Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I am Spartan!

Hello blog world...it's been a while!  My apologies but with all of my recent adventures, I thought I would wait to collect some experience before unloading this great post about my newest athletic endeavor!  Enjoy the read and don't forget to grab a cup of tea and a comfy chair...it's an epic journey!

I was fortunate enough to participate in my first Spartan race this past weekend.  It just turned out to be the World Championships in Lake Tahoe and yes, I chose the Beast distance. Looking back on it, I am actually very glad I chose this distance as it was an epic experience.  Read on for a short description of my weekend.


I knew about 8 weeks before the race that I was going to do it. This was also about the time that my triathlon season was just starting (due to a broken foot earlier in the year). Not only was I training for short course triathlon but I was also trying to get in Spartan shape. Oh, and add the fact that cyclocross season started right in the middle of this and you have a recipe.  A recipe for disaster as it may appear but as I quickly learned through the training, which was validated after the Beast, this was the best thing that could have happened to me. Not many people agree that training for three different events is ideal. But for Spartan racing, it actually is. Confused? Yeah, I expect you to be a little unless you have walked down the path I took. I will keep you intrigued until later in this blog.

So, my training was a bit of swimming, biking, running, cyclocross specific technical skills and sprints along with getting my burpee groove on. As the owner of eNRG performance, I am pretty lucky because I have access to a lot of training modalities and “toys”. In between appointments, I would hop on the GHD to work my gluts, hamstrings and lower back, bang out sets of pull-ups, flip tires or do some power cleans and deadlifts. Let’s not forget my bucket carries (filled with rocks) around the building or bear crawls in the grass around trees! There was not much structure to my training to be honest. I did what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. Of course, functional movement training was the foundation of my training. I trained about 5-6 days per week but not for Spartan, for health and fitness. I wanted to experience Spartan, not race it. I am sure those of you who know me just had a great laugh as I do confess, I may be a little competitive in nature. However, I toned it down a bit.  I just wanted to go out there and see what Spartan racing was all about. Until I toed the line that is. Yeah, competitive Bob took over…I confess.

The Race

This was my first time in Tahoe (actually the race was at Squaw Valley). It was raining two days before and sunshine filled the skies the day before the race. It’s a mountain town. I grew up in the mountains. I live in the foothills of Colorado. I know the mountains and what was confirmed upon arrival is that it was cold in the morning with intense sun in the afternoon. Race morning saw temps around 32 degrees.  My biggest obstacle was deciding what to wear. Yeah, yeah, I know. But I was told that it could take me 6-8 hours to finish this race and you have to be self-supported so I chose the conservative (read: warm) route. I wore compression tights, a tech short sleeve shirt, gloves and a hat. I had my trusty Nathan hydration pack on my back. This thing has been through a few Leadville races and then some so I trusted it. What I didn’t know is how it would do in water and rolling in mud.

Fast forward to the start. We started 30 minutes late. To get to the start line, you had to hop a wall (I think it was 6 feet high). Cool way to start. The announcer started with a Spartan speech, there was a whole lot of Spartan grunting taking place and off we went. Now, here’s the thing…the course was running up and down a ski mountain at Squaw Valley. How cool is that? Very cool.  Especially for this past ultra-runner.  I felt at home.  Once I got into my stride, BAM, the first obstacle presented itself. Hop over a wall, wade down into waist deep (FREEZING) water twice and continue on the single track. This single track is the same as where the Western States 100 mile endurance run starts…cool!

