Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

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.

We’re bombarded daily with different diets and new recommendations from nutrition experts around the globe. Wading through the mess of conflicting information can be a real headache. While I don’t prescribe to any one particular diet, there are a number of commonalities with many sensible diets that I can provide you with.

Eat for fuel. As an athlete, we all need nutrients in order to perform at our best. For most triathletes, this means eating quite a bit. There are two components that determine your calorie needs. First is your base metabolism (BMR) – how many calories you need just to go through your daily life. This is determined by age (less as you grow older) and muscle mass (relative to total weight). It is also affected a bit by environment (living in hot climates raises it a bit). The second component is activity level. If you swim, bike, and run a lot, you will need a few more calories.

In general, endurance running, riding or swimming will burn between 500 to 1,000 calories per hour. (More or less depending on how fast you are going and how efficient your technique is). You can see a good calculator here:

Now that you have a good idea of how many calories you’re burning per day, how do you meet those needs? Fast food and pre-packaged foods are not the answer! Fast food and pre-packaged, processed foods are typically high in fat and salt. While we require both, we don’t need it in the type of quantities you find in these foods. Take a look at the salt content of your sliced sandwich meat some day. Kind of high, don’t you think? Fast food and processed food have also been leached of essential vitamins and minerals. These foods are full of ‘empty’ calories.

What most sensible diets have in common is that fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats should comprise the backbone of your diet. Fruits and vegetables have most of the vitamins and minerals we need, are made of carbohydrate (which fuels our muscles) and fiber (which helps our waste removal system), while meat has the branch chain amino acids and protein required to rebuild muscle. Complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread & pasta, or granola/muesli – low glycemic index (GI) foods – are good sources for regular carbs. Eggs are good sources of both carbohydrates and protein (you should remove some of the yolks due to high cholesterol if you eat a lot of eggs). Fruit smoothies with whey protein are easy to make and great post-workout meals.

Cheese and dairy should be used more sparingly. As much as I like a greasy New York style pizza, you are better off making your own at home with lots of veggies and going light on the cheese.

We also require fat in our diets to keep many of our organs functioning properly. One of the best sources for fat is nuts. Olive oil is also pretty good. Fat should be included in most meals in sparing amounts. Unsaturated fat is the healthy fat.

My current favorite food is spinach. You can use fresh spinach in eggs, on your sandwich, and in virtually any dinner. It is one of the most micro-nutrient dense foods. Popeye knew what he was doing.

I don’t have time to cook
Many of us are pressed for time and want to get the most out of our day. Spending an hour or two in the kitchen doesn’t quite appeal. But as an athlete looking to maximize your performance, you must 1consider diet as important as your daily training. There are some easy ways to prepare healthy meals without burning a whole lot of time.

Get your shopping done on Saturday or Sunday. Chop up fresh fruits and veggies on Sunday for use in your meals throughout the week. Cook lean meats on Sunday for use throughout the week. Trade duties (cooking, cleaning, shopping) with your spouse/partner throughout the week. Hire help to cook, shop, and clean if you can afford and justify it.

A bowl of muesli or granola with some fruit and honey and low-fat yogurt or skim milk takes about five minute to make. Scrambled eggs with chopped veggies takes seven minutes (I timed it this morning). If you don’t have five or ten spare minutes in the morning then you need to work on your time management skills, plain and simple.

Lunch and dinner:
Pack your lunch the day before (unless you work at home). Good side dishes include whole fruit, low-fat yogurt, nuts, and fruit smoothies/protein drinks. Avoid simple sugars like soda, candy, or ice cream. Avoid fried foods like French fries, chips, or fried chicken/fried fish. If you want to fry something, use extra virgin olive oil.
Can you see a theme here? If you prepare your meals on Sunday, you should be good through Wednesday. Defrosting or heating up food takes about five minutes. It is a small price to pay.

In the long run, you will thank yourself for getting in the habit of eating healthy and at home. It is cheaper and better for you than eating out.
Most importantly, as an athlete, a good diet will help you feel better and race faster.

