Thursday, July 31, 2014

How To Stay Hydrated During Long Workouts In The Heat

The heat and humidity of summertime in Wilmington is INTENSE!  For the record I'm not complaining at all b/c I'd much rather it be hot than cold, but it has raised some discussion recently among the athletes that I work with about how to stay hydrated on long workouts in these conditions. And after a few of these talks, I feel like this is a blog-worthy subject.

The heat and humidity of the hot summer months increase an athlete's likelihood of becoming dehydrated and can make training and racing feel much more difficult.  In high environmental temperatures (>80 degrees) heat cannot dissipate from the body as effectively, and in humid conditions (>50-60% humidity) sweat is not wicked away from the skin efficiently to provide the cooling sensation it is supposed to.  In these instances, not only are the body's self-cooling mechanisms impaired, but greater amounts of fluid are lost due to increased rates of sweating.  Dehydration can lead to decreases in speed, strength, stamina, mental capacity (including willpower) and overall performance, as well as increased perceived level of exertion and risk of injury.  Plus, large amounts of sodium losses via excessive sweating can contribute to muscle cramping.  In the worst case scenario, heat exhaustion or potentially fatal heat stroke could ensue.  Thus, it is EXTREMELY important to stay on top of your fluid intake in hot weather!
Here are some guidelines for you to follow and some tips for you to try.  Trust me, spending some time figuring out how to prevent yourself from becoming dehydrated is going to give you a huge one-up on the other guy you are competing against who hasn't given adequate attention to this important component of training/racing.

Before Exercise
*Adequately hydrate yourself 24 hours prior to exercise.  Duh.  For athletes who are training multiple times per day, you should think of yourself as being in a perpetual state of rehydration for the next workout.  

*Monitor the color of your urine.  Any former college athlete remembers the pee charts on the backs of the bathroom stalls that explain what your urine should look like!  For the non collegiate athletes out there I'll fill you in on what you missed - your urine should be pale yellow and without any strong odor.  Dark yellow/orange or foul-smelling urine is an indicator of dehydration!

*To ensure optimal hydration before a workout or race, drink 14-20 oz of fluids 3-4 hours prior to training.  This allows enough time to void any excess fluid before competition. 

*Plan to measure your sweat rate.  Why is this important?  Because of this graph (excellently hand-reproduced by myself):

This was a study where men walked on a treadmill at 3.5 mph at 2.5% grade for over 6 hours.  Each hour (x axis) they measured rectal core temperature (y axis).  The men depicted by the solid line (top line) did not drink any water, the men depicted by the solid line with circles (middle line) drank water as they were thirsty, and the men depicted by the dashed line (bottom line) drank water equivalent to their sweat output.  What this shows is that you cannot rely on thirst to adequately hydrate yourself.  At roughly 3.5 hours into the experiment the men who did not drink any water had a rectal temperature of 102, which is equivalent to the zone of impending exhaustion.  Those who drank water to thirst were a little better off, and didn't hit this point until 5.5 hours into the experiment.  However, the men drinking in accordance with their sweat rates, were able to completely stave of the zone of impending exhaustion!!!  Clearly the thirst mechanism will not lead you to drink enough to make up for your fluid losses!  What this means for you is that you should measure your sweat rate & here's how you do that:

1.  Weigh yourself without any clothes prior to exercise.
2.  Keep track of how much fluids you drink during exercise.
3.  Weigh yourself without any clothes after exercise.
4.  For each pound lost, add 16 oz fluid to your hydration plan. 

During Exercise
*Plan to drink 24-48 oz per hour.  Larger individuals and those who sweat a lot will be at the higher end of this range.  The best way to figure out where you fall within this range (or if you are above this general range) is to measure your sweat rate.  You sweat rate will be different in different environmental conditions and across different sports.

*Aim to consume 400-800 mg sodium per hour.  400 mg sodium per hour is generally a good amount of sodium to aim for.  For example, one PowerGel contains 200 mg sodium.  Therefore, if you are consuming 2 PowerGels per hour you will automatically reach the target of 400 mg sodium per hour.  However, if you are a salty sweater (i.e. someone who ends up with dried white salt all over their black biking shorts after a ride - and not because you peed on the bike), are exercising in extreme heat (>80 degrees and/or >80 percent humidity), or are sweating a lot, you should aim for up to 800 mg sodium per hour.  The best way to get this additional sodium is through sports drinks or salt tablets.  I have used LavaSalts before and had good success with those. 

