Electrolytes and Muscle Cramping

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Finishing the Pikes Peak Ascent in 3:51:55 (goal was sub 4 hours)

Oh Pikes Peak, how I miss you already!  I’m feeling a little lost now that my main race of the year is over, but it went well so I’m happy about that.  Time goal met!  And I was able to finish without feeling like absolute garbage, which I was pretty worried about going into the race. My stomach started feeling a little nauseous during the last 2 miles but other than that I felt pretty good, which is not something a lot of runners at the Pikes Peak Ascent can say at the end (or middle) of the race.  One of the many interesting things about the race was how many people I passed who were pulled over to the side of the trail stretching due to muscle cramps.  I’ve been lucky in my training and racing that I’ve never (knock on wood) experienced issues with muscle cramping.  Stomach issues, sure, but no muscle cramps.  Or is it luck? I’m pretty good about taking in adequate amounts of fluid, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. I even added an electrolyte tab to my Nalgene the day before the race in an attempt to start the race with all my electrolytes topped off, since I’ve recently read about the benefits of this (not to be confused with eating a high sodium diet on a daily basis, which is not good for your health).  Muscle cramps are an interesting, if not painful, subject and researchers are still trying to understand them completely. It’s commonly believed that electrolyte imbalances, namely lack of sodium, potassium, calcium, and/or magnesium, are the cause of muscle cramps, but many scientists now believe that muscle cramping may actually be related to muscle fatigue from overexertion, not electrolyte issues.

The bummer about scientists not knowing what exactly causes muscle cramps is that there is not one perfect solution if you get them, but there are some things you can do.

–          Eat from a wide variety of foods that provide adequate electrolytes on a daily basis.  For potassium: bananas, potatoes, dark leafy greens, beans.  For magnesium: dark leafy greens, seeds, beans, nuts, whole grains.  For calcium: dairy products, dark leafy greens, (noticing a trend here?) sardines, fortified orange juice.  Consume  moderate amounts of sodium (no more than 2300 mg/day).

–          Adequately hydrate before, during , and after your races and training runs.  Determine your personal sweat rate by weighing yourself immediately before and after a 60 minute run (don’t drink water on the run if possible, or if you do factor it into the equation).  For every pound lost, you need to drink 16 oz of water.

–          Replace electrolytes during exercise when appropriate, such as when exercising for extended periods of time (>2 hours) or in the heat.  Aim to consume 110-170 mg Sodium/ 8 oz fluid, 20-50 mg potassium/ 8 oz fluid, as well as small amounts of calcium and magnesium

–          Be properly trained for your event.  Include high intensity workouts that mimic running on tired legs.

–          Warm up and stretch pre race.

–          If you do get  a cramp, stretching and massaging the affected area will usually lessen it.

–          A lot of people swear by pickle juice to cure cramps, possibly due to the sodium content. I’ve never tried it myself but if you can stomach it go for it!

What other “tricks” do you use to manage muscle cramps?

Pre Race Nutrition

Whelp, here I am again, in the week before a race.  Taper week.  I’ve written before about the perils athletes face during race week.  You’ve done all the training, and at this point too much training might actually hurt your race.  You’re ready. You just want to do it already!  Plus there are the worries about injuries or illness popping up.  It can be a frustrating and anxiety provoking time period but there are things you can focus on.  What’s that you ask? Mainly proper nutrition and adequate rest!

So what is the key to pre-race nutrition?  Well, nutrition professionals don’t always agree on the specifics about the “right” way to do things, probably because there isn’t one perfect way.  Conventional wisdom calls for carb loading for endurance activities lasting greater than 2-3 hours and this is the protocol I typically follow as it seems to work for me.

