This episode of the “Athletes Compass” podcast (part 3 of 3 on recovery) focuses on nutrition and other modalities of recovery for endurance athletes. Paul and Marjaana Rakai discuss the fundamentals of nutrition, emphasizing the importance of macronutrients and micronutrients, and the detrimental effects of sugar and processed foods. The conversation also covers the role of good fats, proteins, and key micronutrients like B vitamins and iron, particularly in relation to endurance athletes. Additionally, they discuss innovative recovery methods like floating therapy and the mental aspect of recovery, including yoga and breathwork.
Hello and welcome to the seventh episode and third in our series on recovery of the Athletes Compass, where we navigate training, fitness, and health for everyday athletes. We decided to do three episodes about recovery because it's so important. We stress our bodies, we need recovery. In the first episode, we talked about how to monitor recovery and health. In the second, we talked about sleep.
But we talked last week or Paul mentioned Alistair Brownlee and how he said that sleep was 90% of recovery, nutrition was another 9% and other strategies were the last 1%. So since we talked about sleep last week, let's do these last 10% and let's talk about nutrition and other modalities. Paul, can you talk about how nutrition plays a role in recovery for everyday endurance athletes? Are there?
Are there recommendations that you have or supplements or things like that, that we might talk about?
Well, I think, you know, really almost like Athletica does with the training is the, you know, it's the fundamentals are, are the key, the key aspects. So what are the fundamentals of, of nutrition? And we need to have, you know, some components of macronutrients, which are the carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and that all have various different functions. And you have to have these.
micronutrients, which are, you know, things like vitamins and minerals, and there's thousands of them. And then, and yeah, and you need, and you need water as well, good, good clean water. So these are, these are sort of the fundamentals of, of nutrition that should, should form the basis of any, any human's diet, ultimately. Unfortunately,
The situation isn't pretty, Paul, and if we look to globally, to the world, and again, the paper I've done with Dr. Phil Maffetone, and multiple papers, we've shown ultimately that about 80% of the world is what we term over fat. And they're over fat because they're malnourished for the most part.
So they're not getting adequate quantities or of these macro and micronutrients. And the biggest culprit is sugar and processed food at the end of the day. And yeah, like to keep things super, super simple is, basically you just need to consume what mother nature is providing for.
Marjaana Rakai (02:54.602)
for you, what Mother Earth is providing for you. And unfortunately, when we look to the grocery stores, they are, that's not totally how we are nourishing ourselves. The middle aisles tend to be laden with commercial creations, frankenfoods, and only towards the outer aisles are.
tend to be more of what Mother Earth has provided us. So yeah, to keep things super simple, that's the big picture of what we're dealing with.
So there's no quick fix. So basically you're saying that we need to eat and drink a good balanced diet of things that are more naturally available to us.
Yeah, that's really it at the end of the day. It's so boring, Paul, but how do you go and do that? How is it possible that, let's just say 80% of the world, let's say we're right with our stats on these papers, and how is it that 80% of the world is not appropriately doing this? That's remarkable, isn't it? Yeah, so, and sure, it's not.
nutrition. There's a lot of other pollutants. You know, Marjaana will tell us a lot about, you know, the what big city pollution can really be all about and, you know, how that potentially influences your health. We talked about sleep in the last episode. That influences your stress levels and then how much fat you're going to store. But the majority is for recovery as well and overall human health.
Yeah, is 80% of us are not appropriately consuming foods that allow us to recover optimally.
Marjaana Rakai (04:56.565)
And I think if I can add to that, I kind of think this is a society problem. We want to be comfortable. We want that quick fix.
without thinking what it does to our health. Like we want to sit in our car and drive to place B and get our supper or now after COVID, everything can get delivered to your house, right? We no longer go to farmers markets because we have these big grocery stores in our neighborhoods. We don't have walking paths because...
You know, our governments didn't think that walking is important. Uh, I think it's like a more of a societal problem that we're kind of fighting against promoting a healthier way. And yes, healthier way might take a little bit more time to prepare by actually decreases the time of spending in a grocery store. I hate grocery stores. That's like.
My least favorite thing to do is to go to a grocery store. But as Paul said, just go outside. Don't even go in the middle as much as possible. And as a mom of three, I'm trying to teach my kids to, okay, if you eat cereal, how do you feel a couple of hours after at school? And now they've started to notice the difference. Like, okay, mommy, if I have eggs and bacon in the morning,
I can go easy the whole school day or until lunchtime, which my older kids have later, without feeling hungry. But if I eat this sugary cereal in the morning, I'm hungry one hour later. And I noticed, now that I've gone more of a low carb diet, that before I would eat breakfast with the kids like 6:30, 7 o'clock.
