12/31 Last day of 2005

Got up (late) and went straight to the pool for a dip. Just trying to get some good base in today, did 6 x 500 all at about 6:00 minutes with a HR between 120 – 130. Took about 20 to 30 secs rest between 500’s. Then did a 400 IM kick and a 400 IM drill. 200 warm down.

On the trainer in the garage with the door open while watching the rain come down. Watched some Olympic Trial ski competition then the Chargers and the Broncos first couple of quarters. HR never got over 120 and avg. about 113..

Friday 12/30

32 minutes running 19 laps, 30 minutes swimming 2000 yards, 30 trainer

Ran on the track with Hortie in the rain. It was pouring at first, but the temperature felt great after a couple laps. I was at 4.5 miles at 30 minutes.

Then I swam and my arms felt sluggish and strained. It was hard to get going.

  • 500 fr
  • 400IM Kick
  • 400IM drill
  • 500 fr
  • 200 warm down
  • Came home and spun on the trainer for 30 minutes. HR around 120.

    Wednesday 12/28 & Thursday 12/29

    Wed. – 1 hour swimming 3300 yards then 54 minutes on the trainer / Thurs – 50 minutes swimming 2500 yards, 50 minutes biking to work, 53 minutes running 7 miles

    Swimming was hard due to the soreness in my muscles from lifting weights. It is hard to relax the strokes as they feel forced. HR was around 150 after first 400 but then stayed around 120 for the rest of the set.

  • 300 swim
  • 200 kick
  • 200 drill
  • 4 x 50’s on :50
  • 400 on 5:00
  • 100 on 1:30
  • 300 on 3:45
  • 2 x 100 on 1:25
  • 200 on 2:30
  • 3 x 100 on 1:20
  • 5 x 100 on 1:15
  • 300 Warm down
  • HR while on the trainer averaged about 115 and cadence was about 110.

    I was off to an early start on Thursday, getting up at 6:15 and going swimming.

  • 500
  • 400 IM kick
  • 100 easy
  • 8 x 50 IM on :50
  • 1000 moderate with good form
  • 200 warm down
  • 50 minutes of biking to and from work in very warm temperatures. It was way too hot for booties, but oh so nice; to be outside and riding to work again.

    53 minutes of treadmill running. The first 30 minutes started off nice and easy with 7:30 pace. I did a couple of fast paced economy running (sub 6:00) for about a minute. I finished off the last 14 minutes at 6:50 pace. Then I did another 20 minute session and kept it at a pretty smooth 7:00 min pace. The last 6 minutes were closer to 6:40 pace. I managed 4.25 in the first 30 minutes and then 2.5 in the 20 minute session.

    .

    Tuesday 12-27

    Running 1 mile to the Y / Yoga for 1.5 hours and weights for 30 minutes

    Ran in the rain to the Y, working on some economy drills. Three times I would accelerate for 15 seconds working on form. Yoga is getting better and better as I feel both stronger and more flexible.

    Weights were hardest to date:

  • 2 x 8 squats at 135
  • 10 lounges with 15 lb dumbbells then 8 with 25 lb. dumbbells
  • 2 x 8 leg press 270
  • 12 pull ups then 10
  • 10 Back ext. with 10 lbs then 8 with 25 lbs
  • 8 bench with 135 lbs then 8 with 155
  • 2 x 8 hip ext. 60 lbs then 70 lbs.
  • 10 bicep curls with 25 lb dumbbells then 8 with 30 lb
  • 10 tricep ext with 60 lbs then 8 with 70 lbs
  • 2 x 8 hip adductor at setting 9 then 10
  • 2 x 8 hip abductor at setting 8 then 9
  • 2 x 8 Hamstring 60 lbs then 70 lbs.
  • 2 x 8 Quads 70 lbs then 80 lbs.
  • 100 sit ups
  • walk home
  • .

    Carbo-Loading – Men Vs. Women

    Different hormones, different fuel mix

    According to Mark Tarnopolsky, MD, PhD, at McMaster University Medical Centre in Canada, men and women differ in the type of fuel they burn as energy for muscle contraction during endurance exercise. For everyone, the major energy sources for endurance exercise are carbohydrate and lipid (or fat). However, in an analysis of 16 different studies, Tarnopolsky determined that women derived 41% of their energy from lipid and 56% from carbohydrate, whereas men burned 29% of their energy from lipid and 65% from carbohydrate.

    The reason for the difference? The female hormone estrogen. Estrogen increases the activity of enzymes involved in metabolizing lipids. Tarnopolsky believes that higher levels of estrogen in women translate to proportionally more fat burned during exercise compared to men and less reliance on glycogen (carbohydrate) stored in the muscle and liver.

    Effective carbo-loading for both sexes

    Given this finding Tarnopolsky wondered if men and women differed in their ability to carbo-load as well. Conventional wisdom holds that loading up on carbohydrates 3 to 4 days before an endurance event will improve performance by boosting muscle glycogen stores. However, most carbo-loading studies have been conducted using males. Tarnopolsky decided to test for differences between the sexes.

    Not too surprisingly, when men tapered their exercise intensity for four days while simultaneously increasing their carbohydrate intake from 57 to 75% of total calories, they showed a spike in muscle glycogen stores and a hefty increase in the amount of time it took them to exercise to exhaustion. In short, it worked. The shocker came when women exposed to the carbo-loading regimen showed no increase in muscle glycogen storage or exercise performance.

    It turns out that to boost glycogen stores, both men and women need to eat in the range of 8-12 grams of carbs for each kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. For male athletes, this amount of carbohydrate isn’t a problem because their caloric intake is so high. But for female athletes, caloric intakes may be too low to achieve the minimum carb intake needed. The following example illustrates the problem:

    Putting it into practice

    Paul is a 170-pound athlete who consumes about 3500 calories daily, with 55% of those calories (or about 481 g) coming from carbs. This equates to about 6 grams of carbs for every kilogram of body weight, which is appropriate for light-to-moderate intensity training. To carbo-load he increases the proportion of calories coming from carbohydrates to 75% (about 656 g). This equates to about 8.5 grams of carbohydrate for every kilogram of body weight, which is within the 8-12 gram range needed to maximize glycogen resynthesis.

    Amy is a 120-pound athlete and more calorie-conscious. She typically consumes 2000 calories daily, with 55% of those calories (or about 275 g) coming from carbohydrate. This equates to about 5 grams of carbs for every kilogram of her body weight. In attempting to carbo-load, she increases the proportion of calories coming from carbs to 75% (about 375 g). Unfortunately, this equates to less than 7 grams of carbohydrate for every kilogram of body weight, which is below the 8-12 gram range needed to maximize glycogen resynthesis.

    At 120 pounds, Amy needs a minimum of 436 grams of carbs, or 1745 calories from carbohydrates. Those numbers may look good on paper, but in practice if she’s only consuming 2000 calories daily, getting 1745 calories from carbohydrate (a whopping 87% of total calories) isn’t realistic.

    The solution for effective carbo-loading, according to Tarnopolsky, is that women may actually need to consume 30-35% more calories on carbo-loading days. So, instead of 2000 calories, during carbo-loading 2600 calories a day may be needed. Those 600 bonus calories equate to an extra bagel, a cup of oatmeal with raisins sprinkled on top and a PowerBar Performance bar each day. For those concerned about too many calories, no worries: the green light for extra feasting is only for the 3 to 4 days of carbo-loading.
    Fueling during and after exercise

    Because women use proportionally more lipid during exercise than men, it is reasonable to think that they might use ingested carbohydrate (from energy bars or sports drinks) differently from men. But that’s apparently not the case. Women respond favorably to ingested glucose in a manner similar to, if not even more so, than men.

    When it comes to recovery, several studies have shown that the rate of glycogen resynthesis is greater if carbs, or carbs and protein together, are consumed in the early post-exercise period as compared to hours later. Here again, gender differences in carbohydrate metabolism don’t appear to be a factor. Men and women respond similarly to post-exercise glycogen resynthesis regimens.

    Take-home Advice

    When it comes to carbo-loading, what works for men won’t necessarily work for women.
    Carbo-Loading Tips:

    · Gradually taper your training 3 to 4 days before your endurance event.

    · Simultaneously increase your carbohydrate intake. For optimal glycogen reloading, men and women require 8-12 grams of carbohydrates for each kilogram of body weight.

