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Running Research News And Events
January 13, 2009
DON'T FORGET TO EAT
When embarking on a long drive or road trip, one typically starts by filling the gas tank. Since fuel is consumed throughout the adventure, you are required to make periodic re-fueling stops to avoid running out of gas. The number and frequency of re-fueling stops is based on your speed, the distanced traveled, traffic congestion, road conditions, etc. And when you finally reach that final destination it is generally a good idea to top off the gas tank in preparation for local travel excursions (or the return trip). A road trip provides a great analogy for the preparation, participation, and recovery from a long distance running event. Simply put, you want to be assured that your fuel tank is full prior to your event, you want to maintain your energy reserves throughout the race to avoid “bonking”, and after the event recovery should be first and foremost on your list of “things to do”. All too often runners don’t follow these simple rules of the road and the consequences can be disastrous. Here, I’ll provide some useful information regarding proper nutrition for before, during and after and training sessions and races. Follow these simple guidelines and expect to see immediate results!
“Fill the Tank” before your event
In the months leading up to your race you trained hard, you watched your diet and maintained the recommended diet composition of 60-70% carbohydrate, 15-20% protein, and fat 10-15% fat. The few days before the race you consumed high carbohydrate, low fat meals and your gas tank is full! You’ve had plenty of sleep throughout the week so you’re well rested for the next day’s event. Race morning arrives and you’re feeling confident and ready to race. Although your well-planned meals have boosted your body’s energy stores, the question still remains: Is the
gas tank full? While you sleep, your body burns blood sugar (glucose) and your brain burns liver glycogen, thereby depleting your energy stores. And you haven’t even begun the race yet! Thus it is necessary to top off your fuel tank on race day. Pre-fueling with proper nutrients and fluids prior to your race will assure that your blood volume and electrolyte levels are optimal. Now you’re ready to head over to the start line.
1 gram carbohydrate = 4 calories
1 gram protein = 4 calories
1 gram fat = 9 calories
1 kg = 2.2046 lbs
But perhaps we should first discuss the proper way to “fill the tank” prior to your race? First of all, give yourself plenty of time in the morning. In my opinion, there is no need to increase your stress level by rushing around the morning of a race. Besides, your body needs time to respond to a meal. You can’t just eat a big breakfast, wait 30 minutes, and head out for a run. Not only will you experience painful cramping, but you will also quickly realize that your energy isn’t as high as you thought it would be. The reason? If you eat solid foods for breakfast (which most people do) then make sure to eat two to three hours prior to your event. This gives your body ample time to absorb essential nutrients into the bloodstream. If you prefer to take your breakfast in fluid form, you may only need 1.5 to 2 hours before the race. Fluid meals are easier to process so your body will therefore extract the nutrients a bit faster. There are many ways to construct a beneficial pre-race meal. However, the composition of such a meal should be as follows: consume a total of 1.0- 2.5 grams/kg (body weight) with 60-70% from carbohydrate, 15-20% from protein, and < 10% from fat. The generally accepted ratio of carbohydrates to protein is 4:1. This translates to a prerace meal of approximately 350 calories for a 72.6 kg (160 lb) individual.
It’s important to point out that not all carbohydrates are created equal. The question then becomes, “What kind of carbohydrate should I consume?” Prior to the race you want to consume carbohydrates (Box 2) that have a low glycemic index (GI; See Box 3 and Box 4). Carbohydrates with a low GI will provide an athlete with a more consistent supply of energy as opposed to those with a high GI, which can create energy “peaks and troughs”. Table 1 provides some examples of foods and their associated GI values.