More recently there have been RDs and athletes experimenting with fat loading instead of carb loading, and having success, particularly with ultra endurance events.  It’s important to find out what works right for each individual athlete based on sport, special nutritional needs, and preferences.  One thing most nutrition professionals will agree upon regardless of where they stand on fat vs carbs is this: do not try anything new or different the week before the race.  This is not the time to check out that new Indian buffet down the street!  Continue eating foods your body is familiar with to avoid any GI distress.  If your event will last longer than 2-3 hours consider upping your carbohydrate intake for 2-3 days prior to the event.  Avoid the fallacy of the pre-race pasta binge.  Eating  one giant carb-packed meal the night before the race won’t help you maximize glycogen stores and may cause stomach upset.  Proper carb loading requires increasing your carb intake to up to 10 grams carb/kg body weight (4.5 grams/pound bodyweight)  for 2-3 days leading up to the event.  If you carb load correctly you will gain some water weight, as each gram of carbohydrate is stored  (as glycogen) with 3 grams of water.  However, during this phase you will need to slightly cut back on protein and fat to avoid exceeding your energy needs and gaining true weight.

The type of carbs you choose to fill up on can vary with preferences. A mixture of whole grain and processed carbs is okay during this time, as too many whole grains may cause GI issues due to the high fiber content and too much white bread/processed carbs can lead to blood sugar highs and lows (and accompanying symptoms). My carb loading days include lots of oatmeal (mix in pumpkin for a tasty bonus!), bagels, French toast, pasta, sweet potatoes, fruits, low fat yogurt, and cereal.  It’s fun for a couple of days to splurge on carbs, but if you are doing it right you’ll likely be sick of them by day three!

As mentioned above your body stores carbohydrate with water, so it’s important that you are drinking adequate fluids during this time as well (although water is always important!). Carbohydrate drinks can be used to meet carb and fluid needs.

Morning of the race:

The guidelines for carbohydrate intake prior to an endurance event are 1-4 grams carb/kg body weight 1-4 hours pre-event.  The closer to the event you are eating, the less you’ll want to consume- i.e. 1 gram carb/kg body weight if you are eating 1 hour pre-event.  How early before the event you eat depends on what time the race is, how early you are willing to get up, and knowing how long it takes for your stomach to feel digested before an intense workout.  Most athletes will aim for 2-3 hours pre race.

My plan for the Pikes Peak Ascent(tried and true for me, I’m not saying I recommend it for everyone) is as follows :about 1.5 hours pre event I’ll eat a bagel thin w/ 1 TBSP peanut butter, 1 TBSP honey, 1/2 banana, coffee, and ~4-6 oz beet juice.  Then 30-45 min prior: 1 packet Generation UCAN made with 12 oz water.  I’ve tried all these things before and they seem to work with my digestive system. But wish me luck anyway!

To sum it up: good nutrition, lower training volume, hydration, and good sleep = good race!

Good luck to all the Pikes Peak and Leadville runners this weekend!  🙂

 

High Altitude Training and Racing

Kim during the final stretch of her record breaking 2012 Pikes Peak Ascent race

I think that the weekend of August 17th just might be the most epic weekend in trail racing in Colorado, if not the country.  Not only is it the weekend of the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, but also the Leadville Trail 100 Run.  This summer training for the PPA I’ve learned what these athletes already know: training at altitude is a whole different ball game than training at sea level, or even at a mile high in Denver.

Given this, I thought I might recruit the girl once dubbed “The Queen of Uphill”, my sister and the Pikes Peak Ascent female course record holder Kim Sommer Dobson, for her advice on training and racing at altitude. Here’s what she said:

What’s the secret to running well at high altitude?  Unfortunately, there is no secret or magic supplement.  Running at high altitude is grueling, but just like the old adage “practice makes perfect” suggests, any runner can improve their altitude performance with a little practice.

In the three months prior to when I set the Pikes Peak Ascent course record in 2012, I hiked or ran above 13,000 feet as much as possible.  I knew that I would race my best if I spent as much time as possible above treeline.  That time included tempo runs, intense intervals, long runs, and several hikes.  With each bout at altitude, I could feel myself getting more and more acclimatized.

