Monday, May 18, 2015

Up Next

In less than 2 weeks, there is this:
Back in January, one of my athletes from California e-mailed me to see what I thought about supporting her for the legendary Comrades race in South Africa. I love crewing and supporting my athletes onsite for their races, yet I couldn’t imagine missing the opportunity to participate in this bucket list race.  It wasn’t but a few weeks later we were both registered and in cram training mode for this 90km road ultra. 

This is one of my favorite things in life and one of the the many things I love about my job. There is crossover between my own passions for experiencing different physical challenges, seeing my athletes try new and different athletic feats, and getting a kick out of all aspects of the journey along the way.

Although I haven’t been too vocal about my training for this race, I am extremely excited for a different kind of ultra.  Recognizing this will be far different from the Leadville 100 trail run which is pretty much all above 10,000 feet with less than 1,000 runners, I am just as excited for the Comrades' 54 miles on paved roads, starting at sea level (and going up... and up some more), with over 22,000 runners. Worlds apart, on many levels. 

My goals?  With any ultra run, my goals are to finish and to see what I learn about myself in the process. Of course, I am always in the “nutrition experimentation" mode. This also helps me help my athletes better. It may sound cheesy, but it’s the real deal for me.

My concerns?  Heat and feet.

You see, I live at 8,600 feet elevation and have lived at this elevation for over 15 years. A warm day of running for me is anything over 55 degrees. Humidity is low here, as may be obvious to those familiar with the Front Range foothills of Colorado. Given that my training has almost exclusively taken place here (except for 4 days in California), I will face some interesting challenges with the heat and humidity from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. Sodium supplementation will be key for me as I have learned in hot and humid race conditions. Luckily, I was able to have my sweat sodium tested at eNRG Performance so I have a specific race day plan with my recent sweat rate test data.

Feet are another matter. If money were no object, I may have been able to find the perfect ultra road shoe but not so lucky in this department. Let’s just say that a paved road for 50+ miles is a bit frightening to my already gnarly feet. I’m sure this a concern for most ultra road runners but it is a new concern for me having spent my recent years mostly on trails. Thank gosh for body glide and duct tape… or just toughing it out.

Notice I didn’t say race day nutrition is a concern.  I’m not being cocky, but if you’ve followed me for a while, then you know this is something I pay attention to from the get go. My race day nutrition involves GenerationUCAN (which I have been using for 5 years), chia bars, and caffeine capsules (with the allowance of Coke as I see fit and maybe a few potatoes they serve on the course).

A quick and special advance thank you to a few of my peeps:
- the 3 coach-dudes I have sought guidance and advice from:  my Coach “Frank C.L.”, Coach Bob who has helped me with strength work, and Henry Guzman (who will also be doing his 9th Comrades this year. Yes, I said 9.)
- my running friend, Amanda, who has shared with me some long runs, even at 5am
- my Mom who is always supportive in her own Nervous Nelly kind of way
- my Husband to whom I forever grateful
- Marisa, you crazy gal, who planted the Comrades seed. We get to come back different people.

So, I am jazzed for this next adventure.
As my friend, Diane, said to me today, “May I always want to do this.  Whatever this adventure is.”  Totally agree.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Part 2: Metabolic Efficiency: Friend and Certainly Not Foe

This is a follow-on post to my colleague’s post from last week. If you haven’t read it, please check it out here.

Having worked with Bob and metabolic efficiency training principles for the past ~5 years, I encounter many of the same misconceptions about the concept that he expressed in his blog.  Granted, swimming against the current is often part of any paradigm shift and it takes time for new and different approaches to take hold. Additionally, nutrition is a very touchy and emotional subject for many people, particularly athletes. Yet, I often see individuals who are new to this concept become quickly confused because they either are given incorrect information by other health professionals, coaches, etc. OR there is an inadequate understanding of the potential application of metabolic efficiency in the context of that specific individual. 

My inclination to expand on Bob's blog stemmed from a recent nutrition symposium I attended that was targeted to sport dietitians and registered dietitians. To be honest, one of the presentations given at the symposium perpetuated a lot of the ongoing misconceptions (or lack of understanding) about ‘low carb’ and metabolic efficiency.  So, here are my additions to Bob’s post:

Statement #1: The crossover point (where the body switches from burning predominantly fat to burning more carbohydrate) happens at about 65% of VO2max. Competitive endurance athletes compete at an intensity higher than this, hence they rely on carbohydrate stores almost exclusively.

  • Comments:  This statement is based on physiological data and while still valid in the context of training manipulations (i.e., “building the aerobic base”), it does not consider the influence of nutrition training. We, at eNRG Performance (formerly Fuel4mance), have shown through dietary manipulation of athletes’ diets and metabolic efficiency assessments (using a state of the art metabolic cart) that the crossover point can actually be moved far above 65% VO2max. This means athletes can burn more fat below and beyond the 65% VO2max level. Fat can easily become a more usable energy source, even at high intensities, while glycogen stores are preserved for the highest intensity bouts.
Statement #2: Low carb diets do not support high intensity exercise or team sports with intermittent hard efforts because the working muscle must use glycogen.
  • Comments:  After you remember there is no standard for what a low carb diet is (other than in the context of nutritional ketosis), refer to the first point to where we can still make the body more efficient at preserving its glycogen stores so that this fuel source IS available for high intensity exercise.  Secondly, we are not advocating for zero carbohydrate consumption during high intensity training and team sports. The fact is that this type of athlete just needs less of this supplement carbohydrate during these activities.

Statement #3: Fat only burns in a carbohydrate flame and the metabolism of fat is slow compared to carbohydrate.

  • Comments:  While true the body oxidizes carbohydrate faster than fat, we have also learned that fat can be converted into energy much faster than what was believed just a few years ago.  Additionally, we are not advocating for zero carbohydrate consumption during training and racing. Did I say that already?  There is still a need to provide calories to the endurance athlete and yes, this often includes carbohydrate sources! They just may not need as many carbohydrates as the carb-dependent athlete, nor will they necessarily need to feed as frequently.
Statement #4: The low carb methods of “Train Low, Race High” popularized by Louise Burke and nutritional ketosis from the study done by Phinney et al. in 1983 did not show a performance benefit in athletes.
  • Comments: As Bob mentioned, there are several research papers that have been published since 1983 to show that performance is not negatively affected by low carb diets. But you must really understand that this notion of ‘low carb' is not universally the same throughout research studies.  I also want to mention that there are actually more than just these two methods of making an athlete metabolically efficient, which you can read about in the Metabolic Efficiency Training book. And although many of you want science to "prove it works”, even the renowned Dr. John Hawley recognized that the tools used in the laboratory setting may not be sensitive enough to detect performance improvements such as what athletes are seeing in real life.
Lastly, what is almost always missing in the naysayers’ anti-metabolic-efficiency talk is the importance and role of nutrition periodization.  This is another area where every single athlete may have a unique nutrition plan based on what their individual needs are in the context of health and athletic performance. This cannot be neglected, but sadly, those who are not knowledgeable of the concept are doing a disservice to their athletes by only focusing on the subject of "To Low Carb or Not".

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