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.
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!