Fun Workouts Are Effective Workouts

It’s a pretty common problem among both beginner and veteran exercisers; They continue to gain weight. No matter how many miles they put in a week or how much time they spend throwing weights around at the gym, the scale keeps going in the wrong direction. While there can be several reasons for this to happen, the most common has to do with the way you view both your workouts and your post-workout meals.

So, what’s the problem? I’m sure that, at some point in your fitness career, you’ve been in this situation: You dragged yourself to the gym, cranked out a workout that you really didn’t want to do and then felt like you deserved a treat afterward. The logic usually goes that since you just torched all those calories, you can afford to indulge a little.

The problem with this thought-process is… well, that it’s wrong.


Look At The Numbers

Even though there are all sorts of problems with trying to estimate your caloric expenditure, let’s assume that you ran at a pace of about 10 min/mile for around 30 minutes. For the average person, that would do away with somewhere around 340 calories.

Now, that’s a pretty respectable run for you so you decide that you deserve a prize. And you just love Wendy’s frostys but, you’ve trying to be good, so you just get a small. Guess how many calories are in that small frosty? That’s right, 340. Even a children’s size is going to run you 200 calories, effectively undoing most of your workout.

Since weight loss is dependent on keeping your body in a caloric deficit, those numbers could be making all the difference. Clearly, then, controlling your post-workout snaking is important. Is there something else you can do to make this whole reprogramming process easier, though?

According to a new study, yes. And the solution is fairly simple.


A New Outlook

Actually, the findings in question came from two related studies that were both designed to explore how your view of your workout can effect the results you see from it. In both studies, the subjects were led on a 2km walk around a lake. One group was told that they were going on a exercise walk, while the other was told that it was a scenic walk. Afterward, they were given either a full meal or snack depending on which study they were participating in.

In the first study, those who believed that their walk had been for exercise ate 35 percent more dessert than the subject who thought that it had just been a leisurely stroll around a lake. The second study gave both groups free access to a stash of M&M’s after their walk as a snack. The “exercise” group ate over double the calories of the “scenic” group – 372 calories, compared to just 166.

The article also included a third study, which was strictly observational, wherein the researchers found that people who enjoyed running a competitive race made healthier food choices after the event.

Across all three studies, the groups who enjoyed their exercise – even if they didn’t know it was exercise – were happier and had more energy in addition to eating better.


So What?

The solution, as stated, is fairly simple: Do what you have to do to enjoy your workouts. Mix up your program. Change where you run or bike. Load up your playlist with your favorite music. You could also just keep telling yourself that going for a run outside – even if you hate running – is still better than sitting in an office all day.


What tips do you have for making your runs more enjoyable? Please share them in the comments.





Recovering From Your Race

Recently, we’ve discussed tips for both pre- and post-race nutrition, but your fuel really only part of the equation. While the temptation might be to sit down or – more likely – collapse once you’ve blown across the finish line, this will eventually backfire. Sure, many other athletes may immediately sit down to a big recovery meal but this really isn’t an effective strategy. In the piece about post-race nutrition we discussed the digestive problems that come along with these big meals but the very act of sitting could be an issue as well. These runners will have an extremely difficult recovery, I promise.

So, how should you handle yourself after your race? Is there something you can do to speed up recovery? How long should you give yourself to recover?


Immediate Care

After a short race, like a 5k or 10k, give yourself a chance to cool down. This is an extremely necessary and woefully neglected step following both workouts and competitions alike. Especially during a run, your blood is being rushed all throughout your body. When that activity stops abruptly, like when you cross the finish and vow to never run again, your blood has the unfortunate tendency to pool in your legs. Blood-flow to your upper-body and brain is then slowed to a glacial pace that is to blame for the dizziness and lightheadedness that you might feel after your workout.

This isn’t such a high priority following a marathon, though. After such a long, demanding race, you need food and water as soon as possible. Your cooldown can wait until you are properly refueled.

