Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

There has been a lot of talk about vitamin D lately.  Originally associated with the childhood disease rickets, vitamin D has reemerged as an important factor in health and disease prevention. In fact, the studies have been so convincing, health organizations and our government are considering officially increasing the recommended daily requirement for vitamin D in the diet.  It is estimated that 75% of US teens and up to 60% of adults are deficient in vitamin D.

There is a lot of information to sort through, along with some interesting recommendations as to how much vitamin D is enough, and how much vitamin D is optimal for good health.  I will do my best to sum it up as well as highlight why vitamin D may be especially important to you as an athlete!

Unlike other vitamins and minerals, vitamin D is a type of steroid hormone that has a myriad of affects on many cells and systems in the body.  We obtain vitamin D in two ways—from the diet and from the sun striking unprotected skin.  As a dietitian I usually prefer people to obtain their nutrients from foods.  Unfortunately, getting vitamin D from the diet is difficult.  Milk and oily fish are good sources but few other foods provide significant amounts.  Traditionally humans got all the vitamin D they needed from the sun.  When sun strikes skin, the body is able to make vitamin D.  However, levels typically plummet in winter when people spend more time covered up and indoors.  Our skin is more exposed in summer, but sunscreen blocks the skin from making Vitamin D.  And the farther one is from the equator, the less vitamin D is synthesized during sun exposure—even in summer.  Getting your vitamin D from the sun also poses a significant risk of skin cancer.  Skin cancer rates are rising and most dermatologists shudder at the thought of people forgoing sunscreen and protective clothing to obtain vitamin D.   In the case of vitamin D, supplements seem to be the best option.  Vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and easily available in grocery stores and pharmacies.

So why is this vitamin so important?  Vitamin D is usually associated with bone health due to the fact that it regulates calcium.  However, new research has found that vitamin D may be helpful in preventing certain cancers such as colorectal cancer.  Vitamin D also plays a role in the proper functioning of the immune system and may prevent the development of autoimmune diseases like Type 1 Diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.  It is well known that people with Multiple Sclerosis are often vitamin D deficient.  In fact, the risk of MS is much higher the farther one lives from the equator.  Vitamin D is also believed to play a role in heart health, cholesterol levels, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.  New research is turning up almost daily with much of it being conducted in northern states, Canada and other nations at high latitudes where a great percentage of the population is deficient.

In addition to the benefits mentioned above, it turns out that there is a relationship between vitamin D and athletic performance that may be of particular interest to you as a triathlete.  Studies dating back to the 1950’s, particularly in Germany and Russia show that vitamin D improves athletic performance.  It is well known that Olympic athletes from these countries routinely used ultraviolet lights to improve muscular strength.  And it is indisputable that athletic performance is seasonal—it peaks during the month of August when vitamin D levels are highest and drops off sharply in September.  It turns out that vitamin D works by increasing the size and number of Type II or “fast twitch” muscle fibers.  Studies with athletes of all ages demonstrate increased muscular performance is correlated with higher blood levels of vitamin D.  Few of us would turn down the opportunity to increase our muscle strength and fast twitch muscle fibers in such an easy, pain-free way!

The first thing you should do is find out your vitamin D level.  Luckily, a simple blood test called a “25OH Vitamin D” test can be ordered by your physician.  A result of 32 ng/dl or above is considered adequate.  However, many physicians and sports dietitians recommend a blood level of 50 – 60ng/dl for optimal athletic performance.  If your vitamin D levels are very low, your physician may order a prescription of high dose vitamin D to be taken once per week and then a recheck of levels in 6-8 weeks.

Most people do not need a prescription and can easily correct a low level and maintain adequate levels with vitamin D supplements found over the counter.  Taking 1000 IU of vitamin D daily along with a multivitamin that contains 200-400 IU during the spring and summer months should be enough.  More may be needed in winter.   Over this past winter I took a total of 2000 IU per day and my level was only 41ng/dl in March—a low normal reading.  Next year I plan on upping that to a total of 3000 IU daily with testing every 6 months.  But everyone is different and you may require more or less to maintain adequate blood levels.  This is why working with your physician and getting levels checked regularly is so important.  One final note, be careful not to take mega doses without your doctor’s recommendation.  Vitamin D can be toxic in very high amounts, so more is not necessarily better.

