You Are What You Eat

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You Are What You Eat
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Fitness guru Jack LaLanne turns 90 this week. Mr. LaLanne has worked out two hours a day, seven days a week, all his life but he claims that his muscle tone, his low body fat percentage, his high energy level are equally due to his disciplined diet. Breakfast: a power drink loaded with soy protein and whole grain cereal
Lunch: 4 egg whites, fruit, and a non-cream-based soup
Dinner: 10 raw vegetables, salad, a non-cream-based soup, whole-wheat pita, 4 ounces of fish--and OK, one glass of wine Well, reading athlete journals of the 1920's doesn't tell much of a different story. They didn't know about soy protein shakes back then but many of them list simple grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meat as the staples of their fuel.

Since that time, athletes have ricocheted from diet to diet over the years as much as average Americans have tried A to Z to squeeze into their summer swim suits. By the 1950's, protein and fat, steak and potatoes, came into vogue. Today, the NFL pre-season training table is loaded with chicken and fish, moreso than steak. In the 70's, marathon runners were big into what they called &quotcarbo; loading." That meant eating a huge bowl of pasta and a couple of beers the night before a race. Today's endurance athletes have balanced protein back into their diets.

Athletes today are much more sophisticated about nutrition than previous generations. They take courses, they read clinical journals, they make sure to team up with coaches and trainers who know their stuff when it comes to nutrition. But, beyond food--and seemingly more important than food--they ingest all kinds of products to boost their strength and endurance. Illegal drugs aside, the penchant for swallowing supplements is de rigueur in today's locker room.

There is a vast menu of vitamins and supplements and herbs that are perfectly legal according to the law, which reduce body fat, put on pure muscle weight, or rev one's aggression up a notch. Products with names such as Ripped Fuel. The trouble is that, taken without supervision, many of these substances may cause irreparable harm.

Remember Corey Stringer of the Minnesota Vikings? He used a legal supplement called ephedra, which is the synthetic version of the Chinese herb Ma Huong. Ephedra speeds heart rate. On a hot day during a strenuous football practice, ephedra's effects were fatal for Corey Stringer.

How about Steve Bechler? Remember him? He was a young major league pitcher trying to reach his full potential by taking Xenadrine, another ephedrine product. Steve Bechler's not with us any more, either.

The quagmire of powerful pharmaceuticals disguised as nutritional supplements all started back in 1994 when the FDA decided it could not regulate vitamins, supplements, and herbs as it regulates food and drugs. They asked Congress to pass the DSHEA Act that year and 20 thousand products flooded into the over-the-counter market under the umbrella label &quotnatural;&quot.; An athlete who doesn't want to risk taking illegal amphetamines or steroids can just hop down to the local health food store and pick up a grocery basket of dangerous hormone and amphetamine derivatives to enhance his performance.

The saying goes &quotyou; are what you eat," but that notion seems terribly naive for the athlete of 2004. It should go something like &quotyou; are nothing more than the sum of your pile of supplements."

Common sense begs the athlete to return full circle to simple, sound nutrition. Xenadrine has never been on the LaLanne breakfast table. As a matter of fact, Jack LaLanne last tasted dessert in 1929.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad