Disclaimer: this was “only” 50k so it does qualify barely for an ultrarunning event as it is longer than a marathon. BUT it is also a very hilly course and had over 6000 ft of total ascension. It was absolutely beautiful with ocean views, forest runs and brutal descents. Here is a course overview.
It really took me a long time to write this post I know. I do not think that my story is particularly interesting or even worth sharing as an average middle age-grouper but sometimes I like to go a little bit more personal and share with the world my bigger accomplishments
I just remembered to write this post, when the other day I was watching a lecture on Nutrition for UltraRunning. As traditionally recommended*, the lecturer was suggesting 6-10g/kg day and during the race 90g/hr. She claims that your gut can get used to it and that will give you the best performances. She obviously has not heard of Zach Bitter, Tim Olsen, Nikki Kimball or myself (LOL!). Here is how I did it. (more…)
Hydration is a hot and sweaty topic right now and I’ve talked about it in previous blogs, mostly to say that you should drink to thirst. But should you really in all cases? And what about electrolytes? Here is a lowdown about the debate of the moment: to drink or not to drink, to salt or not to salt? That is the question. (more…)
This post was first published in the Run Experience in a slightly different version.
*Metabolic Efficiency is too long so let’s call it ME. Metabolic=metabolism and efficiency, well we know what it means. But the two together? How can your metabolism be efficient.
So here we go:
What is exactly Metabolic Efficiency?
First thing first, the Metabolic Efficiency concept was developed originally by Bob Sebohar, the renown Sport Dietitian. (Check out his website for the full story).
It is the capability of burning fat instead of carbs for the same intensity. You can train your body’s metabolism to use more fat at higher intensity exercise so that it results in glycogen sparing and be more efficient. Glycogen is the sugar reserve that you have in your body and is in limited quantity. Does it make more sense now?
How do you achieve that?
Training: The more trained you are, the most able you are to burn fat. In fact there was a recent study that showed just that. They took 9 pro athlete and 9 recreational athlete and compared for the same RPE their performance. They actually consumed the same amount of carbohydrates, the same amount of lactate was produced but guess what the pro athletes were much faster because they burned 3 times as much fat as their counterpart, so more energy generated from fats for same RPE. So they were faster for same RPE.
Gender: Women are usually better at burning fat. Yes, for once we have an advantage. Maybe it has something to do with us carrying babies and having to rely more on our reserve to grow life when food is restricted.
Exercise mode: You burn more fat running than cycling because running is much more a whole body exercise, you recruit more muscle but at a lower intensity for each one. While cycling put a high demand on your legs muscle primarily. That is why you can get away with eating less during running compared to bicycling even when you burn much more energy.
Fasting: When you are fasting your body burns more fat because of lower insulin in your body. Insulin is known to shut down fat metabolism towards carb metabolism.
Age: As we get older we are better at burning fat. Yes really. Maybe that is why older athletes often shine in ultra endurance events.
Day to day nutrition: And that is the big one. Do you boat load carbohydrates on a daily basis or do you fuel mostly on fat? If you fuel mostly on fat your body will adapt and burn more fat. Even if on race day you decide to carb load because you want to go long and fast (and carbohydrates are necessary to do that), this effect won’t just reverse, you will still burn more fat and be able to spare glycogen. This has tremendous consequences on health and performance.
How can you measure your metabolic efficiency?
You can go to lab and get hooked on a metabolic cart. It is a machine that measures the oxygen that you breathe and the carbon dioxide that you exhale. Using an algorithm, it can tell you how much fat and carbohydrate you are burning while on a treadmill or a cycle ergometer.
From there you can derive your caloric needs during training and racing at different paces. As you increase intensity, you will start burning more and more carbohydrates.
Here are two examples on the treadmill with two different athletes. Important to note that both of them report similar RPE for similar speed:
This athlete has a crossover point between 9 and 8.5 min/mile, meaning that they start burning more carbohydrates passed the 8.75 min/mile mark.
In this second example, this athlete has no crossover and is still burning more fat at 7.5 min/mile. Interestingly, this athlete burn mostly fat at rest. Do you think that she needs to eat carbohydrate when working at her desk?
Two totally different pictures. Let’s do a little math and take the 8min/mile mark.
Assuming 300 glycogen reserve, that is 3.5 hours of fuel.
34% from carbs
208 kcal/hour or 52 g/hour of carbs
Approximately 30% comes from plasma glucose
36 g/carbs per hour
Assuming 300 glycogen reserve, that is 8.3 hours of fuel.
OK, I know, this might be an oversimplification. One caveat of this calculation is that as duration increases your body will naturally start burning more fat. Also we have reserves of fat stored in our muscles, the more fat burning you have the more you store. These reserve also can get depleted which leaves you with your bodily reserves which, as you know are pretty unlimited even for the leanest athlete. How easily are those reserves accessed though? It can be more challenging.
Overall this is just to show you the advantage for endurance events. There are other advantages such as health, minimizing bonking, minimizing GI distress and also less acidosis because less lactate produced.
Does it work for everyone?
