Diet, training and sleep are the top three things that impact athletic performance. However, it turns out that the environment can also impact how well athletes perform.
Environmental toxins are rarely considered when athletes put together training plans. It is rare for a sports nutritionist to consider the chemicals and metals that become trapped in the body. Toxins in your body can come from foods, household products and even breathing the air.
Nutritionists and scientists are beginning to focus more on the quality of food athletes eat. However, since the safety of the environment athletes train in can have a direct impact on their performance, it may also be time to consider toxins as a key factor in the overall equation.
The Toxic Culprits
Athletes cannot avoid the most common environmental threats they face.
Air pollution and indoor air quality can cause difficulties in breathing. Prolonged exposure can even result in respiratory illness.
Water pollution is another big issue for athletes. Whether athletes compete in it or drink it, water polluted by bacteria or toxins can cause serious physiological reactions.
Cigarette smoke, including second-hand smoke, is also an issue. When athletes are exposed to it, they risk lowing the supply of oxygen in their bodies. This directly affects both their health and athletic performance.
Athletes are also at risk for ingesting toxins found in common foods and household products. BPA, PFOA and other chemicals are found in the blood of many Americans. BPA ((bisphenol A) is an industrial chemical found in plastic, such as a water bottles. PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) is a chemical used on non-stick cookware. Both are difficult to avoid without the right resources.
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Why Athletes Are At Risk
A polluted environment hurts everyone. However, athletes are disproportionately affected by things like air pollution. This is partly because of the way they use their respiratory systems.
When athletes train for several hours, they inhale more deeply. Because they need extra oxygen to reach peak performance, they force air into their lower respiratory systems. As a result, toxins in the environment they breathe in are deeper in their systems. Thus, athletes have a prolonged exposure to these toxins.
This is compounded by the fact that elite athletes train several hours a day almost every day of the week. They do not get a break from breathing in toxins, even on their rest days.
Avoiding chemicals is equally hard. Anyone who uses plastic or cooks with non-stick cookware is susceptible. Only those who intentionally go out of their way to avoid these chemicals can do so. Even then, athletes travel often and are not always in control of their environments.
The Damage Done
The damage from pollution is dangerous because it is not immediately seen. Often, athletes don't notice it until it has had a serious impact on their training. Athletes can breathe in airborne pollution to a point. But once they have reached their body's limit, they can have asthmatic reactions to the pollution. Even people who do not have asthma are susceptible to this. Endurance athletes in particular can have impaired function in both their lungs and heart over a long period of time. Toxins like BPA can directly affect their ability to prepare for sporting competitions. Side effects include fatigue, depression, cognitive problems and achy muscles.
Providing a Solution
Athletes must take precautions to protect themselves from toxins. Athletes should avoid training near large cities where they are likely to breathe polluted air.
They also need diets that support detoxification. Using vitamins and nutrients to support the liver and encourage toxins out of the body is essential for both short-term performance and long-term health.
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