If you want to perform well at high elevation, you must prioritize training up high.  Here are a few tips for you to think about next time you are running or racing at altitude:

  • Stride:  Focus on taking short, quick steps and using a powerful arm swing.  Think forward momentum!
  • Breathing:  Focus on rapid, deep breathing.  If you are worried that everyone around you can hear how loud and fast you are breathing, then you are breathing correctly.
  • Fueling beforehand:  Running on an empty tank can increase the lightheadedness and nausea often experienced at high altitude.  Make sure you are properly fueled and hydrated before your activity.
  • Fueling during your activity:  Exercising at high altitude suppresses appetite, so plan what and when you should eat prior to your activity.  Make an effort to stick to your plan even if you don’t feel hungry.  Chose foods or gels that require a minimal amount of chewing.
  • Pacing:  Start out slow and gradually increase your effort.  Stay in tune with your heart rate, breathing, and movement.   Focus on being relaxed and efficient as you power your way through the thin air.
  • Practice:  Run, hike, bike, camp, sleep…any activity at altitude will help you acclimatize.  Believe that it will get easier, get creative about fun altitude activities, and enjoy being up high.

It’s race week! Up later this week: nutrition the week before the race

Lactate: Friend or Foe?

Are you confused by lactate? It’s okay if you are.  I sometimes am too.  The problem is that researchers are constantly learning new things about the molecule, and even some of what I learned in my graduate program in exercise science in 2007-09 has already changed a bit.  In reality there is enough info on lactate to write a whole book (or at least a chapter) so this will be a brief lesson in lactate. A “Lactate for Dummies” if you will!

Often you hear people complain a day or two after a hard workout that their legs hurt from lactate build up, but that’s actually not what causes the pain that far post workout.  That would be DOMS- delayed onset muscle soreness, which is caused by tiny micro tears in your muscles from the exercise.  Not to worry though, these micro tears are all a part of the process, because your body will repair the tears and your muscle will actually get stronger! lactate

So now that we’ve got that straight, let’s make this clear: its lactate, not lactic acid!  Although people use the words interchangeably, there is a slight difference; namely a hydrogen atom.  At physiological pH (i.e. inside your body), however, the hydrogen ion is disassociated from the lactic acid molecule, rendering it lactate.  But whatever you call it, the burning in your muscles feels the same right?! Why?  Well, lactate is produced in your body all the time, but production increases during exercise.  Your body is actually able to utilize lactate as fuel, but only at a certain rate.  The more intense your workout becomes the more lactate that is produced, and at a certain point your body can’t keep up utilization and lactate starts accumulating.  This is commonly referred to as lactate threshold.  And here comes the muscle burn!  So when you feel that burn during exercise, it’s lactate to blame…or is it? More recently, scientists have suggested that it’s not lactate that actually causes the muscle burn during intense exercise, but instead hydrogen atom build up as a by-product of ATP utilization for energy.  Researchers have also discovered that lactate can actually help this situation, because it can be formed from pyruvate (a by-product of carbohydrate breakdown for energy) combining with a free floating hydrogen and then used for fuel.  So in reality, lactate is a fuel not a waste product and helpful to sports performance, not detrimental.

So why the confusion about lactate? Probably in part because of the complicated metabolic processes involved.  There is a lot going on in the body during exercise, and the scientists who first discovered lactate didn’t get to see the full picture.  What does all this mean for your sports performance? Well, not a whole lot.  Although you can improve your lactate utilization with endurance training, if you are following some sort of program (including steady state endurance workouts, tempo runs and interval workouts), you are likely already improving your lactate utilization.  So keep it up!

The bottom line is lactate is actually more friend than foe.  So let’s all stop bashing lactate and give it the appreciation it deserves!

 

If you’d like to read more about lactate:

http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/lactate.html

Mental Toughness

Most of us are racing against ourselves.  We are not going to win the race.  We may not even place in our age group.  Most of us are somewhere in the middle of the pack, and therefore the race is probably about meeting a personal time goal, or sometimes just finishing.  This can create a problem, as if you are only racing  against yourself you are the only one who can push you.  I sometimes wonder if the top 3 runners have it easier, because they have the win to motivate them.  Maybe even a prize purse.  But even those top 3 runners have to race against themselves. Regardless of where you fall in the pack, a good race often comes down to mental toughness.  You’ve probably heard the quote that your toughest competitor is the little voice inside your head telling you to quit.  Oh so true.  So how do you train yourself to be mentally tougher?