Most people report feeling great when they train their body to burn more fat: less sugar craving, less bonking, less eating during training and less GI distress. Does it work for everyone? Everyone is different and you might reach a point where lowering carbohydrates too much is too low (unless ketosis is what you are looking for). Listen to your body! And remember that you still need some carbohydrates for long endurance event or even short and fast races, so timing is key! Consult with a good sports dietitian or nutritionist to know what works for you.
PS INprove.ME : the IN stands for Isabelle Nadeau and the ME for Metabolic Efficiency. You can always inprove.me. Get it? Get it?
Today I’m feeling sore. I was fine yesterday, exercised and then I woke up this morning feeling old and grumpy. Dumb DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
So what is DOMS? There are many theories but nobody knows for sure how it happens. It’s biology so it is probably a mix of things. Among the popular explanations are : connective tissue damage, muscle damage, accumulation of calcium inside the muscle and in between fibers and inflammation. It mostly happens doing eccentric exercises. Basically anytime you lower a weight in a controlled fashion or when running downhill in a races.
What can be done?
In theory DOMS is a minor injury, so RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) should apply here. Rest: It will go away in a couple of days. However you can still exercise and the pain will disappear temporarily but come back shortly after. Ice: The idea is to reduce inflammation and it has definitely mixed results in the literature. It could also blunt the training adaptation, more on this below. I don’t know about you but ice is torture to me. Compression and Elevation: From what I’ve seen it has some potential, and I’ve tried it myself. I love the 2XU pants and I’ll wear them at work sometimes under everything. It removes some of the pain and makes my legs feel lighter.
Nothing works for me better than a hot bath with magnesium salts. And from the literature, it looks like two days before an event would also benefit recovery after. Last but not least: massage. Ouch! My husband always think that I’m having a leisurely relaxing one hour massage. Let me tell you the truth. It hurts like hell and is even more painful than the training. I usually do not like to get a massage when I have DOMS, same reason as ice bath, why create more pain? But after a couple of days, it is always a good idea to remove the remaining knots in your muscle.
What about nutrition?
A lot can be done there too. The key answer: proteins and carbohydrates together. That is how the Got Chocolate Milk campaign was born. It is a bit of a big FAT scam or I should say a big SUGAR scam since most of these studies supporting milk chocolate for recovery were founded by the milk industry…
They are not wrong but try this option with less sugar: blend together milk, whey or plant protein (half a scoop to 1 scoop), a banana and some cocoa powder (of good quality)! Tip: You can add whey or plant protein to your milk to make it higher in protein content, about half a scoop!)
Milk has the advantage of having the electrolytes compared to the whey. None of the sugar and same effect. Plus the chocolate powder might have some good recovery properties because it contains quercetin a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
But beware, more on this below.
After a hard session, papers report that in general 0.8g/kg of carbs + 0.4g/kg of whey protein works magic or 2:1 ratio carbs to protein to replenish your glycogen stores and keep protein synthesis up and running. That is between 20 and 35g of protein depending on your weight.
Above that amount there is probably no significant impact.
Ideally you’ll want to have this in a meal with real food within 2 hours of your session, but if you can’t, try a protein bar as a snack. (ProBar or Quest as examples) but there are many on the market.
Protein and carbs together work synergistically, as both will increase insulin and promote cellular uptake of nutrients for repair. Instead of whey you can use casein before bed time as it will release more slowly overnight.
Anti-oxidants of course: Vitamin C, E and NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) are among the most popular anti-oxidants out there. They scavenge free radical (ROS) and help you recover faster. However research is showing that ROS are actually needed for signaling training adaptation. You could totally blunt that response by using too much of them. So use if needed only when no training adaptation is required perhaps during a taper, recovery or the week after a race.
Anti-inflammatory compound are also very useful. Of course, there is the popular over the counter anti-inflammatory Ibuprofen, part of the NSAID category. If I can not sleep, I will go for it since sleep is one of the most proven way to recover.
But do not abuse.
It has a negative effect on muscle growth and therefore could undermine all your efforts a little bit like too much anti-oxidants. Plus it can give you gastrointestinal issues and other nasty side effects.
A more natural compound would be curcumin or turmeric. It has a similar mechanism of action than NSAID but does not cause thinning of the stomach lining. A recent study has shown that ingesting 2.5g of curmumin twice a day a couple of days before and after the exercise bout could be beneficial. But could it impair training adaptation? I don’t think this has been studied yet but since it acts similarly as NSAID I would not be surprised if it did.
Finally, tart cherry juice has also been studied a lot and here is a good paper. Like many fruit and vegetables, tart cherries contains a lot of anti-oxidants and flavonoids which have anti-inflammatory properties. Using around a marathon would not be a bad idea but during training could potentially inhibits training adaptation. We don’t know yet. Be careful with this one though. Tart cherry juice consumed in the quantities that are suggested contains a lot of xylitol a sugar alcohol that can ferment and give you the runs so definitely test beforehand.
