Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Training Gear: To Each His Own

I'm asked frequently, "What running shoes do you wear?" What running shorts do you wear?" "What sports drink do you use?" "What fuel do you use on the run?" "What do you eat before a long run?" "What do you eat after a long run?" I always preface my response with, "Well, what works for me is..."

Running is a very specialized sport and that goes for the gear and fueling too. What works for one runner may or may not work for another. The trick is to read up on various options, talk to your running buddies and trainer, and then try things out for yourself. The training period for a marathon is not just for training the muscular and aerobic systems. It's also a time to test out fueling and hydration options, clothing, shoes, GPS watches, etc. Use the 3-4 months preparing for the marathon to see what works for you. But start early in the training, don't wait until the last few weeks.

Also, keep in mind your race date. A good portion of training for a fall marathon takes place in the heat of summer. So, most of your training runs may be in shorts and a singlet. But if your race is late fall and in a chilly location, you may end up racing in tights and a couple of top layers. So, be sure to have your race day attire options figured out. Go worst case scenario. Better to be ready than caught off guard. Be sure to test out all clothing too. Nothing worse than discovering that your bad weather clothing option is the king of chafing.

I'm always amazed when  I get calls from someone who isn't a client and they're asking about hydration and/or fueling and it's the week before the race. Anything they use or try to use that they haven't used during training is a gamble. My #1 Race Day Rule is never wear, eat, or drink anything on race day that you haven't used during your training.

Below are my favorites from my current training for the upcoming Philadelphia marathon. Remember these items work great for me. You may try something below and it not work at all for you. That's fine. It's all about finding what works best for you.

I've run in a lot of different shoes and have several brands that I like and that work for me. During my Philly training, I've run in the Saucony Mirage 4 for my shorter runs and speed workouts. I can wear the Mirages up to about 10 miles and then my feet really hurt. I need more cushion on longer runs. Recently I discovered Altra's Paradigm and they're like heaven on my feet. I've run five 20-milers in my training for Philly and my feet have not hurt at all on these long runs when wearing the Paradigms. All of the Altra shoes have zero drop. That means they are completely flat. There is no heel-to-toe drop. This is great for the balls of my feet. It's the fore foot that really hurts on the longer runs when wearing a shoe that has any kind of incline at the heel. The Paradigm is Altra's first offering in the maximalist category. Maximalist shoes have a thicker sole providing more cushion while still keeping very little heel-to-toe drop. I tried Hoka's, another brand of maximalist shoes, but they have about a 3 or 4mm heel-to-toe drop and they just didn't work as well for me. The Altra Paradigm is my new favorite running shoe.

My feet aren't too picky when it comes to socks. I do have a few requirements, however. First, I like a snug fit. Close fitting socks tend to cause less chafing and blisters. Second, no cotton. I like 100% technical fabric. This aids in the snug fit as well as moisture management. Third, no-show or low cut. I don't like socks that come past the ankle. Just my preference. I've run in many different brands of running sock from Champion, to SmartWool, to WrightSock, to Balega. They all work well. One sock I keep coming back to over and over is Feetures High Performance Light Cushion No Show Tab Sock. They have a great fit and work well for me.

Running Shorts:
My #1 favorite training short is made by Lululemon. You may not be familiar with this brand. They are fairly new to the running clothing arena. Lululemon is known more for their yoga clothing. I discovered Lululemon running shorts back in 2010 when running the Marine Corps Marathon with a buddy. He had a pair. They looked great on him and he raved about how good they felt. They are a bit pricey, running about $65 a pair, but pairs I bought after that race in 2010 still wear like the day I bought them. They hold up well to run after run and wash after wash.  For my training runs, I like to wear Lululemon's Surge short (1). It comes in a 5" and 7" inseam. For race day, I really like a race short that Lululemon use to make (2). I can't seem to find in on their website any longer, which is a shame. It's a great short. I recently discovered a racing short made by North Face called the Better Than Naked Split Short (3). This is a great racing short. It's short, but not too short. It's split, but not too split. It has a zippered back pocket as well as storage pockets on both sides of the zippered pocket that are perfect for storing GU packs.