I felt at home with the trail running. Then the obstacles came with no rhyme or reason…walls, sandbag/log/bucket carries and lifts, a traverse wall, a rig, climbing multiple cargo nets and wooden ladder devices (these were high!), crawling under barbed wire, submerging under a wall in a pit of freezing cold water, a rope climb, atlas stone carry, Tyrolean traverse rope and a spear throw. Now, here’s the thing. I was killing the run and the climbing…really, just killing it. But I didn’t know how hard to push some sections since the obstacles (mostly anaerobic in nature) would pop up every so often. It kept me guessing and holding back a bit on the run. Of course, I did push the pace running as the true competitor came out. As I approached the obstacles, not having done any of them in training really, I would stop for a bit, study it, watch others and attempt it. I was successful at some and not so much at others. Interestingly, the obstacles I did not complete (yes, I tried every single one as I refused to burpee out of them voluntarily without at least trying), were ones that I had never practiced. Lesson learned for next time.

The one obstacle that was getting in my head was the swim. I had gotten word of this the day before and while the triathlete in me celebrated, I was very concerned with what it would do to my core temperature. I get cold very easily and have had that happen before at the Leadville 50 mile run years back. As I approached the swim (in a lake at around 8500 feet), I changed my mental state and started rolling off the positive affirmations. “Warm water” mostly was what I was saying over and over to myself. I could have done 60 burpees to forego the swim but why? This was a Spartan race. Try every obstacle no matter what! So, I got to the lake, heard a ton of screaming going on, grabbed my life jacket and jumped in the water. My breath was instantly taken away. I have had that feeling before but never like this. I remember one year I did the Evergreen Half Ironman in Evergreen, Colorado and the water was 57 degrees. I came out shivering like crazy! This water was purported to be around 50 degrees. Yikes! Regardless, I told myself to get in and out as fast as possible. I noticed many athletes on their backs trying to swim and thought that may be nice but it would take much longer to get to the end. Freestyle baby. Let the triathlete take over and take over I did! I was passing people right and left and while it was freezing, I just focused on my stroke, my kick and getting into a breathing rhythm. Before I knew it, I was out. I’m guessing the swim was about 100 yards. Not a lot but fully clothed with a life jacket that was choking me was quite a challenge!

I climbed out (yes, we had to climb out on a wooden ladder device) and saw quite a few people drop to the ground due to muscle cramping. For some reason, my body responded well. No cramping and in fact, as I started running to the next obstacle, my legs felt great. I was a bit cold but nothing major. Just like the old days where I would hop in the river in the middle of a long run to cool off my body during Leadville training! It wasn’t 10 minutes later when the uncontrollable total body shivering started. Of course, this was after they made us plunge into freezing cold water again after some barbed wire crawls and wall jumps. This set my core temp out of control. For the next 3 miles or so, as I was descending the mountain, I was trying to regain some body heat but the intense, cold wind had other ideas. It wasn’t until one of the last obstacles, the bucket brigade, that my core temperature finally started to stabilize. Ah, the bucket brigade. That was sadistic!  We had to fill a 5-gallon bucket (weighing around 80 pounds for males from what I heard) with dirt and rocks and carry it up and down about 100 yards each way, up the mountain. The interesting thing was that if your dirt got too low in the bucket (referenced by holes drilled in the top), then you had to repeat the obstacle. Each time I stopped, I would have to add more dirt to my bucket since it was settling more and more with each step. That was by far the most challenging obstacle because it was about 1.5 miles from the finish and the body was just tired. This took some time. Grab the bucket, take 10-20 steps, put it down, rest for a few seconds and repeat. More challenging than it sounds!

After the bucket brigade it was another fast decent down the mountain toward the finish. But wait, let’s jump over a couple of 8 foot walls first. Actually, jumping the walls are quite easy for me so I wasn’t complaining. Back to the trail and barreling down as fast as my legs would take me. Now, here’s the thing about Spartan races, nothing is known in advance and there are always surprises. As I approached the finish line arch, there were two last obstacles: the traverse wall and the rig. I studied the traverse wall and hopped on. This was a plywood wall with 2x4 blocks drilled into it for hand and foot holds. Really not that hard. I got about 3/4 through this obstacle, methodically planning my feet and hand placements when all of a sudden my grip in both hands completely failed! No warning, my hands just popped off the wall. Report to the burpee zone for 30 burpees. Of course, this was in front of all of the spectators! Oh, but the fun didn’t end there. The last obstacle was the rig: a jungle gym of sorts that started with a thick cylindrical pipe that you had to navigate through hand by hand, followed by rings followed by rope tarzan swings…twice! I made the pipe and put my left hand on the ring. I felt great, strong and ready to swing from ring to ring. As I let my right hand off of the pipe, reaching for the other ring, my grip failed again. Burpee zone. I finished the race (as did many) by doing 60 burpees.