Have you heard of HMB? It is a derivative of leucine, one of the most potent amino acid in terms of muscle growth. It has been reported that HMB (Beta-Hydroxy-MethylButyrate free salt) can help alleviate symptoms of DOMS but results are still mitigated. HMB is however safe and worth trying if you know that you will have multiple hard work-outs during the week. It works at reducing protein degradation. A dose of 3 g before exercising would be recommended in that instance.
Then in the same line of thought, amino acids and BCAA, which stands for branched chained amino acid (leucine is one of them) have also shown to reduce DOMS in some instance. Doses vary from 5 to 12g, once or twice per day, 7-10 days before. But since most proteins (in particular whey and casein) contains those, you probably have your grounds covered already.
And then you have Citrulline-malate which at 8g could alleviate DOMS and also L-carnitine, which has to be loaded with 3g/day for 3 weeks for an effect on reducing muscle damage. The good thing about that one is that it also can increase fat metabolism and make you a better fat burner at the same time. Who does not like that?
Beware though, a lot of these studies use muscle damage as a marker which is most likely correlated with muscle soreness but not always and is individual. So see if it works for you.
No Pain No Gain?
Unfortunately, it might be a little bit true.. So my advice go slow and build up, and try some of the strategies listed here. Be aware that some of them could impair training adaptations, so time them carefully.
Hi! This is a long post and I apologize. If you are only interested in the nutrition you can skip my jabbering and go directly to the relevant paragraphs. That is fine with me!
When I started triathlon 10 years ago, I never wanted, never thought I would do an Ironman. Its too crazy, too much, too hard, not good for your health. So then why did I decide to do one? Just that: it’s been 10 years and I had to try one, no choice. Plus my kids were getting bigger and I had quit my job, so no more excuses. Because let’s not underestimate this Ironman, it is a lot of training!
In order to be successful I hired a coach, JD. It was so valuable I cannot say the least. He really kept me healthy during the whole process. The training was hard for sure. I had to remember to eat well (of course) and sleep a lot (more challenging).
The bicycling part was the most difficult for me as it takes the longest. So far in my life, I had done lots of 60-70 miles bike rides and also lots of bicycling tours but never above the 80 miles mark in one day. I had a lot of work to do, or so I thought. But JD had me do only four rides that were 80, 90, 100 and 90 miles. That’s it.
The running came in a little bit more easily because I’ve always been a runner first. However the longest run I did was only 19 miles with lots of hills which would prove to be much more difficult than the flattish marathon at the end of the IM.
Swimming felt fine, as I had done over the distance several times.
Even with all that, I was not feeling too confident that I would be successful because how can you run a marathon after 112 miles of cycling and 3800 yards of swimming? However I trusted my coach as he said I was ready so I tried not to worry too much.
The Ironman was up in Whistler and we decided to drive there in 2 days. I actually thought that driving was a great idea especially if you have someone driving for you. What better than doing nothing for 8 hours with feet elevated on the dashboard. I had been feeling pretty tired but after that drive up and minimal training apart for the treadmill in the hotel gym, I was starting to feel back in the groove of things.
As soon as we got there we went for a swim to Alta lake, where it was going to start. The lake was beautiful and the temperature was perfect (70F). I had brought a sleeveless wetsuit just in case but I did not think I would need it at that point because the weather forecast said it was going to rain. The swim in the lake was great and freshwater is always so nice to swim in, except for the leeches…My husband told me that the swimmer that had gotten out just before me had one stuck to his leg. Nice. And then my son tells me: Mom you have a leech on your ankle! I jumped and looked down, it was only a leaf. Gosh. What can you do if you have a leech stuck to you during the race? That’s enough to drain your blood by the end of it.. I did try not to think about it, anyway it’s always better than being bitten by a shark.
The next day I went for a short bike ride. By then my legs were really feeling fresh! What a difference as I had been training on tired legs a lot. The road were also wide and well paved. I was finally getting excited.
On the Saturday I did a quick swim and run and started preparing all my transition, special needs bags and nutrition needs. Wow, it’s like planning a wedding. I had a list of all the things to do, where to put them. Then I had to go drop my bicycle at the lake via the shuttles with all my bags except for the nutrition. I was getting a little nervous then. Fortunately I saw my friend Erika in the shuttle bus so that gave me a break from my thinking brain. I spent the rest of the afternoon prepping nutrition and relaxing. We went out for a good dinner. I did not stuff myself, had chicken veggies and potatoes, very safe. Oh and some dessert too that we shared amongst everybody. And a non-alcoholic beer, because I like the taste.
I had set my alarm at 4:00AM, was planning to get on the first bus at 5AM ish. The start was at 7AM but I preferred that since I did not know what to expect. Of course I was awake by 3:00 and could not sleep anymore. Been there, done that so I know that one night of bad sleep would not impact me that much. I got up and made a super strong Bulletproof coffee. I don’t drink coffee regularly so when I drink one, it’s party time. Just that was making my day already (see earlier post). For those of you who don’t know what a bulletproof coffee is, it is coffee with butter and MCT oil (medium chain triglyceride), it is a type of fat that gets readily absorbed and metabolized pretty quickly, and in your brain too. It is derived from coconut oil. With that on board I started to get ready, I also prepared my pre-race smoothie which I would start drinking an hour before the race start. It contained some almond milk, cliff organic food pouch: banana, mango and coconut, some peanut butter, 2 scoops of plain UCAN superstarch and a little whey protein and that is about it! Nothing to weighty.
