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 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

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

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