Peak physical performance is the goal of every athlete. Proper training is of vital importance to achieve this goal. But keep in mind that while exercise moves the body, food not only fuels the body but actually makes the body.
We’ve all heard the analogy about needing to eat good food for high-energy fuel just as our cars need good gasoline. But a living organism is quite different from a car. Our fuel literally makes and remakes our bodies as we grow, metabolize, tear down, and ultimately rebuild our bodies on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly cycle. After several year’s time, you will have replaced virtually every cell and other component that makes up your body! And what are those made up of? Everything you eat. So the adage is true: “You are what you eat!”
Nutritional Components of Peak Performance
Why is this significant? Because to achieve peak physical performance, you need “high-octane” fuel for peak energy and high-quality fuel for building and maintaining your physical “machine.”
“High-octane” refers to the amount of energy that can be derived from the food eaten. We know that carbohydrates are important in creating short-term energy or fuel, while fats create a more sustained long-term energy source. Proteins work more in the area of building and rebuilding. So how do we go about getting the highest quality carbohydrates, fats, and proteins available?
The Search for the Best Foods for the Human Body
Flashback: When I was growing up, my grandmother Louise was a “health nut.” She read Prevention magazine, talked about foods that were “poisons,” such as sugar, and touted “miracle foods,” such as brewer’s yeast and blackstrap molasses (which she added to her cereal every morning). Everyone in our family thought she was a fanatic–except me, because Grandma Louise was the most positive, energetic person I knew, and I wanted to be just like her! Grandma loved life so much that she wanted to live forever (or at least to be 100!).
So I would constantly ask Grandma about different foods and whether they were “good for you” or “bad for you.” She would then explain to me the virtues and pitfalls of all the foods I asked about. I was so relentless with my questions that one day, frustrated, she gave up and said, “Roy, if it’s food, it’s good–don’t worry about it, just eat it!”
As I grew up, my interest in health and nutrition grew and eventually became my profession. The questions I had asked my grandmother were now being asked of me by my patients and clients. Life had come around full circle, and I could see that it was my destiny to help people answer this question once and for all: “How do you figure out which foods are the best (and the worst) for peak performance and for preventing disease?”
Creating the System to Identify the Best Foods
What I came up with is a new twist on a concept called “nutrient density.” Nutrient density is the critical analysis that determines the quality of any food. How does it work? Well, nutrient density is the amount of nutrition per calorie. The more nutrition in the fewer calories, the better a food really is.
Here are some examples: Orange juice has a lot of vitamin C, as well as some vitamin A, folic acid, thiamin, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. It has only 80 calories per serving. A McDonald’s Big Mac has some B vitamins, vitamin A, and protein–and 700 calories. See the difference? It’s the ratio of calories to nutrients that’s particularly important. At the end of the day, you want to have packed as much nutrition into your calories as possible.
My twist is this: Not only does the Big Mac have less nutrition per calorie, it also has unhealthful things in it such as cholesterol, saturated fat, and total fat, which over time will have negative effects on the body. For that reason, the ideal system should measure how much “good” AND “bad” are in each food per calorie. Nutrient density measures only the good. Over a 10-year period of refinements and working with specialists, we created the best overall food-rating system.
The food analysis tracks 18 positive factors, or “essentials,” and eight negative factors, or “excessives,” in any given food to yield one number that tells you how good or bad that food is. The higher that number, the better the food. Eat at least 100 of these “nutritional points” from six food groups each day, and you will get all the nutrients you need while limiting the “negatives.”
When I applied the analysis to a host of foods, there were some big surprises. Would you have guessed that a quarter of a cantaloupe scores 29 points, while an apple gets only 4.5? The simple explanation is that an apple is not packed with high nutrition; it’s a good food, but the quarter of a cantaloupe has 50 times the vitamin A, 10 times the vitamin C, and more of virtually every other significant nutrient than the apple. Maybe the motto should be “a cantaloupe a day!”
Let’s look at some other comparisons. Two cups of spinach rate 75 points, but an equal amount of iceberg lettuce scores only 18! Two slices of whole-wheat bread outscore white bread by a 6 to 2.5 margin, and cooked broccoli chalks up 38.5 points compared to 8.5 in a baked potato.
Once you have been introduced to this concept, it becomes sort of a numbers game. The system even includes negative scores for those foods that contain more excessives than essentials–like that Big Mac, at -2.
Cellular Peak Performance
Why is my system’s twist on nutrient density so important? Because we will all eat a certain number of calories every day, and we need to pack in as much positive (the essentials) and the least negative (the excessives) per calorie as possible for optimal cell function.
Optimal function means peak performance. Peak performance of every cell means peak performance of your whole body. To operate at peak efficiency, your body needs the best nutrition at the cellular level. The best way to get this is through eating foods that are highly nutrient-dense and have a low density of harmful components.
Let’s look at some of the top-rated foods in a few of the major food groups, sports drinks, and snack bars:
1/4 Cantaloupe 34.0
1 Guava 29.0
1/2 Papaya 20.5
1 c Strawberries 19.0
1/2 Mango 17.5
2 c Fresh Spinach 75.0
1 c Fresh Broccoli 53.5
2 c Romaine Lettuce 47.5
8 pc Fresh Asparagus 44.0
1 c Fresh Cauliflower 40.5
1 c Whole Wheat Total(R) Cereal 64.5*
1 c Total(R) Corn Flakes 57.5*
1 c Product 19(R) Cereal 56.0*
2/3 c Just Right(R) Cereal 51.0*
1/2 c All-Bran(R) Extra Fiber Cereal 40.5*
1 c Nonfat Yogurt 10.0
1 c Skim Milk 9.5
1/2 c Tuna 8.0
1 Vegetarian Burger 7.5
1/4 c Egg Whites 6.0
1/2 c Lowfat Cottage Cheese 4.5
1 c Juice Plus+ Complete(R) Drink 31.0*
1 c MET-Rx(R) Total Nutrition Milk Drink 23.0*
1 c ZonePerfect(R) Shake Mix 22.5*
1 c Myoplex(R) Milk Drink 21.0*
2 c Fresh Bean Sprouts (mung) 18.0
1/2 c Egg Beaters(R) Egg Substitute 17.5*
Kul Fuel(R) 22.0*
Ultima Replenisher(R) 16.0*
AminoVital(R) Fast Charge Sports Powder 8.5*
GU(R) Energy Gel 5.5*
Accelerade(R) Sports Gel 4.5*
DrSoy(R) Protein Bar 34.5*
Pounds Off(R) Bar 29.5*
Clif(R) Luna Bar 28.5*
Pure Protein(R) 25.5*
Tiger’s(R) Sports Bar 25.0*
The system is set up so the goal is to get at least 100 nutritional points per day from six food groups, which provides all the nutritional requirements of the American Dietetic Association, American Cancer Society, and the American Heart Association simultaneously.
A study from the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, TX showed the following results of using this nutrient density-based system in a two-week total-wellness program:
Weight: 8 lbs. or 4% decrease
Cholesterol: 14% decrease
Chol/HDL Ratio: 16% decrease
Glucose: 10% decrease
Triglycerides: 40% decrease
Treadmill Time: 19% increase
Blood Pressure: 6% decrease
So you can see that the same diet that fuels the body for peak performance also helps the body function optimally for disease prevention. The study participants’ fitness levels increased, and their risk factors for chronic diseases decreased significantly.
Nutrient-density is critical to the body’s optimal performance and function, and it should be measured in the diet of anyone seeking a competitive advantage and increased health and longevity. Tracking nutrient density is a scientific way to monitor progress, and provide motivation for improvement.