One of the thing I felt ready for was the swim. But I forgot about the MASS START. The coach told me don’t go in the middle and of course this is where I was. I thought I was in the front, but no. I could see Erika, she was right there at the front, she is a fast swimmer and I thought I should be fine where I was. NOT. It was terrible. I could not swim freely for the whole first lap and I had to constantly find holes and ways to not get kicked. It is only after the first lap that I started feeling that I had more space. But even though just to be safe I stayed pretty far from the buoy. As a result my total distance was 4600 yard and normally it is 3800 yards. Rookie mistake number 1! I don’t know how accurate these Garmins are. My watch said that my pace was 1:34, which would have been a little fast. But overall it took me 1:12, I was a bit bummed but the swim is such a small portion that I did not let it get to me too much.
By the time I was out of the water, it was raining hard! I went to get my bag and then remembered about the wet suit strippers. Where were they? Found them got that taken care of and went in the changing tent. That is one nice thing I must say about Ironman, is the changing tent with all the volunteers that help you get dressed. I had decided to change completely and since it was raining I was hesitating on what to wear: wind breaker or no windbreaker: no windbreaker because I was feeling warm (bad decision). Fortunately I stashed it in my pocket just in case. 12 minutes transition! mmm, need to work on that one. Rookie mistake # 2
It was raining hard on the bike. I thought, it is going to be a long day of wetness, first moment of darkness but swooshed that thought away. I was hoping that the forecast was going to clear a little bit later like the weather forecast was saying. On the first 10 miles, I got cold very quickly and was shivering. I hope I don’t get hypothermia, I thought. Pedal faster to warm-up, I said to myself. And so I did, but it did not work that well. Remember that wind breaker? That is when I stopped and put it on. Even though I was all wet under, it still warmed me up. I could see the pros coming back from the first turn around on the other side and some of them were actually quitting already because of the bad weather…Well that does not look good. However I managed to warm up. The only thing is that my wind breaker is not really aerodynamic and was acting more like a parachute. Not good. Rookie mistake # 3.
When I got to the special needs I was happy to have dry socks there. I finally removed my windbreaker because the temperature was raising and it was no longer raining. Then the boring part started: dead flat for 30 miles. Ugh. That was hard for me. I don’t have a TimeTrial bike and my position is not optimal and it was not comfortable. Which made me thought that after this I need to get a real Time Trial bike or quit triathlon because this sucks. That was my dark moment number 2 but I managed to pushed it away and focused in the moment. That meant thinking that I had to go pee badly and was not going to pee on the bike. Really people? Who does that? Mind you I was already wet. The sad part is that at every aid station there was a long line at the porta-potty. Fortunately I eventually found one which was at the other side of the road and was free!
Then I saw Claire and Erika coming back on the other side and that motivated me to keep the pace. Finally we got to the hills. Yeah! You must think I’m crazy but I was so happy to get out of aero position just sit really straight and push up and up. I was feeling really good at that point, knowing that the bike was going to end soon and that after an uphill, there is a downhill. My legs were getting tired but not too bad. Seven hours and I was done, better than anticipated with those hills!
At least I got the nutrition right!
I got my first dose of UCAN approximately 1:45 hours into the race. I had in it some MCT oil (2tsp) and BCAA (3g) to complement and I would have that every 1:45 or so. I also was eating quarters of BonkBreakers every half hours if no UCAN and alternating with some peanut butter and honey. I really felt good with even energy.
I was really happy to finish the bike and get into the run. Was trying not to think that I had to run a marathon until Claire reminded me as we were finishing the bike together (thanks Claire, shut up Claire, you are still my friend though!)
Again, I got in the changing tent for a complete wardrobe turnover! Applied bunch of anti-chaffing everywhere and was ready to go. The volunteer was so encouraging and she told me she was going to be at the finish to tell everybody it was my first one. How nice!
I started running with Claire and saw my family on the side cheering me on. So nice to see them. In my head I did the calculation: 20 aid stations divided by 4 equals 5. I can still do math! OK, let’s focus on the first 5 ones, first one quarter. I would run like that pretty much the whole time: run to #1 as fast as you can, walk, have a sip, eat maybe and then repeat and start over for the next 4. That got me busy. Walking at each aid station also breaks it up and helped avoiding cramping and injury and really it does not change your time that much if you walk for 10 seconds. My pace was pretty even for the whole race but did slow down a little bit as time went on. Oh and no I did not see any bears. 4:26 marathon, pretty far from an open one but I’ll take it!
