Thursday, October 31, 2013

Improve Performance Through Yoga

OK, I have to admit that I never thought I would be writing a column promoting yoga as a viable exercise medium and a restorative way to improve your health and wellbeing. Like most things, you must study the subject with an open mind to fully understand something before passing judgment. What I once thought was only for hippies or mystical/spiritual individuals; yoga provides numerous physical, mental and emotional benefits. 
As a competitor I am continually looking for ways to improve my performance and yoga provides just that.  Who would have thought that poses with names like “Downward Dog, Angry Cat, and Cobra” would actually be more than a creative petting zoo?  It was not until I tried these poses that I learn just how inflexible I really was and just how wonderful these and other yoga poses can be for your flexibility and your mind.
What was once thought merely a trend; yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years with close to 11 million Americans enjoying its health benefits according to webmd. “Yoga is a healing system of theory and practice.  The purpose of yoga is to create strength, awareness, and harmony both and the mind and body, “explains Dr. Natalie Nevins, DO and Medical Director of Amrit Davaa Wellness Center in California.
In the West most yoga classes focus on physical poses but may also add some breathing and meditation techniques as well.  The beautiful thing about yoga is a wide offering of classes for almost everyone. While some classes focus only on relaxation and stress relief, others are more physical as a form of exercise that enables you to develop your flexibility, balance and strength. Other benefits include improved respiration and energy, weight reduction, cardio and circulatory health, improved athletic performance and protection from injury.
For all its benefits, like other exercise it’s not without risk. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the most common yoga related injuries involve overstretching and strain from repetition to the neck, shoulders, spine, legs and knees.  Individuals that are pregnant have osteoporosis or problems with their spine should consult their physician before beginning yoga.
Here are some tips to help you reduce your risk of injury from and enjoy yoga:
Don’t try learning yoga on your own. Most fitness clubs have certified yoga instructors that will provide you a quality experience. 
Start slowly and stay within your limits. You will NOT be as flexible when you start as your instructor. Take it slow and over time you will improve your flexibility.
Warm up properly before each session.  Muscles stretch best when warm and are also less prone to strain.
Ask questions. If you don’t understand a pose, ask your instructor for some assistance. Performing poses wrong can be dangerous.
Stay hydrated. Hydration is important for all exercise and yoga, but especially if you are practicing “hot” yoga.
Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Yoga is not supposed to be painful but enjoyable. If you feel pain, stop or back off your pose.

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Is It Really This Easy?

A few weeks back a saw a sign that made me laugh at first but then it got me thinking.  The sign said “Spring is just around the corner, but so was the donut shop!”  It had a picture of an overweight individual looking sad and troubled.  As I looked at that picture I wondered how many people this was true for and just how many people really felt bad at not being able to make a change to improve their fitness and health.
Let me take you back in time to spring 2011.  A friend of mine came into my office and proudly proclaimed he had signed up for the Columbia Marathon in March of 2012 and was excited as can be. I was happy for my friend and asked him if he was ready to do what was necessary with diet and training to make his dream come true and he assured me he was.
Its now late summer and I asked my friend how his marathon plans were coming. “Well you know it’s our busy time of year and I’m working a lot and the kids are out of school so it’s been hard to find time, but I will make it happen.”  I let him know March was not that far away and as a causal runner 26.2 miles was going to take commitment some work and he assured me he would make it happen.
Fast forward to early fall and while waiting for a plane I called my friend and asked him how is training was coming. “Well you know how busy it is with kids and school and work is still busy so it’s been had to find time to train…but I really want to run this race.”  Does this pattern sound familiar to anyone regarding plans to start and exercise program.
Later that same week I was in a restaurant in New York City thinking about my friend and his goal to run a marathon and the litany of excuses he had provided me why he was not able to train.  I wanted to help him and my solution would be framed neatly into on simple but powerful sentence that would put everything into perspective for him.  I called him and simply asked, “How Bad Do You Want It?”
Could it really be this simple?
Yes it is.
If you want something bad enough, you will find a way to accomplish your goals, and that includes starting and exercise program or making the decision to run a marathon or complete in a triathlon.  It’s a choice you have to make, and the hardest part is committing to the decision. The rest is execution.
Do I want to get up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to work out? Of course not, but I want to complete my first IRONMAN and Ultra marathon worse than the sacrifice if early morning training.  It’s my decision to train early so as not to take away time from family and other obligations.  Where there is a will, there is a way.
Recently, another friend and I were eating lunch and talking about getting in shape. He asked me what my secret was.  I placed my hand on his shoulder, smiled and said, “How Bad Do You Want It?”
Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and Groups Exercise Instructor, exercise, health and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mental Toughness

“HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT?”  That was the simple yet powerful advice I shared with you last week.  Be it wanting to lose 10 pounds, increase your fitness or frankly any goal you want to achieve, this advice is universal.  Many times good intentions are fraught with distractions and a wavering commitment but it boils down to HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT. 
What may be the hardest part of starting any exercise or health improving endeavor is making the decision to achieve the goal set before for.  Some may argue that making the decision is the easy part; I argue it is the toughest part if you do it correctly. This means taking some introspective time to really make a commitment to change and let nothing stand in your way.
If making the decision to change your life or really commit to a goal is the hardest part, does that mean the rest is easy?  I hate to be the one to tell you that nothing worthwhile is easy.  The end result is what you are after and part of the fun and reward of achieving what you have set before you is the effort and hard work you put in to make it happen.
To help you through the tough times, to help overcome those unforeseen obstacles and to help you change your habits, you have to develop mental toughness.  Think of it this way.  The more your work out the more fit and strong your body becomes. Mental toughness works the same way. The more you focus on your determination, the more mentally strong you will become.
Here are some strategies to help you prepare and stay committed to your exercise program.
Focus on the present.  Only focus on what you have to do that day for your workout. Close out the distractions of the world and focus on the doing your workout each day. Have a strategy for what you ARE going to do that day and during your session.
Positive Affirmations – Stay positive as positive thoughts energize you. Always think or write affirmations of what you can and are going to. For example, I am going to swim 1800 yards today and feel amazing.
Visualize Success – The mind is a powerful tool that can help or hurt you. Rehearse in your mind what you want your work out to look like, how good you will feel after completing a very hard and draining session. Most importantly, visualize the NEW you once you have reached your goals.
Erase Negative Thoughts and Energy with Positive Thoughts – This is crucial. We are human; we will have good workouts and bad. You must stay positive and be alert to any negative self-talk that can subtly creep into our minds.  One person I swim with swims perfectly fine, but he always has to have the lane next to the life guard. This is due to negative self-talk when he says. “I just can’t swim in any other lane.” It sounds harmless but is poisonous.
Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and Groups Exercise Instructor, exercise, health and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

No Cost Gym

I must admit that the thought of getting in shape can be an overwhelming and difficult process.  After many conversations with your inner self to find out just “How Bad Do You Want It,” you make the determination that getting in shape is the thing to do. Congratulations, now what?
If making the decision to get in shape is not hard enough, an equally hard part is determining just what to do, where to do it, how to dress to do it and what equipment do you need to do it correctly and effectively!  Whew, that exercise along should count for one good work out and at least a thousand calories of brain power! 
Exercising can be expensive if you make it that way. Health Club memberships, proper attire (after all you must look somewhat fashionable when going to the gym) weights, bands, shoes, electronics and well by this time your wallet can explode if your head hasn’t already!
There is good news! While all those things I mentioned are not bad to have, you don’t need to shell out thousands of dollars to get into shape!  In fact you can get a head start on getting in shape in the comfort of your how home without spending a dime on equipment. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to drink 12 raw eggs or chase a chicken like Sylvester Stallone did in Rocky (although if you have one, it would be a great workout) instead you are going to use items you already have.  Ready, let’s get started.
The first thing you want to do is a nice an easy warm up.  This can be a 10-15 brisk walk around your neighborhood followed by some easy static stretching (no movement or bouncing when you stretch) of all major muscle groups. Once warmed up, the fun begins.
Next take a kitchen chair and place it in the middle of the floor and lay a blanket on the floor. Elevate your legs on the chair while lying on your back and proceed to do 15 crunches, keeping the small of your back flat on the floor.
Now you need to place your feet on the chair and support your body with your arms and do 15 inverted pushups.  Feeling the burn yet?  Next get on the floor and rest your body on your forearms with your legs extended and on your toes, keeping your back straight and core tight. This is Plank position and will work your core. Hold this for 30 seconds. 
Now find a flat wall and lean against it with your back flat and your feet shoulder width apart and out in front of you like you were going to sit in a chair. Proceed to do 15 squats.  Now repeat this circuit three to four times.  Cool down with some light stretching.
There you have it. A complete, no cost full body work, all from the comfort of your own home. How easy was that?
Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and Groups Exercise Instructor, exercise, health and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Its All In The Shoes