Your cooldown doesn’t have to be anything elaborate and should, actually, be pretty easy. Walk around at a slow pace, pause every once in a while to chat with other runners; Just don’t stand still.

Now you should stretch. Your muscles and connective tissue will still be warm and limber, so this is the  perfect chance to do some light static stretches. Of course, your legs should be the focus here – you did just run, after all – but don’t forget other muscles that commonly tense up during runs. Many runners tighten their shoulders and back while running so neglecting these muscles after a race will leave you feeling even more stiff then normal in the days that follow.

While your cooldown and stretching will help alleviate some of your soreness, it won’t eliminate it. You are going to be sore after a race and there’s just no way around it. Taking these steps, though, will help you to be significantly less sore than if you have skipped your immediate recovery.

Later That Day

A few hours after your run, make time for a so-called “shake-out” run or walk. Even if you’ve flushed your system by chugging several gallons of water and lovingly cooled down, your muscles are going to be stiff later in the day. This is especially true if you took a nap or step a long period of time in your car driving home from the even.

Essentially, this “shake-out” is meant to just loosen you up. It is not a workout. Take it easy and slowly walk for no more than 20 minutes.

Recovery Days

So, you’ve followed all these steps and want to know when you get run again? That all depends on you, actually.

Specifically, the answer depends on what kind of race you just finished and what sort of workout you’re itching to do. Following a 5k, for example, you should wait 2 days before performing an easy workout and 5 days before tackling a hard workout.

For a marathon runner, though, these numbers shoot way up. You should give yourself 9 recovery days before even an easy workout and a full 27 before going out for a hard workout.

2014 Boston Marathon

200px-BostonmarathonlogoToday you’ll turn on your television and probably see stories about the missing flight, the sinking ship, the crazy spring weather…but you won’t see a story like last year when the Boston Marathon turned into tragedy. Rather, this year the marathon found a happy ending–or “finish” if you will.

For the first time in 29 years, an American won the Boston Marathon. Meb Keflezighi, 39, finished the race with a time of 2:08:37. At one point in the race, he had a 90 second lead, but in the final two miles, it narrowed to just six seconds.

Keflezighi has made quite a name for himself in the running world. He won four NCAA championships for UCLA, won the silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games, and came in fourth in the 2012 Olympic Games.

The women’s race also saw a story play out. Rita Jeptoo of Kenya won her second-straight women’s division title. Her 2:18:57 finish set a new course record.

Meb Keflezighi: 2:08:37
Wilson Chebet: 2:08:48
Frankline Chepkwony: 2:08:50

Rita Jeptoo: 2:18:57
Deba Buzunesh: 2:19:59
Mare Dibaba: 2:20:35

Although none of us will come close to those type of finish times, we certainly can appreciate them. The hard work and natural athleticism of these top Boston Marathon athletes continues to astonish runners. Many of us can only look at Boston as a dream.

I am proud of the saying “Boston Strong” that has been heard so many times over the past year. I think it symbolizes both the pluckiness of the city and the power of the athletes to do something so challenging.

Congrats to all the finishers today!

Pre Race Warmups

So it’s race day. You’ve been carefully preparing yourself for weeks, working up to your goal pace. For breakfast, you closely followed our recommendations for the perfect pre-race breakfast and you’re standing-by waiting for the event to start. But, you’re pre-race ritual shouldn’t end at breakfast. Before that call to start rings out, you still have one last, extremely important step: the warmup.


Excuses, Excuses

On race day, as on any other workout day, the warmup is often woefully neglected. Sometimes, it’s just forgotten about. You may be late getting to the track or stressed about the even and it might just slip your mind to spend a few minutes warming up. This is understandable, though not completely excusable – as we will see.

Or, shamefully, you might intentionally skip or skimp on your warmup. Often, when people do this it’s base on the belief that their warmup will waste precious energy that they need for the actual run. This is not only wrong, but totally counterproductive.

