Monday, May 28, 2012

My Top 10 "Power" Training Foods

"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest her or his patients in the care of the human frame, in a proper diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease." ~ Thomas Edison

I get asked a lot what my favorite "training foods" are. Yes, I do have some, and I highly recommend any athlete incorporate these foods, regularly, into their diet. I will offer information on the therapeutic qualities of these foods, from both a Chinese dietary perspective, and also a western nutrition background. These foods have been used over the centuries by athlete-warriors of the day, from different cultures. Their time-tested ability to increase endurance, power, and muscle mass are tried and true.

1.) LIVER: You be hard-pressed to find a better nutritional "powerhouse" of B-complex. In combination, its one of the top sources of B12, B6 and folate in the world. It provides over 388% of the daily recommended dose of vit. A, and could be considered one of the highest anti-oxidant foods in the world. In addition, its packed with heme-iron (ladies, ever been told you're low in iron?), and amino acids, the building blocks for strength and metabolism.

From a Chinese dietary therapy perspective, beef liver is said to strengthen the liver organ itself, in the person who eats it.  Its commonly used in the treatment of eye conditions such as blurred vision, night blindness, glaucoma and optic nerve atrophy.

 Its traditional use, in a variety of cultures, from the Plains Native Americans to the Masai in Africa, cannot be underestimated. It was considered the food par excellence for the warrior and games athletes of Greece and Sparta.

Masai Warrior Eating Liver To Prepare Himself For The Hunt (Narok, Kenya)

2)  Royal Jelly:  What's good enough for the queen bee is good enough for you.  Royal jelly is considered just that, a food for the "royals."  Its the food of infant bees and the sole food of the queen bee.  Bee pollen is often touted as a staple for energy.  Royal jelly is an energy nutritive also, but to a much more substantial degree than pollen.

It is considered an endocrine tonic unrivaled, and thereby has a tonic effect on all endocrine glands (thyroid, adrenals, and reproductive).  Its reputation for its anti-aging, libido, and endurance producing effects are known across the globe.  Its loaded with a broad spectrum of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

In Chinese medicine, royal jelly has been used for centuries  in the treatment of malnutrition in children, for arthritis, leukemia, and wasting diseases.

Modern naturopathic medicine has found it to be powerful in stimulating the growth of glial cells and neural stem cells in the brain.

Royal Jelly

3)  Eggs:  Like most things in western cuisine, the American public have formed a love/hate relationship with eggs.  You no longer have to.  Eggs are one of the best protein, fat-soluable vitamin, and amino acid sources available.  The way you can get maximum benefit from your eggs are by following these tips:

-Cooked white, runny yolks (over-easy, or very lightly soft-boiled)
-Buy organic, free-range, farm fresh

I eat a lot of eggs every day.  In Oregon, the winters can get dark and dreary.  The fresh, brightly colored yolk is a wonderful way to get an edible dose of vit. D in your diet.  The farther north of equator you live, the more you need edible vit. D., since you're not getting as much from the sunlight as you actually need.

Vit. D is now being touted as the "anti-cancer vitamin."  It regulates hormones, mood, gives hair, nail and skin a lustrous shine, and prevents S.A.D. ("Seasonal Affective Disorder").  For a woman trying to conceive, vit. D is vital to conception, and proper neurological and bone health of the baby.

Ancient bodybuilders, the world over, have put raw egg yolks in their protein supplement shakes.  As long as you source your eggs well, this should not be a problem.  I've been doing this for years.  I also take painstaking measures to ingest the best eggs possible.  Quality counts.  I would not consume raw egg yolks from a factory-farmed egg.

In Chinese medicine eggs have a "neutral" thermal nature, thereby not aggravating any condition of heat (hot flashes, fevers, etc.) or cold (chills, poor circulation, etc.).  Eggs are used as a blood and yin tonic (builder).  They are recommended to "secure" the fetus (when there has been a tendency to miscarry), and are said to be calming for the fetus demonstrating excess movement in the womb.  Eggs are said to moisten the upper body, specifically, and are therefore, also recommended, for dryness of the lungs, throat, and eyes.  Eggs have been used, for thousands of years in Eastern medicine for the person with a dry, thin or anemic constitution.

The protein in eggs is consistent, and dense in such a small item.  In addition, the lecithin in the egg yolk is "built-in" to help the body absorb the vital fat-soluable vitamins within the fat of the yolk.  Lecithin has been shown to assist with neurological/brain health, and to benefit the following disorders:  ADD/ADHD, prevention of/post stroke, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and M.S.   So, eat those eggs, and enjoy the many benefits they bring to your training.

Over Easy Eggs

4.)  Sweet Potatoes:  Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite staple foods.  They're filled with fiber (and therefore fill you up quickly!), are versatile to cook/bake with, and are loved by young and old alike You can make desserts out of them, main dishes, potato salads, and even use them as a base for smoothies.

Sweet potatoes have been used as a low-glycemic answer to the high-carbohydrate white, "Russet" potato by athletes for years.  You will feel more satiated with a sweet potato vs. a "Russet" potato, and will notice your portion sizes decreasing, when you add them into your diet.

In Chinese medicine, sweet potatoes are said to "promote Qi," and to "cool the body."  This can be useful, during the recovery phase of training, when the body has been overheated, for a period of time, during training.  Sweet potatoes rejuvenate the body, and build the yin capacity to tonify the adrenal glands (the endocrine glands responsible for cortisol, your "fight-or-flight" hormone").  They benefit inflamed, dry conditions (eczema, psoriasis, dry, itchy, scaly skin, etc.).  Sweet potatoes are also used to treat the perpetually thin, frail, convalescent and/or geriatric individual.  They can increase quantity of milk in lactating women, if there is a decrease, and also strengthen the spleen-pancreas complex (responsible for insulin regulation in Eastern medicine).

Sweet potato is a nutritional powerhouse of vit. A., and has been used in western and African folk remedies, in combination with liver (see food #1) for night blindness.

Two Young Japanese Girls Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

5.)  Quinoa:  Many people think of quinoa as a grain, but botanically speaking, it is a seed.  Quinoa is a virtual powerhouse of nutritionIt has grown in the South American Andes for thousands of years, and thrives in high, cold altitudes.  It was the staple food of the Incan warriors, and is a cousin of the amaranth seed (staple of the Maya and Aztec warriors).

It is considered "warming" in nature, from a Chinese dietary therapy perspective.  It is therefore useful for the frail, cold constitution, or for the person inhabiting cold climates.  It is considered strengthening for the whole body, and specifically tonifies the adrenal "yang Qi" (your source of will, drive and power).  It has as much protein as turkey, and is an excellent source of phosphorous, iron and vit. E.  In addition, it has as much calcium as milk, and is quite high in omega-3 fatty acids (which are anti-inflammatory).

It comes in many color varieties, and can be made into a "gruel," ground into flour, or prepared like a grain.

Red & White Quinoa

6.)  Watermelon:  Watermelon has long been known as a "hydration fruit."  For the overheated, overexerted athlete, nothing sounds better than a slice of watermelon after a long, hot run or athletic event.  

Watermelon, and its various parts, can be prepared in a variety of ways.  The rind is rich in silicon, and can be juiced or made into a tea to effectively reduce high blood pressure (1 ounce, 2-3x daily).  

The seeds, when dried, can be decocted and made into a tea.  They are a natural diuretic (assisting those with kidney issues), and contain cucurbocitrin, a compound which dilates cappillaires, also assisting high blood pressure.

Watermelon is said to be "cooling" to the body, in Chinese medicine, and has been used for centuries to "remove heat from the pericardium" (preventing sudden heatstroke, or even "unexplained death" during an athletic match in young people).  Watermelon removes edema from the lower body, diminishes canker sores, lifts depression, and effectively treats kidney and bladder infections, such as nephritis and urethritis.

Watermelon is often used as a food, for the athlete-in-training, to soothe carbohydrate cravings.  It offers a healthy dose of vit. C (39% of your daily value), and an abundance of potassium, magnesium, and manganese (all vital electrolytes).

Watermelon, Cool & Refreshing

7.)  Pistachios:  Many experts, in recent years have touted the "Mediterranean Diet."  Looking at the lean meats, fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts they eat, has proven to promote longevity in Adriatic regions.

The pistachio comes from this part of the world.  Long a staple of Syria, the Middle East, Crete, and Greece, the pistachio was to be found in the knap-sacks of weary travelers coming/going to the "Holy Land" on pilgrimage.

Pistachio nut trees were said to be found in the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon" in 700 B.C.  We can trace its ancient roots to Bedouin tribes of the Middle East, and northern Africa, eating it for fuel during their long desert treks in the blistering sun.

