Tag Archives: achieving peak performance

What’s in a Replacement?

I have been very conscious of the source and quality of the food that I prepare for Diane and I, especially over the last year, having switched to a Low-Carb way-of-eating.  I find the health benefits of this approach far outweigh the cost of better quality foods and the breaking of old eating habits. I have become a fat-burning athlete that doesn’t need continuous high-carb supplements to perform. I’m not hungry all the time, and I get to eat all those great-tasting foods like eggs, bacon, sausage, steaks and green vegetables. It is a  great transition from hunger cravings at 10 am, crashing in the afternoon and always wanting more to eating when I am hungry, controlling my weight without extreme effort, and better overall attitude and motivation.

One of the key ideas of this low-carb approach is that you restrict all carbs (sugars, grains, starches) and focus on getting enough quality protein to support your lean-body mass (LBM). Once you have enough protein, you then eat good fats to satisfy your hunger and provide the remaining calories.   Notice that the only limitation is on the amount of carbs in my diet (<30g / day). Everything else is not restricted (including total calories). For me (LBM ~60 Kg) I should get at least 120g of protein in my diet per day to support my bodies needs, going over is ok, but less than 120g is bad. Eating less proteins  means that my body must take protein from existing tissues to provide the needed amount (i.e. lose muscle).  The amount of fat can vary also… if you don’t eat enough fat to provide enough calories to support your daily calorie expenditure, you will lose weight as you get the required calories from body fat. If you eat more, you will get the calories from your diet and maintain your weight.  See Volek and Phinney “The Art and Science of Low-Carb Performance” and others.  From Volek and Phinney:

How Much Fat
As you adjust your body weight and training intensity, your consumption of carbohydrates and protein will remain fairly stable despite changes in goals and activity levels, whereas how much fat you consume will
be dictated by your energy demands, body weight and composition goals, and satiety.
If you want to lose weight, the total amount of fat consumed will be reduced. If weight loss is not a goal, your dietary fat
needs to be maintained at a level that matches your energy expenditure, thus holding your body weight stable.
The only thing that stands between you and full access to your body fat stores is a brief period of adaptation to a low carbohydrate
diet. We hope it is apparent that a low carbohydrate diet that allows you to optimally access your fat stores and increases mitochondrial fat
oxidation is rational ( AND optimal )
Think about it – if about 20% of your daily energy comes from protein and 5% from carbs, where’s the other 75% of your energy going to come from? The answer, of course, is ‘fat’. ( AND ) Yes, when you are losing weight (i.e., shrinking body fat stores), some of what you burn does not need to be supplied by your diet.

There are plenty of great protein sources out there:   grassfed meats such as beef, pork, chicken, bison, etc.; eggs (nature’s perfect food); and the occasional snack of nuts (almonds, pistachios).  But how do you get  quick and easy protein into your diet?  One way is a protein shake sometimes referred to as meal-replacment shakes.  There are several products available that make protein shakes— but be careful. The ingredients list on these products doesn’t fit the “real food, healthy food and no diets or quick fixes”  requirement as noted in Dani Stout’s blog “Ancestral-nutrition.com.”  Dani Strong has evaluated several of the more popular protein products. She describes Herbalife as:

the diet recommended by Herbalife is not only unhealthy, but also promotes disease. I mean really, I can’t even count the ingredients in the junk above. Among them are hydrogenated soy, canola and cottonseed oils, margarine, autolyzed yeast extract (also known as MSG), artificial flavors, wheat protein and corn syrup.

( See more at: http://ancestral-nutrition.com/herbalife-is-a-scam/#sthash.CamnAJsI.dpuf)

Looking at the ingredients in Isagenix, Dani Stout notes:

Below are common ingredients found in Isagenix products:

  • rancid vegetable oils
  • gluten
  • soy
  • agave syrup
  • isolated fructose additives
  • fractionated palm kernel oil corn
  • synthetic vitamins and minerals that are not bioavailable

( See more at: http://ancestral-nutrition.com/an-unbiased-review-of-isagenix/#sthash.ZviZT9cg.dpuf)

Heard enough? Maybe not, another popular meal replacement product is from Advocare, Dani Stout notes that there is not much difference between Advocare and the other two. Advocare products contain soy, fructose, sugar, corn syrup, beet syrup, sucralose, inositol, palm kernel oil, vannillin, maltodextrin and the catchall “natural and artificial flavor.”  What is that?! Per Dani Stout:

According to the FDA,

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Natural flavors include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in 182.10, 182.20, 182.40, and 182.50 and part 184 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter.

This means that MSG, GMOs and a ton of other sketchy ingredients can be listed as “natural and artificial” flavors.

( See more at: http://ancestral-nutrition.com/an-unbiased-review-of-advocare/#sthash.2PlARRDj.dpuf)

After reading these reviews, I think you’ll choose better. But what is better?

I find for a simple high-protein snack a hard-boiled egg does nicely — easy to bring with you, keeps well and is individually wrapped. Has 6g of protein, 5g of fat and very low carb (.6g) per large egg.  Hammer Nutrition’s Whey powder is also good and free of bad ingredients. There are other whey powders both flavored and unflavored that are good. Look at the ingredients list.

