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Team Innovative Endurance

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Nutrition: Vitamins & Minerals

As an endurance athlete, you are probably concerned about taking extra vitamins and minerals for optimum health and performance. You might often find yourself questioning what vitamins and minerals are important, and when exactly are you suppose to take them. As an athlete, you look for foods that have the highest quality of nutrients in them, but advertising companies suggest that additional daily vitamin and mineral supplements are necessary for maximum training. So do you really need supplements if you are eating the right foods? There is hasn't been any research concluding that taking in "extra" amounts of vitamins and minerals will increase your performance, however, correcting vitamin and mineral deficiencies will improve your overall fitness. All vitamins and minerals are essential, but there are those that are most crucial to endurance athletes.         

  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is also a water-soluble vitamin, and highly important to endurance athletes. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and is valuable for the formation of scar and connective tissue. It is also important for releasing certain hormones and neurotransmitters that are used while exercising. Vitamin C is key in the formation of red blood cells, and iron absorption. Vitamin C is imperative for peak performance and a deficiency in Vitamin C can weaken your abilities. Vitamin C is found in easily attainable fruits and vegetables. An abundance of Vitamin C does not enhance your training ability. However, because intense training puts a lot of stress on your body, moderate quantities above the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is helpful to endurance athletes. RDA: 60mg

  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a fat-soluble and also important because of its function of an antioxidant. Vitamin E is popular among athletes because is protects muscle cells from harm, and repairs damaged cells. It also prevents the oxidation of unsaturated fats in cell membranes. Vitamin E deficiencies are uncommon, because it is stored in the body. You can also get Vitamin E from whole grain products, nuts, wheat germ and oils such as corn, sunflower, and soybean. RDA: 30 IU (International Units)

  • B Vitamins: There are eight B Vitamins: Thiamin (B-1), Riboflavin (B-2), Pyridoxine (B-6), Niacin, B-12 , Folacin (Folic Acid), Biotin, and Pantothenic Acid. The B-Vitamins are known as the "energy" vitamins. They process energy through carbohydrates and are important for a healthy nervous system. The B-Vitamins are water-soluble, and are not stored in your body in large quantities. They are easily excreted, however, too much may cause harm. If you eat the recommended allowances of beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, you should not have a B-Vitamin deficiency. However, vegetarians need to be aware, because B-12 and Riboflavin come mainly from animal products. If you consume milk and eggs you should meet the daily requirements. However, if you are a vegan you'll need to look for foods that have been fortified with the B-12 Vitamin or take a B-12 supplement. Vegans can consume enough Riboflavin from eating plant sources such as green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, avocados, soybeans, and enriched grain products. RDA: Thiamin (B-1): 1.5 mg; Riboflavin (B-2): 1.7 mg; Niacin: 20 mg; Pyridoxine (B-6): 2 mg; Folacin (Folic Acid): 0.4 mg; B-12: 2.4 mcg; Biotin: 30 mcg; Pantothenic Acid: 5 mg

  • Calcium: Calcium is always in demand, especially for endurance athletes. Calcium is essential for all types of muscle contraction; cardiac, muscle, and skeletal. It also is important in structural functions such as bone formation and the synthesis and breakdown of liver and muscle glycogen. Calcium plays a role in blood clotting, hormone secretion, and nerve impulse transmission. Calcium can be lost through sweat during vigorous bouts of exercise. Therefore, and adequate amount is suggested to maintain optimal performance. Vitamin D works in conjunction with Calcium as is aids in calcium absorption. Dairy products offer a significant source of calcium. If you are lactose intolerant look for lactose-free dairy products, or take lactase supplement enzymes. Vitamin D enriched foods are a little harder to come by. Look for milk, juices, and cereals that are fortified with Vitamin D. Fatty fish and egg yolks also contain amounts Vitamin D. As we all know natural sunlight can also provide Vitamin D. However, as we age, we are less able to convert sunlight to Vitamin D. Lucky for us, weight-bearing exercises such as running and weight training also increases calcium adsorption. There are factors to look out for that can decrease calcium absorption, such as too much caffeine, alcohol, excessive sodium and protein. RDA: Calcium: 1,000 mg; Vitamin D: 400IU

  • Iron: Iron is a major component of hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood, and myoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen in the muscles. Iron is also required for muscle enzymes involved in metabolism. A deficiency in iron can impair athletic performance. Low levels on iron can lead to anemia, which in turn, causes fatigue that can lead to poor exercise tolerance. Athletes, especially women, need to be aware iron deficiencies. Those who are at risk for deficiency are regular to heavy menstruating females, low body weight athletes, and long distance runners. Extra iron is unnecessary in non-deficient athletes. However, more iron may be useful when training intensity and duration is increased due to the altering of blood volume and muscle mass. Iron is found in lean meats and poultry, and plant foods such as beans, wheat germ, prunes, and spinach. Eating Vitamin C rich foods with high iron foods also increases iron absorption. RDA: 18 mg

