Sports Nutrition – Sports Performance, Muscle Recovery

Entire books have been written on the subject of what kind of nutrition does it take for a body to break world records and win Olympic medals.

Dr. David Pascal knows. A Cary, North Carolina based chiropractor and nutritional expert, Dr. Pascal comes by the field honestly. He is a world-class athlete himself and a gold medalist in the 1983 World Games for the 1,500-meter run and hence it was a natural progression for him to specialize in track-and-field competitors when, twenty-two years ago, he began his chiropractic practice. Since then he has treated athletes at 2 Olympic Games, 3 World Championships and 25 US Championships. In Beijing, the athletes Dr. Pascal has worked with over the last two years won 20 medals – 10 gold, 5 silver and 5 bronze.

Nutritional Magnesium the Stress Mineral

When new athletes come to Dr. Pascal, is there a particular regimen that he immediately puts them on? The short answer: no. “It’s totally individualized,” Dr. Pascal said. “It depends on that athlete and their needs. I look at their nutritional intake. So I need to know, How much processed food are they eating? Are they eating organic foods? Are they eating raw or cooked foods? “I put them on a baseline nutrition program, which includes essential vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, CoQ10 and amino acids. I also put them on MSM, which is the third most abundant nutrient in the body and assists cellular repair. As they go through the season, I may see a need for a liver, kidney, colon or even a total body detoxification, and I’ll run them through those as needed.”

Dr. Pascal will recommend dietary changes if requested. Some athletes actually have him choose everything they eat; for others he handles only their supplements. One mineral that Dr. Pascal finds essential to athletic performance is magnesium. “Magnesium is actually the ‘stress mineral’ and is needed for about 350 different chemical processes within the body,” he said. “By stress mineral I mean that a body uses a lot of magnesium to handle physical stress, chemical stress and mental stress. Of course, athletes are under a tremendous amount of physical, chemical and mental stress, and so magnesium is absolutely vital for them to perform at their best.”

Muscle Cramping and Magnesium Nutrition

Magnesium is also essential in addressing an issue common to almost all of the athletes treated by Dr. Pascal—muscle cramping. “When athletes first come to me, many of them have a history of cramping up. They get muscle cramps in their workouts and even in their races. When that happens, I know they do not have enough magnesium in their bodies.” Being so aware of this vital magnesium requirement, Dr. Pascal has virtually eliminated this issue for those he treats. “When I was in Eugene, Oregon, this summer for the Olympic Trials, I treated 40 of my athletes. One of the things I really had to be concerned about was the heat and muscle cramping, and so I used magnesium preventatively. ‘Take your magnesium.’ That’s the first thing I said when I saw the athletes in the morning and the last thing I told them at the end of the day. None of my athletes had muscle cramps—before, during or after their races.” Unfortunately, that same advice was not given to those who weren’t his patients. In the same trials, a top American sprinter, not being treated by Dr. Pascal, ran the fastest time ever run by a human being in the 100-meter dash. Five days later, he came back to try out for the 200-meter. Just into the race, his leg went into spasm and he fell. The result was a partial muscular tear. This same athlete had won three gold medals at the previous year’s World Championships and was favored for three gold medals in Beijing; but with the torn muscle, he had to suspend training. He had healed by the time of the Beijing Games, but having lost the training time, he wasn’t in shape to truly compete.

“Cramping is a very serious business for these competitors,” said Dr. Pascal. “It doesn’t matter how many gold medals you have or how many world records you’ve set,if you get a muscle cramp, you’re going to fall flat on your face and that’s the end of it.”

High temperatures were also a factor at the Olympic Trials and in Beijing, as heat can be a very heavy contributor to cramping. “Heat affects you because you will be sweating more,” Dr. Pascal explained. “As you sweat,you’re going to be losing magnesium, which is water soluble. In addition, you’ll be sweating out electrolytes, and of course water too. These losses mean that the ratio of calcium to magnesium will be changing in the body: the percentage of calcium will increase; and since calcium is a muscle contractor, the muscles cramp and that’s it.

“Additionally, most people think that they have a problem with heat due to the high temperature or humidity,” Dr. Pascal added. “This isn’t true. Heat builds up in the cells primarily because there are not enough minerals and electrolytes to carry the heat out of the cells. If there are enough of these elements along with water, it wouldn’t matter how hot it was—the cells would never overheat and people would never get heat stroke, because the minerals would transfer the heat out of the cells.”

Bioavailability of Nutrients

Dr. Pascal is very particular about the nutrients he gives his patients. “It doesn’t matter how much of something you take if your body cannot absorb it and use it,” he said. “The nutrition that you take has to be ‘bioavailable’ to make it into your system and go to work.” For magnesium, he gives his athletes 600 milligrams of magnesium and 400 milligrams of calcium in a water-soluble form.

You’re getting 50 percent more magnesium, which is good because most athletes—and most people in general—tend to have a high amount of calcium in their diets and not enough magnesium. Other elements, such as potassium, vitamin D3, vitamin C and boron, further increase its assimilation.

Crossing the Line

Dr. Pascal’s amassed knowledge in both chiropractic and nutrition has led to some remarkable results. One shining example is LaShawn Merritt,who won two gold medals in Beijing. Merritt has been a patient with Dr. Pascal for three years and has consistently obtained better results under his care. “I started working with LaShawn in 2006, just after he turned pro,” Dr. Pascal related. “At the end of our first year together, LaShawn told my daughter, ‘Your dad is amazing! Every time he treats me, I run faster!’”

Merritt’s words almost became a prophecy. That year he came in third for the 400-meter in the World Athletics Final. In 2007, at the World Track and Field Championships, he came in second, taking home the silver medal. “Each time he raced, he just kept getting better,” Dr. Pascal said. “In 2008, we went to the Olympic Trials and he was having some cramping problems. I just upped his dosage of Magnesium/Calcium and made sure he was taking other nutrients as well. He won the trials in a huge upset over the defending Olympic champion.”

In Beijing, the climate was formidable. Temperatures were in the upper 90s with 90 percent humidity, and Dr. Pascal was again worried about cramping. “I just kept saying, take your magnesium/calcium minerals. ’ LaShawn never had any muscle issues at all, while a lot of others did because of the extreme heat.” Merritt went right to the top, winning the gold medal in the men’s 400-meter by the largest margin in the history of the Summer Games, and then scored his second gold medal while helping to set a new Olympic record in the 4×400-meter relay.

High Performance Proving Ground

Just as he would with his many regular patients, Dr. Pascal concluded by reminding us that it’s not just world-class competitors who require nutrition. “Athletes are pushing their bodies to the limits of human performance. The nutrition that they take plays a major role, not only in allowing them to do that, but also in facilitating recovery from stresses and in preventing their bodies from breaking down. “These elite athletes act as a real-life high performance human proving ground that bears out the benefits and efficacy of nutritional supplements.

Although you and I may not be under the same high level of physical pressure as elite athletes, we actually live on a chemically, physically and mentally challenging planet. Our bodies need extra support, and using nutrition that has helped some of our greatest athletes can certainly make a major difference in our bodies too.”

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