*Keep in mind the signs and symptoms of dehydration:  dry mouth, chills/goose bumps, discomfort, dizziness, headache, accelerated heart rate, loss of appetite, impatience, and sleepiness.  Do not try to beat the heat.  If you start to notice these symptoms, slow down or stop and get some fluids because otherwise things will progressively get worse:

Here is what can happen when x% of body weight is lost as fluid:

1% - Thirst threshold & threshold for impaired exercise thermoregulation leading to decrement in physical work capacity.

2% - Stronger thirst, vague discomfort and sense of oppression, loss of appetite

3% - Dry mouth, increasing hemoconcentration (thicker blood), reduction in urinary output

4% - Decrement of 20-30% in physical work capacity

5% - Difficulty in concentrating, headache, impatience, sleepiness

6% - Severe impairment in exercise temperature regulation, increased respiratory rate leading to tingling and numbness of extremities

7% - Likely to collapse if combined with heat and exercise

After Exercise
*Weigh yourself and consume AT LEAST 16 oz of fluid for each pound lost in order to adequately rehydrate yourself.

*Reach for salty snacks like pretzels & V8 juice because the sodium will help improve fluid retention.

*If you find that you have gained weight, you drank too much

*Continue to monitor your urine and rehydrate for the next workout.  Failing to properly rehydrate will impair your next workout and prevent you from getting the most out of your double day.  

*Having a headache and feeling like crap later in the day is a sure sign of inadequate hydration!

Some Final Tips
*Never leave the house without fluids when running in the heat, no matter how short your run is.

*Do not plan your run around pre-planted water bottles - this will inevitably lead to dehydration.  Instead, carry bottles or a camel back with you and plan your run around places that you know you'll be able to re-fill, such as convenience stores, gas stations, hotels, water fountains, neighborhood pools/clubhouses, etc.

*Mentally prepare for and be ok with going at a slower pace.

*Seek out routes w/ shade.

*Do your workouts early morning or late evening to avoid the hottest hours of the days.

*Reduce body fat to decrease your natural thermal insulation.

*Carry a debit card with you so that you can purchase more fluids as needed.

*When all else fails, go old school --> find a garden hose and use it to refill your bottles!

Time for me to go run 10 miles ... guess I'll take my fuel belt (sigh). 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Should Women Cut Their Hair Short?

I have been wanting to cut my hair short (like really short) for a while now.  I've always thought it looks cool and figured it would be SO much easier to manage with swimming, biking, & running.  But, I have also always been afraid to do it.  Why was I afraid?  I mean, it's only hair.  It grows back, what's the big deal?  Why did it take me years to get to the point to actually do it?   Well, I guess these were my main concerns:

-I was worried I would look like a man
-I was worried it would look unprofessional
-I was worried people would think I switched my sexual orientation
-My family loves long hair.  Even talking about cutting my hair has always been met with negative feedback. (Except for Kurt - he's always been super supportive!)

Turns out my family are not the only ones who frown upon short hair.  I went online looking for ways to style my new short hair and found a ton of blogs/forums/websites dedicated to reasons why women shouldn't cut their hair (written mostly by men).  I was really surprised at how sensitive people are about this topic!  According to these writers, long hair is a sign of youth, femininity, & fertility and:

-Short hair is unattractive to men.  Period.
-Celebrities can't even pull it off so neither will you.
-If you cut your hair, you will stand out, but not in a good way.
-Having short hair amplifies your flaws.
-Short hair is a near guarantee that a girl will be more abrasive and more masculine.
-If you have short hair, there is something wrong with you.

Some guys are really stuck on this issue and there is no changing their minds.  One blogger said this:  When I date girls nowadays, I don't even try to reason with them on this. I just tell them, "Never cut your hair. Do not even think about it. It is the worst thing you could do to yourself."   Wow, he sounds like a real catch!