  • Zinc: Zinc controls the activity of enzymes linked to energy metabolism in cells, and is involved in protein synthesis. Zinc also keeps your immune system healthy and helps the healing of wounds and injuries. Zinc has several important functions related to athletic performance, and exercise has been shown to increase zinc loss. However, you should use caution with zinc supplements, because of its side effects, which include the lowering of HDL levels, the "good" cholesterol. Sources rich in zinc include red meat, oysters, turkey, lentils, wheat germ, and lima beans. Zinc is better absorbed through animal foods than plant foods. RDA: 15 mg

As serious endurance athletes, chances are you making the right food choices, rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. However, we do care about our bodies and do not want to be lacking in any aspect of proper nutrition. Many of you probably take a multivitamin-mineral supplement. Although food is the best source of vitamins and minerals, multivitamin-mineral supplements may be just what you need to give your health that extra boost, especially during intense training. There are some athletes who may need to take specific supplements for vitamin or mineral deficiencies that food, or a multivitamin mineral supplement cannot correct. Those individuals are athletes who are vegans or vegetarians, at risk or osteoporosis, have food allergies, on a restricted calorie diet, or are pregnant. A multivitamin mineral supplement providing the recommended daily allowance should be safe. However, use caution when taking specific supplements due to the dangers or overdosing. If you think you are deficient in a certain vitamin or mineral, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements for the recommended dosage.

Nutrition: Fluids

Fluid is a crucial component of endurance training. As little as one percent of fluid loss can be detrimental to your performance. Between 50-60 percent of our total body mass is made up of water, and 70-75 percent of our muscles comprise of water. Fluids, specifically water, is the main component of blood. Blood transports nutrients and oxygen to our cells. Muscle glycogen also holds a large amount of water, and the water helps remove lactic acid from exercising muscles. Fluids act as shock absorbers in the joints and around the brain and spinal cord, lubricate the digestive tract. 

At rest, urine excretion represents the greatest amount of fluid loss, however, during exercise our greatest loss is through sweating. Fluids also aid in the temperature regulation of our bodies. As our body temperature heats up during exercise, we sweat to cool our bodies. The warmer our bodies get, the more we sweat. The more we sweat, the more fluid we lose. Sweating during training can result in a fluid loss, especially for an endurance athlete. Exercising in warm or humid weather, dry climate, or at altitude can increase fluid loss. Anywhere from 16-48 ounces of sweat an hour can be lost during training. Blood volume decreases while sweating, placing greater demands on your cardiovascular system. This reduces your ability to use oxygen. When fluid loss is not replaced, your body temperature increases and exercise becomes harder.

It is essential that your drink a minimum of 8-10 cups of fluid for normal functioning. During each hour of exercising you should be drinking at least 16 ounces. To ensure adequate hydration during exercise, drink 24 ounces of fluid two hours before exercise, and 8-16 ounces 30 minutes before exercise. About half of your fluid intake should be water, but you can also hydrate yourself by drinking non-caffeinated beverages. You can drink caffeine in moderate amounts, but you need to be careful that you don't overdo it. Caffeine acts as a diuretic, increasing urine excretion, which can lead to dehydration. Excess caffeine can also interrupt your sleep patterns. 

As you can see, fluids are a key element during your training. Unfortunately, being thirsty is not a good indicator of how much fluid your body requires. Some early signs of dehydration are tiredness, headaches, dark colored urine, and increased heart rate. Fluid intake should be monitored throughout the day, not just during training, for endurance athletes. Not meeting your fluid needs can greatly damage your performance. During your training, experiment with different amounts and kinds of fluid. Pay attention to what makes you feel "good" during your workout. This will tell you what and when you need to drink during race day.

Nutrition: Gels, Part 1

Many of you may have read a syndicated article that studied endurance athletes' preferences of different "energy gels". The article* discussed several brands but limited the "test" to only a few and focused on their results solely on taste or flavor.

Endurance athletes realize flavor is an important issue in picking a supplement, but more primary than taste are ingredients. Interestingly, not even the highest-rated gel scored very high on. This demonstrates that while taste is important, both the energy gel manufacturers and athletes realize the purpose of the gel is the most important issue. To the point, very few of these gels actually taste "good", but they do a good job. 

Endurance athletes have long taken supplements to ease the burden of eating directly after a workout or while competing. Energy gels, consisting of a disposable pouch filled with a sugar combination first appeared in the late 1980s and caught on big by the early '90s. In the early years the gels were strictly a simple sugar such as glucose or fructose. These sugars are great for a quick pick-me-up and last about 20 minutes. 

