Snacks for Runners

FTTF_Background_3-BIGI can’t count how many gels I’ve taken over the years. I find them the best source of fuel for a long run and easy to digest. However, I wouldn’t mind shaking it up a bit. Sometimes I find myself out of gels or I’m traveling and forgot to pack some and wonder, what can I do?

I found a few snacking alternatives you take while running that shouldn’t be hard on the stomach.

We see these at race aid stations–one of the few foods you see distributed. Bananas offer plenty of potassium runners need to excel at this sport. However, they are hard to carry and can get mashed pretty quickly if you keep it in a pocket of your running shorts. Try mashing it up and spreading it over a whole wheat tortilla, like your own fruit quesadilla. Keep it in a Ziplock bag and stick this in your pocket instead.

Elderly people drink this when they have trouble digesting foods. It offers a high number of calories but is easy on the digestive system. If you are doing long runs of 15+ miles, you need the calories and this is a fast way to get them.

Are you someone who loves the sports jelly beans? I eat them sometimes for my workouts and try not to feel guilty that I’m using a dessert to fuel my exercise. However, I should be swapping that out with raisins instead. A study by Louisiana State University found them as effective as those jelly beans.

Green Tea
If you’re tired of Gatorade or looking for a healthier, less sugary choice, green tea has been known to improve endurance and V02 max. You can fill up a water bottle and get a friendly flavor than regular water.


Are Treadmills Good for Your Health?

imagesA number of years ago, I was running on a treadmill and tripped. My neck fell right into the handle bar causing me to jerk my head and hit it against the interface. This made my entire body fall onto the tread and because the machine was moving, my body moved backward and then plopped onto the floor. Not only was this embarrassing, but painful. I could barely move from the neck injury.

I am hardly alone. Recently, the treadmill-caused death of David Goldberg made national news as he was someone of high profile. This has brought treadmill safety back into the spotlight. According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, only 30 reported deaths from the use of treadmills occurred between the years of 2003 to 2012. However, injuries are quite common.

In 2014, injuries associated with treadmills numbered 24,400 and caused the largest amount of injuries than any other piece of exercise equipment. A New York Times article states, “the vast majority of injuries from sports equipment were related to overuse — for example, an injured tendon from a long run on a treadmill.”

How can you prevent an accident?

Most injuries stem from errors of the user. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Pay attention. If you are the type of person who zones out while running, perhaps treadmill running isn’t for you. Losing your balance is one of the most major types of treadmill injuries and comes from people who step off to the side or get back on a treadmill without slowing it down first.

2. Don’t run barefoot. This can cause a stress fracture in the leg. Wearing running shoes will give you better traction for the tread.

3. Stop making funny YouTube videos. I see it all the time at the gym–people videotaping their friends dancing on treadmills or creating pranks to get people to fall.


4. Be aware of the red stop button for emergencies.

It’s common sense, but practice safety always!


Heat Stroke Symptoms

IMG-20130716-00010I finished a race yesterday out in the desert. Sweat beaded up on my forehead and I felt thankful I applied at least some sunblock before crossing the start line. Although temperatures aren’t blasting yet all over the country, it will happen sooner than later.

I found a recent study offering a new way for athletes to combat high body temperatures. In Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, heat stroke kills thousands of people and is the leading cause of death among young athletes. Be forewarned: heat stroke kills.

You can prevent heat stroke with proper hydration and limited outside workouts during the hottest parts of the day. Before heat stroke occurs, you can watch for the warning signs for heat exhaustion–its precursor–which include heavy sweating, clammy skin and nausea. If your body temperature reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit, however, you will be susceptible to heat stroke.

The authors of the study found a way you can ease heat stroke should it occur: apply cold packs to the hands, cheeks and feet. These are three areas of the body in which blood vessels don’t contract when cold packs are applied.

