Thursday, September 26, 2013

Where’s The Beef?

When I was a child a common saying regarding health was “you are what you eat.”  There may be more truth in that statement than folks realized.  Dating back to ancient Greek time’s people understood the powerful connection between food and health.  Hippocrates knew this relationship well when he said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

As the United States prospered and people had more income and busier lives, the American diet also experienced unhealthy changes.  With an eye towards convenience, the process foods industry boomed.  Americans replaced vegetables and home cooked meals with increasing volumes of processed foods that are loaded with sugar, salt and fat. Americans also added substantially more fast food and animal protein to their diets including large amounts of meat.

While the American diet experienced an unhealthy evolution, athletes and exercisers also took a deeper interest in how diet affected their performance.  It was long believed that those that exercise regularly need increased amounts of protein for muscle repair and growth. For many the main source of protein came from beef, pork, chicken and fish.

While meat does provide a substantial source of protein, can an endurance athlete perform at high levels on a vegetarian or vegan diet? The answer may surprise you.  If you are an athlete and considering going meat-free, you are in growing company.

According to, 17 percent of runners are vegetarian or vegan, but 48 percent have tried to reduce their meat consumption.  Numerous studies show that individuals who have eliminated meat from their diet have reduced rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes and weigh less than meat-eaters. According to The China Study, people following a plant based diet free of any animal protein have even lower rates of these afflictions.  Vegetarians and vegans also incorporate more healthy nutrients, vitamins and fiber to their diets.

So, back to the question can an endurance athlete perform at high levels on a vegetarian or vegan diet?  According to Nisevich Bede RD the answer is absolutely yes!  As quoted in Runners World “Well-balanced vegetarian diets can provide ample energy and nutrients that will prevent premature fatigue and muscle breakdown.”  The key is to make sure you include enough essential nutrients including protein.
Instead of reaching for that hamburger or chicken breast, Soy, beans and lentils are excellent sources of protein and have the added benefit of complex carbohydrates which are essential for endurance success.  Nisevich says that it is uncommon for vegetarians and vegans to experience severe protein deficiency when consuming adequate amounts of plant and vegetable (and dairy for vegetarians) protein.

By consuming an increased variety of vegetables, whole grains and nuts, you not only get protein, you get essential vitamins and minerals as well. Consult your doctor or registered dietician for guidance on a diet that is right for you.
One only needs to look at the Road Runner and Wiley E Coyote to validate this premise.  The Road Runner who consumers a plant based diet was never caught by the meat eating Wiley E Coyote. Maybe Wiley E. Coyote can find a good vegetarian or vegan cookbook at ACME!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What about Recovery?

Some argue getting started with exercise or endurance training is the hardest part of the process. Many times exercise becomes addictive and people wish to see rapid improvement so they continue to work out even when tired, sick or injured. It’s been my experience that taking time to properly recover from exercise can be the biggest challenge of all.
Recovery may be the most important part of any exercise program, ye the hardest to do and often most overlooked.  Many athletes get in the mindset that more training is better and completely ignore rest and recovery.  They work their bodies to exhaustion, barely let the work take effect and then repeat.  Why is rest and recovery important? When exercising, you are placing an increased workload on your body.  For example when you increase your running distance or lift weights, this stress tears your muscle fibers down and fatigues your system.

To realize the positive effect of your exercise, your body needs time to recover and rebuild the small muscle tears so you can return stronger and ready for more exercise.  Growth actually comes from recovery, not the exercise itself so if you don’t give your body time to adequately recover; you are diminishing the very growth and improvement you are seeking.

There are many different ways to recover.  Active recovery is an excellent way to experience some effects of recovery while still exercising.  This can be in the form of an easy jog or walk between intervals or a prolonged cool down.  I use active recovery as part of my running.  When I run, I will take one or two days a week and push my pace close to race pace or for me 7:45 per mile.  The following day I will take an easy run at a 9:00 or 10:00 minute per mile pace as a means of recovery. I am still getting exercise but lessening the stress on my body.
Sleep is another excellent form of recovery.  Professional Triathlete Andy Potts gets eleven hours of sleep per night, stressing the power of its restorative effects.  I strive for a combination of eight hours of sleep a day. Naps are great ways to fit in a little extra sleep.  Sleep is critical is critically important as this is the only time the body produces natural human growth hormone that is responsible for muscle repair and growth.

Self-massage is yet another form of recovery.  I have a love-hate relationship with my foam roller.  After a tough workout I use my foam roller to work out sore spots. It can be uncomfortable at the time but well worth the benefit.