    · Male athletes can usually achieve the higher carb range by simply substituting carbohydrate-rich foods for other foods that tend to be higher in fat.

    · For female athletes, effective carbo-loading may require adding foods to the diet. As a rule of thumb, women may need to increase total calorie intake by 30-35% in the 3 to 4 days before the event..

    The Hydration Zone – Keeping Your Fluids & Electrolytes in Balance

    It is generally well known that replacing fluid lost as sweat is critical for maintaining performance and preventing dehydration. However, drinking too much water or low-sodium beverages during longer exercise sessions and/or in high temperatures can be just as risky, not only to performance, but to your health. It can dilute blood sodium levels and lead to hyponatremia — a dangerous condition, especially in extreme cases.

    Your goal should be to stay between your pre-exercise weight and 2% less at all times. For example, if your starting weight was 150, you should stay between 147 and 150. This is your hydration zone. If you gain weight over the course of an exercise session or lose more than 2% of your body weight, your performance and safety can be compromised.

    Hyponatremia – the dangers of drinking too much

    Hyponatremia is the medical term for low blood sodium. Exertional hyponatremia, is low blood sodium that is believed to occur from consumption of more water before, during and/or after prolonged physical activity, than is lost during the activity. Sodium loss, primarily through sweating, may also be a contributing factor. While milder symptoms include headaches, nausea and cramps, this condition can have tragic consequences. In 2002, two deaths in marathons were attributed to hyponatremia.

    Who’s at risk?

    Anyone performing prolonged or repeated exercise, for example, triathletes, hikers/backpackers, marathoners, ultra-endurance athletes, adventure athletes and military recruits. Athletes with low sweat rates may be at risk because they may drink more than they lose through sweat. Athletes who are ‘salty’ sweaters may also be at greater risk. A recent study showed that those who finished a marathon with hyponatremia were more likely to be female, have a slower finishing time and have taken an NSAID like naproxen, ibuprofen or aspirin, before or during exercise.

    Symptoms of hyponatremia

    Symptoms of hyponatremia can be confused with symptoms of dehydration or other heat illnesses, so diagnosis should only be made by a medical professional. Symptoms include: swelling and tightness of the hands and feet, fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness and dizziness, cramps and muscle spasms, nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion and seizures.

    Prevention

    Hydration strategies should take into account an individual’s sweat rate as well as climate, intensity and fitness level. By performing a one-hour test workout you can learn how to more closely balance your fluid intake and fluid losses. To access the PowerBar hydration calculator, click here. Ideally, sweat rate should be determined in conditions that closely mimic actual conditions during the workout or competition.

    It’s also important to avoid NSAIDs such as naproxen, ibuprofen or aspirin before or during prolonged physical activity. And if you are on prescription medications, ask your doctor if they have an impact on sodium levels.

    If during or after activity you begin to have any of the symptoms of hyponatremia listed above, stop and seek medical attention.
    What to drink during endurance exercise

    Water provides necessary fluid without carbs. Most juices and soft drinks are too concentrated in carbohydrate and can slow hydration. Sports drinks with a 6-8% carbohydrate concentration (14-20 grams of carbs per 8 oz) serving provide needed muscle fuel during exercise without slowing hydration. Drinks that have a lighter taste will help prevent you from wanting to dilute, therefore keeping the carbohydrate concentration in the optimal range. You also want to look for drinks with 500-700 mg of sodium per liter (approx 120-160mg per 8 oz serving). Sports medicine authorities, such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), recommend sodium and no other electrolyte during endurance exercise. Note: PowerBar Endurance, one of the newest entries into the sports drink category, has 17g of carbs and 150 mg sodium per 8 oz serving as well as lighter taste to help keep you from wanting to dilute. Read on for information on electrolytes.

    Electrolytes–a primer

    Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge in your blood and other body fluids. They are involved in many body functions and have important effects on the amount of water in the body, muscle action and the acid-base balance of the blood. The main dietary electrolytes are sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium.

