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Eating (And Breathing) Your Way to Peak Airsports Performance

Holistic Performance Specialist Lucie Charping Talks You In

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Image by Serge Shakuto

Lucie Charping grew up in the world of food and hospitality--but quite a bit more actively than you might imagine. She founded her first restaurant, in fact, at age 16. Lucie made the food-to-medicine connection early, too. Plagued by a variety of ailments throughout her childhood (as well as adrenal fatigue and a battle with anorexia, which almost killed her), Lucie healed herself through holistic nutrition. Eighteen years later, Lucie’s expertise centers on peak performance, sports injury management and plant-based nutrition--with a particular focus on lifestyle strategies for adventure sports practitioners, elite and Olympic athletes.

I had the opportunity to pick Lucie’s brain about peak performance strategies for skydiving (and the shredding of tunnel gnar, to boot). Here’s what she had to say.

ALO: So: tell us what you do!

Lucie: I'm a peak-performance health coach.

I’ve been a holistic nutrition coach for about 18 years. Originally, I worked exclusively within the Ayurvedic model--Indian medicine. These days, there is so much more western science and up-to-date nutritional information available, so I extended my practice to encompass it. The focus is two-pronged: first alignment, then optimization. Once you align your systems, the body can optimize.

Most of my clients are adventure athletes of some kind who want to heal from their minor injuries faster; who want to be faster; who want to be clearer in their path towards performance in air sports and who want to have the mental energy that is takes to do these sports well.

ALO: At what stage along this path do you usually meet a new client?

Lucie: Usually, they come to me already having had an inkling of what needs to be adjusted. With a little bit of age and experience, top-level athletes--and people who want to become top-level athletes--discover for themselves the power of food-as-medicine to improve recovery rates, reduce inflammation, oxygenate more efficiently and focus better. Soon after that, if they’re paying attention--which they are, at that level--they realize that without using nutrition as a tool, they’re effectively shooting themselves in the foot. People come to me because they’re starting to realize how important it is and they want a customized, individualized plan of action--but you can do it for yourself, of course, if you’re willing to put in the research.

You’d think that in top-level sports--airsports included--people would know what they need to know about nutrition. Unfortunately, they don’t. In order to be light and strong and focused, you need to eat and balance your body systems.

ALO: Most folks that I know who do anything in the human-flight realm are under the impression that they’re doing pretty well, nutritionally. What’s the biggest problem you see with nutrition in airsports specifically?

Lucie: In airsports, I come up again and again against the fact that people live predominantly on sugar. Soft drinks and lab-created bars are the major culprits behind the energy rollercoaster. Protein powders and bars replacing real food is a close second. There’s a perception that crap food is par for the course when you’re in the tunnel at 2 o'clock in the morning or out on a dropzone for the weekend--and then you don't know why you can't focus anymore, you don't know why you keep injuring yourself, why you're so frustrated all the time. It’s a matter of blood sugar and stress responses.

Once you get your blood sugar and your stress responses under control, the training can rapidly come together. If you manage your body chemistry and your neurochemistry, you can absolutely catapult yourself. You can actually create an environment that sets you up for a state of peak performance--for a flow state. You can cultivate those states within your body, and how you do that is through your food choices and your relaxation practices. We all have these systems built into our bodies; we just need to learn to use them properly.

There is a lot of science on this now--about how food choices and relaxation practices can optimize your learning rate; your motivation; your creativity; your focus. You can halve your learning time, for instance. The benefits are across-the-board.

ALO: Let’s take a look at your typical skydiver. By that, I mean somebody in their late 20s to mid-30s who thinks that they eat pretty well, but definitely drinks socially--and probably has more quote-unquote “cheat days” than they would care to admit. This hypothetical jumper is starting to feel their age kicking in; starting to feel a little bit less, shall we say, unstoppable; starting to get the little nudges from their body that say something needs to be changed. What are the steps that you first recommend to that person?

Lucie: The first thing I ask is simple: Are you eating enough food? Because in airsports--as in most sports--athletes don't eat regularly enough to balance blood sugar. Hangriness is hypoglycemia, which is crippling to an athlete. You can easily manage your blood sugar with plant protein and fiber (for example: hummus and carrots), even while you’re moving quickly at the dropzone. No matter how transient you are, you must think am I eating regularly enough and is my blood sugar stable. That’s step one.

ALO: So you’re not telling people to drop everything and go raw vegan.

Lucie: Absolutely not. I don't actually agree with that, anyway. I think that a whole-food, plant-based diet is the way forward for health and performance--but, as a coach, you have to meet a person exactly where they’re at. I can prescribe my perfect formula, but it will be a set-up for failure if the athlete can’t or won’t adhere.

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Next week, Lucie talks about her favorite strategies to make that plan and stick to it.

About Annette O'Neil:

Annette O'Neil is a copywriter, travel journalist and commercial producer who sometimes pretends to live in Salt Lake City. When she's not messing around with her prodigious nylon collection, she's hurtling through the canyons on her Ninja, flopping around on a yoga mat or baking vegan cupcakes.




By Annette O'Neil on 2017-04-19 | Last Modified on 2017-05-03

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