The Power of Mushrooms - 8 Benefits for Health & Performance

4.Mushroom blog_2018.png

Nutrition is a powerful way to improve your health and athletic performance. What you eat impacts your inflammatory response, immunity, gut microbiota, stress hormone output (or lackthereof), your capacity to train hard and recovery, as well as how sharp your mind feels. We're always told to eat a "plant-based" diet to promote overall health, and of course protein and healthy fats are essential, but there is one category that doesn't get mentioned much... Fungi. Mushrooms aren't fruit or vegetable, but rather their own distinct category and their evolution is actually tightly tied to ours as humans.

If we go back over a billion years ago, before there were plants and animals, fungi were here first. In fact, research shows the animal and fungi kingdoms actually come from the same evolutionary branch, perhaps revealing why mushrooms inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, just like humans. It’s thought that 40% of the diet of ancient primates was derived from fungi, and strong evolutionary connection may be a reason why mushrooms provide so many potential health benefits. Today more and more research is uncovering the many health benefits of this superfood (sorry, I know that term gets thrown around a lot, but mushrooms may actually fit the bill!).

Let's take a closer look at how mushrooms can impact health and performance

Benefits of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are incredibly nutrient-dense, chock-full of protein, iron, B-vitamins and key nutrients like glycoproteins (i.e., ergosterols) and polysaccharides (i.e., beta-glucans). They also provide an array of health benefits:

  • antioxidant
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antiviral
  • boost metabolism
  • improve lipid levels
  • anti-cancer

Different types of mushrooms can provide different types of benefits. The following is a list of eight mushrooms you can think about adding to your nutritional arsenal to support better health, recovery, immunity or potentially performance.

Eight Mushrooms for Health & Performance 

Reishi

Athletes need to train hard and train often. This takes its toll on your nervous and immune systems. If you're constantly busy and on the run, this is also a tremendous stressor on these systems. Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) are known as the “king of the mushrooms” and have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to boost resiliency and immunity. They're also adaptogens - a substance that supports the body during times of stress - making them a great fit for athletes or anyone who is pushing themselves hard at work or play.

Shiitake

If you live in a city with a true winter climate, your vitamin D falls dramatically throughout the coldest months of the year. Unfortunately, very few foods contain much vitamin D (making supplementation a good option for most people). All mushrooms contain ergosterol, a plant sterol compound that makes up a fundamental part of the cell membrane. Sun exposure converts ergosterol into vitamin D, and a 100g serving of fresh mushrooms will provide 2,000 IU. (1) I like my clients to add shiitake mushrooms to their nutritional arsenal because they're not only a natural source of vitamin D but also chocked-full of B-vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, etc.), selenium, zinc, and copper. (They also taste great in omelettes and on steaks!) Here's a quick tip; slicing your mushroom will yield even higher vitamin D levels as it exposes more of the surface area to light. Shiitake mushrooms have also been shown to be beneficial for weight loss, heart health, immunity, and fighting off cancer cells.

Maitake

Maitake mushrooms are another fungi from Asia that provides a wealth of health benefits. They are particularly high in beta-glucans, polysaccharides that have been shown to boost immunity via increased T cells, B cells, macrophages, and natural killer (NK) cells. (2) That means they’re a great tool for increasing your innate “first-line of defense” immune system, as well as supporting your adaptive “seek and destroy” immune system. As I mentioned above, training hard and working hard can compromise your immunity (known as the "open-window" theory in exercise immunology) and leave you more likely to catch a cold or flu. Adding more mushrooms to your nutritional arsenal athletes can help keep you going when you're really pushing the pedal to the metal.

Agaricus

Beta-glucans aren't just good for your immune system, they're also highly beneficial for lowering elevated blood glucose levels. The Agaricus blazei mushroom contains significant amounts of beta-glucan polysaccharides and recent studies show the addition of Agaricus blazei to conventional diabetes medication in type 2 diabetics dramatically improves insulin levels compared to controls. (3) The researchers also noted the mushrooms increased adiponectin levels, a key hormone released by fat cells that helps to regulate blood sugar levels.

