High Altitude Nutrition

Here’s a re-post from my old blog site about sports nutrition at altitude, a topic I am going to become quite familiar with this summer!  I’ve found my sports nutrition textbooks to be pretty devoid of this subject, but the critical piece seems to be hydration since you need more water at altitude.   Here’s what I had to say about it a couple of years ago:


High Altitude Nutrition100_1398

I haven’t been blogging much lately. A good part of that reason is because I’ve been spending much of my free time in the mountains hiking 14ers, which brings me to the topic of high altitude nutrition. If you’ve hiked a 14er, you know that they are no walk in the park. Steep slopes, altitude, temperature extremes, and rough terrain combine to make these mountains day long (worthwhile) adventures. Being in the great outdoors all day means planning ahead for proper nutrition. Although it’s easy to forget to eat when you are pushing for the summit, it’s of utmost importance if you hope to get back to your car feeling alright. Caloric requirements are increased at altitude, even though appetite and thirst are often suppressed, leaving those hiking the Colorado 14ers highly susceptible to dehydration and under-fueling.
Although consuming enough calories and carbohydrates is important at altitude, fluids should be your main priority. Whether you are hiking on a hot or cold day, you lose water not just from sweat but also from increased respiration at altitude. Studies have found that hard physical work in a cold, high altitude environment resulted in 2 L of water loss per hour! Don’t rely on thirst as an indicator of when to drink as by the time you start feeling thirsty, you may already be on your way to dehydration. Instead, aim to drink 6-12 ounces of fluids every 15-20 minutes (18-48 ounces per hour).  Recommendations for training or competition at altitude are 2-4 L of water per day (about 8-16 cups).  When hiking 14ers, having a Camelback or similar hydration system makes taking small sips frequently easy. Since you will most likely be out longer than a couple of hours (which means you will need fuel), a sports drink such as Gatorade or Powerade can work well in place of or in conjunction with water to help meet fluid and carb needs. The jury is still out on whether or not consuming protein in addition to carbs while exercising is beneficial but I have on occasion put protein powder in Gatorade when hiking and swear I felt even better than when drinking the Gatorade alone (could be the placebo effect). Don’t forget to keep up the drinking once you get back to your car!
Carbohydrates are always important during any endurance activity but at altitude your body burns a greater percentage of calories from carbohydrate than it would for the same intensity activity at sea level. The general recommendation for endurance activity is to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate every hour (specifically about 0.7 grams per kilogram of body weight) but this does not take into consideration altitude so you may need up to 1.0 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per hour. These can be from any carbohydrate source-sports drinks, energy bars, trail mix, fruit, sandwiches, chips, etc . Since your appetite may be diminished, bring plenty of carbohydrate sources that may sound appealing to you in the absence of hunger. I personally always crave Pringles when I hike so I make sure to always have them on hand.
Your last consideration, especially if you sweat a lot, is electrolytes and specifically sodium. Most sports drinks and sports gels contain some but having salty foods, such as the Pringles for example, on hand is a good idea as well.
Always bring more food and water then you think you will need. You never know when something will come up that will delay your progress and result in more time spent at altitude.
Happy Trails!


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!


To Beet, or not to Beet… that is the Question

You may have heard about the potential link between nitrate intake, specifically from beets, and improved sports performance. It goes like this: nitrate (NO3) is converted to nitrite (NO2) which is then converted to nitric oxide (NO) in the body, and nitric oxide is a powerful vasodilator (meaning your blood vessels dilate and blood can flow more freely, and quickly, to working muscles). Various studies on beets and beetroot juice have found performance benefits, including improved efficiency in oxygen usage, improved time trial times, improved power output, and prolonged time to exhaustion. What does this mean? Basically that beets (or beetroot juice which was used in most of the studies) may help you run, ride or climb harder, faster, and longer. It may also be of help at altitude, where oxygen availability is reduced. There are some studies that haven’t found any benefit, but overall the results look good. Another positive benefit of beets is that they can help lower blood pressure, so if you’re on blood pressure medication or already have very low blood pressure proceed with caution.

You may also have heard of potential concerns about nitrites, mostly found in processed meats in the form of sodium nitrite, which have been associated with an increased risk of some cancers and a condition called “methemoglobinemia”. These associations are still in question, however, but it’s best to limit intake of processed meats anyway as they tend to be high in saturated fat and focus on beets and beetroot juice if you want to increase your nitrate intake.

