Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Importance of Macronutrients for the Endurance Athlete

What they are:

Generally, nutrients are components found in food that are needed for metabolism, growth and many other bodily functions within an organism. Specifically, macronutrients are nutrients that we need for survival as they provide energy via calories.  "Macro" means large and excessive. So, as compared to micronutrients (which we'll cover in our next Race Rx post), macronutrients will provide an organism the bulk of energy it's metabolic system needs to function. Both macro and micronutrients can be obtained from the environment.

Why you need them:

There are three types of macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. As we mentioned in our last blog post on super foods, some nutrients are considered "essential" because they are unable to be synthesized within the body and, therefore, need to be acquired from outside sources, i.e., the environment. As humans, we are dependent on all three types of macronutrients to survive. Carbohydrates are used as a main source of fuel, proteins are needed for growth and tissue repair (and as a fuel in some instances), and fats are needed to keep cells membranes functioning properly and to help us absorb important vitamins - just to name a few applications.

How to get them: 

Especially when trying to shed weight, many athletes get caught in counting calories. While this may seem logical, all calories are not created equal. Even if you've cut the empty calories out of your diet, it's important to keep track of your macro (and micro) nutrients to avoid deficiencies. Of course, we know that the number of calories we take in depends on athletic goals. The same applies to getting macronutrients. Generally speaking, for the endurance athlete, the following formula (based on percentage of calories) can ensure you are getting the correct amounts of macronutrients: carbohydrates - approximately 60%, protein - approximately 25% and fats - approximately 35%.

In next week's Race Rx blog post, we'll cover micronutrients. Thanks for following!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Problem with using OTC Painkillers for Endurance Athletes

Should you be popping over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) before a race?

In our last Race Rx blog post on Super Foods for the Endurance Athlete, we talked about one of our favorite super foods, bromelain. Bromelain is a natural protease enzyme that helps to digest unnecessary protein structures such as inflamed and scar tissue. According to research, bromelain may also cause the body to produce substances that fight pain and swelling, therefore, preventing excessive muscle damage.

As endurance athletes at Race Rx, we are very familiar with the cycle of dropping over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen preventatively before a long run, high-intensity workout or time trial bike workout. We hear you - the pain after these workouts is not for the faint at heart! At the same time, when we began formulating our endurance fuel, we found  the research regarding the side-effects of using NSAIDs is almost as ugly as the pain we were trying to prevent! Here's how potentially dangerous some of these NSAIDs can be:

- Rhabdomyolysis - A potentially fatal precursor to kidney failure. It's no secret that hydration is of utmost importance when participating in endurance events. Unfortunately, dehydration occurs often, especially in races. If we are already taxing the kidneys through dehydration, we are also (potentially) experiencing overexertion. If we've dropped a dozen orange pills, we've got a recipe for disaster that can end in a trip to the ER due to Rhabdomyolysis.

- Avoid long-term use - If you are experiencing soft-tissue injuries, use of NSAIDs can impair the healing process.

- Acetaminophen and liver failure - When you mix NSAID, acetaminophen with alcohol, this drug is toxic to the liver. Add to that, it is also found in other commonly consumed OTCs, making it one of the top causes of acute liver failure due to overdosing.

- Ibuprofen does not decrease pain - In a 2005 study, Dr. David Nieman found that pain and muscle soreness increased with ibuprofen use; inflammation actually increased for those who used the NSAID as compared to the control group who didn't use any type of intervention. The bottom line: there is no reason to use ibuprofen before, during or after a race.

- NSAIDs increase blood pressure - And, so does exercise! Essentially, you're giving yourself a double-whammy in the blood pressure department. If you have a pre-existing high blood pressure condition, you are ripe for a stroke or heart attack during a race when combining NSAIDs and exercise.

- NSAIDs block cyclooxygenase (COX) - COX is an enzyme that protects the heart. NSAIDs block this process, which might be, yet, another cause for concern over a heart attack while taking NSAIDs and partaking in endurance sports. Additionally, certain types of COX act as a protectant against stomach acids. If COX is being blocked by NSAIDs, nausea, cramping, diarrhea and intestinal bleeding may occur.

- Risk for hyponatremia increases - The risk for hyponatremia may increase with the use of NSAIDs. This is a very serious condition that begs for more exposure. For more information, please see our blog post, Hyponatremia: The Curse of The Endurance Athlete?

With all the risks, it makes sense to keep interventions as natural as possible. Thank you for following along with the Race Rx blog posts!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

7 Super Foods for the Endurance Athlete Part II

We continue with our Race Rx blog post on Super Foods for the Endurance Athlete. To read part I, please use this link.

4. Curcumin:

Curcumin is a phenol and the active ingredient found in turmeric (it is also found in smaller amounts in ginger). Because of it's high anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin is known to prevent cancer, atherosclerosis and many degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. From an athletic perspective, it decreases inflammation and joint pain and helps to speed recovery time. Clinical trials have shown it takes up to 8 months of consistent use to see effects. Another aspect to note: bioavailability of curcumin is low. Thankfully, you can increase the bioavailability (by up to 200%) by taking it along with black pepper. Many of the companies who sell turmeric in capsule form are on to this - so you can now purchase these two ingredients together in one single capsule.