In the study, the researchers had 10 visibly healthy men wear military clothes specially designed to trap heat and then had them walk on a treadmill for 30 to 40 minutes in a room heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

All 10 completed a treadmill test three times, resting at least one day between each trial for recovery purposes. On the first test, they received no treatment for lowering body temperature. The second time researchers gave them cold packs and applied them to the armpits, neck and groin. On the third test, they received cold packs on their hands, cheeks and feet.

After each test, their body temperature was 102.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Here were the results:

  • Body temperature after first test with no cold treatment: 101.8 degrees Fahrenheit after 10 minutes.
  • Body temperature after second test with traditional cold treatment: 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit after 10 minutes.
  • Body temperature after third test with new cold treatment: 100.9 degrees Fahrenheit after 10 minutes.

Although not a perfect test because the researchers only used healthy, young males, these are significant results. You should be aware of how to help yourself or other runners when faced with symptoms of too much heat.


Fast Food – the New Recovery Trick?

When a 2012 study reported that chocolate milk was an effective post-exercise recovery drink, athletes and exercisers everywhere rejoiced. Not only did the findings mean that you could save money by skipping some of the fairly expensive recovery products out there, but it also gave you an excuse to drink chocolate milk guilt-free.

A similar wave of excitement – albeit with a little more hesitation – is sweeping the health and fitness realm in response to a University of Montana research paper entitled “Post-exercise Glycogen Recovery and Exercise Performance is Not Significantly Different Between Fast Food and Sport Supplement.” While the title itself may not be particularly exciting, the findings of the study carry some interesting revelations for athletes when it comes to post-exercise nutrition.


What They Did and What They Found

For the study, 11 male subjects (all recreational athletes) completed two separate time trials on a stationary bike. First the men took on a 90-minute ride, designed to deplete their glycogen stores, followed by 4 hours of rest. During this rest period, muscle biopsies were taken to measure glycogen levels.

The subjects were also given a recovery meal, consisting of either traditional sports supplements or fast food. Each of the meals was designed to contain roughly the same amounts of total calories (about 1300) and macronutrients. At the end of the 4 hour rest break, the men were put back on their bikes for a 20K time trial.

After various numbers – including performance, glucose response, insulin response, cholesterol response – were crunched, there was no difference between the fast food and the sports supplements.


Implications and Cautions

After this story first broke several months ago, many publications latched onto it. But, according to one of the authors of the study, these articles misrepresented the findings. This study is not a free pass to load up on fast food.

The positive results in the study, related to eating fast food as a means of recovery, were achieved with small portions.

You also have to consider that food contains a lot more than just calories – especially fast food. There are plenty of preservatives, dyes, flavorings and texturizers added to processed food that may have any number of negative health effects. While these additives most likely will not have any acute impact on your athletic performance, they probably aren’t doing you any favors in the long-term. So, then, you have a choice to make: If you do not typically indulge in fast food, you may consider allowing yourself this one dietary lapse as a recovery meal. On the other hand, your repulsion from fast food might be too strong to even let that slide.

Either way, the facts remain: Fast food is – depending on your personal attitude toward the subject – an acceptable recovery meal. If your dietary conscience allows and you can practice moderation, grabbing a bite from the nearest fast food establishment can provide you with a cheaper, more accessible option than the more traditional sports recovery foods on the market.

New Study on High Intensity Workouts

Dublin Marathon 2012We’ve all heard about the newest fitness phenomenon. No, I’m not talking about CrossFit, but HIIT–the acronym for high-intensity interval training. In HIIT, rather than endure long workouts to receive fitness gains, you workout in short bursts that take your body to the maximum. Although runner’s still leave in that weekly long run, HIIT can benefit runners on a time crunch and even make you in better shape in less time.

New evidence suggests high intensity workouts are even more powerful than previously thought. In a new article being published in Annals of Internal Medicine, high-intensity workouts show a clear benefit in those wishing to reduce glucose levels.