Lori Stevens RD, LDN, CNSC
WakeMed Cary Hospital

First, the bad news: When the temperature rises about 55 degrees F (10 degrees C), you’re going to run more slowly and feel worse than you will at lower temperatures. But by gradually preparing yourself for increased temperatures and taking action from the beginning of hot weather runs, you’ll get a welcome dose of the good news. You’ll learn how to hydrate yourself, what to wear, and when and how much your body can take in hot weather, all of which will help you recover faster and run better than others of your ability on hot days. While even the most heat-adapted runners won’t run as fast on hot days as they can on cold ones, they won’t slow down as much nor will they feel as much discomfort.

Until the temperature rises to about 65 degrees F, most runners don’t notice much heat buildup, even though it is already putting extra burdens on the system. It takes most folks about 30 to 45 minutes of running (with or without walk breaks) to feel warm. But soon after that, if the temperature is above about 62 degrees F, you’re suddenly hot and sweating. On runs and especially races under those conditions, most runners have to force themselves to slow down. It’s just too easy to start faster than you should when the temperature is between 60 and 69 degrees F because it feels cool at first.

As the mercury rises about 65 degrees F, your body can’t get rid of the heat building up. This causes a rise in core body temperature and an early depletion of fluids through sweating. The internal temperature rise also triggers the rapid dispersion of blood into the capillaries of the skin, reducing the amount of that vital fluid that is available to the exercising muscles. Just when those workhorses are being pushed to capacity, they are receiving less oxygen and nutrients. What used to be a river becomes a creek and can’t remove the waste products of exercise (such as lactic acid). As these accumulate, your muscles slow down.

The best time for hot weather running is before sunrise. The more you can run before sunrise, the cooler you will feel, compared with how you’ll feel later in the day. The second best time to run, by the way, is right after sunrise, unless the temperature cools off dramatically at sunset, which would make that time more favorable. In humid areas, however, it usually doesn’t cool down much after sunset.

Some tips on how to say cool at 55 degrees F or above

  • Slow down early – The later you wait to slow down, the more dramatically you’ll slow down at the end and the longer it will take to recover from the run. Walk breaks, early and often, help you lower the exertion level, which conserves resources for the end and reduces heat buildup.
  • Wear lighter garments – Loose-fitting clothes allow heat to escape. Don’t wear cotton clothing. Sweat soaks into cotton, causing it to cling to your skin, increasing heat buildup. Several materials will wick the perspiration away from your skin: Coolmax, polypro, etc. As moisture leaves your skin, you receive a cooling effect, and these types of materials are designed for this.
  • Pour water over yourself – Up to 70 percent of the heat you can lose goes out through the top of your head so regularly pour water over your hair (even if, like me, you are hair challenged). Regularly pouring water on a light, polypro (or a similar material) singlet or tank top will keep you cooler.
  • Drink cold water – Not only does cold water leave the stomach of a runner quicker than any type of fluid, it produces a slight physiological cooling effect – and an even greater psychological cooling effect. But don’t drink too much either.

by Jeff Galloway

“In war, the moral is to the physical as three is to one.” Napoleon Bonaparte

In war, a smaller, well-trained, motivated, and aggressive force can often defeat a much larger, unmotivated, demoralized force. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” I think that focusing on the training volume necessary to finish an IM is misleading and misses the more important essentials for a successful day. On race day, you race much more with your head and your heart than with your feet.

Rich’s Simple Formula for an Ironman Finish:
Create a conservative training progression that leads you to the successful accomplishment of the following training “milestones:” 4k swim, 6-7 hour bike, 2.5-3 hour run. Complete these milestones at least once before race day. If you can get more in, good on you. Show up to race day healthy and well-rested.

