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Dealing With Heat & Humidity – How to Stay Cool and Hydrated During Training and Racing

As we exercise, our bodies burn the calories that that we consume (i.e. carbohydrates, proteins and fats).  It is the breakdown of these calories and muscle movement that causes heat to build up and raise our core body temperature initiating the demands of the body to maintain its ideal body temperature of 98.6 degrees.  There are several ways that the body dissipates heat (skin and exhalation for example); however, the most complex system involves your ability to sweat.

Simply put, water molecules evaporate from your skin removing heart energy, leaving water molecules on your skin making you feel cooler.  The endothermic process of converting liquid to a gas is beyond the scope of this article; however, the ultimate goal is to maintain your body’s ability to efficiently dissipate heat throughout exercise.  What makes it difficult is dealing with elements that we don’t have any control over – heat and humidity.

On hot days when there is little difference between the skin’s surface temperature and the ambient air temperatures, the skin provides only small cooling benefits – increasing the importance of sweating to maintain your internal core temperature. In fact, above 95 degrees Fahrenheit you lose no heat at all from your skin – evaporation must do all of the work.  Humidity decreases your body’s ability to evaporate sweat because the air is already saturated with water vapor, slowing the evaporation rate.  Though you and your clothes may be saturated, it is not helping you in your cooling process – sweat must evaporate to remove heat from your body – plain and simple.  It is this concept that makes hydration so important; if you don’t have enough fluids to produce sweat you will over heat guaranteed (along with the adverse side effects – performance and health wise).

On average, endurance athletes lose approximately 30-35 ounces of fluid per hour of exercise (the actual amount varies by body size, intensity levels and heat/humidity levels).  There are numerous formulas floating around in the sports nutritional world regarding ideal food and fluid intake; however, keep in mind that there are three things that we need to evaluate regarding ideal performance nutrition: water intake, electrolytes and calories.  It has been our experience working with hundreds of athletes that the best way to formulate an ideal nutritional strategy is through trial and error.  This formula requires good documentation on behalf of the athlete to track what is consumed, your workout duration and intensity levels along with average paces and heart rate levels.

Here are a few tips for training and racing in the heat and humidity

  • Avoid over-hydrating on plain water
  • Train at times that are relevant to your race (i.e. if you are going to start your run at 2:00 pm during a race, then practice running at this time dealing with the heat, humidity and sun burn)
  • Wear only clothes that facilitate the evaporation process (avoid cotton at all costs)
  • Cold fluids absorb faster than warm fluids; use insulated bottles
  • Backing off of the intensity every so often and pouring cold water over your wrists and neck will help relieve your body of internal heat
  • Pay attention to body signs that things are not going well: dry chills, becoming lightheaded or queasy are all indications to stop. Be smart!

Periodization – What It Is and Why It Is An Important Component of a Triathlete’s Program

You are a dedicated triathlete that trains on a regular basis. You have the best of intentions with your training, but lately, no matter how hard you work out, you aren’t making any gains. You have plateaued. What has really happened is that your body has adapted to your workouts and it needs new challenges to get stronger. It is unrealistic to think that any athlete can perform at peak level throughout the entire year.  The body has to be provided the opportunity to develop various energy systems through specific workouts. For long-term improvement, a window of time must be provided to rest and recover from the stress loads applied to the muscles and cardiovascular system.  This is where periodization comes into a triathlete’s program.  Periodizaton creates phases of training or “periods” to keep your body working hard, while still giving it adequate rest. It answers how hard, how long and how often a triathlete should train to reap the benefits of training without burning out or getting injured.

With training encompassing so many elements of your life, it has literally become a lifestyle – sleep, eat, train, repeat.  However, this lifestyle of training, doesn’t effectively get your preapred for the season’s first big race. On the other hand, going for a long run the Monday after your big race and training every day until your next race isn’t productive for you either.  The reason being, you will not be able to push the body beyond its normal performance level and then you don’t allow enough time for the body to adapt to the stress loads.

