Running Can Help You Learn

imagesRunning can help you learn

We all love the effects of running: more energy, better bodies and its meditative qualities. Good news: running may offer even more positive attributes. It may offer clear-cut effects on brain structure and function.

The study

In a study conducted at the University of Jyväskylä in the Department of Psychology and Department of Biology of Physical Activity, researchers studied the effects of sustained running exercise, high-intensity interval training and resistance training on adult male rats. The training period lasted six to eight weeks in  those three categories. Researchers had a control group in which the rats remained sedentary in their home cage.

Rat lines developed by collaborators at the University of Michigan were also used: Rats with a genetically high response to aerobic training (HRT) and those with a low response to aerobic training (LRT).

The results

Results showed that the highest number of new neurons located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain–which are used in learning temporally and/or spatially complex tasks–were found in rats that ran long distances.

HRT rats that ran on a running wheel had two to three times more new temporal lobe neurons at the end of the experiment. Resistance training had no such effect. Also the effects of HIT were relatively small.

Why does this matter? 

This study shows that aerobic exercise may increase the conditions you need to learn.


Food Labels to Know

As runners, we know what goes into the body plays a significant role of how we perform during our training runs. We must fuel our bodies with the proper ingredients to turn it into energy to run faster and stronger. It’s always best to consume food in their more natural form: raw fruits and vegetables and clean proteins. But it’s not always possible. How do you know what you’re eating is good for you, especially with the long list of ingredients on labels? Here are a few truths on six common food labels:

Any ingredients cannot contain artificial ingredients or preservatives. Everything must be minimally processed and are generally healthier. Adding fat and processed foods makes food last longer on the shelves–foods with “natural” ingredients have a limited shelf life and are better for you.

These foods must include at least 95 percent of organic ingredients and the other five percent must come from the National List by the USDA. The products cannot include pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics.

Free Range
You see this referring to protein products generally, such as free range chicken. Free range pertains to food created from animals  not allowed to be contained in any way (also known as cage free), and must be allowed to move freely over open areas of land.

The term local refers to food grown close to where it is sold. It is becoming more popular to buy local and support farms rather than larger organizations selling to grocery stores.

This terms refers to economic qualities and not nutritional qualities of food, as so many people think. The most sustainable food producers are local farmers.

Gluten Free
This became a popular term in recent history, as popular fad diets tout not adding gluten into your diet. But what does it do? Foods containing gluten will trigger antibodies in people with what is known as Celiac’s Disease, which will attack the small intestine.

Hopefully these definitions help you make an informed decision next time you head to the grocery store.


Carbs Boost Performance

Dublin Marathon 2012We’ve all heard to carbo load before a big race. Eat pasta they say. Now a study proves carbs are even more important than fats.

Researchers at Australian Catholic University’s Mary Mackillop Institute for Health Research decided to test the performance of carbs related to running performance by blocking the body’s use of fat.

The study, published in Journal of Applied Physiology, included competitive, male runners. Researchers had them run on a treadmill until they reached exhaustion at a pace of 95 percent of their best half-marathon time. All ate a calorie-free or carbohydrate-heavy meal before and during the run, as well as took nicotinic acid to prevent them from using their fat stores.

Results showed that blocking the body’s ability to use fat did not affect the distance before runners became exhausted. It did also not affect use of carbs. Almost 100 percent of the total energy used came from carbohydrates whether the runners ate or not.


“Competitive runners should focus on dietary strategies that will increase carbohydrate availability before and during competition to optimize race performance in events lasting up to 90 minutes in duration,” according to Jill Leckey, who served as lead author on this study.

Leckey believes the study can apply to even those who are not competitive runners. It’s the runner’s maximum heart rate or oxygen uptake that determines usage of carbohydrates during exercise and not the pace you are running.

What can you do?

For morning runners:
Start out with toast and almond butter or oatmeal with steel cut oats and a drizzle of honey.

For mid-day runners:
Try eating a banana or a slice of toast before your run.

For night-time runners:
Eat around 4 p.m. so your body has digested the carbs properly. A sandwich of lean protein between oat bread would work.

 If you need calories for a longer run, try taking gels that are full of carbs and no fat for energy to make it through the workout.


Coffee, Coffee, Coffee

imagesEverybody’s wake up juice may have some extra benefits. In addition to getting you to work or school on time, coffee may help you stick to your fitness plan as well. The jolt of caffeine does do a body good.

In a new article published this month in the journal Sports Medicine, University of Kent researchers suggest caffeine can help you keep those fitness-focused New Year’s resolutions.  

Although the majority of people have already given up their resolutions, most quitting within the first two weeks of January, Professor Samuele Marcora, Director of Research at the University’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, may have discovered the antidote.

It has historically been difficult for humans to exercise, especially long term because most people lack time, energy and motivation. We are also evolved to conserve our energy, so even with the good intentions of exercising, it goes against what we have become.

However, using caffeine helps reduce perception of effort when we work out, which can make exercising easier. It may also help with people needing other drugs to keep them energized–drugs with much more harmful effects.