One of the most overlooked recovery agents is proper nutrition.  You want to consume some complex carbohydrates and good protein within 30 minutes post workout, especially if you are working out daily. 
For more information on reovery and renewal, Sage Rountree has is a leading expert. She is an internationally recognized authority in yoga for athletes and an endurance sports coach specializing in athletic recovery. Her classes, training plans, videos, books, and articles make yoga and endurance exercise accessible to everyone.
Here is to being fit for a lifetime!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Swim Strategy

Diana Nyad’s 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida has generated positive publicity and adoration for the 64-year-old endurance athlete. By any measure this is an incredible feat and puts the 2.4 mile swim portion of Ironman triathlons in perspective.   When training for triathlons some swim the 2.4 miles straight through while other concentrate on drills such as intervals, kick training, etc.  So what is the best way to prepare to swim over great distances?

 If you are a triathlete or distance swimmer, you have likely been told you should never swim “straight,” meaning jump into the pool and swim for 45 minutes to an hour without stopping. According to swim trainer Kevin Koskella this is a very inefficient way to improve swim speed.
For one, swimming straight without rest or a focused plan is not very productive. Instead of doing 2500 yards at an easy pace, it would be better physiologically and more productive to break those 2500 yards into a workout with a 400 yard warm-up, 10×200 yards at race pace main set, and then a 100 yard cool down.

With the intensity and rest you will stress your system more than swimming long and steady. This is similar to running intervals or at different paces to improve your running speed. Another benefit to having a targeted plan is you learn to swim with better form.  The rest between sets gives you time to recover so you are fresh for your next set of drills.
Swimming straight for an hour can be a taxing experience.  While having a strategic swim plan outlined to include stroke technique and speed drills should be the focus of the majority of your swim sessions, straight swims do have their advantages.

Straight swims can develop mental stamina. There are no rests in open water swims and triathlon, no walls to hang on to and no chats with friends. If you are going to have to face it in a race, experiencing it in practice is the best way to prepare yourself. Even though it can be boring swimming 4000-5000 yards without stopping, it does prepare both your muscles and your brain for what you will experience in a race.  This mental stamina carries over into other aspects of your exercise life as well.
Long swims can be relaxing. Sometimes it’s nice to have a break from drills and scripted workouts. Just get into the water and enjoy the experience. I find continual and steady swims after a long day at the office or following a particularly hard work out to be very therapeutic.

Steady swims are a good way to measure your endurance. After a long and steady swim you may not come away with a feeling that you are getting faster, but you will have the knowledge of when your form begins to break down. This gives you the opportunity to work on correcting your form while taxing your system which will lead to improved fitness and endurance.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

At The CORE Of It All

One often overlooked element to a successful exercise program is focusing time on strengthening your abdominal and core muscles around the pelvis and back. Major muscle groups include: Upper and Lower abdominals (stomach), Oblique’s (lower sides of torso), Latissimus Dorsi (mid back), Quadratus Lumborum (lower back) and Erector Spinae (a band of muscles that run vertical to the spine).  Six pack abs are great to look at and we all want them, however all core muscles are critical to improved health and provide stability for the movement of the body.  
By strengthening your core, you will:
·         Avoid more injuries
·         Increase your endurance and stamina
·         Enhance protection of your spine
·         Improve your stability and balance
·         Relax tense muscles, especially your lumbar muscles in your lower back
·         Aid in building and maintaining cardiovascular health
When I started running, I wasn’t aware of core training and I would tire out quickly even on short runs. I noticed my abs, back and next would get sore and impede my running.  Once I began working on my core not only did my endurance and speed increase, my arms, neck and shoulders were less fatigued. I began to enjoy my runs and became a much stronger swimmer.
Core strengthening exercises have come a long way from the old school days when crunches and sit-ups ruled the day. Core exercises can be done at home on carpet or padded yoga mat.  Focus on tightening your transversus and rectus abdominis, the deepest and largest abdominal muscles you feel when you cough.  It is important to always keep your head and neck in line with you spine to prevent injury and to maximize each exercise. Finally, breathe deeply and freely during each exercise to avoid becoming light headed and to maximize oxygen in your blood and muscles.
Planks work upper and lower abs and are an excellent all around core exercise for strength and stability. Stretch out face down on the floor and support your weight on your forearms and toes with legs straight.  Hold this position for a count of 15 seconds while keeping your body straight and as still as possible and your head in line with your spine. Repeat 5 sets. As you get stronger, you can hold the position longer.
To work the obliques, do the same exercise positioned on your side.  In a stretched out position, support your weight on your forearm and toes, keeping your legs straight and your head in line with your neck. Hold for 15 seconds for five sets.

Supermans server as a nice stretch and strengthen the lower back muscles that are often the source of back pain. Lie with your stomach on the ground, arms extended overhead and legs straight. It’s OK to think you are Superman saving the world!  Raise both arms and legs as high as possible and hold for 15 seconds, keeping arms and legs straight and holding core tight. Be sure to keep your head and neck in line with your spine. Slowly lower arms and legs and repeat for five sets.