The problem, however, with simple sugar-based gels is threefold: 1) They can cause gastric distress; 2) they cause a spike in insulin; 3) and, once you consume one, you need to keep them coming so you don't bonk (exhaust yourself) even harder. 

In the last 3-4 years, energy gel manufacturers have started producing gels with more complex sugars like maltodextrin (made from natural corn starch) or even modified complex sugars like galactin (a gummy carbohydrate that yields several sugars upon decomposition). These sugars are less refined and cause a slower release of insulin, avoiding a spike in blood sugar levels and keeping your blood sugar stable.

In summary, the newspaper article neglected to answer the most important questions about gels: Why purchase certain brands and what is in them? Next time, we will investigate the ingredients in different types of gels and discuss how to choose a product that works for you. Using this information, you can narrow your search for a product and find a flavor to suit your taste buds, too.

*The Seattle Times, Nov. 8, 2004, "Marathoners: Going for the goo?"

Running: Video Resources

Cycling: End of Year Bike Maintenance

It's that time of year when falling temperatures and short days give us the opportunity to prepare our bike for next season. Oftentimes we just leave it in the garage and keep saying we'll get it done, but by the first ride in May it's clear we never got to it, with rusty chains and loud brakes.

Here are a few preventive measures to keep your bike in better condition and ready for next season. 

  • Wash the whole bike down with soap and water. 
  • Use degreaser to get to those very dirty areas like derailleurs and brakes.
  • Remove the wheels and clean the tires and rims as well as the cassette with degreaser.
  • Use an emory cloth or sand paper to lightly clean the brake pads and rims.
  • Check all bottom bracket and headset to evaluate bearings. If they're bad, this is best remedied by a bicycle shop.
  • Check brakes and gears for smoothness.
  • Lastly, change your chain to make sure you don't wear out your cassette.

These pointers should not only lengthen the life of your bike but should help you save money on maintenance in the long run and make your first ride of the new year much more enjoyable.

Cycling: Long Cource Pacing on the Bike

When going into the longer bike portions of half and full Ironman's it is imperative to do 3 things. Have:

  • A good race nutrition, which I discuss in my article titled Long Course Nutrition
  • A pacing strategy that you have practiced
  • An effective way to implement your pacing

Today I will discuss both how to pace and how to implement your pacing plan. Likely you have had a major taper leading into this race and workouts leading up to it were probably pretty hard due to a build of fatigue. As a result of the taper you will probably feel extremely strong on the bike in the early portion of the event. If you are using a power meter, you would see that wattages that used to be very labored are now fairly easy. This early portion of the bike is not the time to drill the pace, rather it is important to stay at the PE (perceived exertion) or HR (heart rate) that you originally planned for yourself. Many athletes destroy what would be a great race with a early on that they feel better than they thought and so now its time to up the pace. WRONG! Stay at your pace and enjoy the steady, easy speed you are getting. In this early part of the race you are only drinking water to let your stomach settle from floating around. For the same reason, you want to stay calm and allow the blood to get redistributed in your arms and legs. If you immediately ride hard you are prematurely moving blood and spiking your heart rate. So for about 20 min (in a half Ironman) or 30 minutes (in a full Ironman) just stay steady, calm and hydrate. After that time you must asses your legs, hydration, weather and goals. At this point dial in your HR, watts, or PE. But you must have some way of effectively measuring your workload, other wise it is just to easy for the day to get away from you. I find that ego overrides PE on race day and makes it highly ineffective. I prefer watts if you can get a light wheel but most likely heart rate will be your method. Again, what feels easy now, will likely not feel easy in 2 or 4 hrs so stay patient and focus on your nutrition plan.

As the race progresses you will start to see that for the same speed you heart is slightly elevated, this is cardiac drift and is still your body giving you a chance to adjust the pace. At this point your faced with either slowing down a bit to stay in range or cut loose and make new goals- don't do the latter- stick with the plan! Later, your body might not be so nice in its request to slow down! If during the ride you feel great - then eat. It is hard to eat during endurance events and rather than speed up while you feel good, I always say - eat! As you approach the last 20 - 30 min of the ride it is important to do 2 things, one is to spin the legs out a bit and relax the muscles to prep you for the high cadence of running, secondly is to go back to water and a few electrolytes to prep your stomach for the run. You should have been eating all day and at this point you don't want to be digesting food. You wouldn't eat at home and then immediately go out the door and run, so be mindful on race day.

All of these things should be practiced leading up the race so that they are second nature. Just remember to set a goal, make a plan to get that goal, set a pacing strategy to meet the goal and then practice it regularly. This will lead to success. Making adjustments to these things on race day is very dangerous!