Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ever wanted to try nuun?

As I am finally crawling out of my mid-winter base base training, my runs are getting longer and faster.  Great!  I'm also starting to venture out of my bedroom (where my trainer is permanently set-up) and onto the roads for some real riding (of course, 7 inches of snow today will push me back insides).  I really try to follow nutrition periodization and do not take much sports nutrition during the winter, forcing my body to use fat.  However, as my workouts get longer and more intense, this just isn't feasible anymore.  I've started to throw down a Gu before runs (okay- must admit- I LOVE the new Jet Blackberry flavor) and take recovery drinks after my workouts. 

However, I'm realizing the water I've been using during my rides is no longer sufficient, yet I'm not quite ready to switch to my full-on sports drink (Heed or Accelerade).  The happy medium seems to be nuun.  As Mike says on the Sports Bistro review, nuun is a great choice if f you're looking to cut sugar but still take a sports drink with electrolytes during your workouts.  Nuun also has a good amount of sodium (360mg) and potassium (100mg) per serving.

If you haven't tried it, I'd highly recommend it.  A tube is pretty cheap, and very portable.  Plus, if you place an order from Sports Bistro now, they'll throw in 3 free tablets for you to try (while supplies last).  What do you have to lose?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Building a "ridiculous base"

The topic of base training has been on my mind a lot lately. For this season 2010, I want to focus on the half-iron distance with a minimum of two such races. I also want to do another marathon. Such a race calendar requires a strong base of fitness. But what does it mean "to have a strong base?" You'll often hear things like "oh he ran faster because he had the stronger base." Is this correct? Well maybe... but probably not. I don't think base fitness has much to do with speed, performance, or race results. Base fitness is like the foundation of a building. A strong foundation is an absolute requirement for a tall skyscraper but no one would ever confuse the foundation with the building itself. So what is base training then?

My personal definition of "fitness base"
It's the ability to endure repeated bouts of training and racing. Note my definition doesn't speak of speed or performance. It's mostly about surviving or getting through it -- day in, day out.

Base training thus is the process one goes through to achieve the base necessary for their target race or season. In my experience, many athletes tend to either do too much base or too little. When just starting out, I think most individuals will run at a pace and for a distance that is higher/faster/longer than appropriate for base training. This tends to lead to injuries, burnout, and just a string of bad news.

Enter base training
Base training can solve the aforementioned problem by reducing intensity and increasing frequency. I recently saw one article about doing 30 runs in 30 days (FYI - this is an advanced training approach and not for all) to build a huge base. It's a good read and it sort of sparked some fresh ideas for my own training. A solid base will help you get through a rigorous training season, avoid injuries, and do race after race with quick recoveries in between. While, advanced athletes may be able to get away with a "30 day" base, typically much longer base periods (with more rest) are required for everyone else.

The base training trap
After a couple of months of proper base training you might find yourself actually enjoying training now that you're injury free and that you can complete a workout and not be destroyed the next day. Great news! Just don't get caught in the base training trap of doing this forever. Guess what happens during your race when you train exclusively with base training? (Hint: Reread my definition). Exactly - you end up "just surviving" the race. This goes back to my previous analogy with buildings... the base is not fitness but rather the foundation for fitness. After weeks or months of base training, athletes get used to the slower speeds and intensities and have difficulty (physical or mental) reaching their previous medium or high intensity zones. I see it all the time in marathon runners who run the same pace for a 5K, 10K, or marathon. People seem to lose perception of the various exercises zones / intensities. They become extremely efficient at that one pace and are uncomfortable with anything else, especially with the higher intensity workouts that will actually develop the fitness they are looking for.

So as you go about and build your own "ridiculous base" (I know I will), keep in mind that this is only the first step. What you do after those initial "30 days" or X months will be what actually gets you to your goals. As always, feel free to reach out to us if you're looking for help achieving your goals.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Recovery Week

It's late Feb and many of you are probably in the early parts of your training cycle. Others with early season races might be later in their training cycles. In either case, it's important to schedule recovery as part of your training. For the athletes I coach and for myself, I typically schedule a recovery week after every three-four weeks of training. This gives the body a chance to recover and solidify in some of the fitness gains you've made over the last few weeks of training.

