Friday, July 29, 2011

eating disorders and endurance sports

i think most of us are aware of the presence of eating disorders in sports, particularly in endurance sports. it's not a facet of endurance sports that well-known among the general population, and runs against popular perceptions of fitness and athletics, but it's a lurking element in our community, even if we don't discuss it that often.

well, here's something that brought my thoughts to it recently (if the link doesn't work, the full text of the article at the end of this post):
wow. personal stories like those in this article always enlivens the subject matter. and it serves to demonstrate the issues in a personal way. it resonated with me because a lot of what the athletes in the article talk about are things that are also endemic to endurance sports.

i looked up some more info regarding eating disorders in sports. you can check out the ones i found more useful.

there are these for athletes generally:
and then there's these that are specific to endurance sports
i also highly recommend Suzanne Eberle's Endurance Sports Nutrition for its discussion of eating disorders in endurance sports.

so much of endurance sports is about body weight and body composition. for triathlon, the 3 connected sports of swimming, biking, and running all involve weight issues. for all the talk about performance, there's invariably a connection to topics like power/weight ratio, body fat percentage, and caloric intake/output. weight is considered dead-weight if it is body tissue that doesn't contribute to forward motion, and hence something to be eliminated in the process of achieving fitness. fat is seen as dead-weight, and so a marker of poor fitness. calories, either in quantity or category, is taken as the driver of fat.

it's a major component of athletics, particularly in endurance sports. we can see it in the volume of literature dedicated to it (just reference how much space it takes up in books like Endurance Sports Nutrition, Racing Weight, Going Long, etc.).

it's enough to make an athlete neurotic. and it can easily become an obsession. and as neurotic and as obsessive as you may need to be to improve your abilities, those qualities can easily lead to unhealthy states of living. like the article shows, this includes eating disorders.

it's really easy for endurance athletes. in the process of training and racing, we become accustomed to consuming calories to provide the requisite energy and nutrients to fuel a high activity load. as our training and racing go up, our caloric demands go up and we start to consume more calories. because of the high physical activity load, all the calories are being burned. physically, our bodies are reach biological and chemical equilibrium. mentally, we end up becoming acclimated to high caloric intake as a normal physical state.

which it is, so long as our physical activity level stays high enough to utilize all the calories...but invariably it doesn't. as our training and racing go down, we don't require the same quantities of energy and nutrients and so our caloric demands go down. physically, our bodies are adjusting to a different biological and chemical equilibrium. mentally, however, we're still attuned to a different equilibrium involving high caloric intake, and so our minds are not acclimated to lower caloric demands, resulting in a situation where our caloric consumption exceeds what is needed by a new normal physical state.

of course, this relationship is compounded by the mental fatigue of training and racing. as a season wears on, we find ourselves expending mental effort to stay on a rigid regimen dictating all aspects of our lives, including how much and what kind of food we eat. by the time we get to off-season, we're usually at a point of mental malaise where we're ready to relax the rules and just liberate ourselves to eat everything and anything we want.

the result is a natural sinusoid curve over the course of a year, with our weight going down as our caloric intake is consumed by the energy demands of in-season training and racing, and our weight going back up as our caloric intake stays high and exceeds our decreased energy demands of decreased off-season physical activity.

this is fine. except that so much of our sport is focused on controlling weight. and the weight gain we experience as we go into off-season usually sets off warning alarms about all the rules with which we're indoctrinated regarding calories and fat. and as loud as those warning alarms may be for people still tied to the sport, they become even louder when people quit the sport, especially when they drop their physical activity levels precipitously relative to where they were before. especially when they're used to a higher level of fitness with lower body weight. especially when they seek to stay that way.

for those of us in that situation, it's mentally hard to drive ourselves back up to an increased physical activity load. relatively speaking, it often seems easier to just adjust our caloric intake.

at least, it seems easier.

what this article shows, and what i want all of you to see, is that it's a little tricky. there's a mental component to this that makes it harder than you might think. and because it's mental, it's subjective, making it hard for you to self-assess, self-diagnose, and self-treat yourself, because your perception of things may not match the reality of what's happening.

as a result, we have to be careful. and like the athletes in the article, we have to be willing to seek help when necessary. eating disorders are an issue, and we have to be willing to recognize them.

Leaving the sport, gaining an eating disorder
Former athletes can be left vulnerable when they're cut off from the athletic pursuit that consumed them. An ex-UCLA gymnast's tale is informative.
By Melissa Rohlin
LA Times
July 28, 2011

Alyssa Kitasoe studied herself in the mirror, and the image was shocking.

