The Coach Speaks Out!

The Coach Speaks Out on Nutrition Part 1
with Mike Lushington

    This is the first of a two-part series on nutrition.

    I have been coaching athletes for many years now. As well, I have tried to keep in relatively good shape myself. In everything that I try to teach my athletes about proper diet, I have emphasized the importance of a balanced approach to the food they eat. That balance, in turn, has been based on a good understanding of what the body needs in order to be able to perform well over extended periods of time - for months and years and even a lifetime. I am not a nutritionist but this has been an important issue for me because it is important for my athletes. In turn, I think that if a balanced diet is important for young athletes, by extension, it is important for the rest of us.

    That is why I view with some alarm the recent fad diets, those that suddenly pronounce that you can eat all the hamburgers, steaks, and other protein heavy foods you want so long as you throw out the bread, potatoes and other forms of carbohydrates. (It is interesting to realize that the most popular of these "fads" - the so-called Atkins diet - has actually been around for many years - and challenged by qualified nutritionists and others since it was first presented.) I am alarmed for several reasons.

    The first of these is simply the fact that these fad diets have received so much publicity. It is a given, in the minds of many people, that, if something is said loudly and flashily, it must be true. That is particularly so if the message is one that people want to hear in the first place. Most of us enjoy the taste of a well grilled hamburger much more than that of the token lettuce, slice of semi-ripe tomato, and the slightly stale bun with which it is presented. If some melted cheese is included, the sensation is even more pleasant - and a message that promotes this as healthy eating is seductive, to say the least. Unfortunately it is also misleading and, over the long term, potentially harmful. This leads to my second major concern.

    By far, the most beneficial form of animal protein (if one can find a source that is not contaminated by various pollutants or parasites) is raw meat. Cooking meat destroys many of the nutrients that enable the Inuit to thrive on the very heavy protein diet that they ingest. Cooking, particularly charring, smoking, or grilling, introduces potential carcinogens to the meat that, over the long term, increase the risk of various forms of cancer associated with our digestive systems. As well, much of the "protein" that people find so attractive - fast food hamburgers and the like are particular suspects - actually get much of their flavour from the fat that is included both in the cooking and in the meat itself. Finally on this point, much of this food has very heavy concentrations of salt - and no one, not even the strongest advocates of this diet, promotes an increase in salt intake.

    My third concern has to do with the rejection of carbohydrates in these diets. If their promoters were completely honest, they would be pointing out that the potatoes they reject should be the French fries and potato chips, not properly baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes. They have a point in rejecting overly refined "white" carbohydrates, including white sugar, because much of this stuff is of little nutritional value. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates - those found in brown rice, whole grain breads and the like, are fundamental to a well-balanced diet.

    Next week, I will deal with some of the long-term implications of these dietary fads.

    Yours sincerely,

Mike Lushington, Dalhousie


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