Marjaana Rakai (07:04.801)
And then after dropping the kids off at school, 8.30, I would be hungry again. And I was supposed to go do a workout. So I would have to like eat a snack before the training. And then after training, I was hungry again. So I've noticed a huge difference that I'm not as hungry anymore as I used to when I was stuffing my face with all these, you know, high carb things.
like we promote it to.
Can you give us some examples, Marjaana? Like what are some of the foods that you maybe used to eat that maybe you eat less of today?
Marjaana Rakai (07:45.765)
Born and raised in the Nordic countries, bread is a huge thing. Although the bread, I would say, in the Nordic countries is a little bit healthier than North America. And I don't eat oatmeal anymore, like I used to. That was my go-to breakfast before training day, was oatmeal. And then I would add berries and peanut butter and whatnot to add in some, you know, protein.
And during the training, we women, we're lucky that way that we can always stuff more food in our bra. So I would always have like sandwiches there or grapes. That has caused some funny stories would I pull out of my bra. But...
Ha ha ha!
Marjaana Rakai (08:44.501)
Yeah, now I can go six hour bike ride and only have like a some nuts, usually almonds and walnuts next to me. It's just a huge difference. And I noticed that in my recovery too, like I'm not constantly. It's so funny, you see like runners and triathletes post on social media that they are...
'hangry' all the time, like going through a marathon block or big training week, they're always constantly just eating. I'm like, no, you don't have to. No, you really don't have to if you add in a little bit of those healthy fats like avocado and olive oils and nuts. And I've noticed a huge difference in recovery.
So what are some of those most important nutrients that endurance athletes need to consume or, I don't want to say should, but optimally would consume in their diet for recovery?
Well, I think Marjaana hit the key one, good fats. So we're talking essential fatty acids, omega-3s. There's a balance of omega-3s and omega-6s that you'll get in many of the good quality fat substances that Marjaana was talking about. Usually that comes with animal fat. So if you're having animals,
animal protein sources, they'll usually come with natural fats that you want in your diet. So just think about fish, for example, right? That's going to come with, laden with omega-3s. But even in the, you know, if you're consuming a, you know, fattier end of a chicken or beef products, there's lots of fat that's in those cuts as well that are
that are good quality. And then over to the protein is so key as well, right? So the building block of protein are amino acids. We have essential amino acids that we need, essential meaning you can actually get them through, like they must be attained through the diet, your body can't produce them. So you can only get those through certain, I believe animal products actually.
There's vegetarian options, but it's just not as complete. So a complete protein might, I believe an egg is, so if you're lacto-ovo vegetarian, but vegans can have a harder time getting adequate amounts of protein. Also over to the micronutrients, the B vitamins are one of the key ones that
B12 in particular is so important for energy metabolism. And also the heme components, the iron levels that are in red meat are also so vital. We hear so many athletes suffering from anemia or they're low in red blood cells. If you're low in oxygen carrying capacity due to low levels of iron,
or heme components that are in your system, you're gonna feel fatigue, right? This is all gonna contribute to poor hormonal regulation and eventually will bring us to those downward spirals of not sleeping well, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, this is why, as again, Alistair Brownlee said, 9% is nutrition, right? We need to be thinking about eating on the outer aisles, eating whole foods,
and especially good balance of good quality, free range if possible meat products for your proteins and vegetables as well with, yeah, they come with the micronutrients.
Could you clarify what you meant by heme products?
Sure, so heme is another word for iron. So iron, yeah, so like hematocrit, like is how many red blood cells you have in relative to the plasma component. Say for example, hemoglobin, so that's the, it's the iron component. So iron is the micronutrient, it's the cation that carries the...
the oxygen to and drops it off. Basically it takes it from the environment out through your lungs, gets pumped through the heart, gets deposited in all your cells, but in the context of exercise, we think about it often in the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell in our muscles to give us the energy that we need. So if you're feeling flat, a lot of times coaches and doctors
will take a blood test and they'll have a look at these markers. It's probably the first marker that they'll have a look at. If you come in feeling really, really low, let's have a look at your, you know, let's do a red blood cell panel, right? And we'll have a look at all the various different components of your red blood cells that are in there. And if those are low, that's a, you know, and they often are as a first point of call.
in individuals that are presenting that are a little bit flat, a little bit low in energy. That's one of the big culprits. And the solution often is finding ways of getting that iron back in the diet. And if you, again, if you are coming in on a vegetarian diet, that's a very, that's a tough ask, right? And I work with a lot of vegetarian athletes.