She had been standing near the bathroom sink, vomiting into a plastic container. When she looked up, through eyes blurred with tears, she was disgusted by what she saw.

"It was like seeing a ghost of yourself, or a monster," Kitasoe recalled. "I remember just staring at myself."

A year earlier, Kitasoe viewed herself very differently. A striking young woman with long black hair and a radiant smile, she was strong and proud — the UCLA gymnastics logo on her clothes providing instant respect around campus. She even felt confident wearing a tiny leotard in front of the piercing eyes of judges during her routines.

That all changed when she quit her sport. Since the age of 7 she had devoted her life to gymnastics, and without it she felt a loss of identity.

She tried coaching as an undergraduate assistant, but shuffling mats and floorboards didn't fill the void.

So she developed a new fixation.

Her body.

Since she was no longer working out 25 hours a week, the pounds crept onto what had been her fit 5-foot-1, 115-pound frame — a frightening prospect for a girl who for nearly 10 years had endured weekly weigh-ins.

"You still have the mind-set that you need to be tiny," said Kitasoe, now 24 and four years removed from the most dramatic of her struggles. "You compare yourself to the way you were."

It was the start of a destructive cycle.

As soon as she awoke each morning, her thoughts were consumed by food. But she resisted eating until the evening, when she would gorge, at times devouring an entire pizza and large bag of chips.

Then, overcome with guilt, she'd induce vomiting.

She knew she was hurting her body, but she didn't care.

"If someone would have told me if I did it one more time I would die," Kitasoe said, "I don't think that would have stopped me."

Stops and starts

It's a common problem. At least one-third of female college athletes have some type of eating disorder, according to studies published in 1999 and 2002 by experts Craig Johnson and Katherine Beals, who together examined nearly 1,000 female student-athletes participating in various sports.

As Kitasoe knows, the struggle doesn't conclude at the end of an athletic career. Sometimes, that's where it starts.

"There's a competitive drive in that successful personality that's going to manifest itself somewhere," said Becci Twombley, director of sports nutrition at UCLA. "Eating fixations can happen."

What happened to Veronica Sykes is a prime example. The former University of California field hockey star nearly ran herself to death after a shoulder injury sidelined her during her senior year.

"The team is such a unit," Sykes said, adding that when she got hurt and was unable to contribute she immediately "felt like an outsider."

Needing a distraction, she decided to pour all of her energy into running. But before she knew it, that seemingly healthy quest morphed into something else.

"The same quality that made me great at sports made me want to get really skinny." Sykes, now 25, recalled. "I was going to be the best at running and not eating."

Running four hours a day while consuming only about 400 calories, she shed 21 pounds from her 5-7, 135-pound frame. She couldn't sleep and was constantly anxious.

When asked what ultimately led to her eating issues, she said, "I think the real issue is the depression when your sport ends. And that was never mentioned [in school]."

Kitasoe continued to binge and purge — often up to four times in a day — for about a year after quitting gymnastics. Her family and friends had no idea she was suffering from an eating disorder because she looked relatively healthy.

Inside, however, she was tormented. Eventually, she became reclusive, steering clear of even her closest friends and venturing out on campus only when she had to attend a class or practice.

"I didn't want to go anywhere or see anyone because I felt so gross, so ugly," Kitasoe recalled. "At my lowest point, I just wanted to cover everything up. It was hot outside, but I'd wear a hat, sweat pants, Uggs and big shorts."

Researcher Johnson, chief clinical officer of Eating Recovery Center in Denver, said one reason former athletes are at risk is that schools and coaches lose track of them once they retire. "The NCAA is focused on the athletes that are immediately in their purview," he said. "Once the athletes have moved out of their oversight, they don't really have the resources to follow them."

Beals, an associate professor at the University of Utah, suggested universities offer programs for athletes "to help them transition into the real world."

Trying to help

At UCLA, Twombley says she receives 15 to 20 calls a year from former athletes seeking nutritional advice, including some who are struggling with clinical eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

In the absence of any formal program, she and several associates created a manual for graduating athletes hoping to prepare them psychologically, physically and mentally for life without their sport.

"The biggest thing, in my mind, was our offensive line in football," Twombley said. "We make them into enormous human beings. We need to make sure these people know how to eat as a normal person before they leave here.