We recommend breaking the year into four training “seasons”: Pre-Season, Pre-Competitive, Competitive and Off Season.  Each season has a different performance objective to optimize your training time for maximum results. The duration of training cycles vary based on individual identified weaknesses during assessments, but typically consist of the followings:

Pre-Season (12 weeks): Develops maximum aerobic capacity, muscular strength and flexibility; this is also an ideal time to work with your coach to help with technique and mechanics relative to swimming, cycling and running.

Pre-Competitive (8 weeks): Continued development of aerobic engine, final stage of maximum strength development, and the implementation of slight lactate tolerance intervals.

Competitive (4 Cycles of 7 weeks): Specialization is the main component of this season.  Your anaerobic threshold and sprint training should make up the high-quality workouts during the week.  Also during this phase is the increased need for rest – ideally one complete day of rest per week to help you recover both mentally and physically.

Off Season (4 weeks): This is where you deviate away from heavily structured training. Instead of structured training, you are back to casual athletic activities.  You don’t want to become so inactive that you begin to lose the conditioning you have worked so hard to achieve throughout the year; you do, however, what to remain active and healthy.

Periodization – Step One: Establishing Goals

This step involves establishing your long-term goals and developing a plan for achieving each of your goals.  This step needs to be quantified, simple, optimistic and realistic. Though this sounds like an easy task, it takes real brainstorming to narrow this first step down and onto paper.  An example of an unrealistic long-term goal: “I want to be fast”.  There is no way to quantify fast and there is no time line established to complete it.  It also doesn’t tell you what you are setting your standards against.

If you say: “I want to make the podium for my age group the OUC Half Marathon in December” – this is quantified, specific and with a little research you can determine what it will take to surpass the current top age grouper to achieve the status you are looking for.

We recommend setting three sets of goals – 3-month, 6-month and 12-month.  The most important thing to remember when you are sitting down to establish your goals is that they need to be specific and each should have a date applied.  Without specific goals, you will quickly lose your motivation to stick to the homework, especially when it becomes difficult (due to either the duration or intensity levels required) or boring (i.e. stretching).

Periodization – Step Two: Determining a Starting Point With Your Training

If you are starting at a minimum fitness level, you will have to increase your overall strength and endurance before your dive into a comprehensive performance training program.  As a general rule of thumb, strive not to increase your duration of your overall workouts by more than 5-8% every other week.  Once you have been consistent with some level of training for six to eight weeks without any physical set backs, it is time to determine exactly where your fitness levels are – this will identify your strengths and weaknesses and what to address with daily training to maximize your training time (especially for those of you that work and/or have a family to balance).

The main concept to keep in mind when it comes to training is to strengthen weaknesses which have been specifically identified through field testing.  Triathletes, like any athletes, have a tendency to complete workouts focusing only on the elements where strength already exists.  For example, in the gym, you rarely see anyone working their legs due to the high levels of lactic acid and associated increased heart rate levels.  Instead they avoid these uncomfortable exercises and complete lower intensity exercises which do not address their physical limiters.   If you are riding your bicycle, and you are not a strong climber, how often do you go out and complete hill repeats to increase your strength and lactate tolerance?  It is not that you are soft; it is simply human nature to do the activities where we feel strong and confident.

When it comes to assessments, it is imperative that you capture three key testing data points in field testing: aerobic capacity, muscular strength and lactate tolerance.  We suggest testing these three variables within the training modalities that you have been using over the last six to twelve months.  The important thing to keep in mind with establishing base line assessment numbers is to be consistent with your testing protocols.  For example, if you use running for your cardio training, it would not be a wise choice to use a Concept 2 Rower for your lactate tolerance and aerobic capacity testing due to the different muscle groups and demands on the cardiovascular system – ultimately your testing data would be inaccurate.

Periodization – Step Three: Establishing a Training Program Based on Your Field Testing Results

This is where a human performance specialist can be an asset to a triathlete’s development program – identifying where the most progress can be achieved in the shortest amount of time.  As an illustration, a triathlete gets a swimming coach to help work on their biomechanics relative to swimming. They may become more efficient swimming in a pool, but if he or she doesn’t have the strength and cardio capacity to swim and sight in open water, they will most likely end up swimming a longer distance during race time.  The same applies to developing the training protocols that are going to maximize the appropriate energy systems to enhance the elements of aerobic capacity, muscular strength and lactate tolerance specific to triathlon.