When the gun goes bang, start swimming.

Everything else is about your head and your heart and what you have done to train these two organs.

There are two types of “Head Training:” race day knowledge and race day problem solving. Race Day Knowledge encompasses a solid race day nutrition, hydration, and pacing plan. This plan has been developed, honed, refined, and REHEARSED at every long training opportunity. It’s not enough to know what, when, and how much to eat, but also WHY. This “why” brings us to Race Day Problem Solving. If you know the why of what you are doing, you can better fix things when the plan goes to hell. Problem solving also includes your mental state on race day. Most people call it “racing in the moment,” only control what you can control. My process is the OODA Loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

There are two kinds of Heart Training: Distance Perspective and the Eye. When you begin your IM training, the volumes that you will have scheduled for yourself will seem overwhelming. “How will I ever be able to ride 100 miles? Or run 18? Or do them both in the same WEEK?” But a funny thing happens on the journey to your Finisher’s Medal: “It ain’t so bad.”

As your training distances get bigger and bigger, once insurmountable goals become mere training events. A 60 mile bike is no longer a huge obstacle, but a nice morning with some friends. Your “normal” weekday run goes from 30 minutes to 60. Before work. You don’t even think twice about it. In short, all distances become much shorter and manageable, making THE distance less and less intimidating. “Been there, done that.”

The Eye is the window to the heart. Your heart is what gets you across that line. You can see it on race day. Some peoples’ Eyes are happy, taking in everything around them and enjoying the day. These people draw on the positive energy around them to pull them to the finish line. Other peoples’ Eyes are cold steel, focus, determination, a machine that will not stop, for anything, until the mission is accomplished. These people put themselves into a “place,” a mental state that solves the problem of pain and discomfort by using it, enjoying it. Whatever your Eye is, you train it months in advance by challenging yourself, succeeding, and then reassessing yourself.

Make a big training day something special. Rehearse your pre-race carbo-loading plan, wake up at the same time, wear the same clothes, and use the same bike setup as race day. Complete an extraordinary milestone event and then pat yourself on the back. Relish the great journey that you have undertaken and congratulate yourself for stepping up to the plate. What you are trying to do is very unique. Remind yourself of this and say, “If I can do THAT, then maybe I really CAN do 140!!”

You want to step into the ring with the quiet confidence earned by having already conquered almost everything that you will experience on race day. This is the Eye.

By Rich Strauss

Have a plan on race day. Have a plan for every training session. Heart rate, nutrition, hydration, pace, clothing, and equipment are all parts of a typical plan. Put your ideas on paper, or at least think things through and have the ideas in your head.

And then, in the middle of that long run or halfway through the bike leg of a race – expect the plan to not work. Say what? But it was a good plan. “I’ve used it before, and it worked fine”, you tell your training partner as she sits with you in front of the convenience store in the shade waiting for your stomach to calm down so you can finish the ride and get home.

Plans are only as good as the assumed conditions upon which they were based. Examples might be: the weather will be low humidity and in the mid-80’s, or the aid stations on the half marathon course will not run out of water. These conditions weigh heavily in the equipment, nutrition, and clothing choices for your plan. They also play an important part in your pacing or heart rate plan. Change the conditions…and your plan falls apart.

Racing and training are about overcoming obstacles. The object is to keep moving forward. When facing an obstacle you need to go over, through, under, or around. Just keep moving forward. Stuff changes, and you need to adapt on the go. By all means stick with your plan. You worked it out with many resources at hand and with a clear head. But, and this is the tricky part, have the wisdom to recognize when the conditions have clearly changed, and thus the plan is partly or completely useless.

Be prepared to adapt on the fly. When I am out on a long ride or a long run I will quiz myself with “what if” scenarios such as, “It is mile 3 on the White Lake Half Iron run course and my stomach is rejecting the gel and water I’ve been sipping for the last 25 minutes. It was supposed to be 82 degrees and it is already 94 and very humid. I feel sick. What should I do?” Hopefully this won’t ever happen, but if it does, at least I’ll have a backup plan filed away. More importantly I will have developed some experience in rebuilding a plan to meet changed conditions.

