Athletes who think they have a healthy diet may be in for a shock, as David Reavely explains

After being involved in the natural health business for many years, I have encountered many athletes who are of the opinion that they eat “quite healthily”. After further questioning as to exactly what they do eat on a daily basis, it usually transpires that their so-called healthy diet is not perhaps as healthy as they were led to believe.

Their diet usually comprises an inadequate amount of vegetables – most, or all of which are cooked. Added to that will be some fruits, an over-consumption of animal produce (eggs, meats, fish and dairy products), mostly refined and therefore nutrient-deprived carbohydrates (such as white rice, pasta, white bread and other baked products) and a load of unhealthy fats. Moreover, even the athletes who eat more vegetables in a cooked form and less of the other stuff still believe that their diet is therefore healthy.

When I begin to try and explain how their thinking is perhaps somewhat flawed, I am often met with resistance. Not surprisingly, most of us don’t like hearing that deeply entrenched lifestyle habits may be bad for us and even scarier, they may actually be leading us towards an early demise.

Visualise premature ageing and the onset of premature diminishing athletic performance and you begin to get the message.

Of course, you can’t blame people for being confused because there’s so much conflicting information out there. Is chocolate good or bad for us? Should we drink red wine or is all alcohol to be avoided? Are organically grown foods just a waste of money? Do you get enough protein on a vegetarian diet? The list seems endless and bamboozling. So, with this in mind, when athletes ask me what they should eat in order to optimise their performance and increase their health and longevity, I try to keep my answer as simple as possible.

Choose nutrient dense foods

Nutrient-dense foods supply us with the maximum amount of nutrients, but are lowest in fats, sugars, starch and protein. Don’t get me wrong, though – we all need enough protein and carbs to keep us healthy, but getting enough is rarely a problem in countries where the Western style of diet predominates. In fact, the over-consumption of those foods is the main cause of chronic disease.

The bottom line is that many athletes are eating too many so-called bulk nutrients like protein, refined carbs and fats, and yet, because these foods are seriously lacking in vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants, they are literally starving in a land of plenty! What’s more, because our bodies are nutrient-starved, we crave more of the same foods in order to try to correct the problem.

So what’s the end result? The answer is: more calories, more cravings and a lifetime struggle to regulate bodyweight – all of which can impact on athletic performance and longevity.

Examples of nutrient-dense foods

It’s interesting to note that the vegetables highest in nutrients as well as being the most healing and performance-boosting are the dark green leafy ones, such as: kale, spinach, chard, broccoli, watercress, cabbages, sea-greens, parsley, pak choi, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, blue/green algae such as spirulina (one of the richest sources of chlorophyll and protein), sprouted seeds such as sunflower and snow peas, which form nutrient packed, enzyme-rich green shoots.


Eat your greens raw

The best way to eat your greens is in their raw state. This doesn’t mean that eating lightly cooked broccoli or Brussels sprouts is a bad thing because you still get some goodness in your diet by including them. However, raw is always best since heat destroys enzymes and nutrients which are vital for good health. What’s more, raw living foods contain an electrical potential that some refer to as “lifeforce” (see Dr Brian Clement’s book Lifeforce).

This is aptly demonstrated by Kirlian photography, which shows that when vegetables are cooked, the energy field that is emitted is greatly diminished, whereas the raw equivalent is vibrant with “living” energy. It’s when these raw, vibrant foods are eaten that their electrical potential resonates with the cells in our body. It’s thought that this is one of the reasons why a raw food diet is conducive towards creating good health, slowing the ageing process and helping the body to heal.

In order to maximise your intake of nutrients in the shortest possible time, it’s good to juice your veggies. Don’t juice too many of the high-glycaemic vegetables such as carrots and beetroot as that will just spike your blood sugar levels. The best combination is: celery, cucumber, a large handful of green leafy veg such as spinach, kale or any other greens, half of an unwaxed lemon and an apple or carrot to add some sweetness. Try substituting a small piece of ginger for the lemon to vary the taste.

This is an excellent way of delivering lots of nutrients into your body without over-taxing your digestive system with all of that fibre. In fact, it takes 10-15 minutes to get into your system.

Many athletes ask me: “What about the fibre? We need that surely.” Yes, it is true, but if you’re eating enough vegetables, fruits and whole grains you will be getting more than enough fibre.”

Benefits of increased green vegetable consumption

» They provide a high intake of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other natural chemical compounds, which help to optimise athletic performance, increase resistance to injury and accelerate recovery from injury

» They help to increase longevity – by slowing down cellular ageing you are able to perform at a high level for longer

» They also help to ensure that the pH of your blood is slightly alkaline, which is conducive towards strong bones and a stronger immune system

» They contain highly protective nutrients and phytochemicals that help to protect you against the so-called chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and arthritis

» David Reavely is a nutritional therapist, the author of several books and a fully qualified fitness instructor. See