Sunday, September 25, 2016

The letter "M"

This week's blog is brought to you by the letter "M". Does that bring back memories for you? Anyway, the "M" stands for mindset. I haven't discussed mindset too much outside of nutrition so what a better time than now?

The last two weekends reminded me of mindset as I had back to back sprint triathlon races. Some people may view a sprint triathlon as "easy" because it is so short but it really depends on the athlete's goals. In my case, I try to go as fast as possible, pushing my mental and physical limits. Call it ego or whatever, but as I age, I am finding great pleasure on developing my anaerobic energy system whenever possible. Keep in mind that this is my 23rd year in triathlon so it would be safe to say that I have learned quite a few things along the way and developed a somewhat decent aerobic base that provides me the opportunity to add higher intensity training.

That allows me to focus more on strength training, specifically, heavier lifting, body weight and plyometric exercises. I train this way for a few reasons: 1) because it is extremely time efficient, 2) there are great gains for the short amount of time spent doing it, 3) it translates well into Spartan specific needs, and 4) it carries over into sprint distance triathlon racing quite well if done correctly.

I won't go on and on about the benefits but I will say this...lift light weights for high repetitions and it doesn't touch the mindset you need to make the call to the anaerobic energy system and suffer. Lift heavy, do explosive exercises to failure and now you have the attention of the little voice in your head that tells you to stop. Mindset, in this example, is all about being comfortable being uncomfortable. I'm not talking about all of the time but certainly a good amount so when you are in a race scenario, you know what it feels like to push beyond your limits. Do we even know where those limits are? I doubt many endurance athletes know.

That leads me to the lessons I learned over the last two weeks in my races. My sprint tri last weekend felt great, almost effortless like I wasn't trying. I achieved the outcome result I set for myself prior to the race but upon my post-race analysis, I wasn't happy with my mindset and some of my process goals. Even though my results were excellent, I felt like my mindset was off. I pulled up on the gas when I shouldn't have but it was a great catalyst for this weekend's race mindset. Having come off that experience last weekend, I set a few other goals, one of them being comfortable being uncomfortable. 

My swim was a bit lackluster compared to last week but I still managed to come out of the water first in my category. I was passed by two guys on the bike and decided to try my legs and keep close to them. While this only lasted a few miles as they were stronger cyclists, this is where my mindset was challenged and I am proud to say, I welcomed the uncomfortable feeling in my legs and lungs for the remainder of the bike. I didn't play it safe, worrying about how it would affect my run. Whatever happened would happen I thought. I knew I came in a bit behind these guys into the second transition and while one was not in my age-group, the other was and I had quick decisions to make.

Upon exiting T2, I remembered my quantitive goal for the 5k and knew that I would have to be extremely uncomfortable the entire run to accomplish it. Within the first 1/2 mile, I caught one of the guys who passed me on the bike. Another mile down, breathing hard and beginning to wonder if I would make it to the finish without slowing down, I passed the second guy. I seemed to find a groove, a comfortable feeling being uncomfortable for the last half of the run. I remember feeling that I should just slow down and leave my finish place to chance. Whatever happened, happened. But then I thought back to the previous weekend and knew that I would not be happy with that mindset. Immediately, I threw out that thought, went back to my labored breathing and found another groove. I simply wanted to prove to myself that I could endure being comfortable being uncomfortable.

Have you ever experienced this in your life? Was it a race? At work? In your family? Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands and not only tell yourself you can do it but also PROVE it. Some people refer to it as "go hard or go home". I think anyone can go hard but not everyone can develop the mindset to embrace what hard really is.

Next time you are in this situation, think about it before you act. Your mind is the gatekeeper to the next level of performance.

As for my race, yes, I did achieve my quantitative goal for my 5k...by a mere 3 seconds! It worked and now I can close my 2016 triathlon season with a very good mindset!

Enjoy your week!

Coach Bob
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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Wait, what? Be patient.

Did you ever notice that when you begin something new, let's say changing your daily nutrition plan for the sake of example, that your body doesn't respond how you think it should initially?  Your mind is flooded with thoughts like "I really thought I should be losing weight now", or "why isn't the fat around my belly decreasing?", or "shouldn't I be running faster?".  Yeah, it happens to all of us.  Immediate gratification it's called.  Unfortunately, when it comes to manipulating your biology (via nutritional changes), it is not that easy (or fast).

