Re-Assessing Nutrition, Part 1

I had the privilege of growing up during a period in which many sacred cows of nutrition became the focus of much scrutiny.

Many people may not remember, but not too long ago, (a) world-class athletes were sold on high protein/low carbohydrate diets; (b) coaches almost universally gave out salt tablets to athletes before games and practice; (c) it was not uncommon for professional teams to drink beer after games to rehydrate; (e) marathon runners–in order to “carbo load”–ate lots of sugary foods for the carbo-boost.

Today, those practices are sacrilege. While protein still gets a lot of hype–largely due to Atkins-mania–athletes are re-discovering the benefits of complex carbs. Salt tablets have given way to electrolyte replacers that go lighter on salt and provide more balance. Beer is now understood to be a DEHYDRATING agent. And marathon runners are looking more at gels (Hammer Gel, GU) and other products that provide complex carbohydrates prior to competition.

It is arguable that tennis stars Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl–and 6-time Ironman champion Dave Scott–provided the impetus for that nutrition revolution.

Lendl and Navratilova embraced the high complex carbohydrate/low protein approach of Robert Haas, and became the most dominant players in their sports. Navratilova–once an overweight underachiever–became the fittest player in the history of women’s tennis; Lendl held the #1 spot on the men’s tour for a record 270 weeks; Scott was similar in his approach–although he was a strict vegetarian. He would win six Ironman World Championships. (An Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim AND a 112-mile bike ride AND a full marathon of 26.2-miles.)

I followed a lot of that, and–after letting my fitness slip for a few years in the 1990s–embraced that path as I reached fitness levels I had not even realized in my high school days. I know many other athletes–especially marathoners and ultrarunners–who have taken this approach. For serious endurance athletes, it’s darn close to standard.

A couple months ago, an acquaintance of mine who is in the same spin class gave me a book to read that challenged him: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Caldwell Esselstyn, MD. In it, Esselstyn–a renowned former Cleveland Clinic surgeon, combat surgeon in Vietnam, and Olympic Gold Medalist (rowing, 1958)–makes the case that, with a vegan approach, heart disease can be prevented and even reversed. The thrust of his book was his own study–during his Cleveland Clinic days–of a set of cardiac patients who had advanced heart disease. He put them on a total plant-based (vegan) diet, and the success was overwhelming.

The study wasn’t perfect–there was no “control” group. But still, his results are nothing to sneeze at. He had my attention.

I also noticed that the forward for his book was written by T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study. A friend of mine–KM, who is a physician–recommended that I read that book as it is one of her favorites. So I read it, too.

I’ve had many conversations with KM over the years. And she, like Campbell, lamented that physicians do not get a lot of nutrition training. While she is not a vegan, she appreciates the principles that Campbell provides, and has adopted many of them.

Personally, I loathe most vegetarians, especially the envirowackos who are out to castigate anyone who eats chicken, fish, beef, or pork. I have no use for those types.

Still, I’m all about mitigating my controllable risks, and Campbell and Esselstyn provide a good case for anyone with known heart disease/cancer risks who wants to control those risks without medical approaches.

In part 2, I’ll discuss why I agree with Campbell and Esselstyn. (Hint: The “correlation does not equal causation” argument only goes so far.)

10 thoughts on “Re-Assessing Nutrition, Part 1

  1. diets are a huge ‘hot’ topic, in more ways than one.

    with my daughter’s special needs, i’ve been given a lot of ‘advice’ over the years concerning her diet. it’s interesting that often the info for one of her diagnoses conflicts with the info for another one. so we mix-match. and i’m always researching and expanding info and knowledge that will specifically help her. i’ve found it’s not just ONE thing, it’s a lot of things … not simply ONE piece to a puzzle, but multiple pieces to a complex puzzle.

    there are some things that seem to be consistant for her/us … the closer to it’s natural form the better … no artificial sweeteners. period. … balance her nutrition and keep the protein/iron foods balanced in her system.

    it amazes me that some don’t see the correlation between what we ‘feed’ our brains and bodies and how well we perform at life. i think some people survive well no matter what. but with all the issues we deal with in her life, there is a distinct link between what she eats and how well she performs. there have been many a night she has woken me to fix her eggs – her body is craving the protein and nutrition so much that she is woken up and will be sick if she doesn’t eat.

    her balance is very complex and always a fine line.

  2. Recons Dad,
    There you go again, blaming the victim. I should have the right to eat all the twinkies and beer I want and not get fat or suffer from malnutrition. Who are you to tell me that my eating choices are causing my body to perform less than optimally? Next you will be telling me I have to wear a coat in the winter to prevent hypothermia. Ludite.

  3. but, didn’t you know … if you eat twinkies all the time you will be preserved? and if you just force your brain to believe that it’s not cold in the winter, coats will never be necessary!

  4. There’s alot of disagreement about nutrition.

    But this is for sure-our jobs and commutes are killing us from the hours of sitting! I now work on all my computer stuff while standing up. It’s not yet week one. I will soon know if it makes a difference.

    The graphis are really fun: RT @mashable Just How Dangerous Is Sitting All Day? [INFOGRAPHIC] http://t.co/c6CM61q

  5. @Hale just because I presented the idea that the feminists hold a view of “blaming the victim” doesn’t mean it applies to every situation…

    Unless we were to say that were are victims of sedentary jobs and communting. That’s supposed to be a joke, people.

    Knowledge is power in this scenario, and they can make some changes that will help across the board.

  6. @Savvy
    Having a sedentary job definitely hurts. That is how weight creeps up on many of us: if you are active in your college years, and then go to a sedentary job, you could easily end up eating the same as you did on an active routine, only with less activity.

    It could seem totally innocuous, but I had one year–1996–in which I gained about 20 pounds that way!

    Making matters worse, as you get older your metabolism starts dropping. When I was in college, I could easily lose 10 pounds in a month if I needed to. Today, it would take me about 3 months to lose that.

    I’m not sure how much of a tradeoff you’re going to get from standing rather than sitting. It may be worth a try.

    Personally, I’d recommend–assuming your physical ailments aren’t prohibitive–getting an hour of cardio and some light strength work about 4 or 5 times a week.

  7. I’m going to start a bit slower than that and work up to that eventual goal. My chance of reinjury is quite high and some of my injuries are prohibitive.

    I wish they would teach these basic things in high school classes. Many people develop eating habits based on a high school athletic schedule. And yes, once that level of activity is gone, it leaves a great any people mystified as to why they are gaining weight. Awareness is key.

  8. @Savvy
    Savvy always knows best, doesn’t she?

    This is yet another instance in which you fail to heed reproof and/or correction. You fail to exercise humility. It’s always someone else’s fault.

    We’re getting wearing of reading your B.S. . So, once again you will be asked to either (1) Contribute productively/exercise humility in the conversation or (2) Go away.

    I do child care. I’m in no mood to listen to mindless rambling. Adults should know better.

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