hour nutritional needs. What we now know is that the body’s needs change over the course of the day because metabolism changes. Functional eating is a powerful tool to improve endurance performance.

Alcohol and the Endurance Athlete

Heavy exercisers such as endurance athletes consume more alcohol habitually than non-exercisers. It’s believed that certain aspects of personality, rooted in brain chemistry, tend to attract people to both exercise and alcohol. But are athletes paying a health price for extra alcohol consumption?

In the general population, people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (one drink a day for women, two for men) have a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, and possibly diabetes than those who drink either more or not at all. However, drinking heavily is much more harmful than not drinking.

It’s believed that alcohol may boost cardiovascular health by increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol. While aerobic exercise itself tends to improve the cholesterol profile, there is evidence that endurance athletes also benefit from a little daily wine or beer. The National Runners Health Study, a scientific survey of 10,000 runners, found that those who drank in moderation had higher levels of good cholesterol than those who drank little or no alcohol.

Whether athletes are able to consume somewhat more alcohol than others habitually without harming their heart health is a question that has not been rigorously answered. The available evidence suggests probably so, but moderation remains the watchword.