And it's always a hard battle to figure out ways of getting more heme iron into the diet of those athletes. We are what we eat. I really should have started with that, right? So it's, there's just no, there's no magic about it, right? Like it's just, there's a lot of common sense in this whole thing. We, you know, I'm looking at you guys on the screen and I'm looking at myself and we are the products
you know, approximately the last year of cell turnover, we're the products of our diet over the last year. So every cell in the body just gets turned right over. Even though we look similar to what we were last year, there's a whole breakdown, catabolism and anabolism buildup of the whole process. That's in this whole circadian rhythm, that cycle keeps happening.
Red blood cells are a classic example, 120 days lifespan, and they will die and then they'll get rebuilt after every 120 days. All your other cells are on a similar time course of that. So you literally are what you eat. You're looking at, looking at yourself, you're looking at your last year of food, it's all sitting on you.
Marjaana Rakai (16:17.845)
So for having been in the lower end of the normal iron, is it ferritin stores, I'm always thinking what should I eat. So I know for vegetables, spinach, beets, potatoes have higher content of iron.
I believe, and then there's liver products, which not many people like. I quite enjoy them. And what else? Beef, of course. But also, what a lot of people don't know is that caffeine can decrease the absorption of iron. Am I correct? Or...
I wasn't aware of the caffeine issue. Yeah, it's possible, but I just wasn't aware of that one. So yeah, but you nailed it on the sources. Those are all, I mean, I'm sure we could go into detail on getting a full complete list of the various different products. But to my knowledge, the most bioavailable levels of iron in your food.
Marjaana Rakai (17:18.679)
Marjaana Rakai (17:23.468)
And again, this is what we try to do with athletes that are presenting with low, you know, they're anemic, low iron. They come to me and we try to convince them to have more of the liver or the, you know, or the beef products. And then potentially from the vegetable standpoint is way down in terms of bioavailability and what you'll take on, but it's then the...
than the spinach and the various different vegetables. It's just not even on the same level, right? Like it's up here versus down here. And then there's the pill forms as well, right? That you'll often get supplemented on by either a GP or a nutritionist. But again, the bioavailability because of all of these various different, co-transporter molecules that are involved.
in the natural versus what just can't be provided in a pill form. Although you know we'll be told that vitamin c is you know you know just take a vitamin c tablet with your iron tablet well you know sure but it's just not uh i'm afraid it's not the same. Again we're i don't like the whole strategy of treating the symptoms and well what's the
What's the cause of the symptom, right? Like what's the fundamental cause? And the fundamental cause must relate to something, we're doing something different that's not natural in us. And to me, what's natural is, again, I come from an evolutionary health sort of training background, so I believe that we need to think about how we used to operate in the world, back 10,000 years ago and whatnot. Before,
you know, farming and ag and all this kind of came to, came into play. So one of the interesting strategies that we use in some athletes is that can't stomach liver like you and I can, Marjaana but it is to, but they will still, they'll try it, is actually to cook liver, cut it up, put it in the freezer and cut it up in a little pill forms.
and they cut up liver into pills and they put that in the freezer. And then basically at a regular dosage, they just take the liver as a pill and they just swallow it and it completely reverses the anemia and they can stomach it as well. And they just take that as the pill, right? Like that is a way, way better.
solution. So we use that in the New Zealand Olympic program with a number of the athletes that had that exact same problem. So common.
Marjaana, you've had some experience and trying different technologies for recovery, that other methods that show promise in enhancing recovery for everyday endurance athletes. You want to talk about some of the ones that you have done besides focusing on nutrition?
Marjaana Rakai (21:06.405)
Sure. My highest recommendation goes to getting a rescue dog and doing walking. A lot of walking in the nature. That's very high tech.
Marjaana Rakai (21:23.759)
No, one of the things that when we first started working together, Paul, was you recommended Floating. And having read this book, I'm going to do a little plug for Good to Go. That was an interesting book. And one of the recovery methods that she...
Marjaana Rakai (21:52.097)
evaluated in this book was floating. So I was a little bit skeptical because I thought like getting into a pod for an hour, me and my monkey brain, how was that gonna go? But I find because I think, this is my theory, I think that I'm, my nervous system is a little sensitive and I experience world.
um, high degree and I take everything in and process it constantly. And that's why I think also sleep is so important for me personally. Um, but getting into that chamber, total complete darkness, just hearing my heartbeat, I thought that I was going to freak out, but I did, but I didn't. I mean, it was such a lovely.
But I did it. I mean, it was such a lovely experience.
Marjaana Rakai (22:52.093)
experience and I just kept, you know, in the beginning I just kept thinking of my breath, just try to keep it calm and when I came out of that after ten, after 60 minutes it was like a night and day, like I swear all my, because what the floating is, is basically taking all your
Marjaana Rakai (23:20.153)
and I walked out of there and I swear my eyesight was better. I could smell better. And all the everything, like hearing everything was... And I felt so calm, like so refreshed and energized. The only downside was that I had 30 minutes in Dubai traffic after. So that was just kind of like, okay, try to keep this. So...
Marjaana Rakai (23:48.909)
If I could have my dream house, like the prof, I would have a little pod in my house to do a floating session every week or whenever my monkey brain takes over. But walking, I think that's almost as good, depending where you are. If you have beautiful nature and mountains or ocean, like I find always walking.
A body of water always calms me down. That's a really good one too. And just sometimes just sitting there on a tree stump and looking at the leaves and let the nature come to you. That's all I need to recover.
That's interesting because when I read Good to Go, what I understood from what she said is that sleep is the most important and that works, nutrition works.
The other elements, there's not a lot of necessarily evidence that they do work. But the two parts that she talked about was that with the float tanks, with meditation, and those kind of things, we calm ourselves down. Plus massage, compression garments, those kind of things, they
where we think they're working and therefore they do. So Paul, I mean, is there science behind this? I mean, are any of these technologies like the float tank, like compression, is there science that's emerging from them? Is there enough to find value in doing them besides the placebo or the relaxation effect?
for sure. So again, so some yes and some no. And what really matters at the end of the day is what works for you. So if something works for you, you believe it works, you're getting a placebo effect from it, whatever if it whether it's real or not, it's if it's if you feel it works, then you're going to do it right? Like so massage is one of the greatest ones with that. It's really
demonstrate the efficacy of massage, because what are you gonna do for the placebo or the control condition, right? Like you can't blind it, right? Now, that being said, they have done blinding versions, at least like alternate things like a couch for, like a couch condition for things like the float tank. And they've even compared it to, you know,
drugs as well. And they found that like the float tank and this research is done predominantly by the Laureate Brain Research Institute, big huge MRI machines, etc. out of Oklahoma. Feynman is the author and that's his center there. It's just phenomenal. But basically, yeah, there's actually a lot more research than you'd think into sensory deprivation.
tanks and again just to be clear these tanks if you haven't had that experience it takes away the experience of gravity because you're floating in a tub of Epsom salts. It's completely dark in there and again that's wild for some people like Marjaana when she was probably even first imagining she's going to be in this. Some people have this level of anxiety where they can't even like...
comprehend getting into this thing. That's a classic example of you probably need it, actually. You'd probably really benefit from that if you're anxious about even thinking about the process of going into one of these tanks. So have a think of that. But yeah, no sound, no sight, no influence of gravity. And yeah, it takes a lot of time, maybe half the time for your monkey brain to settle down.
Thanks for watching!
And then Marjaana even mentioned the process of intro reception, basically, you hearing your organs doing their job. For, for example, you might hear your stomach contracting and moving its food through your digestive system. You can listen to your heartbeat. You can hear your, your every, every breath. It's really, really quite wild from that perspective. And all of these are, I guess, just ways of putting you back in tune.
with your body and we tend to lose that in today's tech age and you know with distractions and just you know everything so I'm going all over the place but that one has a lot of science. Compressions, not a whole heap. I think clinical depression sorry clinical compression so there's a different levels of pressure ultimately and like clinical compression ones where they're really squeezing they've shown a little bit of something.
Um, but again, if it offers a placebo, then great massage. I think there's a lot there to massage human physical touch. Um, and the neurological thing is, uh, I don't care if they, if they haven't demonstrated that one, it's recommended, if you can get it, it's recommended by all. I recommend it for all my athletes. Um, especially for, uh, you know, a good therapist is worth their weight in gold, you know? So.
Marjaana Rakai (29:36.613)
They are also almost your psychologist too. Like if you find a massage therapist, shout out to my old team in Dubai, they become your friends and it's just so much more than just the massage.
Thanks for watching!
I agree. Yeah, so those would be the big ones. Over to your forte, Paul, with your massage, or sorry, your yoga. Yoga is a great form of recovery, in my opinion, just to facilitate mobility, especially as we age. That's a great recovery one. I can't emphasize how much I.
better I feel when I've done just a few yoga poses, like it doesn't have to be vigorous or anything, but just some classic warriors, downward dogs, up dog, all these sorts of things, right? Like, yeah, they're very, what my sitting body needs on a daily basis, right? Sitting or cycling body, I need to move it in some opposite poses, move some hips and...
hips and hamstrings.