I even read an account of a woman who was dumped because her boyfriend told her he was no longer attracted to her after she cut her hair!  Are dead cells growing out of the top of our heads really that much of a deal-breaker???

Another thing I read that made me laugh was that supposedly women encourage other women to cut their hair short and say that it looks cute so that they can one up them in the looks department.  Really, we are that competitive with each other!?  Haha, that was probably one of the most ludicrous things I read.

Here are two amusing lists I found:

16 Reasons Why Women Cut Off All Their Hair

17 Things You Don't Say To A Woman With Short Hair

Anyhow, I've really been enjoying messing around w/ my short haircut.  Not only is it super practical for working out, but there are so many ways to style it!  I've learned that becoming friends with product is essential and that I shouldn't even try for a faux hawk when it's really humid outside.  I don't plan on keeping my hair short forever, but I'm glad that I finally did it and am going to rock it for the summer.  And lastly,  I feel like the only appropriate way to end this blog is with a bunch of selfies of some of my recent hairstyles!

The Posh Spice

Brushed Back

Beyonce's Pixie

My favorite, the Faux Hawk

Halle Berry Messy Style

Short hair is not sexy.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Mark Allen Approach

If you're looking for a great summer sports-related motivational inspirational read, try picking up Iron War.  I read this book a couple years ago and really enjoyed the intense tale of rivalry between super-human triathletes Dave Scott and Mark Allen.  The book chronicles their numerous battles at Kona, culminating with the legendary 1989 Ironman World Championship race in which *spoiler alert* Mark Allen finally beat Dave Scott for the first time.  In addition to being entertaining, this book also made me start thinking about the science behind the training.  It was the first time I'd ever encountered the "Mark Allen Approach."

Early in his career, Mark Allen had the same approach to training that most people do - the harder and faster you train in training, the faster you will become as a racer.  He has openly talked about how this approach led him to fatigue, burn out, and the inability to reach peak performance.  As he matured he started doing things differently which he believes allowed him to ultimately beat Dave Scott and become a 6-time Ironman World Champion.  What did he do?

At the start of every season, he spent a long (3-month) block solely focused on aerobic threshold training, meaning that he monitored his heart rate and kept it at or below aerobic threshold (AeT) for all training sessions.  Even if it meant he had to slow down or walk up a hill he did not exceed that number.  Week after week he would time himself in an 8K, keeping his heart rate at or below AeT.  In these time trials he would expect to see a consistent 5-6 second drop per mile per week.  The theory is that during this time, his body's aerobic capabilities were increasing such that he could spare carbohydrates, rely on fat as a fuel source, and run at a faster pace at the same given heart rate.  Year after year of this type of training allowed him to run at 5:30 pace with a heart rate of only 150 bpm!

So, why don't more athletes employ this type of training?  In this video, Mark Allen says that it's because "aerobic training isn't really sexy."  Because the intensity is so low you don't feel like you are really getting a great workout.  It can be kind of boring and difficult to run at a slower pace if you are used to burning it up for every workout.  And it takes patience to continue with this type of training for an entire 3-month block!

Granted, Mark Allen seriously ratcheted up the intensity of his training after the base period once his speed phase kicked in, but he believes that doing the aerobic base training allowed him to make greater gains from the speed block of training which lasted about 10-12 weeks.  After the speed block, he did a short recovery period before a very hard 8 week training push leading into Kona.  In addition, through the entire cycle he was putting in 30-40 hours per week of training.  I also forgot to mention that he did weight training twice per week in the base period.  Here is a link to an article on SlowTwitch with an except from The Lore of Running that goes into much greater detail on Mark Allen's training regimen and is certainly worth the read.

Anyhow, I find his approach interesting and I think scientifically it does make sense.  My previous coach had me do something very similar to this the year that I ended up qualifying for an elite license in triathlon.  I started my season with very high volume low intensity base training.  As the races got closer I started working on speed.  And then some of my hardest sessions, although short in duration, were at the beginning of a taper leading into a big race.  That approach worked for me.  However, I never religiously monitored my HR.  And I believe that too many people are going too hard when they should be going easy.  Then again, I was doing high volume (20-25 hours/week) and some people say that volume is the ultimate trump card...