I experienced this first hand the last four weeks.  Coming off of a stagnant triathlon season plagued with two sinus infections and walking pneumonia, I was ecstatic to begin really training again four weeks ago for two late season sprint triathlon races and two Spartan Beast competitions. As I began my training, I noticed the obvious fatigue seen with increased training load but I also changed my nutrition just a bit to be more Metabolically Efficient.  I increased my fat a bit and decreased my carbohydrate a bit to balance out. Protein stayed the same.  For some reason, even though I have been through this before and I teach it every day to athletes, I thought my body would change faster than it did. Body weight remained stable. I didn't see any change in body composition (aesthetic, not quantitative measurements). I thought it was strange but had to remind myself that this is biology and while things may happen quickly in our body (like cellular turnover), the results are not immediate.

Why am I bringing this up? I was patient after I reminded myself that immediate gratification simply does not happen when changing daily nutrition strategies. The body acts and reacts differently with every change that you induce and in the end, we must all remember that anything that you try to change will take time to adapt, just as it did on the front end when you may have let it slip from your normal routine.

Personally, it took my body two weeks to begin to see changes to my altered training load and nutritional changes. Will it take yours two weeks? Probably not but perhaps. My point is: remain patient, trust the process, and stay committed. You will be rewarded in the end.

Enjoy your week!

Coach Bob
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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

CHO Unloading

Carbohydrate loading, um, I mean, unloading.  Yep, you heard me correctly.  I have written about this topic in my Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat book but I thought it was time for a refresher because I keep meeting athletes who are frustrated with their metabolic efficiency experience. 

Let's take a typical endurance athlete who may be consuming 500 grams of carbohydrate (2000 calories) per day. This athlete wants to be more metabolically efficient and he knows he must periodize his macronutrients to teach his body to burn fat more efficiently. Let's say he has in his head that 150 grams of carbohydrate per day is a good number to achieve a better balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Great. Next step is to just decrease his carbs, right?

Wrong!  Most athletes require a stepwise reduction, or what I call, carbohydrate unloading protocol, in order to successfully change this nutrition behavior and avoid mood swings, fatigue with exercise, and "foggy-brain". The best way to do this is to reduce carbohydrate intake each week until your desired carbohydrate level is met.

Back to our athlete example. I would recommend he begin with reducing his carbohydrate intake by 100 grams per week (yes, per week) for best results. That means he would eat 500 grams, then 400, 300, 200, then to his goal of 150 grams of carbohydrate per day. This would take him a good 4 weeks and would promote a much higher success rate at adapting his body to the new levels of carbohydrate (and protein and fat).

I will say from personal experience that I do not recommend a drastic reduction of carbohydrate in one day. I did that for my 4-week experiment back in 2012 and was extremely hungry, my mood was a bit off and I couldn't think right. It took me a couple of days of altering my protein and fat to make up for the significant reduction of carbohydrate until I felt better.

So, lesson of the day. If you want to lower your carbohydrate intake (and balance out your protein and fat consumption), be patient. Any type of nutrition change is a behavior change and requires time. Give it at least 4-6 weeks in your quest to be more metabolically efficient. Believe me, you will thank yourself later for the little bit of time you spend on the front end being patient!

Coach Bob
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Sunday, August 28, 2016

You CAN do it...

In a previous blog, I had written about throwing in the towel or trying to overcome obstacles and challenges after a series of events (in my case repeated illnesses this year) throw you a curve ball.  I am happy to report that I overcame my first challenge of competing in the Spartan Beast in Breckenridge. My goal was to race to the highest of my abilities, have fun, and do my best.  Check, check, and check. However, there are a few things worth mentioning.

First off, let's talk strength. As you may know, I have been an endurance athlete for over 20 years, having done my first triathlon in college.  However, I came from a competitive soccer background and thus, adore sprinting. Early in college, I had a group of friends that lifted weights (one was a body builder). While I didn't look the part, I absolutely loved lifting and getting strong.  Combine that with my affection to sprinting and higher power/intensity exercises, and you can see that Spartan racing is a great fit for me. 

Back to strength...I was having a conversation with a few eNRG Performance members this past week about strength training and the importance of it, especially as we age. As an endurance athlete and coach, it puzzles me that more endurance athletes do not hold strength training in the same acclaim as their endurance training. I have argued for years that strength training is the glue that holds the body together so endurance activities can be done successfully. But I am not here to get on my high horse. Rather, consider this a challenge to you to incorporate more strength into your routine. And while I recognize the benefits of body weight and functional training along with yoga and pilates, that is not enough.  The strength I am taking about is lifting and moving heavy objects. You don't have to be a body builder or power lifter but you do need to move things that are heavier than you normally move. Why? Because your skeletal system needs this overload to strength bones, ligaments, tendons, and prevent the age related loss of muscle mass (called sarcopenia), which researchers agree begins in the mid to late 30s. The faster you lose muscle mass, the less function you will have and if you are an athlete, this is bad news. 