    Not surprisingly, most Americans need to consume less sodium in their diets and as pointed out in the recently published 2005 Dietary Guidelines, they need to consume more potassium, calcium and magnesium. The story changes as far as sodium is concerned for most athletes. For just about any athlete performing multi-hour workouts, especially in the heat, sodium losses of several grams are not uncommon, with smaller losses of the other electrolytes. Electrolyte concentrations in sweat vary, though. ‘Salty sweaters’ can typically be identified by the white crust on their faces and clothes after a tough workout or race.
    What level of electrolyte(s) should be consumed during exercise?

    According to current recommendations, sodium is the only electrolyte that should be replaced during exercise. The ACSM, as noted previously, recommend 500-700 mg of sodium per liter of fluid consumed during exercise. This level of sodium may help prevent dangerous drops in blood sodium, while also helping to prevent dehydration-related performance decline. As for the other electrolytes, these are safely replaced through a normal, well-balanced diet.

    Hydration Tips:

    • Pre-workout, check your hydration status by looking at your urine color. Light colored, like lemonade, is the goal. If it’s dark, like apple juice, drink some more.

    • In terms of general guidelines, the American College of Sports Medicine suggests drinking between 6 and 12 oz of fluid every 15-20 minutes during activity.

    • However, because of the wide variation in sweating rates (and therefore the general hydration guidelines), occasionally weigh yourself pre and post-workout. If you lost weight, drink more next time (each pound is equivalent to about 16 oz). If you gained weight, drink less. Or check out the hydration calculator, to determine more precisely your own fluid needs..

    Eating for Endurance

    By International Society of Sports Nutrition

    There are several types of endurance athletes but all have one thing in common: they have a personal goal they are trying to reach. Whether its knocking 20 minutes off your PR for Ironman Hawaii or finishing your first marathon, your training regimen can rival that of Lance Armstrong’s and you might never reach your goal if you don’t have a sound nutrition plan.

    So why do athletes pay meticulous attention to every detail of their training, spend hours debating over slip-last versus semi-curved running shoes yet they don’t give a second thought to refueling with a 32-ounce soda and a few Krispy Kremes? Don’t be one of those athletes, read on and learn what foods you should eat and when to eat them to maximize your endurance.

    Years ago we heard the motto “eat carbs perform well” so often you would think local endurance athletes might get together, ditch their jobs and invest in a bagel franchise. Carbohydrates are still very important though now we know even more about the role that protein plays in the endurance athlete’s diet.

    But first, let’s take a look at why carbohydrate is so important. Who hasn’t heard of the athlete who bonked at mile 21 in their marathon? Or the ultimate Frisbee player who hit the wall in the championship game of the tournament? If you ever feel like you can’t lift your arm enough to complete the last mile of a swim or the thought of a two-a-day seems impossible, you might be glycogen depleted. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate in the body and is readily converted to blood sugar and used during exercise. Training and performance are dependent on a number of factors including the amount of stored glycogen in our bodies. Glycogen is stored in both our muscles and liver, and is the primary source of fuel used during longer exercise bouts. When your body runs low on muscle glycogen you hit that point where you can’t possibly continue exercising. Though an average person has approximately 1500 calories of stored glycogen, the human body has an amazing ability to adapt and change to perform at greater levels. For instance, endurance training leads to an enhanced ability for glycogen storage in muscle allowing you to train harder and longer. For those hard-core endurance athletes this means you should take advantage of this increased ability to store glycogen by consuming carbohydrate throughout the day. And don’t skimp on carbohydrates in an effort to lose weight, your performance is likely to suffer.

    It isn’t just the amount of carbohydrate you eat during the day but also when you eat it that is vital. Many athletes miss the window of opportunity to consume food soon after they finish a training bout or competition. It is during this period of time, within 30 minutes to 2 hrs after exercise (preferably 30 minutes) that you need to refuel because the rate at which your body takes up carbohydrate to produce glycogen for your muscles is at its peak. Scientists have examined the importance of refueling after exercise by taking trained athletes and having them cycle on two separate occasions ingesting a 25% carbohydrate solution either immediately after exercise or two hours later and then taking muscle biopsies (yes, that is as painful as it sounds) immediately after exercise as well as 2 and 4 hours later. The rate of glycogen re-synthesis was 45% slower in the group that waited 2 hours to replenish their carbohydrate stores. Lesson learned: consume high quality carbohydrate as soon as possible after exercising; especially if you are playing in multiple games in one day or exercising twice a day.