As a coach I refuse to write race or training plans for my athletes. Instead, I ask them to write their own plans, and I will, if they ask me to do so, review the plan and offer comments. The idea here is that to be able to rebuild the plan under stressful conditions you really need to know how it was originally put together. Trying to rebuild a plan authored by someone else, even if it was the best coach in the world who wrote the plan, is very difficult even in a calm setting. On the race course when you are in a partial melt-down mode it is nearly impossible.

So, if you are not currently doing so, consider having a plan for every training session and race. And, equally as important as having a plan, practice rebuilding a failing plan.

Training in hot and humid conditions is part of life in many areas of the U.S., particularly in the Southeast. There are ways to minimize the humidity’s affects on your workouts…if you understand how humidity affects you.

Our brain wants to keep core temps (our internal and vital organs) at a comfortable level. When core temps are rising, the brain sends more blood to the skin surface where it is exposed to supposedly cooler temps than in the core. The cooled blood is then pumped back to cool our core and muscles. To aid in skin surface cooling the brain sends more sweat to the skin surface to promote evaporative cooling of the skin, and thus to cool the blood even more. In effect your body is a nicely packaged air conditioning system!

Try this experiment sometime: place a wet towel outside in a dry climate, such as in Las Vegas, and see how long before the towel is dry from evaporative cooling. My guess is …maybe 20 minutes. Then try it in North Carolina in August. After a full day it may be dry! Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea. The same thing happens with your skin: in hot temps with high humidity the body sends sweat to the skin, and uh, oh…there is no evaporative cooling, so even more sweat is sent, and so on. Pretty soon you are drenched in sweat, and you have done little to cool down.

“Hey Coach – it was only 76 degrees this morning when I ran, but when I finished my shoes were squishing with sweat, and now it is late afternoon, and I am still dehydrated – why is this happening?”    As we just discussed above, the body’s attempts to cool itself in high humidity are pretty much useless, and the resultant sweat (and thus water plus electrolytes) loss is huge, and must be replaced.

your body uses evaporative cooling of sweat on the skin surface to cool blood directed to the skin. The cooled blood then returns to cool internal organs and muscles. Evaporation is almost non-existent in high humidity conditions as the air cannot absorb any more moisture, and the cooling process grinds to a halt despite the body pumping lots of sweat to the skin surface and dramatically increasing heart rate to pump more blood to the skin.

This process is a downward spiral as the athlete quickly becomes dehydrated, overheated, has a rising pulse, and performance is lowered. And, recovery time from a workout, especially from a run workout, takes longer than normal which may likely impact the next day’s training.

Let’s look at time of day and training location with a focus on minimizing humidity’s affect on your training. “Hey Coach – it will be a hot one on Saturday so I’m going to run in early in the morning in Umstead State Park with lots of tree cover for shade.” This sounds good, but let’s look a bit more at the real story. Humidity will be higher in a wooded area from the dew on plants, and from the lack of breeze through the trees. The dew will burn-off more slowly than out in the open. Also, the soft running surface retains moisture from any recent rain, and then releases the moisture into the air above the surface as…you guessed it, more humidity. Consider the alternative of running in the open with a slight breeze without all the tree cover. OK, so you have to deal with clothing and sunscreen to protect from sun, but the sun may have less impact than the ambient temperature combined with higher humidity in the forest.

If you look at the hourly weather forecast on any internet site you will see that the humidity levels are highest early in the morning. The trick is to find the time of day with the lowest temps, the least solar heating, and the least impact from humidity. The two worst times for running are likely from 10:00 AM to noon, and again from 3:00 PM to maybe 7:00 PM. The morning time slot is when the higher humidity and solar heating combine to be nasty, and the later time slot, while the humidity is lowest for the day, likely has extremely high ambient temperatures and solar heating.

