Optimal Detoxication + Supporting Athletic Goals with Nutrition

All too often, we have wonderful athletic aspirations, and then life—or lifestyle—gets in the way. We aspire to train for a distance, run a course that calls to us, or set a new PR or place. We sign up, put the date in the calendar and start training strategically to reach the goal. As we get deeper into the training cycle and the mileage and workouts begin to add up, the body starts to tell us it’s a little (or a lot) achy, the muscles and joints aren’t recovering as well from day to day, and we’re very fatigued and probably more than a little short-tempered with those that know us best. We don’t quite have injuries, or maybe we do, and we might even shrug the aches and pains off as ‘goes with the training.’

One of the many ways we can support our training is through improved metabolic detoxification.

Detox? You mean like a juice cleanse? Or an eat only salad spree?

Anyone that’s ever rolled their eyes at the idea of a juice cleanse or other “detox diet” knows that our body naturally processes and makes exotoxins—from chemicals, compounds, hormones, poor quality air from all the summer wildfires, and the like—and endotoxins—from junky, damaged cellular debris and bacteria—less harmful, and then eliminates them. Through a series of multiple steps, the harmful waste products are metabolized in the liver and then transferred to the intestines, kidneys, lymphatic system and sweat glands to be excreted.

However, even when we spend a big chunk of our mileage outside or a natural landscape, we now live in a society where our systems are bombarded with a vast amount of pervasive toxins, so much so that our metabolic pathways are often unable to break them down effectively and carry them out of our system. If you live in the Pacific Northwest like me, or generally in the Western US, there’s a good chance your system has been inundated with toxic compounds in the last decade from long stretches of smoky, toxic air — at the very least.

The first glimpse of semi-normal sunshine after weeks of being forced inside, away from falling ash and toxic air pollution in the 2020 Labor Day Fires in Oregon.

When we can’t effectively break down and get rid of toxic compounds, they begin to recirculate into the body and build up in fat tissues, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, generalized aches or soreness, irritability, headaches, and perhaps decreased athletic performance, among others. There are many ways we can combat these symptoms to improve workout recovery and run with less aches, more energy, and a better attitude.

The process of metabolic detoxification is highly individual in that we each have different toxin exposures due to the environment we live in, everyday living products used, stress, and training load. Next there are individual genetics, which can make this natural process less efficient than ideal, and finally, there’s proper nutrition, consuming and absorbing the nutrients that make detoxification occur more proficiently. This third area is where I’ll focus.


The liver is where the bulk of detoxification occurs. There are three main phases of liver detoxification, happening all the time in your body. The best way to support the phases of liver detoxification nutritionally is in reverse order, meaning we start with making sure phase three is occurring before we focus on phase two, followed by phase one.

But first let’s just overview those phases.

The Detoxification Pathways in a Healthy Liver

Baseline: Toxins are fat soluble. And they are stored in the body in adipose (fat) tissue.

This is the exact same reason fish that are “high on the food chain” have warnings about consuming too much of them. They are large, fatty fish, and they’ve accumulated all the toxins from all the organisms below them in their fat tissues.

As humans, we also are “high on the food chain” and we can consider ourselves good storage vessels for environmental and internally created toxins, just like tuna and swordfish.

Toxins consumed through food are transported from the intestine to the liver. Environmental toxins that we breath in, or that are absorbed through our highly permeable skin, or endotoxins from normal cellular turnover, as well as those that turn over more rapidly from those high mileage or hard training weeks, also end up in the liver (our body’s big filter).

Phase One: In the liver, most toxins are neutralized from fat-soluble to less harmful substances using several nutrients and through a few complex metabolic reactions.

This process produces free radicals which are quenched by antioxidants—in an ideal scenario anyway!

Phase Two: The remainder of the un-neutralized toxins move into phase two of detoxification, which transforms them into water-soluble compounds.

This is also occurring in the liver.

Phase Three: Waste products that are now water soluble are transported to various organs to be excreted in the urine, feces, or sweat.

If we’re not consistently having complete bowel movements, sweating multiple times per week, and urinating, all those ready to be excreted toxins will be circulated back into the body.

Coming Up Next

Nutrition (and your ability to digest your food and actually absorb those nutrients), plays an incredibly essential role in detoxification. In my next article, I’ll share about the nutrients needed in each phase of metabolic detoxification.

If you’re fatigued, achy, have joint pain, or frequent injuries, headaches, etc., your body is very likely not detoxifying well. If you’d like to learn more and get assistance from a professional, I’d love to speak with you in a quick phone consultation!

Experiencing Fatigue and Poor Exercise Recovery?