One of the easiest ways to start a fitness activity is to take up running. It doesn’t require any specialized machines, no gym memberships, can be done anywhere and anyone can do it. In fact it is nearly the perfect activity to burn calories, improve cardiovascular health and improve your emotional and mental health.  It simply requires appropriate clothing and a pair of running shoes.

So why do so many first time runners have injuries and unnecessary leg, foot and hip pain?  The answer could lie in the shoes.  Making the right choice in foot ware for running can make all the difference between an enjoyable or miserable experience.

Most any running shoes you try on in the store will feel good while standing in them, but the true test comes after you start to put some miles and impact on your feet while running.  You will soon realize that the “perfect” shoe has more to do with the shape of your foot and your running style than it does with the logo or colors. Here are some tips on how to choose the best shoe for you.

First determine if you run mainly on the roads or trails.  Road running shoes should be chosen for more pavement running while trail shoes should be used for more hard core trails in wooded areas.

Next it is important to know your foot size.  I highly recommend going into a local store that specializes in running and have them measure you for a proper fit. They are the experts and will take time to ask you questions look at your stride and find your perfect size.

Determining your arch shape is also important.  As you get out of the bath, shower or pool, look at your footprint.  If you have a high arch the space between the ball of your foot and your heel will be very narrow. A normal arch will show a bit more of your arch and if you are flat footed the base between the ball and your heel (arch) will be nearly one size. A running store can examine your arches and provide the right support.

Maybe the most important element is to determine how you run on your feet.  A neutral stride is indicated by shoe wear centralized to the ball of the foot and a small portion of the heel. Over pronation is indicated by wear patters along the inside edge of the shoe while supination (under pronation) is marked by wear along the outer edge of your shoe.

Now it’s time to pick the best shoe for you.  Cushioned shoes add more shock absorption and are best for runners who are mild pronators and supinators. Stability shoes help decelerate basic pronation and they are good for neutral runners or those that exhibit mild to moderate over pronation.  Finally, motion control shoes have stiffer heels and are best for runners who have moderate to severe over pronation.
Saucony ProGrid Mirage - Stability Shoe

Saucony Triumph Neutral Cushioned Shoe

While cushioning in a shoe is important, there are those that believe that a minimalist shoe is best for most runners as it most closely mimics the natural movement of the foot. Dr. Steven Gangemi, a doctor of applied Kinesiology and endurance athlete strongly encourages the use of minimalist shoes. “Running in minimalist shoes and being barefoot clearly helps the entire body. Improvements in nervous system function, muscular function and balance, proprioception, and overall health can be seen in those who keep their feet close to the ground and out of motion-altering footwear.”

Asics Speed Star 6
New Balance Minimus
Brooks Pure Grit

Identifying your foot and stride type is critical to getting the best shoe to make your running experience enjoyable and keep you injury free. Most shoe brands produce models for all types of runners.  Just remember, it’s not the color of the shoe that’s important but how it works and supports your stride that will make all the difference.

