As a professional endurance athlete, my number one job is to create stress, — then deal with it. That’s it. I stress my body, allow it to recover, and then do it again.
Simply put, stress is anything that causes strain on the body, regardless of its origin. An important fact to be cognizant of is this: The body’s response to stress is the same, whether it be the physical demands of sport, the environmental strains of breathing impure air, poor diet or the hectic pace at which most of us now live.
Commonly accepted as one of the leading causes of illness, stress has been shown to precipitate many forms of diseases. It’s easy to say, “Reduce the amount of stress in your life and you’ll be healthier”. While this is generally a true statement, it’s advantageous to “select” your stressors; cultivate the beneficial ones and eliminate the non-beneficial.
A full, productive life will undoubtedly be a catalyst for an elevated stress level. Stress slows progress and therefore it must be minimized for us to reach full potential. Success at anything starts with the ability to effectively cope with stress. However, our bodies are not equipped to deal with many of the modern day requirements placed on them; they simply have not evolved to effectively cope with our increased demands.
As most of us know all too well, our lives are a non-stop dance from one task to another. The average North American works more now than ever before, and that amount continues to increase as we “progress.” But work is just one stressor. Others include the demands of social life and family obligations, diminishing air and water quality, and most significantly, less nutritious food and lower quality diets, resulting in a society that is chronically stressed.
How significant is our diet as a source of stress? It is estimated that as much as 40% of overall stress can be classified as nutritional. Nutritional stress is an epidemic, our modern day plague. Yet it exists in relative obscurity, underestimated and unseen by most, and growing constantly.
Factors contributing to nutritional stress include the consumption of overly processed foods, foods grown with chemical pesticides and herbicides, inadequate supply of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, high quality protein, fiber, essential fatty acids and good bacteria (probiotics). It also includes the overeating of “empty” foods and the under-consumption of nutrient dense whole foods that support biological function, activity level and regeneration. Consistently eating acid-forming foods is also a culprit.
The following are some of the key benefits of reducing nutritional stress:
- Reduced biological age
- Longer life expectancy
- Less body fat, more lean muscle
- More energy, strength and endurance
- Improved productivity and mental clarity
- Higher quality, deeper sleep
- Improved resistance to illness
- Quicker recovery from exercise
- Fewer cravings and less hunger
- Elevated mood and desire to excel
When I first started searching for ways to enhance my athletic performance, nutrition was one of the most important areas that I investigated. I have found proper nutrition to have the greatest impact on my ability to maintain a busy, full and rewarding life. The ability to curtail stress and its debilitating attributes at its origin is invaluable. Without a cause, there can be no symptom; with no symptom, there is no need for synthetic drugs.
Throughout the last 14 years, I have been researching and experimenting with a plant-based whole foods diet and I believe that the most effective way to reduce nutritional stress is to eat a plant-based whole foods diet; one which contains sources of easily digestible protein, fiber, whole grains and vegetables as a low glycemic form of carbohydrate, essential fatty acids from nuts and seeds, along with vitamins and minerals.
As a professional Ironman triathlete, I have learned to perform at a high level in one of the world’s most demanding sports, while exclusively on a plant-based diet. I know that a strict vegan way of life is not for everyone but believe me, incorporating more plant-based whole foods into your current diet will make a substantial difference to your overall health and well-being.