Pistachios are considered an important tonic for the entire body, and all vital organs, in Ayurvedic medicine.  They have a particular tonic effect on the liver and kidneys, and are said to assist with regularity.

Iran is the highest cultivator of pistachios, and prize pistachios in their national cuisine.

In December 2008, Dr. James Painter, a behavioral eating expert, professor and chair of School of Family and Consumer Sciences at Eastern Illinois University, described the Pistachio Principle. The Pistachio Principle describes methods of "fooling" one's body into eating less. One example used is that the act of shelling and eating pistachios one by one slows one's consumption, allowing one to feel full faster after having eaten less.

Pistachios Being Grown In Iran

8.)  Buffalo:  Buffalo is a traditional food of the Plains Native Americans.  It is a lean meat that is easy to digest, and loaded with protein.  

Due to the fact, that buffaloes are not factory-farmed animals, and are regulated by strict hunting/raising laws, they are a clean, good meat source to add into one's diet.

"Wasna" (meaning "all mixed up") was the traditional "trail-mix" or "pemmican" of the Lakota Sioux and Arapahoe natives.  Renowned for being fierce warriors, and great hunters, the Native people packed "wasna" into buffalo horns to be eaten, during the long sojourns for the hunt.

"Wasna" was a combination of dried berries (the "choke berry" of the Plains was most commonly used), pounded and mixed with dried buffalo meat and buffalo kidney fat.  This perfect combination of fat/protein/carbs was enough to sustain the greatest warriors of the Plains.

The Plains natives, were chronicled by early explorers and Medical Anthropologists as being some of the "greatest in stature, healthy, long-lived people you will meet."  Their robust frame, strong bones, and hardy countenance were said to be from the adequate protein that the buffalo specifically provided them.  

The buffalo is so important to the Plains Native Americans that their mythology, stories, and dances are cultivated around its calving and hunting seasons.

Lakota Sioux Hunting Buffalo

9.)  Avocados:  Avocados are largely thought of as native to the Polynesian or Caribbean islands, but in fact, they are from Mexico.  Avocados are a rich source of mono-saturated fat (80% of its caloric content), and are a higher potassium source than bananas.

In addition, they are rich in vits. E and K, and are a good source of soluble fiber.

In Chinese medicine they are said to build/tonify the blood and yin, "harmonize" the liver, and lubricate dry lungs and intestines.

Avocados are rich in copper, which aids in red blood cell formation.  An easily digestible protein source, avocados are good for people with weak digestion.  They're also indicated in intestinal inflammatory disorders:  IBS, Crohn's, ulcers, gastroenteritis, diverticulitis, etc.


10)  Seaweed:  If you come from Celtic, Saxon, Norse, Welsh, French or Pict ancestral lines, then your ancestors ate seaweed...and a lot of it.  Most Americans associate seaweed with being an Oriental food, but it was a staple of Viking warriors from long ago.  Carried in vats, on the powerful Viking ships, to replenish precious electrolytes and salt, seaweed is often known as a "sea vegetable."

Seaweed stabilizes blood sugar (probably pretty important for those powerful Viking rowers!).  It curbs cravings, re-establishes electrolyte balance, and normalizes fluids in the body (think edema).

Seaweed is said, in Chinese medicine, to detoxify the body of all excess radiation and heavy metals, clean the lymphatic system, stabilize metabolism, alkalize the blood (vital post-workout), heal the thyroid, and regulate endocrine/hormonal balance.

Seaweed contains a mucilaginous, soothing gel-like substance that heals the G.I.. tract, and inflammatory conditions associated with it (similar to avocado in this regard).  All varieties of seaweed are a wealth of minerals, vitamins, and amino acids, and are exceptionally high in iodine, calcium and iron.  In addition, seaweed is also one of the few good sources of flourine, a halogen that boosts the body's defenses and strengthens the teeth and bones.


I hope you consider using my top 10 favorite "powerfoods" in your nutrition plan.  You will notice an increase in energy, athletic endurance, and overall health.

"The sages follow the laws of nature, and therefore their bodies are free from strange diseases.  They do not lose any of their natural functions, and their spirit of life is never exhausted."

~"Huangdi NeiJing, The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine,"

*Excerpts from "Healing With Whole Foods," by Paul Pritchford, "Chinese Dietary Therapy," by Chi-Lin LiU & "WikiPedia"