Bird Dog
Bird Dog strengthens your entire core including your abs, lower back, hip muscles and glutes in you bottom.  Get on your hands and knees with palms flat on the floor and shoulders hip width apart. Your knees should be bent at 90 degrees.  Relax your lower back and tighten your abs.  Raise your right arm and left leg until they are fully extended and in line with your body and hold for 15 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat raising your left arm and right leg. You can also alternate right arm/left leg and left arm/right leg to a count of 15. Repeat either variation for five sets.

Leg Lift
Leg Lifts work the lower abs.  Lie on your back with your bottom about 12 inches from a wall.  Keep your legs straight and heels against the wall.  Using your lower abs, pull your thighs toward your head while lifting your bottom until your legs are perpendicular to the floor. You want to focus on moving your thighs and not your feet as this will best you’re your abs. Hold this position for 15 seconds then lower your heels back to the wall. Repeat for five sets.

Double Crunch
What would core work be without at least one crunch?  This exercise works the upper and lower abs together.  Lie on your back with your legs bent 90 degrees and your heels resting on a bench or kitchen chair.  Together lift your shoulders and bottom.  Curl up by bringing your shoulders and hips towards your stomach. Stop when your shoulders and lumbar (lower back) spine have left the floor. Pause in this position and squeeze your abs.  Return to the starting position and repeat, exhaling during the contraction and inhaling as your lower your shoulders to the floor. Do for a count of fifteen and repeat for five sets.

I aggressively work my core every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  I also do simple crunches every day more so to help me develop a routine while adding to my core strength.  When starting core work you will experience some soreness which is a good sign your muscles are working.  Over time the soreness will dissipate and you will be able to increase the time and or reps of each exercise.  Some good websites include,, and  Good luck in building your core and the next time someone tells you they need a “six pack” you can help the out without making a trip to the market and may even be able to show them what a real “six pack” looks like!
Here is to being fit for a lifetime!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Water, Water Everywhere

One of the things I find interesting is the tricks your mind can play on you.  When I was reading the Emperors of Chocolate, a book about the rise of Milton Hershey’ and Frank Mar’s chocolate empires, I found myself eating pounds of chocolate without thinking.  Have you ever watched the movie Castaway? Tom Hanks is stranded on a deserted island and suffers under the blazing heat with little to no water to drink. When I watched that movie my mouth became dry and I felt dehydrated and lethargic.
Unfortunately too many people, especially those that exercise, experience these same effects and needlessly suffer from some level of dehydration.  Staying hydrated is essential for everyone, but athletes and exercisers have an even greater need to maintain proper hydration. Water is the most important nutrient for life and has many important functions including regulating temperature, lubricating joints and transporting nutrients and waste throughout the body.
According to Rebecca Turner, a registered dietitian and certified sports specialist it only takes being more than 2 percent dehydrated to cause a decline in athletic performance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 650 deaths each year from extreme heat could have been prevented. In total, there were 7,233 heat related deaths from 1999 to 2009 in the U.S.  Living in and exercising in hot and humid South Carolina makes proper hydration even more important.
As an endurance athlete, I typically drink 90-120 ounces of water daily, even on days when I am not exercising. If I don’t consume this volume of water, I can see a decline in my athletic performance; I experience a slower recovery and don’t sleep soundly. Starting a workout or race dehydrated lowers blood volume and forces the heart to beat faster, making it difficult to meet aerobic demands.

“Dehydration in athletes may lead to fatigue, headaches, decreased coordination and muscle cramping,” Turner said. “The good news is avoiding dehydration is rather easy.”  Turner recommends drinking at least 8 to 16 ounces of water one hour before activity. Diluted sports drinks and unsweetened coffee or tea also are best bets.  If you are not working out for over an hour continuously, diluted sports drinks will help maintain some sodium but cut out unnecessary sugar.
While exercising vigorously, aim for eight ounce of fluid every 15-20 minutes. For continual exercise lasting longer than an hour such as endurance activities, consider electrolyte or salt tabs and diluted sports drinks.  Too much water and not enough sodium can create an imbalance and lead to a condition called hypernatremia or a diluted sodium level in the blood that can lead to a number of serious medical issues.

Post exercise hydration is just as critical.  Turner recommends consuming 4 ounces of fluid for every 10 minutes of exercise if not more.  You should drink enough so that in 60-90 minutes you have to use the restroom. I prefer room temperature water as it is easier to drink larger quantities faster and without headaches.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Super Compensation!