Bottom Line– Beets can be a great addition to your diet. Besides the potential sports performance benefits, beats are jam packed with nutrients and low in calories. In addition to beets, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and arugula are also good sources of nitrate. If you want to incorporate beets into your diet but hate the taste, try the refreshing smoothie recipe below, or vary it to your taste preferences. You can also try roasting beets in olive oil and tossing them in a salad or blending them up and adding them to a pasta sauce.

Berry Beet Smoothie

1 cup frozen beets, cubed

1 cup spinach (optional for extra nutrients)

1 cup frozen mixed berries

½ – 1 cup 100% apple juice or other 100% real fruit juice (a sweet fruit juice such as apple will help mask the beet flavor)

1 scoop protein powder (optional but recommended after an intense workout for muscle repair)

Splash of honey or agave to taste (optional)

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Enjoy.

Alcohol and Exercise

I have to admit there is something quite refreshing about a cold beer after a hard mountain bike ride or a long day of hiking. This is particularly true if you are an athlete or outdoor enthusiast in Colorado, where new microbreweries seem to be popping up every week. Every now and then you’ll even hear about studies that find health benefits with moderate drinking and free beers are often included at post race festivities. But do you ever wonder if that post workout brew is hindering your sports performance? While a beer (which is equivalent to a 5 oz glass of wine or 1 oz of hard alcohol) here and there won’t hurt your workouts, if you’re doing it regularly and excessively, there are some potential negative effects.

Here are some things to consider:

Alcohol provides empty calories
At 7 calories per gram of alcohol it’s easy for the calories from alcoholic beverages to add up. A typical beer has anywhere from 100-150 calories per 12 oz, while some mixed drinks (sorry margarita lovers) can clock in close to 500 calories! These are empty calories too, as they provide virtually no nutrients.

Alcohol is a diuretic
It’s no coincidence that you have to use the bathroom more when imbibing. Alcohol is a strong diuretic, meaning your body loses water. Dehydration will definitely affect your sports performance so be sure to drink water when drinking alcohol to help cut your losses.

Alcohol suppresses fat use as a fuel during exercise
If you’re an endurance athlete you need to be able to use fat efficiently, so not being able to tap into those stores effectively could affect performance.

Alcohol disrupts your sleep
Sleep is an important part of an athlete’s training as a lot of muscle repair occurs during this time. Most athletes need more sleep than the average person, and alcohol can interrupt your deep sleep cycles making recovery more difficult.

Alcohol increases the release of cortisol and decreases release of testosterone
This may affect protein synthesis and muscle repair.

Bottom Line– I’m a big believer in balance and moderation. Sure a beer isn’t the most effective post workout beverage, but life is short so if you like beer it’s okay to enjoy in moderation. So if you just finished a hard race on a hot day, and there is a free beer coupon hanging from your race bib(and your favorite beer just happens to be on tap), I say go for it! Just make sure to drink plenty of water and properly refuel (read: eat carbs and protein) before indulging. Besides potential negative effects on performance, it goes without saying that drinking the night before a hard workout or during intense training cycles is going to make the workouts feel awful and could potentially affect your pereformance. Don’t forget the general alcohol consumption recommendations- no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.

The Goodness of Green Tea

I’ve been drinking a lot of green tea lately on account of fighting off a cold. Why do I do this every time? I’m not really sure! Does it really help or is it the placebo effect (and does that matter)? I know fluids are important when sick, and green tea can help with that, but mostly you hear about green tea as it relates to weight loss and cancer. So what’s the truth?

Legend has it that tea was discovered when some leaves blew in through an open window and landed in a pot of boiling water, or something like that. I’m not sure if the story is true, but I’m glad tea was discovered.  It’s a comforting beverage on a cold day and a refreshing one on a hot day, and it’s generally regarded as good for you. Here’s the scoop:

Health benefits– Green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (or EGCG) which is an antioxidant. It is thought to help prevent the spread of cancerous cells and possibly the development of cancer. Some studies have also found a link between green tea consumption and decreased risk of heart disease. There are some promising studies out there, and some not so promising, so it’s too soon to say for sure, but so far the results do look good.