I had a not so stellar trail race recently in Vail.  I went into it telling myself it was just a training run, but I  guess I still expected to do better than I did. My legs felt like lead as soon as the trail started heading up.  I can make a million excuses: my epic workouts earlier in the week meant that my legs were already tired.  I started the race too fast. The 3 glasses of Sangria on the 4th of July didn’t exactly fit in to my usual pre-race hydration routine.  But ultimately it came down to my mind.  It was telling me to give up.  To slow down.  To stop altogether.  To stop making my body hurt so bad.  On that day I was not as mentally tough as I wanted to be.  I gave in to my mind, and I slowed down.  But on the other hand,  in a way I did win that race against myself, because I didn’t let my brain stop my body.  I kept going.  I finished.  And the view from the top was pretty sweet.  In the end, I think that race helped build my mental toughness, because slow or not I pushed past the mental wall and kept going.

Mental toughness is a popular and important concept in all sports. To help me address this crucial topic, I asked one of the most mentally tough athletes I know, my sister Kim Dobson, who just so happens to be the Pikes Peak Ascent female course record holder as well as the family record holder for longest time standing in a freezing river,  for her advice on training and racing tough.  [Side note: standing in a cold river or lake is also a great way to build mental toughness!] Below are her tips, interspersed with some quotes I find motivational, and hopefully you will too.

Tips for staying mentally tough during training and racing:

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Me suffering during the La Sportiva Vail Hill Climb

– Have a specific goal for your event and a plan to achieve your goal.  Keep your goal in mind during hard workouts.  Each workout you conquer puts you one step closer to your goal.

“In the midst of an ordinary training day, I try to remind myself that I am preparing for the extraordinary.”- Shalane Flanagan

“Somewhere in the world, someone’s training when you aren’t. When you race him he’ll win.”    -Tom Fleming

-Accept that it is going to hurt.  Great accomplishments do not come without a price.  Be willing to endure the pain.  After all, it was you who set your goal!

“You ain’t gonna get out of the race pain free, so you gotta pick your pain- the pain of the race or the pain of regret!”- Greg McMillan

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard…is what makes it great!”  -Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own

-It seems obvious, but when the going gets tough remind yourself that the suffering will end.  The satisfaction of knowing you ran as smart and as strong as possible will far outweigh the temporary pain of a race or a workout.

“Some people hit walls, others crush them”- Nike ad

“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever”- Lance Armstrong

-Break the workout/race into thirds or fourths.  Have a goal for each portion, which might include hitting a certain time, distance, or effort level.  Set high, yet realistic targets.  Gradually step up the intensity and effort level as you work through each portion.

“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”  -William Faulkner

Training specific tips:

-Practice staying mentally tough during hard workouts.  Train your mind to keep pushing your body beyond what you think is your limit.

“Your legs will give out long before your muscles

-Before a workout, remind yourself of your goal and how this particular run will put you closer to that goal.

“The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare”- Juma Ikangaa, 1989 NYC Marathon winner

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Kim giving it her all to maintain her third place position at the Jungfrau Marathon in Switzerland

Tips for staying mentally tough during your race:

-Remember all of the hard work you have put towards your goal.  The hours you spent training, mornings you woke up early to squeeze in workouts, the sacrifices you made, and the challenges you endured while training.  Don’t give up now and waste all of your efforts.  Now is the time to dig deeper than you have before to accomplish your goal.

“Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in the muscles”- Alex Karras

-Stay relaxed and confident before and during your event.  It’s normal to feel excited and nervous, but feeling overly anxious will likely hinder your performance.

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” –Steve Prefontaine

-Recite a mantra that will keep you relaxed and engaged.  Make it simple, three or four words that have meaning to you.

Recently my mom has joked that hers is “Not bad for an old lady”, which was kindly reworded to “Damn good for an old lady!”

Sometimes I will recite a line from the movie What About Bob- “I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful!”