In another study out of the University of Georgia, a morning cup of coffee could help improve athletic endurance. Published in December 2015 in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Simon Higgins from the College of Education screened more than 600 articles on caffeine and found nine randomized control trials that specifically used coffee to improve endurance.

Higgins found that between 3 and 7 milligrams per kilogram of body weight of caffeine from coffee increased endurance performance by an average of 24 percent.

In the nine trials he discovered, participants either cycled or ran vigorously after they drank their morning coffee. In a majority of cases, endurance was noticeably improved after coffee.

So drink up and don’t feel badly! If you aren’t a coffee drinker, tea or sucking down on those caffeinated gels will help.


Vitamin D for Runners

cropped-cross-country_1.jpgWe all know the importance of receiving a proper supply of essential vitamins and minerals. But do runners already get enough Vitamin D? Spending time outdoors in the sun will generate a good supply of Vitamin D, as the sun’s rays automatically provide it–and most runners soak in extra time outside, especially long-distance ones.

But the answer is yes.

According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, “Research suggests vitamin D’s active role in immune function, protein synthesis, muscle function, inflammatory response, cellular growth and regulation of skeletal muscle… It is apparent that the athlete is at an equal risk for vitamin D insufficiency.”  A lack of Vitamin D can cause muscle weakness and influence an athlete’s performance.

The summer months help, as there is prolonged daylight. But especially as shorter days approach, it is important to be cognizant of how much sunlight your body receives. Think of your body as a plant–you need sun to survive.

Who is at risk of a lack of Vitamin D?

If you spend your time running early in the morning, late at night or always indoors, you need to supplement your diet with Vitamin D (over-the-counter vitamins work well). As winter approaches, it is a good idea to make it a habit of taking Vitamin D already. Also, if you are darker skinned, your body will not absorb the sun’s rays as well.

How much is enough?

An ideal level of Vitamin D is greater than 50 ng/ml for optimal performance in runners. Be sure to stay above 40 ng/ml because if you dip below this level, your body will move all of your Vitamin D to metabolic needs.

See Your Doctor

Have your doctor test for your Vitamin D levels and also talk to him or her if you take any medications. They may play a part in how much Vitamin D your body is able to digest.

With the proper amounts, you’ll see a marked improvement in your running abilities.


New Year’s Running Resolutions

girl runningIt’s the first Monday in January, which means you’re probably back to work or back to school. Who hated their alarm clock this morning? I dislike the sound of mine so much I often shove it under my pillow when it goes off. But then my head vibrates 10 minutes later when the snooze alarms. It’s back to the grind and a new year has begun. Although I dislike getting back into the groove of early mornings, I do like the feeling of a life refresh. I get to start over again with new goals.

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions yet? If not, here’s a few to consider that will also make you feel good:

1. Give back. Every race I try to thank at least one volunteer. Those volunteers get up so early in the morning and freeze so I can get my water along the route. I can’t possibly see how it is fun for them. But they do it anyway. Thank them and maybe they’ll come back and help out again.

2. Donate your shoes. You know you’ll need a new pair this year from First to the Finish, so donate your old ones to charity instead of throwing them in the trash. Shoes are like gold to some in less fortunate countries. I traveled to Cuba this year and saw people on the street begging for my running shoes.

3. Do one charity 5K this year. I hate asking people for money, but I would be willing to if I knew it went to a good cause that is important to me and my friends. What causes interest you? Do you know someone who lost their life from cancer? Join Team in Training, or the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

4. Volunteer yourself. Instead of doing one race, volunteer at one.

5. Spend a day cleaning up a trail or a school track. You have probably have left something behind somewhere during a run (like a gel wrapper). Here’s a way to make it better.

Happy 2016!

Top Fitness Trends of 2015

B2lCRhvCEAEI-BO.jpg largeThis week we see the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. Here is a roundup of this year’s top fitness trends for 2015. Did you follow any of them?

Wearable tech. From activity trackers to GPS systems on your watch, people loved uploading their daily totals online and sharing them with others. It kept people motivated and seems to be doing what wearable set out to do: get everyone more active and engaged in their physical activity levels.

Essential oils. Did you get invited to some kind of essential oil party? Even hospitals are touting the benefits of oils. You can ingest some of them or rub them on various parts or your body. Runners love their healing benefits and how it relaxes the muscles. The oils are fairly inexpensive and provide more of an Easter medicine approach to healing–no prescriptions needed.

Listening to podcasts. We all love our iPods and cell phones while we run. Runners are changing it up from listening to standard music to more of an educational approach while running. From popular podcasts such as Serial to something comedic like Marc Maron’s WTF, people aren’t only downloading the Top 40 hits anymore. They are using their running time to learn something instead.

Interval training. HIIT, which stands for high intensity interval training, is the newest craze and started to take off in the endurance world as well. Instead of going long and steady, runners are now adding in sprints to their long runs. They are also interspersing their run training with elements of CrossFit and bootcamps.