"On the flip side, a gymnast needs to know she doesn't always have to be so lean to function in society. Swimmers need to know they're not always going to burn 10,000 calories a day in the pool. That's how we came up with the idea for the manual."

Kitasoe wishes she had been offered some guidance when her career as a gymnast abruptly ended. She didn't receive help until she told one of her former teammates that she was bulimic and received an unexpected ultimatum:

She had one week to tell her former coach or the girl would tell the coach herself.

"At first, I was really upset," Kitasoe said. "But I needed that nudge."

Kitasoe reluctantly told her former coach, Valorie Kondos Field, who identified with the struggle. She had been a ballet dancer in her youth.

"When I stopped dancing, I bought six of the biggest bags of chips I could find and I got some romance novels and sat in my little apartment eating chips and junk food for four days straight," Kondos Field said. "I put on 20 pounds and it took 20 years to even out and not do the yo-yo syndrome."

Kondos Field suggested that Kitasoe see a psychologist. She did, and in their first meeting, she remembered hearing eight words that changed her life:

"It sounds like you've suffered a great loss."

"It was a light-bulb moment," Kitasoe said.

She had never allowed herself to mourn. Kitasoe cried the day she retired from gymnastics but suppressed her emotions after that.

Now she was finally allowing herself to grieve.

She sobbed in the psychologist's office, the tears continuing to flow as she wrote a paper for a sociology class.

"Reflecting back since I have retired, I have been so unhappy and lost," Kitasoe wrote.

At that point, she began to reclaim her life.

She started exercising again — initially at midnight so she wouldn't run into anyone — and slowly reintegrated herself into her old social circle. She even clued in her parents to her problems.

"I wanted to be happy again," Kitasoe said.

Kitasoe wants to spread awareness about the eating issues athletes may face after they retire. It's something she still tussles with occasionally.

Not too long ago she attended a pool party where her friends congregated in a hot tub, drinking beer and laughing.

It took Kitasoe a little longer than her friends to strip down to her bathing suit, but she eventually joined them in the water.

She was able to do so, she said, because of her new identity.

"I'm not boxed in and defined by being a UCLA gymnast anymore," she said. "I can walk into a room and just be me, Alyssa."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

running science: sprinters v long-distance runners

i wanted to post a comment regarding a recent article on running science. it's a case study trying to explain why Usain Bolt is such a fast sprinter. those of you on facebook have probably already seen me post it.

i've noticed some people involved in distance running have already started to reference it for insights to improve performance. i, however, wanted to issue a caution on this. i think there are some important details that need to be recognized before anyone attempts to translate the article's points to distance running.

you can reference the article here (the full text of the article is at the end of this post):
a general school of thought (not mentioned in the article) in the track & field community is that 100m sprinters can't afford to be too tall, with the reasoning that taller (and hence more massive) sprinters find it harder to accelerate and harder to generate stride turnover. for a race as short as 100m, both acceleration and maximum speed are important. the belief is that ideal male 100m athletes are around 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall. Usain Bolt breaks this perception at 6 feet 5 inches.

the article explains that sports science shows the role of an additional variable apart from acceleration and stride turnover. according to sports science, elite sprinters, including Usain Bolt, tend to all reach the same maximum possible stride turnover. the article also explains that Usain Bolt possesses the explosive strength necessary to hold an acceleration rate comparable to smaller sprinters. given the parity between Usain Bolt and other sprinters in acceleration and stride turnover, sports science finds that Bolt's advantage is in his capacity to apply more force in less time relative to other competitors. by doing both, he is able to cover more distance per stride and use less strides over 100m/200m relative to other sprinters. other factors being essentially equal, this allows him to be faster.

essentially, the sports science shows that there is an underlying math beneath the acceleration and velocity equation. the typical track & field school of thought conceptualizes sprinting in terms of acceleration and maximum velocity based on stride length and stride turnover, and hence sees running as a function of units of distance and time.

the sports science, however, points to variables underlying these facts: force and force per unit time. these are variables familiar to athletes in other sports like cycling, where there tends to be a obsession with power generation in units of watts.

my caveat is that this approach to running science is not the same for sprinters and distance runners. while useful for sprinting, there needs to be some caution translating it to distance running. i think there is another perspective involving other underlying variables that need to be recognized: energy and energy efficiency.