Kim sometimes uses the mantra “relaxed, efficient, strong”

-Have a plan, but also be ready to adapt to and push through unexpected challenges during your race.   A lot can go wrong in a race.  Set your sights on running excellence rather than running perfection.

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will”- Mahatma Gandhi

Train hard. Stay strong. Remember: you are capable of more than you know!

Training (or trying to at least) in the Heat

I had planned on blogging about mental toughness this week, inspired by a not so stellar performance at a race last weekend.  But when my planned 8 mile run turned into a 4 mile run due to the heat this evening I decided I need to address a more pressing topic for July in Denver: training in the heat.  I’ve never considered myself to do particularly well in the heat, but I swear it wasn’t this difficult last summer.  It’s hard enough to go for a run after a long day of work, and with the heat lately my legs feel like lead and my body feels S-L-O-W!  I tend to pride myself on the fact that I don’t get cold easily, and I often joke that getting cold is 90% mental ( I even managed  to run on some 12 degree days), but getting hot is a whole other thing. While my Weatherbug app claimed my run was only 89°F my body would argue otherwise.  I tried to slow down but it didn’t make the run feel more manageable.  Ultimately, I gave up and cut the run in half (I guess I better get on that mental toughness blog…).

One of my new favorite quotes happens to be “there is no such thing as bad weather, only weak minds”, but besides just toughing it out or moving your workout indoors, is there anything a runner (or any athlete for that matter) can do to beat the heat? Here’s what I’ve either learned :

  • Avoid the heat if possible (duh).  Typically mornings are cooler so try to fit in your workout before heading off to work if possible.  If you aren’t a morning person, consider a night run (assuming that you have a safe and reasonably well lit route).  Not only will a run after sun down be cooler, but there is something about running in the dark that feels more like an adventure than a day run.
  • Wear light colored clothing. Loose fitting clothing may also be cooler.
    • Columbia Omni Freeze clothes have special technology that supposedly helps keep you cooler.  I’ve only had one experience running in one of these shirts, and I did feel delightfully cool, but it was probably in the 70s and I was in a forest. You can check them out here:

http://www.columbia.com/Omni-Freeze/Technology_Omni-Freeze,default,pg.html

  • A light colored hat to keep the sun off your face may also help, but you lose a lot of heat through your head-meaning it may actually make you hotter.  If you do wear a hat keeping it wet can help.
  • Bring extra water and sip more frequently.  Heat means more sweat so you may also need more electrolytes than during cooler long runs.
  • Lower your expectations.  You’ll be less likely to break mentally if you accept the fact that you’ll likely be slower in the heat, at least initially.  Supposedly your body will adapt to the heat after a few weeks of running in it.  Doesn’t seem to be working out for me this summer though!
  • Seek shady routes. In Colorado in particular there is usually a big temp difference (or at least perceived difference) in the shade vs the sun.
  • Run near water if possible.  This one isn’t so easy in Denver, but if you have access to a lake, river, or even an ocean front running alongside it will help cool you down.
  • Wet yourself.  No, not that way!  But dumping some water on your head and neck can have a surprisingly cooling effect, at least for a bit.
  • Run with friends.  Okay, a friend won’t actually help keep you cool unless they squirt water at you (which is an option I suppose), but having company may help distract you from the heat and make your run more enjoyable.

All this being said, be safe.  If it’s a record heat wave seriously consider moving your run indoors.  Also be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration (headache, confusion, loss of muscular control, clammy skin, goose bumps, hot or cold flashes, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness) and listen to your body.  If you feel awful, stop or at least walk for a bit to cool down.

Stay cool out there!