About 30 minutes in I had a dose of UCAN again, with some EAA in it that is it. I also sipped on a Peanut Butter GU gel for an hour . No too much fat not to upset my stomach and anyway I did not feel hungry at all at that point and had good energy. Of course my legs were tired but I guess it is normal. I was only drinking water to thirst at aid station and having salt pills for what it is worth, research is not clear on this one yet! At the special needs I was feeling really thirsty fortunately I had put a Perrier can in my bag and gulped half of it which totally quenched my thirst. I don’t know what it is, but the combination of bubbles and slight sodium is just wonderful. At that point I was suppose to take another dose of UCAN but instead I opted to start coking it up. I never drink Coke but this is when I do it because there is always a place for sugar and caffeine! I also started having broth as it was getting cold when it started pouring again.
Hurray, the finish line! I was getting so pumped up and started picking up the pace, I still had it in me. But the villain course designer had us do a zig and a zag in the village before heading to the finish. When is that going to end? Nevertheless, I was so happy and smiling at everyone. I saw my family at the end and high fived everybody at the finish line. This is as close as I’m going to feel like a super star, red carpet and all but definitely not looking too glamorous.
3x27g UCAN orange flavor: 330 kcal, 81g of carbs
1×1.5 scoop plain UCAN: 135 kcal, 33g of carbs
4 tsp BCAA, 2.5 g/tsp
6 tsp MCT oil: 200 kcal
4 Tsp peanut butter: 400 kcal, 28g of carbs
8 tsp honey: 160 kcal, 40 g carbs
1.75 Bonk Breakers: 473 kcal, 58g of carbs
1 GU gel: 90 kcal, 22g of carbs.
app 0.75 can, not too sure about that one: 120 kcal, 30g of carbs
also some salt pills and caffeine pills.
Total: 1908 kcal, 145 kcal/hour and 292g/carbs and 22 g/hour. This is actually pretty good for me and even on the high side as at those pace I am more of a fat burner but since it was my first IM and I did not experience any GI issues at all, why not?
According to my Training Peak files and Metabolic Efficiency data, this is what I burned during the race: 287g of carbs during the bike, 150 g of carbs during the run and let’s say 30g during the swim. 467 g total. Bout 70% comes from glycogen reserve or the equivalent of 300 g. That is pretty close to what I would have stored in my legs. Of course, this is just an approximation and it is important to remember as the duration increases your body start burning more fat, so I probably burned less than that. I still have a lot of work to do if I want to go faster. But what counts at the end is that:
I am an IronWOman!
I really want to thank everybody who supported me. My husband, my children, my coach(es) and all my friends. I was really touched and surprised by all the support I got on in the form of messages and phone calls. Thank you!
This post first appeared on the Run Experience in a slighter shorter, modified version. Have fun trying new things!
If you are like me, one of the first thing I do before a race is check out where the porta potties are along the course. Just in case. Or if you are like my friend, you are packing on the Imodium before also just in case. Most often I do not have to deal with such issues but the idea of eating food as your stomach shuts down. Here are some ideas on how to tweak your diet before, during and after races so to minimize GI issues and be healthier.
Before the Race
Instead of a big bowl of pasta the night before a race try a couple of sweet potatoes.
Carbohydrate loading before races as long been the practice of endurance athlete. For 2-3 days before the race we were told to eat boat loads of pasta, bread and the likes. This practice can bring its own problems such as bloating, water retention and even GI issues during the race. It has been shown that this practice is not necessary. Especially if the week before an event you are taking it easier and eat a healthy diet. The day before an event you can increase your carbohydrate ingestion a tad bit. Some suggestions would be to include the day before a bowl of rice, sweet potatoes or just plain potatoes. If these don’t fancy you try something sweeter like a bowl of ice cream but don’t overdo it.
Instead of a big bowl of oatmeal 3 hours before a race sip on a smoothie 90 minutes before.
Why would you want to lose precious sleep and get up 3-4 hours before the start of a race to ingest an enormous amount of oatmeal? I remember doing that before my first marathon, If you have done things correctly, you glycogen tank should be full from the day before. If you are getting up early anyway because you need to travel, have a light snack, such as a banana or a sport bar. Now to tank up your system before the start, sip on your own smoothie made with the following ingredient, mix and match as you like. The smoothie will keep you hydrated and empty from your stomach pretty rapidly. Start sipping on it 90 to 75 minutes before your race.
Mix and match smoothie:
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup frozen fruit you like (blueberries, mangoes, banana)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or a third of a scoop protein powder
1/4 cup uncooked old-fashioned oats or you can also substitute with a slow release carbohydrate powder such as UCAN or Carbopro
1 tablespoon chia seeds or even a nut butter of your choice.With 30-40g carbohydrate and 10g protein, you are good to go.
During the Race:
Instead of Gatorade try a drink with electrolytes only.
Gatorade is very popular among athlete and the reason is clear, it has the right amount of electrolytes and carbohydrates to keep you going. Nowadays the recommendation is to drink to thirst during racing or training so that you don’t overdrink as hyponatremia could ensue. The problem with using Gatorade is that anytime you drink you also ingest carbohydrates which could lead to GI issue. A better practice is to separate your electrolyte fluids from your cabohydrate consumption (see next paragraph for recommendations. Use an electrolyte powder in your water such as Nuun or Base Salt or bring electrolyte pills with you if you plan to drink water instead at aid station. (Salt Stick). Salt intake is very individual and for shorter races we probably do not need to take any, however it is not a bad practice to prevent hyponatremia.
