How Our Cells Work


​Junior Olympic, Regional and National Championship Team

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The Science

Today’s technology allows us to peer inside of our body, into our cellular activity and all the way inside to the cell nucleus. This technological insight gives science an understanding of how diet exactly plays a role in an athletes performance profile.

 Cells are the smallest components considered to be living organisms in our body. Constantly communicating with each other and responding to what we touch, how we move and what we eat. If our cells cannot operate efficiently, the functioning of tissues and organs, which are built of cells, will become compromised and experience a diminishment of physical functioning and the onset of a host of health conditions. So, by keeping our cells well nourished, our body can hold up to the rigors of prolonged physical activity.

Of the many important roles our cells play in everyday life, two of these roles is keeping DNA safe from damage and providing energy for everything we do, are two of the most important. Research has shown that a poor diet -- one low in antioxidants and other important phytonutrients -- and environmental exposure to toxins, can cause DNA to become damaged. This damage (called a mutation) affects the ability of cells to produce energy, can cause cells to die early resulting in compromised tissue and inflammation,

The average human has around 30 trillion cells in his or her body, and every day thousands of new cells are replicated from old ones. New cells are made to replace the old cells that become worn-out or damaged. Providing the raw materials for the creation of these new cells from the nutrients you get in your food is one way that nutrition plays an important role in sustaining your cellular, and therefore your overall health. In addition, certain nutrients also protect your cells from damage, and nutrients in foods support your body's energy production machinery.

The mitochondria are the place where our cells produce the energy they need from the nutrients in the food we eat. Each of our cells has several hundred to over two thousand mitochondria inside of them, depending on their need for energy. For instance, heart cells and the cells in our skeletal muscle, which have very high energy demands to support the constant movements within our body, have up to 40% of their space taken up by mitochondria. All together, our body has over one quadrillion mitochondria that are constantly producing energy.


​Nutritional support for healthy energy production includes supporting healthy membranes. In addition, since B-vitamins are so important, adequate intake of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6 is extremely important to support energy metabolism. Good sources of these vitamins include whole grains, since the B vitamins are concentrated in the bran of grains. Whole grains are an excellent ​source of the entire complement of energy-related B-vitamins. Wheat germ is one of the highest sources of tocopherols, the family of vitamin E micronutrients, and brown rice contains oryzanol and ferulic acid, known to be effective antioxidants and health-promoting compounds.

​Whole food grains have the rich oil that our cell membranes need to keep healthy. Non whole food grains and rice have the important oils stripped from them, and without these oils our cells function poorly. Poorly functioning cells do not produce the energy that an athlete needs for performance and recovery from hard training.

While it's not surprising that something as important as the generation of energy requires so many nutrients, it is a little surprising that the production of energy can also result in the offshoot production of dangerous molecules with potential to damage to our cells. During the production of energy, about 2% of oxygen escapes in the form of reactive oxygen species (ROS) called free radicals. Free radicals are oxidants, which are very reactive molecules that bind to and break DNA chains, directly causing mutations. They can also bind to and destroy proteins and fats in cell membranes. Under normal conditions, in which we are in good health, have low toxin exposure, and are eating a nutritious diet, ourcells can protect against these ROS free radicals. With poor nutrition, or in the presence of toxins that inhibit or damage the ETC causing inadequate energy

production and poor performance.

Coach Richard Burke

​Masters Endurance Runner & Coach

​Certificated and Sanctioned by the governing

​board of USA Olympic Running.