If you are looking for a shoe that comes closest to matching the natural movement of your foot, a minimalist shoe does just that. But what is a minimalist shoe?  According to the, if we view running footwear as a spectrum, on one end you have no shoe at all, or barefoot. In the barefoot condition cushioning and stability are provided by the inherent strength and control of the feet and legs, proprioception/ground feel are maximized, there is no added weight on the lower extremity, the heel and forefoot are placed at the same level on the ground, the splay of the foot is not restricted when it contacts the ground, and flexibility is limited only by the structural limitations of an individual’s feet.

    Saucony Virrata

    Saucony Kinvara 4

    There are other factors that could be included here, but these are the most critical.
    Picking the correct shoe to run or walk in for your gait is important and takes a little research on your part to know what is right for you.  You need to know if you need a neutral shoe or a stability shoe then the amount of cushioning you feel comfortable with.

    Many people will start in a more cushioned shoe and move to a lighter and more minimalist shoe. This is the path I took. I started in the Adidas Response Cushion and now run in the Saucony Kinvara 3 and 4 and the Saucony Virrata.  If you move to a minimalist shoe or start out in a minimalist shoe, do so gradually to give you legs and feet a chance to adapt.  After all for thousands of years humans did not wear shoes so it stands to reason a minimalist shoe will work.  That said, we have trained our feet to move away from our barefoot roots so caution, patience and a ramp up is in order.

    Additionally, foot health is very critical. I have shared some information below from Dr. Gangemi regarding foot health.

    Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and Groups Exercise Instructor, exercise, health and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.  

    Thursday, October 24, 2013

    Muscle Imbalances - How to Prevent Pain and Injury

    While exercise and endurance programs have numerous benefits, one downside is the threat of injury.  When a body is in motion for extended periods of time and works against added resistance, nagging problems with knees, hips, shoulders ad backs can result, often times caused by muscle imbalances.

    Dr. Dirk Dolbeare, an orthopedic surgeon in Boulder, CO says, “A majority of musculoskeletal issues and injuries stem from underlying muscle imbalances. This causes pain in the joint, much the way tires will wear out on a care – one tire wears funny and throws them all out of balance. When one muscle is overly tight, the opposite muscle gets weak.”  Strengthening and stretching muscles can re-establish balance.

    Wendy McClure, a personal trainer agrees that muscle imbalances are a preventable problem.  For example, weak glutes (butt muscles), tight iliotibal (IT) bands, and inner thighs that lack strength are common culprits that can cause knee or back pain.  “Fitness oriented people may have imbalances due to their sport. In cycling, the hip flexor works extremely hard coupled with a tight IT band (runs from your hip to below you knee) can result in knee pain. Sports create imbalances so identifying and strengthening specific muscles to prevent overuse can help,” states McClure.

    Muscle imbalances can be corrected without always relying on drastic measures like surgery. Many times pain in particular areas like the knee can be symptomatic of one issue but could be the result of a muscle imbalance.  The first step is to see a medical professional and accurately have the issue diagnosed.

    Beyond proper diagnosis and medical attention, there are other steps that can be taken to prevent or reverse problems called by muscle imbalances.  First, people should make sure that when conducting strength training, they are working all aspects of the body.  As McClure points out, “we already spend most of our lives on our anterior or front of our bodies.” Thus, more exercises should be done to strengthen the posterior or back side of our bodies including the glutes, traps, and delts. It’s all about creating a healthy balance in muscle strength.

    Another way to prevent muscle imbalances is to adopt a cross training program. Pilates and yoga or anything that promotes core stability is a good place to start. Other cross training activities include TRX, Kangaroo Jumps and pool training.  Mixing up workouts and varying sports helps promote muscle balance.

    Stretching is another excellent tool for preventing or reversing muscle imbalances. McClure argues that if elite level athletes have stretching programs, regular athletes and exercise enthusiasts should too.  People should consult a personal trainer to identify the correct stretches to address their issues.  Once identified, McClure  recommends on should hold a stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds as research shows that less than 30 seconds is not as effective.  Use of other tools such as a foam rollers and self-massage devises are also helpful.

    With muscle imbalances the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker and you are only as strong as your weakest link. By adopting a full body strength training and stretching program you can not only prevent muscle imbalances but reverse current imbalances that may causing pain.

    Here is to being fit for a lifetime!

    Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

    Wednesday, October 23, 2013

    Running Safely

    Like anything else in life, you should approach running with safety as your first objective.  No matter what time of day you run, where you run or what conditions you run in, staying safe should be your main concern. After all you are running to stay fit and being fit and not being safe doesn’t compute.  Here are some safety tips for running as adopted from the Road Runners Club of America and from personal experience.
    • Don’t wear headphones. Use your ears to be aware of your surroundings. Your ears may help you avoid dangers your eyes may miss during evening or early morning runs.  IF you must wear headphones, use only one ear bud in the left ear as you run against traffic. This will allow you to still hear any traffic coming from behind you. I have recently started using the speaker on my iPhone to play my music that allows me to hear my surroundings and still enjoy some music.
    • Run against traffic so you can observe approaching automobiles. By facing on-coming traffic, you may be able to react quicker than if it is behind you.
    • Look both ways before crossing. Be sure the driver of a car acknowledges your right-of-way before crossing in front of a vehicle. Obey traffic signals.
    • Carry identification or write your name, phone number, and blood type on the inside sole of your running shoe. Include any medical information.  I prefer to wear a My Road Id ( at all times.
    • Always stay alert and aware of what’s going on around you. The more aware you are, the less vulnerable you are.
    • Carry a cell phone or change for a phone call. Know the locations of public phones along your regular route.
    • Trust your intuition about a person or an area. React on your intuition and avoid a person or situation if you’re unsure. If something tells you a situation is not “right”, it isn’t.
    • Alter or vary your running route pattern; run in familiar areas if possible. In unfamiliar areas, such as while traveling, contact a local RRCA club or running store. Know where open businesses or stores are located in case of emergency. When traveling I map out a running route the day before and drive the route in my car. I also inform anyone I am traveling with or meeting with of my route and what time I plan to start and be done with my run.
    • Run with a partner. Run with a dog.  A big, mean dog!  If you can run with a friend. Not only is it safe, it sure makes your runs, especially the longer runs more fun.
    • Write down or leave word of the direction of your run. Tell friends and family of your favorite running routes.
    • Avoid unpopulated areas, deserted streets, and overgrown trails. Avoid unlit areas, especially at night. Run clear of parked cars or bushes.
    • Ignore verbal harassment and do not verbally harass others. Use discretion in acknowledging strangers. Look directly at others and be observant, but keep your distance and keep moving.
    • Wear reflective material if you must run before dawn or after dark. Avoid running on the street when it is dark.  I always wear a head lamp (usually around my waist) and wear flashing lights, especially on my side that is facing traffic.  My Road ID has a nice selection of flashing lights in various colors.
    • Practice memorizing license tags or identifying characteristics of strangers.
    • Carry a noisemaker. Get training in self-defense.  I know of some runners that run with pepper spray and a few that even carry had held shock units that give enough of a charge to make a would be attacker or dog think twice before attacking further.
    • When using multi-use trails, follow the rules of the road. If you alter your direction, look over you should before crossing the trail to avoid a potential collision with an oncoming cyclist or passing runner.
    • Call police immediately if something happens to you or someone else, or you notice anyone out of the ordinary. It is important to report incidents immediately.
    • Don’t run on an empty stomach if you are not accustomed to this.  Additionally ALWAYS have water available for runs over 6 miles and at all times when it is hot.
    • If you feel abnormal pain such as a tightening of your IT band or knee pain, STOP Running. Call someone to come get you or walk home if that does not add to your pain.
    • For long runs on days you are not sure you feel up to it, break the run into laps. Some mornings that I run 12 miles I do a six mile loop. It is taxing on the mind but I am never more than 3 miles from home if it is just not my day.
    • Warm up properly.  Start your run warmed up. This can be a brisk walk or very easy run. Mild stretching will also work but take it easy stretching cold muscles.
    • Keep an eye on the weather. Summer storms, especially in the south can pop up in an instance. Check out the radar before you head out. It can be completely sunny and within 30 minutes you can be facing a thunderstorm.
    • Always have an escape plan.  When I run, I am always looking at the nearest and safest house should I need shelter or call for help.  Ringing a strangers doorbell or knocking wildly on their door in the am can draw enough attention to a situation that a would be attacker may back off not wanting the attention.
    • Dogs!  Not much to say here other than I have found squirting water in the face of a dog works as a deterrent some times.

    Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and Groups Exercise Instructor, exercise, health and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

    Don’t Fear Fear

    One of the downsides of human nature is the emotion of fear. That’s right, fear. Its part of who we are as individuals and as a species.  It starts at an early age and continues for life.  As children we are afraid of the dark, afraid of monsters under our bed and even afraid of thunder and storms.  You may chuckle saying those are silly but to children they are real and as adults we too have many fears that manifest themselves for whatever reason.  Too many fear, or the perception of fear is reality and that can be difficult to deal with.
    Exercising or competing in endurance events is not immune to the fear factor.  In fact, wasn’t there a popular television show on by that very name? Now I’m not talking about jumping into a pit of Vipers or eating live tarantula but fear associated with exercising can be strong enough to keep a person from achieving the goals they have set for themselves.
    One of the top fears for people that would like to do a triathlon is the fear of getting bitten by a shark. In some the fear is so strong they can’t even swim in an lake or a river, knowing full well there are no man eating sharks in a lake and catfish are just too lazy to put that much energy into having to chase down food.  This may be more dramatic, but for others it’s more subtle. For 44 years I had a fear of water and it took a lot of courage, hard work and self-examination to overcome my fear of water and learn to swim.
    For others fear of failure to reach a weight loss goal, fear of not finishing an event, fear of looking uncoordinated or heavy in front of others keeps countless people from even attempting to start an exercise program.  They know they need to, they want to but the fear of failure can be had to overcome.
    Fear no more as you can overcome your fears and achieve your goals.  Think of FEAR as an acronym for False Expectations Appearing Real.  We tend to blow our fears out of proportion and our minds take our fears to the worst extent. We become so wrapped up in what could happen that we become paralyzed to the extent of inactivity. 
    Ironically the anxiety we have over the fear (i.e. not finishing a race, fear of being laughed at by others at the health club or not losing those 10 pounds in six months) is actually worse than fear its self. How many times have you done something that you were afraid to do and ended up saying, “well, that wasn’t so bad.”
    Take time to think through and rationalize your fear. Try and understand what it is that you are actually afraid and identify a plan to overcome your fear. If you are afraid of attending an exercise class because you can’t keep up, attend a class as a spectator to see what the environment is like. 
    Face your fears, think through them, create a plan and tackle the. I think you will find your fears melting away and you can be proud you achieve another goal in beating your fear. 
    Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and Groups Exercise Instructor, exercise, health and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

    Tuesday, October 22, 2013

    Fuel for Performance and Endurance!

    An amazing thing to watch is a fighter jet being refueled in midflight. The fighter pilots ease their way to the tail of the fuel tanker and with the precision of threading a needle, one by one they guide their war machines to sync with the fuel nozzle and take on fuel, all while moving at several hundred miles an hour.  In order to keep flying, these machines not only need fuel, they need the right kind of fuel.  You as a runner are no different!

    Like jet fighters, you burn fuel as you run and when the fuel runs out, you have to stop.  There are two types of fuel our bodies utilize, glucose or sugar and fat.  We store about 2,000 calories of glucose and several thousand calories of fat. Even the leanest runners have several thousand calories of fat to be burned as fuel.

    Glucose is mostly utilized for high intensity workouts where fat can fuel longer, slower runs.  Have you ever gone out and run really hard and fast and ran out of energy sooner than you do on your long runs? That’s because you burned through your “sugar” stores and hit the wall. You burned all your matches so to speak and your body did not convert to fat for a fuel source.

    When you run longer and slower distances your body senses the activity and turns to fat for its fuel sources. Since everyone has ample calories from fat, burning fat is optimal for distance runners.  A steady, controlled pace is the key to ignite the fat stores.