    Now what about protein? During our bagel craze anyone who was hungry after exercise knew they should stuff their face immediately with as much bread as possible. More recent research suggests that ingesting protein along with your oversized bagel will enhance glycogen synthesis in addition to assisting with muscle tissue repair.

    How was this research conducted and were the results really that impressive? In an effort to find the best post-workout combination of macronutrients, scientists devised a great plan to compare a carbohydrate-protein beverage with a typical 6% carbohydrate beverage after exhaustive (glycogen-depleting) exercise. Consumption of the carbohydrate-protein versus the carbohydrate only beverage led to a 55% greater time to exhaustion during the next exercise bout. In order to determine if this was in fact due to greater glycogen restoration, the same scientists took endurance-trained cyclists and had them cycle for 2 hours and consume either a carbohydrate-protein or carbohydrate-only beverage immediately after exercise and again two hours later (subjects were not told which beverage they were receiving). Those in the carbohydrate-protein group in comparison to the carbohydrate-only group experienced an astounding 128% greater storage of muscle glycogen. That is an edge no athlete should pass up.

    How does an athlete implement this strategy of nutrient-timing to maximize their glycogen storage? This depends on a number of things including how often and hard you train and what you can stomach. Some athletes can eat immediately after a long, hard run while others may get sick to their stomach at the thought of eating a full meal right away. Keep in mind that you should eat throughout the day and not skimp on quality sources of both carbohydrate and protein. In addition, use the age-old strategy of trial and error to find what foods your stomach can tolerate within that 30-minute period after you exercise. You might find that downing a carbohydrate-protein drink or bar is both easier on your stomach and better for refueling than a full meal.

    References

    Bergstrom J, Hermansen L, Hultman E, Saltin B. Diet, muscle glycogen and physical performance. Acta Physiol Scand 1967;71(2):140-50.

    Costill DL, Bowers R, Branam G, Sparks K. Muscle glycogen utilization during prolonged exercise on successive days. J Appl Physiol. 1971;31(6):834-8.

    Costill DL, Gollnick PD, Jansson ED, Saltin B, Stein EM. Glycogen depletion pattern in human muscle fibres during distance running. Acta Physiol Scand. 1973;89(3):374-83.

    Greiwe JS, Hickner RC, Hansen PA, Racette SB, Chen MM, Holloszy JO. Effects of endurance exercise training on muscle glycogen accumulation in humans. J Appl Physiol 1999;87(1):222-6.

    Ivy JL, Katz AL, Cutler CL, Sherman WM, Coyle EF. Muscle glycogen synthesis after exercise: effect of time of carbohydrate ingestion. J Appl Physiol 1988;64(4):1480-5.

    Williams MB, Raven PB, Fogt DL, Ivy JL. Effects of recovery beverages on glycogen restoration and endurance exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res 2003;17(1):12-9..

    Nutritious Nuts

    Nuts for Heart Health

    Nuts have staged a dramatic comeback in the world of nutrition in recent years. The overly simplistic “carbs are good, fat is bad” paradigm that was prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s is gone. Today, consumers are beginning to accept the scientifically accurate, but more complex, notion that, in terms of healthy eating, not all fats are bad and some carbs are better than others.

    Most nuts are packed with “good” unsaturated fats, are low in “bad” saturated fats and contain no trans fats, the newest “evil” nutrient. In fact, the scientific research linking nuts to reduced cardiovascular disease risk, has led the FDA to authorize a claim based on this relationship. And PowerBar will soon be introducing Nut Naturals, a great tasting line of bars, which qualify for this new FDA-approved heart health claim (see below for more details). Bottom line, nuts are back. They make sense in a healthy diet, and can be a useful part of nutritional recovery for endurance athletes.

    The Basics of a Heart-Healthy Diet
    Of course, nuts alone don’t make a diet heart-healthy – they have to be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

    Compelling evidence from a number of different types of scientific studies over the past few decades suggest three key heart-healthy dietary strategies:

    1. Substitute unsaturated fats for saturated and trans-fats
    2. Consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains
    3. Increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish

    Given this perspective, what do we know about nuts and heart health? At least five large population studies have found decreased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) with increased nut consumption. For example, in the Nurses’ Health Study of more than 100,000 registered nurses, study subjects who reported that they ate nuts 5+ times a week, had a 35% lower risk of CHD than those who reported eating nuts less than once a month. Likewise, in the Physicians’ Health Study, risk of cardiac death and sudden death decreased significantly as nut consumption increased.

