Tim Ferris’, author of the 4-Hour Workweek, posted an interesting article link on Facebook which shows that changing to a healthier lifestyle (both in terms of diet, exercise and stress management) actually changes your genetic setup! In the study, 48 disease preventing genes were turned on after three months of lifestyle change whereas 453 disease-promoting genes were switched off.
In short: You can change your genes by changing what you eat and your level of activity. This opens up a set of interesting possibilities, the study in the article did not measure whether activity levels or diet contributed the most to the outcome and did not look at performance-enhancing genes. Yet, using common-sense and my own experience with changing my life-style from sedentary to active (when I found hill running) and past experiments with extremely healthy diets such as the Paleo-Diet, I would wager that you will find performance-enhancing and recovery-improving genes switch on while their opposites switch off (in either case, health and performance are linked).
In 2008, I had my most consistently strong results, the greatest amount of injury-resistance and my best ever body composition (I dropped to 65 kilos for the first times since my teens), and I used the Paleo-Diet during that time. It may not be the cause if we remember the most fundamental law of statistics: "Correlation is not causation" (e.g. just because two things seem related don't mean one caused the other).
But every time I read a study like this it refocuses my mind around the need to make severe changes to both lifestyle and diet to maximise performance, health and longevity. Doing so is not easy as the key source of all our modern problems is a sugar-binding protein called LECTIN.
For the full story of what lectins are I recommend this page, but let me summarise the points here in the context of endurance athletics. Lectins are complex proteins that don't break down easily and while they are found in most foods they are considered to have only toxic levels in the following food-groups: grains (wheat, barley, oats, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, millet and corn), legumes (all dried beans, soy and peanut), pasteurised dairy and nightshade plants (potato, tomato, eggplant, and peppers).
So, that just wiped out most of our standard diet there in one fell swoop, so why care? To quote "The Paleo Plan":
Lectins are sticky little buggers and the WGA goes into your small intestine and gloms onto the brush border. It then tricks your body into taking it across the border of your intestine intact, where it is seen as a foreign invader by your immune system. Antibodies are created in response to the lectins,... This is where autoimmune issues arise, like diabetes type 1, celiac disease, lupus and multiple sclerosis.
To make things worse, on their way into your body, lectins damage the walls of your intestines, helping to create “leaky gut”, so that other large particles can cross the intestinal barrier, enter your blood stream and begin other immune cascades. This is basically how food sensitivities start.
In case you are still not convinced it could affect your athletic performance, consider this statement from a recent study: Leptin also affects the growth of blood vessels and bone; the immune system; glucose- and fat metabolism and the reproductive system.
My hypothesis is that a diet that reduces gluten and leptin intake while providing maximal doses lean protein, good fats, minerals, vitamins and slow burning carbohydrates could fundamentally transform your health and performance, even down at the genetic level (if you consider the earlier study).
A Note on Glucosamine
Glucosamine has long been held up as a primary joint supplement although research is not conclusive. These studies may not have considered (I'd need to check) that Glucosamine is a carbohydrate which neutralises wheat leptins. This means, if you have sufficient amounts of glucosamine in your system these will "lock together" with leptins from wheat and neutralise their inflammatory effect in your system.
So even if they had no benefits in reducing joint inflammation, glucosamine would be worthwhile taking to reduce the damage done by eating wheat! Incidentally, I take the 1200mg of the best quality Glucosamine every day which may have staved off the worst effects of my long addiction to wheat products.
A Warning on NSAIDs (Nurofen)
"Why have I never noticed any ill-effects?" Well, luckily the human body has many defence systems but these can be knocked out by certain bacterial and viral infections (such as influenza) which is why the onset of Diabetes-2, attributed to lectin intolerance, often happens late in life after an infection has occurred.
Pertinent to athletes Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (such as Nurofen) similarly weakens your defenses and since many of us get advice to use these drugs when we have joint trauma, we should be extra careful what we eat during this phase. In other words: stay low on legumes, bread, rice and so on while eating Nurofen! It is easy to see why the combination of pints with Nurofen makes for a great life-shortener.
So am I saying that changing your lifestyle could turn you from also-ran into a champion? This is perhaps an exaggeration, but I believe you could maximise your genetic potential which you then need to exploit to the best possible training (to my mind, the Lydiard Training system).
ChampionsEverywhere and Orbana
As some of my readers will know by now I am involved in starting up a project code-named ChampionsEverywhere and we are currently working on getting a healthy energy drink called Orbana into Ireland.
My mission with ChampionsEverywhere is to provide a full package of the best performance enhancing solution in every area that influences it: diet, training, lifestyle, technology and more. The Lydiard system stands to me as the best physical training system for any sport (something I'll expand on soon) and I have some exciting news on that front (to be published within a few months hopefully).
The Paleo-Diet is undoubtedly the most effective performance diet out there but it is very challenging and you need careful planning to use it properly. When evaluating Orbana, it seemed to me the best performance and recovery product out there because eating healthy seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables and lean meat (the staples of the Paleo-Diet) is not practical just before, during or thirty minutes after the event.
To fill the gap, a drink that was basically "The Paleo-Diet in powder form" was ideal and luckily Orbana had separately arrived at an ingredient list which contains what we need: slow carbs, minerals, vitamins, and, most importantly, branch-chain amino acids (BCAA).
Neither the Paleo-Diet nor the Lydiard System are easy. One will make you eat healthier than anyone but will require huge changes in your daily planning and will challenge you at work and other places where you may struggle to find the right food.
Lydiard training is the most effective but also the most demanding and can easily lead to injury if you are not careful (due to the high volume). It stands to reason that a healthy lifestyle will reduce your risk of injury, so by using these things together you get more out of it.
Certain products may assist you in this change such as Orbana (for diet), Functional Movement Systems (for reversing the effects of your sedentary lifestyle on your movement patterns) and qualified coaches (to help you stray clear of the worst dangers). This is essentially what the ChampionsEverywhere project aims to help people do, but in the meantime you can educate yourself on these matters and start taking the right steps straight away. I've provided a few links to interesting books on Amazon on these topics, most of which I own myself: