Racing Weight and Healthy Weight Loss

food scale

Don’t try this at home. Actually, don’t weigh your food anywhere. Ever.

It’s a diet obsessed world out there.  It’s sad, really, how much our society focuses on looks and thinness.  Working in the eating disorder field I’ve grown to hate the “D” word.  But this is not a blog about the pitfalls of our society.  No, this is a blog about finding the balance between managing ones weight for sports performance and not sacrificing ones mental and physical health in the process.  There are many athletes with unhealthy and disordered eating habits and athletes are thought to be at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder.  This is not surprising seeing as the reality is that weight does, to some extent, affect endurance sports performance.  Some runner’s talk about their racing weight as if it was a holy grail that they would do anything to obtain.  You hear stats like “your mile time improves by 10 seconds for every pound lost”, or some crap like that.  Cyclists talk about how every pound lost improves power output by so much.  I don’t remember the specific statistic because I don’t care.  I mostly ride my bike because it’s fun.  It’s important not to lose sight of that in the process of trying to lose weight.  You probably started running or riding because it was fun too.  Sure there is a correlation between weight and performance-to some extent– but I challenge any athlete to cut off their hand (that weighs about a pound right?) and suddenly drop 10 seconds from their mile time! Okay, I kid, but seriously, the point is that the mere act of losing weight will not necessarily guarantee that your performance improves.  Lose too much weight or lose weight too quickly and your performance will suffer.  And you might lose your love for the sport in the process.

If you want to lose weight solely because you feel you don’t look like the stereotypical runner/cyclist/fill in the blank kind of athlete then stop right there.  Athletes come in all shapes and sizes and I am a firm believer of not modifying ones diet and exercise in order to change how one looks.  If your only motivation for weight loss is because you think you “have” to or because you want to look better in your underwear then this is probably not the blog for you.  Trust me it’s not worth risking falling into disordered eating or even a full blown eating disorder.  I’ll even admit to my eating disorder patients: sure you can modify your nutrition and exercise to manipulate your body to look however you want, but at what cost? What kind of life would that be? How about working on body acceptance instead of weight loss?

Losing weight for health or sports performance is different, but even those motivations can be taken too far.  It’s not always easy to know when an innocent desire to drop a few pounds to become a better athlete starts to become an unhealthy obsession with weight. As an athlete AND an eating disorder professional, I am acutely aware of the issue and believe that I have developed a pretty healthy and moderate approach to the subject.  I truly believe that if you focus on training right and eating well your weight and body composition will take care of themselves over time.  However, if you feel that some weight loss is truly justified and want to get a jump start read on to learn how to do it as healthfully (for your mind and body) as possible.  I could probably write a book on this topic (maybe I will someday…..) but below are some of my top tips.

  • Don’t count calories.  Just because you meet your body’s caloric needs doesn’t mean you are eating right or getting the nutrients your body needs.  You could meet your daily caloric needs with ice cream for Heaven’s sake!  Calorie counting can easily become compulsive, as it puts so much emphasis on hitting numbers and looking at nutrition labels.  Instead of counting calories, count servings from the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, proteins, and fats.   All the rest, desserts and alcohol for example, would fall into the category of extras and you wouldn’t have a target for those, you would just aim to not have too many of them! (Not sure how many of each group you need? Consult an RD!)
  • Keep a food journal.  But not all the time, especially if you know this tends to become a compulsive “diet” activity for you.  Keeping a food journal for a few days will give you a picture of how much you are getting from all of the food groups mentioned above.  Once you know your baseline, you can work on eating more from some of the food groups, and possibly less from others.  Keeping a food journal can also help you keep tabs on mindless eating and boredom eating, which are common problems.  A handful of food here and there might not seem like a lot in your head, but it can add up quickly, and having it on paper helps put it in perspective.
  • Keep an eye on portions.  Most people have no concept of portions, and it’s not surprising given the ridiculous amount of food we are served at some restaurants.  Note: a giant plate of pasta does not count as one serving.  One grain’s worth of pasta is actually only ½ cup- the size of ½ of a baseball.
  • Focus on what you want to eat more of, not less.  The answer will probably be vegetables and fruits, as most Americans don’t meet the minimum recommendations of 5-9 servings/day.  I think that it’s mentally more helpful to focus on what you want to eat more of, instead of what you want to eat less of, since telling yourself you can’t have something will likely make you want it more (blame human nature). Plus, I find that when I’m able to up my vegetable intake I naturally do not have room for, or crave, the less than healthy foods I typically like (desserts and wine mmm!).
  • Choose foods that don’t come in a package more often than not.  You’ve also probably heard that it’s best to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. That’s because that is where most of the whole foods are, like fruits, veggies, meats, dairy, and to some extent whole grains.   There are plenty of healthful foods that come in packages though, so don’t avoid the inner aisles completely.  When buying packaged products aim for ones with very few ingredients (i.e. if you are buying brown rice the ingredient list should look like this- ingredients: brown rice).
  • Don’t make food rules.  Then you fall into the good food, bad food trap and feel like a bad person when you eat a “bad” food.  Take the judgment out of eating. There are no “good” foods and “bad” foods.  Just foods. Some foods you should eat more often and some foods should be occasional treats.
  • Don’t skip breakfast.  I truly believe it’s the most important meal of the day and studies have consistently shown that breakfast eaters tend to weigh less than breakfast skippers.  This could be because skipping breakfast makes you hungrier and more likely to overeat later in the day.
  • Listen to your body.  Try to check in with your hunger.  If you are hungry eat.  If not, wait until you start to feel some hunger.  Don’t wait until you are starving to start eating, as you will be more likely to reach for high sugar/more processed foods and to over eat.  Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed.
  • Plan ahead.  Think about what you want to make for your meals during the week and make sure you have the food on hand.  I know that if I leave work hungry and with no dinner plan I’m not going to have the patience to go to the store and cook something healthy. I’m doing take out.  Same with snacks. Bring your own snacks to work so that you don’t have to rely on the office donuts for a mid afternoon pick me up.
  • Drink up.  Water that is.  Thirst is often mistaken for hunger.  Make sure you are meeting your fluid needs.  Not sure if you are? Hint: your urine should be a very pale yellow.
  • Know when to use sports nutrition products.  Sports drinks, energy gels, and protein shakes are all great when used appropriately.  But if you are drinking Gatorade throughout the day or eating gels on 45 minute runs you are taking in more sugar and calories than you need to be.
  • Be safe.  DO NOT use diet pills, laxatives, diuretics, or any other weight loss aid. Period.
  • Monitor your body fat too, not just weight.  Your body fat percentage tells you a lot more than a number on the scale. Healthy ranges are:
Males Females Rating
5-10 8-15 Athletic
11-14 16-23 Good
15-20 24-30 Acceptable
21-24 31-36 Overweight
>24 >37 Obese

(from Sport Nutrition, 2nd Edition, by Asker Jeukendrup, PhD, and Michael Gleeson, PhD, on the Human Kinetics publishing website)

  • Don’t weigh yourself more than once a day.  Don’t even weigh every day if you can help it. Your weight will fluctuate naturally from day to day and seeing those fluctuations may just psych you out. It’s more important to look at overall trends, taken into consideration with body fat percentage, than daily numbers.
  • Be realistic. Set small and slow weight loss goals.  If you lose too much weight or lose it too quickly you will sacrifice your performance. You shouldn’t lose more than 1-2 pounds/week.  You might not lose any weight one week, and that’s okay too-it doesn’t mean you need to lose more the next.
  • Monitor your sports performance as you lose.  You may not need to lose as much as you think to hit those time goals.  You may also need to accept that your body may be built a certain way, and to change that may involve extreme deprivation or excessive exercise.  If you find that you have to cut your intake to the point of starving to drop weight your body is telling you something. Listen to it.
  • Train right.  As I mentioned above, to some extent your body will adapt and change naturally in response to your training. Be patient with this process.  Try to focus more on your training then your weight.
  • Don’t try to lose weight during the middle of your racing season.  Your performance will likely suffer if you do so.  The off season and pre-season are actually the best time to tackle weight loss goals.

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?

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

Jungfrau

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!

 

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

Post Race Recovery

When I turned 30 seven months ago, I declared this year “The Year of Jen”.   I didn’t have a firm idea of what that meant at the time, but basically I wanted to have a year of great adventures and epicness(yes I know that’s not a real word).  Although The Year of Jen is over halfway done, the Summer of Jen has just begun!  While The Year of Jen has unfortunately not been entirely epic (I did do my first destination race, the Tinkerbell Half Marathon in Disneyland, but I haven’t taken any international trips and I still don’t own a puppy), The Summer of Jen promises to be interesting to say the least as it features me subjecting myself to 2 hardcore races: the Mt Evans Ascent and the Pikes Peak Ascent.  I also have a couple of other fun, less intimidating, races on the calendar.  First up: the Greenland Trail Race 8 miler this weekend.  Which brings me to the topic of post race recovery.  Since I have more than usual on my racing calendar this summer it will be important that I properly recover from all of my races and training runs.  This means good post exercise nutrition, proper stretching (something I’m not always good about) and rest days (but not too many).

Here is my plan for the first race of the season(note: this is based on science as well as personal experience).