Instead of gels try nibbling on real food.
Gels are a quick fix to maintain your blood sugar level during a race. But it can also bring you on the sugar roller coaster. You feel good for 15 minutes than sugar levels go down and you reach for the next gel resulting in gel overdose. You know that feeling in your stomach that too much stickiness is in there. Another alternative would be to nibble on real food every 15 to 30 minutes instead whether it is a sport bar, your own nibble or a food pouch such as these from clif bar or munkpack. Make sure that you don’t ingest more than 10g of carbohydrate at a time to get your blood sugar in control. Look at the label to give you an idea of how much you should eat at a time. If that seems to complicated, you can also use a slow release starch as mentioned above and sip on a dose every 60 to 90 minutes. Again for races shorter than 75 minutes you won’t need to take anything in really.
After the Race:
Instead of chocolate milk try your own recovery drink.
Chocolate milk has a good reputation these days thanks to marketing wizards and studies that the milk industry sponsored that shows that milk is excellent for recovery. And it is, it has a good amount of proteins, carbohydrates, electrolytes and antioxidants from the chocolate. However most of the carbohydrate comes from the sugar added. Try your own recovery drink instead, similar to the pre-race smoothie just add some extra protein by using milk instead of almond milk or add up to 1 cup of greek yogurt or up to one scoop of your favorite protein powder. Drink within 2 hours of completing your event earlier if you are doing back to back hard effort (crazy you).
Instead of a beer try a non-alcoholic beer:
There has been a lot of press about beer as a recovery food. It is definitely not bad at all because it contains carbohydrate, electrolytes and vitamins. However, it is the alcohol that hurts and can blunt adaptation signals in your muscles. Also too much alcohol could act as a diuretic and impairs re-hydration. Try a non-alcoholic beer instead and add a bratwurst with it for some protein. I know it is not the same thing but now you know…
Instead of fast-food burgers try fast-food burgers.
No this is not a typo. Recently there was a study that looked at the effect of fast food on recovery. The reality is that if you analyze a fast food burger on a macronutrient level (fat, carbs, protein) it is not bad at all. However at the micronutrient (vitamins, mineerals, antioxidants) level it might not be the best and it would not be advised to do this everyday but if you are traveling and that is what is available, go for it!
One last note, it is never recommended to try something new during a race so practice before during training and see how your stomach feels with those recommendations.
In part 1, I discussed on how a low-carbohydrate diet seems to be healthier. But remember that there are no real definition of what is a low carbohydrate diet. For me, based on the research paper that I’ve read, RDA levels and our paleo ancestors, I would put the threshold below 35% or for a 2000 kcal diet, that is about 175g of carbs per day. To be honest I’m not even there and my diet usually fluctuates between 80g and 160g. The majority of my carbohydrate intake comes from fruits (2 servings per day) and dairy, while potatoes and rice and whole grains, I eat more rarely, mostly when my training is either high intensity or longer. Oh, and I forgot to mention wine and dark chocolate…Am I suppose to tell you that?
But what about performance? We all know that carbs are necessary to perform well, especially at high intensity. Carbohydrates in the form of glycogen is our reserve for when the lion attacks and we need to run fast! So when we are out of glycogen and our blood sugar drops, we fatigue. Carbohydrate are so wonderful that when we swish a carbohydrate solution in our mouth, it has been shown to improve performance, even for 1 hour events when carbohydrates are not really needed. On the other end, other studies have also shown that training with low glycogen or carbohydrates on board activates mitochondrial gene expression, which in turns will improve training adaptation.
Recommendations for performance
Currently the recommendations for optimal performance stands at 8-10g/kg daily of carbohydrates. If you do the math, taking me as an example, that would be 560g or 2240 kcal of carbs. Basically on a day where I exercise for 1.5 hour at moderate intensity that is my whole calorie intake for the day! Ten bagels, here you go. OK, I’m being a little bit facetious but if you look deeper into the litterature, these recommendations are for athletes who actually spend a lot more energy per day such as Tour de France cyclist or someone who exercises 5+ hours per day. I would probably fall in the 6 g/kg/day or 350g carbohydrate per day with my 1.5 hour of exercise. That is still a lot and I consume less as mentioned earlier. These recommendations stems from research that is not wrong in essence but we need to look at how it is done. First of all these studies are done with athletes that use carbs as their main fuel, they are not adapted to a lower carb, higher fat diet and if they are, it is not for a long time. Even if you adapt for 5-6 days you don’t get the full benefits of athletes who have been going at it for a long time, as you will see below. So basically what the researchers do is that they take an athlete, have them exercise for however long and then measure glycogen after the exercise bout. Then they look at how much carbohydrates are needed to reestablished normal levels. The thing is if you don’t use as much glycogen because your metabolism oxidizes a lot of fat instead of carbs then you’ll need less to reestablish current levels. Does that make sense? In essence they are not wrong, you will need that amount of carbs if you are a high carb burner, but if you burn more fat probably not.
