Tuesday, September 20, 2016

10 Tips to Better Eating

I've always eaten a pretty good diet, but for the last 3 years, I've really focused on better, healthier eating on a consistent basis. As a result, my immune system is stronger, my cholesterol levels (LDL and HDL) are awesome, and I've lost over 20 lbs which I've kept off. Weight loss was not my main goal, but it was a nice benefit. Being healthy was and is my priority. Below are 10 tips I have to offer in helping you transition to a healthier eating and a healthier lifestyle.

1. Think Lifestyle Change not Diet. If you're thinking of "diet" in the sense of what foods you're eating, that's okay. But if, "diet" refers to something you're "going-on" more than likely you won't succeed, or if you do, eventually you'll return to your old eating habits. I'm not being pessimistic. Research shows, that most diets, in particular very restrictive diets, just don't work in the long run. When changing your eating habits, you need to think, "Is this something I'll be able to continue doing for a lifetime?"
2. Take Ownership of Your Eating and Lifestyle Change. I've had new prospective clients come to me and say, "I need you to get me to lose 20 lbs in a month." Red flags immediately go up when I hear this. When I hear, "I need you to get me..." I know right off the bat, this person isn't ready to take ownership of the changes ahead. I learned way back when I was 13 years old that someone can't change until they're ready to change. I was an overweight kid. My parents and friends often tried to get me to do various things to lose weight. But it wasn't until the summer before entering high school when I decided that I didn't want to go to high school heavy, that I was ready to make a change. At that young age, I took ownership of the situation and changed my eating habits and lost weight. 40 lbs to be exact, before my freshman year.
3. Expand Your Eating Horizons. Take a field trip to the grocery store. Shop the perimeter of the store. That's where you'll find all the fresh produce and meats. Most of the processed and packaged foods are in the center isles. Check out the fruits and vegetables. Pick them up. Feel them. Read the tags and labels. Pick something to try. I did that with Brussels sprouts and now they're my favorite veggie. I've learned to cook them in several different ways. Eat the rainbow. Fruits and veggies rich in color often contain the most nutrients. Incorporate a variety of dark green veggies. Kale is a super veggie full of nutrients and antioxidants. It can be added to salads, eaten cooked, and even added to smoothies! Sweet potatoes are another nutrient dense food. They can be baked whole or sliced and baked on a sheet brushed with a little olive oil. They're awesome!
4. Pay Attention to What You Are Eating. It's a given that you should pay attention to the types of foods you put in your body, but also, pay attention to the "act of eating." Think about it. How many times have you gone to the cupboard for a snack and then before you get back to the couch you've eaten it all? So what do you do? You go back and get more. How many times have you picked up fast food and eaten the fries out of the bag on your way home. Then all you have left is that burger or sandwich. Even though you've already eaten the fries and should be somewhat full, you don't feel satisfied, because all that's looking at you on the plate is the lonely burger. Another good trick is to portion your snack. Have you ever grabbed a box of crackers or chips and before you know it the bag/box is empty?  Instead of eating out of the bag or box, pour a single portion size in a bowl to eat. That way you're more aware of how much you've eaten. Learn to pay attention to the food you are eating.
5. Eat at Home or Prepare Your Meals for on the Go. Eating out is the easiest way to rack up the calories. Most fast food and even sit-down restaurant meals can contain an entire day's worth of fat and calories....in one meal! That doesn't mean you have to pack carrot sticks and celery for lunch. Remember, you're not on a diet. Preparing your own meal gives you control over what goes in it. You know exactly what you're eating. You'll also save money. Even if you eat a fairly healthy meal at an establishment such as Subway, you're going to pay $6-$9. That's $30-$45 for lunch in a 5-day work week.
6. Stop Drinking All Your Calories. Sweet Tea and regular sugary sodas are full of empty calories. Drink water or unsweetened tea with lemon. At first you'll miss the sweetness, but you'll eventually get past it and actually enjoy it.
7. Splurge Every Now and Again. There are times to celebrate and sometimes, that means enjoying foods that may not be so healthy. That's okay. There is a time for birthday cake. There is a time for pumpkin pie. There are times for those favorite family foods. When you save those special foods for special times, they actually taste better. Just be sure to eat a moderate portion. Earth Fare has a "Top of the Day" muffin that's pretty awesome. It's really pretty healthy for a muffin, but I know it's probably high in calories. Each Friday, if I've gotten in my weekly runs and workouts, I'll treat myself to that "Top of the Day" muffin for breakfast. That's my special treat. I look forward to it. Find your weekly special treat.
8. Eat Throughout the Day. Because I have workout groups that start at 6AM, I'm up every morning at 4:30am. And because I have evening classes that I lead, I'm usually not done until around 7:30 or sometimes 8pm. So, I've learned that 5 meals/snacks a day work best for me. I ,keep my calorie intake the same as if I ate 3 large traditional meals, but I spread it over five. So for example:

  • Breakfast #1 (4:45am): Toasted English muffin with peanut butter and preserves, coffee
  • Breakfast #2 (9:00am): Lowfat Greek yogurt with diced banana and walnuts added
  • Lunch (1:30pm): Turkey sub with veggies, Sun Chips or fruit, unsweetened tea
  • Mid Afternoon Snack (4:30pm): Banana with peanut butter smear
  • Dinner: (8:30pm): Varies, but usually sautéed veggies and grilled tofu, chicken, or fish, unsweetened tea (Note: I don't like eating dinner this late, but it's the nature of the beast due to my profession. Because I eat dinner so late, it tends to be a light meal.)

This may not work for everyone, but what will work is having a regular routine beginning with breakfast and not skipping meals.
9. Watch the Red Meat. Nothing wrong with having a good burger from time to time. But more and more research suggests that limiting your intake of red meat helps reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests limiting red meat intake to 18 oz (cooked weight) weekly.
10. Begin with Small Changes. Evaluate what you're eating. Decide on one thing you can stop eating or replace with a healthier option. Small changes like this will lead to big changes over time. Do you really need that mid morning doughnut? Eliminate it or eat an apple instead. That could save 1300 cals and 80g of fat in a work week! One small change. One big effect. Once you see that changes the small change is making, then make another small change. My son lost over 100 lbs using this method. He mastered what I call the art of moderation and accountability. Have that pizza once in a while, but instead of 4 slices, have two.  Or maybe just one slice with a nice salad with lowfat dressing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Shin Splints No More

Whether you're new to running or training for a marathon, runners can fall victim to ouchy shins. This pain down the inner or medial portion of the lower leg along the shin is commonly referred to as shin splints. Often a runner experiencing shin splints will first notice the pain after the run. Overtime, the pain will surface during the run.

The correct term for what you're experiencing is medial tibial stress syndrome

The cause of medial tibial stress syndrome is often debated, but most agree that it's caused by overuse. 

Experienced runners think of shin splints as a new runner's problem. So, they're often baffled when they experience the symptoms themselves. A seasoned runner can experience shin splints with a sudden increase in training frequency or intensity. Ahhh....sound familiar? That's why seasoned runners often experience shin pain during the early stages of race training or even later in marathon training if the runner starts to up the intensity or push too hard. 

Other causes can be lack of calcium, running on hard surfaces, running hills, ill fitted running shoes, or severe overpronation and heel striking. 

A runner who has a heel-strike foot landing, lands with the foot out front. When the foot lands in front of the body on the heel, the toes lift up. The muscles down the front of the leg are the muscles used in lifting the toes. So, new runners who heel strike usually experience this pain, because all of the sudden they are using these muscles a lot and as a result they're "talking back" to the runner.

Actually if you just sit in a chair, lift your foot off the ground, then continuously flex the foot at the ankle lifting the toes up and down for 30 minutes (about the length of a short run), the muscles along the front of the lower leg will more than likely become sore, if those muscles are not used to being used. Over time the runner will acclimate as those muscles get stronger. However, another way to alleviate the issue is for the runner to work more toward a midfoot foot landing where the foot lands flat underneath the runner's center of mass. This takes out the heel strike and toe lift altogether. It also helps the runner to run more efficiently since they are working with the oncoming ground pushing off instead of having to work against the ground when the heel strikes then having to pull the body forward before pushing off.