Lion’s Mane

Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) mushrooms are an impressive species, as they grow in a waterfall-like cascade from trees and logs. Compelling new research shows Lion’s mane exhibits tremendous potential as an agent to support healthy brain cell (neuron) function. Lion’s mane contains neuroactive compounds that promote nerve growth factor, making it a potent brain and nerve support. (4) To achieve this therapeutic dose, concentrated supplemental forms would need to be consumed (rather than just from eating the fungi).

Cordyceps

Cordycep sinensis mushrooms are native to high altitudes and have been used in Asia for thousands of years to support physical performance. Studies have shown they have the capacity to improve oxygen uptake, and could therefore be highly beneficial for endurance athletes, although not all studies show benefit.(5) Interestingly, they’ve also been used traditionally to combat fatigue and as a tonic for enhancing libido and sex drive.

King Trumpet

The King trumpet (Pleurotus eryngii) mushroom goes by many different names – French horn, king oyster or king trumpet – and it’s been used throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia for centuries. This edible mushroom has a thick, meaty stem (and small cap), which contains a particular amino acid called ergothioneine that acts as a powerful antioxidant. (6) Antioxidants are crucial for fighting off oxidative damage caused by free radicals, typically due to poor diet, training (or mental) stress and environmental toxin exposures. King trumpet mushrooms make a great addition to omelets, soups and stir-fries.

Turkey Tail

Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) has been brewed as a traditional tea for centuries in China, and it’s become one of the most well researched mushrooms in the world. It’s shown so much promise as an adjunctive support for protecting cancer patients from the immuno-suppressing effects chemotherapy that the National Institute of Health has launched a new major trial to further investigate these benefits. (7) The mycelium found in turkey tail is also a prebiotic food source for the gut microbiome, and has been shown to be beneficial as an antiviral against the human papilloma virus (HPV). (8)

Mushrooms are an absolute nutritional powerhouse and support health via immune, inflammatory and antioxidant support. If you've been avoiding them because you don't like the taste, or aren't familiar with preparing them, then it's time to upgrade your nutrition game. Sauteed mushrooms with onions are a tasty additions to eggs, steaks and burger, as well as stir-fries. Mushrooms provide a wealth of health and performance boosting benefits, support your health, training and recovery by adding more mushrooms to your diet.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, MS(c), CISSN, CSCS

Want to learn more about Vitamin D and Immunity? Listen to Precison Nutrition DIrector of Performance Nutrition Brian St-Pierre in Season 2 of the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast...

11 Factors Increasing an Athlete’s Risk of Cold & Flu

4_Immunity_updated.png

To achieve your athletic potential, you need to train hard and train often. This means walking the fine line between the appropriate amount of training (and life) stress and the positive adaptations it provides and pushing yourself over the edge. The sport science term pushing athletes just past their capacity to improve performance is called functional over-reaching (FOR), it’s what every good strength coach and sport scientist are striving to achieve. Unfortunately, the quest for constant gains means the possibility of stumbling over the line into too much stress (i.e.  non-functional over-reaching), or the abyss of overtraining syndrome, when athletes are tired, rundown and progress stalls for months.(1) Incredibly, 70% of high level athletes have experienced or will experience over-training syndrome (OTS) at some point.(2)

Adding to all this complexity is the reality that increasing training volume is strongly associated with increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections (i.e. cold or flu) and upper respiratory symptoms.(3) Interestingly, even if you're athlete experiences pronounced symptoms of an infection - congestion, scratchy throat, fatigue, etc. - they're at similarly increased risk of diminished performance.(4)

Simply keeping your athlete healthy enough to train is a crucial piece of the high-performance puzzle. If you're healthy, you can train. And if you can train more than the competition, you'll have the best chance of winning (all other things being equal).

To fall victim to an infection, two things must happen; your immune system gets compromised and you're exposed to an infection. Let's take a closer looker at 11 factors that can increase your risk of catching a nasty bug.