I am used to sprinting across the finish line in races but that just wasn’t going to happen in this race. I jogged across with a huge sense of accomplishment. But as I did 22 years ago after I finished my first triathlon, I felt something. Something to the tune of wanting to do better and be able to make all of the obstacles. I wasn’t able to complete 6 of the 37 obstacles which left me doing 180 burpees along the course. Not next time. Yes, there will be a next time for now I have a different type of challenge.

Remember what I said earlier about training for three different events at once? I am now convinced that Spartan racing, while it resembles much of what I did when I was a kid through play, is really an excellent test of overall fitness. In fact, I can argue that being a one sport athlete and specializing in certain movement patterns (in my case, swimming/biking/running), may not be the true epitome of fitness. For some, it will take something like a Spartan race to realize this. This was certainly validation for me that overall fitness comes from doing a variety of exercises: aerobic and anaerobic but having a huge emphasis on fun along the way.

Interestingly, I ended up placing 20th in my age group (out of 390) and 123rd overall (out of 3016) for a 4% and 5% finish, respectively.  Hmm...I have always known I have some anaerobic "juice" in my body but perhaps this aerobic and anaerobic combination favors my DNA...

The Future

As for the future of Spartan racing for me…yes, there is a future. I’m intrigued and challenged and will be upping my game a bit to conquer the obstacles that conquered me!

Thanks for reading!

Coach Bob

Monday, April 27, 2015

Metabolic Efficiency: Friend and Certainly not Foe

As with any concept that is different from the norm or strays from research standards, metabolic efficiency has certainly had some challenges in terms of understanding. It gets a bit frustrating when I, the creator of the concept, hear the blatant misconceptions or inaccurate interpretations that other individuals have with metabolic efficiency.  And so, here are a few things to think about as you hear these pop up from time to time in conversation with others or on the internet…

  • Metabolic Efficiency is not a diet nor is it low carb.  Let me say it again, metabolic efficiency is not low carb!  For goodness sake, if I had a dime for every…well, you know where I am going with that.  Metabolic efficiency is a lifestyle implementation strategy that uses the concept nutrition periodization (another nutrition concept that I created in 2003) to adjust nutrient levels in individuals as their health and performance goals change.  The most accurate term when trying to describe metabolic efficiency is “controlled carbohydrate”.  You do not have to be in nutritional ketosis to enjoy better blood sugar control.  In fact, I would argue it is extremely difficult to live in nutritional ketosis long-term, especially if you are an endurance athlete.  So, drop the misconceptions and look to control, ebb and flow your carbohydrate intake as your exercise program changes.  

  • Where is the peer-reviewed research data?  Yeah, I get this one all the time.  Where is it?  It’s in the journals so go look!  As you just learned, the basis of adopting the metabolic efficiency concept is controlling carbohydrates (and thus protein and fat).  There is a slew of peer-reviewed research data that supports controlling carbohydrates on the performance benefits for athletes but also the positive health improvements (better blood lipids, decreased risk of metabolic syndrome, some cancers, obesity, etc.).  Hey, if you don’t believe me, take a gander at the 55 references (all from scientific journals) in the back of my Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching your Body to Burn More Fat book.  Or better yet, do a PubMed, Medline or Google Scholar search.  Or maybe, just maybe look at the work Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney have done.  Just sayin’…there’s not a shortage of data any longer.