Post race nutrition recommendations

-Within 30 minutes of finishing consume:

  • 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 depending on if you are a salty sweater-which I think I am)

 

*My real world plan: since this is only an 8 mile race I’ll go with the lower end of the carbohydrate recommendation, for me that will be about 62 grams of carbohydrate. Since I won’t be weighing myself pre and post race to determine exactly how much water weight I lose (and I haven’t bothered to do training runs where I calculate my sweat rate), I’m going to have to estimate.  My plan is to drink 1 packet of Generation UCAN chocolate protein shake (33 grams carb, 13 grams protein, 140 mg Potassium, 240 mg Sodium) made with 12 oz soymilk (15 grams carb, 9 grams protein, 150 mg Sodium, 450 mg Potassium) as well as 20 fl oz of G2 (12 grams carb, 75mg Potassium, 270 mg Sodium).

Grand total: 60 grams carbohydrate, 22 grams protein, 660 mg Sodium, 665 mg Potassium, and 32 oz of fluid (but I’ll probably drink another  8 or so ounces of plain water as well).  A little high on the Potassium (who knew soymilk was such a good source?!) but otherwise pretty spot on.

Post Race Recovery

-Cool down: to burn as much lactate from your legs as possible (and lessen soreness) it’s recommended to go for a short slow jog or walk after the race.  I’m not hard core enough to go for a run after a run, but I will make an effort to walk around.  Any movement will help. Definitely don’t jump straight into a car or you’ll regret it later!

-Stretching: after cooling down to help keep muscles as loose as possible. I’m not always good about stretching, but my plan is to spend at least a few minutes stretching all of the muscles in my legs, butt, and hips. I won’t have my foam roller on me, but will use that later in the day as well.

-Rest days: I once heard an exercise physiology professor say that an athlete’s rest days are actually the most important training days.  They are the time when the body really heals and recovers, allowing it to work harder in the future and get stronger.  My plan is to go for a bike ride the day after my race to keep my legs loose, take the next day completely off, then resume with an easy run the day after that.  Then back on to full on training for Evans and Pikes!

So there’s my plan. Take what you find helpful, tweak it for yourself, and wish me luck with the Summer of Jen!

Eating Protein and Fighting Aging

Protein gets way less bad press than fats or carbs.  Sometimes I think it gets too much good press actually, such as the super high protein diets that are promoted for weight loss. Truth is protein is very important since it supplies the building blocks for just about every tissue in your body.  It also helps with recovery after workouts and satiation after meals, helping you to stave off hunger until the next meal or snack.  However, loading up on excess amounts (beyond what your body actually needs that is) isn’t going to help out your health or fitness.  I think people forget that excess protein can be stored as fat, just like excess carbs or dietary fat.

So why am I writing about protein? Because of a quote I recently read in SCAN’s Pulse newsletter that caught me off guard.  The comment was regarding protein intake after exercise as it relates to muscle repair and it said “this could make a meaningful difference over the course of a year, particularly for athletes over 30 years old who slowly lose muscle as a normal part of the aging process”.  Well crap.  I feel I handled my 30th birthday last year relatively well, mostly by ignoring the fact that I have entered this decade in life.  I’ve always said age is just a number anyway.  But this comment bothered me.  Whether I tell myself I have the fitness of a 22 year old or not, the reality is my body is 30 and apparently that means I’m going to start losing muscle mass.  Another joy of aging!  So I’ll do my best to fight it.  Here’s my plan and how you can too: getting enough total daily protein, incorporating optimal amounts of protein post workout, and strength training regularly.

Post Workout Protein Recs:

According to the article (and many others on the same topic), eating optimal amounts of protein shortly following a workout can help speed recovery and prevent muscle loss, since post exercise not only do the muscles need protein but they are primed and ready to utilize it.  There isn’t a lot of good data that suggests that one protein type is significantly better than another (i.e. whey, casein, soy) so pick the one you like best.  If you like it, you’ll be more likely to be consistent with consuming it.  This particular article didn’t give specific post workout recommendations, but generally it’s recommended to consume 10-20 grams of protein in the recovery window (within 30-60 minutes post workout).