If you are serious about making performance gains, periodized training will ensure that you continue to make measurable progress and steps towards achieving your goals.

Top 10 Things to Make Your Key Race More Successful

1. Taper.

If you have followed your plan, you are trained. Realize that you are NOT going to gain any more fitness or speed before your big race. However, you CAN negatively affect both if you panic and try to “squeeze” in one more high intensity workout. The body needs the opportunity to “absorb” the workloads that you have subjected the body to in the form of intensity, volume and frequency.  To race to your full potential you need to come into the race feeling fresh – mentally and physically.  A rule of thumb is to come into your high profile races one percent undertrained, rather than one percent over trained.  If you are over trained, even by one percent, you will not be resilient to the challenge of a typical race week: heat, humidity, loaded competition, setbacks, frustrations, rain, etc.

2. Identify your sweat rate to avoid over or under hydration.

You need to know how much sweat you lose during a high intensity effort in the humidity and temperatures you plan to race in. Though this may sound obvious (and even difficult to implement for most people), this will help eliminate two significant problems during race week: dehydration and hyponatremia.  Dehydration is when your body loses too much water in the way of sweat.  You don’t want to lose more than 3-4% of your total body weight (including the amount of fluids you consumed prior to the race).  Send us an email at Contact@CoachRobb.com to receive a copy of our Sweat Rate Calculator. Hyponatremia is when you consume more water than your body can absorb and properly hydrate the body.  Walking around with a gallon of straight water is the quickest way to over-hydrate and become physically ill.  When the body is over hydrated, you will feel nauseous, dizzy and have little to no energy.

3. Determine your nutrition and hydration plan.

Prior to your race you need to plan and test your nutrition and hydration. If you are bonking or experiencing gastrointestinal issues, then you know that what you are eating or drinking is not working and you need to reevaluate. Testing is key to developing a solid plan that will work for you on race day.

4. Establish an effective warm up.

To avoid using the first 10 minutes of your race to get your body up to your full race speed, you need to come to the starting line warmed up.  There are a few physiological adaptations that your body will go through, but understand that if you are warmed up sufficiently, your muscles will embrace the high intensity levels right from the beginning of the race.  A proper warm up will not only increase your speed, but will offset the potential for fatigue later in the race because the muscles and energy systems are working efficiently.

5. Learn to breathe.

Though this skill may sound odd, the ability to maximize your oxygen uptake is the foundation for speed AND endurance.  Click here to watch a video on how to learn how to breathe properly.  Once you can breathe deep through your belly in a relaxed setting (i.e. when you are lying down to go to sleep), you can begin to implement during your training and racing. This is a simple drill and skill to learn with huge rewards!

6. Get a therapeutic massage rather than deep tissue.

Avoid deep tissue massage prior to a race. The residual soreness and inflammation associated with deep tissue is completely contrary to what your body needs while you are peaking for your key race. Though deep tissue work is counterproductive for peak performance prior to a race, therapeutic massage is beneficial because it will help the tissue relax (you will sleep better) and improve range of motion within the muscles and associated joints.  A good massage therapist will help you identify any overly tight muscle(s) which will maximize your stretching and soft tissue efforts.

7. Nothing new.

Don’t try anything new the week of your race.  If you haven’t consumed something in training and have concrete evidence that the food you are eating will yield a positive result, don’t eat it, especially the night before your race! Many adverse reactions can result from introducing new foods: dehydrations, diarrhea, nausea and low energy levels.

8. Establish a schedule to avoid rushing.

One of the biggest energy robbers on race day is rushing around the morning of to get to the starting line. Once the race schedule is established, sit down and create a daily schedule including sleep, eating, warm-up, race and post race recovery. You need to know where you need to be and when and then stick to the schedule.  Sounds basic, but this task will save you energy when you are doing exactly what you “planned” to be doing.  You will be both more productive (because you are focused) and less stressed (because you have a little bit of extra time in case something goes wrong).