GPS Watch:
I've used many different GPS watches over the years.  I've used two different TIMEX GPS watches, two different Garmen GPS watches, and two different Soleus GPS watches. Each had aspects I really liked and each had things I disliked. For my Philly training, I decided to try out the TomTom Runner GPS watch. I love this watch. It was easy to use right out of the box. It has a large customizable display. One of the best features is that it gets a GPS signal quicker than any GPS watch I've ever used. Literally just a few seconds after pressing the GPS button, I get a signal. As a coach, that's awesome. Another cool feature is that the display pops out of the watch band so you can easily slip it into the charging dock. It keeps its charge well too. No worries about it going dead in the middle of a long run. It also easily syncs up to Strava which is the app I use to keep track of my mileage, routes, running shoe miles and engage in friendly running competitions with myself and other Strava members.

I wear glasses. Used to wear contacts, but started having issues with them. I've gotten used to wearing glasses on the run. When it's light out I prefer to run in prescription sunglasses. Biggest problem with glasses is constant slipping on the nose. Eye Care Associates asked me to test out a pair of Oakley Jacket 2.0 frames. These frames are great. They allow for curved lenses so the frame wrap around your face providing more coverage of your eyes protecting them from the sun. The wrap design also keeps them from slipping on the nose. I tried an amber colored lens which I've never worn before. Usually I go with black or gray. The amber is great if your going for a run at dawn just before the sun comes up or at dusk when the sun is going down. Nothing worse than finishing a run as the sun goes down and you have on sunglasses and suddenly you can no longer see. The amber lenses allow for more visibility as it gets darker. (Note: If you eyes are very light sensitive, the amber choice may not work as well for you.) Don't wear prescription eyeglasses? No problem. You can have non prescription lenses put in the Oakley frames.

Chafing Protection:
I've never really had chafing issues, but for some reason in this training I did. I lost 23 lbs
during my training, so you think that would decrease chafing issues, but not the case. Anywho.... Body Glide and Body Glide Skin Glide became my friends. The original Body Glide is applied much like deodorant onto whatever area needs protecting. The original formula is thicker and provides great coverage. The Skin Glide is best described as a "dry lotion." What you squeeze out looks similar to lotion, but it quickly dries to a powdery feel after application. The Skin Glide can be a bit messy on clothing if you're not careful. Be sure to wipe your hands after application. If not, anything you touch will have white powdery smudges on it. Besides those few annoyances, the Skin Glide works well on shorter runs.

Night Before Long Run Fueling:
I'm a big multi-grain pasta and brown rice lover. Most of my night-before long run meals include either pasta or rice, chicken, and veggies. Below are some of the various combinations I've enjoyed.
1. Stir fried rice, veggies, and chicken over brown rice with whole grain bread
2. Chicken Primavera: whole wheat pasta, chick peas, broccoli, and cauliflower sauteed in olive oil
3. Mixed Greens topped with grilled chicken breast, dried cranberries, walnuts, broccoli, sprouts, and strawberry walnut dressing
4. White chicken chili. Contains navy beans (instead of kidney), white and yellow corn, Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix, and traditional chili spices.
5. Potato and carrot soup
6. Brown rice topped with black beans, grilled chicken, yellow corn, Mexican spices and low fat Mexican blend cheese

Pre-Long Run Breakfast Fueling:
I'm pretty consistent with the breakfast meal that I eat right before a long run. Usually I'll have a
toasted whole wheat English muffin topped with peanut butter and some type of preserve such as orange marmalade. Sometimes I'll put banana slices and honey on top of the peanut butter. Occasionally I'll have whole wheat pancakes. I eat my pre-long run breakfast about an hour to 1.5hrs prior to the run.

Hydration and Fueling Before and During the Long Run:
About an hour to 1.5hrs before the run, I'll drink one can of Earth Fare 100% Coconut Water.
Coconut water is Mother Nature's Sports Drink. It naturally contains sodium, potassium, and carbs...what you'd find in a sports drink like Gatorade. Coconut water, however has about 3x the potassium and a little less carbs. I use to deal with calf cramps on long runs, particularly on hot summer runs. I sweat a lot. Staying hydrated and keeping my electrolyte stores topped off is big for me. Since using 100% coconut water, I 've not had cramping or hydration issues.
As for fuel during the run, my go-to gel is Chocolate Outrageous by GU. I usually take one at mile 6, 12, and 18. Because the coconut water doesn't have quite a much carbs as Gatorade, I'm able to wash the GU down with the coconut water that I carry in my handheld bottle. I start my run with the handheld filled with coconut water and as I sip on it, I'll refill it with water. My long run routes take me by some water fountains. On race day I'll grab some water cups (as needed) and refill my bottle on the run. My favorite handheld water bottle is the one shown here by Ultimate Direction. It has a pouch perfect for storing gels and the unique nipple like spout allows you to suck the water out keeping spills from happening. It also cuts down on the amount of air being swallowed.

Post Run Refueling:
1% chocolate milk is my go-to post long run refuel option. I try to get this in within 15-30 minutes of completing the run. Chocolate milk has the perfect 4:1 carbs to protein ratio needed to optimize the rebuilding process after a long run. Horizon makes a juice box size that doesn't need to be refrigerated and is really convenient to throw in your car and have ready after a long run. If I have access, I like to jazz it up by putting the milk in a blender and adding a banana and some extra protein power. This makes a great smoothie.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Controlling the Holiday Bulge

The holidays are a time to enjoy friends, family, and good food. Problem is many of us attend so
many holiday functions that before you know it, you're entering the New Year with new pounds.  The Calorie Control Council has estimated that the average American could consume as much as 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day. Just Thanksgiving Dinner alone could pack 3,242 calories for some.

I know what you're thinking, "I wait all year to enjoy those homemade seasonal goodies." You don't have to do without. BUT, you do have to practice moderation and accountability. Eat your favorite foods, but eat small to moderate portions. If you do indulge a little more, then account for it. Work it off with additional exercise.

Here are a few tips that also might help fight the Holiday Bulge:
  • Begin the day with a run, brisk walk, or hit the gym for a circuit workout. Getting your metabolism ramped up early will get your engines fired for the day.
  • Try to schedule your holiday meal at lunch instead of dinner. This way you'll be able to have time after lunch to get in a walk or a workout. Also, the digestion process pretty much stops when you sleep, so if you go to bed on a full stomach all that food is just going to sit there.
  • Bargain with yourself. If you really want a huge piece of pecan pie, determine what other goodie you can do without. "I'll skip the mashed potatoes and gravy, so I can have that pie!"
  • Be sure to eat breakfast. Many will not eat all day thinking they'll be able to eat more at dinner? Well, that basically is true, but if you haven't eaten all day, then you'll be more likely to overeat at dinner time. So instead of saving those 2000 calories till the end of the day, you end up packing in 3500 in one meal because you're so hungry. It's kind of like the old saying, "Don't go grocery shopping on an empty stomach." Don't come to Thanksgiving Dinner hungry either.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Don't Believe Everything You Read

You know the old phrase, "I read it, so it must be true." We all know that's usually not the case, particularly in the age of the Internet when anybody and everybody can print/say whatever they'd like with very little proof.

I've been amazed at some of the exercise and nutrition headlines I've read lately. The information in these articles has been really good, solid info, but the headlines which are meant to grab your attention have been very misleading. The problem with sensationalized attention-grabbing headlines is that often (in our busy lives) readers don't get much past the headline. So, they walk away with incorrect information.

One example was an Outside Magazine article I saw posted on Facebook several months ago regarding chocolate milk as a post-run refueling option. The Facebook headline read, "Screw Chocolate Milk." So, probably your first reaction to the headline (like mine) is, "Okay, what's wrong with chocolate milk?" right? Let's say you get past the headline and begin to read the article...you'll find this:

Three years ago, it seemed like every fitness rag was hyping chocolate milk as the optimal recovery drink. It’s been in the fridge all along! We didn’t even know! The drink’s 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein, experts said, best promotes muscle repair and rebuilds energy stores after a workout. However, for a large chunk of endurance athletes including 56-plus percent of road racing runners, says Stanford researcher and founder of Osmo Nutrition Stacy Sims, it may not be true.

Research shows that only about 50% of readers read past 150 words of an article. So, about half of the readers left this article thinking our beloved post-run chocolate milk is somehow bad. I can hear the rumors spreading like wildfire. "Did you know chocolate milk is bad for you?" Did you know you shouldn't drink chocolate milk after a run?"

Well, if you read a little further into the article, you discover that chocolate milk isn't bad at all. What the article is actually saying is that women's bodies are different physiologically than men. They actually need more protein post-workout than the recommended 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. So, it's not chocolate milk. It's any 4:1 combination of carb/protein that a female runner is ingesting may not be enough. So, ladies, this is important to know. Drink your chocolate milk, but get some extra protein in along with it. Make a smoothie and add a dollop of peanut butter, eat some walnuts with your milk, add some protein powder. Problem solved. Not very sensational, huh?

Funny thing... in going back and trying to find the article, I had a hard time. Why? Well it was no longer using the header, "Screw Chocolate Milk." I'm thinking they received some flack. Go figure.

Anywho...why am I ranting on about sensationalized headlines? Because they misinform. Not only are there the ones like "Screw Chocolate Milk." that give a negative vibe to a perfectly good post run snack, there are ones that promote "healthy" foods which in fact are not. It's a double-edge sword.

Eating healthy is work. No wonder so many Americans opt not to. You have to do your homework when eating healthy and when you're trying hard to support your nutritional needs when marathon training.

The October 2014 issue of the Nutrition Action Health Letter contains a great feature article titled "Hijacked: How the Food Industry Converts Diet Advice into Profits." It's a great read and I definitely got past the first 150 words.

When the science world makes a discovery or publishes its latest healthy findings on nutrition, the food industry jumps on the good news trying to promote and sell its products. That in itself is not bad. Absolutely nothing wrong in touting the health benefits of your product. Problems pop up when companies begin altering their foods to "fit" the new health claims.

I'm sure you've noticed that "high fiber" or "rich in fiber" is all the buzz. From liquid meal drinks, to ice cream, to breads, to brownies you'll see these phrases plastered all over the packaging. Research has shown that fiber does all sorts of great things. For one thing, it helps you feel fuller, so you tend not to eat as much. It also helps prevent constipation, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, not to mention lowering the risk of heart disease.  So, if the Double Chocolate Fiber One cookies claim to have 5g of fiber and a large orange has only 4.4, well, it goes without saying, many will choose the cookie. Many of the commercials touting high fiber foods use the pitch that you're getting the fiber you need without sacrificing flavor. Others go on to promote how their fiber-rich foods will make you feel full which will keep you more satisfied and not each as much.

Problem? Well, the fiber in many of these food products is not the same fiber found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods. It's processed fiber...powders. Did you know that there are companies which create these powders to sell to other food companies to add to their foods? Milne Fruit Products creates fruit and vegetable powders that other companies add to their breakfast cereals, fruit pieces, bakery good, snack chips, smoothies, juices and other foods.

If you read the food labels of these "fiber-rich" foods, you'll more than likely find items such as inulin, oligofructose, soluble corn fiber, resistant wheat starch, or polydextrose. These are the processed fibers being added to the foods being touted as "fiber-rich." The Fiber One cookies contain soluble corn fiber and sugarcane fiber in its ingredients list.

Researchers have done studies on these foods and naturally high fiber foods and have discovered that eating foods naturally high in fiber such as oatmeal and fruit does help fill you up, but eating foods with added processed fiber does not. As the author of the Nutrition Action article states, "The bottom line: added processed fibers don't turn cookies, brownies, bars and shakes into beans, bran, berries, and broccoli. But they do turn little white powders into bigger profits."

It's not just solid foods that can be misleading. Blue Diamond's Vanilla Almond Breeze Milk has "All Natural" on the label. To me, when I read that, I envision some person squeezing the daylights out of poor little almonds to fill up each carton. Guess what. One cup of almond milk contains about 4 almonds. The rest is filtered water and (if you're not getting the unsweetened version) sugar. One cup of Blue Diamond Vanilla Almond Milk has 80 calories, 2.5g of fat. The same as 1% cow's milk. The almond milk, however, contains only 1g of protein vs. 8g in 1% milk. The almond milk has 13g sugar and 1% milk has 12g. The almond milk has 150mg of sodium and 180mg of potassium. 1% milk has only 130mg of sodium and a whopping 400mg of potassium. Now if you are allergic to cow's milk, then almond milk is a great alternative. My point is, almond milk is often touted as a healthier alternative to dairy milk. Not really the case.

Moral to the story? Read beyond the headlines and educate yourself on nutrition labels. Food companies are out to make a buck. You're out to make a healthy life.