Dropping Seconds from Your Time

By Mary Dinehart MS, RD, LDN | May 06, 2009, 12 a.m. (ET)
If a diet or natural supplement claimed to improve reaction time, along with faster recovery and better mental focus who wouldn’t want to follow or take it? Athletes are bombarded day in and day out with new supplements boasting to bring them to greater performance heights, but the products don’t always back the claims. In addition, the importance of diet composition is often overlooked and viewed merely from a caloric standpoint for fueling needs. The composition and consistency of the diet are just as important as the consistency of the training program prior to race day. This is because the diet controls hormone levels that are essential for maximum performance. 

Fish oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids (primarily EPA and DHA), is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties specifically in treating chronic disease and prevention of cardiovascular disease, but it’s a relatively new concept when it comes to improving athletic performance.  Inflammation is a huge component of training and influences an athlete’s ability to recover quicker.  Fontani et al published a study comparing the effect of diet composition and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on blood profiles, body fat and mood state in healthy, active individuals (1).  These subjects demonstrated significant improvements in inflammatory markers in 35 days after supplementing with 2.5 grams of EPA and DHA per day.  In addition EPA and DHA supplementation improved feelings of vigor, while decreasing negative mood associations such as anger, anxiety, fatigue, depression and confusion.  Another study by Fontani et al showed supplementation with EPA and DHA significantly improved reaction times (2). 

In the study above examining diet composition, the Zone Diet (40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat) was compared in a cross over design to a control diet, the standard diet typically recommended to athletes (55% carbohydrate, 15% protein and 30% fat).  It was found that when the subjects followed the Zone Diet, there were greater reductions in inflammatory markers, LDL cholesterol, insulin levels and body fat composition compared to the control diet.  The Zone Diet also showed a greater decrease in a marker of oxidative stress due to its high composition of fruits and vegetables (1).

The coupling of the Zone Diet along with omega 3 fatty acids offers huge gains in terms of athletic performance. Sometimes it’s only a matter of seconds that separates first from second place and improvement in reaction time, mental focus, recovery and body fat composition may be the competitive edge needed to distinguish the two rankings.