Experienced runners often experience shin splints when they ramp up training and widen their stride to increase pace. The wider stride causes more toe lift taxing the muscles down the front of the leg. So again, the muscles will acclimate over time, but reigning in the stride and working on increasing turnover and adding lean from the ankle will help them get that needed speed without taxing the shins.

Sometimes the pain, soreness, or swelling is felt on the outside or lateral side of the shin. This is called lateral tibial stress syndrome. 

So what do you do if you have shin splints? Recognize the symptoms and act promptly. If you notice soreness on either side of the shin after a run, ice and elevate the leg. Ice is great for reducing inflammation. I always tell my runners to keep a bag of frozen peas in the freezer. It makes a great ice pack. Just place the ice on for 5-minutes on 5-minutes off for about 20-30 minutes. Icing throughout the day may help as well. Anti-inflammatory painkillers may add additional relief. If it's still sore the next day, take a break from running. Swim, cycle, or do other low-impact exercise for a few days.

Evaluating your running shoes is a good idea too. Is it time for a new pair? Do you have 300-500 miles on your shoes? If so, it might be time for a new pair. Were you properly fitted and have the correct type of shoe for your feet? If you're not sure, go to your local running store and ask them to evaluate your feet and help you get the best shoe for your foot type. If you're a severe overpronator, custom orthodics may help with shin splint symptoms. Analyzing your stride can also be useful. Are you overstriding and heel-striking? If so, work on pulling-in that foot landing. Strive more for a mid-foot or fore-foot landing under your center of mass. This helps the body work with the oncoming pavement. It also helps the body work more like a shock absorber.

Some "pre-hab" exercises can help strengthen the ankles and lower leg which may help keep runners from experiencing shin splints. Check out the video below for some simple but effective ankle and lower leg exercises. If you're currently experiencing shin splints, wait until the soreness/pain has subsided for a couple of days before doing any exercises.


As with any pain/soreness that persists after a couple of days, check in with your medical professional immediately. If you're not able to put pressure on your lower leg, definitely head to the urgent care. Persisting pain along the inner shin could be a sign of an actual stress fracture in the bone. 

If lateral pain persists, it could possibly be compartment syndrome which can be pretty serious. This is more related to poor circulation in the affected area because of increased pressure in the area. 

If you're having to alter your stride to compensate for pain, then you need to check in with your sports doc immediately. Compensating for one pain can often cause other problems in other areas of your body.

Another tool that I've discovered that's useful in strengthening the muscles running along the shin is The SHINTEKK. This device uses a series of different strength resistance bands to help strengthen the anterior lower leg muscles.  The device basically does the same thing as the exercises I demonstrate in my video above, it just make doing them easier and handier. The device doesn't allow for much lateral strengthening of the lower leg muscles and ankle, but it's awesome for easily and quickly strengthening the anterior tibialis muscles in the lower leg.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Gu or Not To Gu, That is the Question

For this round of race training, I have quite a few runners new to training for the half-marathon and
full-marathon distance. I love working with newbies to distance racing. They have so many questions and are so eager to learn.

One question that has surfaced over and over during this training cycle is, "What about GU? Should I be using sports gels? When should I use them?

Each of my runners gets a training packet that's several pages long and in that packet is information on and "rules of thumb" for pre-run fueling, during-the-run fueling, and post-run fueling. But like most of my race trainers, the sections of the packet that gets viewed the most are pages 1 and 2--the training schedule and the workout descriptions and their personal training paces. LOL!

I think another reason these questions keep surfacing is that they keep hearing other information from their running friends...."Well, I use this." "I take that." "I use Gu this many times during a run." "Oh, don't use that." "You don't need this." "You should do this."

And you know the problem isn't that these well-meaning runners are giving them bad information. The problem, is that they are giving these new distance runners solutions for what works for themselves. With so much and such diverse information, my new-to-distance runners become overwhelmed and not sure what to do. Also, as a new distance runner, and well, like most anybody, they want "the" definitive answer. There in lies the problem. There isn't one answer.