1.    Exercise - As I mentioned above, when your training load increases so too does your risk of URTI.(5) This is unavoidable for high-level athletes as they must follow their periodized training plan to achieve their goals and prep for competition. If you're about to enter an intense training period and you feel a scratchy throat, congestion or fatigue setting in, then shifting your focus to your sleep and nutrition strategies is key to supporting immunity.

2.    Mental & Emotional Stress - If you're a person who get stressed out more easily, it actually makes you more susceptible to catching a cold or flu.(6) If you're a type-A personality, experience anxiety-like symptoms or are a general "worrier" than you’re at greater risk of infection as well. Key things to watch out for include fatigue, tension, anger and depression.

3.    Sleep - Lack of sleep is major roadblock to a healthy immune system. If you get less than 7 hours of sleep per night your risk of cold and flu increases 3-fold.(7) Prioritize sleep if you're feeling like you're coming down with something (especially if you're hitting the gym hard).

4.    Personal Hygiene – It’s not very sexy advice, but it plays a massive role in keeping you cold and flu free. Washing your hands regularly – before every meal and after contact with sick people -  and keeping your hands away from your mouth and nose should be your top priority to reduce your risk of infection plummets.(8)

5.    Poor Nutrition - If your diet doesn't have enough calories (i.e. energy) to meet the demands of your training, if you're training at high-intensity with low-carbohydrate availability, if your diet is restricted and low in vitamin D, zinc or iron (just to name a few) then you're likely compromising your immune system.(9) Nutrition is a key player for maintaining a robust immune system and reducing frequency and severity of colds and flu.

6.    Dental Hygiene - You might not think brushing your teeth is a powerful immune booster, but in fact, it's a reliable method for reducing your risk of infection.(10) If you don't keep your teeth clean, bacteria accumulate in your oral mucosa, especially if you’re eating multiple meals and shakes throughout the day. Brush 2-3x a day to reduce your risk.

7.    Sharing Water Bottles - A great motto for life is “Sharing is caring”, just not when comes to athletes and their immunity. Sharing water bottles increases your risk of mononucleosis infection 8-fold!(11) Stick to your own water bottle.. no sharing!

8.    Travel – Plane travel can feel like an immunity Armageddon; waiting to succumb to the onslaught of microbes with nowhere to hide. There is always a handful of passengers  - sneezing, coughing and touching everything in sight – increasing your risk of exposure to infection.(12) Unfortunately, they're putting you at risk and there isn't much you can do about it. Hand sanitizer, a face mask, and if the person next to you is ill, asking to changes seats are probably your best strategies.

9.    Extreme Environments - If you're training at altitude, or in extremely hot and humid environments, your immune system can be impacted. Altitude has been shown to reduce sIgA levels, potentially increasing risk of infection, while hot climates can lead to dehydration and reduced plasma volume, also potentially compromising immunity.(13,14)

10.   Drugs - If your athlete or client is taking medications like corticosteroids for arthritis, asthma or allergies, or if they’re taking immune-suppressive medications for an auto-immune condition they may also be more susceptible to colds and flu.

11.    Vaccination History - If you're team is traveling abroad and you haven't had all the appropriate vaccinations (i.e. hep C, hep B, flu vaccine) then you're increasing your risk of infection.(15) This is not only a performance problem, but a potentially serious health problem.

These 11 factors are some of the most common reasons why your immune system is compromised, and risk of infection increased. Reducing this risk factors, as best as you can, will go a long way to keeping you cold and flu free this winter (or anytime of the year for that matter!) so you can keep training and keep improving.

What about factors that can positively impact your immunity? Here's a short-list of high-impact factors;

1.    Sleep (Listen to Dr. Amy Bender PhD talk sleep strategies in athletes)

2.    Nutrition (Check out 21 Foods To Boost Your Immunity)

3.    Relaxation (Learn how deep-breathing impacts performance)

4.    Periodized Exercise

5.    Holidays  (When was the last time you actually went on holiday? If you can't remember... you need a holiday!) 

Maximize your performance high this winter by minimizing your exposure to colds and flu. Next, add a few fundamental strategies that increase pillars of recovery; sleep, nutrition and mental stress.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, MSc(c), CISSN, CSCS

 

Want to learn 10 evidence-based strategies to reduce illness in athletes? Download my FREE infrographic here! (Coming soon...)