9. Eat real food.

Avoid eating anything that comes out of a box and instead snack on real food: fruits, vegetables and lean sources of protein. Fresh fruits and vegetables are high in water and natural electrolytes – both imperative for optimum performance. Lean protein sources will provide your body with the necessary amino acids to replenish the torn down muscles associated with high intensity racing.

10. Don’t carbo load.

The quickest way to throw you off of your race game is to follow the old theory of “Carbo-Loading”. What you may not know is that to store one gram of carbohydrates in your body (you store sugar in your body in the form of glycogen and you store it within your muscles and liver) your body stores 2.5 grams of water.  So, if you “load up” on carbs, you can easily add 3-5 pounds in extra water – overnight.  Think about strapping a five-pound dumbbell to your waist and hit the starting line. The added weight will throw your form off and you won’t even understand why. [Note: your liver fuels your brain when you sleep and your muscles fuel your racing efforts.]

What Happens to the Brain When a Concussion Happens

What happens to the brain when a concussion happens?

Inside your skull you have cerebrospinal fluid and of course your brain. A violent impact causes your brain to vibrate and sometimes even bump against the skull bone. If the force is too much, you end up with a concussion. Ironically, the trauma that occurs when the brain hits the skull is often not evident because the damage is on the inside.  It is known as the “Silent Injury” according to Dr. Lovell from the University of Pittsburgh’s medical center which researches concussions.

Once common mistake is assuming that because you didn’t get “knocked out”  the hit to your head was minimal. If you experience vomiting, dilated pupils, loss of smell or taste you should visit with a neurologist immediately. Additional negative symptoms after a head impact are headaches, dizziness or memory loss lasting more than five days or delayed memory of easy questions (i.e. what did you eat for breakfast yesterday morning?).

Four Stages of a Concussion

Impact to the head – The most common causes of concussions are falls, car accidents, impact sports and explosions. The trauma causes force to the head in two directions: linear (forwards and backwards) or rotational (side to side). These forces literally cause your brain to “slosh” within the cerebrospinal fluid and bump up against the skull.

Inflammation – Trauma to the brain can damage neurons, the cells that govern the flow of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. In the worst case scenario, those damaged neurons lose control of the neurotransmitters, allowing them to accelerate up to five (5x) their normal speed. The resulting chemical acceleration can cause memory loss, blurred vision, dizziness, headache and nausea.

Hibernation – Your brain’s cortex detects the neurotransmitter imbalance and tries to fix the neurons by calling for a surge of healing glucose. At the same time, calcium neurotransmitters start constricting the blood vessels, delaying glucose from reaching the neurons. Your brain function slows until blood flow returns to normal.

Recovery – Healing the neurons within your brain can take several weeks.. However, if you sustain another concussion during this period, you could suffer permanent damage and a lifetime of headaches and other adverse side effects. Though it is hard for competitive athletes,  staying away from the potential of re-hitting your head, rest & proper nutrition will facilitate the recovery process.

Note: if you experience headaches after hitting your head, DO NOT consume aspirin or ibuprofen (this may increase your risk of brain bleeding); instead use acetaminophen.

Concussion Dangers and Side Effects

In a previous article I outlined what happens to the brain when a concussion is experienced and the four stages associated with a concussion. (Note: if you need a copy of this article, please email me and I will send you a copy of the article). In this article I want to outline the associated dangers and side effects of a concussion.

Defining a Concussion

Research has validated that you don’t have to be knocked unconscious to be classified as a concussion. We now know that a hard hit to the head without losing consciousness can result in damage to the brain tissue and the neurons and nerves embedded within this tissue. Initial symptoms of concussion include, but are not limited to: disorientation, headache, vertigo (loss of balance), nausea and vomiting. The secondary symptoms include, but are not limited to: mood swings, insomnia (not able to sleep), memory loss, inability to talk without slurring, sensitivity to noise and light, sudden symptoms of being clumsy and unable to hold onto things without dropping them unintentionally.

