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Nootropics and Sports Nutrition for the weekend warrior

 

Nootropics, including BCAAs and botanicals, can help weekend warriors meet their athletic and cognitive competitive goals.

Paul H. Falcone | Jun 03, 2019
Nootropics are compounds that improve cognitive function, and in some cases, brain health. They have been gaining buzz lately, which is not surprising since we are all striving to work harder and achieve more, and sustained focus is required to maintain that high watermark. One group that exemplifies the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle is “weekend warriors.” These individuals—who are tough competitors both at work and at play—are familiar with sports nutrition to optimize their bodies, but now it is time to “focus” on their brains.

When considering how sports nutrition can affect the brain, it is important to start with the basics of hydration and fueling, which can affect a wide range of cognitive domains. These topics have been addressed in research1,2,3 while two other important cognitive areas stand out for weekend warriors: focus and reaction time.

For people who compete in all aspects of their life, laser-like focus is paramount. For example, many weekend warriors engage in CrossFit or other types of high-intensity interval training, which demand pushing past physical and mental limits. Not only do they want to finish those workouts, they want to achieve new PRs (personal records) and feel the rush from knowing they just crushed that workout. In those situations, fatigue can dramatically reduce focus, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are one nutrition solution. It has been suggested BCAAs may delay fatigue by reducing transport of tryptophan, a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin that contributes to feeling tired.4 In a study of cyclists, the rate of perceived exertion and mental fatigue while cycling was significantly lower when they drank BCAAs vs. placebo.5 In soccer players, psychomotor performance was improved with BCAA consumption during intense interval training.

Delaying exercise-induced fatigue is awesome, but weekend warriors do more than just exercise. They need optimal focus while at work and at play, which is where botanicals can play a role. Consumers who want to “hit a PR” at work, at home, at the gym or on the field (whatever “field” they choose to play on) must stay locked-in and on task wherever they are. Researchers demonstrate this by testing “sustained attention,” a cognitive domain we are all familiar with: sit down and do your work (or play with your kids) and don’t get distracted by your phone, calendar, Facebook or getting another cup of coffee. Studies have shown sustained attention can be improved by ingesting certain botanicals,7 allowing focus to be improved and maintained throughout a hectic day.

Another cognitive area to consider for weekend warriors is reaction time, or quick reflexes. Reaction time becomes important in a variety of popular, athletic contexts, such as mountain biking (to avoid major spills), HIIT (high-intensity interval) training or obstacle course racing . Reaction time testing is generally done on a computer, which means full-body reflexes are not being captured, but only the contribution of the brain (and maybe a finger or two for keyboard tapping). Active choice reaction performance (ACRP) is more applicable to sports since it involves reaction time while moving the whole body. Certain botanicals have been shown to improve ACRP by testing people’s reflexes while moving their whole body.8
To sum things up, we could all use a brain boost. Weekend warriors are especially vulnerable because they are highly competitive, and their competitive drive never stops since they take it from work to home to leisure activities. Even their choices for leisure are both active and competitive, taxing the body and the brain. Therefore, supplements—and specifically botanicals—can be added to the diet to optimize focus, sharpen reflexes, and support overall brain health.

Paul H. Falcone is senior clinical research associate at Kemin Human Nutrition & Health.

References
 Goodman S, Moreland A, Marino F. “The effect of active hypohydration on cognitive function: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Physiol Behav. 2019.
Baker L e al. “Acute Effects of Carbohydrate Supplementation on Intermittent Sports Performance.” Nutrients. 2015;7:5733-63.
Falcone P, Tai C, Carson L. “The effect of mild dehydration induced by heat and exercise on cognitive function.” Psychol. Cogn. Sci. 2017;3:17-2
Blomstrand E. “A role for branched-chain amino acids in reducing central fatigue.” J. Nutr. 2006;136:544S-7S.
Blomstrand E et al. “Influence of ingesting a solution of branched‐chain amino acids on perceived exertion during exercise.” Acta Physiol Scand. 1997;159:41-9.
Wiśnik P et al. “The effect of branched chain amino acids on psychomotor performance during treadmill exercise of changing intensity simulating a soccer game.” Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2011;36:856-62.
Falcone P et al. “Efficacy of a nootropic spearmint extract on reactive agility: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel trial.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15:58.
Falcone P et al. “The attention-enhancing effects of spearmint extract supplementation in healthy men and women: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel trial.” Nutr Res. 2019;64:24-3

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How to Make A Comeback—Even If It’s Been a While

Most competitive athletes, no matter their age, can recall a defining personal athletic moment: sprinting across the finish line ahead of the field; dodging epic tackles to score the winning touchdown; swishing an unbelievable three-pointer at the buzzer. You got up early, practiced hard and stayed late. You slept well and ate right because you knew it would improve your performance.

These are the proud stories we tell around the dinner table—but they might have taken place 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years ago! Today, your fitness focus might be a good deal different, or nonexistent. But in your chest, there still beats the heart of an athlete. You just need to find your way back.

The good news is that, for most of us, there’s still plenty of time to get strong, play hard and have fun! However, it will involve setting new goals and renewing a healthy relationship with your current body. Whether you’re thinking about getting back into your sport or trying a new one, it’s important to take a long-term approach to your training and health.

