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 Competitor.com, 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 Runnersworld.com) 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. 

Peanut Butter Power

By May Vokaty

When I was a kid we had a painting on our kitchen wall that said,

“Please try our famous peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

Suffice it to say, my brother and I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly growing up. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not complaining. To this day the taste of peanut butter around noon is enough to turn my day from terrible to terrific.

I’m constantly amazed; now that I’m an adult (sort of) that people think peanut butter is unhealthy.                     

“Stay away from peanut butter! It’s fattening! It causes heart disease!”  Is a familiar tune? “I limit peanut butter to once a week because it’s so calorie dense.”

Let’s just stop the nonsense. Unlike artificial sources of protein like protein powders and unlike processed proteins like protein bars, peanut butter is one of the best and most natural sports foods available.  It’s also one of the most inexpensive.

Peanut butter is satiating and tastes mighty good. You’ll never win the war on hunger; you’ve got to feed yourself. You might as well choose high quality calories that leave you feeling satisfied for hours. Peanut butter fits the bill nicely.

Peanut butter contains fiber and is a reasonable source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. While peanut butter alone is a poor choice for carbohydrates needed for muscle fuel, thankfully it pairs nicely with a banana or toast or even crackers.

What’s not to love about peanut butter? Well, the preservatives and excess sugar found in manufactured peanut butter. Or the weird layer of oil that lies atop most “natural” peanut butters. And if you prefer almond butter, you’d better be ready to shell out some bucks.

Could my favorite childhood lunch be made at home with fewer processed ingredients and less sugar? Could I perfect nut butter that is delicious, nutritious and reasonably priced? As it turns out, it can be done.

Roasted peanuts, salt and a little confectioners sugar worked with a food processer produce a winner winner peanut butter dinner!

To start, make sure your food processer has a decent motor.  Turning peanuts into peanut butter takes a little time.

The Ninja Blender  is perfect to make your own peanut butter

Use 1 pound of green peanuts, sometimes labeled as blanched.  You want peanuts that haven’t been roasted. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the raw peanuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. You will want to experiment with levels of roastiness to find your favorite. I prefer a dark roasted peanut butter with a pinch of cayenne pepper. You may prefer a lighter roast with some cocoa powder.

When the peanut have been cooked and cooled to room temperature, place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add  1 teaspoon of salt. Process on high for 5 minutes; yes, you read that right. Sit back and relax; let the machine do the work. After a few minutes you may begin to doubt that the peanut butter crumbs will ever turn into smooth creamy butter, but be patient. Eventually the processors blade begins to draw out the oil in the nuts and you’ll feel better. Continue processing until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Now, for the add-ins. Stir in 1 cup (or even less if you prefer) of powdered sugar and 1/3 cup of cocoa powder. Process for 3 more minutes and you have chocolate peanut butter.

Add ½ to 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper and no sugar for Cajun peanut butter. There are no words to describe this wonderful potion.

Almond butter is another variation. Choose blanched almonds with the skin removed.  Roast at 350°F for 10 minutes, or until light brown; process in the food processor just like the peanut butter.  1 teaspoon of cinnamon is delightful in almond butter.

A word of caution, make sure the roasted nuts are at least room temperature before processing. And don’t try to sweeten the nut butter with honey, stick with powdered sugar. For some reason, honey makes the nut butter stiff and unspreadable.

With a little planning you can produce peanut butter that is fresher, tastier and all around better than store bought peanut butter. Be sure to look for videos to explain the process in more detail.