Remember, up in paragraph two of this post, I mentioned that in each runner's training packet, I provide them with "rules of thumb" for fueling? Well, that's really as specific as it can be. Rules-of-thumb, guidelines, a set of parameters. Each runner, then has to use the 14-18 weeks of training to figure out  (based on those parameters) what works best for them.

I had one runner that in the marathon race, she used a gel about every 10 minutes. I would not recommend that to anyone, because for most that would cause stomach distress. But for her, it worked. She determined that for herself through her training. Whether it was more of a mental security factor or a physical need, I'm not sure, but nonetheless, it worked for her.

So, unfortunately I can't tell my newbies, "Here do exactly this." But, what I can provide them with the following parameters.

During training, eat a well balanced diet of approximately 45-65% high quality complex carbohydrates, 20-35 % polyunsaturated fat/monounsaturated fat (and yes a little bit of saturated fat), and 10-35% protein (from lean meats and plant sources).

Your body can store about 2000 calories of glycogen (fuel) in the muscle. This is your primary source of fuel on the run. If on a regulare basis, you're eating a good balance of the macro-nutrients listed above (Carbs, Fats, Protein), then you should be keeping your glycogen stores in good check.

Sports Gels, chomps, blocks, chews, etc. are designed to help you keep from completely depleting your glycogen stores during longer runs. If you're running an hour or less, you really don't need sports gels and the like. If you're running 1.5 hours or more, then it's a good idea to start supplementing with an additional fuel source.

Most fueling supplement companies suggest taking their product every 45-60 mins, but again that's just a recommendation. I personally take one about every 5 miles, but again, that's what works for me. The true key is listening to your body and getting into a routine of taking such supplements in a regimen that provides you with fuel before you feel like you need it. If you wait until you are fatiguing to take something, then more than likely it won't get into your system in time for it to really do you any good.

The other thing to keep in mind is that gels, chomps, chews, bars, etc. are not the end-all source of fuel. I began running marathons back in 1997. Back then then only fuel I know of that was available (at least where I was in NC) was PowerBar. It basically was a nasty leather bar that you chewed on and chewed on and chewed on. I think I'm still chewing on the first bar I took back in 1997. LOL! Not too long afterward, PowerBar started making PowerGel. But before that, about the only thing available was Gatorade for fuel.

Somehow runners prior to the 2000s were able to run distance without these handy little packets. That's the key word....Handy. Usually a serving of fuel is about 100 calories, These products are convenient, easy to carry, 100 calorie packets of fuel. It takes out the guess work. Simply open and eat.  However, you can use real food too and it be just as effective. Here again, you have to experiment with what works for you. I have one runner who eats dates on the run. Another eats an oatmeal cookie (kind of like a ginger snap). Another runner carries a little baggie of pretzels. And still another makes little pbj sandwiches for long runs. They all have around the same number of calories comprised mostly of simple carbs for quick and easy digestion.

Gatorade and similar sports drinks provide basically the same thing as sports gels. So when taking a sports gel or your homemade energy food source, it's best to wash it down with water not sports drink? Why? Well, since the both provide essentially the same thing, you're basically getting a double whammy of carbohydrates. For some this can cause stomach distress. So rather than risk that, wash down your energy foods with water and save the sports drink for a hydration stop when you're not taking a supplement.

So, again, many are probably still frustrated that I haven't provided "The definitive Fueling Solution," but you have some guidelines. Use your training time to experiment and discover what works for you. Each runner is unique and you have to discover your own tricks of the trade.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Dehydration: The Hidden Culprit

If you're a runner, you probably know all too well about training-related injuries. If you've not experience one personally, then you probably know someone who has. Often such injuries are caused by doing too much too soon, over-training, pushing too hard, or coming back from a previous injury too soon. And then there is the occasional injury that just happens for no apparent reason. But, one cause of running related injuries that's often overlooked is simply dehydration...not drinking enough H2O.