5 Reasons You're Always Sick (And How To Prevent It!)

5 Reasons You're Always Sick (And How To Prevent It!)

As summer comes to an end and we move into fall, cold and flu season beings. Chronic congestion, runny noses, fatigue and germs start to spread easily through training facilities, locker rooms, offices, and daycares as we move indoors during the colder, darker and shorter days of winter.

Read More

21 Foods To Boost Your Immunity

2017_21 Foods To Boost Immunity.png

The darker, shorter and colder days of winter are upon us and with it comes an increase in colds and flu. The first wave of patients with sore throats and congestion has already passed through my office, so now is a great time to think about how you can support your immune system. There are several key deficiencies that commonly rear their ugly heads over the fall and winter months and contribute to increased frequency and severity of colds and flu. Nothing will slow your productivity at work, in the gym, or family time at home quicker than sick days.

If you are working long hours, exercising intensely, or have kids in daycare or school, then you’ll likely be more exposed to bacteria and viruses that can leave you stuck at home in bed. The research tells us that as your cortisol stress levels increase (from busy days, meeting deadlines, or getting up early with the kids) your first-line of immune defense or innate immune system function decreases.1This leaves your immune defense team short-handed.

Staying active is a great way to enhance your immunity but the more intensely you train (or the greater your training load), the quicker you deplete critical ‘immune soldiers’ called natural killer cells (NK).2 Studies show your immune system can be depressed for 24-72 hours after intense training, which means you need to provide the right support to reduce your risk of colds and flu.3

What can you do to boost your immunity this winter? (The answer is on your dinner plate!)

VITAMIN D

If you live in a northern climate with a true fall and winter season, obtaining the right amount of vitamin D is critical for keeping your immune system firing on all cylinders. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with decreased innate immunity and increased risk for infections.4

The best part of a Food First approach to your nutrition strategy is that it provides you with nutrient-dense food choices. To keep your vitamin D levels from plummeting over the winter months, increase your intake with these five vitamin D containing foods:

  • Cod Liver Oil – 1,400 IU per tbsp. (your grandma knew best!)
  • Cold-Water Fatty Fish – trout (645 IU per 3 ounce), salmon, or mackerel
  • Medicinal Mushrooms – Portobello (375 IU per mushroom) or maitake
  • Pork – 78 IU per 3 oz. serving
  • Eggs – 44IU per egg

The Vitamin D Society recommends maintaining your vitamin D levels between 100-150 (nmol/l), so if you struggle with colds and flu, or low mood over the winter, then getting your levels tested would be beneficial.5

VITAMIN A

If you are low in Vitamin A, it will significantly impair your mucosal immunity and leave you more prone to upper respiratory tract infections (URTI).6 If you work in an office, have kids in daycare or school, or train intensely than you’ll be a much greater risk of URTI, especially through the winter months.

Traditiona diets around the world are loaded with nutrient dense meats that are the richest source of preformed vitamin A. You can also get significant beta-caretene (which converts to vitamin A) from fruits and veggies.

Try these five foods rich vitamin A foods to keep your immune system robust:

  • Turkey and Beef Liver – 17,000 IU and 6,400 IU per 2.6 oz., respectively.
  • Cod Liver Oil – 4,150 IU per tbsp.
  • Sweet potatoes – 1,100 IU per medium size
  • Pumpkin -1,000 IU per ½ cup
  • Carrots – 700 IU per ½ cup

VITAMIN C & ZINC

Vitamin C and zinc is a powerful combo for ramping up your immune army and fighting off bacteria and viruses. Vitamin C improves the response of neutrophils and lymphocytes, important immune cells that are the ‘front-line soldiers’ of your innate immune system.7,8 Zinc is essential for optimal function of your thymus gland, responsible for developing the ‘special forces’ immune cells of your adaptive immune system.9 This is the seek and destroy arm of your immunity, crucial for knocking out foreign invaders once they’ve breached your first-line of defense.

