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How to Improve Athletic Performance

Athletes & Functional Medicine

How to Improve Athletic Performance

Athletes & Functional Medicine

Ever feel like you’re training so much, yet making no progress — or even worse, seeing declines in athletic performance? Everyone has felt this at some point in their training, but many fail to find a solution. Maybe you’ve hit a plateau. Or maybe your conventional doctor insisted there is nothing you can do other than just “try harder” to continue to improve your performance. This advice is often the most discouraging to hear.

And simply not true.

What improves athletic performance?

In each of these cases, a functional medicine practitioner has a different response: you can improve your athletic performance, by optimizing your unique body’s cellular function. 

Why start at the cellular level?

Cells are the building blocks that make up the muscles, bones, joints, everything that is our body. When they lack the nutrients they need, our bodies also perform suboptimally. As a result, athletes in particular will feel the effects:

  • Tired faster and more frequently
  • Muscles take longer to recover
  • Post Workout Soreness 
  • Joints and tendons ache
  • Increase injury
  • Loss of power, loss of intensity
  • Workout fatigue, less motivation to train
  • Slower Performance & Declines in Race Times

Case Study: Marathoner’s Micronutrient Deficiency

Consider an extreme case: Olympic marathoner Deena Kastor in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. During her marathon event, she simply could not finish. She broke her foot mid-race because she had a vitamin D deficiency, which is essential for bone health. In her case, her lack of this essential micronutrient cost her what could have been a career defining moment.

Deena had spent years training for this big event. So why were her micronutrient levels checked only after she had a problem? How would her race have been different had she seen a functional medicine MD as part of her training?

A functional medicine MD (also known as holistic MD or integrative medicine MD) like Dr. Anita could have ordered Deena a blood test to measure her micronutrient levels while she was also training, which would have revealed her low levels of vitamin D and other necessary nutrients. Not only is vitamin D vital for delivering calcium to bones, it’s more recently been linked to increasing athletic performance on top of lowering risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

What factors affect athletic performance?

In addition to the physical training and the psychological factors that affect performance — self-confidence, motivation, emotional control, and concentration — functional medicine practitioners like Dr. Anita would say that having a body that is optimally balanced is a huge factor in athletic performance. As a first step, she takes a holistic approach by identifying factors that are lacking from the athlete’s whole being.

  • What vitamins, minerals, proteins, healthy fats are deficient?
  • Are hormone levels too high, too low?
  • Is the gut microbiome thriving, balanced?
  • How is stress being managed?
  • Is the type, amount, and frequency of activity optimal?
  • What does the quality and quantity of sleep look like?

The answers to these questions vary on the individual, which explains why functional medicine is often referred to as “personalized medicine”.

Should I take a Vitamin D Supplement?

Should all athletes take a Vitamin D supplement like Deena Kastor? It depends. Is your body deficient? If it’s not, then the body most often will excrete the excess nutrients it doesn’t need. More importantly, what other micronutrients are you also deficient in? What other elements are affecting the absorption of certain nutrients? This is the value of the wellness assessment performed by a Functional Medicine MD. Dr. Anita typically orders a micronutrient and toxicity lab test for all her wellness patients to find out the missing pieces that are preventing optimal cellular function. Is it a lack of certain key minerals? Are certain harmful toxins present? Is a gene mutation impacting our body’s ability to detoxify? 

The positive result of examining and addressing the imbalances in a athlete’s unique biochemical makeup may be surprising:

  • Lower Inflammation
  • Better Absorption of Nutrition
  • Less Digestive Distress
  • Higher Energy Levels
  • Repair Muscle Fibers Faster
  • Get Less Sore after Workouts 
  • Reduce Aching Joints and Tendons
  • Train Longer with Greater Intensity
  • Get Faster & Improve Race Times

As you can see, athletic decline in performance may often be the result of injury or burnout, but the root cause is malnutrition, toxic burden, or hormonal imbalances. The downstream struggles of the powerhouses of the cells, the mitochondria, affect the rest of the body. Chronic stress in the form of overtraining and mental state is also a common inhibitor of the mitochondria’s function and also an important area of focus in functional medicine.

