Yesterday afternoon I gave a seminar to a new fitness studio in NYC. Most of my seminars are usually given to those who are quite sedentary and have no motivation to eat healthy, or be physically fit. Thus the seminar is meant to give inspiration to begin eating and living more healthfully. This group, however, had so much motivation and energy to be fit but had no idea where to start when it came to eating healthy. They inspired me to not only start exercising much more (they were gorgeous examples of what physical activity produces), but to briefly go over the difference between being fit and being healthy.
A common link I find among athletes and personal trainers is that they think they can eat whatever they want because they're burning thousands of calories each day. Their bodies will turn all food into fuel and allow them to build muscle, as well as sustain them through their workouts. There are two problems with this way of thinking:
1) It's a very narrow way of looking at health. Instead of thinking about their total body health (organs, skin, emotional, immunity) they're only thinking about their muscles and the tone of their outer bodies. This is especially true for body builders.
2) This is a very short-term way of thinking. When you're eating to simply fuel yourself and build muscles, you're not thinking about how you may feel 10 years down the road. You're not thinking of nourishing your body so that you can live long, fulfilling life. You're only thinking about how you can get through this workout and the next.
I don't want to seem like I'm picking on athletes and trainers here. The same is true for herbalists, homeopaths, naturalists, and other people who focus on one specific part of being healthy, rather than the holistic view of health. There are four main elements to health:
1) Emotional: our connections with others, how we respond to stress, how we feel about ourselves.
2) Physical: how well our actual bodies adapt to stress, how physically fit we are, how our bodies work.
3) Chemical: foods, herbs, supplements, and other compounds that affect our biochemistry.
4) Metaphysical/Spiritual: our connection to death, our ancestors, our spiritual beliefs, our religious practices.
We simply cannot focus on just one element or the others get sick, wither, and die. So, how do we find balance? I'm going to try and bridge the gap between physical fitness and internal body health by starting with one nutrient: protein.
This is the most essential nutrient for life and all athletes, body builders, and trainers value this nutrient. Excessive protein consumption (bars, meats, cheeses, and powders) is not unlikely in the diets of athletes and bodybuilders. It is actually the norm. Excessive protein consumption is spreading to non-athletes as well due to its ability to help lose weight and balance blood sugar levels.
Protein, among all the nutrients (fats and carbohydrates) is, both, the most acidic and the hardest to assimilate. This means that protein does two things: stimulates the metabolism and pulls minerals from the bones and other tissues. High protein diets will, indeed, bring on successful and fast weight loss because the body's metabolism has to triple so that it can digest it. This also means that, like all other stimulants, excessive protein is hard on the adrenals and can become addictive.
Protein and Minerals
Whenever the body eats something that turns the blood pH acidic, our bones and other tissues give off calcium, phosphorus, and sodium to buffer the acidity. One study found that when a person ingested more than 47g of protein, they began losing high amounts of calcium through their urine. This was one sign that led doctors like Ted Morter to discover how excessive proteins, and other acidifying foods, wreak havoc on our mineral stores.
Why Minerals Are Important For Physical Fitness
Minerals, like Silica, are the basis for collagen production. Without minerals, our body's structural systems began to fail. Our hair, skin, nails, vessels, organs, tissues, muscles, and bones all rely on collagen. Bones are actually 33% collagen, which gives them elasticity to bend. Once we lose our collagen stores our bones, like our hair and nails, become stiff and break! More importantly, for athletes, our joints, tendons, and ligaments all rely on minerals for collagen production and elasticity. This will allow the body to recover quicker and endure more activity without straining or tearing tendons and other collagen structures.
Why Minerals Are Important For Health
When the body is full of minerals, we are able to assimilate nutrients, enzymes, and other compounds. Minerals are the catalyst for digestion and escorting vitamins to where they need to be. Since minerals build stronger collagen structures, all of our organs, including the heart, become stronger and can do their job for much longer. Since minerals alkalize the blood, we are given more oxygen in the blood system. More oxygen means most pathogens, bacteria, cancers, and fungi cannot thrive. Minerals, in this case, can literally save us from disease.
What Is A Healthful Intake Of Protein?
I genuinely believe that our body uses amino acids, not whole proteins. When we eat a piece of meat, the body must rigorously break down the meat to attain the amino acids which then build our own muscles. How does a cow, horse, elephant get so big and strong on grasses alone? It's the amino acids! Amino acids are found in all plant foods and are more assimilable because they're lower on the food chain. Rice and beans have 1/3 the amount of protein as a piece of chicken, but they have easier to reach amino acids, which will build muscle and sustain you without the stimulation or addiction from concentrated protein.
If you still want extra protein, choose a plant-based formula like Vega's Performance line or Garden of Life's Raw Meal. Even better, use organic hemp powder. Not only will you be getting an amazing form of protein and amino acids, but you'll be getting a high dose of Omega-3 which will keep the body lubricated and keep the blood flowing beautiful to deliver all those nutrients from foods to your brain and other hard-to-reach organs.
After taking what I said into consideration, I think it is practical to say that if someone is going to be working out 4-6 hours a day in the gym they are going to need more protein than usual. When you're a bodybuilder, you're transforming your body into an unnatural physique so you must use unnatural amounts of nutrients. It's important, however, to realize that most body builders deal with kidney disease and severe collagen depletion as early as their 40s from all the ammonia that is produced from excess protein.
Finally, health is whatever you want it to be. Ten minutes before working out, meditate and feel your body. Where does it hurt? Where does it thrive? Where do you find joy and sorrow? If you're happy with yourself and you feel grateful and content with your life, then you've achieved greater health than even a shot of wheat grass can provide.