After many years of trying different combinations of locations and times I find that early morning, as soon after sunrise as is safe to run, is the best time for training in high temps and high humidity. And, running on paved surfaces in an open area minimizes the impact from humidity. The sun is not a significant impact at this time of day, and the overall temps are not too high.

Many athletes prefer to sleep in a bit on weekends and then run at 9 or 10 AM. By now the sun is climbing in the sky, the high humidity is still present, the air temperature is climbing fast, and these runners will likely head to the nice shady forest for their workout. And, they will spend the afternoon rehydrating, and unable to get off the couch because they feel like crud. And, they will wonder why their workout really stunk, and why it was so hard to run those last few miles. Oh, and they will also need new running shoes constantly because of the beating the shoes take from being in the washing machine every week to clean out the buckets of sweat that pour into them on the long runs.

Now is a good time to check on your progress and move your nutritional goals up on the priority list to ensure that they are receiving the proper focus. While you may have completed some early season races, chances are that you are building to more important races that take place in the next few months.

Weigh your body-composition goals

There is always a strong emphasis on becoming leaner to get faster by improving your strength-to-weight ratio. Be realistic, though. Keep in mind that everyone has his or her own best body-composition level, based on genetics, age, and level of training. The biggest mistake is getting hooked on a number on the scale and not knowing what contribution fat and fat-free make toward that reading. Fluid shifts also greatly affect scale readings.

Get a body-composition evaluation and set goals for changes in lean mass and fat mass, not just body weight. You can have your body-composition evaluated with calipers, bioelectrical impedance or hydrostatic weighing. All include some degree of error; just be consistent with the technique and the technician. When using your own body-fat scale at home (bioelectrical impedance), make sure that you use one that has an “athlete mode” and that you check levels when well hydrated and with an empty bladder. Your starting number is just that, a starting number; look for changes over time to monitor your progress.

If you already had an early season body-fat check, now is a good time to evaluate your game plan. If your weight has not changed much, perhaps muscle mass has increased as you leveled off your resistance training. If you still have body fat to lose, you should allow at least 10 to 12 weeks to drop fat. Keep deficits to reasonable drops of 300 to 500 calories daily, allowing for energy for training and preventing strong hunger moments that can lead to consuming larger portions than intended. If you have less time before an important race, plan to lose no more than one to 1.5 pounds weekly.

Focus on timing and quality

Calories do matter, especially consuming the right amount of calories at the specific times around your training program. But first, focus on quality in your daily diet.
Make sure that meals and snacks not consumed around training sessions are wholesome with minimal processing and rich in nutrients. Try new foods, such as whole grains that are not a regular part of your diet, and increase the variety consumed from fresh fruits and vegetables. Invest in some new ideas for all meals and perhaps even spruce up your food-preparation skills.

Regular grocery shopping and simple meal preparation are good investments in your training program and health. It is important to limit eating out if you are trying to trim some fat. Organize your week for meal preparation: Keep an organized kitchen; make a grocery-shopping list, and have plenty of dry goods on hand. Stay on top of fresh produce as these foods go a long way toward keeping your immune system healthy.

Food timing and choices are also important right around training sessions. At this point in the season all your workouts matter, so make sure that your body can run on plenty of good fuel.

Before training, consume a high carbohydrate meal or snack. You can push the carb portions higher as digestion time increases. Three hours before training, you should have plenty of time to consume a good meal providing moderate portions of lean proteins, and ample amounts of carbohydrate. These carb servings top off both muscle and liver glycogen stores.

You may need to have a high carb snack two hours before training. Know what foods are comfortable for you and aim for 100g or so of carbohydrate. You can even top off an earlier meal (about three hours before) with 50g of carbohydrate in the hour before training, sticking with very easily digested choices.