 

MMMMM Chocolate Milk (and Recovery)

If you are an endurance athlete of any kind you likely heard long ago about the use of chocolate milk as a post workout recovery beverage.  It started with a study that compared chocolate milk to typical sports drinks, such as Gatorade, and found that chocolate milk was superior for recovery.  Ever since many cyclists have touted it as the “perfect” post workout beverage and magazine ads and commercials promoting chocolate milk are everywhere.

chocolate milkSo what’s the big deal?  First of all it’s important to understand the concept of a recovery beverage and why and when it is necessary.  Here is the simple version:

When we exercise we burn a mix of fat and carbohydrate.   Lower intensity exercise burns mostly fat, which even the leanest athlete has plenty of stored up.  Higher intensity exercise burns mostly carbohydrate, which the body can only store so much of (in the form of glycogen).  On average, a person will burn through all of their body’s glycogen stores during 2-3 hours of exercise.  That’s why endurance athletes have to consume a carbohydrate source of some kind to keep going during activities of that duration or longer.  That is also why it is important to consume carbohydrates as soon as possible (ideally within 30 minutes) after strenuous exercise-in order to replenish your body’s glycogen stores.  It is also recommended to consume some protein post workout to aid in muscle recovery.  Fail to do so and your next workout will probably suck.   So why would chocolate milk be superior?  First of all, it is a good source of carbohydrate.  It is also a good source of protein, and it specifically contains a good amount of the branch chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) which are particularly important for recovery from exercise.  Another benefit of chocolate milk is that it is a liquid. A lot of athletes suffer from GI distress or suppressed appetite after workouts and have a hard time eating solid foods during that all important recovery window 30-60 minutes post exercise.  Liquids are often more easily tolerated for these athletes.  Bonus: it’s super affordable.  Sports nutrition supplements can get pricey.  A whole gallon of chocolate milk will only set you back 4 bucks.

That being said, not everyone needs to be concerned about a post workout recovery beverage (or meal).  If your workout is 1 hour or less and at a moderate intensity you don’t need to worry much about post workout recovery nutrition.   Your next meal or snack, as long as it is well balanced, should provide adequate carbohydrate and protein for your body to recover.  Be particularly careful if your workout is sub 1 hour and your goal is weight loss. An 8 oz serving of lowfat chocolate milk still packs in 200 calories.  This is why it annoys me to see personal trainers at the gym pushing hefty protein shakes on overweight women who are likely doing less than an hour of exercise-they don’t need it and it might actually contribute to weight gain- probably the exact opposite these women are at the gym for!

So what’s my final verdict? Although I don’t personally use it, I think chocolate milk is a quality post workout beverage (for those who actually need it, see above).  It’s a good source of the nutrients you need post workout, it’s easy to digest, it’s cost effective, and it tastes pretty good (I think).  I’m actually not sure why I don’t use it! Maybe I’ll start.   However, chocolate milk is by no means the only post workout beverage and I don’t believe that it is necessarily superior to some of the other options out there.  So if you dislike the flavor there is no need to choke it down.  There are plenty of other ways to get in the nutrients you need after a workout.  If you don’t know what those are-speak to a sports RD like me!

So how does chocolate milk add up?

Post exercise nutrition recommendations :

  • Carbs: 1-1.5grams/kg body weight
  •  Protein: 10-20 grams
  • Fluids: 16-24 fl oz for every pound lost
  • Electrolytes- particularly sodium (1 pound of sweat loss contains about 100 mg Potassium and 400-700 mg Sodium)

 

Chocolate Milk (based on 8 oz low-fat, numbers will vary slightly by brand)

  • Carbs: 28 grams
  • Protein: 9 grams
  • Electrolytes:  154 mg Sodium, 422 mg Potassium
  • Fluid- 8 oz (duh!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Down From a 14,000 Foot High

It has been a more tiring than usual week.  Sure, it’s busy at work but that is nothing new.  And it’s ridiculously hot out- that doesn’t help.  But I think I am suffering a bit from Post Epic Event Let Down (PEELD).  When you’ve spent so much time training hard for an event and thinking about it non-stop there is a bit of a void afterwards.   The more epic the event, the harder it is.  Which is probably why my post Mt Evans Ascent week has been so blah.  Yes, my friends, it’s hard to come down from a 14,000 foot high.  Typically, the only solution is to get the next great adventure on the calendar.  Which I have done.  I’ve also done a lot of resting and a bit of beer drinking.  So since I don’t have the energy to write an actual informative blog this week, I figured out how to create a poll! What’s your strategy?

 

 

Can I Visualize Myself to the Finish Line?!

