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Traditional Chinese Medicine for Athletes

Feel better, function better with this ancient, holistic system for health


Most athletes work with a coach at some point. A trained practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be a similarly valuable resource - someone trained to see you objectively as an athlete and help you to achieve your best.

For thousands of years, this traditional form of medicine has been used to maintain health, increase quality of life, and treat the injuries of warriors. I think you'll find it can serve you too!

What is TCM?

TCM views each of us individually as a network of complementary forces. The balance of push and pull within us is referred to as the Qi (chee) dynamic. Health is maintained through balanced Qi. This preventative medicine allows an athlete to continually optimize his or her health, rather than act only after catastrophic injury or disease occurs. Pain and illness result when Qi becomes blocked or unbalanced for any reason. TCM uses three treatment modalities - Herbal Medicine, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medical Massage (TuiNa) - to correct these imbalances, leading to healing and optimal functioning of the entire person. Chinese Medicine also can be used together with Western medicine to treat injuries and other acute conditions, often aiding and accelerating recovery.

Herbal Medicine and Nutrition

We all know the age-old adage, "you are what you eat." The difficulty for most of us is not envisioning what we want to be, but how to achieve that through proper diet.

TCM's basic approach to nutrition is very much in keeping with Hammer Nutrition's: nutrition is the daily dietary discipline that creates the foundation for a healthy body. Eat regularly and modestly. Eat fresh foods, mostly vegetables and fruits, and nothing processed. Avoid added sugar and salt. (Hammer products are free of added simple sugars and excess salt). Eat a modest amount of a variety of sustainably sourced meats. Minimize dairy and grains. In addition, I recommend Hammer's Digest Caps, which contains probiotics for healthy digestion and maximum nutrient absorption.

If you struggle with chronic issues, re-assessing your nutrition is a good place to start. In TCM, every food is classifi ed as having a particular nature - hot, cold, warm, cool or neutral, and a particular fl avor - sour, bitter, sweet, pungent or salty. Parsed out into its specific qualities and applied according to our individual constitution, food can become our greatest ally in health.

Here are just a few examples: If you struggle regularly with fatigue, lethargy, and lack of appetite, cook most of your food and eat it warm. Eat small, frequent meals to ease digestion. Choose modest amounts of fowl (especially in soups), naturally sweet foods, and warming spices like ginger and cinnamon. Avoid dairy, tofu, added sugar, and iced drinks.

If you find yourself regularly irritable or moody with tenderness in the rib cage or upper abdomen, occasional nausea, and (for women) PMS symptoms, eat more celery, beets, cabbage, kelp, leeks, mussels, nori, and modest amounts of grass-fed beef. Include basil, bay leaves, black pepper, and rosemary. Avoid alcohol, coffee, fatty foods, fried foods, excessively spicy foods, heavy red meat, sugar, and other sweets.

For more information on the properties of specific foods and recommendations for chronic imbalances, I highly recommend the bookHealing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford, a comprehensive resource on TCM nutrition.

TCM also offers herbal therapy - powerful, natural medicine - to treat a multitude of health issues, including long-term imbalances that result from poor food choices. This prescription-strength therapy should be used under the supervision of your healthcare practitioner. Chinese herbal medicine is formulated specifically for each individual patient, according his or her constitution and imbalances. That is the strength of Chinese Medicine: to recognize patterns in individuals and treat them in their entirety.

Acupuncture and EMS

As I mentioned earlier, health is a product of healthy Qi flowing smoothly in regular cycles. When these cycles are blocked or disrupted, pain and disease occur; TCM practitioners often say, "where there is pain, there is stagnation." Acupuncture is a quick and effective way to regulate the Qi dynamic and bring the body back to a place of balance and ease. Using thin needles, an acupuncturist can dramatically reduce pain by moving stagnant Qi.

Electro muscular stimulation (EMS) units provide a similar treatment option for use at home. Be sure to check out Brian Frank's article, "EMS and Neuromuscular Inhibition (NI)" in Endurance News 93. With NI, muscles don't fire properly, leading to imbalances and movement dysfunction, ultimately resulting in pain and reduced performance.

This is a great example of disrupted Qi, and EMS is a treatment option that uses the principles of Chinese Medicine. NI also highlights a fundamental perspective of acupuncture: You are more than just your injury. Your acupuncturist will treat your specific injury locally, but will also use seemingly unrelated points in other parts of the body, focusing on you as a balanced system, rather than a collection of assorted parts.

Chinese Sports Medicine

As athletes, many of us deal with discomfort. When that discomfort crosses into injury and pain, TuiNa and martial arts medicine us simple and effective treatment strategies to prevent minor injuries from becoming chronic problems. These modalities, collectively known as Chinese Sports Medicine, are the most accessible for use by nonpractitioners.

The book A Tooth from the Tiger's Mouth by Tom Bisio, a renowned expert in Chinese sports medicine, provides an excellent overview of these strategies. According to Bisio, "Martial arts medicine was an outgrowth of warfare. Treatment of battlefield injuries had to be simple and effective so that soldiers could return to combat as quickly as possible."

For treating minor injuries and pain, I find these items indispensable: Trauma Linament (die da jiu); San Huang San (three yellow powder), also known as "herbal ice;" and of course Hammer Nutrition's Tissue Rejuvenator, which includes the herbs turmeric, boswellia, and devil's claw, as well as other plant-based compounds with anti-inflammatory properties.

Bottom Line:

Our bodies are made to last a lifetime, but we need to care for them properly to enjoy our lives fully. As many athletes are discovering, Traditional Chinese Medicine can increase your quality of life, benefit athletic performance, and help speed recovery from injury.

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