    As you increase your distance and speed, your body becomes more efficient at burning fat at higher levels of output. According to, one of the most important determinants of success in distance running and endurance events is how efficiently your body can use fat as a fuel source as opposed to carbohydrates. The more readily you can burn fat while running at distance race pace, the longer your glycogen stores will last–providing crucial energy for that last 10K.

    Most research has shown that you can run about 2 hours at marathon intensity before you run out of glycogen. For mere humans, this is going to leave you far short of your goal. Midrace fueling is limited by how quickly your digestive system can deliver the glycogen to your bloodstream and, under the duress of distance racing; the stomach is not very efficient.

    It is critical that you find ways to optimize the amount of fat you burn while running at race. One of the most obvious places to look for these improvements is in the long run.  Some research has shown that individuals that exercised BEFORE eating breakfast (fasting state) had much higher levels of glycogen stores than those that ate before they exercised. In effect what you are doing is further depleting your glycogen stores so your body becomes more efficient at utilizing fat for fuel. A word of caution is in order. Long term training and running long distances on low glycogen stores will hamper performance and slow recovery. You want to utilize this practice judiciously to train your body to be more efficient.

    As a general rule if you run under 75 minutes you only need to drink water.  It’s when you run over 75 minutes you need to consider fueling options, in particular when you are competing in an event as you are likely pushing yourself harder than when you train. For me, I can run most training runs of 20+ miles only consuming water but it took me two years to reach this point. I run my short runs in a fasting state as I usually run at 4:30 in the morning.  For my long runs, I do eat before heading out but more on that in a minute.

    Conversely, when I am racing distances over a half marathon, I start to ingest quick-digesting carbs like PowerBar or Honey Stinger Gels and chews, sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade or soft energy bars like Honey Stinger Waffles or Clifbars every four miles. My new favorite is min Pay Day bars. Since I am a profuse sweater, I like the salt and the protein from the nuts along with the sweet.  The end goal is you want to be able to push yourself while ingesting enough carbohydrates to avoid the dreaded “Bonk”.  The “Bonk” is when your body runs out of carbs and you find it difficult to continue running.

    So how much fuel do you need when running? According to Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D. (in an article written by Sarah Bowen Shea for you should ingest 100 to 250 calories (or 25 to 60 grams of carbs) per hour, after the first hour of running. That's the equivalent of one to 2 1/2 sports gels or 16 to 40 ounces of sports drink per hour.

    A runner's exact calorie needs vary from person to person. As Clark puts it, "A Hummer needs more gas than a Mini Cooper." Smaller runners will need fewer calories than larger runners. How fit you are also plays a role in determining how many calories you need during long runs. The less fit you are, the more calories you need as you will burn them more quickly.  This means you will need more calories mid-run to keep your tank full and avoiding the “Bonk”. Running at a quick pace,  high intensity or in extreme heat or cold also uses glycogen at a faster rate just as a jet fighter going at Mach 4 burns more fuel than when its cruising at a lower speed.

    Here are some tips to consider when looking at fuel options when running over 75 minutes:
    • ·       Have a proper pre- run meal.  Look for light and easily to digest items that will easily be turned into sugar for fuel.  A few of my favorites include plain oatmeal, bananas, almond milk and homemade peanut butter on graham crackers.
    • ·       Have plenty of water to drink when consuming race fuel. Many gels are thick and sticky and not having water to could result in an unpleasant experience.
    • ·       Be sure experiment with your fuel of choice prior to a race or long run. Everyone reacts differently to foods, especially sweet foods during exercise. Better to find out what works and what doesn’t on a training run.
    • ·       Find out what liquid carbohydrates are used in your races and practice with them in training.
    • ·       Most carbohydrates fuels for exercising are VERY, VERY sweet.  For very hot races where you will perspire a lot, consider some salty foods as well.  This will cut the sweetness and the salt will also help prevent cramping.
    • ·       Many sports fuels are very sweet and if you are on a low sugar diet, you may want to look for alternate forms of fuel that still provide simple carbs like graham crackers or try and make your own recipes.                                                                                                                                                                                                        

    Here is to being fit for a lifetime!

    Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.