Deceptive Energy

Endurance athletes seem willing to do whatever is necessary to get the competitive edge. It is unfortunate that refined sugar or caffeine are often used to create short-term energy.

Exercise is a form of stress. Your body releases cortisol when it is confronted with stress. The upside is increased alertness, reaction times, strength, and the ability to quickly process information. The downside is fatigue from the inevitable crash. The downside outweighs the upside when this vicious cycle is prolonged.

A stimulant is a substance that causes tension on the muscle fiber throughout the nervous tissue. The body releases cortisol to soothe the stress.

Energy is derived from stimulation or nourishment. Stimulation offers short-term energy and treats the symptom of fatigue. A second wave of fatigue is the cost incurred with adrenal stimulation.  This phenomenon is often (and mistakenly) treated with additional stimulation.

Nourishment is cost-free sustainable energy that spares your adrenal glands from the deterioration linked to stimulants.

Reliance upon stimulants is epidemic in the world of sports. Contrary to popular belief stimulants do not provide the body with energy. Stimulants actually rob your body of energy.

Energy is measured in heat units called calories. The number of calories pertaining to food refers to the potential heat units the body can extract from that particular food. This means that a calorie measures potential energy versus kinetic energy. It measures fuel for producing energy – not energy.

The ability to output energy properly comes through exercise. It comes with the appropriate training overload combined with efficient recovery.

The sole physiological mechanism for accumulating energy in your body is sufficient quality sleep. Combine sufficient quality sleep with proper nourishment from unrefined, plant-based, whole foods and the need for stimulation has been eliminated. Stimulation creates the need for additional sleep because it drains your body. The key is quality versus quantity of sleep.

Endurance athletes are notorious for shoving refined sugar and caffeinated commercial products in their mouths to create short-term energy. The energy gained from a stimulant is more of an illusion than reality.

One issue with elevated cortisol is that the body shifts fuel sources. Instead of burning fat as fuel it burns carbohydrate which means the fat is stored in the body. This will affect your trail running and snowshoeing performances in addition to your wellness.

The level of stimulation individually experienced cannot be determined – even though stimulation will exist. Your body will adapt to a stimulant thereby requiring more of the substance simply to achieve the same level of response. This is dependency. It is at this stage that even stronger substances will likely be introduced to acquire an allegedly more potent boost of perceived short-term energy. Know that the biological fall from this peak to the verdant valley will likely be more detrimental than imagined.

The more nutrients that are removed from a whole food (denatured or fractionalized) the more its stimulating effect on your nervous system.

Elevated cortisol is linked to inflammation, obesity, compromised cellular tissue, lower immune response, increased risk of disease, tissue degeneration, sleep quality reduction, accumulated body fat. Chronic elevation of cortisol diminishes the effectiveness of exercise,  break down muscle tissue, hormonal and electrolyte imbalances, and malnutrition.

Unless the root cause of fatigue is addressed the severity of the symptoms worsen to the point where our health slowly declines before our eyes.

Some of the initial symptoms of adrenal fatigue are increased appetite, cravings for starchy refined foods, difficulty sleeping, irritability, lack of motivation, body fat accumulation, loss of muscle tissue, visible signs of premature aging and sickness, depression, chronic fatigue,and many more serious symptoms.

A diet based on nutrient-dense, plant-based, whole foods diet will provide a sustainable energy level without the need for fleeting bursts of borrowed energy. These food types provide natural energy which does not require adrenal stimulation. Endurance athletes who are truly well exhibit boundless energy with no need for stimulants.

It is clear from the endurance athletes I consult that adrenal stimulation is widespread. Short-term energy from stimulants is analogous to using a credit card – you will need to pay for that borrowed energy at some point. Nourishment represents a more efficient and productive mode to sustainable energy.

Food consumption ought to be viewed as an investment in as little digestive energy as possible to maximize the return of energy. Ditch the stimulants in favor of organic, plant-based, whole foods. Natural, unrefined whole foods digest with a considerably low energy requirement. This means more usable energy for your trail runs and snowshoeing endeavors. Shift your carbohydrate sources to fruit to receive the highest micronutrient levels per bite.

Forgo chocolate chip cookies, cola, jelly beans, and your favorite commercially produced assortment of refined sugar and caffeine offerings in favor of dates, bananas, agave nectar, and homemade gels to propel you through your next training run, race, or event. Introduce gelatinized maca root, chia seeds, and coconut water into your dietary regimen for unparalleled benefits.

Maca is a root vegetable native to the Andes of Bolivia and Peru. It is an adaptogen with medicinal qualities in that it aids regeneration of the adrenal glands. Lower cortisol levels inherently means improved sleep quality, which translates into revitalized energy stores while awake. Maca increases energy through nourishment versus stimulation.

Make certain to purchase the gelatinized version. Gelatinization removes the starchy root component which is difficult to digest. Visit

Chia seeds look like poppy seeds. They are grown in the fertile Amazon soil. Chia seeds contain high levels of magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron to efficiently replenish minerals used in muscle contraction and lost via sweating.

Chia seeds provide sustainable energy absent stimulation along with plenty of antioxidants and protein for optimal recovery. They are remarkably easy to digest and a high net gain food perfect for long days on the trail, stage races, and the like.

Coconut water is an ideal fluid to boost muscle glycogen without sloshing in your stomach. It  has a light, sweet flavor and is fat free. It is loaded with electrolytes and is an ideal sports drink to maintain hydration in extreme conditions. Do not confuse it with coconut milk. Coconut water is the nearly translucent fluid inside a coconut.

For an endurance athlete to produce truly high quality performances on a regular basis s/he must commit to restoring energy through quality sleep and sustaining energy through a nutrient-dense diet.

About the author

Jeff Kildahl, Wellness Editor

Jeff Kildahl is a writer, author, wellness consultant and philanthropist advancing preventive health care by synthesizing primary source nutrition and fitness as the principal components of the practice of medicine.

Kildahl is a sponsored vegan ultra-endurance athlete credentialed in bioenergetics, biomechanics, metabolic efficiency™ testing, sport nutrition, and natural medicine. He is a dynamic member of CUBE™ ~ a professional speakers group ~ empowering others to harmonize the "Keys to Living in the Song of Life."

He is the wellness editor at Snowshoe Magazine, United States Snowshoe Association columnist, and contributor to health, fitness and wellness sites, blogs and publications. He is a US-based ultra-endurance athlete and philanthropist for the 100 FOR 100 Movement ~

Kildahl is the creator and president of The Wholistic Edge® ~ a visionary firm providing synergistic solutions to transcend health, performance, and potential in life and sport from the inside out via the principles of Performance Medicine™ ~