Researchers studied 300 abdominally obese adults to determine separate effects of the amount of exercise and the intensity on abdominal obesity. All participants were asked to either perform short, high intensity workouts or long, lower intensity workouts five times a week for 24 weeks. As for diet, all participants were asked to eat a healthy diet, but keep their caloric intake the same as usual.

At the end of the study, all lost the same in inches in the waist, but the high intensity exercise group reduced their two-hour glucose levels.

Dr. Ross, PhD of the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University in Ontario, said results show high intensity can reduce glucose levels and higher intensity isn’t for those in shape.

How to create your own HIIT workout:

1. Increase incline on a treadmill and speed up the pace.
2. Run 1 mile at full speed and then stop to do push ups, crunches, etc. Then run 1 mile at full speed and stop to do push ups, crunches, etc. This allows you to run faster miles and tires you out faster because of the break in between.
3. Incorporate FARTLEK into your running workouts.


What’s The Best Shoulder Exercise?

Your shoulders – or deltoids – are extremely important muscles regardless of your chosen sport or daily routine. Unfortunately, the delts are also a commonly neglected muscle group. So, what’s the best shoulder exercise?

As it turns out, that’s a pretty difficult question to answer. The deltoids are actually an extremely complex muscle group that, unlike many muscle groups, can perform flexion, extension, rotation and other movements. To accomplish this remarkable range of motion, the deltoids are actually made up of three difficult muscle groups – the anterior, medial and posterior deltoids – that work around a ball-and-socket joint. Because of this commonly unappreciated complexity, many people tend to have an unbalanced training program that usually just focuses on the anterior delts – those in the front that we see when we look in the mirror. Those are the show-delts.

To help sort through all this, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) sponsored a study that examined how a number of popular shoulder exercise activate this essential muscle group. Their results are useful, eye-opening and a little frustrating.


A Complicated Answer

Specifically, the study used 10 of the most common shoulder exercises. The list included:

  • dumbbell shoulder press
  • push-up
  • cable diagonal raise
  • dips
  • dumbbell front raise
  • battling ropes
  • barbell upright row
  • bent-arm lateral raise
  • 45-degree incline row
  • seated rear lateral raise

Each of the 16 participants in the study performed 5 reps of each exercise at 70 percent of their 1RM (except in the case of battle ropes, push-ups and dips). During the sets, the subjects wore electrodes that monitored how thoroughly each exercise activated the various parts of the deltoid group.


What They Found

Here’s where things get irritating: there’s no one exercise that effectively works all three parts of the delts. And this is a problem since – as with any muscle group – training imbalances can cause some significant problems and even injuries.

The real question, then, is which exercise works best for each deltoid portion? For the anterior delts, it seems like the dumbbell shoulder press is the best option. The 45-degree incline row was most effective for the medial group. Finally, the seated rear lateral raises were best for your posterior delts.

What we see, then, is that a complete shoulder routine cannot consist of just one exercise – which is actually pretty common. To be a solid workout, you really need to include several exercise that work your shoulders from different angles. That being said, this study did show that the medial deltoids get worked along with the anterior or posterior in several exercises.

According to these findings, a balanced shoulder routine would consist of the dumbbell shoulder press and either the 45-degree incline row or the seated rear lateral raises. While the 45-degree rows do not activate the posterior delts as well as the rear lateral raise, they have a greater effect on both the medial while still significantly working the rear delts. Also, many people find the 45-degree rows more comfortable – which is worth considering when it comes to exercise choice.

So, there you have it: There isn’t a best shoulder exercise because the shoulders aren’t just a one-directional muscle that can be totally worked with a single movement. To get the greatest benefits, while preventing injury, design your workouts to challenge all aspects of your delts.