Beautiful scenery and cool weather are ideal conditions for running and exercising outside. For many that ran through the intense heat and humidity of summer, fall is a new beginning where training volume and speed increases become an enjoyable experience!
It’s funny to see the natural progression that most people follow when getting into running.  First they say, “Oh I could never run.”  Then they start running.  Then they say, “I can’t and don’t want to run far.”  A friend tells them about how they ran a half marathon so they do one too.  Then they say, “I can’t and don’t want to run fast.”  While running the half marathon they pass a few people, feel like Superman and want to run faster and faster and that is how it all starts.

We all want to get better at what we do and running is no different.  Last week I provided some techniques on how to improve your running speed and endurance using hills to build strength.  Hills are nature’s gym and they are free, scenic and give you an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.
While many of us have trouble fitting in any training with our busy schedules, if you’re fortunate enough to devote a week or two solely to training, you can take advantage of a training concept called super compensation.  Super compensation is not for beginners (less than 2 years running experience) or those prone to injuries but it’s a perfect way to elevate your training. According to Jeff Gaudette from Competitor Online, Super compensation training is dramatically increasing your training load for a short period of time then compensating by going very easy to maximize recovery and absorption.

Training of any nature is the manipulation of stress you place upon your body. You apply stress to your body in the form of training then recover, which allows the body to rebuild and grow stronger.  For consistent improvement you need to repeatedly increase the amount of stress as the body adapts to the work load and grows stronger.

Unless the workload is changed, the consistent application of stress results in a plateau.  If you never run more than 3 miles at the same pace, you will not get stronger.  The body will no long adapt to the stimulus and fitness will not improve.  Enter super compensation training.

Super Compensation changes your routine and exposes your body to vastly different training stimulus. Your aim is to increase your training mileage (not pace) by 30-40 percent of your weekly mileage.  If you run 30 miles a week, target 39-42 miles per week.  Super compensation can last for 5-10 days. It will be hard but proper mental preparation will help you manage the increase.  Remember, pain is temporary, accomplishment is forever!

The recovery cycle is crucial to realize growth from the increased stress. Gaudette emphasizes a recovery period equal in length and reduced intensity or volume. If you increase your mileage by 30 percent for one week, you need to decrease your training by 30 percent the following week. Super Compensation isn’t a shortcut to faster fitness; it’s simply a change to the training workload to stimulate growth. If you are going to put in the extra work, be sure you rest to realize the benefit.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

An Uphill Battle

Let’s admit it; running in the summer is South Carolina is brutal at best.   Even the best intentions of running in daylight can leave you as dried out as a Thanksgiving turkey.  Then there is this little thing called humidity. If you dare run early in the morning to beat the sun, you are faced with a different set of issues.  You might as well wrap yourself in a wet blanket that has been baking at 350 for 20 minutes because that’s what you feel like after two minutes of running at nearly 90% humidity. You know it was a humid run when your fingers are as wrinkled as when you take a bath!
If your running distance, speed and form have suffered a bit over the summer, I totally understand.  “Let’s see, do I stay in a nice cool house with a soft couch and cold beverage or do I go for a vertical swim in 90+ degree water?” If you chose the former you are not alone and no one will blame you.

However, hope springs eternal as fall is just around the corner. With cooler temps and less humidity, it’s time to get serious about your running again and get yourself in shape for the fall, winter and spring races and charity events. One quick way to improve your running is hill work.  After all they are everywhere so we might as well use them to build character and strength!
Tackling hills can elevate your pace, both running up and down those monsters. According to Wendy Gilman and a study from Auckland University of Technology, uphill and downhill training helped runners shave their race times by 2 percent. That equates to more than two minutes off a one hour and fifty minute half marathon!  The secret lies in improving leg strength.
The adage “no pain, no gain” was probably written by someone who did a lot of hill repeats, but they work. Jump start your running with these three hill-mastering tips from Darren De Reuck, the head of running for Boulder Coaching in Colorado.

Build more spring in your step. Twice a week do three sets of 10 squat jumps (squat down, then jump onto a bench a foot to two off the ground); two sets of 10 hamstring machine curls (5 reps per leg); two sets of 10 calf raises standing on both legs; then 10 reps of single-leg raises per leg.
Keep leaning.  Uphill or down, lean slightly forward form your ankles, not your waist as you run.  This will correct the common back-straining problem of leaning too far forward on the incline and too far back on the decline.

Keep it short.  Shortening your stride and working on quicker turnover help conserve energy and can increase your pace. Short strides also reduce the strain placed on your quads and knees when going downhill.  It’s important that your feet strike underneath your hips and not ahead or behind you.
So the next time you go for a run, seek out that monster hill and tackle it just like the little engine that could…I think I can, I think can, I think I can, I KNOW I can and I know you can to.