The human brain is made from long spidery neurons that are mostly made from fat. These neurons communicate with one another by the proteins inside us. Like a car battery, the individual compartments of the brain need a liquid medium to send electric messages. Like a car battery, the brain must be maintained to work.Like a fully charged battery,
this liquid must have high amounts of the right substances to fire powerful signals. For the human brain, this liquid needs ample vitamins and minerals to operate at maximum efficiency. Dietary protein charges the brain that tells muscles to work. Thus protein, the brain, and the central nervous system are intimately tied together with the action of contracting a muscle.
Protein is utilized to make new cells, hormones, and neurotransmitters in your brain. Many other food sources produce neurotransmitters, but in the absence of proteins, the effort is minimal. With protein, the body produces vital neurotransmitters including arginine, adenosine, norepinephrine, serotonin and especially acetylcholine.
Neurotransmitters, mostly derived from the amino acids within protein, are the chemicals in the brain that motivate, sedate, excite, and help us focus. But the body is built to share amino acids, pitting brain cells verses body cells for demand on amino acids. Once the brain gets the amino acid to come its way, the amino acid must pass the protective blood/brain barrier. And all of this must happen in the plentiful presence of certain natural molecules found in the diet.
Dietary proteins come in two formats. Complete proteins from animal sources have a full load of eight essential amino acids. Nuts, seeds, legumes and other foods are incomplete proteins, providing only a few of the essential amino acids. For the nervous system to be optimally nourished, athletes need to be careful about their amino acid intake. This means high levels of complete protein with essential amino acids, blended with lower levels of plant-based amino acids, and then blended with vitamin and mineral rich produce.
The CNS uses calcium and potassium to direct nerve messages throughout the body. The movement of calcium and potassium in and out of cells forms a large part of this messaging system. This is to say that athletes need foods rich in these minerals to optimally keep nerves functioning. Because we have evolved eating nutrient rich foods, minerals from these foods register faster and more effectively than isolated in pill form. The best bio-available source of calcium comes from dairy foods. Bio-available sources of potassium comes from produce. The two must act in concert, in balance to supply the nervous system.
Of particular interest to a speed/power athlete is the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, the primary excitatory neurotransmitter for alertness and focus. It travels through the bloodstream arousing brain activity and works similar to adrenalin. It jolts up your metabolism. To access norepinephrine you need high blood levels of the amino acid tyrosine in the presence of Vitamin B complex, Vitamin C, iron, and copper. Here is where protein affects nerves. Get tyrosine mostly from dairy products, smaller amounts from almonds, avocados, and pumpkin seeds.
Serotonin is our magical calming and restoring neurotransmitter. It is important for learning, memory, and reduced blood pressure. Low levels of serotonin are known to result in insomnia, depression, increased sensitivity to pain, and obsessive-compulsive eating habits. To get serotonin you need to consume tryptophan in the presence of Vitamin B complex. The best food sources for this come from meat, cottage cheese, and to a lesser extent, peanuts.
Acetylcholine is yet another vitally important neurotransmitter to access through protein. This is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter essential for memory, concentration, and cognitive function. Unlike the other primary neurotransmitters, acetylcholine does not come from amino acids. Instead it comes from choline which does not need to battle with body cells for entry into the brain like amino acids. This means that the more choline you eat, the more acetylcholine you’ll produce. Choline is actually part of the Vitamin B family and is therefore a fat-like nutrient. By far the best source of choline is egg yolks. Please don’t follow the mass of popular diets that toss out egg yolks to have just egg whites. The yolks supply choline, fats, and protein. Cut out excess fats, not egg yolks.
Our Evolutionary Adaptation to Protein
Understanding the protein equation means understanding human evolution. Humans have spent six million years eating meat and vegetation. Our anatomy has been framed to eat meat. We didn’t develop our powerful teeth and jaw mechanism to eat Coco Puffs. We evolved as meat eaters, starting out eating road kill, then graduating to killing anything we wanted on the road. Our ancestral diet would fluxuate by season and by locale. Early human beings ate high quantities of protein balanced with high quantities of root vegetation, mostly in balance, but rarely the same quantity of food day to day. For many reasons, we preferred meat with lots of saturated animal fats.
We evolved on this diet of animal protein balanced with fats, roots, fruit, nuts, and occasionally a taste of honey. Today the human body still responds to this balance of meat plus root-like vegetation. Our ancestors ate everything they could digest from the animals they caught, especially including the favorite treat of bone marrow. Globs of saturated fat were part of the prize catch, despite what our anti-fat lobby says today. If the animal crawled, ran, flew, swam, dug, climbed or screeched, our ancestors ate everything except for the screech. To think that high amounts of protein will in some way cause health problems is failing to read. The published information abounds on our evolutionary diet. Mankind is a meat eating machine.
Don’t confuse this speed/power diet with the Paleo Diet. Although there are similar parts to the two diets, the Paleo Diet almost seems like a cult. They are at war with grains, even against legumes. How could Paleolithic worshiping dieters overlook the role of legumes in human history? But the Paleo Diet shuns all roots as being evil carbohydrates. An aspiring athlete would be wise to steer clear of all fad diets, including the Paleo Diet.
The most obvious break in tradition with our Paleolithic ancestors is in timing. When they caught a beast, they ate it within a day or so because they never knew how long it would be until the next meal. Now the modern athlete comes along and must eat to fuel long workouts, and must eat to get the body ready for tomorrow’s hard work. What we eat needs to connect with how we were built over millions of years. When we eat it is the variable to the equation.
Eating a wild venison steak 10 minutes after an intense workout won’t help you recover. It takes modern methods of turning protein into fast acting liquid that will help you recover. You need to drive liquid protein into muscle cells; prehistoric man knew nothing of this. But prehistoric man also knew nothing of the electronically timed 40 yard dash and the consequences of failing this test. So what should a modern athlete eat after working out? Whey and to a lesser extent yogurt are perfect for the job of post workout nutrient recovery.
Mankind is no longer Paleolithic man. As modern man, we have many characteristics of our forefathers, but to underestimate that we are in fact modern would be a big mistake. Athletes develop with modern training concepts and modern scientific dietary information. Once again, it is the balance that we must seek. Find a balance between the diet of your ancestors and the needs of a modern athlete.
Most of all, eat lots of meat.