Below are four principles of training you should tackle before coming back to competitive sport:

Define Your why

The secret to staying motivated is getting your priorities in order. Why do you want to start training again? Why do you want to train for this particular race? These questions are essential for any athlete. When you inevitably get sucked into pace times, sweaty workouts, fancy gadgets and the latest equipment, you’ll need to keep track of your personal why.

Walk before you run

This simply means to take your time learning how to run/swim/bike etc. before trying to go fast. Learning new movements and techniques don’t just require your physical presence, but also your mental awareness. It’s important to understand your body’s movements, how they feel and how to improve. Those initial months of training are for accumulating physical knowledge and creating good habits—developing discipline for both your body and your mind.

Assess, don’t test

First things first, find a good coach! Effective coaches balance rationale and logic with empathy and emotional awareness. Ultimately, a long-term program should be individualized and should start with finding your baseline with a coach. What’s your athletic background? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your goals? A good coach will also assess rather than test when determining your program.

The words “test” and “assessment” are used interchangeably, but they do mean something different. A test measures a particular set of objectives, while an assessment is used during and after the instruction has taken place. Learning a sport takes individual effort, interaction, inspiration and thought—and especially as you are coming back into a sport, “testing” can sometimes undermine the best learning environment. “Assessing” your abilities instead is an encouraging method to help outline your training and monitor your improvement going forward.

Socialize!

You might be participating in an individual sport, but it takes an army to get it done at the end of the day. Having a supportive base at the home front and a cheer squad on race day can mean the difference between a PR and a DNF.
Groups and clubs create a positive training environment and can also help you get involved with a community. There will be some people who can push you and others you can challenge along the way—and very possibly some new lifelong friends.

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Amino acids – What role do they play in muscle building, weight loss and fitness?

Amino Acids. What role do they play in muscle building, weight loss and fitness? Learn what Aminos are an how the effect your body.

Why do the majority of people who go to the gym to build muscle know so little of amino acids and protein, and their importance in achieving our goal of muscle building? Amino acids; everyone has heard of them, protein powders list them. So what is the importance of them? Do we really need them?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and also muscle tissue. And they also play a major part in physiological processes relating to our energy, recovery, mood, brain function, muscle and strength gains, and also in our quest for fat loss.

There are 23 amino acids and 9 of these are classed as essential or indispensable amino acids (IAA) that must be obtained from our nutritional intake. The others are termed dispensable amino acids (DAA) or non-essential due to the body being able to synthesise them from other amino acids.

When we eat a meal we don’t pay much attention to the content and balance of amino acids but the content of the meal determines the body and health building value of the protein food or supplement. In addition the importance of the amino acids content of our meal is important to support maximum growth we also have to take another factor into account which is to what extent these amino acids are actually delivered to the tissues when they are needed which takes us to the issues of digestion, absorption and also the bioavailability.

What is Bioavailability?
Eating our protein foods such as lean meats and non-fat dairy products, or having our protein drinks are the most common ways that we get our amino acids, we also can obtain amino acids from vegetables, and legumes also have levels of most amino acids. We can also use protein drinks and amino acid supplements as a convenient means to supplement our dietary needs.

The reason we use these supplements is the bioavailability of the amino acids. Bioavailability is a measure of the efficiency of delivery and how much of what is ingested is used for its intended use by the body. There are factors which determine the amino acid bioavailability. One is how much fat is contained in the protein source and the length of time it takes for the amino acids to be available for use by the body.
Cooking also can affect the amino acids; some are more or less sensitive to heat and cooking may cause decomposition of some amino acids. The physical nature of the particular food is also a factor, whether it is solid, liquid, powder, or even tablet, and to what extent it is chemically pre-digested as some amino acid supplements are, fillers and binders also can have an affect on the digestion of the amino acid. The condition of our digestive system can also have an affect on amino acid digestion, genetics, age, health, specific diseases and illnesses all have an affect on our digestion.

Amino acids and Bodybuilding
Exercise, hormones and nutrients will all cause muscle growth. As will supplementation of free form amino acids high in the branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s) Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. The best time for us to get our amino acids is immediately after our training when the muscle is especially receptive to nutrients and also blood flow to the exercised muscles which still remains high. The solution to optimising our recovery and growth after training is a s meal composed of protein with both simple and some complex carbohydrates. This is the time when ideally we require a fast digesting protein such as whey protein.

Amino Acid Supplementation
The popularity of amino acid supplements has increased dramatically. Packaged workout and recovery drinks that contain hydrolysed (pre-digested) proteins and often some free-form amino acids can be found in most gyms. Also tubs of powdered or capsulated amino acids are being used by an increasing number of weight trainers. The good thing about these supplements is that they don’t require digestion like food does. The term free-form means that they are free of chemical bonds to other molecules and as such move quickly through the stomach, into the small intestines where they are very rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. When absorbed, amino acids are processed by the liver. The liver can only process so many at one time, so by taking a dose of 3-4g of amino acids these will be rapidly absorbed and would exceed the liver’s capacity which would result in the amino acids being directed to the tissues that would require them such as muscle that is recovering from your training.