Functional Medicine for Athletes

Functional Medicine looks for and addresses the underlying abnormalities that prevent the body from functioning optimally. By ensuring the body’s cells have all the elements they need to metabolize energy and detoxify from toxins, the body is stronger and less prone to inflammation, illness, and disease. For athletes, this equates to an advantage in injury prevention and recovery time.

Muscle Recovery Times

Each time we exercise at a high intensity, the body forms microtears in the muscle fibers that repair with more muscle tissue after a recovery period. The strongest athletes are able to minimize that recovery time, to train longer, faster, or more intensely.

Catabolic versus Anabolic State

These processes of catabolic (breaking down) and anabolic (building up) activity occur in all bodies during and after workouts. If the balance is off and the body is in a more catabolic state, then muscle tissue will not fully recover. Without the ability to rebuild muscle, muscle atrophy and sarcopenia (muscle loss) sets in. 

What is Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia is the medical term for the condition characterized by loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. While it is typically age related and primarily a disease of the elderly, even athletes may experience sarcopenia as a result of a body in an excessively catabolic state. 

Muscle loss typically affects those who are sedentary, malnourished, or have some other muscle wasting disease like ALS or Lou Gehrig’s.

The Solution to Sarcopenia

The key to building muscle and improving strength, endurance, and flexibility is finding out what your body needs for optimal health. Once determining an individual’s baseline levels, Dr. Anita also asks for medical history that often exceeds what is asked by conventional doctors. From there, other checks include: 

  • Identifying and removing food sensitivities that create inflammation and rob the body of energy.
  • Checks hormone levels to ensure the body is producing just what it needs — not too much, not too little. 
  • Ensure blood sugar, insulin and carbohydrate metabolism are functioning correctly.
  • Discover micronutrient deficiencies and options for bringing them to balance, whether it be through food, supplements, or other lifestyle change.

Setting the Stage for Muscle Growth

When the body is primed for optimal function, muscle development will come easier. On top of regular training, Dr. Anita also offers a non-invasive muscular development device that can help athletes — or anyone, really — gain a competitive edge. While many enjoy Emsculpt as a cosmetic tool to get a smaller, tighter waistline or develop a booty that pops, Dr. Anita sees the significant value in its clinical use to strengthen the core for overall mobility and increase muscle for increased metabolism, improved immune function, better sleep, improved mood, among a long list of other benefits. Learn more about Emsculpt here.

Pro Athletes use Emsculpt

The Bottom Line: Functional Medicine Helps

Movement throughout your day, every day, is one of the four pillars for a long and vibrant life. Whether you consider yourself an athlete or just a moderate exerciser, everyone can benefit from gains in strength, endurance, flexibility, and power. Dr. Anita’s patients agree that completing the wellness assessments taught them more about their unique biochemistry and what they can do to live with more energy and fewer mystery symptoms. 

Imagine what life would be like having true optimal health:

  • Experience Restful, Restorative Sleep
  • Have the Energy To Do What You Want
  • Enjoy A Stable, Healthy Metabolism
  • Suffer Fewer Overuse Injuries
  • Drop Excess Weight 
  • Build Muscle and Get Lean
  • Reveal Clearer, more Youthful Skin
  • Get Sick Less Often

Dr. Anita loves helping patients of all ages look better, feel better, and perform at their best, using non-invasive and natural treatments. Her Vitality Memberships allow patients the flexibility to get the treatment they need, where they need it, and when they need it most. Schedule a complimentary discovery call with Dr. Anita today to find out if you qualify.

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Ready to Finally Feel Better?

Anita Wang, MD, FACEP, is a board-certified medical doctor of 30 years

Feel better, look better, naturally without harsh prescriptions or complicated surgeries. Practicing Functional and Integrative Medicine allows her to help patients find optimal health and vitality through comprehensive health profiling and rebalancing. She has practiced at UCLA Medical, Eisenhower Medical Center, and as a team lead in China during the 2003 SARS outbreak with Doctors without Borders (MSF). As the founder and lead practitioner of Wellness, Longevity and Aesthetics, Dr. Wang speaks globally, advocating for natural preventive health, pelvic and muscular strengthening, and minimally invasive aesthetics skin tightening.