If anyone tells you they are an expert on nutrition, be skeptical. I don’t care how many degrees they have, how many diet books they have read, or how many clients they have worked with. The fact of the matter is that optimal nutrition is one of the most difficult things to measure next to brain function. There are just too many variables that can all interact with one another. This is why there are thousands of diet books and practically no athlete actually following the governmental guideline. Add to that the fact that our food system is heavily influenced by profit seeking corporations and the truth seems even less reachable. Just walk into the Olympic training center cafe and between the Coke sponsor and frozen yogurt machine, you will know exactly what I am talking about.
The good news is that big data is getting us closer. When you can’t do a double blind study with solid controls, what is the next best thing? More data. Along with the advent of genetic testing I do believe we are moving toward a more reliable way of measuring nutrition. And I am very excited as this data is being provided to people like you and me at a very affordable price. As coaches, we will finally be able to have those once controversial conversations with our athletes about what they can be doing to fuel their body more optimally.
At this point you may be thinking, well I already do that or maybe you have a nutritionist that covers this information. I did too. I worked with a nutritionist that told my athletes to eat dairy as a solid protein source. I worked with a program that practically force fed factory farmed milk to our athletes. Come to find out that statistically we have more people who have lactose intolerance than not. 65% of the world population has some sort of lactose intolerance. (source) Drinking milk makes most people weaker. Then why the heck are we feeding it to high performance athletes??? There are many examples like this. Take Peanut butter, another food source typically provided to college athletes due to its high calorie content and low price. A study found that 91% of sampled peanut butter contained aflatoxins, a significant risk factor for liver and kidney cancer, teratogenicity, undernutrition, and micronutrient malabsorption.
So what is an athlete to do? I have personally spent over 15 years researching this topic and experimenting with various “diets.” In those 15 years, you know what the number 1 thing I learned was? Everyone is different. We all have different genetics, different environmental factors, different body mass ratios, etc. Some people do well cutting out lactose. Others it’s not that big of a deal. Some people need to cut carbs to a minimum. Others are ok eating a lot of carbs. Before today, I would recommend research and experimentation. Educating myself on the subject, was the only way to find my most optimal diet. It was about paying attention to how food affected your performance, taking things out, adding them back in; a very long process prone to inaccuracies. Well today we have something better. We have DNA testing.
This past weekend, after listening to the latest bulletproof radio podcast, I had the pleasure of getting my DNA tested to find out various athletic performance metrics using a service called DNAfit. I was absolutely amazed at both the type of information that was now available to me as well as the recommendations it provided me. I learned more about myself as an athlete than I have learned in years of experimentation. I wish I had this knowledge 20 years ago. I would have saved myself so much time and effort experimenting with different ways of eating that ultimately were not good for my genetics, not to mention thousands of dollars in books, supplements, and injury treatments/surgeries. (Yes, had I known this information, I am confident that I would have been able to prevent the injuries that I accumulated through the years for reasons I will go into.)
While the service is not perfect, and there are many factors I do believe they are still missing, DNAfit, in my opinion, is the best way for someone like you or I to learn what the most optimal diet is for our very individual needs. I suspect that there will be many more services popping up like this in the future which will only add to our knowledge about ourselves. Like I stated above, what I learned would have been extremely helpful as a college athlete or even high school athlete and I will now go into some of those specific items below.
- Learn what type of athlete you are: power vs endurance or both – make decisions as to what sport to play or types of training protocols to maximize your strengths. I learned I have a higher VO2 max capacity than average but also had genes associated with a power athlete, so a long day playing beach vb happened to play to my strengths.
- Learn your recovery needs. Do you need more time or less than the average person? Learn whether you are prone to specific injuries. I had a collagen type 1 gene associated with tendinopathy. Recommendations were to supplement with collagen, give myself a longer recovery period, and perform joint strengthening exercises and to have solid warm-ups and cool downs. All those years of skipping warm-ups pickup games. had known this information years ago, I may still be playing pro beach volleyball today! (Then again I would not be a coach sharing this info with you)
- Learn your optimal nutrition – Do you do better on higher fat or higher carbohydrates? What is your omega 3, antioxidant, vitamin D need, cruciferous vegetable need? I learned that I do better on a high fat diet and had a high omega 3 and antioxidant need compared to the average, so reducing factory farmed meats and increasing wild caught salmon and grass fed omega 3 rich meats is important.
- Learn about your food sensitivities – Lactose intolerance, coeliac predisposition, caffeine and alcohol sensitivity, salt sensitivity carcinogen sensitivity, the list goes on. I learned that though I am not lactose intolerant, I do have a high sensitivity to toxins such as carcinogens so cooking food at high temps or overcooking is something I need to avoid. I also extrapolated this mean that reducing my overall toxin load would be ideal – drinking purified water, throwing away toxic cleaning products, etc.
The Pro package also includes an expert phone consultation though I had to book all the way out to January along with a meal plan. In general I’m not impressed with the meal plan as it is based on a weight loss goal and in my opinion no athlete should be in a weight loss mentality. Its just not a healthy mindset nor is it effective. I’d prefer a meal plan with a performance goal. Furthermore the plan does not take into consideration lectin sensitivities or allow for more flexibility in meals. IE: I do not eat breakfast and use intermittent fasting (another blog post), so the meal plan is pretty much unusable for me. Its also based on a total calorie consumption goal and in my opinion, counting calories is not healthy way to think about fuel nor has it proven to be an accurate way to measure energy or general nutrition load in the body. Again, there are just too many factors inter-playing with one another like bacteria, digestion, hormones etc. The biggest flaw was the lack of consideration for omega 3 ratios when my DNA results clearly indicated high omega 3 needs – it did not specify sources of meat to maximize that load such as wild caught salmon or grass fed sources and even contained recipes that included soy and corn which are both low in omega 3 and very high in omega 6 fatty acids.
There are also fitness plans including a muscle building and cardio plan. I’m not impressed with the cardio plan for the same reason as the meal plan. Athletes should be doing cardio to help build VO2 max, not to lose weight. The muscle building plan looks intriguing. They supposedly provide you a former Olympian as your coach. I got former Olympic sprinter, Craig Pickering. I may play around with this a little more to give a better opinion on it at a later date.
Overall, I would recommend this for my athletes minus the extra services. I think the DNA info is where the meat of the benefit is. From there, you can work with a nutritionist or personal trainer to get a more detailed plan. Or if you’re like me you can do your own research. IE: googling “omega 3 rich foods”.
My hope and prediction is that there will be more and more data sources available to us like this which will allow us to further individualize and optimize our performance. I would like to see some measurements on lectin sensitivity, meal timing and meal frequencies among other data. When this happens, I suspect that coaches will have the ability to be more involved in the nutrition conversation with more knowledge and less fear of saying the wrong thing.
By the way if you are interested in getting your own DNA test, DNAfit is currently on sale at about 40% off. It’s well worth the price, will save you years of effort and potentially thousands of dollars in medical bills.