Amino Acids and Energy
A lot of misconceptions exist about the muscle contraction and the use of energy substrates during heavy high intensity weight training. When performing your training using repetitive power workouts a substantial portion of your energy comes from non-carbohydrate sources. When your muscles contract they use stores of adenosine triphosphate (ATP, a substance vital to the energy processes of all our living cells) for the first few seconds. The compound used to immediately replenish these stores is creatine phosphate (CP). This is how the supplement creatine, became so popular to bodybuilders and strength trained athletes. Creatine is made from three amino acids: arginine, methionine and glycine.

To keep our CP and ATP levels high, these amino acids must be kept elevated in our blood stream. The amino acids in creatine supplements can be supplied by foods in our diet but the process of elevating these amino acids takes a great deal of time in digestion, and also would be accompanied by fats and carbohydrates which may or may not be desired. So the use of free form amino acids, either alone or in combination with creatine supplements can provide direct source of energy for power and strength.

Amino Acids & Fat Loss
In fat loss two major processes must occur (1) the mobilisation and circulation of stored fats in the body must be increased; and (2) Fats must be transported and converted to energy at the mitochondria (the powerhouse site of cells). Several nutrients can assist in the conversion of fat to energy including the amino acid methionine, which in sufficient amounts can help improve the transport and metabolism of fat. When attempting to keep our total calories down during dieting, amino acid supplements including BCAA’s and glutamine can also help to keep our food volume down but still provide support directly to the muscles, liver and our immune systems which are critical to optimising our body composition.

Amino Acids & Muscle Catabolism
Our body has the ability to breakdown our muscle tissue for use as an energy source during heavy exercise. This is part of a bodily process called gluconeogenesis which means producing or generating glucose from non-carbohydrate sources. The part of this reaction that is important to us as bodybuilders is known as the glucose – alanine cycle, in which the BCAA’s are stripped from the muscle tissue and parts of them being converted to the amino acid alanine, which is then transported to the liver and converted into glucose. If we consume supplemental BCAA’s the body does not have to breakdown our muscle tissue to gain extra energy. Studies have concluded that the use of BCAA’s (up to 4g) during and after training can result in a significant reduction of muscle breakdown during training. Catabolism of muscle can cause shrinkage of our muscles and muscle soreness and may also lead us to injury.

Amino Acids and the Anabolic effect
Resistance training generally stimulates both protein synthesis and protein degradation in exercised muscle fibres. Muscle hypertrophy (growth) occurs when an increase in protein synthesis results in the body’s normal state of protein synthesis and degradation. The normal hormonal environment (e.g, insulin and growth hormone levels) in the period following resistance training stimulates the muscle fibres anabolic processes while blunting muscle protein degradation. Dietary modifications that increase amino acid transport into muscles raise energy availability or increase anabolic hormones should augment the training effects by increasing the rate of muscle anabolism and/or decreasing muscle catabolism. Either effect should create a positive body protein balance for improved muscular growth and strength.

References:
Amino acids. Barry Finnin, PHD. and Samual Peters .
Exercise physiology. 5th Edition, William D, McArdle. Frank I Katch, Victor L Katch.

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Getting back to Gym after the Festive Season

By Tom Holland
After the indulgences of the holidays, come the New Year Resolutions to get fit, lose weight, go to gym more, be more active …. Yet, then one is faced with actually doing all those things – and the major portion of that resolution means you have to actually go to gym.
This however, can be a daunting exercise (no pun intended) if you’ve let yourself go a bit .. or if it has been a while since you’ve actually set foot in this establishment.
Well, we understand and hope to provide you with a bit of comfort and motivation to make that leap.
Here are four tips to help boost your confidence and help you get a toe in there :

WEAR CLOTHES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL GREAT
Ever notice how many people at the gym wear the same outfit over and over again? That could be because they really like the way it makes them look. Go shopping and invest in a few outfits that you absolutely love and that you think you look great in, clothes that accentuate what you feel good about. This can help your confidence exponentially.
And, if you want to wear that baggy T-Shirt and Track pants, till you feel better about your body, then wear them! |If you want to, make that “outfit” a goal.

ASK FOR HELP
Another reason you may feel self-conscious at the gym is that you’re not sure how to do certain exercises or use certain pieces of equipment. You really want to do that ab exercise with the medicine ball, try that leg press machine, or run on that new treadmill, but you don’t want to embarrass yourself by doing anything incorrectly and drawing attention to yourself. So you might end up not doing any of them at all.
Realize that everyone was a beginner at one point and that they all had someone teach them what to do. So ask for help, whether it’s working out with a fit friend you trust or paying for a session or two with a personal trainer or making an appointment to just walk through with one of the gym staff so they can point out equipment and explain how they work.
You’ll be amazed how great you will feel by overcoming your fears and finally doing what you thought you couldn’t. You can also start seeing results from challenging your body in a whole new way.

REALIZE EVERYONE IS SELF-CONSCIOUS
I have worked with celebrities, professional athletes, politicians, models and top CEOs and can tell you one absolute, unequivocal truth – everyone is self-conscious. Everyone! No matter how perfect or confident they may seem to be, even the seemingly fit and beautiful have what they perceive to be their flaws. So if you think you’re the only one who doesn’t feel 100% confident at the gym, think again. You’re in very good company.