A nutrition strategy rich in animal protein is the best dietary source of zinc, while a mix of fruit and veggies are key for boosting your vitamin C intake (some sources may surprise you!). To ensure you’re meeting your body’s increased demands throughout the fall/winter months, be sure to include the following foods:

Vitamin C

  • Yellow Bell Peppers – 345mg per large pepper
  • Broccoli – 92mg per cup (chopped)
  • Kale – 80mg per cup (chopped)
  • Orange – 70mg per fruit (medium)
  • Kiwis – 64mg per fruit

Zinc

  • Oysters – 33mg per 6 oysters
  • Beef – 14mg per fillet (4.5oz.)
  • Lamb – 7mg per 3oz.
  • Pork – 4.3mg per 3oz.
  • Ginger 

ADD A PROBIOTIC

There is inherent ‘cross-talk’ between your gut and immune system, therefore ensuring the right balance of healthy microbiota in your intestinal tract will go a long way to fighting off colds and flus.10,11 Common fermented foods and Paleo staples like kombucha tea, sauerkraut, and kimchi, are great options for increasing ‘good’ gut bacteria. In addition, the polyphenols found in green tea also promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. If you struggle with frequent or persistent colds or flu, you may want to add a probiotic supplement to add further immune support.

Limiting the growth of ‘bad’ or dysbiotic gut bacteria is crucial to maintaining optimal intestinal microflora and therefore immunity. Short-chain saturated fats like butyric acid and lauric acid, found in butter and coconut oil, exert potent antmicrobial effects that help to keep bad bacteria in check.12,13

Don’t let the cold, dark months slow you down. Enhance your diet by incorporating the foods richest in the key immune boosting nutrients – vitamin D, A, C, zinc, and probiotics – to increase your resiliency this cold and flu season.

Enjoy a healthy winter!

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

Check out the rest of our articles in the IMMUNITY SERIES...

REFERENCES

[1]Nieman DC et al. Influence of carbohydrate on the immune response to intensive, prolonged exercise. Exerc Immunol Rev 1998;4:64-76.

[2] Nieman DC, Pedersen BK. Exercise and immune function. Recent developments. Sports Med 1999;27(2):73-80.

[3] Walsh PH et al. Position statement. Part one: Immune function & exercise. Exerc Immunol Rev.2011;17:6-63.

[4] Youssef D et al. Vitamin D’s potential to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Apr 1;4(2):167-75

[5] Heaney R, Bggerly C, Sorenson M, Vieth R. Toronto Vitamin D Disease Prevention Symposium. November 6th, 2013. Toronto, ON

[6] Semba RD. The role of vitamin A and related retinoids in immune function. Nutr Rev. 1998;56(1 Pt 2):S38-48

[7] Douglas RM et al. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Systematic Review. 2004 Oct 18;(4):CD000980.

[8] Peters EM, Goetzche JM, Grobbelaar B, Noakes TD. Vitamin C supplementation reduces the incidence of post race symptoms of upper-respiratory-tract infection in ultra marathon runners. Am J Clin Nutr 1993 Feb;57(2):170-4.

[9] Mangini S et al. A combination of high-dose vitamin C plus zinc for the common cold. J Int Med Res. 2012;40(1):28-42.

[10] Rask C et al. Differential effect on cell-mediated immunity in human volunteers after intake of different lactobacilli. Clin Exp Immunol 2013 May;172(2):321-32.

[11] Madden J.A.J. et al. Effect of probiotics on preventing disruption of the intestinal microflora following antibiotic therapy: A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. Int Immunophar 2005: 5: 1091-1097.

[12] Mortesen FV, Nielsen H, Aalkjaer C, et al. Short chain fatty acids relax isolated resistance arteries from the human ileum by a mechanism dependent on anion-exchange. Pharmacol Toxicoli 1994;75(3-4):181-5. 6.

[13] Mortesen FV, Nielsen H, Mulvaney MJ, et al. Short chain fatty acids dilate isolated human colonic reistance arteries. Gut 1990;31(12):1391-4.