Run in the Spring

267037_10151041768466017_1085636360_oMore than 2,000 miles of the U.S. remains under freeze watch and it may feel too bitter to even hit the gym, let alone go run outdoors. However, let’s look at the good news: the official start of Spring 2015 begins in less than one month. Although this may not make those temperatures rise today, soon Mother Nature will melt the ice and you’ll see the trails underneath the current blankets of pure whiteness. Here are a few spring options to add to your running calendar:

1. The Color Run–One of the spring traditions throughout the world is Holi, a celebration of love and color that involves the famous throwing of color dust. The Color Run honors that festival with 5K events all over the U.S and the world. Their website shows loads of upcoming events. Participants wear white shirts and then run through a sea of color dust to end the race looking like they were painted. It’s easy to find a similar event located near you with so many upcoming on their racing calendar.

2. Although typical city marathons/half marathons offer crowds, bands and cheerleaders along the route, I suggest trying out a trail race to the mix. You’ll experience nature, quiet solitude, and a much harder challenge than your standard running on asphalt. Plus, you can leave your watch at home. Usually you run at a slower pace with the constant change in elevation. But you’ll also have stronger quads to appreciate.

3. Test out relay races. Companies such as Ragnar offer relays of 6-12 people who run various legs of a course measuring 200-300 miles in distance. You start in the morning and run for one to two days over night, sleeping whenever possible. You do have long breaks in between legs, so you can spend the time making friends with your fellow runners and relax. It’s great for running and camaraderie.

Happy not-quite-yet spring!

Do Foam Rollers Help Runners?

It might not seem like it, but the warmer days of spring are quickly approaching and – with them – the start of training season. We’ve talked a lot in past posts about managing and reducing the amount of pain that athletes deal with during training and now we’re going to cover a technique that has been rapidly gaining popularity over the last few years: foam rolling.

Proponents of foam rolling – more clinically called self-myofascial release – claim that it can reduce soreness after a workout as well as improve athletic performance. So, do foam rollers really help runners and other athletes?


What Exactly Is It?

First, though, let’s make sure that we’re clear about what foam rolling is. Fortunately, it’s pretty straightforward; Foam rolling involves rolling a foam cylinder over various parts of your body. The idea is to use the pressure of your body weight against the roller to work out any knots in the muscles or connective tissue that surrounds them (fascia). In theory, this could increase flexibility and help to prepare your muscles for activity.

But, doesn’t static stretching do that? To an extent, yes. The issue with static stretching before a workout, when your muscles are cold, is that it can actually reduce your strength and power once the activity begins. Exercise physiologist Mike Ross from the Gottlieb Center for Fitness compares the muscles to shoe laces with a knot in them. If you pull on the laces – stretching – the knot will only get tighter. Foam rolling, however, allows you to kneed the knots out of your muscles.


Does It Work?

On paper, this makes sense. But how does it hold up in practice?

First, we’ll focus on the claims of reduced pain and soreness. It seems, at least in early studies, that there’s some promise here. A 2014 study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that foam rolling did successfully relieve pain and soreness when performed at the end of a workout. Interestingly, this study also reported that the subjects performed better on subsequent workouts.

Does this mean, then, that foam rolling can help improve athletic performance? Probably not. Another study published around the same time in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research switched things up and had participants foam roll before their workouts. There was no effect – positive or negative – on their workout performance. However, this study did find that the subjects experienced less fatigue after foam rolling.

Taking the two studies together, it seems like foam rolling can increase recovery rates and help you make more significant improvements during workouts. While it might be disappointing that foam rolling has no immediate performance-enhancing benefits, remember that static stretching decreases performance. Through that lens, foam rolling has a clear advantage.

A third study confirmed that foam rolling does not decrease performance while also showing that the practice can increase range-of-motion.


The Bottom Line

Foam rolling, then, has some pretty sturdy science behind it. A few minutes before and after your workouts can help to speed up recovery times while simultaneously decreasing pain and fatigue. In a future post, we’ll cover specific foam rolling exercises that you can incorporate into your routine.