DO IT FOR YOU
Finally and most importantly, go to the gym for you. Make it your time to focus on yourself. Go to feel good in the moment, or maybe to help release some stress. Go to feel better about yourself in the future, making positive changes for you. Look inward by putting on your virtual blinders and blocking out everything around you that doesn’t enhance your experience. The more you focus on you and the less attention you pay to what’s going on around you, the more comfortable you will be.
The gym can and should be a positive place, somewhere you look forward to going. Take control of the experience by implementing these tips and you can make it a fun, enjoyable, life-long habit.

*Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN is an internationally-recognized exercise physiologist, certified sports nutritionist and freelance writer.

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Your 14-Step Guide to Weight Loss During Training

By Lynda Wallenfels
Your fastest self on the racecourse is light and lean. Combining “light and lean” with “strong and healthy” is the Holy Grail of optimal performance, and together work to create those peak moments you train so hard for. While under-fueling is the fastest route to over-training, over-fueling will not make you into a lean performance machine. The perfect balance takes action and attention to detail.

It’s All About the Food

For endurance athletes to lose weight, nutrition plays much more of a vital role than exercise. Athletes should be focusing their exercise habits on performance development first and foremost. Training solely to burn extra calories leads to either eating more calories or over-training by under-fueling, neither of which results in fat loss. It’s all about the food.
Fat loss takes time. Water loss can happen overnight. Your goal should be fat loss, which means patience is required. Avoid being too aggressive with your calorie deficit goals. Aim for a 300- to 500-calorie deficit per day for healthy long-term fat loss that is sustainable while base training and building fitness. Starving yourself with too few calories will make your caveman brain switch on starvation mode. This shuts down fitness development and locks down fat stores. Extreme under-fueling will sabotage your training and lead to a litany of other problems such as hormone imbalance, bone loss and immune system depression. To achieve your optimal race weight, you must stay healthy.

When Should You Ramp Up the Weight Loss?

You have more flexibility with nutrition during lower intensity off-season and base training periods. Once you have moved into your higher intensity build, peak and race periods, your fueling and recovery demands are too high to maintain a calorie deficit while building fitness. Don’t wait until eight weeks before your peak race or assume the weight will just come off while training. That only happens to a lucky few with the right genetics. The rest of us need to take action by following a detailed plan to achieve our optimal race weight.

How-to Steps For Practical Weight Loss

Follow this list of actions one by one until you reach the point where you are losing 0.25 – 1.0 pounds per week of body weight. If you are within three to five percent of your race weight it is likely you only need to follow steps 1-3.

  1. Get started now by eliminating all soda, including diet soda.
  2. Next eliminate alcohol, candy, cakes, chips, sweets and all junk food. For many athletes this step is enough to create their gradual weight loss mode.
  3. Maintain a 300- to 500-calorie deficit per day.
  4. Fuel for your training sessions before, during and after. These are not times to skimp on nutrition.
  5. Reduce your carbohydrate intake on rest and recovery days. These are the times when training glycogen depleted has little impact on your fitness progress. Eat a light, low-carbohydrate, high-protein dinner the evening before a rest day.
  6. Athletes who are already eating a whole food, nutrient dense diet need to start their weight loss journey with portion control. Even the best foods can be overeaten.
  7. Sleep eight hours per night. Sleep deprivation inhibits fat loss.
  8. Protein intake should be maintained at normal levels despite a lower overall daily calorie intake. This means increasing the proportion of protein in your daily diet up to 25 to 30 percent of daily calorie intake. Focus on lean protein sources such as meat, fish, seafood and eggs. Dairy is a controversial component of a weight loss plan. Some athletes benefit from dairy and others do not digest it well. Use your own experience to decide if dairy is a healthy part of your diet. Maintaining protein intake will maintain your lean body mass and focus weight loss on fat loss.
  9. Load up on vegetables by filling half of your plate with veggies at most meals. Fruits are a healthy component of any weight loss plan, but should be eaten in moderation.
  10. Utilize nutrient-timing techniques. Instead of a recovery drink after training, time your training session to end at meal time and eat one of your daily meals for recovery. This can eliminate 250 to 400 calories from your daily intake without any drawbacks.
  11. Limit grazing and focus on meals. Avoid snacking while watching TV, working or surfing the internet.
  12. Fast overnight. No food after 8 p.m.
  13. Don’t cheat. Cheat days and cheat meals will knock you off your weight loss trajectory.
  14. Identify times you pack in unneeded calories as a habit and create a strategy to change it. For example, almond butter is my weakness. I really like watching TV with a jar of almond butter in one hand and a fork in the other. This quickly leads to 500 calories down the hatch. Willpower or putting a sticky note on the lid telling myself not to binge is ineffective. Not having it in my pantry in the first place is my best strategy. Be your own support system and set yourself up to avoid your own pitfalls.