Marty Gaal, CSCS
One Step Beyond

I’ve mountain biked for many years with a CamelBak, and swear by it for hands-free hydration in technical terrain.  As my trail running and ultra-distance running has increased in distance and frequency over the last year I’ve searched for ways to have water with me on these training and racing sessions.  The Nathan QuickDraw handheld water bottle is great in cold weather, but in warm and humid weather it becomes a bit sweaty and slimy!

So, I tried running with my trusty CamelBak.  That was an unpleasant experience.  The sloshing and bouncing almost made me seasick!  I had to tighten the shoulder and sternum straps so tight that breathing was difficult.  Buy mile two I abandoned the rig alongside the fire road in Umstead, and came back later in the day on my bike to retrieve it!

The Nathan HPL 020 is like a traditional CamelBak, but is designed exclusively for runners –  The vest material is so soft you can easily wear it shirtless or with just a sports bra/running top.  I wore the vest over a technical running shirt, and the vest did not snag or pick the shirt fabric. (I remember how the Velcro on another brand of running belt destroyed several shirts!)  The two-liter bladder is suspended in a rubber shock absorber system that keeps the bounce and sway to a very minimal and very manageable amount.  I love the two pockets on the front of the vest for carrying gels (fits about 5 gels in each side), and a cell phone.  There is another zippered pocket on the back as well as a bungee-system for carrying a light wind jacket and gloves.

I tried the Nathan HPL 020 for the first time on a nineteen miler last weekend, and only made one simple on-the-run strap adjustment on the entire run.  It just simply fits well right off the shelf.  Having an almost unlimited supply of water that is one-hand-drinkable with the hose and bite valve is really cool.  And, my hands are free during the run!  There is an audible sloshing sound with the hydration vest, but no more so than with a handheld bottle.  In the first mile or so I did notice that my back felt warm, but by mile two this was not noticeable.

There was zero chafing from the Nathan hydration vest.  I don’t mean that I lathered-up with Body Glide and received no chafing.  I mean that I threw the vest on over my shirt and went running…and got no chafing.  And that was in very humid and sweaty conditions on a long run.  This is a huge difference from the old Fuel Belt I used to use that despite generous applications of Body Glide would always rub raw spots into my waist.

In the past I’ve always planned my runs very carefully to go by water refill spots every so many miles.  Now I can just leave the house and go wherever I feel like going.  This is important to me as I travel frequently for work, and thus run in unknown cities and parks all over the country.  Having my own water tank with me really expands my running opportunities when traveling as opposed to coming back to my rental car for water refills.

I will say that I did have one minor technical issue with my Nathan HPL 020.  I emailed the folks at Nathan, and they answered me the next day.  They have bent over backwards to be helpful, and to back up their product.  Their fast, personal, and friendly customer service sold me on them as a company.

For next weekend’s long run I plan to fill the HPL 020 bladder maybe 50% with water, make sure that the hose, valve, and hose inlet are free of water, and place the bladder in the freezer the night before the run.  The plan is to then top off the bladder with water before running the next morning, and to have a nice supply of cold water as well as a chilled back!  I’ll let you know how this turns out.

In the end, the Nathan HPL 020 is a definite keeper.  If you are out running on trails or fire roads and see me with my newest running necessity don’t hesitate to stop me to take a look at it.  I’ll bet that you will soon order one for your own running.  Oh, and one last thing, I did have to order this hydration vest.  Maybe if a few other runners start asking for them our local Nathan dealers will stock a few so you can try them on before buying.

Coach Daren –

Fitness: The right diet will fuel your body for maximum results
The News-Press, FL – Oct 27, 2008
When training for an endurance sport, it is vital you eat a balanced and healthy diet that provides the right amount of energy to fuel your training.

Fueling the older athlete for triumph
Denver Post, CO – Sep 21, 2008
What Roschke — and other older athletes — struggle with when they participate in endurance sports is how to fuel their bodies for the demands a long race

Carbs, protein after workout can speed up recovery
Chicago Daily Herald, IL – Sep 14, 2008
that includes running down hills or doing interval training, says Monique Ryan, a nutritionist and author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes.

Diet supplements pose risk, panel told
The Patriot-News –, PA – Sep 11, 2008
30 for creating a sports nutrition education program to reach teenage athletes. BY JAN MURPHY Advertisements offer young athletes the hope of being able to