  • I have to eat low carb to be metabolically efficient. Hey, did you read #1?  Seriously though, there are 5 different dietary strategies that will improve metabolic efficiency.  Is low carb one of them?  Yes.  But there are four others also.  Do you want to know an interesting secret?  There is no conclusive definition of low carb.  There is for nutritional ketosis but not low carb.  If you lower your daily carbohydrate intake, guess what?  You are controlling your carbohydrates and as long as you manipulate your protein and fat intake, you will improve your metabolic efficiency.

  • But the performance research studies say there is no benefit to low carb.  As I enjoy a chuckle, I should mention that 1) there is benefit but you can’t just read the conclusions of these studies and 2) aside from Jeff Volek’s new study (FASTER study), there hasn’t been research done on truly "low carb" individuals.  Carbohydrate researchers have tried but have not done such a good job in the past (most of the subjects on “low carb” still consume about 3 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight…which is not low carb).  Granted, it could be lower carb for that person but as a whole, it is not fair to label it as low carb.  In fact, one of the research studies I present and dissect in my Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist Level I certification course highlights the need to actually read these studies and not jump to the conclusion.  As I recall, this study reported no performance improvement of a “lower carb” diet.  Looking at the results, the fat adapted group actually rode 1.3 miles farther than the higher carb group (and this was during a 1-hour time trial after a 4 hour moderate intensity ride so don’t try to use the low intensity excuse).  Oh, and did I mention the lower carb group had an average power output that was 11% greater than the high carb group?  Yeah, as an endurance athlete myself, I would take that any day in a competition!

Okay, I think that’s a good start to help you understand just a fraction of what is really happening behind the scenes.  My team at eNRG performance are continually developing the implementation strategies and testing methods to help everyone understand this concept better.  And, if you hear of someone not fully grasping the metabolic efficiency concept, feel free to pass along my contact information to them. I’m happy to help educate!

Coach Bob

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lasers and bones

In true spirit of me going off on a tangent, this blog will not really be about nutrition but rather, lasers.  I know, I know.  Sounds a bit hokey but let me explain first...

Six weeks ago, I was playing basketball and came down on my foot wrong.  A simple jump and a roll of the foot cost me a broken foot.  I didn't go to the doctor (shame on me!) but let me tell you why...

Eight years ago, I broke the same bone (5th metatarsal) while trail running.  That was the first broken bone of my life and I believe it happened because I was going a bit too fast (running with an IM World Champion will do that!).  

Back to my current situation...when I hit the ground playing basketball six weeks ago, the pain was the exact same that I experienced 8 years ago.  I knew what had happened and took it upon myself to be in charge of my own care plan.  After a physical therapist friend ruled out a serious fracture, I placed myself in a walking boot, went aggressive on micronutrient supplementation and started using the cold laser that I have at eNRG performance.  

I really didn't know how effective the cold laser would be on a broken bone but I can honestly say, after 4-5 treatments of 4-6 minutes per time per day, my 5th metatarsal is healing much quicker than it did 8 years ago.  I'm older and while I do not have an X-ray to validate this, I can actually walk without my walking boot.

I will remain in my boot for another 2 weeks so I don't do anything stupid (like trying to run) but the whole point of me writing this blog is to share the outside the box thinking when it comes to something other than nutrition.  Using alternative therapies (such as the cold laser) can indeed benefit an injury.  I hope you do not have to experience something like this but if you do, look into this cold laser therapy.  It's for real!

And if you are wondering, no, my upcoming tri season has not been put on hold whatsoever.  I've been enjoying some extra time doing strength training, swimming and even a bit of cycling (with a flat pedal on my bike).  As I recall 8 years ago, I got out of my walking boot 4 weeks before Ironman Coeur d'Alene.  Finished it and went on to finish my first Leadville 100 run 7 weeks later.

Anything is possible!