Marjaana Rakai (30:50.07)
And talking about yoga, I think also like the mind part of yoga and breathing, like moving your body in sync with your breathing is so good for us. But I wanted to ask you, Paul, how did you, because you're coaching yoga in your endurance, simple endurance coaching business. How did you get started with yoga?
Well, you know, and yoga has been a part of what I have done as an athlete for a lot of years because, you know, if you ever see any of my yoga, I mean, I'm about as awkward as they get, you know, when you have that Instagram model, that's not me. You know, I've broken a lot of bones in my life and I don't move that well. And so yoga, you know, I went and I got my...
I think because I didn't see a lot of older guys who didn't move very well teaching classes and I needed to help other older guys who didn't move very well and other humans who didn't move very well see that you know the
Yoga is a really effective tool, not only for building strength, but for recovery. And now, that's something that I do with all of my athletes now is I offer a Monday night recovery session where we just move for 15 minutes at the most. And it's just a way of centering, of breathing, where you move according to your breath.
And there's that mobility that comes into it with your hips and your shoulders and all the different directions that we don't move, um, very often when we're running and cycling. And I find that yoga, you know, I'm sure that if I didn't do yoga on a regular basis, I wouldn't be able to ride my bike and I wouldn't be able to run because I would just be arthritis. I'm sure would build up so much in my shoulders. And.
all the places where I've broken things. So it's an integral part of what I do for recovery as that active recovery.
So do you think that, Marjaana, one of the things that you have talked about is, are there gender differences with recovery modes that might be out there? Are men and women different in some respects?
Marjaana Rakai (33:37.573)
That's kind of an ongoing debate in my head. I read somewhere that ice baths are not beneficial for women, while they are beneficial for men. But I have a completely different experience from ice baths.
last year when I did Ironman Finland, two days after I went to the swimming pool where they have ice bath at the cold pool. I can't remember what the temperature is, it's like at four degrees celsius and then they have a warm tub next to it. So you go 30 seconds in the cold one and then you go for two minutes on the warm one and I kept doing that like five times.
I love the feeling of tingles in your toes when you lose feeling when you're in the cold bath. But when I went to the pool, especially my quads were so sore from Ironman that I couldn't really walk very well. But I walked out of the pool like completely normal. And I met up with a friend and went for a walk in the nature and I was so mind blown how well my range of...
motion had returned just from that one session. So maybe, I don't know Paul, if you know if there's gender differences in recovery modes like ice bath or anything else can you think of?
No, I mean, you know, I reflect a little bit on the study that Filip is doing with MiraCare and looking at the various different, you know, hormone differences in, you know, but I'm, I don't think there's huge ones. Yeah, it's a good question. I think we might save that one and ask.
ask Filip in the future, but I don't think there's any hard evidence at this point in the game. I'm reflecting on my Wim Hof experience, my cold water immersion. And to me, there's something there with just a resetting of your whole central nervous system, your whole hormonal system. I'm thinking more of the mind. Everything sort of starts with the mind, right? When the...
when the mind is, you know, I guess capable all of the, through the HPA axis, hypoflamic pituitary adrenal axis, we see the, you know, all the downstream hormones do their things correctly and it controls the stress. And I would imagine females would be similar in terms of controlling their stress. And I'm not aware of the research suggesting that.
there's a negative effect in females. There's always an individual component. So some males will probably feel they don't benefit from the cold water immersion. And likewise, some females might find that is too much of a stress, right? And we know of, again, with the cold water immersion stuff, there's a cold shock syndrome where you can actually have a shock to your system
you ultimately stop functioning. And that's not a, like you just have a hyper sympathetic kind of reaction to it and you just almost become paralyzed which can cause drownings and these sorts of things, right? So caution always with these sorts of things. The video I demonstrated a couple episodes back, be cautious if you're doing these types of things. And yeah, mindful, progress the stimulus.
But yeah, I'm not totally aware of gender differences, Paul.
So here are the takeaways that I have. There's been a lot that we have talked about, but one is the nutrition, water consumption, are really critical elements in recovery so that we are planning our fueling to support our activities, getting good protein and fats to really aid recovery.
Number two, yoga, meditation, breath work. These are all free and useful tools for everyday athletes. Ice baths, there's a whole host of other modalities that will help you. But that leads to number three, regardless of whether the science has necessarily proven it, like massage, if something feels like it works.
the placebo effect, it's real and it will work for you. And whether it's relaxing, whether it's a real scientific effect, it doesn't matter if it feels like it's working, it does.
That is all for both the recovery series and for this week. Thanks for listening and join us next week when we talk about, well, you will find out. For Marjaana Rakai, Dr. Paul Laursen, I am Paul Warloski and this has been the Athletes Compass Podcast.