If You Measure It, You Can Change It

Use a food diary app (or good old-fashioned pen and paper) to measure your calorie intake for three days. Learn the nutrient profile of foods you are eating to make accurate dietary decisions.
Track your body weight or body fat percentage in TrainingPeaks and graph it out over time using their dashboard tool. Seeing your milestones and goals achieved on a chart is motivating.
dashboard-weight-loss

Additional Tricks and Tips to Stay on Target

Join a challenge for social support and motivation. Groups often get together for a nutrition or weight loss challenge such as The Whole-30. Sharing goals, recipes and excitement with friends can make staying on plan fun.
Read up while losing weight to keep your mind focused and brain waves full of information leading you down the right path to your goal.
Set realistic goals and provide rewards for yourself. These can be tangible, such as a blingy bike part or intangible, such as dropping your threshold mile pace by 10 seconds.
Throw out all junk food from your fridge and pantry. If you don’t have easy access to your trigger foods, they don’t go in your mouth.
Use smaller plates to help with portion control.
Add a glycogen-depleted training session. Once or twice per week do a steady 30 to 60-min aerobic training session in heart rate zone 2 or power level 2 in a fasted state first thing in the morning. Refuel with breakfast immediately after. Training in a glycogen depleted state will enhance fat burning and boost your fat loss.
There is no doubt getting down to race weight is challenging and requires sacrifice. Embrace the hard work and earn your rewards. It will put you in the position to have the best races of your life.
Lynda has been coaching off-road athletes for 16 years and racing professionally for 18 years.

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5 Incorrect Assumptions People Make About Training for an Ironman

By Steven Moody
As a qualified coach (and spending half of my time either in Lycra or Ironman-branded gear) it invariably comes up in conversations with “normal” people about the absurdity to the type of training and races I do.
One of the more consistent responses in these conversations is somebody explaining to me how much they would love to (but could never!) do an Ironman race.I used to just nod in agreement, but as I built my coaching expertise, I found myself challenging people’s standard assumptions people made about why they personally couldn’t achieve what I’ve helped others achieve for years.

In my experience, their reasons for not being able to take on an Ironman normally fall into one of these five categories:

Reason 1: “I am too old/big/slow/tall/short to do an Ironman.”

Have you ever watched an Ironman in person? And by in person, I specifically mean not watching on TV where the cameras zone in on the chiselled pros battling it out at the pointy end of the race. Because if you have you will have witnessed athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes racing on the exact same course as the professionals.
Ironman is a very personal journey, and people will have different race strategies and goals on the day. These can range from just finishing to qualifying for the world championship—my point is there are no physical barriers to doing an Ironman, if you are willing to really chase that goal.

I always push the fact that people should see a race in person; at a minimum you will be uplifted by the strength of human spirit and more than likely be inspired to take on a challenge of your own.

Reason 2: “Oh I would never have the time for Ironman training.”
Typically when people say this to me, I conversationally ask them what TV programs they watch or how much time they spend on social media. When we go through the list—it can add up to around 10 hours a week! That huge chunk of wasted time is where I tell them I “find” the time for myself and my athletes. It was actually there all along.
So essentially it is a question of priorities—we can find time if we want to—it is up to you if you choose it to be on the couch watching Game of Thrones or out on in the fresh air preparing yourself for an epic challenge.
(it’s worth noting I am a massive Game of Thrones fan—but I tend to watch it on my turbo!)

Reason 3: “I would not know where to start.”
When I hear this, I ask what the person does for a living. The breadth of answers always fascinates me. Firemen, teachers, bankers etc. Digging a little deeper, I ask if they have ever faced a scenario at work where they needed to reach out to experts, and without fail, the response is always yes.
I ask them why is this different to approaching an Ironman challenge. I tell them that they should look for someone who has completed an Ironman and ask them how they went about it and start their research there.
Better still, if they seem really serious, they should seek out a plan or a qualified coach to help guide them on their journey.

WARNING: Asking a recent first time finisher can turn into quite the monologue as they eagerly share every detail of their journey including weight loss stats, epic cycles and inevitably the feeling of accomplishment as they turned onto the finishing chute.

Reason 4: “I would love to if only I could swim!”
When was the last time you were in a pool? When I ask people that, their minds typically drift back to the last holiday where they splashed around in the sunshine. So having established that they can actually swim, I ask whether they have ever had their stroke analysed or taken swim lessons.

For novice swimmers, simply fixing a few key elements from stroke analysis and/or lessons can make huge leaps forward in their swimming ability.

As a coach swimming is one of my favourite disciplines to teach/monitor as there are always lots of low hanging fruit that will help the athletes’ confidence and ability soar to the point that they are chomping at the bit to tackle that 3.8km swim!

Reason 5: “I have never even run a marathon.”
When people ask this I usually respond by asking them if they’ve ever swam 3.8km or ridden 180km. Typically, their answer is “never.”

People fixate too much on the marathon element of the Ironman, I believe this is mainly as it a more tangible event that they can get their head around!

However, in the Ironman world, as I tell my first timers, it is just a long run at the end of a long day.
It is not necessary to have completed a marathon before an Ironman. It can help —but not as much as people think.
Even in my training plans, I typically do not let my athletes exceed 26km in the longest runs they will do. The body can only take so much mileage. It is all about training smart and building slowly.

If you train and prepare properly, you will be amazed at what your body can do on the day boosted by adrenaline and thousands of cheering spectators!

No more excuses!
In conclusion, unless someone explicitly says they have either no interest in taking on such a challenge that is a half or full Ironman, I can easily dismantle the barriers they are putting in front of themselves.
So if you have ever watched an Ironman race or jealously viewed a club mates finisher medal, I would urge you to challenge your own limitations.

Steven is Ironman University and Triathlon Ireland certified and specializes in helping time crunched athletes realize their goals.

