Carbohydrates, fats, and protein are known as the energy-yielding nutrients. These are the dietary components your body can actually break down to create molecules of energy known as ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). While many diet plans emphasize focusing on one macronutrient over the others, a healthy diet represents balanced intake from all three groups. Lets take a quick look at each macronutrient and how it impacts energy levels.
Carbs: Carbohydrates are often seen as your body’s preferred source of energy because they can most easily be broken down to create ATP. In fact, for several of your body’s tissues, including your brain, carbohydrates are actually the main source of fuel.
Simple carbohydrates, such as white bread, cookies, and anything made with refined flour, provide the body with a rapid rush of energy as they are quickly metabolized for fuel. Unfortunately, this energy rush is often followed by a fall in blood sugar, felt by the individual as an energy crash (and of course, hunger). On the other hand, a diet high in complex carbohydrates – whole grains, fruits, and vegetables – can offer unlimited health benefits. These carbohydrate sources contain dietary fiber, which provides a slower release of energy and contributes to feelings of fullness and satiety.
Fats: Just like carbohydrates, fat has received some negative publicity when it comes to a healthy diet. However, fat is actually the most energy-sustaining nutrient since it provides 9 kilocalories (kcals) per gram (protein and carbohydrates only provide 4 each). Fat is also digested more slowly and when consumed correctly, can help provide a steady, slow release of energy and contribute to feelings of fullness.
Much like carbohydrates, when incorporating fat into your diet it is important to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy fat sources. While saturated and hydrogenated fats can negatively affect health, omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish, can contribute to neurological and cardiovascular health.
Protein: Unlike fats and carbohydrates, protein is often touted as the healthiest of the macronutrients. It is true that protein, in addition to providing a source for energy production, is also required for the makeup of skeletal muscle and enzymes. Consuming meals high in protein can support lean body mass as well as contribute to satiety and blood sugar control. Food sources high in protein include meats and poultry, legumes, nuts, and quinoa.
While no one food choice is the best for supporting energy levels, a balanced combination of macronutrients which provide a high dose of micronutrients, including B vitamins and other supportive nutrients, will give your body the nourishment it needs.
For us marathon runners a balance between the right amount of carbs, protein and fats will lead to successful races and hopefully getting beyond the “wall.”
Keep Your Immune System Working Right
General cold and flu symptoms include malaise, loss of appetite, physical and mental fatigue, and aches and pains. The scientific term for these symptoms is the acute phase response, which is caused when the immune system actively releases excess amounts of certain inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, the most well-known of which are interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor (TNF).
With this in mind, consider a time when you were psychologically stressed by an event or series of events and you developed cold/flu symptoms – the acute phase response. What appears to happen is that psychologically stressful situations themselves activate the immune system in a similar fashion as viruses; inflammatory cytokines are produced in excess, which causes an acute phase response that we misinterpret as “catching a cold virus.”
Researchers have also uncovered that there is interplay between diet, psychological stressors, and pro-inflammatory immune activation. Stressful events such as taking a difficult academic oral examination lead to an increase in immune activity. The pro-inflammatory acute phase response appears to be greater in students with elevated blood levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and with low blood levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
An additional dietary factor that promotes inflammation is overeating. We typically view overeating as merely a means by which we put on additional body fat; however, it turns out that immediately after overeating, we create a pro-inflammatory immune response that includes the excess production of the same cytokines that cause the acute phase response.
It should not be a surprise that key supplements are those that reduce inflammation and thus, help to reduce the chemistry associated with an acute phase response. Here are a few examples:
* Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory functions and thus can support a healthy immune response.
* Many spices: Not surprisingly, most spices have multiple anti-inflammatory mechanisms of action, which is likely why they offer some immune-supportive benefits.
* Magnesium: Intravenous magnesium has been shown to alleviate symptoms in acute and chronic asthma. Most Americans are known to be deficient in magnesium, which may contribute to the expression of a host of diseases.
* Probiotics are supplemental bacteria that are beneficial to the gastrointestinal system. Research has demonstrated that probiotics reduce intestinal and overall body inflammation and support a healthy immune response.
* Vitamin D: Adequate vitamin D levels are needed to help the body make a natural antibiotic called cathelicidin. In one study, subjects who took 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day for one year virtually eliminated self-reported incidence of colds and flu.
So when considering the immune system and nutrition, the focus should be on avoiding the foods that promote inflammation and focusing on the foods that reduce inflammation. The best supplements to support a healthy immune response include fish oil, vitamin C, herbs like ginger and garlic, magnesium, probiotics and vitamin D. Always talk to your doctor before taking any supplement for the first time, particularly if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking prescription medication.