During the Race
Earlier I stressed the importance of re-fueling and hydrating during your race. Now I’ll expand a bit on that. Improper hydration and/or nutrition during an event will almost certainly lead to reduced performance. Even worse is encountering the infamous “wall” 90-120 minutes into your race or at about kilometer 35-38 (mile 21.7-23.6) of a marathon. This can obviously ruin a race and may even prevent you from crossing the finish line. Hitting the wall is the physiological response indicating that your glycogen stores have been depleted and your body instead has to rely on fat and/or protein for energy. Essentially, your body is beginning to cannibalize itself. Unlike glycogen, fat and protein catabolism requires oxygen, i.e., increased flow of oxygen to the muscles. This results in reduced effort and speed, which allows sufficient oxygen to be transported to the muscles. Ultimately this leads to muscle fatigue, cramps, and/or heavy legs and an overall reduction in performance. Many people might read the previous sentences and think, “Great, I can burn more fat and lose more weight if I run on an empty tank, right?” Actually you cannot. Remember this line: Fat burns in a fire of carbohydrates. Learn it, live it, love it.
Although adequate fueling prior to a race is imperative, fueling during the race itself is crucial, especially in longer events. As was stated previously, glycogen is converted to glucose which supplies energy to our bodies. Thus, we must strive to minimize glycogen depletion and keep glucose levels high during the course of a race. To achieve this, carbohydrates must be consumed at regular intervals throughout the race to counter glycogen depletion. The difference, however,
is these are not the same carbohydrates consumed several hours before the race. Before the race you consume low GI carbs but during the race you should consume high GI carbs. Foods with high GI carbs are quickly absorbed into your blood stream and are more readily available for energy. During the race you should consume about 40 gm of carbohydrate per hour. Sports drinks are ideal as they supply both carbohydrate and fluid, and the carbohydrate is absorbed quickly. Moreover, fluids are easier to ingest and process during a race, as I mentioned earlier. Sports gels are also a great source of high GI carbohydrates and electrolytes and may be consumed during an event.
Be careful though and make sure to drink the recommended amount of water with each gel. Failure to do so will lead to dehydration and cramping and a less-than-pleasurable experience.
In my opinion, it is best to consume a gel slowly, a bit at a time, over the course of a mile.
Poor race-day results are most commonly influenced by muscle fatigue, dehydration and overheating. What are some of the causes of these conditions and how can you avoid them? Muscle fatigue is caused by muscle damage, which we feel as muscle soreness. To make muscle they first must be damaged, allowed to heal/recover, and then damaged again, etc. However, this information is of very little consequence if we are in the middle of a race and fatigue sets in.
During the race we want to minimize damage to our muscles and promote peak performance throughout the event. Thus, recognizing what we can do to reduce the likelihood of muscle fatigue is crucial. Symptoms and causes of muscle fatigue includes: dehydration, increase in body temperature, low blood sugar, low muscle and liver glycogen, and mental fatigue.
Dehydration is likely the most common affliction known to befall every athlete, no matter their ability. When someone becomes dehydrated, there is a reduction in the body’s blood volume. Blood is of course responsible for transporting oxygen, nutrients and glucose, throughout your body and it also helps to monitor and regulate body temperature. Therefore, it seems apparent that a drop in blood volume can have major consequences in a race. During the early stages of
dehydration your body’s cooling process speeds up causing an increase in heart rate. Sweat cools the skin surface which then helps to cool the blood. But with a reduction in blood volume, the entire body’s cooling system is compromised. This will obviously lead to overheating, which I will discuss shortly. To circumvent dehydration, drink fluids containing electrolytes (Gatorade®, Powerade®, etc) at least every 15 minutes throughout the race. It is important to drink the prescribed mixture of electrolyte drinks as they are formulated to replenish what is lost during exercise. Diluting the solution may lead to an imbalance of electrolytes in your body. As a side note, drinking too many dilute fluids during intense exercise can have equally dangerous implications.
Hyponatremia is essentially the opposite of dehydration, and happens when the body is overly hydrated but contains too few electrolytes. Just like dehydration, this condition can lead to extreme fatigue, coma and even death. As I mentioned earlier, overheating can be caused by dehydration. However, body temperature is also a function of other factors including air temperature, humidity, and acclimation to the local climate to name a few. As races are scheduled independent of weather conditions, avoiding periods of high temperatures and humidity can’t always be accomplished. Thus, to counter overheating during a race one must remain hydrated and wear appropriate clothing for the environmental conditions.