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3 Things Triathletes Need to Do in their Off-Season – To Get Better Results Next Year

by Ben Griffin
At the end of any key race many triathletes are lost as to what they should be doing regarding their own training. Whilst the months prior have been filled with many long, hard swim, bike and run sessions, there is now a gaping void to fill and often it is hard to know what to do with all those extra hours.
I find most athletes are aware that the body needs a break at this stage, but I find many athletes are not sure exactly how they should best utilize this down time.
If you are someone who isn’t necessarily concerned with performance, then the off-season should be used to enjoy yourself and take a break from training and racing. It is great to start socializing with friends who you most likely haven’t been able to catch up with as regularly as you’d like. It is also a great opportunity to undertake any different challenges or off-season sports that you haven’t had as much time for.
However, if you are committed to improvement and want to maximize your training during the off-season so that you are ready for some PB’s next season, then you need a specific and targeted approach to your own training.
Here are the three most important things you should focus on in order to head into next season with that extra performance edge:

Get strong

Whilst strength training is slowly gaining traction with endurance athletes it still seems many athletes are reluctant to incorporate this type of training into their own regimen at the expense of another swim, bike or run session.
A strength training program for an endurance athlete is very different to typical strength routines that power athletes most associate with strength programs. Therefore, make sure your strength program is reflective of your own individual needs.
One thing I regularly say to athletes is that you rarely slowdown in an Ironman because you are out of breath, you usually slow down because your musculo-skeletal system starts to fatigue and break down, so getting in the gym will help resolve this and build your durability.

2. Work on your weaknesses

I regularly hear athletes say they are determined to work on their “weakness” during the off-season, which I agree with. However, when the grind of doing something that is harder and typically less enjoyable than other disciplines hits home many athletes find it hard to stick it out and instead revert to doing the things they enjoy more and are better at.
There is nothing wrong with doing this however, if you look at your opportunity for improvement, you will usually find the biggest scope for improvement comes in your weakest and least enjoyable discipline, so stick it out and be patient. Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Patience and consistency will be rewarded! Don’t be worried if your stronger disciplines suffer a little bit, sometimes you must go backward to go forward again. Your strength will usually always be your strength, so relax and know that the form will come back when you reintroduce that discipline back into your training.

3. Critically analyze your previous race season

This is one of my biggest issues; when I see athletes fail to understand why a race didn’t go as intended. While it also very important to analyze your good race days, I find bad race days (while super frustrating) usually provide the biggest opportunity for education.
Probably the biggest and most frustrating issues I see are when athletes blame nutrition for a poor run performance, when really it was because a lack of run conditioning. Or when an athlete falls away during the back end of an Iroman ride, which they will put down to a tight back or some other pathology, but really it was because they did most of their riding in a group and didn’t spend the necessary time in the TT position honing their skills.
Be sure to be honest with yourself about your performance, because sometimes nutrition and/or a tight back are legitimate reasons why your race didn’t go to plan. This usually means checking your ego at the door before you analyze the performance.
For most of us athletes the sport is not our livelihood, therefore it is also important to reinvest your time and energy back into work, family and friends, all of which have usually had to make some sacrifices over the final few months to support your training and racing. Remember to make these people the priority again before you focus on improving your own performance next year.

About Ben Griffin – Ben is an exercise physiologist and coach with Craig Alexander’s Sansego Coaching Team. He is a 14-time IRONMAN finisher (PB of 9:15) and enjoys helping both age-group and professional athletes reach their goals.

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The Best Recovery Practices for Endurance Athletes

You know that sensation, when you have bottomless power, breathing is deep, and pushing hard feels so good? When you are strong, motivated, and invincible. These are the days when you slay your training and smash your race goals.
The secret to these training days and hitting race day in peak form is nailing your recovery.  Two recovery practices are foundational and must-not be missed:

Nutrition
Sleep
While there are many more accessory recovery techniques that can be used to complement nutrition and sleep, if you are not getting in the right nutrition and enough sleep, the accessory recovery techniques will have minimal advantage. You should focus your efforts on getting those two recovery habits perfected to get the most bang for your buck.

Post-Exercise Recovery Nutrition
For weekend warrior athletes training two to three times per week, following a normal daily nutrition plan with no special additions is sufficient for optimal recovery before the next training session.
For athletes training once per day or more often, refuelling for the next workout as quickly as possible is crucial. Refuelling accurately and consistently after workouts will restore muscle and liver glycogen stores, replace fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat, promote muscle repair and bolster the immune system.
Athletes who optimize post-exercise nutrition will perform better in their next training session and accumulate more high quality sessions than athletes skipping post-exercise recovery fuelling.
There are two post-exercise recovery fuelling windows. The first is within 30 minutes of a hard or long training session. The second is in the two to three hours post-exercise.
Short easy training sessions do not require special recovery nutrition. Athletes are best sticking to their daily nutrition plan with a normal whole foods meal after easy training sessions.

30 Minute Post-Exercise
Fluid, electrolytes, carbohydrates and protein are the foundation of proper recovery nutrition. Immediately on finishing a workout, start replacing fluid and electrolyte losses with a sodium containing drink or water plus sodium containing food.
Estimate fluid losses by weighing yourself before and after training and drinking 500 to 700 ml of fluid for every ½ Kg lost.
To restore muscle glycogen and promote protein synthesis, consume 0.8g per kg of body weight of carbohydrate and 0.2g per kg of body weight of protein within 30 minutes of finishing exercise. For a 70kg athlete this would be 56g of carbohydrate and 14g of protein.
Fluid, electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein can be replaced with a commercial recovery drink, a homemade smoothie or with real food plus water.
Additionally, antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin A, probiotics, medium chain triglycerides and L-Glutamine can shorten recovery duration and are good additions to a recovery drink or snack.