    How Do Nuts Reduce Heart Disease?
    A recent review of a large number of studies suggests that effects on total and LDL (bad) cholesterol play an important role. In a scientific article, published in the Journal of Nutrition in September, 2005, researchers took a comprehensive look back through the scientific literature on the topic. Of more than 400 total studies identified, 23 high quality studies were chosen to evaluate. Based on their analysis, the researchers concluded that consumption of 50-100 grams (1.5-3.5 servings) of nuts, 5 or more times a week, as part of a heart-healthy diet could significantly decrease total and LDL cholesterol in people with both normal and elevated cholesterol levels.

    There are other means by which nuts could have heart-healthy effects. Most nuts are rich in arginine, an amino acid building block for nitric oxide, which circulates in the bloodstream and serves to relax blood vessels. Some nuts are rich in alpha-linoleic acid, which has been independently linked to reduce CHD in a number of studies. Nuts also naturally contain a relatively high level of essential nutrients such as magnesium, copper, folic acid, protein, potassium, fiber and vitamin E.

    What Types of Nuts are Heart-Healthy?
    The types of nuts eligible for the FDA-approved claim are almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. The nuts with evidence of beneficial effects on cholesterol levels, from the review article mentioned above, are a more select group of nuts consisting of almonds, peanuts, pecans and walnuts.

    Besides containing a sufficient quantity of appropriate nuts, in order to qualify for the FDA-approved claim for nut-containing foods, a low saturated fat level is required. This means one gram of saturated fat or less per serving. So, in order to qualify for the new FDA claim, a food would need to have a relatively high amount of unsaturated or ‘good’ fats and a low level of saturated or ‘bad’ fat. The new PowerBar® Nut Naturals bar meets this criteria and proudly wears a ‘heart healthy’ badge on its label. In addition, the POWERBAR NUT NATURALS bar provides 10 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, 16 vitamins and minerals and comes in three great-tasting flavors: Trail Mix, Fruits & Nuts and Mixed Nuts.

    Fats as Part of Athletic Recovery
    Nuts can also play a role in nutritional recovery for endurance activities. Intramyocellular lipid (IMCL) is fat that is stored in muscle (as opposed to on your hips), similar to carbs stored in muscle as glycogen. Like glycogen, IMCL stores get depleted with endurance exercise. However, unlike glycogen, it is adequate fat intake, not carb intake, that restores IMCL stores to pre-exercise levels.

    In fact, a recent study showed that a high carb diet, similar to many endurance athletes’ diets, did not fully restore IMCL stores even 2 days after a tough workout, though a somewhat higher fat diet did. This and related research suggests that fat is, in fact, an important nutrient for endurance athletes. The best time to incorporate fat into meals is likely after the post-exercise window of opportunity for glycogen re-synthesis when carbs and protein are important. And, of course, unsaturated fats are more heart-healthy than saturated fats, so foods like avocados, nuts and olive oil make good sense in an endurance athlete’s diet..

    The Effects of Strenuous Exercise on Immune Function

    Conventional wisdom holds that being physically fit equates to better health and a stronger resistance to colds and the flu. But what about athletes involved in strenuous training and competitions?

    Investigators seeking to answer this question studied 150 ultra-marathon runners competing in a 90-kilometer race in South Africa. Surprisingly, a whopping one-third of athletes developed upper respiratory tract infections within two weeks after the race. In another study, involving 1,828 runners competing in the Los Angeles Marathon, almost 13% reported coming down with a cold within a week of the race. Among athletes competing in the Western States Endurance Run, approximately one in four reported symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection in the two weeks following the race.

    Why would there be a spike in colds after these types of events? Well, it turns out that strenuous bouts of exhaustive exercise temporarily suppress immune function. The prevailing thinking is that the physical stress of prolonged exercise increases the circulating concentrations of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. While in the short term these hormones help meet the immediate physical demands the athlete faces, they have the side effects of temporarily suppressing the immune system. Unfortunately, for many athletes, these effects seem to be just enough to allow a head or chest cold to set in.