If you’ve eaten properly that morning and in the days leading up to your race, you have more than enough glycogen packed away to fuel your race. Of course, the situation changes for long races like marathons but we’ll address that later. For now, let’s take a closer look at the goal of a good warmup and how to pull it off.


Get To The Point

Basically, the purpose of your race-day warmup is to get yourself up to speed before the race even starts. This is more important in short races, since marathoners can (and should) use the first mile or so as their warmup. You don’t have that luxury during a 5k.

Since short races don’t give you a lot of time to waste on gaining speed during the actual event, your warmups need to be longer and slightly more intense.

Try to end your warmup about 5 minutes before the scheduled started time to give yourself some wiggle-room if the race is early or late. Ideally, your warmup should be over precisely 2-minutes before the race, but that’s pretty difficult to pin down.


How To Do It

Now that we’ve covered the basic principles involved, let’s get down to the details. For any sport, your warmup should simulate the movements that you’ll be performing during competition. This is sort of a no-brainer when it comes to running since walking or jogging is such a straightforward option. If you have a convenient way to measure distance, you can also do 100-meter strides but this not always be readily available and may tempt you to push yourself harder than needed.

For a 5k, take about 15 to 30 minutes to gradually work up to your goal speed. As mentioned, the longer races call for shorter warmups so that a marathoner could get away with just a brief 5-minute jog before starting off.

Just to get you in the right mindset, consider doing your warmup on the final stretch of your track if that’s an option. It may sound a little strange, but a big part of race day is mental and this little mind-trick will make it use for you to visualize crossing the finish line.

In addition to the basic walk or jog as a warmup, there is a slew of other exercises you could perform to help you run better. We’ll discuss a few of those in a future post. In the meantime, do you have any tips on warming up? Please share them in the comments.






Post Race Nutrition: Recover and Refuel

Last week, we talked about how to eat before the race to maximize your performance. So, now we logically need to address what to do once the race is over. By this point, you’ve burned massive amounts of energy and the goal of the post-run meal is to recover and refuel. Of course, your recovery needs after a 5k are going to be very different than if you had run a marathon instead. There are, however, a few guiding principles you can use to make sure you properly recover after your race.

But, to fully understand the logic behind this approach, let’s first look at what a long race does to your body.


Why You Need To Recover

During a run, especially during long bouts, your muscles are under an incredible amount of stress. To meet the demands your making on them, your muscles need to stay fueled with glycogen. This is exactly why your pre-race carbo-load is so important; to make sure you have the necessary fuel in reserve.

But your body doesn’t only use glycogen during a race. That sugar is the primary source of fuel for everything you do throughout the day. So, after a race, you’re glycogen stores are low – if not totally depleted – and you need to replace them.

Carbohydrates isn’t the only concern, though. All that work literally destroys your muscles, creating countless microscopic tears in the fiber which need to be repaired. In order to properly recover, then, your muscles need protein.

And of course, when you run you sweat. That’s a lot of lost water that your body desperately needs. Rehydration, as well as getting more electrolytes, is also important at this point.


The Size of Your Meal

As a general rule of thumb, you’re going to want to eat about 100 calories for every mile you ran. This is especially important for long-distance races, however a problem presents itself. After a long race, you are extremely susceptible to digestive upset and cramming 2600 calories in one sitting is an even worse idea than it would normally be. Spread those calories out, even if it takes a few days to completely replace them.

This brings us neatly to the topic of calorie-free recovery drinks. Don’t use them. Generally these products achieve their “calorie-free” banner by replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener. Along with all the other concerns connected to these substances, the fact remains that a big dose of simple carbs is exactly what you need immediately after a race.



After considering the effects that a race can have on your system, it becomes clear what your meal should contain: Carbs and protein.

Most runners use a ratio of about 80 percent carbs and 20 percent protein in their recovery meal, which can also be in the form of a drink. Several commercial products sell mixes or prepared drinks that will give you a dose of each in the appropriate measure. If you need something quick, though, chocolate milk is a classic DIY solution.

While fat usually accompanies protein, try to limit your intake. This is especially true when it comes to greasy foods. Remember, at that kind of exertion, your stomach is fragile and easily upset.

What have you found to be the best way to refuel post-run? Please share your tips in the comments!





Pre Race Nutrition: Eat Your Way To The Finish Line

It’s race day. You’ve trained hard in the months leading up to this, monitoring everything from your water intake to your sleep carefully. Now, with only a few hours before the event it’s time for breakfast and you’re faced with several choices. You know that what you do here in the kitchen could be a complete game-changer for you but there are a lot of different ideas swimming around in your head. Are you so nervous that you skip the meal altogether, maybe out of fear of upsetting your stomach? Or do you go to the opposite extreme and fuel up with a big, heavy breakfast? Another important and oft forgotten question is: What was your dinner like the night before?

Your nutrition the night before and the morning of your big race could have a massive impact on your performance.  So, what should your meals look like?


The Night Before

The night-before-carb-feast has been in the runner’s arsenal for a long time. The idea behind the practice is to load up your glycogen stores to make sure you have plenty of fuel during the race. This practice has been proven time and again, through both clinical research and anecdotal evidence. However, exercise physiologist and consultant for the American Council on Exercise; Monique Ryan, offers a few cautions when it comes to this practice.

Ryan suggests sticking with cooked vegetables, rather than raw. The unbroken fiber found in raw veggies could leave your with digestive upset that will slow you down come race time. Also, limit your protein intake during this last supper for the same reasons.


The Morning Of

This is the time to have your breakfast. Since you packed up on carbs the night before, this meal is all about topping off your tank. Remember that while you’re sleeping, you are also fasting and using up some of those carbs. Since that’s the case, you need foods that breakdown quickly and easily so avoid fibrous, heavy offerings like granola. Speaking to the American Council on Exercise, Fabio Comana, M.A., M.S suggests using a ratio of one-part protein for every four-parts carbohydrates.

How about your morning coffee ritual? If you normal drink coffee, stick with it. Not only could the potential withdrawal symptoms slow you down but, research suggests your regular caffeination could give you a needed edge. Caffeine spares your carb stores, encouraging your body to burn fat instead. It’s also a well-known stimulant that can improve your reaction time, awareness and over-all performance.

If you’re preparing for a long event, something lasting more than 2 hours, sip on a sports drink in the hour before the race. This will keep you hydrated, make sure you have enough electrolytes and add to your blood-sugar levels.


Trying New Things

The morning of the race is not the time to try new foods or supplements, nor is the evening before. Stick to foods that you know and enjoy, that you can be confident won’t upset your digestive system.

Some recent research has suggested that eating a fatty breakfast the day of the race, after a carby dinner the night before, can help to save your glycogen stores. But more research is needed to really understand whether or not this protocol works. If you want to test it out, do so during training. Basically, don’t trying anything new on race day.




Running Races to Enter in 2014

Dublin Marathon 2012While only January, you probably are suffering through workouts on treadmills and if you do venture outside, you are bundling up wearing an excessive amount of clothes–not something runners prefer. But it’s time to start thinking of ramping up the long runs and considering what races to add to your 2014 calendar. With the rising costs of registration fees, travel expenses and the obligatory parking fees at various races, you must carefully select each race. Here are a few options to consider, some for fun and others to PR:

Marathon: Chicago Marathon
Held each October, the Chicago Marathon sells out in record time each year. It’s best to be ready at the computer to click on the “register” button immediately when it opens. Of the nation’s most famous marathons, it’s surprisingly the most easy to enter. NYC is very challenging with its lottery system; most participants wait more than three years to get in, and Boston is a qualifier. Want to go big? Then enter Chicago.