Moisture wicking clothing is a must as it pulls moisture off the skin (not through it mind you) and keeps the body cool. This is also important in cold weather where it is important to stay as dry as possible.
Long distance events can be extremely fatiguing to the average athlete. To reduce the likelihood of fatigue you should do the following:
• Maintain blood volume (remain hydrated) and electrolyte levels by consuming sports fluid drinks at least every 15 minutes. Do not use thirst as an indicator of when to consume fluids; by the time your body tells you it’s thirsty it is too late
• Maintain blood glucose levels and reduce the rate of muscle glycogen depletion by adequately pre-fueling prior to the race and consuming high GI carbohydrates during the race
• Minimize muscle break down and fatigue (minimize using protein as an energy reserve) by maintaining glucose levels and minimizing glycogen depletion
• Limit mental fatigue (see article this issue). Following the above general guidelines will help you maintain the highest energy output for the length of your race. It is essential that fluids and carbohydrate intake commence prior to the onset of fatigue.
Thus far I have mentioned just a few of the reasons for fueling before and during a race and/or training session. Proper fueling at these times will help you to a better finish no matter the distance of your race. One more thing to consider in your quest for faster splits is post-race nutrition. Although I stressed the importance of minimizing muscle damage, some damage is unavoidable. Therefore, your post race nutrition plan must account for this. After a long race it is necessary to restore your depleted reserves. Of course you want to regain homeostasis (the stable condition within your body). You also want to decrease the time it takes your muscles to recover from the damage they sustained in the race. Protein is especially important in post-race recovery. An athlete should consume the same 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein (preferably whey protein) after a workout (any workout, really). You may recall that this is the same ratio recommended for pre-race fueling. The great thing about post race nutrition is that it can come in any form, solid or liquid so the choice is up to you. BUT, the time frame for post-race recovery is especially important. You must act fast if you want to reap the benefits. Your window of opportunity is only about 15-45 min minutes after the race. After that, your body will go into “starvation mode” and will experience a rapid drop-off inability to replenish the body. If you miss the window of opportunity your body is then unable to boost muscle glycogen levels, immune function will be impaired, muscles will breakdown further, metabolism will slow and fat catabolism (burning) will slow! That said, do yourself a favor and get in the food line early!
Besides, you’ve got to be hungry after a race, right? Also following the race you should replenish fluid loss at 150% beyond your actual weight loss. To do this you should weigh yourself before and after the race; the difference should then be multiplied by 1.5 to determine the quantity of fluid to consume. For example, if you lose 1 pound during exercise (equals 16 ounces) then you need to consume 24 ounces of fluid to make up the deficit.
Obviously there is a lot of important information out there regarding proper fueling for training and racing. I have only covered a small portion of that information and kept it fairly basic.
The simple guidelines I have provided will not unlock the secrets of the universe but I can guarantee that by following them, you will see marked improvements in your training and racing. So find out what your favorite training/racing fuel is, and stick with it… at least, for a while.
Remember, anyone can go out there and train hard. You can do the same, but do so with more knowledge than the average athlete. Train wisely.
To learn more about “Race Day Nutrition,” “Muscle Fatigue,” or “Going Mental” (these full articles can be read by purchasing VOL. 23-10 of Running Research News) and many more running related topics, simply click-on the Back Issues link, and select the volume and issues number, from the drop-down menu. A subscription to RUNNING RESEARCH NEWS is another way to receive valuable information about running.
January 01, 2009
POWER UP! BECOMING A STRONGER AND FASTER RUNNER
Many training plans designed for running races will use a fairly simple approach to get an athlete to the finish line. Generally, this plan will run for a few months, especially if the race is a marathon. The training days start out at very low mileage (2-3 miles per day) for maybe 4 days a week at an easy pace. Perhaps one day of each weekend will be devoted to a long run, which may start out at 5 miles. Each week the mileage increases incrementally until about 4 weeks before the race when you max out at 20 miles. Of course, mid-week run sessions remain fairly modest by comparison. The point here is to start small and work your way up gradually. Avoid injury by increasing mileage slowly and at the same time build aerobic endurance. So it seems that repetition, consistency and a slow build are vital when training for any distance of running race.