I could go on and on about how strength training improves endurance performance and how many endurance athletes have benefited from it. But I will save that for a later post. Suffice to say, the blend of having endurance and strength should be everyone's goal. It doesn't matter if you enter a Spartan race or not. It doesn't matter if you are an endurance athlete or fitness enthusiast. What matters is that you make strength a priority and fit it into your daily life and training program. And remember, you don't need to do this in a gym. Go outside, grab some rocks, trees, tires, etc. Just have fun moving, throwing, flipping, and lifting!

Until next week...

Coach Bob
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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Taste or Function?

This week's blog topic arises from an issue I encounter with many of the athletes with whom I work: taste vs. function. You see, there has been an issue that has been getting worse in the world of sport nutrition. This issue is that sports nutrition product companies seem to think that adding more sugar will attract more athletes to their products. In a sense, they are correct. The combination of sugar, fat, and salt in foods will attract most people to a particular food.

However, we are not talking about food, per se. This issue stems by athletes not separating the function of sports nutrition products versus real food. You see, sports nutrition products (gels, bars, chews, drinks, etc.) have a very specific purpose: to supply the body with certain nutrients to support physical exercise. Conversely, daily nutrition (meals and snacks) have the purpose of supplying the body with nutrients to improve health, decrease the risk of disease, and alter body composition and body weight.

Taste is an interesting word and in my humble opinion, food should have the highest priority for tasting good. Use different cooking methods, spices, herbs, etc. to improve taste. Don't add more sugar to food. Remember, think of the end goal of calories used throughout the day versus calories used during training.

Taste should not be as high of a concern for sports nutrition products. Don't get me wrong, they should pass the initial, "I don't have to plug my nose and wince to consume a product", but c'mon now, if you expect a sports nutrition product to taste as good as food, you are fooling yourself. Sports nutrition products, when used, have a specific purpose as I mentioned previously. While good for a company's business model, these products should not replace real food eaten during meals and snacks. And therein lies the problem...

Athletes, I urge you to reshape your thought patterns to support using sports nutrition products for a purpose and not eating them for leisure. Use these sparingly, only when needed, and don't expect them to taste as good as the meals you make at home. Additionally, save your taste buds and harsh critiques for the food that you eat throughout the day. This is where being critical is to your benefit.

Remember, look at the ingredients in your sports nutrition products to be sure that they support your nutrient requirements during exercise, not during your normal work and social activities throughout the day.

And there you have it...

Bob
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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Throw it or beat it?

This week's blog is going to be a bit more personal but one that every person can relate to I am sure. Whether in the past, currently, or in the future, I am sure this scenario has, is, or will happen to you. Often times, like with me, it is easy to keep things bottled up inside and difficult to let them out in the open. We typically worry about being vulnerable, weak, or defeated but in reality, I believe sometimes we do not express our current challenges for fear of failure and not proving to ourselves that we are good enough.

It can be weight loss, quitting smoking or drinking, ending a bad relationship...anything really. Why don't we face our challenges? Are challenges fears? Sometimes, but I believe that challenges are internal tests that are provided to us to make us better. It may take a few tries but try we do and eventually, no matter how many times we fall, we will get back up and succeed.

Reflect on a current situation that you have gone through. Did you feel deflated, mentally fatigued when thinking about the mountain you had to overcome? Did you feel it was impossible (which in my dictionary really means I-AM-POSSIBLE). Sometimes, we do let it get the best of us. But sometimes, something special happens. You know that special as it is the "get up and go", the "I'm not taking this", and simply the "why not?". Whatever motivation you use, use it now. Tell yourself that it is important. Change, do, succeed. Make no mistake, you will be a better person in the long run because you learn more about yourself, the obstacles that try to stop you and the ones that you overcome to succeed. Succeed at being an athlete, a parent, a sibling, a friend, and most importantly, a human being. It will be difficult but you will make yourself proud.

As I reflect on these words, I look back at my athletic season this year. While it may sound shallow, sport and competition is a very important part of who I am. Setting and achieving goals is very important to me but I also use sport to teach life lessons to youth and juniors (and myself!), and influence others to lead healthier lives.