Daily Protein Recs:

Another key point the article (which was based on a recent study) suggested was that the optimal amount of protein at meals for athletes is about 30 grams.  Beyond this amount there are no additional health benefits and you run the risk of storing the excess protein as fat.  Fall significantly short of this number and your muscles may not be getting as much protein as they need, which means you could lose muscle mass. The 30 grams per meal recommendation actually equates to a higher daily protein intake than what typical recommendations have called for, depending on body weight, which this study did not factor in.  According to traditional guidelines, the minimum amount of protein necessary to prevent deficiency is 0.8 grams/kg of body weight per day (0.36 grams/lb of body weight). That equals 49 grams for a 135 pound person.  However, that’s the minimum to prevent problems and if you are an athlete you definitely need more. The typical recommendation is for endurance athletes to consume 1.2-1.4 grams of protein/kg of body weight per day (0.54-0.64 grams/lb). So a 135 pound runner, for example, would need about 73-86 grams of protein a day, slightly less than 30 grams x 3 meals. Strength athletes need more, 1.4-1.7 grams/kg of body weight per day (0.64-.77 g/lb). Whether you go with the body weight recommendation or the 30 grams times 2 meals, these protein levels are not difficult to obtain if you are a meat eater. The key is to space your protein intake more evenly throughout the day, as it’s likely that your breakfast falls short.  An egg, for example, has 6 grams of protein while a 6 oz steak has about 42.  Vegetarians will have to work harder to make sure they meet their protein needs.  It’s okay to add a protein powder or bars as a supplement if you are not getting enough protein from food alone but aim to meet your needs from food first, supplements second.  Some good sources of protein are lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs, soy, dairy, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and beans.

Strength Training Recs

Well, the goal is 2-3 times per week.  I have to admit that I have a hard time with that.  There are just so many things I’d rather do besides strength training, particularly because I’d rather be outside than at a gym.  However, I also recently read in Matt Fitzgerald’s book “Racing Weight” that runners should do strength training 2-3 times per week, so now that 2 people have said it I’m going to try….to do 2 times/week.  According to Fitzgerald, body weight exercises are okay, so the second time won’t even be at the gym. It will be post run body weight stuff such as lunges, push-ups and core work.  Hey, it’s still an improvement from where I’m at.

So there it is, my plan to fight the aging process. Obviously it’s more complicated than this, but it’s a start. Wish me luck!

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Exercise and Eating Disorders

 It’s not always easy being an eating disorder professional and an athlete.  As I started thinking about writing a blog about my half marathon training (coming soon!) I had the thought that it’s a bummer I have to keep that part of myself somewhat hidden at work. The patients I work with are very sick and compulsive exercise is a common struggle for them, so personal exercise talk is pretty taboo, and understandably so.  When my patients ask what I do on the weekends I tend to play things down.  I say I went for a short hike when in reality I climbed a 14er.  A training run becomes a walk in the park.  A bike ride up Vail Pass a casual cruiser ride.  It’s not that I like lying, it’s pretty awkward actually, but it doesn’t seem appropriate to delve into my athletic adventures.  Exercise and eating disorders is a complicated subject.  While I fully believe my exercise is healthy, I understand how it would be difficult for patients to understand. But I do it because I love it, not because I am trying to change my body or because I feel like I have to.  I live for the adventure. I fuel myself properly before, during, and after my activities. Heck, the sports nutrition is sometimes the most fun part for me!  And I don’t stress too much if I miss a workout or if it doesn’t go as planned.

 
Why is exercise such a tricky topic with eating disorders?  I think it’s because it’s a healthy thing taken too far.  Sure exercise has health benefits, and it can be a great stress relief, but when it’s compulsive it can actually be detrimental to your physical and mental health.  And when it gets to that point it’s hard to cut back, so sometimes total abstinence is the way to recovery.  There is actually research about running and eating disorders that basically says it’s nearly impossible to recover from an eating disorder if you refuse to stop logging miles.  This all seems quite contrary to what we hear in the media about how most Americans don’t get enough exercise and this lack of activity is causing health problems.  I always have to reality check my eating disorder patients-are you more likely to suffer health problems from lack of exercise or the eating disorder?  I guarantee it’s the eating disorder.
So how do you know if your exercise is a problem?  Ask these questions:
– Is my day ruined if I don’t get in a workout?
– Am I working out because I feel guilty about food I’ve eaten?
– Am I eating enough to fuel my workouts?
– Am I avoiding spending time with friends and family in order to exercise?
– Is my workout routine interfering with my work, school, or other obligations?
A “yes” (or 4) doesn’t mean you have an eating disorder but it might be an indicator that you should further evaluate your exercise habits.  Remember, exercise should be enjoyable! If you’re forcing yourself to run on the treadmill but you hate it, not only are you creating an unhealthy attitude around exercise, but you’re probably not going to stick with it long enough to reap any health benefits.  Remember- balance and moderation are key.  Exercise is great if you are doing it for the right reasons and properly fueling yourself, but it’s also okay to cancel a workout in order to grab dinner with a friend, or because you are tired, sick, or injured. Be kind to your body.

Below is a link to a blog I was quoted in awhile ago about one woman’s recovery from an eating disorder and the role exercise played.  She has some good insight and is doing well with her recovery, but keep in mind this was just one woman’s journey.

http://blisstree.com/look/eating-disorder-recovery-exercise-personal-trainer-227/