12 Variables That Influence Human Performance

Proper nutrition forms the foundation for every cell, and good performance is dependent on the integrity of our entire cellular matrix. Recognizing this principle is a tenet of sports nutrition. The human body is capable of amazing feats of strength, stamina and flexibility, but it's always susceptible to mental and physical fatigue, burnout, and injury.

Getting back to the basics, training with motivation and intensity, and maintaining a positive, balanced state of mind is essential to overall health and well-being.

The quality and quantity of the food and dietary supplements we consume is absolutely vital to optimizing our body chemistry, and sustaining our function and structure. The fine-tuned clarity of body and mind we all desire can only be achieved when these principles are applied.

So how valid is nutrition in regards to athletic performance? If it's so important then how can world-class athletes achieve such outstanding performance on diets consisting of pizza, hot dogs, French fries and Coke? If natural organic food and optimum nutrition is so important to health and fitness, then how can these high-caliber athletes perform so brilliantly with little regard to the quality of their diet or nutritional supplements?

Here's the answer. They do it in spite of eating junk, but not for long and they pay an enormous price. Anyone can run on empty for a while, especially young people, but eventually even the strongest adrenals will collapse and give way to exhaustion. Although nutrition and whole food is an essential component of health and wellness, an athlete's performance when analyzed objectively, is determined by many other variables besides nutrition. Letメs look at some of them.

Doping Agents & Prescription Drugs

As we all know, performance-enhancing drugs, which include a wide variety of sophisticated doping agents, are common to the world of sport. Many drug testing programs are outdated and don't include tests for substances in common use, such as growth hormone, EPO, insulin growth factor (IGF-1) or insulin. Many professional sport organizations (like the NHL) don't even test for anabolic steroids and even if they do, exogenous testosterone is easy for athletes to mask or cycle. And what about prescription drugs? Don't kid yourself, unlike recreational drugs used for fun, prescription drugs obtained from team physicians can mask pain, stimulate the body when it needs to perform or sedate the mind when it's over stimulated. Elvis Presley wasn't a pot or coke-head. He died from an overdose of uppers and downers obtained legally from medical doctors.

Genetic Endowment

Among the many natural attributes people are born with (genotype) an individual may possess an ideal percentage of type I or IIa muscle fibers with respect to the given sport. For example, world-class sprinters often possess upper thighs dominated by fast-twitch muscle fibers ideal for generating explosive power and speed. Other "Gifts from the Gods" include extra tendon length, superior muscle insertion and origin sites, above average height, heavier bone structure, greater lung capacity for improved oxygen uptake, and the list goes on. The variables are almost unlimited and frequently observed in friends or our own family members.


The majority of the world's greatest athletes are between the ages of 18 and 28, not 68 and 78. There are exceptions but they are not the rule. Children and young adults can withstand more internal biochemical abuse simply because they haven't lived long enough to have suffered the same degree of oxidative damage as mature adults.

In addition they have a very high organ reserve of micronutrients, a much deeper enzyme bank to draw from, they are less insulin resistant, they have greater artery elasticity, denser bones, higher levels of endogenous hormones and their metabolism is highly anabolic. But when youth fades, the picture quickly changes.

A Burning Desire to Succeed

A personal commitment to win, to achieve your best possible performance regardless of the cost, is immeasurably powerful. Desire is the starting point for all achievement; true desire is never satisfied with anything less than fulfillment. It always longs for more and craves nothing but the best. Some say champions are born not made. They have what it takes to endure the trials, hardships and pitfalls of training and competing long-term. Motivation to succeed and clarity of vision is everything.

Tolerance to Pain

This applies to enduring grueling, harsh workouts, constantly striving for improvement, training through injuries and pushing oneself beyond the pain threshold of mediocrity. It's mostly a mental thing as in mind over matter. In a society addicted to pain medication and frightened by even the thought of pain, athletes who display the courage necessary to overcome this demon are greatly admired.

Professional Coaching

This can make a huge difference, as a good coach provides constructive analysis and technical support, sets high standards of training, motivates the athlete, has the insight to use the psychological edge, and can serve as a respected mentor. A good coach adds objectivity, expertise, emotional juice and knowledge to the athlete's subjective package.

Advanced Training Equipment

Technology can provide an athlete with a very definite training edge.

Every few months a new piece or line of equipment is born, developed specifically to maximize strength and power. One of the best I've seen and used is Dr. Michael Colgan's new line of Power Equipment based on his book the New Power Program. Innovation and science is the key and with Dr. Colgan form always follows function (www.colganinstitute.com)

Sophisticated Sport Training Protocols

Outdated methods are continuously replaced with a better approach because someone asked the question WHY or because science found a better way. Pilates, Swiss ball core training, cross-training, periodization and Plyometrics are just a few good examples. Basics exercises like the deadlift or squat have stood the test of time but the application of sets and reps in relation to somatotype and training objectives have definitely moved forward in space and time.

Skill Training

Repetition is the mother of skill and practice makes permanent (not perfect). Train the wrong way all the time and you'll make virtually no progress compared to what's possible when it's done right! Once you know how to train correctly, you must overcome the mental monotony of doing the same thing over and over again until it becomes automatic and part of you. This principle applies to diet as well and for most people, the diet part is by far the most difficult to apply.

Resistance Training

Weight training is now recognized as a cornerstone for all athletic achievement. If two athletes of equal skill, experience and determination go at each other in combat, the stronger athlete will seldom lose. Because of progressive resistance training methods, athletes (especially female athletes and children) are definitely bigger, stronger and faster than they have ever been in the history of sport. Don't underestimate the anabolic flux obtained through devotion to the iron. Those who do are really missing out.

Sport Psychology

Combining mental skill development with physical ability improves performance. Athletes can set goals, visualize success, apply PMA, meditate, employ hypnotherapy, work on raising self-esteem, develop a strong self-image and measure themselves in a different light with a change in attitude. We become what we think about. Change your thoughts and your world will change.

So there you have it. If several or all of these variables are present, it's obviously possible to excel in the short term without eating whole, fresh organic food. But just imagine if every great athlete combined his or her super skill and passion for success with the science of optimum nutrition, or better yet, just imagine if you did!

A great many retired professional and elite athletes are plagued with chronic inflammation, joint problems, mental and emotional disorders, body composition challenges and immune system impairment. Many of these conditions are a consequence of inadequate nutrition in the training and competitive years.

These athletes ignored the discipline of nutrition when they were young, and because they pushed themselves to the absolute limit (often with pharmaceutical support), they literally wasted themselves in the process and aged accordingly.

My experience as a Masters athlete definitely confirms this. Most Masters athletes (≥40yr) I have met in competition throughout the world, are plagued by injuries, past knee surgeries, heart disease, varicose veins, back problems, fatigue and excess body fat, yet they continue to compete (when possible) for love of their sport. Don't ignore the power of whole food when it comes to disease and injury prevention. Every ounce of quality food you eat and every gram of sports supplement you ingest is worth much, much more than a pound of cure!

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As always, stay well and live free!