Detoxification for the Athlete

Drink Up for the Equinox Detox!
Most people mistakenly believe that an athlete’s body is so healthy it would never require any form of detoxification. However, unlike most sedentary individuals, the athlete is breaking down and repairing muscle, creating lactic acid and free radicals from exercise at a high rate, and converting more food into energy, potentially increasing toxic metabolic bi-products. Thus in order to maintain a healthy and clean internal environment, detoxification plays an important role in an athlete’s health and performance.

Detoxification is the process of ridding the body of potentially harmful chemicals, carcinogens and other environmental toxins (i.e., pair pollutants, lactic acid, pesticides) that we intentionally and unintentionally ingest or produce through the body’s normal metabolism. Detoxification should be achieved through both diet and a variety of herbs and supplements that stimulate and support the process. Before starting, however, it is important to know that there are both safe and unsafe ways to detox, and a health care practitioner should be involved in any detoxification program you follow. There are possible side effects including headaches, skin outbreaks nausea and fatigue. Pre-existing conditions such as psorasis, cardiac problems and bowel inflammation, while benefiting in the long run, may also be aggravated.

Most individuals think detoxification programs principally involve fasting. This, however, is not a beneficial way to clean the body. It takes a significant amount of energy for the body to destroy inflamed or damaged cells and replace them with new healthy cells. Energy is also needed to eliminate toxins from the body. Thus, any detoxification program should provide adequate calories in a healthy form.

My Detoxification Diet begins with the exclusion of simple sugars, saturated fats, alcohol, caffeine and foods containing additives and preservatives, which lessens the load on the liver and kidneys (the body’s main detoxification organs). I recommend organic foods to decrease exposure to pesticides and exogenous hormones. Foods such as lemons, beets, carrots and artichokes stimulate the cleansing process in the liver so these can be increased – for example, start your day with hot water and lemon instead of coffee.

Protein plays a key role in the detoxification process, as it is essential for cell manufacture and repair, enzyme production and liver regeneration. The average athlete should consume only clean, low fat, high quality proteins all year long, but this is even more improtant during a detox. Choose lean organic protein sources such as fish, egg whites, turkey, chicken, protein shakes, and soy/tofu as your main protein sources. 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (up to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for endurance atlhetes or body builders) is needed. Thus an 80kg individual would need 80-112g protein per day divided between meals. Eat fresh greens, vegetables and fruits in a comparable amount to protein as these foods provide low glycaemic carbohydrate with high levels of fiber to help bowel function during the detoxification process. They also contain minerals and vitamins beneficial to the program. When eating salad, use vinaigrettes or lemon juice with spices not creamy (fat-laden) dressings. Use only brown rice as an alternate carbohydrate source. Eliminate white, refined foods, and other mixed grain products. Drink two to three litres of water a day to help flush toxins from the body. Taking warm baths with Epsom salts can help draw toxins out of the skin.

I recommend several herbs to aid the detoxification process, but it is important to consult a health professional before taking any of these. Milk Thistle or Silymarin marianum helps to protect the healthy cells in the liver from free radical damage or inflammmation (caused by toxins), stimulates regeneration of new healthy cells and aids the body in mopping up toxins. It also helps to increase the content of glutathione, the body’s major anti-oxidant substrate. This herb has no adverse side effects, though it may loosen stools slightly as it increases bile flow.

Tumeric or Curcuma longa protects the liver from incoming toxins through its potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. It has a particular affinity for the liver, and therefore is used in most detoxification programs. Like milk thistle, this herb may soften stools due to the increase in bile flow. In fact, tumeric has been shown to increase the production of bile by over 100%, making it a powerful aid to toxin excretion. If there is any indication of bile duct occlusion this herb should not be administered

Dandelion or Taraxacum officinalis is beneficial for both the kidneys and the liver. Although its mechanism is not thoroughly understood, dandelion has diuretic properties (to flush out toxins) with potassium sparing effects, which most diuretics do not have. It also protects against kidney stones. Dandelion may have some adverse reactions in some people. Contact dermatitis has been seen when the herb is used in fresh form rather than dried.

Burdock, otherwise known as Arctium lappa, was traditionally used as a blood purifier and diuretic. It is high in fructo-oligo-saccharides or FOS, that increase the beneficial bifidobacteria and eliminate the bacterial pathogens that can build up in the gut. In addition, burdock increases saliva and bile secretions to help break down, bind and excrete toxins from the body.

Fibre and Bentonite Clay are both used to help remove toxins and excess fats from within the bowel. During a detoxification program the toxin load on the bowel is increased considerably so, to ensure that they are eliminated and not simply “dumped” in the gut, fibers and/or binding clays can be used to help attract, mop up and eliminate the toxins directly. Beneficial fibers such as psyllium or inulin are available in powder or capsule form. Bentonite clay can be added to the fiber complexes for added attracting and binding qualities.

Just remember, you service, tune up and clean out your car on a regular basis to extend its longevity, your body is no different! And the athlete, like a high performance sports car needs extra attention!