Two To Three Hours Post-Exercise
Continue your recovery nutrition two to three hours post-exercise by eating a whole foods meal. It is okay to eat earlier than this if you are hungry but do not delay this post-exercise meal more than three hours.
This meal should contain a combination of carbohydrate, about 20g of protein and some fat. Dividing daily protein intake into four or more 20g meals has been shown to have a greater stimulus on protein synthesis than two big meals with 40g protein per meal or 8 smaller meals with 10g per meal.
A 20g helping of protein is the sweet spot to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
After a training session on a hot day, immediately cool your body down if your core temperature feels hot by drinking cool fluids, sitting in cool water or air conditioning and pouring iced water over your head. Cooling off will halt continued dehydration and increase your appetite.

The Benefits of Good Sleep
Studies have shown increasing duration asleep leads to increased performance and mental well-being in athletes. We also know chronic sleep debt impairs performance and reduces motivation to excel.
Foundation sleep recommendations for adult athletes are 8 to 10 hours per night plus a 30 minute nap between 2 to 4 PM. I know that is a tough call for most athletes to achieve along with all the other responsibilities of life.
Junior athletes need even more sleep with 9 hours per night plus a 30 minute nap in the afternoon.

Increasing Your Sleep Quality and Duration
Along with sleep duration, sleep quality and sleep phase also affect the regenerative qualities of sleep. Sleep quality can be improved by reducing disturbances by wearing earplugs and sleeping in a cool, dark room.
Following a pre-sleep routine of relaxing activities, avoiding light exposure from screens in the hour before bed, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine after noon and alcohol in the evening may increase your sleep quality and duration.
Restless leg syndrome can occur in athletes with low serum iron levels and disrupt normal sleep patterns.
Exercising late in the day can make sleep elusive for some athletes. Summertime evening group training or local races make sleep especially hard to come by. Following up an intense evening session with inadequate sleep is a poor combination. Athletes losing sleep after these evening sessions are advised to switch their intense training sessions to the morning and put their evening hours towards lower intensity activities such as yoga, stretching, and massage.

Measuring Your Sleep
If you can measure it, you can improve it!
Use a sleep tracking app to measure your sleep duration and quality then identify factors that improve it. I was able to identify that red wine helps me fall asleep more quickly but it reduces my sleep quality and duration. I confirmed much to my dismay that avoiding screens e.g. laptops, TV, phones etc. in the hour before bed dramatically improves both my sleep quality and duration.
It is easier to sleep in the spring, fall and winter than mid-summer due to long days. Cover your bedroom windows with foil or install light blocking curtains to darken your bedroom and help extend your sleep time.

Accessory Recovery Techniques
After you have taken care of the big two, nutrition and sleep, there are many accessory recovery techniques to add to your routine; stress reduction, massage, compression, active recovery, stretching, foam rolling, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, rolfing, cupping, cryotherapy, hydrotherapy, sauna, dry needling, supplements such as tart cherry juice, and more.
Stress reduction is one of the more important accessory recovery techniques. Trying to add too many accessory recovery techniques on top of an already busy schedule may add stress and be counterproductive. Pick a few accessory recovery techniques you enjoy and have easy access to, rather than trying to fit every single one of them into your schedule. For example, dipping your nightly sleep time below 8 hours to log 30 minutes in the sauna is not a good trade off.

Take Rest and Recovery Seriously
We are all busy. A common mistake many athletes make is to use their rest days to run endless errands and their recovery weeks to tackle bigger projects. One of my athletes built a deck behind his house in a recovery week! He ended the week sore and exhausted and we had to follow that week up with another recovery week in order for any quality training to get done.
On your rest days and recovery weeks, plan massages and lots of downtime, put your feet up and really unload fatigue. Recover as hard as you train.

Example of a Post-exercise Recovery Routine

  • Finish race or hard training bout and grab a recovery drink to sip during your cool down
  • Take a 10 minute ice-bath or cold river soak
  • Clean up and shower
  • 10 minute stretch
  • 20 minute compression legs such as Elevated Legs
  • 30 minute nap
  • Meal with 20g protein and a combination of carbohydrate and fat
  • Go to bed with enough time to get 8 hours of sleep

Eat well, sleep well and recover fast because your competitors probably are doing it!

References :
 Nutrition to Support Recovery from Endurance Exercise: Optimal Carbohydrate and Protein Replacement. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26166054
Post-exercise carbohydrate-protein supplementation improves subsequent exercise performance and intracellular signalling for protein synthesis. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21522069
Nutritional strategies to promote post-exercise recovery http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21116024
Sleep as a recovery tool for athletes  http://blogs.bmj.com/bjsm/2014/11/17/6066/
Sleep, recovery and human performance http://canadiansportforlife.ca/sites/default/files/resources/Sleep_Recovery_Jan2013_EN_web.pdf
The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3119836/
Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19883392
 

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How to Make the Jump from Marathons to Ultras

Andrew Simmons – Lifelong Endurance

With more and more people signing up for ultra-marathons—are you starting to get the itch too? These guidelines will show you how to make the jump from marathons to ultras and give you some key tips for having the best race possible.