5. Leafy Greens:

Leafy greens just may be the superhero of vegetables - they really pack a punch! Loaded with vitamins and minerals, they are critical for good health and muscle growth. In fact, many nutritionists advise ditching the dairy products in exchange for greens to get your calcium needs. Indeed, a growing number of athletes are going vegan or vegetarian and seeing performance gains. Six-time Ironman champ, Dave Scott is one of many endurance athletes loving it. But, you don't have to change your diet to get the benefits, just add as many dark and leafy greens as you can. At Race Rx, we enjoy putting greens in soups or putting them in a Vitamix blender in the morning before a workout. Get an extra boost by eating leafy greens with fat - especially omega 3's!

6. Berries: 

As many of us already know, berries are rich in carbohydrates and antioxidants, including vitamin C. Not only do they prevent oxidative stress, but they also improve mental health, reduce inflammation and assist in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels - due to a low glycemic index. Research has also shown that anthocyanins - the pigments found in berries that give it's dark hue - may be responsible for improving recovery rates in athletes.

7. Fermented Foods: 

As opposed to many cultures and ethnicities, the western diet has veered far away from fermented foods, namely due it's preoccupation with germs and bacteria. For thousands of years, however, many different cuisines have been using fermented foods not only nutritionally, but also medicinally. Fermented foods help digest the foods we eat with the help of the production of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. This means that we gain more macro and micro nutrients from our foods. The most well-known of fermented foods is pickles. But, fermented foods run the gamut from keffir, cultured vegetables to yogurt. Most of these foods are found in the refrigerated section of your grocery store - they are worth checking out!

We'd love to hear how using one or more of these foods has affected your training and race performance. Thanks for following along with the Race Rx blog!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

7 Super Foods for the Endurance Athlete Part I

When we began developing our endurance fuel, Race Rx, keeping modified and synthetic items off the ingredient list was non-negotiable. After our fuel source, HDA starch was patented, we began looking for other, natural ingredients that would assist athletes in performance. That's when we decided to include Bromelain. Although we have a blog post all about this enzyme found in pineapple, we thought it would be fun to explore other and natural foods that improve health, decrease disease and may improve endurance performance.

1. Bromelain:

We'll start with this enzyme found in pineapple because it's at the top of our list at Race Rx. You can eat pineapple all day, but it's unlikely you'll reap the full inflammatory benefits of Bromelain. Although Bromelain is found in all parts of the plant, the largest quantities are found in the stem. The extracted version, specifically, is the best way to ingest this magical ingredient. Bromelain is a natural protease enzyme that helps to digest inflamed and scar tissue. It might also assist the body in producing substances that fight pain and swelling, preventing muscle damage from exercise. Researchers are also finding that Bromelain significantly enhances muscle performance.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: 

Omega 3's are polyunsaturated fatty acids. Also included in this polyunsaturated group are Omega 6's and Omega 9's. Mammals are unable to produce these acids, but they are essential for humans in the diet. In fact, Omega 3's are critical for the nervous and cardiovascular systems, as well as reducing inflammation, improving immunity and brain function. One of the best ways to get the (minimum) recommended 500 milligrams is to eat seafood. Walnuts and flaxseed oil are two other great sources.

3. Gingerol: 

Gingerol is the main bioactive compound found in ginger. Gingerol is a true "Superfood" containing many amazing attributes including: acting as an anti-inflammatory, infection-fighter, improving brain function, lowering blood sugars and assisting with GI stress and nausea. The best way to get the benefits of gingerol is to eat the fresh (root) version of ginger. You can make a tea with it or put it in salads. But, our favorite way to eat it is as an ingredient in curry dishes.

Next week, we'll talk about 4 other super foods for endurance athletes in part II of this Race Rx blog!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

High Intensity, High Volume Training for the Endurance Athlete

What it is:

High intensity, high volume training workouts consist of short bouts of difficult athletic training. These workouts are also called "functional overreaching." According to research, high intensity training results in quick adaptations, and therefore, sizable gains in performance over a relatively short period of time. High intensity training combined with high volume training, may result in maximized athletic gains - this means increasing mileage up to 50 percent!

The Benefits:

Why on earth would anyone engage in a workout nicknamed the "killer week?" When done correctly (especially including proper recovery), an endurance athlete can hone in on an identified focus area, increase VO2 and race times, gain confidence, and the best for last - increase performance gains in a small amount of time.

How to do it: 

First things first: you'll need a good training foundation to start with. If you've got that, choose a week that you can really ramp up your training, followed by an additional week of recovery. As an example, if you complete two quality workouts every week, you can increase that amount to three or four. To allow the body to fully integrate the physical and physiological changes, you'll need to schedule these session eight weeks a part from one another.

Alternatively, some endurance athletes have taken the "block periodization" concept fashioned by bodybuilders to boost VO2 max and race times. Here, you would separate the volume and intensity elements of training. This might look like doing 3 quality/hight-intensity workouts one week and six low-intensity workouts the following week. In these workouts, intensity is increased by a modest amount every four weeks.