Another good choice is to make your own protein shake. This recipe is easy to make, no artificial anything, no GMO, no processed sugars and less carbs than the commercial products (From Dani Stout, with my changes):

2 Egg yolks (farm raised, antibiotic free) (we raise our own!)

1 Cup whole milk

1 scoop whey isolate powder (such as Hammer Nutrition’s Whey)

2 Tbs Great Lakes Gelatin

Nutrition Facts: Makes 2  ~1/2 cup servings, per serving: 192 calories, 8.7g Fat, 21.1g Protein, 7g Carb.

I will often  make a protein coffee in the morning — 8oz coffee, 1 TBS MCT Oil, 1 Scoop of Hammer Whey, 2 TBS Great Lakes Beef Gelating and a TBS of heavy whipping cream. Mix it all together and you have 244 calories, 20.5g fat, 1.0g Carbs, and 23g protein.  Kind of like a tasty and healthy latte with a kick (but no sugar)! Satisfying and easy to do when you want something quickly.

Here’s to your health!

Cycling Thoughts — Sometimes You Just Have To Let the Legs Decide!

Questions for all the cyclists out there as the season winds down:

  • How has your cycling year been?
  • Did you have a great year?
  • Did you meet your goals?
  • What would you change?

I, like everyone sets goals for my cycling  in the early season. Usually I get excited in January about the upcoming season and the thought of getting back out on the roads, racing and riding with the local groups as the weather improves. It also comes from the fact that I have rolled my workout intensity back in the fall and in January I’m looking to get back into serious workout mode again. Image

This year has been very good for me and I have ridden some very strong rides, Battenkill, Trooper Brinkerhoff races, the Harlem Valley Rail Ride and finally the latest 50-miler: the “Bike for Cancer Care” group ride in Kingston NY last Sunday. It is a group ride with no timing and not a race, but the course is good with what I would call moderate climbs, only one is categorized (cat-4, but short).

I started out with no warm-up and just sat in with the second group of riders that were working fairly well together and pace-lining on Hurley Mountain Rd., waiting for my cold leg muscles to warm up and my attitude to improve.  Somewhere near the left turn at the south end onto Tongore Rd., I started feeling better and stronger, so decided to work at it a bit, instead of just riding.  Time to check the ol’ legs out and see if they were ready. Who knows, maybe they are actually working?  After the turn on Mill Dam Road the course gets more hilly and the pack broke up. Another rider (Bill)  and I, broke away on the climb and descent to Rosendale. We eventually rode together, trading pulls with each other for the rest of the ride (about 40 miles), averaging in the low 20’s for most of the rest of the ride. Eventually we picked up two more riders that were dropped from the lead group and finished strong, averaging 20 MPH for the entire ride. A nice effort and really a surprise for me, since I was not motivated and had no plan to ride that hard at the start.

The net of this long discussion is that this year’s training has been quite good and the results show it,  even though I have ridden less total miles this year than last year at this time. About 500 miles less and riding 3-4 days a week. I’m also stronger than at this time last year. How did I do it? Through focused, high intensity training for strength and speed, with longer rides for endurance.  This is the training that the Big Ring Riding group has been doing all season with excellent results.  We have done all types of intervals: high-intensity, short, long, sprint, tempo, threshold, VO2Max, hills and more hills. In addition, we also worked on pace-lines, criteriums, and time-trials, just for the fun of it.

bigringJrsyHere’s my offer to cyclists in the area.  There are a couple more weeks of Big Ring Riding  evening training sessions left this season and I am opening up the rest of the season for free to anyone who wants to try it out, no strings attached. Come out and train with us on Monday and Wednesday nights at 5:30 pm starting tomorrow, 9/18.  Sessions last 1 to 1-1/2 hours, typically.  Send me a message on our contact page or via FB to reserve your spot and get the details.

Cramping…. Do You Really Know What Causes Muscle Cramps?

I have been a continual cramping machine since I started running in high school and continuing ever since.  Mostly, it is the “charlie horse” cramp that occurs when stretching or sitting in a chair, but I also cramp on the long rides, usually after 50 to 60 miles of hard effort.  The cramps will affect my calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and the abductor/adductor muscles. Generally any muscle used to spin those pedals on those long, hard efforts. I like everyone else always thought it was caused by low electrolytes in my system due to the long effort.  In attempts or prevent cramping,   I have swallowed electrolyte pills at regular intervals, drank lots of water, drank less water, drank electrolyte drinks, and tried many different things in an effort to prevent cramping, all unsuccessfully. So I’ve been reading up on the subject.

I found an article where   Joe Uhan summarizes the state of the science concerning the true cause of cramping, see  his blog entry “Cramping My Style.” Here is what I learned:  Surprise…. the notion that salt, or the lack of salt causes cramping is based on a 100-year old scientifically-flawed study of British miners. As it turns out, there are no scientifically sound studies that link low electrolyte (or salt) levels to exercise-induced muscle cramping.   One study  (Schwellnus, Drew et al. 2011), found that no difference in hydration or blood sodium concentrations between crampers and non-crampers. So what is the cause?  Nobody knows for sure, but one new theory is that it is a neuromuscular mechanism to shut down the muscles to protect the body from harm that might result from continuing to perform at a high level. This is part of the “Central Governor” theory proposed by Dr. Tim Noakes (Science of Sport) in his books the “Lore of Running” and “Waterlogged.”