It All Starts With a Plan

Longer distances will require more time in many aspects. Make sure you have the time to commit to training. Starting with a good training plan or a coach and an idea of how many hours you can train each week is key. Take some time to find the right plan and the right coach to suit your needs and your training availability.

Know Your Time Frame

If you’re currently in good shape you can prepare for a 50Km in roughly 12 weeks. However, if you’re starting from scratch give yourself plenty of time, up to 24 weeks to prepare for your event. Add an additional eight to 10 weeks of training for events that are between 50Km and 100 miles in length.

5 Tips for Your Best Race

Run Where You Race – Or As Close As You Can

It can be hard to find trail access in urban areas, however it’s a pretty safe bet most ultras will take you off road and onto a trail. For some, finding a trail or technical section can require some creativity, but it is worth the extra effort and possible drive time.

Getting onto a trail and off the roads can beneficial in multiple ways; it helps break up training by taking you out of your comfort zone, gets you into new training situations and will require you to think on your feet. Thinking on your feet and even getting a little lost is a crucial part of long-distance run training and developing a strong sense of direction and the ability to cope in the event of a mistake is a necessary skill.

Take to trails in small doses if you’re not a regular trail runner. If you’re totally lost, remember that trail running offers the bonus of less impact on you and your body. Less impact and more time on feet will help increase your durability both mentally and physically. It won’t always be easy!

Throw Away Your Ego

The first thing you’ll notice is that kilometre splits and hitting very specific times go out of the window at first. If you think you’re going to run a consistent pace front to back in an ultra, you will come to a harsh realization at your first hill or technical section.

Ultra-marathons require a “manage it as it happens” approach. While a road marathon requires supreme fitness, an ultra requires similar fitness with the added challenge of solving problems as you run. Running down a steep technical hill with rocks and roots and then quickly back up a wet culvert requires good fitness and the ability to control yourself so you can get to the finish line in one piece.

Time on Your Feet Is King

This doesn’t mean you can’t use fitness markers to your advantage in a race. A majority of ultra-marathon plans are based on heart rate (HR) and require you to find a comfortable zone that you can run in and then endure for four to seven hours to complete the course.

Keeping yourself in an aerobic zone allows you to utilize onboard energy more efficiently and will keep you feeling fresh longer. Tip over your HR threshold a few too many times and you may find your race a lot tougher during those last 10 miles.

Mileage is not always the best marker when going off road; time on your feet matters more than the weekly mileage totals. You’ll find that if a majority of your work is truly aerobic, you’ll be running slower than you may have been in previous training build ups. This will require you to reframe what’s important in your ultra training. Looking at your total weekly hours and building up to more consecutive hours will be key to building yourself into an ultra-marathon runner.

Pressure Test The System

Ultra-marathon training on the surface simply requires you to run longer, pushing you out of your comfort zone mentally and physically. One of the biggest roadblocks for a successful first ultra is not having tested yourself at your race effort. You may find that you need to adjust for electrolytes after two to three hours, that you do better with solid food the first half of a race, or that you need to change shoes because your feet swell in warm temperatures. These small nuances can have a huge impact on your race—especially once you start looking at 50km and above races

Hydration and fuelling strategies should be tested on your long runs and you should start to note what it feels like when you’re dehydrated or low on fuel. Your long runs are your chance to try out new fuels. Learning how to work through a bad stretch in a long run is a vital learning experience in many ways!

A key component to your success is getting in the training but also replicating what you’re going to expect to see on race day; think about the terrain, major elements like long hills, extended descents or race day conditions like extreme heat or cold.

You’re Stronger and More Capable than You Think

It’s hard to imagine what running 50kms or more will feel like and I can’t even tell you what you will personally experience. To some that extra five miles is an eternity and to others it’s a natural and more comfortable progression.  Pacing yourself and taking the race aid station to aid station is going to help you break the race into manageable chunks. Give yourself a boost at each aid station as a reward, or imbibe in an aid station treat (believe me they have some amazing things at these trail races!).

An ultra requires mental persistence, self-affirmation and a belief that you can complete it. Many professionals utilize mantras to keep them focused and “in the zone.” Others like to use music, podcasts or other tactics to push the little monster out from inside their head. Using a motivational tool or pacer can be a huge help  toward ensuring your success on race day.

Recovery

First and foremost, ultras are longer than you’ve ever gone before. In both training and racing, you’ll be pushing your body into new territories.  This can come with its own aches and pains; post-race you’ll want to give yourself an extra seven to 10 days of low mileage on top of your normal marathon recovery protocol.

Following your first ultra you should allow yourself five days of low impact activity directly following and roughly 10 to 14 days before you return to your normal training or start to focus on your next event. Remember, the first one always takes the longest to recover from! In rare cases there can be minimal soreness; don’t let this fool you. Long distance racing takes a larger and more impactful metabolic, mental and physiological toll that can put you down for longer than you think.

Take this time to enjoy activities you missed out on during peak training and maybe sleep in a little and slowly introduce yourself back to training. After all, recovery is the second best part after the race itself!