for sprint running, energy is relevant only to the extent that an athlete can apply more of it in less time. given that the sprinters lining up for a given race all have comparable reserves of energy, the issue is to expend as much energy into running in as little time as possible. this means that for sprinters (especially in the penultimate championship round, when they're going for the gold medal, records, and glory without regard for having to race again later) there is little concern for how much energy is utilized--in fact, the more energy is consumed the better (i.e., for the championship round, it's time to leave everything on the track).

for distance running, particularly endurance running, the situation is different. each athlete starts a race with a finite amount of energy. this reserve depends on the athlete and to a degree can be supplemented by race nutrition. given the distances involved, however, there is an issue of how much energy there is available to complete the race. as a result, there is a greater concern relative to sprinters for how much energy is being expended and at what rate it is being utilized (i.e., the energy reserve needs to last all the way through the race).

of course, a race is a race, and so the goal is always to go as fast as possible to complete a given distance in as little time as possible. but the difference is that in sprinting a given athlete is going to use energy at a higher rate, while in distance running that same athlete is going to need to use energy at a lower rate.

this factors in because the application of force and force per unit time, and hence stride length and stride turnover, requires energy. the greater the stride length or stride turnover, the greater the need for more force or force per unit time, the greater the need to use energy.

for sprinters, given that they all tend to reach the same maximum stride turnover rate, the paramount concern is for accelerating and maximum velocity, meaning reaching and maintaining maximum stride length. energy, at least in terms of consumption rate, is not really a constraint. if anything, a sprinter wants to use energy as fast as possible and ends up using energy as fast as possible.

for distance runners, it's risky to be so profligate with energy. as a result, the concern is not about acceleration and maximum velocity, but rather to find and sustain an optimum stride length that enables the athlete to finish a race in as little time as possible based on the athlete's given energy reserves. relative to a sprinter, a distance runner wants to adjust stride length and stride turnover rate to make energy last longer. in other words: it's less about the maximum, but about an optimum.

which is why endurance athletes need to be cautious in applying the sports science in this article. as a distance runner, you can't run like a sprinter. it's risky to emulate the stride mechanics and power consumption sprinting for long-distance running. as much as a race is a race and power is power and energy is energy and force is force and strength is strength, it's still important to be mindful of how they are all applied. the parameters of sprinting call for different priorities and a different application of these variables compared to the parameters of distance running. don't expect to be Usain Bolt if you're trying to run a marathon.

is it useful to understand the running science of Usain Bolt? yes, as a way of understanding running in general. but also understand that he is a gifted athlete who has been highly trained to fit the very specialized demands of very specific races calling for a very specific type of running. and that type of running is different from distance running.

Usain Bolt: Case Study In Science Of Sprinting
Jay Hart
July 26, 2011

One year from now, the 2012 Olympic Games will begin in London, where all eyes will be on the incomparable Usain Bolt -- the Jamaican sprinter who is more than living up to his name.

Since 2008, Bolt has taken a jackhammer to the 100-meter world record, lopping off a whopping .14 seconds. That might not sound like a huge chunk of time until you consider it's twice as much as any other sprinter has shaved off the world record since the advent of electronic scoring.

Logically, one would think that Bolt did so by moving his legs faster than anyone else. Only he didn't.

Speed, as it turns out, may be completely misunderstood.

When Bolt established the current 100-meter world record in the 2009 world championships, running it in 9.58 seconds, he did so by moving his legs at virtually the same pace as his competitors. In fact, if you or I were to compete against Bolt, our legs would turn over at essentially the same rate as his.

This is a theory put forth by academics and track coaches alike who contend that running fast has more to do with the force one applies to the ground than how quickly one can move one's legs.

More than a decade ago, Peter Weyand, a science professor at Southern Methodist University, conducted a study on speed. Comparing athletes to non-athletes, Weyand clocked both test groups as they ran at their top speed. What he found shocked him.

"The amount of time to pick up a leg and put it down is very similar," he says. "It surprised us when we first figured it out."

So if leg turnover is the same, how does one person run faster than another?

Weyand discovered that speed is dependent upon two variables: The force with which one presses against the ground and how long one applies that force.

Think of the legs as springs. The more force they can push against the ground, the further they can propel the body forward, thus maximizing the output of each individual step. In a full sprint, the average person applies about 500 to 600 pounds of force. An Olympic sprinter can apply more than 1,000 pounds.

But force isn't the only factor. How quickly that force is applied factors in as well.