Health Dangers Associated with a Concussion (only made worse by multiple concussions)

You have rattled your brain, extensive research has validated that a second mild concussion shortly after the first can add up to a lifetime of physical disability (troubles with balance, walking, eating, etc.) and cognitive disorders (inability to focus, remember, perceive analyze and blend sounds, delayed processing speed which makes it difficult to take a test, tie your shoes or answer questions).

How to Handle a Concussion

First and foremost, discontinue any more activity – no matter what anyone says (reference the long term complications outlined above)! According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, the following criteria have to be met before a patient is released from the hospital after incurring a concussion:

  • Patient is alert, oriented and able to follow simple commands
  • Patient has no suggestion of skull fracture (which can include some subtle signs, such as bruising around the eyes or behind the ears, blood behind the eardrums, or clear fluid leaking from the nose or ears)
  • Patient isn’t taking aspirin or other anticoagulants (a substance that keeps the blood from clotting)
  • Patient hasn’t had a seizure
  • Patient can remember events up to 30 minutes before the injury
  • Patient is younger than 65 years of age

Ironically, even if you pass the criteria outlined above, the next round of questions stems around the nature of your concussion:

  • Did you fall from higher than three feet?
  • Did you vomit more than once after the injury?
  • Were in a car accident?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, then you need to cat a CAT scan (CT Scan) of your head to ensure that there are no signs of inflammation or swelling. If the CT scan comes back normal, you will need to ensure that someone is with you at your place of residence to wake you up every two hours and ask you simple questions like: What is your name, what is today’s date, when is your birthday, etc.?).

How Long to Wait Before Resuming Training & Racing

This decision needs to be made by a qualified physician and no one else. When you realize that you are making a decision about your brain and your long term health, clearance to resume training and racing needs to be made with medically backed supervision. The reason for this is two-fold. First, the physician is providing you feedback without emotion: your body is either ready to resume training and racing or it isn’t. Second, if your physican is saying that you are not ready to train and race, he/she is keeping you from injuring yourself worse. This occurs as a result of your brain not being clear and the lack of skills necessary to safely train, ride and race: depth perception, ability to process speed, etc. This situation will result in you hitting the ground again and causing not only a delay in your return, but worse, causing more damage to your head and associated bodily functions.

I realize that you love to train and race, but you have to respect the fact that you have only been provided one brain and it is literally the center of your existence – if your brain is injured, the rest of your life will suffer. No puns intended, but think about this…

Thanks for reading – if you have any questions or need anything clarified, please feel free to email me!

What An Elevated Heart Rate Means and What To Do If Yours Is Elevated

There is a tremendous amount of discussion floating around these days regarding resting heart rate; however, there is little information regarding what an elevated heart rate means to you as an athlete.

What Causes an Elevated Heart Rate? When it comes to the various forms of stress that your body is subjected to on a daily basis, the list is quite long and complex: lack of quality & quantity of food, dehydration, relationships, financial, school, work, quality & quantity of sleep and keeping all of these variables within manageable levels.   One must realize that your brain doesn’t have a filing system for each form of stress, but rather one large file to handle and address the needs of each form of stress. Notice that the discussion of training and racing hasn’t even been introduced to the stress file. When you train too hard or too long too often, the body has to handle yet another form of stress and the residual effects associated (i.e. fatigue, inflammation, tenderness, etc.).

Daily Symptons Associated with High Levels of Stress

Typical symptoms associated with stress include:

  • Decrease in performance (mentally and physically)
  • Increased recovery windows (takes longer for you to recover from your race weekend and  training days)
  • Short tempered, impatient with other people
  • Lack of motivation to train and race
  • ELEVATED HEART RATE!

Long Term Affects of Stress if Systems are Ignored

The concept of Adrenal Fatigue (a.k.a. Epstein Barr or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) is applied to individuals that have pushed the body (mentally and physically) too long without adequate rest and nutrition to provide the necessary “tools” to rebuild a body that is resilient to stress.

