Protecting against pollution to increase your sporting performance

Living in the 21st century we are surrounded by more and more pollutants and it gets worse every day.  I’m not going to be a doom and gloom merchant here but it does not take a rocket science to work out that the less exposure you have to pollutants the better it is going to be for your long term health.

It would be stretching things for me to say that pollutants are harming your sporting performance, but with elite athletes looking for any slight change that could give them an edge it makes sense to do some of the things I suggest below.

Toxins mostly minerals (lead, mercury, cadmium etc) – are in the air, the soil and food. Over the past 100 years, their levels have risen sharply, and could well be overloading the body's capacity to eliminate them.

Action to Avoid

•    Wash all fruit and vegetables (with a tablespoon of vinegar added to water)

•    Remove outer leaves of vegetables.

•    Wrap food with grease-proof paper instead of aluminium foil

•    Avoid tinned goods, which may be contaminated with aluminium or lead.

•    Avoid copper or aluminium cookware.

•    Avoid refined foods, which lack toxin-fighting nutrients

•    Avoid copper or aluminium cookware.

•    Check if water pipes are made of lead or copper. In pre-1940 houses, they usually are! If so… don't use water softener (soft water dissolves lead more easily)

•    Do not drink or cook with hot tap water

•    Use a water filter or drink spring water (Sharma insert link to water filter documents)

•    Wash hands before eating.

•    Cut down alcohol which increases lead absorption

•    Avoid antacids, which contain aluminium salts.

•    Make sure small children don't chew on paintwork

•    Avoid busy roads where possible (exhaust fumes contain lead)

You don’t need to wrap yourself in a bubble it might feel like it  having read that list but these are simple little habits that could make an accumulated difference.


It is the job of your immune system and liver to deal with all foreign, abnormal or toxic substances in the body. In order to reduce stress on your immune system and liver, it is important to reduce the number of chemicals you are exposed to, as much as possible.

The majority of strong-smelling or highly perfumed products listed below fall into this category:

  • Dry cleaning fumes
  • Harsh soap powders and detergents (try Ecover or Surcare)
  • Air fresheners
  • "Shake and Vac" type products
  • Fabric conditioners (try Surcare or Ecover)
  • Household sprays
  • Cosmetic aerosols e.g. deodorants, hairspray
  • Nail varnish remover
  • Talc
  • Strong smelling polishes, toilet cleaners, carpet cleaners, etc.
  • Aerosols for cleaning shoes
  • Perfume and after-shave
  • Perfumed soap (try Simple)
  • Shampoo (try Haar Sana)
  • Also try to limit exposure to fumes (exhaust, gas, paint, etc.), tobacco smoke, mouldy
  • surroundings and clouds of dust, etc

Nutrition against Pollution

It isn't possible to avoid the full extent of pollution. Luckily, research is showing that there are ways of 'detoxifying' the body. Drugs are effective, but cause side effects. A safer and equally effective way is carefully balanced nutrition.

The Detoxifying Diet

•    Calcium and phosphorus are antagonistic to lead. They are found in seeds, nuts, green leafy vegetables and milk produce.

•    Alginic acid is also a lead antagonist. It is found in seaweed (provided it comes from unpolluted waters). If seaweed sounds unappetising, try Nori. This comes in dried sheets which are crisped by heating them without oil in a very hot pan for less than 10 seconds, and then used as a crunchy garnish for soups and salads

•    Pectin helps remove lead too. It is found in apple pips, bananas, citrus fruit and carrots.

•    Sulphur containing amino acids, which are found in garlic, onions and eggs help protect against mercury, cadmium and lead.

Supplements against Pollution

Where body levels of pollutants are too high, diet alone will struggle to supply nutritional antagonists and aid in doses high enough to be effective. Several research projects have shown, however, that certain nutrients are very effective in supplement form.

•    Vitamin C is an 'all rounder' which escorts lead, cadmium and arsenic out of the body.

•    Calcium is effective against lead, cadmium and aluminium

•    Zinc acts against lead and cadmium selenium is antagonistic to mercury and, to a lesser extent, arsenic and cadmium

•    Pectin, alginic acid and phosphorus are also useful as supplements.

•    Magnesium and B6 are useful for eliminating aluminium

•    Hair mineral analysis is the most accurate way to measure body levels of these toxins.

 Many of these substances work better in combinations. Hopefully these suggestions will give you some advice on how to live pollution free.  I’ve also written an extensive detox guide ‘Toxic Fat Attack’ which goes into more details and provides specific strategies you can use to start detoxifying yourself.


Matt Lovell – Elite Sports Nutritionist

Matt Lovell - Elite Sports Nutritionist

Matt Lovell is an Elite Sports Nutritionist. He has worked with the England Rugby Team since 2002 and also currently works with 4 premiership teams and UK Athletics team as they prepare for the Olympic Games in London in 2012..  His primary website is  chock full of useful Sports Nutrition information and if you leave a question Matt’s really good at getting back to you.

Matt has written a comprehensive guide on Preparing for a Big Event, the popular Fat Loss Program Four Week Fat Loss and Regenerate a Muscle Building Nutrition program.


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