Perhaps last year your goal was to finish a 10k, a half marathon, or a full marathon. This is a common and commendable goal, especially for a first-timer. You crossed that finish line and it was exhilarating. You decided right away that it was not your last race, probably the first of many in fact. A few days (or maybe hours) passed and you started to study your splits. You’re still very happy about the race result, but now you’re starting to wonder, “How much faster could I have gone today? I’m sure I could beat that time.”
Then you start thinking of what you could have changed to make that faster time a reality. “I felt thirsty the whole race. I should have taken in more fluids. I should have taken in more calories. I should have run 5 times a week instead of 4, etc.” Granted, those ideas could improve your splits, provided that you under-hydrated and under-fueled for this particular race. Running 5 times a week versus 4 may also help, though it may also lead to injury if not done properly. The type of workout you chose to do on this extra (5th) day can also make a difference in your race splits.
Ok, so how can we achieve those faster splits? One way is to increase your power. I’ll focus on a few ways that runners can do this and I’ll provide a few sample training sessions that will help you start to POWER UP. Of course, building endurance is a must if you want to go faster and/or farther. After all, you can’t run a marathon without putting in the time on the roads and trails. Strength, or power as I’ll refer to it, will also go a long way to helping you achieve those faster splits in your big race(s) for 2008. The long winter months provided ample opportunity for easy tempo runs that allowed you to keep a decent baseline for aerobic fitness. But it also gives you a chance to get those leg muscles working in concert with your heart. The time has come to start preparing for your first (or biggest) race of the season. And let’s face it, sometimes it can get a little monotonous doing tempo running out on the sidewalks and/or roads. Sometimes you just need to change it up a bit, whether this is a change of scenery or just a different type of training. There are pluses to both and both can be extremely beneficial to your performance. First, I’ll give you some sample workouts that can break the monotony of everyday running.
Most people despise running (or biking or walking for that matter) up hills. If you’re a competitive person, this is where you can gain an advantage over the field. If you can learn to love hills, then you’ll also become very good- and fast at running up them. In my own training, I like to include hills whenever possible. Granted, Michigan is a flat state, especially in the southeast, but you can always find a road/trail with an uphill grade. The point is that even if your race is on a flat course, running hills in training will still positively impact your race-day performance. A great way to utilize hills is by doing hill repeats.
Such an exercise can be incorporated into your training schedule as often as once per week. The first thing is to find a decent-size hill, something with a fairly shallow grade that extends for about ¼ mile if you can find it. You can probably envision a perfect hill as you read this article. Here is an example of a hill workout that I like to do in my own training:
• Begin the workout with a 10-15 minute warm-up.
Perhaps you live close enough to your dream hill that running to the hill will suffice.
• Once you arrive, determine an appropriate start and end point of each hill repeat as per the recommendations above.
• The first rep should be run at moderate to low intensity, especially if this is your first experience running hills. You’ll want to start out fairly “easy” as it’s always good to strive for negative splits (box 1) during a training session or a race.
• Descend with a slow to moderate jog as this portion of the workout is your chance to relax and recover. A slow descent will also reduce the chance for an injury.
• When you get to the bottom, don’t sit around, go right back up the hill. You want to keep those muscles slightly fatigued and you also don’t want to cool down too much. This will detract from your benefit of running hills in the first place.
• Do 4 or 5 hill repeats unless the hill is fairly short, then it may be necessary to do a few more reps. And remember to pick up the pace on each subsequent repetition. Just make sure to save enough energy for your cool-down run home!