For this, think of bouncing a beach ball versus a super ball. The beach ball is soft and mushy and when bounced on the ground sits for a while before slowly rebounding back into the air. Conversely, a super ball is hard and stiff and when bounced rebounds almost instantaneously -- and at a much faster speed than the beach ball.

The average person's foot is on the ground for about .12 seconds, while an Olympic sprinter's foot is on the ground for just .08 seconds -- a 33-percent difference.

"The amount of time [one's legs are] in the air is .12, regardless if you're fast or slow," Weyand explains. "An elite sprinter gets the aerial time they need with less time on the ground to generate that lift -- or to get back up in the air -- because they can hit harder."

So what makes Bolt faster than even the elite sprinters? And can he run the 100 meters even faster than 9.58 seconds?

Bolt's superiority is often explained by his unique combination of height, strength and acceleration.

At 6-foot-5, Bolt is two inches taller than fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell (pictured together below) and has six inches on American Tyson Gay -- two of his closest challengers. While it takes most elite sprinters 44 strides to complete 100 meters, Bolt does it in 41.

"Would you rather take 44 steps to your car or 41?" asks Dan Pfaff, who coached Canada's Donovan Bailey to the 100-meter gold during the Atlanta Games in 1996.

Pfaff, now working in London to help boost Great Britain's track-and-field hopes for 2012, says Bolt's height gives him a distinct leverage advantage.

"If you're digging a hole in the ground, you have to get a longer lever to pry [out a rock]," he explains. "If you can control those levers and make them work efficiently, it's a huge advantage."

It's Bolt's ability to control the levers that is so unusual for a sprinter his height.

While taller sprinters may be able to reach a higher top-end speed, getting up to that speed isn't as easy. This can be explained physiologically -- smaller people can exert more force in relation to how much they weigh -- but Weyand prefers a more simple visual to show this to be true.

"You can easily imagine a 4-foot-10 gymnast doing a triple back flip, but imagine Shaquille O'Neal or Yao Ming doing it," he says. "You know they can't do it."

Bolt, it seems, is the exception to this rule. Though he's not doing triple back flips, he does get up to speed nearly as quickly as his more diminutive competitors.

"He has a very unusual combination of being extremely tall and relatively massive and being able to accelerate well. Those things are at odds with each other," explains Dr. Mike Young, a strength and speed coach who trains professionals in track and field and other sports. "He accelerates better than all but one guy in the world -- behind Asafa Powell -- but because he's so massive, he takes fewer strides. If you're that large, once you're moving, you stay moving."

This would help explain why Bolt still managed to break the world record during the Beijing Games in 2008 despite throwing up his arms in celebration some 20 meters before the finish. As Young explains, if the "average athlete is a motorcycle, Usain Bolt is a dump truck," and it takes a lot more resistance to slow down a dump truck than a motorcycle. Thus, when he fatigues, he slows down more slowly.

He has the holy triumvirate," Young contends. "He's one of the top accelerators, has the highest top-end speed and the highest endurance. It's something that's never been seen before. Carl Lewis had the highest top speed, the highest endurance, but he was not the best accelerator."

Bolt, just 24, has set his goal of running the 100 meters in the 9.4 range, explaining to Britain's BBC Radio: "Because that's where I think the record will probably never be beaten."

While Young doesn't think Bolt will break 9.5 in London, Weyand, through his research, says it's possible. Though if Bolt pulls it off, it won't be because he moves his legs any faster.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

a caffeine update

this is a short note to update my previous comments regarding coffee and caffeine. my previous post pretty much stands, but there was an article in this past month's issue of Lava magazine that confirms what i've suspected and which i think may help assuage anyone with lingering questions.

you can reference my previous comments:
the recent article in Lava (which, by the way, i recommend for those of you who've become more involved with ultra-distance endurance sports) is at:
if the link doesn't work, the full text of the article is below. like i said, the article itself doesn't say anything completely new, but it does make it more specific to endurance sports in terms of categorizing how caffeine helps pre-workout, during workout, and post-workout.

i will, however, caution against taking this article or any other similar article as free license to consume caffeine. i want to reiterate my caveats from before to emphasize some issues that qualify the consumption of caffeine by athletes:
  • caffeine is considered an ergogenic aid (i.e., performance-enhancer) in sports. while viewed as largely innocuous relative to other ergogenic substances, some sports organizations still hold limits to the amount of allowed caffeine. for example, the NCAA (for those of you outside the US, it is the controlling sports organization for major US colleges), bans caffeine concentrations greater than 15 micrograms per milliliter in athlete urine samples--meaning an athlete faces sanctions if they test positive for caffeine in concentrations above that amount (reference: drug free sport). it's important to check for your sport.
  • caffeine is a diuretic. so it will dehydrate you. you will need to monitor and adjust hydration accordingly.
  • being a stimulant, caffeine in sufficiently high concentrations can affect your neuro-muscular system, and hence disrupt your sense of physical coordination. you will need to assess how important this is to you and at what levels you can accept the stimulant effect.
having said all this, i'm more than happy to share a morning cup of coffee with you. top o' the morning to ya!