Rucking. Lately I’ve done races in which I see people with weighted backpacks. Turns out, it’s the newest thing: adding a weighted pack to your back. It helps to burn calories faster, helps you stand upright (especially for those with desk jobs or students who sit all day) and builds up your hip muscles–which is great for running.

We’ll see what 2016 brings!


Consider a Vegetarian Diet

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Considering a plant-based diet? Turns out, it’s okay. Many runners already tout the benefits of following a vegetarian, or stricter vegan, diet. It keeps them healthy, strong and not as weighed down by heavier proteins.

But for the skeptics, you can feel rest assured that following a plant-based diet  will give you the same quality of fuel.

In a presentation at the  Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Expo, Dr. Debasis Bagchi, Ph.D., director of innovation and clinical affairs at Iovate Health Sciences International Inc. in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, provided research that supported vegetarian athletes can stay competitive. They just need to seek out other sources of certain nutrients that are more commonly found in animal products.

This research was compiled by Dr. Dilip Ghosh, Ph.D., director of Nutriconnect in Sydney, Australia. His research noted that vegetarian athletes are found throughout history dating back to the Roman Gladiators–whose bones have indicated they most likely were vegetarians.

If you are thinking of switching to a vegetarian diet, Dr. Ghosh provides a key to success: Find ways within the diet to reach acceptable macronutrient distribution. This breaks down to the following:

Carbohydrates: 45-65 percent of diet
Fat: 20-35 percent of diet
Protein: 10-35 percent of diet

Vegetarians should find non-meat sources of iron, creatine, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. In vegetarians who do not follow proper diets, these vitamins are often missing. But Dr. Ghosh believes that as long as energy level is steady and a variety of foods are ingested, vegetarian athletes can remain competitive with their animal-eating competitors.

He does stress that women are at risk for non-anemic iron deficiency. And both men and women are at risk of low creatine levels, which may affect high exercise performance, such as marathons.

You can counter this imbalance by adding food products such as orange/yellow and green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts and soy.


What to Add to Your Recovery Drink

cornstockWe are all told what happens after you run is as important as the preparation you do before it. You should always take in nutrition within an hour of exercise and add in protein to replenish your beat-up muscles.

I like to drink protein shakes approximately 30-60 minutes after I run because it’s easier on the stomach than solid foods. Now I’m thinking of adding in HMB, which stands for beta-hydroxybeta-methylbutyrate, due to a new study.

Few studies until now examined effects of adding supplements to your whey protein. Until now.

A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition shows a sports nutrition drink adding HMB to whey protein and carbohydrates provides a better recovery from intense exercise.

In this study, healthy and fit men consumed whey protein alone or whey and HMB twice a day for 14 days. They also performed three days of intense exercise followed by several days of recovery.


Researchers discovered that muscle damage, inflammation and muscle soreness were decreased with the whey plus HMB supplement compared to only consuming whey.

On the fourth and fifth day of recovery, whey and HMB together provided 11 percent greater power output as measured by an explosive vertical jump.

HMB is a supplement and can also be produced naturally in the body in foods like avocados and grapefruit.

For better recovery, try adding in this supplement if you mix together a whey protein drink. Also, if you like to eat solid foods after exercise instead, eat some baked or boiled chicken with avocados or some yogurt with grapefruit.

Happy recovery!

Reference: Kraemer WJ, Hooper DR, Szivak TK, Kupchak BR, Dunn-Lewis C, Comstock BA, Flanagan SD, Looney DP, Sterczala AJ, DuPont WH, Pryor JL, Luk HY, Maladoungdock J, McDermott D, Volek JS, Maresh CM. The Addition of Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate and Isomaltulose to Whey Protein Improves Recovery from Highly Demanding Resistance Exercise. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015 Mar-Apr;34(2):91-9.

Gifts to Put on Your Wish List

runThese are some things I like to put on my wish list for the holidays and products I like to give to others. I found these to be the most helpful with my running. I wish you happy shopping! Be sure to click around for your track and field needs.

Compression socks: I didn’t realize the significant difference compression socks made on my running until I completed a marathon in New Zealand. I forgot to pack one of my socks, so had to run without a complete pair. My right leg was compressed tight, while the left leg was left completely bare. I looked ridiculous, but on top of that, I found my left leg swelling and building up lactic acid at a much faster pace than my right. I even almost stopped at the halfway point to switch the compression sock to the other leg. Needless to say, it was an interesting experiment in how well that product assists with running.

Knit tops: As a woman, it’s nice to feel a slight bit feminine while running. When you’re sweaty, dirty and spend more time in workout clothes than ones that require actual ironing, it’s nice to add an element of “girlishness” to your workout.

Colorful shoes: The newest trend in shoes is neon. I guess the 80s are back and I’ll take it. It certainly makes me more visible when I run at night.

Velcro holders on my shoes: Because running skirts don’t often have pockets, it’s important to have somewhere to hold my keys. Luckily, this works and leaves my hands free.

Capri running pants: They stay tight on the body and keep away the chafing I get from short running pants.

Socks: Although we typically overlook socks, you can find colorful ones and even match them to your shoes.

Happy shopping!