As we've mentioned in previous Race Rx posts, the recovery period is where gains are reaped. The importance of including the week for recovery cannot be overstated! You'll need to schedule time in for extra hours of sleep, a sports massage or plenty of rolling and decrease mileage and intensity of workouts by about 30 percent. "Functional overreaching" is not to be confused with overtraining syndrome - the latter of which can occur due to lack of rest and recovery.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

8 Easy Ways to Shed Weight for Racing Season Part II

We continue with our 2-part Race Rx blog segment on shedding weight for race season. To read the first part, please use this link. 

5. Choose a Diet You Can Sustain:

As you know, there are many different diets to choose from. Simply based on our biology, there is not one diet that fits the myriad body types and nuances of each of us. It's likely you'll need to play with a diet for a while to determine whether or not it increases performance and is sustainable. As we mentioned in our last Race Rx blog post on the Ketogenic Diet, it's advisable to get a full physical before starting a diet that introduces extremes in diet and lifestyle. Also, depending on our constitution, some of us may need to gradually work into a diet, as opposed to going cold turkey. Detox symptoms are a real phenomenon! Research the diet in advance to get familiar with the ins and outs of it. If you have a busy life to begin with, a highly complicated diet system may just add another layer of stress, which takes away from performance.

6. Be Careful of Empty Calories:

As we look to cut calories to get down to our ideal race weight, most of us are well-aware that soda is a source of empty (and many) calories. Not only that, but it also packs a high sugar punch as well. And, while juice might appear to be a nice alternative, it is really another high-sugar food in disguise. Juices tend to hold not only a high calorie count, but also many grams of sugar - some close to the amount in a soda. When we drink juice, it bears little resemblance to the fruit it came from - it lacks the pulp, fiber, etc., that assist with the digestion process and in reducing an insulin spike. Even making the change to whole foods (see below) can have hidden pitfalls. Eating nuts, for example, may be healthy in small doses, but boy do they carry the calories when eating more than a few ounces a day.

7. Choose Whole Foods:

No matter the diet or plan you choose to follow, eating whole foods is always the best route to make you feel and perform your best. When we eat foods as nature intended them (as opposed to coming from a box), we will get the most micro and macronutrients into our body. This is key when we want utmost health and performance. Furthermore, it is worth your while to research which foods are in-season in your geographical area. Foods that are grown in our "own backyard" will have many more nutrients than those that have traveled hundreds or thousands of miles. When we get the nutrients our body needs, we feel satisfied, focused and alert. Thankfully, the most popular and recent diet plans have in-season, whole foods incorporated into their plans.

8. Stay Focused on What is Important:

Entering into the world of endurance sports and especially triathlon, is truly a journey. After you finish your first race, you'll never be the same person again. Being outdoors, connecting with nature and other athletes is indescribable. Crossing the finish line (non matter the time) is a feat to be reckoned with. This is what is important. When we start being critical of ourselves - including our diet - we begin to lose sight of why we started this journey in the first place. For most of us, taking a step back and remembering our initial goal is enough to get back on track. Have fun, enjoy yourself and all else will fall into place - including your diet!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

8 Easy Ways to Shed Weight for Race Season Part 1

1. Keep A Food Journal: 

The benefits of keeping a food journal point to the obvious: it allows you to identify the source of "empty" calories, you can track your micro and macronutrients, and it allows you to keep an eye on portions of food. Another benefit of this practice: if you keep a detailed food journal, you may begin to track emotional eating as well - a well-known culprit that gets in the way of weight loss.

2. Identify Culprits of Weight Gain:

After you've done the work of keeping a food journal, you've likely identified the culprit of weight gains. For many, it's emotional eating. For others, it's turning to sugary or fried foods when tiredness and fatigue sets in. Or maybe, it's just bad habits such as eating late at night, which not only leads to weight gain, but it's also is hard on the digestive system and can cause GI issues. All this information is very important as you begin your weight loss and training journey.

3. Plan Ahead:

When you've identified your own personal culprits of weight gain, you can then begin a plan to avoid the common pitfalls. If it's late night eating, maybe try reading a book, watching TV, taking a shower or sipping caffeine-free tea. If you fall prey to eating unhealthy foods when you're busy, plan ahead by creating a weekly meal plan and finding fast-food restaurants that serve healthy options. Thankfully, there are many fast-food restaurants who are offering more extensive and healthy menus. There are also many pre-made meal service companies who cater to those who are busy but seek nutritious food.

4. Ease Into It:

Yes, race season is right around the corner and if you've taken the off-season literally or you're just starting out in endurance sports, you may have an inclination to go to extremes with your diet to get in shape. Going to extremes, however, can spell failure and put the body into a bit of shock. Drastically reducing calories and increasing miles too quickly is not sustainable. Ease into it not only with the diet, but also with your training; going to extremes can take the fun right out of the entire process. Remember why you were attracted to endurance sports in the first place. For most of us, it has to a lot to do with enjoyment of the sport and good health. If these two items are falling to the bottom of the list in importance, it's time to ease up a bit.

Thanks for reading our Race Rx blog posts! Click here to continue on to part 2 of 8 Easy Ways to Shed Weight for Race Season.