Bone Broth Soup

It's winter time, it's cold out, and you need all the help you can get to fight off colds and flu. Try this amazing Wild Thing Bone Broth Soup recipe by the renowned 'PaleoChef' Mary!

Ingredients -

  • 1 pound of marrow bones of choice, my preference is lamb
  • [ask your butcher, they always have them in the back]
  • 2 chicken feet, wild things begins! This is for extra gelatin, not to scare your friends. 
  • shells from 2-3 eggs, for extra calcium
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, to draw out minerals
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt, minerals and taste 
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano, natural antibiotic
  • 1/2 tablespoon black seeds aka Nigella Sativa, Ancients said these cured everything but death
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried garlic or less than 1/2 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric, inflammatory
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, thermogenic
  • A couple of shakes of cracked pepper
  • A few whole dried cloves, toxicity prevention, joints and digestion

Preparation -

Check out the link here to find out how Mary makes this amazing Bone Broth soup!

Enjoy!

Why Should You Eat Organ Meats (And How To Make It Taste Good)

Fall is here and with it, the start of cold and flu season. Your energy levels will also naturally decline as we move towards the shortest days of the year. But what can you do to improve your immunity and energy levels? Look no further than your dinner plate for the answer.

Organ meats, liver in particular, are one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat. Period. Chicken liver is a terrific source of pre-formed vitamin A (11,000 IU per 3 ounces), which helps to boost your innate or first-line of defense immunity.

Chicken liver is also a great source of iron, providing half your daily allowance with just 100g (3.5oz) serving. Iron is essential for building hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in your blood, and maintaining ideal energy levels. This is especially important over the winter months when iron levels can be depleted from the inflammatory reactions that take place when battling colds and flus, or from intense training.

Liver is also a great source of B12 and folate that support better energy levels and help you get through busy days at work and home. Chicken liver contains all nine essential amino acids, is loaded with B-vitamins, and contains high amounts of choline which is critical to keep your mind sharp and productive.

So, why aren’t you eating chicken liver? The most common response is… the taste!

It’s time to give liver another chance. First, chicken liver is the ‘mildest’ tasting of the various liver sources (veal, pork, beef). So either throw it in with your hamburger or taco meat, or combine it with some of your favorite ingredients. Check out this fantastic recipe from Philippe Grand, Dt.P who presented at Own The Podium’s (OTP) SPort INnovation (SPIN) Summit earlier this week, which brings together Canada’s Olympic team of sports medicine doctors, physiologists, trainers and nutritionists.  

Prosciutto, pear and balsamic vinegar chicken liver (4 portions)

10 + 15ml Olive Oil

1 onion, chopped

100mg (4 slices) Prosciutto, cut into 1cm squares

45ml all-purpose gluten-free flour (or regular flour)

2.5ml cinnamon

1ml salt

2.5ml ground pepper

400g chicken liver, cleaned, cut into 3 to 4cm pieces

1 Bartlett pear, cut into cubes

30ml balsamic vinegar

Instructions

1.     In a large non-stick skillet, add olive oil (10ml), onion, and prosciutto over medium/high heat, until the onion is golden

2.     In a bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Add pieces of liver and with a spoon, mix together until pieces are covered with flour.

3.     In a pan, move the onions and prosciutto aside and add the 2nd serving of oliveoil (15ml).

4.     Fry the chicken liver pieces for 4-5 minutes until they are golden brown on all sides.

5.     Add the pear cubes and balsamic vinegar. Mix and let the vinegar caramelize.

 Nutrition Facts: 293 calories, 25g protein, 18g carbs, 14g fats, and 10mg iron.

There you have it! Stay clear of colds and flus and keep your energy levels up this fall.

Enjoy!

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CSCS

Ps. If you enjoyed this dish, check out these other great organ meat recipes...

‘The Ultimate Beef Liver Recipe’

‘Turkish Hidden Liver Meatballs with Paleo Cacik’  

‘Recipes That Will Make You Love Chicken Livers’