The importance of reducing toxin exposure for athletes - by Michelle Reed

Are you suffering from health issues that are negatively influencing your performance? One of the most dangerous culprits that can affect an athlete’s ability to perform optimally is also one of the most elusive.

Environmental toxins are all around us; in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the cosmetic and household products we use on a daily basis.

Toxin build-up can be a huge burden on the body and for many athletes, minimising daily exposure to toxins is a crucial part of optimising their performance, reducing risk of illness and speeding up recovery time.

How toxins affect the body

All toxins that come into the body are cleansed through its efficient detoxification system. This includes the liver, kidneys, gut, skin and lungs. This process involves neutralising water-soluble and fat-soluble toxins (e.g. preservatives, pesticides, heavy metals, food additives, plastics, environmental chemicals and pollutants) and excreting them from the body. Although the liver is considered the main filtering organ, a healthy digestive system is crucial for ensuring regular bowel movements (one to three times per day) to help excrete these toxins.

Problems arise when the body is exposed to an overload of toxins on a daily basis. As the liver is unable to detoxify as quickly as needed, the excess toxins can recirculate in the blood. Non-neutralised toxins can then be stored in the body’s adipose tissue, a common cause of abdominal ‘belly fat’.

A build-up of toxicity can cause a number of physiological effects, contributing to long-term poor health and impaired athletic performance.

Toxin build-up can cause:

  • - Fatigue/lethargy
  • - Weakness
  • - Headaches/ migraines
  • - Generalised muscle aches and pain
  • - Gut issues (e.g. bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, gas)
  • - Depression
  • - Belly fat
  • - Difficulty concentrating/ foggy brain
  • - Hormonal imbalances
  • - Skin issues
  • - Difficulty losing weight (even with frequent exercise)

Moderate exercise can help increase detoxification through sweating, increased circulation to tissues and possibly, fat mobilisation. The detoxification process requires large amounts of energy and various nutrients are needed to ensure the process works optimally.

With continual intensive or prolonged exercise, athletes have higher nutrient and energy requirements, creating a stronger need for detoxification support, as exercise places greater pressure on liver, gut and kidney function. 

Nutrition for aiding detoxification 

The following list of foods has been shown to be effective in supporting the liver and helping to regulate and aid detoxification:

  • - Foods high in antioxidants (i.e. foods rich in colour)
  • - Cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, watercress, radish, cabbage, pok choy, Brussel sprouts etc.)
  • - Turmeric
  • - Alliums (e.g. garlic, onions, leeks, chives, spring onion)
  • - Leafy greens
  • - Dandelion
  • - Grapefruit
  • - Oily fish
  • - Lemon
  • - Green tea
  • - Artichokes
  • - Algae greens (e.g. spirulina, chlorella)

Vitamins such as B3, B6, B12, C and E, magnesium and zinc, as well as amino acids such as glutamine, glycine, cysteine, taurine and methionine, function as detoxification cofactors. These are essential nutrients to aid liver function through the various steps of detoxification.

Strategies for reducing daily toxin exposure


  • - Aim to avoid processed foods and meats (e.g. ham, hotdogs, sausages etc.)
  • - Aim to avoid refined hydrogenated oils (e.g. sunflower, canola oils)
  • - Eat more organic fruits and vegetables or purchase from local farmers markets
  • - Buy organic, high-quality dairy products to minimise consumption of hormonal and antibiotic additives. Consider goat milk products as an alternative.
  • - Use a water filter
  • - Aim to avoid drinking from plastic bottles (besides when on a bike); use glass instead.
  • - Never drink from a bottle that has been left in the sun (e.g. in your car). Heat absorbs the chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA) from the bottle into the water.
  • - Never heat up food in plastic containers
  • - Minimise consumption of canned foods - cans are lined with BPA
  • - Be conscious of the ingredients in your gels and sports drinks. Many brands on the market include preservatives and thickening agents that can be toxic to the body, a common one being sodium benzoate.

See this link to attempt making your own sports drink and have full control over the ingredients.


  • - Exchange your generic cosmetics for more natural chemical-free, paraben-free alternatives (e.g. make-up, lotions, shampoos, nail polish etc.)
  • - Use aluminium-free deodorant
  • - Minimise use of hair sprays
  • - Use fluoride-free toothpaste


  • - Practice stress management techniques on a daily basis (e.g. deep breathing, yoga and meditation)
  • - Avoid second-hand smoke
  • - Avoid exercising on busy roads and at peak traffic hours
  • - Use gloves when working on your bike
  • - Remove all electronics from your bedroom (e.g. Wi-Fi decoder, laptops, TV and mobile phones)
  • - Ladies, avoid placing your mobile phone in your bra, and men, in your pockets
  • - Use natural household cleaners
  • - Avoid the use of toilet and house sprays


In order to help rid the body of toxins, appropriate nutrition, enough sleep and minimising toxin exposure, where possible, is essential and needs to be implemented on a daily basis. Aim for wholesome nutrition that is organic, high in quality and includes foods that support detoxification.

These simple steps of actively reducing your exposure may help improve the body’s ability to cleanse itself, moderate the risks associated with toxin build-up and improve your overall athletic performance. What is better than feeling motivated and full of energy?

To view more from Michelle, visit her Facebook page and Instagram.