Actually the research is starting to take off in the low carb high fat department. Let’s look at the preliminary results of the FASTER study. They looked at two different elite athlete cohorts participating in ultra-marathons. One was on a high carb diet (60%) and the other one was at 10-12% in carbohydrate. If you look at the difference in fat oxidation between the two cohorts, it is huge! The HFD oxidized 50% more fat than the high carb. How long did it take them to get there? You have to have mitochondrial adaptation, higher intramuscular triglyceride (fat) storage, changes that do not happen overnight even if your fat oxidation per se can increase very quickly because of a change in your diet.
Now let’s look at what are the requirements during races. It is on average 1g/min of carbohydrate or 40-60g/hour. It is not reported per kg because the limiting factor is our gut, above that level carbs do not get absorbed very well. However, you can train your gut to absorb more carbohydrates to a certain extent. This is definitely too high for me and on average during triathlon and other events I’ll have about 20g/hour of carbohydrate with some proteins and fats for longer events.
And then for recovery the suggestion is 0.8 to 1.2 g/kg with some proteins, the sooner the better, within 30 min. to 2 hours. Again this seems a lot to me for a 90 minute session of exercise. But as sessions get longer and harder this is not a bad place to be if you can add at least the same amount of protein in there.
And how am I doing?
And now that I’ve shared with you how I use carbohydrates compared to the requirements, how is my performance in all of this?
Since using this strategy, my times have been improving. Last year I had a 20 minute PR at the half-Ironman race and another PR at an Olympic triathlon. I just felt great the whole time in both races, very even energy. I also don’t bonk during long training rides anymore and do not feel nauseated on the run. And I don’t need to eat as much! It is not that I perform necessarily better, I don’t think I would score better on a TT on the bike or a 10K, but for longer events I can perform to my optimum the whole time, that is what makes the difference. Here is a breakdown of my calorie intake.
For the Half-Ironman:
On the bike every 30 minutes: 1/4 of Bonk Breaker protein
at 1.5 hours on bike: 2 scoops of UCAN*, sipped for 20 minutes
at 2 hours on bike: 1 shot of espresso, 80 mg caffeine
at the beginning of run: 2 scoops of UCAN
1 hour into run: 1 shot of espresso with caffeine (See my blog on caffeine!)
*If you are not familiar with UCAN, it is this slow release corn starch that enables to maintain steady blood sugar.
Total calories: 630=114 kcal/hr
Total carbs: 121g carbs=22g/hour
For my last Olympic, I just had a packet of UCAN for the whole time, and that is it simple: 132 kcal, and 13g/carb per hour. Of course in all those strategies I make sure that my reserves of glycogen are full by having appropriate meals the day before and a breakfast or snack before the race. Again I’ll use UCAN in a shake with 5g protein and some fats an hour before the race starts. In comparison I used to have 30g/hour of maltodextrin and other sugars and would totally bonk on the run. Maybe if I could have ingested more carbs I would have done better but I just could not stomach it.
So what is the difference between now and then is that I am now more metabolically efficient! Of course I did not go at it by myself and got the help of Dina at eNRG Performance. In my next blog, I will talk about testings you can do to know how metabolically efficient you are.
I’m on my way to Ironman soon, and my training is definitely ramping up. While Bonkbreakers with protein have been one of my favorite staples as it is available during Ironman races, I am just getting tired of them. So I’ve been looking around for some homemade alternatives. A while ago, I found this book called the Feed Zone Portables, it contains recipes for excellent hand size snacks that you can put in your pocket for the long ride or run. Even though they taste good, I find that these portables are in general too big and too dense in carbohydrates. I really don’t want to spike my blood sugar because I don’t want to blunt fat burning during long outings. Also most of them need to be wrapped and that provides a challenge during the ride as I’m not very good at letting go of my handlebars… So what would be a small portable yummy snack that has just the right amount of carbohydrates, protein and fats? I came up with the Trail Sushi.
Here is the recipe for one whole roll (8 servings):
First cook the rice in a rice cooker or as directed on the package. Cooking 1/4 cup of rice is not always optimal so you might want to cook more in one time for making multiple rolls. Once cooked, wait until it cools down a bit and then spread it on your nori sheet like this. It is OK if it does not cover everything.
Mix 2 tbsp of coconut milk with the almond butter, honey and whey protein in a small bowl.
Mix the other 2 tbsp of coconut milk with the gelatin in a bowl and heat it up in the microwave until it gets hot, not necessarily boiling. That should take less than 30 sec. depending on your microwave. Once heated, stir the mixture until the gelatin is dissolved.
Mix the gelatin mixture with the almond butter mixture quickly to make a paste. Then you want to spread this mixture over half the rice in a layer, but don’t wait too long as it tends to thicken as it cools down. Now you are ready to roll your sushi. Once the roll is done, put it in the fridge for an hour before cutting it into 8 pieces. Always cut starting in the middle, it is easier. There you go!