Change your Pace (Fartlek) As I mentioned earlier, changing things up a bit can yield positive results in your race-day performance and likely in your mental outlook as well (see “Have You Gone Mental?” in Volume 23, Issue 10). Simply reducing the monotony of the “usual” run will make training more fun and make the training appear to go by more quickly. Fartlek (which means “speedy play” is Swedish) training was originally designed in the 1930’s for the Swedish cross-country team in their quest to finally beat the Finns. Indeed, fartlek is more than just a funny word. It’s also a great technique for building speed in your run trainings. The fartlek method can also be called interval training and is concentrated on both speed and endurance training. Simply put, you run faster than race pace for a portion of a given training session, and then go back to your typical pace. Such may be achieved as a result of natural obstacles, such as hills during a run, or involve deliberate bursts of speed at regular intervals. A typical fartlek session should be at about 60-80% of your maximum heart rate. This will lead to a relatively low amount of physical discomfort, which indicates that you are still in the aerobic zone (i.e. using oxygen). Fartlek training can be modified to the needs of any athlete, especially a runner, as it can be used to mimic the activities that would take place during a 10k, half-marathon or full marathon.
When performing a fartlek training session, it is most beneficial to find an undulating or at least a non-flat route. As I explain in the sample workout, you will see why a flat course may not be appropriate.
• As with all training sessions, you will want to warm up for 10-15 minutes with a slow to moderate pace.
• Following the warm-up you should increase the intensity (steady, hard effort) significantly for about 1 to 1 ¼ miles. Perhaps this interval is your 5k pace, perhaps a bit faster. It’s really up to you. Just make it faster than your marathon pace for sure! This speed interval should be difficult so you’ll need a bit of a recovery afterwards.
• Slow down to your warm-up pace for about 5 minutes to give your heart a chance to slow down.
• After about 5 minutes, or whenever you feel properly recovered, increase your speed to marathon pace. Stay at this pace for another 5 minutes or so.
• Throw in some 50m sprints, approximately one per minute, until you start to feel fatigued. Be honest with yourself and don’t give in to fatigue too early. But once you do reach that point of fatigue, end the sprint interval and remain at marathon pace.
• Now do 4 or 5 “quick steps” about every 30 seconds. This little exercise will simulate speeding up to prevent someone from passing you in a race (it will be helpful- and probably a little fun- to imagine yourself in a race while doing fartlek training).
• Find a small-ish hill of about 200 yards and run up it full speed. Once you get to the top, increase your speed to 5k pace and continue for 1 minute.
• Slow down to marathon pace until you feel recovered.
• Repeat the workout. The number of repeats may be dictated by time (you had planned to run for one hour) or perhaps by the number of repetitions. As you become stronger, strive to do one more repetition.
Track workouts In your quest for greater speed there is one obvious place that should not be overlooked- the local track. Even if you don’t have a membership to a gym or recreation center, a track should still be something you have access to. Nearly everyone lives close to a high school and nearly all (public) high schools have tracks that the public are allowed to use. Take advantage of this valuable resource once every week or two and get in some speed work. No matter the distance race for which you are training, track workouts will be extremely helpful and will make you faster…guaranteed!
• Begin with a warm-up of 10-15 minutes. The jog to the track may be appropriate if you live close enough. If that is out of the question, I recommend running 2km (5 laps) at a slow pace.
• After the warm-up do some high knee lifts, “butt-kicks” (as I call them), single-leg jumps (stride, jump, stride, jump, etc), side steps, etc.
• The base workout is a pyramid with 1 minute recovers time between sets:
400m (1 lap)
• All repetitions should be run at 10k pace (or 5k if you are able). Work hard to keep the same pace throughout the entire workout. Don’t try to be Superman, at least not right away.
• Cool down with 1,600m at an easy pace and make sure to stretch!
Go off-roading Trail running and off-road running provide an excellent and enjoyable alternative to the sometimes mind-numbing experience of running on sidewalks and roads, no matter how good the music is in your iPod. However, it may require a bit more attention on the runner’s part lest you trip on a tree root or random rock. Improving mental sharpness (and likely increasing mental toughness) is the first of the many benefits you can get from trail running. Trail running is also great for building power in the legs (quads and hamstrings), increasing aerobic conditioning and reducing your chances of acquiring an injury (i.e. runner’s knee See Box 2). This is simply due to the nature of the trails themselves; trails are usually winding and undulating. The little hills and dales experienced require some additional power in short bursts. And the additional lateral movements associated with running in this type of terrain will cause a runner’s body to recruit muscles (i.e. inner thighs) they would otherwise not use on the road/sidewalk. In my experience, running on trails seems to make the miles fly by. My reasoning is that you can’t see too far ahead of you. A runner is able to stay in the moment and not get caught up in what’s ahead. This is important in distance running or any other endurance sport for that matter; stay in the moment and only worry about what you can control “right now.”
