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Mind and Matter - There's More to Recovery Than Nutrition

By Kevin Purcell

I spend a good deal of time speaking with athletes on a daily basis who are interested in learning to become more competitive competitive with themselves and/or competitive with other age groupers, elites or professionals.

Becoming a faster athlete occurs in two ways:

1. Training
2. Recovery from training

Both are as necessary as the other. This article deals with recovery from training.

Workouts are only as powerful as our body’s ability to absorb and recover from them. A great session is wasted if we cannot recover properly before the next training stimulus.

For this reason we should be interested in utilizing all of our available resources that enable recovery. Most of us know that these resources include pre-existing fitness, sleep, limiting stress, total rest, active recovery workouts and scheduling nuances.

I have found two more areas that often are underdeveloped when it comes to recovery. They are nutrition and mental attitude. Perhaps the underdevelopment is because at first glance nutrition and mental attitude can appear so challenging. In reality, the majority of us can simply choose to improve both, with great success.

Nutrition is a topic that can be controversial. It is a personal issue. As such, the topic can polarize a room.

I am not going to go into the science of nutrition or the specifics of fueling for racing. It has been done very well in previous columns. You can read more by Dr Cordain (, Joe Friel (Triathlete's Training Bible and, and Gordo Byrn ( They have shared studies as well as personal experiences that can improve an athletes performance.

Large amounts of evidence have been presented to support the correlation between proper nutrition, fueling and race performance. Still, I know athletes who do not use nutrition as a means to improve body composition and speed recovery.

I believe that excellent nutrition translates to increased speed. A good performance while practicing poor nutrition tells me that an athlete may have not yet reached his or her potential.

As an athlete I follow a Paleo plan that employs veggies, fruits and lean protein at every meal and uses higher glycemic foods to aid recovery following long sessions. I have largely eliminated processed foods.

As a coach, I recommend my athletes eat to ensure good training sessions, correct body composition and proper recovery. You can learn more about the Paleo diet modified for endurance athletes by clicking here

I became more serious about my nutrition when I began working one-on-one with Gordo Byrn. Adding more fuel to my quest for knowledge was when my older daughter became ill in January. I began studying nutritional ways to treat her problems stemming from cancer.

I wanted to use nutrition as an adjunct to chemotherapy and radiation and to speed recovery. I bought books and I studied.

Funny thing, all the anti-cancer diets are essentially Paleo. I had already been eating the way much of the literature was suggesting that my daughter should eat, to maximize her return to health.

So here was my 116-pound, 14-year-old girl beginning chemo and getting hit hard. We altered her diet to have her eat in a Paleo manner and increase her protein intake. She began working this program like her life depended on it, because it did.

We discussed the importance of her attitude and that it was essential that she remain positive. We worked with her mental strength and she brought her mind and a positive attitude into the fight. It was all about her recovering as best and as quickly as possible.

Initially, I was worried that she might lose weight with this nutritional strategy, but she has gained lean body mass over the last 11 months. I bring this up for a good reason: not just to tout Paleo, but to support lifestyle changes that develop overall health and a lack of disease (dis-ease) in both mind and body.

My daughter now eats as well as I do. In addition, she has gained lean body mass while I am losing weight. This is important to note because if we eat well — we don't "diet." Our bodies naturally find the correct weight for us as individuals. That may be a slight body type. It may be a larger more solid one. But it is the correct weight for you.

As endurance athletes, we compromise our skills if we place specific weight and caloric intake above common sense and recovery. The body must be fueled before, during and after training or we may be wasting some benefits, while risking injury and sickness.

What did I mean when I said my daughter brought her mind and a positive attitude along for the ride? Recovery is healing. The mind is responsible for a great part of our recovery. Plato was quoted 2,300 years ago as saying, "Mental fitness and physical fitness go hand in hand."

It does not matter whether we are recovering from sessions on a bike or run, or sessions in chemotherapy — we need all of our resources to be our best. This includes a positive attitude and mental strength.

I deal with people interested in bettering their fitness as a coach and as a chiropractor. Some folks rarely, if ever, get sick. These people are invariably happy, positive people. There is a healing force in the body that is enhanced by positive attitudes.

This healing force is something no one can dispute, no one can say is philosophical rhetoric.

When you boil recovery down to a healing art and science it becomes easily clear to see how powerful our choices are.

Kevin Purcell, D.C., is a USAT Level 1 certified coach for elite and age-group triathletes who compete at both Ironman and short-course distances. "KP" has completed 7 IM's and has qualified for the 2003 IM Hawaii. Dr. Purcell practices chiropractic with an emphasis on sports medicine in San Diego, Calif., and can be reached at

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