How to Design a Recovery Week
For the self-coached athlete, knowing how to design a recovery week is key. And even for those of you that have coaches that schedule your own workouts, it's important to note that recovery takes precedence over any scheduled workout. Don't lose the big picture (recovery in case you missed it) in going out of your way (missing sleep, skipping meals, etc) just to get in that 4 mi run your coach scheduled for you. So here are some things to include when designing your recovery week:
  • Make sure you quality sleep (8+ hours if you can)
  • Maintain workout frequency but cut intensity and especially volume. Cutting activity all together could result in detraining!
  • Take a mental break by pursuing some other activities or sports you like. Just watch the intensity--don't go play 2 hrs of pickup soccer for the first time in 4 months.
  • Eat proper meals. Less time to work out means more time to eat right. No excuses.
  • Skip workouts if your heart or mind just isn't in it. You'll feel better the next day for it.
  • Find time to nap! Take a lesson from your kids or pets. (P.S. This is my personal favorite method of recovery)
How will you know it worked?
The best timed recovery weeks come just before you feel achy and sore and feel like you're losing fitness and motivation. By the middle to end of your recovery week, hopefully those aches and pains have subsided and you're itching to get back out there and train. Good! This keeps the motivation to train high and highly motivated athletes do better. It might even be quantifiably better. It's not unusual to go out there post recovery week, and find that you can run/bike/swim the same courses in less time with less effort (as measured by heart rate or perceived exertion). You might be scoring new critical power records on the bike. Fitness gains are typically not linear... they come in sudden spurts after days or weeks of plateauing.

Some Advanced Topics
How long is a recovery week? For the truly fit, you might find that you only need 5 days instead of 7. Play this in your favor by training hard through the previous weekend and then taking 5 "easy" days. Then schedule some "B" races during the upcoming weekend. You might be surprised how well you do.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Climbing Out of the Off-season

Shortly after the holidays, I stepped on the scale and discovered that I “accidentally” gained 8 lbs in as many weeks during the off-season.


Yes, I did read nutritionist Reyna Franco’s article on Off-Season Nutrition and Exercise. (Says Reyna: “We are not bears who hibernate and need the extra fat to keep warm.”) Though somehow between my third helping of Thanksgiving turkey, my second helping of Christmas ham, and sixth glass of New Year’s champagne, the thought of cutting calories never quite crossed my mind. Not discouraged in the least bit, I’ve since made a few simple changes (other than not eating and drinking like rock star) during my pre-season phase, aka “base training” period, that have done wonders:
  1. Low calorie electrolytes. Instead of drinking very sugary isotonic drinks (like the kind they throw on winning coaches at the Superbowl), I’ve been dropping Nuun electrolyte tablets in my water bottle during training. 360 mg of sodium with only 5 calories. Seems to be working beautifully.
  2. Keeping a food journal. I got this idea from an article by Lee Gottheimer, who lost 70 lbs with simple healthful changes in his lifestyle. Somehow I feel more accountable for what I put into my body when I write it down. I shudder to think what my journal would’ve looked like through the holidays. (Wed, Dec 27th: “Bacon Cheeseburger + 2 Beers + Chocolate Cake… for brunch!)
  3. Fruits, vegetables, and tofu. I’ve been going to town on the greens and legumes. The tofu has also been giving me a good source of light protein. Plus I feel like I can actually workout within an hour of eating.
  4. Afternoon snack. I munch on a Clif bar at about 3pm every day. It keeps my energy levels consistent through the rest of the day and prevents me from bonking if I go for a run after work. Equally as important, it also keeps my hunger in check, which prevents me from eating too much at dinner.
End result: I’ve already lost 2 lbs in the last 10 days! Looks like I’ve plenty of time left to get back to race weight well before the racing season begins. Perhaps I’ll celebrate with a beer! Uhhh… or not.

Got any good tips for dropping off-season weight? Please do share.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Good running form examples

Many of you have independently asked me about running form, stride length, cadence, etc in the last few weeks or days. I went out to try and find some good screen shots of what makes up good form vs bad.... specifically around stride length since that's been hot lately.

Good example: Scott Molina photo at Gordo's Blog
What's good:
  • Body lean... his center of gravity is practically ahead of his front foot
  • Front knee bend... lower leg is almost parallel to the ground
  • Knee height... look how high he gets his knee up. Increasing the height increases stride length
Gordo Byrn (blog author) happens to be a world class triathlete himself... his blog is lengthy but has many valuable tidbits. Scott Molina is one of the triathlon greats. I like the quote "True running technique is what you are left with when you're wrecked. "

Not so good example: sadly the runner on our homepage
What's not good:
  • Body lean: very little
  • Overstride: huge stride... such a stride should be accompanied by a high lean
  • Front knee bend... by the time that front leg hits the ground, it will create a large angle with the perpendicular, thus acting as a "brake"
  • Back leg position: it shoots backwards whereas it should be tucked under her body more
Admittedly this runner could be going for a finishing sprint in the 100m where form takes less importance... but it seems unlikely from the context.