Cross-training and weight-training Imagine a situation where you are sick and tired of running. Crazy huh?! Well, let’s imagine that it could theoretically happen. What can you do? Even though you may be training for a marathon, ½ marathon, 10k, etc it does not mean you have to RUN every single day. Granted, some don’t mind this. Others need a change of pace once in a while. I’ve given you some alternatives to road running above, though they are all based upon running. Here are some other suggestions that will still get the heart pumping and will also provide you some additional benefits.
• Racquetball will allow for all the lateral movement you desire and can thus strengthen those inner thigh muscles, hips and abdominals (core). Thus, you can reduce your chances of acquiring runner’s knee.
• Biking can build power in the calves, quads and hamstrings and make running hills much easier, which is never a bad thing. Biking is also a fast sport, which is great for those of us with a need for speed.
• Swimming really focuses on the upper body as the legs are generally used for balance and rotation. Still, this activity is great for strengthening your core and shoulders. Swimming also forces you to become efficient at taking in breaths and fully utilizing the oxygen you do take in.
In the next issue I’ll contribute an article based solely on strength and weight training. In the meantime, here are a couple exercises that you can use to build power and speed. For best results, combine these exercises with a hill repeat session or track workout.
1. Box jumps- find a stair or box about 8-10 inches tall. Using one leg at a time, jump onto the box and immediately jump back to the floor. Do 10 repetitions and switch to the other leg.
2. Suitcase lifts- hold a dumbbell (10-20lbs) in one hand. Squat low and make sure to keep your upper body straight; do not lean to the side holding the dumbbell. Perform 10 repetitions holding the weight in the right hand, and then switch the weight to the other arm.
This may seem a bit counterintuitive to those who wish to build power and/or speed in their running. Learning to relax while under physical exertion, however, will improve your performance without making you work any harder. When you are out running, first concentrate on relaxing your jaw. Oddly enough, this is where tension can begin to propagate throughout your body. After you’ve relaxed your jaw you may notice that it is easier to relax your neck and shoulders. Most people carry their tension in their shoulders so relaxing this area will really help. Visualize the rest of your body becoming relaxed from top to bottom. Relax your hands, don’t make a tight fist. Shake them out a bit perhaps. This relaxation “exercise” will likely take some conscious effort the first few times but it will come naturally with some practice. You’ll notice the difference.
While it should go without saying, always remember to properly cool down after every training session. This will allow your muscles to slowly transition from exercise mode to non exercise mode. A proper cool down will likely consist of a slow jog for 3 to 5 minutes. Also consider doing some high knees, butt kicks, and skipping (it may look weird but it’s fun). The goal is to release lactic acid in the muscles, reduce the chance of sore muscles and allow the heart to return to its “regular” rate. This period also gives the runner a chance to mentally transition to a non-exercise state. Perhaps the most important phase of cooling down is stretching. I am a huge advocate of stretching as it can reduce injury, increase muscle control, flexibility and range of motion.
Make sure to do at least 4 leg stretches and 4 upper body stretches. The article “Proper stretching” in this issue will guide you through some beneficial stretches. Finally, after a good workout- running or otherwise-it is essential to properly fuel. As you read in the last issue (“Don’t forget to eat” Running
Research News, Volume 23, Issue 10) proper post-exercise fueling will further reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, restore blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels and speed recovery of muscle tissue.
The aforementioned exercises will certainly help to break up your running routine and may even result in improved performance irrespective of the distance you intend to race. Whether you head out to the trails, the hills, the pool or the racquetball court you should be able to gain some advantage over those that stick to the urban landscape.
And you’ll probably have a lot more fun.
Get out and run!