Monday, January 25, 2010

pHinding nutritional balance

As published in the Jan 2010 first issue of Rocky Mountain Running and Triathlon.

Calories in versus calories out. That is usually the first thing that comes to mind when athletes go about changing their daily eating habits for the better. Sometimes one might even go a little farther in order to perform better and think about how much protein they should be eating, or healthier fats, or the glycemic index of carbohydrates. It is true that being aware of how protein, fats and carbs affect your health and performance is good place to start. But, believe it or not, there is even a deeper level of nutrition knowledge. This next level of choosing food wisely lies in one’s understanding of how food affects the pH of your body’s fluids.

pH is the measure of hydrogen ions concentrations in the body. What is the big deal about hydrogen ions? Well, too many hydrogen ions released during intense aerobic/anaerobic exercise are what cause the acidic burn in the muscle tissue, not lactic acid. The memory of that feeling brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it? So if an acidic state of muscle tissue causes that kind of discomfort, then what about too many hydrogen ions in your body fluids like saliva, blood and urine? A big ouch on internal health, for sure! And where do many of these acidic ions come from? FOOD!

Understand that the body is trying to remain in an alkaline state of around 7.35-7.45 on the pH scale with muscle tissue being slightly lower. If you eat in such a way to throw that out of balance on a daily basis then you end up with an environment that breeds sickness, not health. You can relate this to adjusting soil in order to grow food in or adjusting water conditions to keep fish alive in. If your body’s fluids are not adjusted to the right pH, then the acidic environment is a great place to grow things you don’t want like yeast, fungus, bacteria and viruses. It is also a place where you perpetuate inflammatory condition like arthritis, create heartburn and replicate irregular cells (cancer.) Lastly, because the body seeks for an alkaline state in order to stay pH balanced, an acidic environment will rob the bones of calcium (and other minerals) and rob the muscles of nitrogen to try to correct the pH. This ends up being a MAJOR cause of osteoporosis and some muscle tissue loss. So, even if you supplement with calcium and magnesium, but eat acidic foods, all your efforts go to waste as your body steals those minerals from the bone to neutralize the extra acid in the body. Robin Hood would just not approve of and will not fight for that kind of transfer of bodily wealth!

Thanks to nature, you do have a quiver full of flaming arrows to fight off excessive Hydrogen ions. There are many foods that, when eaten, leave an alkaline ash. That means that they sponge up and remove the acids. I am sure you can guess what kinds of foods these might be. And you are right if you guessed produce. Yep, produce is the biggest provider of alkaline minerals. Does that mean you should only eat produce? If you are looking for optimal health and performance, then NO.WAY! The human body still has a need for a small amount of neutral and acidic foods. The trick is to eat about 75% of the volume of food you eat in alkaline foods and the other 25% acidic. So that 25%, remember this is by volume, is where your high quality, lean proteins fit in as well as good oils and small amounts of whole grain on occasion. Remember that is all about balance so being too extreme with acidic or alkaline food causes a problem.

So how does this look on a daily eating plan? Well, starting off the day with a protein shake (Whey protein is alkaline by the way) that has fruit and flax oil in it is great. If your blender is broken, then heat up water and mix your protein and oil in the water while eating your piece of fruit on the side. Or fruit alongside a quick scrambled egg dish cooked on medium heat with lots of veggies like onion, spinach, tomato, broccoli or whatever you have. Any scrambled egg dish can be prepared ahead of time and reheated in the microwave too. Lunch and dinner should center around servings of lean protein combined with lots of raw/lightly steamed vegetables. A big fat dark green salad with all kinds of chopped veggies and a homemade dressing is the best! You can add fruit and nuts to this salad for a gourmet treat. Aim for one of these alkaline feasts a day (see recipe article in this edition). Snacks can be in the form of protein shakes, raw veggies dipped in homemade dressing or fruit and nuts.

Alkaline liquids exist also. Some people make a habit out of waking up and drinking a glass of water with a little bit of lemon or lime squeezed in. That may sound counterintuitive since citrus fruit is considered acidic. Well, before digestion it is acidic, but by the time it hits the blood stream it leaves an alkaline ash. Crazy but true. Any “green drink” or freshly made vegetable juice will be great. And mixing the vitamin packets called EmergnC in water will also alkalize. It is really nice to use any of the above drink ideas in combination with a meal that you know is probably too acidic. At least, you can help neutralize the damage. Well, except for downing your typical can of soda. It takes 25 glasses of alkaline water to neutralize that!

But, what about post-workout drinks? I mean it seems pretty logical that you finish workouts in an acidic state. Actually any stress on the body, including emotional stress causes acidity. Unfortunately commercial replenishment drinks will be acidic, so some athletes choose to make another protein shake and add fresh squeezed juice, honey or some carbo pro in order to get enough post workout carbs. Or slamming some “green drink” alongside the commercial product can help.

I am sure that I didn’t surprise you that Nature’s foods are mostly alkaline. Knowing this should help any athlete in making deeper commitments to eating whole food with a strong emphasis on produce at each meal. Just remember too, that the act of training causes extra imbalances and a whole lot of destruction cellularly. If you want the best chance at recovery, a stronger immune system, low levels of inflammation and a body free of disease, then think alkaline!

These way cool charts are from Lots of great articles in the article section!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hills, the uphill battle.

I think that most people are aware that here is Utah, we are not hurting for hills to run. Yet, the question still remains, "Should I run hills in training? If so, how much, what pace, how steep, how often?" It is clear that some of you who run have no choice but to run hills based on where you live or work. In a nutshell, hills are good. Actually, hills play a vital role in run training especially if you don't spend much time in the weight room. But, just like any other part of training, too much or incorrect application can backfire. But, it is time to clear up a couple things so that everyone can use those hills their advantage in their quest for fitness and faster times. Here are two important uses of hill.

Long Slow Hills

To build strength.

Keep this kind of workout as close to conversation pace as possible. It is okay to keep it slow. The goal is to do about 30 minutes worth of going up during a 60-90 minute long run. The only time to consider running this hard is if you are substituting a hard flat tempo day with this hill workout.

You will, no doubt, come across different grades of steepness when you run that long. That is just fine, but the most productive hills are still shallow enough to run up. When it is too steep for too long, then the difficulty gets in the way of the run specific strength work. It is common knowledge that there are some hills that you can power walk faster than you can run, but stay disciplined! You are trying to train your run specific muscle groups so keep running and mix those tougher hills in with some that are more moderate in grade.

When and how often?
Doing this kind of workout once a week pretty much all year is a great idea. Doing this one too often will be too taxing though so more is not always better here. If your legs start feeling heavy all the time then that is an indicator of too much. On the other hand, the only times to let it go completely would be during recovery periods before your most important races/events or during that initial off season period where you are trying to really kick back and relax.

In the summer, when the trails are wide open and lead upward straight into the blue Utah sky, it is easy to find enough long hills for this workout. You might have to be more creative when most of those trails are inaccesible in winter, but don't give up because winter is a perfect time to run long hills. If you are an ultra distance trail runner, then you obviously will walk more of those uphills than stated above and just flat out be doing them more often and for longer.

Also,when on trails, take the opportunity to really run fast down the hill where possible. Make sure to read this blog article on downhill running

Short Fast Hills

To build speed, strength and power

5-10 fast Sprints of 15-30 seconds long with a walk down as rest.

Very steep! Like the kind of steep that you really could power walk faster.

When and how often:
This is a great workout to do throughout the year. Some people will throw in 5 or so hill sprints at the end of a 60-90 run to stimulate the fast twitch fibers. Another place to put it is after doing some once a week short sprints on a track when you are already working on your fast twitch fibers (you could even use stadium stairs for this if they are a long enough set). If you do this, then shorten your speedwork session a bit. If you want to know more about a speed session, read this speedwork post. And there are those who like to use this workout just towards the end of race prep period to sharpen the saw so to speak. Either way, once a week IS PLENTY!!

Always take plenty of rest in between these sprints by walking down the hill. You should start the next one only when you feel recovered. If your legs are a bit tired, then do less. These are a bit tougher to do on a rough trail. You will want good footing for sure.

So there are some ideas on how to use hills to your advantage. Hills are great to build strength, speed and power. Happy climbing!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Trim to Fit Orthotics, Heaven Sent Pain Relievers or Glorified Sock Liners?

By Seth Wold:

The blessings of being young.

After running throughout my high school and college years without orthotic support I was pretty confident that my musculoskeletal system was in great alignment. I had been fortunate enough to have very few injuries and my feet felt OK at the end of my workouts. Then I began working at the Salt Lake Running Company. I was trained by my fellow staff members on a variety of topics, including trim to fit orthotics, aka-inserts. I tried each one on, but I didn’t feel like I needed any of them to help my run, after all I had just won the first marathon I competed in.

The years catch up

After working at the running company, I was amazed how many of the customers absolutely loved their inserts and attributed their great health to the orthotics. I thought, "well I know the orthotics work for everyone who pronates, but I am a neutral runner. " Then my battle with IT Band syndrome heated up again. I was icing it, massaging it, stretching it (only after my muscles were warm) and strengthening it just as I had in high school and college. For a decade I thought that having an inflamed IT Band is just part of being a distance runner and that every once in a while it is bound to flare up and hurt horribly. But this time the IT Band just wasn’t healing quickly enough. I would have to stop and massage the IT Band on any run over 6 miles long and when I returned home I could hardly bend my knee without a pain shooting up my leg.

Simple Relief in "over the counter" orthotic inserts!

I got desperate. I tried a trim to fit Green Superfeet orthotic insert in my running shoes and a Powerstep Pinnacle orthotic insert in my work shoes. The Full Volume arch on the Powerstep felt best for my foot while walking/standing, while the Green Superfeet’s wide heel cup fit great on my foot while running. I decided to take the insert out on a 16 mile run, the longest run I had run in months of training. I didn’t hurt! I thought, "Well maybe I was just on top of it today, but after the run it is bound to kill." To my surprise, my knee post-run felt better than it did before the run. I continued with the icing, massage, and stretching routine, and my knee began to heal more quickly than it ever had in college. I learned that runners shouldn’t have terrible pain while running, huh imagine that. Suddenly I realized how much trim to fit orthotics/inserts benefit every runner, whether they pronate, supinate, or run with a neutral gate.

The economic no-brainer

Why "over the counter" trim to fit orthotics? The price of custom orthotics can range from $200-$1000+ while the trim to fit orthotic inserts range from $20-$45. Custom orthotics are great, but they wear out just like the trim to fit orthotics. Also the trim to fit orthotics carried at the Salt Lake Running Company are made with polypropylene semi-flexible plastic that gives proper support to the heel and ankle while allowing the foot and ankle to naturally absorb the shock caused by running.

Why doesn't every shoe have these kinds of orthotic inserts?

Why don’t my awesome running shoes already have an orthotic built in? The insole of the shoe, where the orthotic is placed, is a sock liner (Low density EVA cushion which is there to cover the seams and give a plush initial feel to the shoe during the try on process). If Saucony was to incorporate an orthotic insert into the midsole of the Progrid Ride, then only neutral people who like the Saucony Progrid Ride already and whose feet were shaped like the orthotic would like the shoe. Then Saucony would have to produce ten different versions of the Saucony Progrid Ride to fit their customer’s needs. This would be way too many shoes for us to carry, so they instead make great running shoes with removable sockliners so that each customer can choose the most comfortable, best fitting orthotics to place in their great running shoes.

Cushioned orthotic inserts

Are there any cushioned orthotics? Yes, the Montrail Enduro-Sole and Powerstep Pinnacle orthotics are both covered with a softer material which helps them feel softer underfoot. Althouth Superfeet, Downunders, and Powerstep Original feel more firm initially, they also offer great cushioning with high density EVA or similar materials. The best cushioning for running is actually built into each of our heels. The heel when properly fitted into an orthotic will be cupped causing the fat to remain under the heel bone during your runs. This offers the best cushioning and any of the trim to fit Orthotics at the Salt Lake Running Company will have this fit when properly matched up to each person.

Experiment of one

If you are, like I was, a skeptic on the benefits of "over the counter" orthotic inserts, I encourage you to give them a try for 30 days. You will then be able to say for yourself how the orthotics felt to you. If they work for you, then that will mean many years of far less injuries and happy running. So make sure to give them an initial try next time you're in for some new shoes. And don’t forget to enjoy Running.

AMEN SETH!!! I know lots of people who swear by the orthotic inserts, including me. Similar story. I ran for about 12 years with lower leg pain and constant low grade shin splints(that were sometimes not so low grade) before trying a pair of these. All my lower leg pain and shin splints went away quickly and has NEVER returned for the last 12-13 YEARS. Three cheers for orthotic inserts!

Deb out!