Half Marathon: Hollywood Half Marathon
The Hollywood Half Marathon provides both a race/destination adventure. You can run along the famed Hollywood Boulevard and step on celebrities’ stars as you race through the miles. Also, participants often dress up as celebrities–so be sure to bring your Elvis or Marilyn Monroe outfits. After the race, attend Universal Studios or pick up tickets to a taping of one of your favorite shows. Plan to spend an extra couple of days to make this race worth the travel expense.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

International Race: Paris Marathon
Taking place in early April, you’ll need to start training hard immediately and book your flight now to take part in the Paris Marathon. But Paris in the spring with a marathon course that traverses past all the major tourist attractions, you’ll view the city of Paris on foot–along with a few thousand friends.

Adventure Race: Color Run
Growing in popularity, Color Runs are simple 5K races taking place throughout the country. Every kilometer, racers are doused in colors,giving you a rainbow look as you cross the finish line. Participants wear a white T-shirt to accentuate the brightness of the massive color throws.

Pain Management for Runners

We’ve talked plenty about pain in past posts. Specifically, we’ve dealt with preventing and treating all sorts of acute physical pains that afflict all endurance athletes. But, in your training and competition, you’ve likely faced pains that weren’t covered in those articles. Maybe you’ve been overcome by self-doubt or mental and physical exhaustion mid-race. Or perhaps it was emotional stress gearing up to an event. Either way, athletes force themselves to work through thins that would stop many people in their tracks.

How do they do it? What are some strategies that you can use in your training?


Get Used to It

I know it sounds harsh, but getting used to pain is one of the best pain management strategies there is. A recent study published in the journal Pain set out to understand the extraordinary coping skills of triathletes.

The subjects used in the study competed at an elite level, including the notorious Ironman Triathlon which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles of cycling and a complete 26.2 mile marathon. Clearly, these individuals are used to pain.

Also observed in the study were non-athletes who exercised casually, acting as the control group. Both groups were exposed to controlled pain sensations and given a series of questionnaires designed to rate the subject’s attitude towards pain.

The athletes and the non-athletes both experienced the same amount of pain, but the athletes were able to cope more effectively. Not only did the triathletes demonstrate an increased ability to mentally moderate the amount of pain that they felt but they also reported being less afraid of experiencing pain than the control group.

The exact mechanisms at work here aren’t fulling understood yet but, several theories have surfaced. Specifically, there are two thoughts that emerged from this study that can be useful for everyone, even if you never plan on running a triathlon.

First, it seems like the reduced fear of pain allows athletes to cope better. Working yourself up and being stressed will only worsen any pain you’re experiencing and lead to feelings of doubt.

But the researchers also notes a more physical cause of these observations. The intense training that the triathletes subject themselves to on a regular basis could be teaching them how to respond to pain.

For the rest of us, the application is frustratingly simple: Deal with it. The more you train, the better you’ll become at understanding and coping with any pain you face. You’ll also be more confident and less likely to experience stress or fear.


Don’t Push It

But you shouldn’t just plow through all pain. Generally speaking, pain is a useful sensation that allows your body to let you know when something is wrong.

If you experience sharp, sudden pains in your feet, hips or shins that worsens as you run, you should stop immediately. This could be a sign of a small break in the bone called a stress fracture that shouldn’t be ignored.

Any pain that makes you limp or change your stride could be your body letting you know that you’ve torn something and should stop.

Also, any sudden chest or stomach pain, especially when coupled with a fever, shallow breathing and extreme sweating should take you out of the race immediately.

Careful training and experience will teach you individualized coping mechanisms that can help you deal with the pain that comes along with your sport. However, make sure you aren’t pushing through serious pains that could be the sign of a major injury.

Have you developed coping mechanisms in your training? Please share them in the comments.




Does Compression Clothing Work?

Compression clothing is sort of a fixture at endurance events. Athletes wear them during training, while competing and during recovery. All this is done based on the belief that those skin-tight socks or stockings or sleeves or cuffs will help improve performance and speed up recovery. But, is there any truth to this? Does compression clothing work?