For each piece of an 8 servings roll, you have 72 kcal with 7g of carbohydrate, mostly high glycemic rice starch with a bit of fructose to maximize carbohydrate absorption, 3 g of protein comprising lots of good amino acids to stave off fatigue and prevent muscle breakdown and 4 g of good fats as an excellent energy source when the ride/run is looong. Also you have the benefit of the nori sheet which contains iodine, good for thyroid function and the gelatin which keeps your joints healthy!
Two years ago, I went to the doctor to get the results from a blood test called the HbA1c. It is a test that measures the amount of sugar on your hemoglobin (on your red blood cells) and apparently correlates very well to your average blood sugar over the past 3 months. Then, just out of the blue the doctor tells me: you are pre-diabetic. It seemed surreal. Me? I exercise a lot, healthy eating, no weight to lose (maybe a couple of pounds, but there will always be a couple of pounds). My HbA1C, was at 5.9, pre-diabetes starts at 5.7 and diabetics at 6.4.
First of all diabetes means that your blood sugar levels are higher than average. There are two types. Type 1 is when your pancreas does not produce enough insulin due to genetic defect or other causes. Insulin is a hormone which acts on cells to absorb glucose, in particular muscle cells and liver cells where glucose is synthesized into glycogen (a long sugar chain, similar to starch) or fat cells where it is converted to you guessed it: fat. Insulin has also multiple other roles, which I won’t cover in here. Is insulin really bad for you? Not really, it is not the insulin the problem, it is the overload of sugar. High sugar, the body secretes insulin, cells absorb, absorb and sometimes a bit too much which results in hypoglycemia. Now you are feeling weird, hungry, dizzy and well, reach for another snack which increases your blood sugar again. Welcome to the sugar roller coaster. If you are pre-diabetic or Type II diabetic, this roller coaster is like the Matterhorn. Your insulin does not control very well the process, just like a poorly tuned thermostat which never reaches a set-point but goes way up in temperature and way down before it kicks in again. Some people might be better at regulating this whole process depending on your genes and lifestyle.
Here is a graph that I found at Suppversity. It helps explain where we, humans are coming from compared to where we are at now. It shows the average percentage of carbohydrates in the diet (minimum and maximum) compared to the latitude our paleolithic ancestors were living at.
As you can see some of our ancestors living in the North did not have any carbohydrates during the cold months of the year. While people living in warmer climate had up to 34% of carbohydrates in good times. What is the RDA recommendation these days: 45-65%! And some of us eat up to up to 70% of their diet in carbs. That is a lot compared to what we were technically supposed to handle. No wonder our thermostat is out of whack. Of course if you are very active, you can probably handle more without significant effect, but when I say very active, I mean it. Our ancestors where already pretty active so if you think that you move more than a hunter gatherer, well go ahead.
So what should we do? Low-carb, Ketosis diet, Paleo diet or a mix of these? These are the new cool diets out there. You don’t know what these are? To tell you the truth, I would ask different specialists, I would get different answers but bottom line, the idea behind these is to get closer to what our body is able to handle without negative effect on our health. I would define low-carb diet as having less than 35% of your calories from carbohydrates. From a 2000 calorie diet that is less than 175 g or the equivalent of 5 apples. The ketosis diet is when you go below 50g, at that point your body starts making ketone bodies for your brain because of the lack of sugar, but don’t worry it is not dangerous and can be actually beneficial. The paleo diet uses only ingredients that could be found from hunting and gathering. This diet can be higher in carbs but because of the restrictive carb choices, it tends to be around 35% too. There is a super interesting article in the National Geographic on paleolithic diets. It turns out that eating paleo is not just about eating more meat. In fact our ancestors did not have access to meat half of the time. I think this is important to point out as some people take the paleolithic diet to extreme and eat too much meat. Although as you will see below, meat and saturated fat in meats are not as evil as we thought. However, other sources of protein should be considered such as in fish, seafood and plant protein and present a much sustainable way of living for the future generation. So what else did our paleo ancestors eat? They had to rely on plants, tubers and nuts found in nature. And yes, these are carbs, but they are non-processed and it turns out that carbs’ density (g of carb/g of total food) is actually low. So on some days they might have eaten a lot of carbs, other days mostly meat and the rest of the time mostly fat depending on availability, but when you run the number you get what you see in the graph above.
Are these new diets here to stay. I would say YES! More and more studies are pointing towards the benefit of a low-carb diet. Even the New York Time lately had an article on low carb diets. The article starts like this: People who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fat, lose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diet that health authorities have favored for decades. This study actually confirms the result of other studies. This meta-analysis, meaning that it summarized and analyzed the results of multiple studies on low-carb diets, concludes that diets that are lower than <35% carbohydrate, keeping the caloric content the same to higher carb group, had participant lose more weight and increased lean body mass (that also throws away the theory of one calorie is a calorie but that is the subject of another blog).
Mind you these all point out to the health benefit of a low-carb diet but what about performance? That is a different ball game…My next blog will definitely address this conundrum. I will share with you more about my experience with going low-carb. Am I still pre-diabetics??? How does that affect training and racing? You’ll see…