Refill, Please: Caffeine's Performance Benefits
Krista Austin
July 22, 2011

Here's some good news for all of you who frequent coffee shops after your weekend workouts. Caffeine is a stimulant consumed by approximately 90 percent of the population on a regular basis and is considered to be an ergogenic (performance enhancing) substance. It is by far the most popular drug available and can be found in everything from coffee and tea to chocolate, sodas and energy drinks. Half of all American adults are reported to consume at least 300mg of caffeine a day, and most use it to keep the neurons of the brain firing to get through the work day!

While caffeine can assist you at work, its benefits for your next race are even more promising. Caffeine has been shown to improve muscular performance, decrease the perception of exercise effort, sustain alertness and cognitive function, and increase fat breakdown and carbohydrate oxidation. It has even been shown to enhance recovery by assisting the body as it restores muscle glycogen. Here are four ways your morning best friend can benefit you as an endurance athlete, and especially in races.

1. Increased power output: Caffeine enhances nerve cell activity (how frequently our nerves are firing) which increases muscle power output. By increasing how frequently our nerves are firing, caffeine increases the number of muscle fibers that can be recruited to perform and sustain higher levels of power output. Additionally, regardless of whether you lift weights for muscular endurance or strength and power, caffeine has been shown to increase the muscular work you can generate for the type of lifting you are doing. As a result, greater gains from the weight room can be achieved and hopefully translated onto the racing course.

2. Dopamine production: Our ability to maintain these high levels of muscular performance is even further enhanced by caffeine’s ability to increase dopamine (a substance in the brain) which activates the pleasure centers of the brain. Dopamine helps you sustain alertness and cognitive function; an extremely important benefit for any triathlete-especially in the middle of a long course event when you have to stay motivated.

2. Increased metabolism: Fat mobilization is increased and our body’s ability to use carbohydrates becomes more efficient when ingest these macronutrients with caffeine. This helps keep the energy coming during the many hours of training and especially on race day.

4. Recovery: Caffeine’s role in performance comes full circle by helping to restore muscle glycogen following glycogen-depleting training sessions. Also, ingesting caffeine in the 24-48 hours after a muscle damaging exercise session or race can minimize the pain and muscle tenderness that accompanies this sort of new and novel work for the body. By reducing the amount of pain and soreness, athletes typically can return to training at their desired intensity much sooner following a tough race.
How to use caffeine

Everyone responds to caffeine in a different manner so learning your body’s response and optimizing your doses is critical to taking advantage of all its benefits. Often athletes find the benefits of caffeine to be greatest in competition when consuming only the minimal amount necessary for training, and saving the maximal dose for the big day. Timing the right dose of caffeine is the key to optimizing its use.

For training sessions or races that are less than one hour (i.e. that 10k you decided to jump in to keep training fun and stimulate your competitive side) consuming up to 3 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight will work for most people (see table below). Studies have shown that upwards of 6-10 milligrams per kilogram of body weight can be consumed if caffeine is well tolerated. Regardless of the dose that suits you the best, caffeine is most beneficial when ingested in the hour to 30 minutes before competition. In events longer than one hour, such as long-distance triathlons and marathons, consume your pre-race dose in the hour to 30 minutes before and then add approximately 15-30mg of caffeine every 45 minutes thereafter to sustain the desired effects. The form here doesn’t matter much, and most prefer a variety of caffeine sources throughout a long race including caffeinated gels, sports drinks, flat cola or a pill taken with a non-caffeinated carbohydrate/electrolyte beverage.

For the endurance athlete, caffeine is a promising ergogenic aid that can enhance performance and accelerate recovery. Knowing your body well and learning its response to caffeine will help you identify the optimal dose necessary to benefit your training and competition. So grab your cup of Joe … it’s time to train!