So, at this point I'm training for the Savannah full marathon in November.  I obviously don't have time to do an entire base training period right now, but I have started training by heart rate, so I guess you could say it's going to be a little mini cycle of the Mark Allen Approach.  These are the reasons I'm using it:

1) I'm working on gradually building up my mileage and I want to prevent injury.  If you increase mileage too quickly, intensity too quickly, or both at the same time your risk of injury goes way up.  I'm hoping that keeping the bulk of my miles at low intensity will help me stay healthy.

2) Doing easy runs at AeT allows you to have enough energy in the tank to really crush the hard days, which is where you make your speed gains.  This method of training is also referred to as polarized training and I am a VERY strong believer in that model.  Here's a great video (long but worth it) on the subject.

3) I want to see if the Mark Allen Approach really works.  It may take an entire year to really test it out, but if I can get a decent result at Savannah, I just might do that :)

If you've ever tried the Mark Allen approach, please leave a comment and let me know how it worked for you!  And if you are a naysayer, I'd like to hear your thoughts as well!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Quinoa: The Mother Grain

Five years ago no one knew what the heck quinoa was.  These days I'm finding that quinoa (pronounced "KEEN-wah") is a common household grain.  If you don't have any quinoa in your pantry at the moment, then maybe this blog is your call to action to purchase some next time you hit the grocery store :)

Quinoa is an ancient grain that has been around since at least 3000 BC, originating in the Andes mountains of South America.  The Incas thrived on it and referred to it as "The Mother Grain" because it is so nutritious.  Quinoa contains more protein than any other grain, delivers all eight essential amino acids, is a good source of fiber, and contains calcium, B vitamins, vitamin E, and iron.

Nutrition Facts (1/4 cup dry)
160 calories
2.5 g fat
28 g carbohydrates
3 g fiber
6 g protein

Cooking quinoa is super easy and QUICK!  All you do is add water & quinoa to a saucepan (2 cups water per 1 cup quinoa).  Bring the mixture to a vigorous boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, until quinoa is tender but still chewy and white spiral-like threads appear around each grain.  This takes about 15 minutes total.

Quinoa is delicate in flavor, perhaps slightly nutty.  The texture is fluffy once cooked.  It may be used as part of a main dish, a side dish, in soups, salads, and even desserts or breakfast foods.  One of my favorite uses of quinoa is as the basis for a grain salad.  I'll cook quinoa and combine it with a variety of veggies, kind of like how you would make a cold pasta salad.  These quinoa salads are the perfect thing to pack for lunch because they deliver vegetables & whole grains and free you up from the boredom (and cancer-causing nitrites) of deli-meat sandwiches.  Plus, they are great for summer because they are light and refreshing!

Because quinoa is such a great food, it's the July Food of the Month at TOPS.  In addition, I'm inviting everyone to participate in a Quinoa Cook Off!  Whoever produces the best quinoa salad will win a FREE one-month unlimited membership to TOPS Athletics!  Here are the rules:

*Spend the month of July perfecting your quinoa salad recipe.  The only caveat is that it may not contain any animal products (come on, it should not surprise you that I'm looking for whole foods plant based recipes here people!)

*When you have perfected your recipe, send it to me at along with your name, your email address, your phone number, and the name of your recipe.  This will be your official entry into the contest.

*Cook a batch of your quinoa salad and bring it to the TOPS tent at TryThursday on August 7th (exact time TBA, but it will be around 5:30/6:30 pm).  [TrySports at Mayfaire in Wilmington, NC]

*All participants at TryThursday will be invited to sample the quinoa salads and cast a (blind) vote for their favorite.  The winner will be announced that evening and recipes will be available to all!

To provide you with extra inspiration, my friend Heidi Bucher, owner of Heidi's Healthy Kitchen, will be making a new quinoa salad every week in July.  She'll be bringing samples to TOPS every Tuesday for you to try!  And OMG I absolutely love her Healthy Honey Balsamic Red Quinoa Salad which is going to be the first sample, available TODAY!

Put your creativity in the kitchen to the test this month and use this as a good opportunity to introduce  quinoa to your family, friends, & coworkers who may still be living in the dark when it comes to incorporating this healthy superfood into their diets.