Fat burning– Green tea gets a lot of publicity for its implications in speeding up the metabolism and potentially promoting weight loss. While studies have found a spike in metabolism after consumption, it is probably not enough for any significant weight loss. On average, drinking 3-4 cups of green tea was found to increase calorie burning by 80-179kcal/day. Although this could help augment a weight loss program, alone it’s not enough to result in any significant weight loss.  Also, if you’re adding sugar to the tea you’re pretty much negating the extra calories burned anyway.

Supplements-There are some green tea supplements out there, mostly marketed for weight loss. As always, it’s better to eat real food (and drink real drinks) than to take a supplement as there are complex interactions in whole foods that cannot be duplicated in supplements. Also, they could be dangerous. Most green tea supplements contain a fair amount of caffeine which may cause jitteriness and there have been cases of liver toxicity with green tea extract supplements. It’s also unlikely that a green tea supplement will do much for weight loss.

Bottom line-Green tea is generally regarded as safe and may provide health benefits so it’s worth incorporating into your diet (assuming you like it). Studies generally find that you need to drink 3-4 cups a day to reap the health benefits. Be careful about adding too much sugar to it since excess sugar comes with its own health concerns. Don’t expect the pounds to melt off though. Stick to healthy eating and exercise if you are trying to lose weight and think of green tea as a bonus, not a solution.

Lessons Learned from my Half Marathon Training

I knew when I signed up for a half marathon in January that training during the winter in Denver would be difficult. Cold weather, possible snow, darker days…I didn’t even factor in the holidays. Whoopsy! Perhaps the hardest lesson for me to learn was that training in the morning before work is super beneficial this time of year (and probably year round, I wouldn’t really know). Getting up early is painful for me, even when it’s not dark and cold outside, but I found that evening workouts are much more prone to cancellations- work happy hours, having to stay late at work, holiday engagements, feeling too tired/hungry/unmotivated at the end of the day all tend to get in the way. Plus, I tended to feel better at work on days that I got up early to work out. Another thing I learned is that if you dress appropriately you can run in some pretty cold temps. So no more excuses for cancelling runs when it gets nippy outside (but be realistic, running in sub zero temps is not recommended).

To come up with a list of top training tips I consulted with the best runner I know (who just so happens to be my sister), Kim Dobson (see: Pikes Peak Ascent Female record holder http://www.pikespeakmarathon.org/results.htm) to get her advice on how to have a successful half. The tips mostly apply for other distances as well. Here are our recommendations.

Training Tips:

• Make or use an appropriate training plan to guide your training. Even if you are pretty knowledgeable about what your training should look like it will help you stay on track if you have it pre-planned and written down. If you are a novice a 12 week training program should be sufficient to get you to the finish line, assuming some base cardiovascular fitness.

• In that training schedule include a weekly long run and a tempo run. Remember to build slowly towards the long run depending on what your base fitness is. If you are a newbie, your “long run” might be 5 miles. Tempo runs should be pleasantly challenging, typically just shy of race pace. Use tempo runs to visualize yourself in your upcoming race, fighting through the pain and fatigue.

• Reduce your weekly mileage every 3-4 weeks for one week to allow your body to recover and adapt from training. Think of these as “easy weeks” not off weeks.

• If something hurts while you run, take a day or two off. You might be able to do some low impact cross training like the elliptical or even yoga and core work instead. Listen to your body. Runners tend to have a hard time resting, but think of it this way-it’s either a little rest now or a lot of rest later when you really injure yourself.

• Run a 10K in the middle of your training block for motivation and to see where your running fitness is at. It will also help you adjust to race atmosphere.

• Be a part of your local running community- attend run clubs, run with friends, use social media (Facebook, Strava), read running magazines etc. This will help you stay motivated and make it fun!

• Practice your nutrition strategies during training runs. Experiment with different products until you find the ones that work best for you. For a half marathon distance you will likely need some sort of carbohydrate supplement during your race.

• Invest in the proper recovery tools-I’m talking foam rollers (I recommend Trigger Point), ice packs etc. Make sure to stretch after all runs.

• Taper. Your longest training run should be about 2 weeks before the actual race. You can focus somewhat on shorter, faster runs during this time but the actual week before the race should be pretty low mileage and intensity.

