Conventional wisdom in human nutrition addresses maximizing & sustaining energy output via gasoline = carbs, proteins, and fats (energy dense, caloric foods). If you are the car, the quality or grade of "gasoline” you use impacts your energy performance. The engine that turns oxygen and gasoline (carbs, proteins, fats) into energy, in every cell in your body, is called the mitochondria. The mitochondria is are the cellular power stations, in every cell, that produces the energy molecule (ATP) which proliferates within the cell for energy. If you want more energy… you need more mitochondria. Thus, you need to know how to protect, preserve, and grow more mitochondria.
Conditioning this kind of physiology is the cornerstone of Human Performance Nutrition.
Tissues critical for physiological performance (brain, eyes, lungs, heart, muscles, etc.) have more mitochondria per cell. These tissues demand more energy and thus demand more mitochondria to produce and sustain energy output. For example, athletes train hard and grow mitochondrial density in red muscle cells. If your cell is the Ferrari, mitochondrial density simply equals more engines per cell. Do you want one engine or twenty engines in each Ferrari (cells)? No longer a professional athlete, I just want my cells to work like a good old fashioned truck... dependable, with plenty of energy output. Built truck tough. It just works, day in day out. Durable.
Mitochondrial density (more engines) maximizes and sustains energy output in eyes, heart, brain, lungs, muscles, etc. Here’s the cellular challenge. The mitochondria is extraordinarily complex both biologically and biochemically. This complexity makes it very fragile. Its fragility comes from leakage in the “combustion” process known as free radical proliferation and oxidative stress.
The mitochondria are the front-line foot soldiers experiencing the brunt of free radical cross-fire from revving up the engine for higher combustion (i.e. higher oxidative stress). Oxidation is a normal metabolic process. Oxidative stress can become chronic oxidation which damages physiology. The human performance conundrum is: How can you prevent the negative aspects of oxidative stress? As an example, oxidizing cellular proteins degrades tissue performance, as described in a previous blog post, Protecting Protein vs. Eating It.
What does the bad side of oxidative stress looks like regarding preserving mitochondrial density? Oxidative stress damages mitochondrial DNA, decays inner membrane permeability, declines ATP (energy) production, increases free radical production, declines enzyme activity (Complex I & IV) and accelerates cellular aging & death. In addition, oxidative stress induces inflammation and vice versa. The bottom line is oxidative stress causes mitochondrial dysfunction which equals lower energy output.
Preserving your physiology’s ability to produce energy output comes from consuming nutrient dense foods. This is the “oil” for your your car. You need both high grade gas and oil to perform. The most nutrient dense foods on the planet are fruits and vegetables. These superfoods preserve (protect) both mitochondrial integrity and density (energy output). Thus, if you are interested in physiological performance (brains, eyes, lungs, heart, lungs, muscles, etc.) and you are not consuming 9+ servings of fruits and vegetables, everyday, you have an execution gap.
Nutrition is only as good as your execution. If you have an execution gap, it has a negative, compounding cellular effect and makes all the difference in finishing strong. If you can’t, don’t or won’t eat enough produce, everyday, you cannot solve this food execution gap with a multi-vitamin. People don’t have multi-vitamin deficiencies, they have whole food deficiencies.
Plant powders and produce concentrates are a tried and proven way (both scientifically and real-world) to help bridge the produce consumption gap. In the end, a healthy active lifestyle promotes mitochondrial formation and preservation vs. destruction and degradation. The mitochondria is the little engine that can, provided you take care of it. Maximizing energy output in your cells will prolong your life, vitality, performance and daily energy output.
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[Author, Jeff Olson RLT is a Health Food Agent. He is a two-time Olympian, three-time national champion and Pan American gold medalist. He is a co-creator of the Sponsorship PLUS+ program for athletes.]