During training, a good sports drink will maintain blood glucose levels, an essential fuel source during training and for maintaining focus and concentrations. Sports drinks also supply fuel when muscle glycogen stores run low. Within 30 minutes after training, aim for at least half a gram of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. You can also add 10 to 20gof high quality protein to the mix. High glycemic carbohydrates work best to accelerate the recovery process, especially if you plan to train again in less than 24 hours. Of course rehydration is important, so have fluid and sodium in the recovery mix.

Refine training nutrition strategies

By race day you should have determined your favorite sports drink and flavor, and have planned your strategies for fluid, fuel, and electrolyte replacement. Here is where the scale can actually provide useful information.

Check your weight before and after training (preferably in the buff) to start determining your sweat rate. Every pound of weight loss represents 16 ounces of sweat that you did not replace during training. When you do this weight check, you should also track how many ounces of fluid you consume. To keep the math simple, practice this during a one-hour bike ride. Your hourly sweat rate is the amount of fluid that you consumed during the ride plus the amount of weight lost during the ride converted to a fluid equivalent. For example if you lose one pound (16 ounces of fluid) during a ride and consume 32 ounces during that ride your sweat losses in that hour were 40 ounces.

Experiment with various sports drinks. Drinks with multiple carbohydrate sources have increased absorptive capacity. Gels and energy bars, and higher sodium sports drinks may also be used during training and racing. Keep experimenting to determine what products, amounts and strategies work best for you. As the season progresses and the weather turns warmer, you can recheck your sweat losses and monitor your efforts to minimize dehydration during training.

If you are still focused on muscle building, make sure that you consume at least 20g of high quality protein and 25g of carbohydrate within the hour before and the hour after resistance training. While your daily protein intake is important, timing of protein intake is crucial to your muscle building efforts.

Don’t forget the basics

No matter the time of season, it is important to stay well hydrated. Pale urine indicates that you are drinking enough throughout the day. Pre-hydrate before workouts as well with 16 to 24 ounces of fluid in the 60 to 90 minutes before training. Besides consuming carbohydrate before, during, and after training, you should also have plenty of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables in all your other meals and snacks.

A drifting what?!?! Well then shouldn’t I just put new batteries in my monitor to make the reading stop drifting? OK, it looks like its time for a little heart rate (HR) discussion.

Your heart is a pump. It pushes blood through arteries, capillaries, and eventually veins to all the body’s organs. Leg muscles for running and cycling, and arm muscles for swimming are blood users and get their fair share of heart pumping in a triathlon. You can easily see the HR reading on your monitor increase as you engage muscles. This makes sense since the increase in the rate of muscle use also incurs an increased demand for blood to bring oxygen and fuel to the corresponding muscles.

In addition to fueling muscles for movement your heart also pumps blood in a closed loop cooling system similar to the cooling system. Your internal organs are happy when operating in a limited temperature range. When the actual operating temperature increases and approaches the upper allowable limit your body goes into cooling mode. Perspiration is released at the skin to provide evaporative cooling on the skin surface, and a few millimeters into the skin surface. The heart pumps extra blood to the skin (and the HR monitor reading goes up) so the blood can be cooled by the just- cooled skin. This cool blood is returned to the heart and circulates to other organs to cool them in turn. While passing through warmer organs the now heated blood is being pumped back to the skin to start the cooling cycle all over again.

This is a really great automatically engaging thermoregulatory system that you have onboard. And it works well…until you start to get thick blood. Thick blood? Sure! What do you think happens to your blood when you are dehydrated about halfway through the run course at a half Iron event? You may be sweating out two pounds of water per hour and only replacing maybe half of the loss. So now the already faster pumping heart has to work even harder to push the blood/sludge through your system. And you will likely see a corresponding increase in the HR reading on your monitor.

Seeing a HR reading higher than you normally would see for a given effort level is called HR drift. It is not surprising to see five beats of drift on a hot and humid course compared to the same course in cooler and/or drier conditions.

If you have a HR plan for a training session or a race –stick to it. If your HR is drifting because of heat and humidity issues you will see a reduced pace. I often tell my athletes that the pace is whatever it is, and they cannot control it, so don’t worry about it. Just stick to their plan.