    So, how do you reap the benefits of strenuous training or competition without temporarily compromising your immune system? The answer may lie in what you eat.

    How the Immune System Works
    Understanding the connection between nutrition and your immune system requires some background on how the immune system functions. The job of your immune system is to protect you against foreign elements like pathogenic bacteria or viruses. The immune system has two arms that work together to keep you healthy and help you recover if you do get sick.

    The first arm, or line of defense, essentially blocks the entry or penetration of foreign elements into the body. Your skin, the acid in your stomach, mucosal secretions, enzymes in saliva and digestive fluids, and cells in your blood called macrophages all serve to prevent foreign invaders from taking hold in your body and causing infections. But, if that first line of defense fails, and a foreign invader does gain a foothold, a second line of defense immediately comes into play. This second arm of the immune system involves the rapid replication of immune cells and related factors designed to target and destroy the specific invader.

    Support Your Immune System with Good Nutrition
    The key to avoiding the immunosuppressive effects of heavy exercise is to ensure that your diet is rich in nutrients and dietary factors, which play important roles in supporting immune function. Protein in the diet is important because many components of the immune system are made up of protein. In addition, a variety of vitamins and minerals are needed to support the rapid replication of immune cells that are critical to warding off infectious agents.

    The strongest evidence in favor of a link between diet and immune function comes from studying malnutrition. It is well established that among individuals suffering from protein-calorie malnutrition (where calorie and/or protein intakes are inadequate), immune function is weakened, and rates of infection are high. With malnutrition, there just aren’t enough calories, protein, or critical vitamins and minerals for the immune system to mount an effective defense of the body.

    Nutrition and Strenuous Exercise
    Serious athletes involved in strenuous training are obviously not malnourished, but they are in a state where physical demands are pushing the body’s limits. Interestingly, scientists have found that in these types of athletes, even a few weeks of dieting to lose weight can impair the function of their immune cells. So, as a general rule, to insure that your immune system is able to function at its best, make sure that periods of heavy training and strenuous competition don’t overlap with periods of dieting to lose weight.

    While calories and protein are certainly mainstays of a diet to ensure a strong immune system for athletes, the role of carbohydrates has also intrigued investigators. Carbohydrates are of particular interest as a strategy to reduce the stress hormone response to exercise. The thinking is that if the rise in stress hormones associated with strenuous exercise can be blunted, the negative impact on immune function may be substantially reduced as well. Studies show that athletes eating low carbohydrate diets who engage in prolonged strenuous exercise show sharp increases in circulating levels of stress hormones. Scientists also found that as stress hormone levels rise, the number and activity level of key cells involved in immune function decline. Other research shows that consuming carbs during exercise reduces the rise in stress hormones seen with strenuous exertion and helps to offset the suppressive effect on immune function. Does this translate to fewer colds? No one knows for sure, but given the already well-established benefits of carbohydrate consumption for extending endurance performance, it’s gratifying to think that carbs may be offering an immune system boost as well.

    Scientists have also studied a virtual smorgasbord of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and related dietary factors to see if any can impact exercise-induced immuno-suppression. Unfortunately, to date there is no strong evidence that any specific nutrient or herb can offset the effects of strenuous exercise on immune function. Numerous studies have looked at one or two biomarkers of immune function, sometimes showing evidence of benefit, but few studies have actually looked at the effect of these dietary factors on rates of upper respiratory tract infections.

    The notable exception is vitamin C. In two different studies, ultra-marathon runners taking 500-600 mg of vitamin C for a few weeks before and a few days after a 90-km ultra-marathon had lower rates of upper respiratory tract infections compared to those taking a placebo. Unfortunately, other investigators were unable to find beneficial effects. Although definitive proof is lacking, taking a daily 500 mg vitamin C supplement for a few weeks before and the week after competing in a marathon, triathlon, or ultra-marathon might be a measure to consider. Finally, a reasonable argument can be made for a balanced once-a-day type multivitamin/mineral supplement to help ensure that athletes obtain adequate amounts of the micronutrients needed to support immune function.