As I was driving home from a training run on Mt Evans last weekend, sitting in I-70 traffic, I started thinking about how the words “awesome” and “awful”, although fairly opposite by definition,  sound pretty similar.   I’m guessing they both come from the same root word-“awe”, which according to a quick Google search is defined as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”.  Yup, that about sums up how I feel about Mt Evans.   I’m betting that the Mt Evan’s Ascent will be a roller coaster that is both awesome and awful, possibly at the same time, and hopefully ultimately worth the battle.

I am at that weird place in training right before a race where there is really nothing you can do but sit back, relax, eat right, and hope that you’ve done the appropriate training to reach your goals. It’s sorta like that last hour before a big test.   There is typically a fair amount of freaking out during this time, but cramming won’t help, and might actually hurt you.   But there actually is something I can be doing: visualizing a successful race.  I once heard about a study that had basketball players practice visualizing themselves shooting the perfect free-throw over and over again.  They never actually touched a basketball, but their shooting average went up (sorry if that is incorrect basketball terminology).  So just by merely imaging yourself performing your particular sport with perfection, you may actually improve your performance.  The theory was that, if you do it right, you can “trick” (or teach if you are a glass half full kind of person) your brain into thinking you’ve physically practiced a bunch of free throws, and new neural pathways can be created, because your brain basically doesn’t know the difference between doing a free throw in real life and only imaging you are doing one (again you can choose to think of this as awesome that the brain is this powerful, or awful that the brain is this stupid!)  Think of it as an imaginary dress rehearsal.   It’s pretty cool stuff.

I’ve seen visualization mentioned in many other articles, so I figure it’s worth a shot.  I’m not talking cheesy “The Secret” type stuff, just simply picturing myself running up the course, feeling strong and fast, pumping my arms and breathing steadily….I’m feeling better about it already!

And even if it doesn’t help, it’s unlikely to hurt me (note to self: do not visualize self tripping and falling!)  If nothing else, doing it may help build confidence in my abilities and distract me from all of my nervous thoughts about what may go wrong during the race.

So time to sit back, eat carbs, and visualize success!

 

For info regarding visualization or “mental imagery”:

http://www.vanderbilt.edu/AnS/psychology/health_psychology/mentalimagery.html

The Not So Simple Science of Hydration

ImageYou would think that hydration requirements would be pretty straight forward.  Your body needs water, so it’s good for you right?  Well, yes, and it’s not that simple.  While sports dietitians have long known about the dangers of hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels) due to drinking too much water, they don’t always agree on how much water you need when exercising, what the optimal carbohydrate concentration in a sports drinks is (not to mention when to start using one), if coconut water is a superior hydrator, or even when and how much electrolytes to include. 

I myself am in the process of trying to figure out my hydration strategy for my next race, the Mt Evans Ascent.  Being at altitude means I’ll have increased fluid needs from increased respiration, both from being at altitude and because I will be running uphill.  However, if I drink too much water I may experience that uncomfortable sloshing feeling.  Also, if I drink too many carbs I run the risk of GI distress, particularly stomach cramps and nausea, something that has on occasion been an issue for me. Below are some general hydration tips, and how I’m planning to implement, or ignore, them.  The bottom line is that it’s important to personalize your own nutrition and hydration strategies and to practice them before race day!

  • The main goal of consuming water during exercise is to replace water lost as sweat and prevent dehydration.  General recommendations are to drink 6-12 ounces every 15-20 minutes (18-48 oz every hour) and 16 oz of water for every pound lost after exercise.  The reality is that water needs vary from person to person, and some people can get away with drinking less water during exercise than others without sacrificing performance.  While it was originally thought that water weight loss as little as 2% during exercise could hinder performance, some researchers are not saying that is not the case.  It also depends on if you are running in the heat or not-you can lose more water weight in the cold and not sacrifice performance.  To calculate your personal sweat rate you need to weigh yourself naked before and immediately after a 1 hour run.  The difference, in ounces, is how much water you need to drink during your run.  So for instance if I weighed 2 pounds less after my 1 hour run I would need to drink 32 oz/hour (16 ounces in a pound). Of course this test assumes you didn’t drink anything during your run. If so, you have to factor that in.  For short runs it’s probably not necessary to bring water, as long as you are not starting dehydrated and make sure to drink water afterwards. 

