A few drops of blood can reveal an amazing amount of information -- from your internal make-up to food tolerance.
An informative excerpt from Ayesha Billimoria and Dhvani Solani's Run! The Ultimate Mind-Body Fitness Guide.
1. Get an insight into your personal blood markers
Each of us has a unique nutrition blueprint.
In the past, we used to push the fact that all athletes -- because they are performance-based individuals -- should only be on one type of diet, which was a high-carbohydrate diet.
We felt that was the most efficient fuelling mechanism for all athletes.
However, now that there is better understanding and information available on fitness nutrition, we know that blood markers can offer greater visibility into athletes.
The key markers we look at include the HbA1c test and the fasting insulin plasma test.
The HbA1c test is a very accurate marker of blood glucose that is bound to your haemoglobin.
Together with the fasting plasma insulin test, it gives you an indication of how well you can control your blood sugar levels.
You need to look into this especially if you have a family history of diabetes.
If your HbA1c (blood glucose) is too high (< 5.7 per cent) and your fasting insulin levels are either too high or too low, and you still go out and fuel yourself on carbohydrates for energy, then chances are you might become a type-2 diabetic.
There is a long-term responsibility as well as a short-term performance responsibility when you are a runner.
When we look at diets, we need to look at what kind of athletic performance people are undertaking -- whether they are endurance athletes or speed-and-power athletes (endurance athletes are the ones who run over 1,500 metres, while the speed athletes are the ones who run under 1,500 metres).
For speed and power, there is significant evidence to show that a glucose-driven nutrition profile will be more beneficial for performance.
However in sports that are of a longer duration than 1.5 to 2 hours (endurance sports like long-distance running), evidence shows that athletes will perform better on a lower glucose diet, ie a diet that is low in carbohydrates and higher in healthy fats.
Your body only has the ability to use a certain amount of glucose in the form of glycogen in your muscles, roughly amounting to a 90 minute supply of energy.
Once depleted, you need to restock it exogenously -- by eating or taking something during your performance to keep going.
However, for your long-duration performances like marathons, you are far more efficient from an energy perspective through a fat-fuelled diet.
A few drops of blood can reveal an amazing amount of information -- from your internal make-up to your food tolerance.
Get your tests done before determining your diet.
2. Keep those processed sugars at bay
When it comes to nutrition, an athlete's biggest enemy is inflammation.
Now, you always knew that processed sugar was bad for you, but apart from all the other terrible things it does to your body, one of the biggest reasons you need to cut it out is that it's extremely inflammatory.
If you have high levels of insulin in your body from processing high levels of blood sugars all the time, it means that your system will be constantly inflamed.
As a result, it will perform poorly and be susceptible to injuries.
My key advice to anybody -- be it beginner or elite athletes -- is that you should never be fuelling your system with sugars or processed forms of carbohydrates.
Cut out those cookies, instant noodles, pasta, breakfast cereals, pastries, breads and sodas.
3. Let the bulk of what you eat be 'real food'
If what you eat/drink has comes out of a packet, is squeezed out of a tube or is drunk from a bottle, then it's not 'real food'.
Ask yourself this: did it grow on a tree, come from a plant or was it dug out of the ground, fished or hunted? If the answer is yes, then it's real food.
And that's what you should be eating.
You should also be eating what our bodies, over generations, have been conditioned to eat.
Look at what your grandparents ate -- especially in the Indian context.
We need to move away from a lot of Western dietary advice and go back to traditional methods that were seen in India.
Incorporate ghee, ragi, bajra and other such Indian alternatives in your daily diet.
4. Drink according to your thirst
'Hydrate!' 'Drink more water!' 'Drink x glasses of water every day!' 'If you're thirsty, it's already too late!' We keep hearing these panic statements, but in reality, we must drink in response to thirst.
Let your internal thirst mechanism tell you that you need to drink water, and how much water, rather than following some standardised formula.
Our obsession with hydration puts us at a risk of water intoxication, which can have serious repercussions like nausea, cramps, vomiting and fatigue.
Tim Noakes, author of Lore Of Running and Waterlogged, believes that we've been sold a 'dehydration myth'.
This myth says that all athletes must remain hydrated.
In reality, while dehydration might be uncomfortable, it's hardly dangerous.
More athletes have died of hyponatremia and water intoxication (caused by drinking too much water) than dehydration.
The must-drink-up-or-else paranoia might just have been floated by the bottled water and sport drinks industry.
So how much should you be drinking? It's highly personal, but the answer lies in you finding out what quantity it is that quenches your thirst.
5. Do not lean on running if losing weight is your primary goal
You can never out-argue the benefits of running, but if you're doing so to lose weight without watching what you eat, then you're deluding yourself.
A calorie is not just a calorie -- what sort of calorie you're putting into your body makes all the difference.
For example, 100 calories of nuts is very different from a 100 calories of sugar -- your body does completely different things with those two.
Nuts are good fats, while sugar is a bad fat that slows down the process of release of energy.
6. Add supplements to your diets cautiously
Supplementation is relevant to your system only if you are deficient in something.
Otherwise, you're not just wasting money by consuming supplements but can also overload your system.
If your Vitamin D3 levels are fine but you keep supplementing it, then you could be overloading your system.
I know of people who have destroyed their livers and kidneys to the extent of dialysis because they've overloaded on protein supplements or fat burners.
These can virtually destroy your system.
First determine if you do have a deficit of some sort.
Always remember to consider the long-term health implications of the decisions you make today.
Excerpted from Run! The Ultimate Mind-Body Fitness Guide by Ayesha Billimoria and Dhvani Solani, with the kind permission of the publishers, Hachette India.