Caffeine content of common products, in milligrams*

Dunkin' Donuts, brewed, 16 oz (480 mL): 143-206

Generic brewed, 8 oz (240 mL): 95-200

Generic brewed, decaffeinated, 8 oz (240 mL): 2-12

Starbucks Espresso, 1 oz (30 mL): 58-75

Starbucks Vanilla Latte, 16 oz (480 mL): 150

Black tea, 8 oz (240 mL): 40-120

Starbucks Tazo Chai Tea Latte, 16 oz (480 mL): 100

Coca-Cola Classic: 35

Diet Coke: 47

Red Bull, 8.3 oz (250 mL): 76

Ben and Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, 8 oz (208 g): 84

Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate bar, 1.45 oz (41 g): 31

Thursday, July 21, 2011

stretching: a (sort of) definitive word

well, since i'm on the topic of a comeback today, i might as well make a real post offering up something actually related to the purpose of this blog.

over the break i came across a recent news item from the New York Times Health section that may offer up a definitive word regarding the issue of pre-workout stretching routines.

stretching routines have become somewhat controversial in recent years, with the sports medicine community dividing into different schools of thought with opposing positions regarding the value of stretching before a workout. one camp argues that it's bad, and refers to studies showing that stretching weakens muscles right before a workout or competition when an athlete expects to need them most. another camp argues that they're a tried-and-true method of improving flexibility and thereby preventing athlete injury. others argue positions on a continuum in between these extremes, arguing that the value of stretching is a function of the type of stretching routine, the nature of the desired workout or competition, and the characteristics of the individual athlete.

i've taken the latter perspective, which i consider to be more nuanced and more cognizant of the vagaries of reality. i tend to avoid ideology and prefer pragmatism, since i consider context to be the over-riding criteria in something like sports and athletics--principles don't do much good if they don't actually achieve the one thing an athlete needs most: performance.

i've written about stretching before. you can reference the following:
ordinarily, my personal stretching routine has followed the advice of a lot of prevailing track & field practices, which accepts that static stretching weakens the ability of muscles to contract even as it enables increased range of motion. under these practices, active/dynamic stretching is applied before workouts intended to loosen and warm up muscles and connective tissue to prepare them for physical activity, and passive/static stretching is applied after workouts to lengthen and cool down muscles and connective tissue to reduce injury. i supplement this with additional stretching outside of workouts as a part of the recovery phase.

the New York times article for the most part seems to match this, but modifies this somewhat by citing recent sports medicine studies that show static stretching before workouts is not necessarily the anathema so many think it is. apparently, short intervals of static stretching (<30 seconds) do not weaken muscle tissue, and may actually be beneficial.

you can check out the article:
if that doesn't work, the full text of the article is below.

obviously, given the nature of science and medicine and sports, there will very likely be studies in the future that modify these findings, and so i should advice some caution in stating that this may be a definitive word on stretching. but it does seem to bridge the divide between the opposing schools of thought, and so i consider as potentially definitive in clarifying the issue of stretching and workouts.

having said that, i will return to the point that i will always repeat: this is all a function of context. and so you need to exercise discretion based on the type of stretching, the type of workout, the type of sport, and the type of individual. what works for one person may not work for another. including stretching. so be smart, be careful, and be pragmatic.

To Stretch or Not to Stretch
By Gretchen Reynolds
New York Times
June 22, 2011

Is it time, once again, to stretch? For decades, many of us stretched before a workout, usually by reaching toward our toes or leaning against a wall to elongate our hamstrings, then holding that pose without moving until it felt uncomfortable, a technique known as static stretching. Most people, including scientists and entire generations of elementary-school P.E. teachers, believed that static stretching lengthened muscles and increased flexibility, making people better able to perform athletically.

But about 10 years ago, researchers began putting the practice to the test. They found that when athletes did static stretches, performance often suffered. Many couldn’t jump as high, sprint as fast or swing a tennis racquet or golf club as powerfully as they could before they stretched. Static stretching appeared to cause the nervous system to react and tighten, not loosen, the stretched muscle, the research showed.

Not surprisingly, stretching fell out of favor among well-informed athletes and coaches. Last year, new exercise guidelines issued by the American College of Sports Medicine specifically advised against static stretching before workouts or competitions. The European College of Sport Sciences issued a position statement saying that such stretching could “diminish” athletic performance.

Which means, naturally, that static stretching is ripe for scientific reappraisal. And right on cue, several contrarian new reviews and studies suggest that static stretching may not be so bad after all — and may even be desirable.