• Consider carb loading. This one could be a blog topic in of itself! Half marathons are kind of on the border of necessitating carb loading, depending on how long you think the race will take you. It could be helpful to focus on a higher carb intake for the 2-3 days before the race. Don’t rely on a giant pasta dinner the night before, it will likely just give you a stomach ache and wont’ really help your performance. Stick with carbs that are familiar to your body.

Race Day Tips:

• Arrive at the race with plenty of time to get ready-warm up, stretch, use the restroom, and get to the start line. (We recommend one hour before the start).

• Also make sure to get up early enough to get in a proper breakfast and digest it. This means you may have to get up pretty early; typically you need about 2 hours pre-race to digest the meal. Some athletes will even get up, eat, then go back to sleep for a bit. Make sure it’s a familiar breakfast; this isn’t the time to try that new breakfast burrito you heard about! It should contain mostly carbohydrate with some protein/fat. My go to is whole wheat toast with peanut butter and honey.

• If it is cool outside, wear warm clothes and stay warm until as close to the race as possible. Be careful not to overdress for the actual race though as over-heating can slow you down. Consider gloves. Cold hands are no fun, and they can also serve as a place to stash your energy gels.

• Wear familiar socks and shoes (ones that you have completed long training runs in).

• Think of the first mile as a warm up and ease into the race. It’s better to start conservative and speed up as you go then to start out too fast and have to slow down…or stop.

• Break the race into thirds or fourths (so 3 or 4 mile increments for a half marathon). At the end of a section, have a general idea of what time you should be at and give yourself a pep talk. Try to push a little harder at the start of a new section.

• Use water stations as “breaks”. This doesn’t mean you stop, it means you slow down just a bit to give your body a brief rest and to properly hydrate. Speed up as you leave the water station.

• Race by feel rather than by the watch. It’s okay to look at your watch a few times during the race, but don’t look at it each mile or half mile, and don’t let the numbers psych you out, especially if you’re racing faster than you thought (that’s good!)

• Focus on passing people the second half of the race. Pick a person ahead of you and slowly work to catch up and pass them.

• Expect that the race is going to hurt, and be ready to stay mentally tough when your body tells you to slow down. One of Kim’s favorite running quotes, by Dr. Stan Beecham (via Greg McMillan in a Running Times magazine), is “You ain’t gonna get out of the race pain-free so you gotta pick the pain — the pain of the race or the pain of regret.” Our bodies are capable of so much more than we know, if we are willing to push ourselves.

• If you find yourself struggling utilize the power of positive thinking. Get a mantra in your head such as “I feel fast, my legs feel strong”. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated to help.

• Don’t underestimate the importance of post-race recovery nutrition. This too could be it’s own blog topic (and maybe it will!) Basically you need mostly carbs with some protein as well; ideally within 30 minutes of finishing your race.

Coffee: Is it Good or Bad for Your Health and Sports Performance (or Just Delicious)?