Staying Mentally Tough

I want to love running again

Yesterday millions of Americans watched the unbelievable ending to the Super Bowl game. I was raised in Seattle and remain a die-hard Seahawks fan, making the outcome quite disappointing (if that’s not an understatement). This inspired me to think of the next blog post. How do you bounce back from a disappointment? When you are running and have a bad race (as we all have at one point or another), how do you turn around and do it again? I researched what mentally strong people do that keeps them successful and coming back for more even when dealt with failure.

If you have a bad run/race here are a few tips on how to become a person with mental toughness and bounce back:

1. Control what you can. I know I’m guilty of blaming bad weather, a challenging course, etc. But every race will have it’s own unique set of difficulties that I cannot control. All a runner can do is train to the best of your ability and arrive on race day as prepared as possible.

2. Accept responsibility. If you make a mistake, you go out too fast at the start, didn’t hydrate properly, etc., own it. Learn from it and don’t do it again.

3. Stop the insanity. You’ve probably heard the definition of insanity, right? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? If you continue to have bad races, something is wrong. You need to reevaluate. Do you need to hire a coach? Do you need to change your nutrition plan? Do you need to run with a pacer so you stay consistent in your racing speed?

4. Never complain. This is one of the hardest to live by, but words are powerful. If you constantly whine about your circumstances, they will not get better. If you speak positively, you create an environment that opens the pathway to success. The same goes for the company you keep. If you surround yourself with negative influences, you will find it harder to dig your way out.

5. Harbor resentment. It’s easy for a losing team to get angry and think “woulda, coulda, shoulda,”, but the ones that shrug it off and move ahead will have a more successful game next time. You have to remove it from your mind. The best way to go about doing this is find a new race and immediately sign up. This puts you thinking forward.


Beet Juice: How does it work?

We’ve written in the past about some of the exciting studies surrounding a pretty unexciting product: beet juice. Several sources have found that a shot of the nitrate-reach beet juice could possible improve endurance and power in athletes when taken a few hours before a workout. And, thrilled by the idea of a legal, non-stimulant, completely healthy performance enhancer, many athletes from various sports have stocked up on beet juice shots.

Beyond athletes, though, some patients with high blood pressure have started asking their doctors if they should start taking beet juice as well. All of this hype is based on the theory that beet juice works by expanding your blood vessels, thereby decreasing blood pressure and increasing the amount of nutrients that can reach your muscles – fueling them for more activity.

A new study from Penn State University, though, questions this theory.


Not What We Thought

First off, let’s be clear: This study was not designed to test the performance-enhancing benefits that have been reported from beet juice. Instead, the researchers were trying to investigate the exact mechanism that causes those benefits. As mentioned above, it was previously thought that the high concentration of nitrates in beets led to an increase in nitric oxide – a vasodilating gas that has become a popular preworkout supplement over the past few years.

In this study, however, the team measured the amount of blood that flowed through the brachial artery in the forearms of their subjects during grip exercises. Surprisingly, there was no change in the the width of the artery when the subjects were given beet juice.

The researchers were careful to note, though, that this lack of dilation was not caused by a lack of absorption. Basically, this means that the nitrates in beet juice do get absorbed and do get converted into nitric oxide. But, for whatever reason, it does not result in the vasodilation that everyone expected.

Interestingly, the beet juice did result in a beneficial softening of the arteries which can result the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers did note that the results of this study were limited by the test group. The subjects use here were young and healthy, with very healthy cardiovascular systems. This shows that beet juice likely does not act as a vasodilator in athletes. However, the study did not look at older individuals, or those with per-existing cardiovascular conditions, so more research is necessary to see if the juice could be useful in a clinical setting.

Also, the exercise intensities used in the study were limited. It is possible that higher intensity activities would have gotten different results.


In Application

So this study does not necessarily debunk the use of beet juice as a performance enhancer but it does show that the juice probably does not work the way everyone thinks. Remember, the study did not even look at athletic performance.

If you have taken beet juice in the past and benefited from it, you aren’t doing yourself any harm. The juice is a rich source of micronutrients that can surely improve various facets of your health.