The Short Answer and Slightly Longer Answer

In short, the answer is a resounding “Maybe.”

Research regarding the effectiveness of compression clothing is confusing and the results are mixed. Part of the problem with deciphering all this information is due to the fact that compression clothing was intended as therapeutic device for treating edema, varicose veins, thrombosis and other vein disorders.

Since the original purpose of compression clothing was to help unhealthy individuals, most of the definitive research out there is focused on that specific application. When it comes to athletes, though, the issue gets complicated even further depending on when you’re thinking about using compression clothing.


Compression Clothing for Performance

There are very few studies out there that have tried to answer the question about whether or not compression clothing can improve performance in healthy individuals. Keep in mind, though that “athletes” and “healthy individuals” are two very different populations in the lab. The circulatory and cardiovascular systems in these two groups will very likely responded differently to stimuli.

So far, we have no solid answer. A few studies have found that wearing compression clothing during exercise improved blood flow in patients with unhealthy veins, while other studies produced conflicting results.

The good news is that no study has shown that compression clothing produces bad results when worn during exercise. So, if you want to wear it while training or competing, there’s no reason not to.


Compression Clothing for Recovery

A recent study, however, offers a glimmer of hope. This study, in a unique turn, tested compression clothing worn after high-intensity running workouts. Experienced runners performed a series of intense running drills and then were given either compression clothing or a placebo.

The placebo outfit was made out of similar materials to simulate the feel of real compression clothing. Both of these groups wore their garments overnight.

The next day, each group was asked to perform more drills. Surprisingly, the compression group put in improved times after wearing the clothing.

This study not only suggests that, when used properly compression garments can actually speed recovery but it also hints to a particular use in multi-day events. If you take part in competitions such as tournaments, which require you to push yourself day after day, wearing compression clothing while your sleeping might give you an edge the next day.

As a word of caution, though, remember that this is just one study. The researchers behind these findings don’t fully understand the mechanics at work and, as we discussed, other studies have produced conflicting results. Ultimately, more studies are need to really know whether or not compression clothing works.

That being said, there’s no harm in trying!

Do you have any experience with compression clothing? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.




The Dublin Marathon

imagesCA32IXH9Ireland conjures up images of green rolling hills, Irish pubs and beer–I can attest all of those are true. Two weeks ago, I participated in the Dublin Marathon hoping for a little bit of the luck of the Irish to pull me through the 26.2 miles. My luck paid off that day and I crossed the finish line–with a very slow time due to injury. However, I recommend this race for a number of reasons, all of which relate to the Irish spirit.

The crowds–Chanting “Well done” and “Good on you” constantly throughout the race, the Irish spirit came alive in support of all the thousands of runners. They lined the streets singing, cheering and playing Irish music to pep up the step of the marathoners. In fact, of all the places I’ve traveled to in the world,  Ireland tops the list of friendliest people. Plus, if you want a country loved ones will enjoy while you attend the expo and spend a half a day running, the Irish citizens’ smiles are ready and waiting.

The post-race parties–While I didn’t find any official “post-race party,” no worries. Any street in the City Centre (where all the Dublin action happens), will supply a choice of Irish pubs and pints of Guinness Beer. The Irish call it “strong tea,” as evidenced by their ability to out drink any tourist. You’ll resupply your energy with plenty of liquid calories.

Pre-race food–I was hard pressed to find spaghetti–typically the runners’ pre-race food of choice, although the marathon itself did offer an extra-cost carbo-loading dinner. But the pubs offered hearty Irish stews with flavorful potatoes and your standard Irish soda bread. Carbs aren’t hard to find!

The course–Taking you down O’Connell Street, the widest street in Dublin, the course traverses throughout the city, through a quiet park, next to the Dublin Zoo, and up the hills of the city. The only bad news: headwinds and rain. I didn’t face too much rain, but 40 mph headwinds greeted me for a few miles. 

The 2014 Dublin Marathon awaits! Happy training!