Ever wonder if your daily cuppa joe is helping or harming you?  Heard that caffeine (such as that in coffee) can improve your sports performance?  Like so many foods and drinks, coffee gets a fair amount of press for its implications in our health.  Most of the press is positive, but some is negative too.  Since it’s such a commonly consumed beverage, and I myself enjoy a cup almost every morning, I decided to do a bit of sleuthing into the topic.  Here’s what I found out.coffee
Good News:
  • Regular coffee consumption may lower your risk of developing: type 2 diabetes (via reducing insulin resistance), gout, Parkinson’s disease, gallstones, liver cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Coffee contains antioxidants which have health benefits and may in part explain the lower risk of some cancers (although this link is not clear).
  • Despite what Cher in the movie “Clueless” would have you believe, there is no truth to the rumor that coffee stunts your growth.
A caution, however, that the amount of coffee used in the studies varied and at least one study used 4-6 cups of regular coffee a day which is more than the average coffee drinker consumes and enough to cause side effects in some people.  The use of decaf vs regular coffee also varied. Decaf coffee was only found to be helpful with some of these conditions.
Bad News:
  • Too much caffeinated coffee can cause jitteriness, rapid heart rate, dizziness, anxiety, and nausea (all temporary).
  • Some studies have found an increased risk of pancreatic cancer and heart disease among coffee drinkers, although more recent studies have not.  However, some people cannot metabolize caffeine as well as others and these people are at an increased risk of heart issues.
  • Caffeine can temporarily raise blood pressure.  If your blood pressure is normal drinking coffee daily shouldn’t affect your blood pressure long term, but be aware of how much you are consuming if you have hypertension or pre-hypertension.
  • Large doses may not be good for pregnant women.  It is safe to consume 200mg/day or less, about the amount in 12 oz of drip coffee.
Sports Performance:
Athletes have long known about the ergogenic effects of caffeine.  That’s why you’ll find it added to many sports gels and drinks these days.  The main benefit is that caffeine helps enhance fat burning and since fat is the main fuel used during endurance exercise consuming caffeine can help you better utilize this fuel, resulting in the ability to work out longer and harder.  Caffeine also stimulates the brain, improving alertness and reaction time, delaying fatigue, and even providing a slight analgesic (pain relieving) effect.  Although once believed to be a diuretic, in moderation caffeine should not contribute to enough fluid losses to affect performance.
If you want to try using caffeine for sports performance, try using 3-6 mg of caffeine per kg body weight since that is the range studies found to be beneficial.  Some of these studies used a bolus dose of caffeine before the exercise, others used it spaced out during the exercise, so experiment with what works best for you.  For a 150lb athlete 3-6 mg/kg body weight would be 204-409 mg of caffeine, which is about the amount in 2-3 (6 oz) cups of home brewed coffee.  Note that this is a lot more than the amount found in most gels, which typically range from 25-100 mg per gel.
It’s important to point out that this performance enhancement applies only to endurance exercise.  Caffeine does not seem to benefit strength or speed sports as much.
Bottom Line:
Take these findings with a grain of salt (no, not literally!).  These studies cannot prove cause and effect but only an association. It could be that some other commonality among coffee drinkers results in the lower risk of these diseases.  However, it does appear that the news is mostly good, so don’t feel guilty about enjoying your coffee.  Just make sure you’re not relying on coffee to meet your body’s fluid needs.  Tolerance to coffee and caffeine varies from person to person, so stop before you start feeling jittery.  Although it’s unlikely to cause any health issues, don’t expect it to cure anything either.  It’s not worth choking it down just because you heard it was good for you if you don’t actually enjoy it.
If you are an endurance athlete, I believe that caffeine is definitely worth experimenting with.  Whether you do this by coffee consumption or not is a personal preference.

Food vs Supplements to Fuel Your Workout

 Well, I survived the Tinkerbell Half Marathon!  Survived is probably a bit of a dramatic word choice, it actually went quite well.  Yay PR!  But thinking back there were some things I did right and some things I didn’t.  For instance my legs felt my lack of weekly mileage.  Although I did a good job of getting in a weekly long training run on most weekends I clearly didn’t do enough shorter sports drinkstraining runs during the week.  Lesson learned.  One thing I feel I got right was my nutrition strategy.  I felt well fueled and hydrated before, during, and after the race and didn’t experience any GI discomfort, which is an occasional problem of mine.
So I guess now is the time to admit that I am kind of like a kid in a candy store when I’m in the sports nutrition supplement section of REI.  I’m not sure why exactly, but I love looking at all the new products and flavors and actually get excited about going on long workouts so that I can use them.  Yes, I am a sports nutrition nerd.  Others in the field don’t get so excited by supplements, and prefer to use real food whenever possible.  So which is better?
At the Tinkerbell Half Marathon I opted for a sports nutrition supplement instead of solid food, as is usually the case for me.  In real (aka not when exercising) life I always prefer food over supplements to meet my nutrition needs but when I’m working hard my stomach just can’t handle solid food.  I’ve always believed that there is no real advantage to using a supplement over real food, and that it really comes down to a matter of preference, but others in the sports nutrition field have strong preferences, on both sides of the equation.  And there aren’t a ton of studies out there to tell us which is better.
However, a recent study (Nieman, Gillitt, Henson et al.) on cyclists pitted a carbohydrate drink (Gatorade in this case) against bananas during a 75km ride.  Researchers found no significant difference in mean power, heart rate, rate of perceived exertion, or blood glucose levels between the two groups.  Study participants did report feeling more full and bloated with the bananas however.  What does this mean for you? Basically that it comes down to a matter of preference. Your sports performance is unlikely to be improved by your carbohydrate delivery source choice.   Your stomach may be affected differently however, so it’s important to test different carbohydrate sources and supplements in order to find out what works best for you.