    Avoiding the Post-Race Sniffles
    In summary, while being physically fit helps strengthen the immune system, strenuous bouts of exhaustive exercise can suppress immune function and substantially increase the risk of developing an upper respiratory tract infection. What can you do to help avoid the post-marathon sniffles? Make sure you’re not compounding the physical demands of the event itself by scrimping on calories before hand. Consume carbs during the event – they not only increase endurance, they may reduce the immuno-suppression associated with strenuous exercise. Also consider routinely taking a balanced multivitamin/mineral supplement to ensure that your diet always has an adequate supply of the nutrients needed to support immune function. Finally, a little extra vitamin C a week or two before and after the event may give your immune system an added boost.

    Return of the Mountain Man: That time of year…

    December 15, 2005 — Hello again. It has been a while since I checked in. I guess it is that time of the year — when the race season is over but there is still a lot of life going on.

    Courtesy Kelly Guest
    Lab rat: Guest recently participated in a cycling-fitness study.
    Lab rat: Guest recently participated in a cycling-fitness study.

    Instead of gearing up for my next big race I find myself gearing up for my wedding — in less than two weeks! As you can imagine, this is very exciting and it’s keeping me rather busy. I have to say that there are a number of aspects of my upcoming wedding for which I have to thank the sport of triathlon. The first (and foremost) is my fiancée. I met her through my training group. I also met four of my “best men” through triathlon: my Coach Cliff English, Simon Whitfield, Jasper Blake, Nik Southwell. My fifth “best man” is my best friend: “Cousin Bob.” He’s someone I’ve done a lot of things with, including triathlons. This is a great sport in so many ways. The friends you meet through triathlon are so often friends for life.

    In addition to planning for the big day, I have used some of my time off from racing to take advantage of my year-end fitness and participate in a cycling study. Now let me tell you, this was not an easy study to participate in. The entire thing was five weeks long. The first week was a VO2 max test, then the next four weeks consisted a series of 20km time trails on a stationary bike with no feedback — I mean nothing. The whole process was both physically and mentally draining. (As you may be able to tell from the pictures.)

    Courtesy Kelly Guest
    Guest working hard on the bike in the lab.

    Guest working hard on the bike in the lab.

    The tantalizing part of this study was the data I would receive from the test (personal information on watts, thresholds and left vs. right side balance) — oh, and I also got paid for it. My wonderful fiancée said to me after one of the time trials, as I laid, completely smashed, on my living room floor, “You are working so hard for this study . . . you should use the money from it to buy an iPod Nano.” I ask you, how great is she?

    Now that the study is done I have the information I wanted, which will be key in developing my winter training sessions, and I have a great new device for listening to music (also likely to be key in upcoming training sessions).

    After completing the study, I have taken a couple of weeks off from training to allow my body to rest and ready itself for the upcoming winter of training. While I’m not clocking tons of miles, this is still an important part of the race year. As hard and frustrating as it can be to take time off, you have to do it at some point, and I say it’s better now than mid-season. I believe if you want to be able to hurt yourself in a race in August, you can’t be out hurting in December.

    I usually don’t have too much trouble taking time off at the end of a long season of racing, however. I usually relish the idea of staying up late, watching movies, sleeping in, going to a café for a coffee in the morning and of course getting my fill of cheeseburgers and fries. That is until I see someone out running or cycling, and then a wave of panic comes over me and I think, “I have to get back at it or I am going to be so far behind when I get back to training (after my three-week break).” Luckily this year I’ve not only had the wedding to concentrate on and look forward to during these weeks of downtime, I’ve also been keeping busy with coaching my groups of kids. This is an aspect of sport I really enjoy. Kids bring such genuine enthusiasm and energy to the things they do.

    Another distraction has been my latest birthday gift. My fiancée got me a guitar a couple of weeks ago. Other than a few misused years of elementary-school music class, I’ve never played an instrument, but I am learning now, so look out world. I plan to move on to rock stardom after I finish with triathlon. Do I hear Triathlon Idol?

    Until next time, this is the Mountain Man saying, “Use your off-season to do whatever you can to recharge your body and mind. If you do, it will pay you back in spades come the summer!” .