Experience has demonstrated to me that excessive-athletic training can be depleting to the body through a number of mechanisms. It is for this reason that in my nutritional consulting practice I recommend maximizing one’s nutrition practice before engaging in athletic programs. If you are someone who is physically active and engage in regular athletic performance, consider that by maximizing your nutrition practice, you can not only maximize your performance, but you will protect and prevent many of the problems encountered by other athletes.
This article is going to discuss two primary factors that appear in people who may be engaging in excessive athletic activity: electrolyte depletion and excessive catabolism.
It is frightening that many athletes want to get down to very low body fat and body weight. It is common practice in some athletic circles to intentionally dehydrate oneself to meet certain body weight requirements for competition, or to achieve that cut physique appearance. I remember in high school, the wrestlers spitting all day long in order to get down to body weight. This type of training never appealed to me, partly because it doesn’t seem healthy, and also because I consider health to be more important than ego driven athletic performance.
Electrolyte & Mineral Depletion
Sweating is beneficial to the body for a number of reasons: sweating is the result of increased circulation, increased body heat, and sweat is also a secondary elimination pathway for toxic metals such as mercury and lead. Some studies even demonstratedthat sweat can increase the excretion of certain toxic metals in greater amounts than urinary excretion.
Research indicates that sweating results in the loss of nutrient minerals as well, particularly sodium, chloride, manganese, zinc, iron and copper. Excessive sweating can induce mineral and electrolyte depletion.
Sodium, Chloride, Zinc, HCL & Digestion
Gastric acid is made primarily from hydrogen, sodium, chloride and zinc. A basic blood chemistry test will reveal the status of electrolyte activity. It is quite common for high performance athletes who sweat excessively to be depleted of the cationic and anionic derivatives of gastric acid. Additionally, blood chemistry factors which involve zinc status, such as the enzyme alkaline phosphatase (ALP) are also commonly low among athletes.
It is no surprise that many athletes have digestion-related issues.
Sodium is an essential electrolyte, which plays an important role with adrenal output.Zinc activates hundreds of enzyme reactions in the body, including those related to the production of digestive enzymes, glucose homeostasis and androgenic sex hormones such as testosterone.
Excessive training can place a load on the adrenal gland’s output of cortisol. If mineral levels are depleted and are not appropriately replenished, a concomitant cascade of digestive malfunction coupled with a loss of hormone synthesis and HPA axis dysfunction can ensue.
At this point the athletic individual may not be obtaining the results he/she wishes to be obtaining and not understand why. Continuing with the excessive workout regimen, the individual continues to break down tissue and lose essential nutrients through sweat and urinary excretion. At a certain point, the system breaks down and can’t handle the demand for energy production in the cells. So much for health and athletics.
This is an example of what could happen in one instance of athletic depletion.
Catabolism & Weight Training
Catabolism is the metabolic process of breakdown. According to research, catabolism involves the release of certain immune-mediated, pro-inflammatory fatty acids, such as leukotriene and E2 prostaglandin. When released by immune cells, these fatty acids oxidize with incredible speed generating free radical activity. The breakdown of tissue ensues.
When a person lifts a heavy load of weight, muscle fibers are being broken down, which is catabolic. When there is excessive catabolism, cells are highly permeable. As a result, the intracellular potassium may leak into serum causing elevated blood levels of potassium.
Common clinical findings among those with excessive muclse breakdown are elevated levels of the enzyme alanine aminotransferase (ALT). ALT functions to transport ammonia from muscle degeneration to the liver. Oftentimes if this enzyme is elevated, there may be other indicators of liver distress, such as elevated Bilirubin values, or low levels of triglycerides and cholesterol.
Cholesterol and triglycerides both have regenerative, “anabolic” effects in the body. All muscles burn triglycerides as a fuel source. If digestive issues are present, dietary fats may not be well synthesized, and as such may be poorly converted into triglycerides.
A common clinical finding among individuals with excessive catabolism are low levels of cholesterol, and sometimes triglycerides. Remember that it is cholesterol which serves as the primary precursor to ALL of the steroidal hormones, such as cortisol, DHEA, estrogen and testosterone.
So for athletes breaking down excessive muscle fiber through weight training, remember that a slip into a catabolic state, and/or electrolyte depletion can become very harmful. Therefore, improving upon anabolic functions and electrolyte status by supplying the body with the raw materials for health is essential.