Oddly enough, it has been found that tasting salt (or pickle juice)  can stop cramping very quickly, too fast for the salt too have been absorbed into the blood stream. Hence the theory that it is the brain and the nervous system that controls the cramping response, not the electrolyte or water balance. Essentially fooling the brain into allowing you to continue cramp free.

Whatever you think, Joe Uhan’s blog  shed some interesting light on the subject and even gives a list of things that we can do to reduce the occurrence of muscle cramps and to manage them when you get them. Most of the recommendations are not about training your muscles or taking supplements, they are training your brain to allow you to continue.   Good advice to consider.

Words to Live By – #4

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily”

Zig Ziglar

It takes time and effort to keep the motivation up,   set goals, enjoy the process, learn from the mistakes, and celebrate the wins both big and small.

Turn up the Volume, or not!

Cyclists and long-distance runners are a skinny lot.  They shy away from muscle mass because every pound they carry requires more power to move.  Their sports require endurance, not brute strength.  But all of us must do strength building exercises if we want to perform at our best. A stronger muscle will be able to perform longer without fatigue.   The question is, how do I build strength without bulking up. The key is to use volume (number of reps) to develop strength not mass.

According to “Maximum Performance for Cyclists” by Michael J. Ross, M.D., the number of repetitions (reps) and the weight used depends on the effect you are trying to achieve.  Between 2-6 reps you are building strength, 8-12 reps builds muscle  (hypertrophy), and 15-20 reps builds muscular endurance. This is assuming that the weight used is the maximum you can lift for the number of reps performed.  For cyclists and runners, building strength is the key to improving performance without building large muscle mass.

Strength gains can be achieved by doing sport-specific weight lifting 3 times a week.  By “sport-specific” we mean that the resistance training should mimic the movements involved in the sport you compete in.  For example, cyclists should perform squats or leg presses with their feet parallel and the same distance apart as on the bike pedals.  These movements can also be “velocity-specific,” that is, done at a speed similar to the movement on the bike to help develop fast-twitch muscle fibers.  Fast twitch muscles are what you need to sprint and climb those hills.

The progression of your weight training  should be muscle building, then strength building, then finally endurance. Start by doing muscle-building (8-12 reps) resistance work  for up to 6 weeks to build muscle without building too much muscle mass, then progress to strength building (2-6 reps). If you do 2-6 reps,  3 times a week, using the max resistance that the muscle can handle, in 3-4 weeks you will see significant improvement in strength without bulking up.   Once you have done the strength building phase, endurance workouts are best done on the bike or running.

The end result will be better performance! Good Luck.

Recovery Days and Mondays

So what is a recovery day?  A recovery day is a day where you allow your body to recover from the stress of a hard workout. This promotes the physiological adaptations that occur in your body following the workout overload (i.e. increased intensity and/or duration).   The body responds to overloads by an  adaptation called supercompensation which allows it to better handle the overload in the future.  Training involves ever increasing overloads to stimulate this adaptation. But supercompensation won’t occur unless you have a rest period between hard efforts.  Therefore, recovery days are critical to achieving peak performance.

Some would say that a recovery day is a “no workout” day, but when you are training for a long event such as a century ride or  marathon,  it can be hard to get the volume necessary for aerobic endurance  if you take every other day completely off.  I believe that you are better off taking your recovery days as “easy” days. Lower the effort, lower the stress, and aim for a ride, run or workout in the low-med intensity range.  Some studies also suggest that getting your muscles moving and warmed up  promotes circulation which removes the toxins, promotes healing  and improves the recovery adaptation.  Adding stretching and flexibility work into your recovery days is also a good option.

So a typical runner’s training  week might look like:

  • Sunday:  Long run 1-1/2 to 2 times the daily distance.
  • Monday:   Recovery day (regular distance or shorter) at easy pace 50 – 60% max HR
  • Tuesday:  Interval workout  ( could be track workout, at interval pace, 90% max HR)
  • Wednesday: Recovery day (regular distance or shorter) at easy pace 50 – 60% max HR
  • Thursday: Threshold work ( could be on the roads, 3 -5 threshold intervals at 80-85% max HR)
  • Friday: Recovery day (regular distance or shorter) at easy pace 50 – 60% max HR
  • Saturday: Day off or very light workout.

The above is a general training framework, but notice that you spend at least as many days at an easy pace as you do a hard pace, and not every hard day is at the same intensity. The distance and paces will vary by individual, fitness level and goal (upcoming race, or general fitness).

Ignoring the recovery process can easily lead to overtraining which will reduce performance in the long run either through injury or exhaustion.   So remember:   Stress – recover – stress -recover is the sequence.

Enjoy the process and good luck!

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