XPT | How to Fuel Your Breath
Written by Eve Persak MS RD CSNC CSSD
Oxygen is vital to almost every cell, tissue, and life-sustaining process in the body. No person can survive without it, but athletes need more than the rest of the population. We do more. We push the body farther, faster and harder – every day. When oxygen supply falls short of these increased demands, athletes are forced to pump – or slam on – the brakes. They often observe:
Simply put, it’s the overall experience of asking your body to perform and receiving a resounding “no” from all systems, head-to-toe.
Our primary oxygen source is the air we pull in via the lungs. Strategic breathing practices – like those at the core of the XPT experience – not only prevent oxygen insufficiency, but also elevate the body’s oxygen to levels above those previously achieved.
What else can you do? While the diet offers less direct oxygen, certain foods can enrich the circulatory system’s supply, as well as nourish and protect the respiratory tissues. Trained breathing coupled with complimentary meal changes can yield noticeable improvements in total athletic endurance. So, add a few of these superfoods to your supermarket basket, and start feeding your breath:
Everyone – carnivores and vegans alike – can reach for green vegetables as a valuable plant-based source of iron. This mineral is a critical component of hemoglobin, the blood protein that that transports oxygen from the lungs to all other systems. Likewise, chlorophyll – the phytochemical behind the dark emerald shades in kale, spinach, and broccoli – also benefits breathing. Its chemical structure resembles that of hemoglobin and therefor can also boost oxygen’s availability to the body. Chlorophyll also repels harmful impurities and toxins before they reach the circulation.
We agree – any scientific justification for your morning cup of joe is grounds for celebration. The caffeine in coffee is a well-recognized bronchodilator, widening the respiratory channels to allow for open air exchange. In conventional and homeopathic medicine, caffeine is one of the earliest and most widely used therapies for asthma. Interestingly, asthma sufferers who regularly consume coffee report milder symptoms and over 30% fewer asthma attacks.
Vitamin C is the foremost antioxidant on site the pulmonary tissues. It buffers and repairs free radical damage from airborne pollutants and contaminants we unconsciously inhale all day. For endurance athletes, vitamin C is also understood to reduce and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections after long or high-intensity competitions. Above all other residents of the produce section, papaya ranks highest in this micronutrient (twice as much as the acclaimed oranges, in fact!). This tropic fruit also offers betacarotene, the plant pigment responsible for this tropical fruit’s orange color. When consumed, the body converts betacarotene into vitamin A, which, in turn, nourishes cilia. These miniature hair-like projections line the nasal passages and airways and sweep away debris and infectious bacteria.
Warm & Spicy Foods
Consuming anything especially hot in temperature (like soups or warm beverages) or spicy in flavor (red chili peppers or jalapenos) can make our eyes water and our noses drip. Why? There is a sensory connection between the GI tract and the sinuses. When the stomach heats up, blood flow to the nasal passages increases, as well. This can immediately clear congestion and allows more of the blood supply to contact inspired oxygen. Hot chili peppers, in particular, are helpful for long-term lung health. Regular consumption is shown to reduce the risk of several chronic respiratory diseases.
Onion & Garlic
Often discounted for their pale complexion, these roots offer respiratory perks that rival their colorful peers. Onion and garlic owe their neutral hues to anthoxanthins – pale pigments with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. This curative cocktail reduces airway constriction – allowing for free airflow – and staves off colds and flu. But you’ll need to incorporate them into fresh recipes (like salsa or bruschetta), as heat reduces the anthoxanthins potency.
Move over button, Portobello, and shiitake. Other mushroom varieties deserve a bit of room in the spotlight. Chaga and Reishi are traditional medicinal fungi consumed as teas – rather than eaten whole. Chaga brews essentially steep the body in antioxidants that heal environmental damage to the lungs’ mucosal lining and alleviate asthma-related irritation. Reishi mushrooms enhance the oxygen absorption at the tiny tips of the branches of the pulmonary tree (called alveoli), revving up overall lung stamina. They also contain lanostan, a nature-made antihistamine that counteracts the respiratory symptoms related to seasonal allergies.
Moisture is key to maintaining optimal lung function. When hydrated, oxygen (from outside air) and carbon dioxide (from inside the body) move freely across the membranes of our respiratory passages. When parched, this vital exchange is compromised. Sipping on clear liquids is a good start. But oils are needed to “lock in” these fluids – much like applying lotion after taking a shower. To help, rather than harm, avoid processed or synthetic vegetable oils and spreads. Instead, let those straight from Mother Nature be your focus. They’ll offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, while the others have the opposite effect. Reach for whole foods like olives, avocado, coconut, nuts and seeds. Unrefined extra virgin olive oil is a perfect pick for salads and dips, whereas cold-pressed virgin coconut oils and organic ghee are better suited for high-heat cooking and frying.
Eve Persak MS RD CNSC CSSD is a leading international nutrition and wellness consultant with global experience in the fitness, culinary, tech, healthcare, hospitality, and spa industries. In her private practice she supports athletes and individuals of all ages with sports nutrition, weight loss, digestive conditions and other medical nutritional therapies.