When we see a plant wilting, the first thing that comes to mind (even if you have a brown thumb) is, "Gee that plant needs water." But when it comes to a running-related injury we often look for the most complex reasons for why an injury has occurred. Often it's as simple as not drinking enough fluids pre-, during-, and post-run. 

Okay, I'm pretty sure they're are some naysayers out there, but maybe this will change their minds. Research shows that when you dehydrate a muscle by only 3%, a runner can lose about 10% of contractile strength which can cause an 8% loss of speed. A study conducted at Ball State University showed a 7% drop in speed over 10 kilometers by runners who were dehydrated by just 2%-3%. That's only 3-5 lbs for a 165 lb runner.

So what exactly is Dehydration? Dehydration can be defined at a loss of 1% or greater of body weight as a result of fluid loss. The signs of dehydration are varied, but here are a few:
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Heat Intolerance
  • Dry Mouth or cough
  • Flushed Skin
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Light-headedness
  • Dark opaque urine 

So how does dehydration cause running injuries? Well, the human body strives for balance (homeostasis). Proper fluid levels helps maintain this balance. Proper heart function, blood pressure, blood flow, muscle function, temperature regulation, proper digestion, joint cushioning, energy production all depend on sufficient fluid levels in the body.

Dehydration is often the hidden culprit. You may think your pulled calf muscle is due to that intense hill workout....and that may very well be the main cause, but doing the intense hill workout not properly hydrated is setting yourself up for injury. You're muscles aren't going to perform at 100% when not well hydrated. Also, not properly rehydrating after a hard workout or long run puts you in a hydration deficit going into your next workout.

Your brain doesn't work as well when you're dehydrated either causing changes in mood, irritability, lack of concentration which can all affect your judgement on a run. 

There are going to be some individuals who read this and think, "Well then, I'm going to drink gallons of water each day during training to offset dehydration." Like most things, however, too much of a good thing can be bad. Over hydration can deplete your electrolyte stores (sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride magnesium) which are needed as well for homeostasis. Sodium is needed for proper hydration and potassium is needed to help a muscle relax after contraction. Potassium also is important in regulating blood pressure. So, don't overindulge. There is a formula you can use ( Men: drink daily in ounces your body weight x .35; Women: drink daily in ounces your body weight x .31), but I recommend to just drink water throughout the day. You can have your caffeinated beverages (i.e. your morning coffee), but don't count it as one of your water sources.  

The Sweat Rate Test is a great way to make sure you properly rehydrate after a run. Do this test on a mild day and on a really hot/humid day. This way you'll know about how much water to replace after both types of runs.

Sweat Rate Test:
  1. Weigh before running (running clothes on, but shoes off); record the amount
  2. Run for 60 minutes
  3. Weigh after running (running clothes on, but shoes off); record the amount
  4. For each pound lost, drink 16oz of water. (i.e. 3lbs lost = 48oz)
No need to gulp down the replacement water, but make sure you replace that lost water in the hours after your run.

Drinking water is great for most workouts lasting 45-60 minutes. But, if you're running over an hour, be sure to drink a sports drink or use an electrolyte replacement tab in your water to offset the electrolyte loss from perspiration. For runs longer than an hour, sports drinks will also provide fuel (carbohydrate) replacement for your muscles. On long runs, its a great idea to wear a hydration belt, carry a handheld water bottle, or stash some bottles of water and sports drink along your route. FYI: Drink water when taking an energy gel or GU. Drinking sports drink when taking a GU can give you a double-whammy of carbs causing stomach distress.

Monday, July 18, 2016

10 Tips to Prevent the Marathon Training Blues

Runners often get discouraged when training for a marathon. Their lack of performance and/or motivation can be due to numerous factors. In the video below, I share 10 tips for helping to prevent the marathon training blues. If you're currently experiencing the training blues, listen to the tips and see if any of the suggestions may be the cause of your discouragement with your training.
(Correction: In Tip#3, I state "the body sends blood to the muscle layer to help cool down the body." I meant to say, "the body sends blood to the skin layer to help cool down the body, causing less blood to get to the muscle layer, which makes you fatigue quicker."


10 Tips to Prevent the Marathon Training Blues from Thad McLaurin on Vimeo.