Coach Bob

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sodium supplementation for endurance athletes

950, 921, 622...SAT scores?  I sure hope not!  What do these numbers mean?  Well, I will explain but let me first provide a bit of background.

Sodium supplementation for endurance athletes.  Sure, we know we need to consume sodium during training and competition but how much?  Back in the days (really, just until last week), I used to fathom a guess to this question.  I mean, I think I have a very accurate guesstimate that I could provide athletes based on my decades of experience and my own training and competition experience.  Here's how I did it...

Athlete comes in, we chat about their training, duration, environment and I ask them if they are a salty sweater.  "I think so", "I have no idea" or "definitely" were the typical responses.  How did they know this?  They were judging this based on the fact of white salt stains on their body or clothing.  More white salt stains = salty sweater.  Great!  Now, I give you the recommendation of 300-1500 milligrams of sodium per hour and you are on your way!  Seriously, that is the normal recommendation of sodium needs per hour but how do we know where you may fall in that range?  Guessing game along with trial and error.

I will use myself as an example.  I am a heavy sweater for sure.  Doesn't matter if I am in Colorado, Florida, New York or Hawaii.  I sweat a lot.  Now, conventional wisdom states that if you are a heavy sweater, you will lose more sodium (because sodium is the main electrolyte lost in sweat).  Thus, you should supplement with more sodium.  The thought process makes sense, except of course that you must also consider an athlete's daily nutrition plan (high or low sodium)...more on that in another blog post.

Back to Coach Bob, the athlete.  I sweat a lot thus I will need more sodium during training due to higher sodium losses.  Made sense to me and I really didn't question it (too) much.  However, since writing my e-book on Sodium Loading Protocol for Endurance Athletes, I really got thinking about this whole sodium supplementation, the "why's and how's" and if there was a better way to improve the accuracy of my recommendations.

There have been sweat patches and whole body bag methods for analyzing sodium concentration lost in sweat but I have never been too keen on those from a practical perspective.  Then, last year, I stumbled upon a method that tests the concentration of sodium lost in sweat in a non-invasive approach and without having to exercise (I know, it sounds too good to be true).  I did some research, spoke with the exercise physiologist who sells the machine and was convinced that this was a valid piece of equipment to add to the eNRG performance arsenal to help athletes better understand their bodies and their nutritional needs.

Back to the numbers...950, 921, 622.  The eNRG performance Sports Dietitians tested their sweat sodium concentrations (the numbers are milligrams of sodium lost per liter of sweat) and we found out some very, very interesting stuff.  Remember me, the heavy sweater?  Well of course, I am thinking that my sweat sodium concentration is through the roof thus I would always supplement with around 1000-1200 mg/sodium/hour of training and racing.  However, my number was actually 622.  I had the lowest sweat sodium concentration among my colleagues.

How could that be?  That's not right...or is it?  My body sweats a lot in trying to stay cool.  Interestingly, my body is extremely efficient in conserving sodium thus I do not need to supplement with a great deal during training.  There could be many combinations of this.  For example, my colleague Paige's number was 921 yet she reported to be a low to moderate sweater but loses far more sodium than I do.

Much of the sweat sodium concentration is based on genetics.  My main question, which there is no data for yet, is how changing a nutrition plan will effect this number.  eNRG performance will be doing this field research soon but in the meantime, we are now offering personalized sweat sodium concentration testing for athletes.  Should you get it?  Yes.  Every single athlete should have this measured because chances are that you, much like me, are not accurate in guessing how much sodium you need to take in during exercise.

The test appointment is 1 hour with an eNRG performance Sports Dietitian.  You do not have to exercise during the test and you will receive a consult with one of us as well as your individual sodium needs per hour of training.  Couldn't be any easier.

To sign up for this service, click HERE.

Until next time...

Coach Bob (a much happier Sports Dietitian now that he knows he doesn't have to consume as much sodium during exercise any longer...)