The four prominent external signs of Adrenal Fatigue are:

  1. Inability to sleep through the night (even though you are tired)
  2. Waking up throughout the night with night sweats
  3. Loss of libido
  4. Craving simple sugars

Please note, the body doesn’t rebuild and get stronger unless it has adequate amounts of sleep (to naturally release human growth hormones – HGH) and high quality food (carbohydrates, protein and fat) to rebuild the body from the inside out – literally. The body that you have today is the result of the food and sleep you have provided your body over the last six months. It takes six months to completely “rebuild” your body and create the ultimate performance machine that you want. Think about it this way, to have the body that you want in June, starts in January!

How do you Identify an Elevated Heart Rate? Though this sounds odd, many athletes misidentify what an elevated heart rate actually is (much less what to do when the assessment is correct).

There are two ways to effectively capture your heart rate:

  1. Empty your bladder and lay back down with a heart rate monitor on for 5 minutes
  2. Empty your bladder in a seated position and take your pulse for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to establish your pulse for 1 minute

The key to accuracy is being consistent on your methodology and consistency. If you are worried about a margin of error, this margin will be essentially eliminated because your measurement methodology is the same over the course of four weeks.

Additional Variables to Maintain:

  1. Maintain a log of your resting heart rate for a minimum of 4 weeks.
  2. Maintain a log of your hours of sleep for a minimum of 4 weeks.
  3. Maintain a food log for a minimum of 4 weeks.
  4. Maintain a hydration log for a minimum of 4 weeks.

NOTE: If you would like a copy of Coach Robb’s Body Analysis Log spreadsheet to document these numbers, email me directly.

How Does Food, Hydration and Sleep Impact Your Stress Levels?

The body is constantly adapting to the load levels associated with training  (specifically volume & intensity).   Here is a breakdown of food, hydration and sleep as it relates to improved health, wellness and ultimately your on  speed.

Food: By consuming raw, real food, you provide your body with the key elements to a stronger and faster body. Through clean eating, you are providing your body the right mixture of carbohydrates, protein and fats.

Carbohydrates provide your body stored energy (in the form of sugar) in the form of glycogen within your liver and muscles.  Protein is the building block to re-building torn down muscle tissue. Fats are a necessary nutrient for your nervous system and the protection of your internal organs.

Hydration: By consuming half of your body weight in ounces of filtered water (i.e. 160 pound athlete needs to consume 80 ounces of cold filtered water on a daily basis to ensure proper daily hydration levels). you will provide your body the necessary volume of water to maintain proper levels of hydration. Please keep in mind that the average body has 96 pints of water within it. Your brain consists of 75% water; blood is 85% water; and muscle is 70% water.

Sleep: When you provide your body a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night, it has the opportunity to slip into deep levels of sleep (referred to as REM Pattern 3 – this stands for Rapid Eye Movement) which is the depth of rest that your body has to experience before it will release HGH  naturally. When HGH is released naturally, the body will become stronger and leaner – the reason why sleep needs to be protected at all costs for maximum recovery and improved speeds on the track.

What Do You Do With Your Training If Your Heart Rate Is Elevated?

If you wake up in the morning and your resting heart rate is elevated, follow these guidelines to help offset the negative effects of stress (of any and all kinds):

– Morning HR is elevated by 1-2 beats, follow your existing training schedule

– Morning HR is elevated by 3-5 beats, cut your training volume in half and keep your intensity levels exclusively aerobic (if should be able to talk and/or sing at this intensity level)

– Morning HR is elevated 6+ beats, go back to bed and focus on clean eating throughout the day. No training of any kind.

Final Thoughts… Your body provides you with four specific external symptoms, not to mention the daily symptoms. By accurately evaluating your daily morning heart rate, you will have a non-emotional evaluation of how your body is dealing with stress. By focusing on consistent and clean eating along with 8-9 hours of sleep, your body will be more prepared to handle the stressors that you are subjected to on a daily basis and in turn grow stronger and ultimately faster!