Earlier this year, I got a sinus infection. Pretty typical as I usually get one per year. Now, I'm probably not the wisest but I just do not like going to the doctor or taking any medications so I just powered through it and let it run its course (probably not a good idea as you will see). This was in April and May. I did some light training and was able to do a back to back Spartan Sprint and Super race in May. Then I transitioned into triathlon training (short course).  

My first triathlon was the end of June and while I was training, I never really felt good.  I completed the race and will tell you that I had never felt so lousy during a race in my entire athletic career.  Something was off. I found out a week later that I had walking pneumonia and raced with it. The medical person I saw gave me antibiotics and said to take it easy for a month. I listened and did very little training in fear that the walking pneumonia would resurface. I played it safe and saw my fitness level plummet. When I thought it was safe, I started to train a little and found that I, again, did not feel well.  Another trip to the medical clinic last week and another diagnosis with a sinus infection. This time, I knew what had to be done: take antibiotics. Desperate times call for desperate measures!  Ten days of antibiotics now to hopefully kick this second sinus infection.

So, here's the kicker...I have a Spartan Beast race in two weeks, at altitude.  I have two sprint triathlon races in 4 weeks and cyclocross season after that. A week ago, I threw in the towel, literally. I gave up on my training, my season, and my goals. I knew I didn't have enough time to train to accomplish the high goals that I had set. Just today, I threw that idea in the trash. Why, you ask?

It doesn't matter if you don't feel like you can accomplish the goal that you set for yourself. We will always be underprepared but you know what? You have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I learned that when training for 100 mile runs. To give up my season would be a failure in my mind. I have decided to march through the bad luck that I have experienced this year and move forward because my health is important to me. Fitness is important to me. Proving to myself that I can do this is important to me.

So I ask you: what is important to you and what will you do about it?

Until next week...

Bob
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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Genomics testing

I first wrote about genomics testing in a previous blog and since then, I have had the opportunity to order and interpret a few tests for a few of my athletes. At first glance you would think genomics testing is nothing special but once you see the data, it's a game changer. I want to highlight the practitioner (me) vs. athlete (you) take on a genomics report.

Practitioner:

This is a ton of cool data! I see which genes have SNP's on them and then I figure out how these genes interact with the other genes in the systems of the body. Does one SNP affect another which makes a certain cycle or protein less or more active? What about the affects this has on which foods I should recommend to my athlete? Does my athlete have to take certain supplements in addition to eating certain foods in order to complement their genomics and individual SNP's? 

These are all of the questions that initially go through my head when looking at the genomics report. Of course, I then progress to looking at the different categories of genes and SNP's such as eating behaviors, immune system, inflammation, oxidative stress, thyroid, and weight management (these are all markers on one specific genomics panel-called the sports genomics panel).  There is a more comprehensive panel that looks at many more genes and can help an athlete understand more health markers related to gene SNP's rather than those just affecting their sport performance.

It's great information for sure. I take it and put it into more understandable language for the athlete, spend some time discussing it with him/her, and then come up with a better daily nutrition plan. Easy peasy (so to speak).

Athlete:

This is a ton of cool data! I can see pages of pages of information but I really don't know what to do with it (most athletes look at each gene SNP individually instead of in groups of how they affect other systems of the body). Is this saying that I am going to gain weight or that I have increased risk of some diseases due to some SNP's on my genes? Do I have SNP's on genes that affect my body's ability to fight inflammation and oxidative stress? What does all of this mean????

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Yes, it can be confusing if you just have a report sent to you with no interpretation from a qualified specialist. Just like any test really. You want to be sure that you are working with someone who knows how to interpret the results but also how to package it into your life, exercise and nutrition habits.

My point in circling back and writing about genomics testing is that with more and more of these tests that I am ordering and interpreting for my athletes, the more I gravitate toward the importance of testing. Be it blood work, metabolic efficiency, sweat sodium concentration, or now, genomics testing, it will really provide a portfolio of information regarding your health and how to improve your lifestyle to improve your performance.

I put myself through the ringer of genomics testing and sprung for the most comprehensive package. What I learned is some of the most incredible information that I have never known before. I wish I would have done this 20 years ago so I could have shaped my eating and exercise behaviors a bit more intelligently instead of just going with the flow.

I truly believe that genomics testing, coupled within the nutrition model, will be a game changer for all athletes, regardless of age, sport or level. It takes the guesswork out of how your body is working at the most deepest level.

Have I changed my daily nutrition habits based on my genomics report?  Oh, you bet I have! I will save that information for a future blog. And there you have it.  A little teaser for you in hopes that you contemplate the need to justify having genomics testing done on you.

Until next time...

Bob
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