Most of us are looking for ways to improve performance. Better and lighter shoes if you are a runner, supplements to aid performance, technology to help us achieve our goals, and it goes on. Today, I’m going to write about endothelial cells and how this can impact your performance.
First off I’m going to spend a bit of time explaining how our body creates energy. We have to main categories of energy systems: anaerobic – creating energy without oxygen and aerobic – creating energy with oxygen.
Let’s look at the first system, the anaerobic system. As mentioned, this system creates energy without oxygen. This system is used typically at the beginning when intensity is at its maximum and duration is short, under 2 minutes. The reason oxygen is not being used is that the activity is so intense that the body cannot get oxygen to the muscles in time to produce energy oxidatively to meet the demand. The anaerobic phase can also be broken into 2 sections: the first 10 seconds and the remaining 110 seconds giving 2 minutes in total. The very first 10 seconds of intense activity is also devoid of the glycolytic system (think of carbs) and when no longer being able to provide fuel, the body slows down a bit to then incorporate they glycolytic system.
So what happens after the 2 minute mark? The body slows down, or the muscles will shut down. No other option. And when the body slows down, oxygen is then introduced into the energy system allowing aerobic metabolism to produce the energy needed. Most of us fall into this area when exercising, utilizing glycogen and oxygen for fuel.
So how do endothelial cells come into this? Endothelial cells are directly responsible for the initiation of increased blood flow in our body. That blood flow brings the oxygen needed for performance. If you are a person who eats a typical western diet, you have been slaughtering your endothelial cells to the point that the blood flow is no longer like going over teflon but more like velcro. And maximizing blood flow is what we want to increase our performance. The better the blood flow is the more oxygen being delivered to our muscles. More oxygen means more fuel which means better performance.
This isn’t another blog post promoting veganism, it’s a blog post on performance. Just so we’re clear I am a promoter of whole foods plant based eating even though I am vegan. You will never hear me promote veganism as a diet. You can be vegan and still damage your endothelia just as much as someone who consumes animals. Why? Because it’s the fat that is doing the damage. Fat from added oils, nuts, seeds, and of course, animals and animal products.
Let’s look at oil. There is this notion that there are healthy oils, oils we need to consume to be healthy. Oils have very little nutritional value save some vitamin E, Omega 3’s, and so on. No fiber, no glucose, no vitamin C, etc. Consuming a whole foods plant based diet properly will provide any oils you need naturally. Adding oils to food really isn’t necessary and depending on the amount and frequency can be damaging your endothelial which can lead to coronary issues and also performance issues.
Now, before you make the conclusion that you can continue to eat animals and animal products because there isn’t any difference between that and a high fat consuming vegan, here is why you should seriously consider eating a whole foods plant based diet if you aren’t already: oxidative stress. Fat consumption causes oxidative stress which causes free radicals that causes endothelial disfunction thus leading to atherosclerosis which is the build up of plaque on the artery walls. Plants, one more time, Plants are the only foods that have anti-oxidants which counteracts the oxidative stress. So if your oil consumption is higher than it should be, and you are eating a lot of plants, you are then helping to counteract the oxidative stress from oils.
So how do endothelial cells help deliver oxygen to our muscles? Have you ever seen in movies, or shows from years ago where someone is having a cardiac episode and they would reach into a pill bottle and pull out a small pill and put it into their mouth? They would instantly be better. This pill is NO2, nitric oxide. Endothelial cells are what bring NO2 to the bloodstream and increase blood flow thus increasing the delivery of oxygen.
This is why foods high in natural nitrates that promote nitric oxide such as beets, spinach are beneficial to performance, especially endurance performance.
So to summarize, foods high in fat vastly lower the amount of NO2 in our blood thus greatly impacting the delivery of blood to our muscles, lowering the amount of O2 needed for our body to create fuel. Also, eating plants is the only way to increase the amount of anti-oxidants we consume which counter acts the oxidative stress caused by consuming fat, and also exercise. Yes, exercise stresses our body.
Ultimately we need to find a balance between what we eat, how we feel, things we do for pleasure and our overall health, physically and mentally. Knowing what your priorities are can help you find this balance. Knowing how your body works and what can impact performance and health can also help you decide what to eat and what not to eat. At the end of the day, that balance should help you become the person you want to be.
Yours in health,