 

  • Conventional (sports nutrition) wisdom has called for sports drinks with a 6-8% carbohydrate concentration (meaning 6-8 grams of carbohydrate per 100mL) for exercise greater than 60 minutes.  Anything higher than that is too concentrated for your stomach to handle during exercise and may result in GI issues and actually hurt your hydration.  There is some data that suggests that even 6-8% is too much for optimal hydration.  From this data have come products such as Skratch Labs and Osmo, which have a 3-4% carbohydrate concentration.  Everyone’s stomach is different, so some people may be able to tolerate a 6-8% concentration drink such as Gatorade, others might not.  I personally have a very hard time tolerating products such as Gatorade, which falls in the 6-8% range.  Check out the link at the bottom for an article on why too high of a concentration may actually dehydrate you.  Listen to your gut (pun intended) and practice drinking different amount of fluids with different carb concentrations to see what makes you feel your best (and fastest).

 

  • Ah how the coconut is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame. Coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut oil are all enjoying some good press these days it seems.  Coconut water is higher in potassium than pretty much any sports drink, and is marketed as being the perfect hydrator.  However, sodium is the main electrolyte lost during exercise, not potassium, and coconut water provides very little sodium.  So if you are a heavy sweater or a salty sweater who prefers to use coconut water during exercise you’ll have to make sure to get your sodium in some other way, like salt tabs.  There is no good data to prove that coconut water hydrates better than plain water, so don’t feel like you have to use it if you don’t like it.  I had major GI distress the one time I drank it before a run, and almost had to stop running for fear of throwing up. I’m not sure what that was related to, because I have never had a problem with coconut water after exercise and do sometimes use it as a post run beverage because I like the flavor. More evidence for practicing your sports nutrition strategy before race day!

 

  • When does one start needing electrolytes?  Generally for workouts lasting longer than 60 minutes.  This is also the time frame where you may need a sports drink of some kind as well.  If you are doing an intense workout or tend to be a heavy sweater you may want to start including them sooner though.   Use your judgment.  I generally don’t take a carbohydrate or electrolyte supplement for any flat run less than 8 miles (which would take me a bit over an hour). For a hill workout I may take electrolytes sooner, but not necessarily carbs.  The recommendation is for 250-500 mg Sodium per hour, which is hard to get in most sports drinks without drinking way more fluid than necessary. This is where electrolyte replacement tabs may come in handy.

My plan:  For the Mt Evans Ascent I plan on wearing a small water belt that contains two 8 oz bottles.  I’m thinking in one bottle I will have plain water and in the other I will put a half tab of Gu Brew electrolyte tabs (1 tab has 10 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrate, 320 mg Sodium, 55 mg Potassium), but I may decide to do electrolyte in both (game time decision!). I plan on bringing 2 more tabs to use to refill the bottle, ½ tab at a time.  I plan on using gels for carbohydrates instead of a sports drink. Since I’ll be running close to 3 hours, I will need anywhere from 54-144 oz of fluids during the race.  Sadly, I have not calculated my own sweat rate (note to self: calculate sweat rate), so I’ll have to estimate. My goal is to drink both of the water bottles (so 16 oz) per hour, which is a little under the general recommendations, but I want to avoid that sloshing feeling.  Especially since I also worry a lot about drinking too much during the race and having to stop at the bathroom!  If it’s cold I may have a hard time with even 16 oz per hour.  Since I tend to drink on the mid-lower side of water requirements, I make sure to really focus on proper hydration after!

 

 

For an interesting read on Osmo and hydration:

http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-gear/cycle-life/Is-Your-Hydration-Drink-Making-You-Dehydrated.html?page=2

More interesting info (if you’re a sports nutrition nerd that is):

http://www.skratchlabs.com/blogs/education/7238184-hydration-science-and-practice

http://osmonutrition.com/science/

 

Disclaimer: I have no relationship with any of the above mentioned products