For the most comprehensive, and bluntest, of the new reports, published this month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers reviewed more than 100 studies of stretching and concluded that the “detrimental effects of static stretch are mainly limited to longer duration” poses, meaning stretches that last for at least a minute. If you hold a particular stretch for a shorter period, the authors wrote, particularly for less than 30 seconds, you should experience “no detrimental effect.”

The other studies came to similar conclusions. A close reading of earlier studies, published in March in The European Journal of Applied Physiology, found that “a substantial number” of the experiments did not find “detrimental effects associated with prior static stretching,” especially if the stretches were “of short duration” or were stopped before “the point of discomfort.” And a new study of well-trained female collegiate runners undertaken at Florida State University and published last month in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, showed that a static-stretching routine consisting of five leg-muscle stretches, each held for 30 seconds and repeated four times, “did not have an adverse effect” on the women’s performance in a timed treadmill running test.

Of course, conclusions like “no detrimental effect” or “did not have an adverse effect” are not ringing endorsements of static stretching and prompt the obvious question: if brief stretches aren’t bad for us, are they actively good? Should we, in other words, be making an effort to stretch before we exercise?

That question, most of today’s stretching researchers say, remains difficult to answer. “Several studies have revealed that stretching,” even of short duration, “increases the range of motion about a joint and reduces the stiffness of the muscle,” Anthony Kay, a senior lecturer in sport and exercise biomechanics at the University of Northampton and the lead author of the latest review, told me. “Both of these,” he explained, reduce “the risk of muscle strain injury,” though muscle strains are not a top concern for many of us.

“Muscle strains are uncommon in activities such as jogging,” cycling or swimming, said Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Training at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, who has extensively studied stretching. Runners, swimmers and cyclists are more prone to overuse injuries, Dr. McHugh said, and the newest studies and reviews have not found that stretching reduces the risk of overuse injuries.

On the other hand, “if you are involved in a sport that demands a great extent of static flexibility,” such as “holding a split position” during gymnastics or dropping into the ungainly crouch of “an ice hockey goalie,” then “you may need to add some static stretching,” said David Behm, the associate director of graduate studies and research at Memorial University of Newfoundland and lead author of the European journal review of stretching.

So there you have the state of the science on stretching. Hockey goalies, gymnasts, cheerleaders and dancers should be stretching before workouts or performances. The rest of us are unlikely, the latest findings show, to sustain any harm from brief spurts of static stretching — but equally unlikely to gain much advantage.

So if you stretch now before exercising and enjoy it, continue. “The negative psychological impact of altering precompetition routine may outweigh any possible benefit associated with removing” static stretching, the study of female runners concluded. But if you don’t stretch, don’t sweat it. “I would say there is no rationale” for most of us to practice “short duration static stretches,” Dr. McHugh said.

back to it

well, ok, i'm back.

sort of.

it's been several weeks, with no stressful physical activity other than hiking city streets in Northern Europe. not tough, i know. pretty easy, in fact. perhaps a little too easy, considering the challenge of resuming a workout schedule in the past week or so.

i definitely needed the break. just the way i think everyone needs a break. physically and mentally. to change things up and ease off on the stress and decompress and unwind and thereby (and most importantly) heal. it's always interesting to wake up one day and walk around and suddenly realize that you actually feel pretty good--and that life feels the same way, too.

for once.

having said that, there's always the post-vacation daze of coming back to reality, which invariably is a sobering experience.

all i can say is: it's amazing just how fast your conditioning can leave you with a few weeks of inactivity. it's almost like your body recognizes that it's not getting anything hard, and lowers itself to match the level of difficulty. especially at the critical 2-week mark, which most sports medicine sources i've seen cite as the point at which your fitness levels start to drop dramatically.

from a biological perspective, i guess it makes sense. your body as a biological entity will always try to achieve an equilibrium state by adjusting itself to match the surrounding environment. it seems to be a biological corollary to basic laws of chemistry and physics.

which is fine, and wouldn't bother me, except that changing the equilibrium is always such an unmitigated pain in the ass.

like it is right now.

but i guess this goes with taking a vacation, and goes with being an athlete--even a bad one like me. the best i can do is to just stop whining, accept the situation, and get my butt into gear to change changing my environment to push my body back into the equilibrium state i'm used to and really would much rather prefer--and that is an equilibrium state different from where i've been for the last few weeks.

back to it.