Depending on your exercise or training load, it’s sometimes “normal” to experience fatigue in the hours and days after a workout or strength session. But what about when you routinely feel fatigued, more than your normal or chronically? Or when you realize you’re not recovering from workouts as well as in the past? 

There are many reasons why you might be more fatigued than ideal, or not recovering well from training. Below are a few of the most common. 

Reasons For Excessive Fatigue and Poor Training Recovery

Sleep

Sleep is probably the number one thing that can help you recover better from exercise and stressful phases of life. Typically, most adults need about seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but it’s not just the number of hours that matters. The quality and timing of sleep can be equally important.

Do you fall asleep after 10 pm, or closer to midnight or 1am? Or later? 

If so, you’ve already missed out on crucial hours of recovery. This is because your body’s internal clock–it’s circadian rhythm–is programmed for what we’ll call the “night janitor” to come between the hours of 10pm to 2am each night. These are the hours that the brain and body does most of its deep cleaning internally. Just like at school or a workplace, if you work late and the night janitor shows up, they often say “I’ll come back later.” In this case, later means another day. Practiced routinely, and your missed hours or nights of deep cleaning and cellular repair start to add up, adding to your fatigue and poor recovery.

High Stress

Stress, no matter whether it’s perceived or actual, wreaks havoc on your hormonal response and puts extra strain on your recovery process. Habitual high stress also often impacts sleep, causes anxiety, burn-out, depression, and excessive inflammation. Nutritionally, inflammatory foods are a major stress to the metabolic process and can be treated as “high stressors” at the metabolic level. See more about this below.

Overtraining

Overtraining can be looked at from a number of angles, but ultimately, it’s about too much stress and not enough rest. That’s an extremely broad way of differentiating it from the Stress category above or from the nutritional categories below.

Snacking all day / improper meal planning or amount

If you’re quite active, aim for four balanced meals with no snacking in between. Giving the digestive system time to rest by about four to six hours after each meal really supports its ability to fully digest the last meal before the body has to begin digestion again. This habit can go a long way towards enabling proper nutrient utilization and improved recovery.

Inadequate Macro or Micronutrient Status

Either an improper ratio or amounts of the macronutrients (Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fats), or of any number of Micronutrients can cause poor exercise recovery. The micronutrients that are most often implicated for chronic fatigue and poor workout recovery include:
Magnesium,
Thiamin (B1),
Riboflavin (B2),
Niacin (B3),
Pantothenic Acid (B5),
Pyroxidine (B6),
Folate,
Vitamin B12,
Biotin,
Iron,
Copper,
Vitamin D,
Vitamin E,
Vitamin C,
Carotenoids,
Coenzyme Q10,
Selenium,
Zinc,
and other antioxidants such as Glutathione, N-Acetyl Cysteine, and Alpha-Lipoic Acid. 

As you can see, this is quite the list. Any one of these can be the cause of poor recovery. Some of these nutrients can be toxic if supplemented with more than is needed, or they can negatively impact the status of other micronutrients. So it’s always best to confer with an experienced nutrition professional before adding supplement nutrients to your regime. This also makes sure you get the right nutrients for you– and not guessing at what might help.

Poor Digestion / not absorbing nutrients from food

I’ve written extensively about poor absorption and digestion so I encourage you to learn more by reading other articles on this topic. But it’s safe to say if your digestion is compromised, which also may not be obvious to you, then you’re not going to be recovering well and will frequently experience fatigue as a result.

Excessive Ingestion of Inflammatory Foods 

Think of inflammatory foods as anti-nutrients for the body. They take more nutrients to break down and clear from the body than they provide, and cause excessive cellular inflammation before doing so. Foods or beverages in this category include refined sugars, refined/processed grains, rancid oils, alcohol, ultra-processed foods (most foods that have more than eight to ten ingredients, or ingredients that you’d never add to the food from your pantry if making a homemade version), and in cases where you also have compromised digestion (which may not be immediately obvious), whole foods that can be inflammatory and difficult to digest for certain individuals, such as wheat, barley, spelt, farro, dairy products, nuts, soy, eggs, and fish. 

Next Steps

Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with many of these personally, and have had whole training blocks and races thrown off by them. For me, the most common culprits are poor digestion and nutrient assimilation, micronutrient deficiencies due to poor digestion, and high stress. Additionally, the factors that can contribute to fatigue often work interchangeably and compound on themselves.

Within my nutrition practice, I specialize in endurance athletes and digestive imbalances. If you’ve struggled with poor exercise recovery or extra fatigue that you’d like to figure out, I encourage you to reach out to me for more personalized support.