Maybe we should offer a Sports Bistro prize (like store credit) for anyone who can get a photo of someone with awesome running form wearing a Sports Bistro team kit.

What kind of sports nutrition do I take during a run?

This is such a common question, I figure it deserved its own article. Freshly published on In the article I discuss not only what to take, but how often. I also give some examples for common run distances people do. Here's a snippet:

Example 1: 2-hour run
0:15 min before: take one gel and some water/sports drink/nuun
0:30 min in: take one gel and some fluids
1:15 min in: take another gel and some fluids
2:00 min in: take final gel and finish off the fluids

The one final gel is a little known secret for improving recovery. After a workout, you have a limited recovery window of about 30-60 minutes where the body will quickly replenish muscle glycogen using all available fuel sources. Taking that one extra gel will aid your recovery especially if you can't get to your recovery drink in time.

Example 2: 10K race
0:15 min before: take one gel and sme fluids
5K into run: take one gel, fluids and keep pushing harder

The initial gel will kickstart your system. Taking one in the middle will give you an extra boost so you can push even harder in the last 5K. For races of all length I also recommend taking the uber-gel Roctane.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why is it so hard to ride the trainer?

Does anyone else have this problem? It always feels so hard to push the pace on the trainer. I did what felt like a HARD workout this morning but when I looked at the data I straddled zones 1 and 2 for most of duration. I hit a few minutes of zone 3 and it felt like sprint triathlon race pace... just plain brutal. Had I done the same workout outside while maintaining the same perceived exertion I probably would have averaged more of a mid-zone 3 workout.

Everyone seems to report the same feeling (though perhaps not quantified by zones, power outputs, etc). Why is there such a mismatch between the perceived exertion of riding the trainer vs riding outside? I have a few theories as to what contributes to this disparity but I want to hear your own too.

  • Motivation and focus - When you ride outside it's probably either with a group or maybe on a path/road that has other riders. Riding with others seems to add significant motivation. You end up focusing on things like catching that rider or keeping pace with your friends. When you're alone riding the trainer you have almost nothing to focus on but yourself and your own pain.
  • Highly repetitive motion - When you're locked in that trainer, there's no steering, there are no bumps, and there's no need to navigate around obstacles, react, or switch positions. You're just stuck in that one position doing that same motion over and over. You start feeling every single imbalance... a weird feeling in your hip, a tight quad muscle on one side but not the other, tight calves, etc. The repetitive motion and static position seems to amplify the effect of these conditions.
So tell me... what do you think? I want to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gu Jet Blackberry Review

Jet Blackberry? What's that you ask? No it's not a new phone... it's something better! It's a new flavor of Gu Gel.

It has the same basic nutrition as any Gu flavor except that it has double the caffeine, much like the coveted Espresso Love. Caffeine is one of the most proven and most effective performance enhancing aids you can get so it would naturally make sense to add another double caffeine flavor to the Gu line up -- I suppose not all people like the taste of espresso after all. The standard Gu flavors have 20 mg of caffeine so one can assume this has 40 mg or slightly less than a half cup of coffee. It would also make it about
equal to Gu Roctane's caffeine dosage of 35 mg.

So enough with the boring science stuff... how does it taste? and does it work? It actually tastes quite good... subtle and not overpowering. I normally just use vanilla Gu since I generally don't like taking anything with a strong taste during my intense workouts or races. This seemed like something I could race with though I would still need to put it through an actual race to test it.

So does it work? As part of an informal test, I also used it on a recent trainer ride (nearly feet of snow on the ground in NYC as I type this) . I normally try to do my off season rides without any gel so I definitely could feel the difference of just taking "something." I took one Jet Blackberry gel before my ride and was able to ride one gear higher than I normally do without feeling like I was putting out any extra effort. I realize this is about as unscientific as it gets
but who cares... I thought it worked great. My normally slow and boring trainer ride actually felt a little more interesting as I was able to push harder and get my heart rate up a little higher. Next test will involve using it during a 10K race.

Until then, preliminary results are in and I think we have a winner. Give it a try, especially if you've been looking for an energy gel with extra caffeine and don't like the taste of coffee flavored gel.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

At long last...

Finally!  Team Sports Bistro now has a blog.  We send 100s of emails amongst ourselves talking about our training and racing milestones, failures, favorites, and advice.  Embedded in these pearls of wisdom are questions, humor, and some great stories about 5 endurance athletes making their way in these crazy sports.  Please feel free to comment, ask questions, and correct us as we go.  Enjoy the ride!