Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lessons Learned at the California Classic Weekend

I raced in the California Classic Weekend this past weekend. On Saturday there was a Century, metric century and a short 35 miler. On Sunday, there was a half marathon. Having a big weekend of training and racing like this, it is imperative to be fueled, hydrated and nutritionally sound leading up to the event and during the event. Unfortunately I witnessed many athletes struggling with exercise related cramps, dehydration, inadequate fueling and depletion of electrolytes and energy. These issues can limit your performance and derail your weekend. Lack of proper nutrition will cause the above problems. I will discuss the various problems, why they happened, how to deal with them and how to avoid them in the future.

Muscle cramping
Muscle cramping affects 59% of all endurance athletes. To me, the majority of exercise related cramping is caused from dehydration and sodium depletion. Your body needs fluids, salts and potassium for large volume workouts. If you show up to a big training day or a race without proper fluid intake you will end up suffering. Once you get behind in your fluid intake, it is very difficult to catch back up and regain your energy and stamina. Hydration should start 3-5 days leading up to the event. Too many athletes start focusing on hydration just the day before the event. Drinking adequate fluids should be a habit for endurance athletes in their normal daily lives and training regimen, but it must be a big focus as a race or training weekend is approaching. When we exercise we sweat and release fluids. As this happens we must replenish as much as we can during the event. Again, ONCE YOU ARE BEHIND YOU WILL SUFFER. Water should be your main source of fluids during the day. But with a race or training weekend approaching it is a good idea to supplement an electrolyte drink into your daily plan. If you are a heavy water drinker you could possibly cause an electrolyte disturbance in which your sodium levels become extremely low. This is called hyponatremia, which could cause confusion, fatigue, loss of appetite and MUSCLE CRAMPING. You could be pounding high amounts of water leading up to the event, drink water during the event and you could still suffer from muscle cramping because your body is depleted of salts. Severe water intake without sodium and electrolytes can cause this issue. That is why it is crucial to add an electrolyte supplement into your regimen. I advise 8-15 ounces of liquid electrolytes like gatorade, hammer nutrition or accelerade (or your product of choice) daily, 3-5 days leading up to an event. The more training you have the more you need. If you know the weather calls for hot and humid conditions and extreme sweating I would look into supplementing electrolyte tablets the day of, and leading up to the event.

Stay away from high amounts of coffee, alcohol and soda as these liquids can dehydrate the body. A small cup of coffee or a 12 ounce beer will not hurt you, but once you start indulging in 3+ servings you can increase your chances of creating the above issues.

"Hitting the wall" or "Bonking"
This can be a debilitating issue if you allow yourself to get to this point in a race or training weekend. Hitting the wall can stem from different inadequancies like dehydration, pushing out of your element, or nutrition dysfunction. I am going to discuss nutrition dysfunction as the main reason for "hitting the wall". Food is our fuel and we need a plan so our muscles can work efficiently. Muscles need sufficient glycogen levels to continue working at high levels. As we exercise and deplete our muscle glycogen, it is imperative to replenish the calories, sugars and fuel we need to keep moving. DON'T allow youreslf to get low because just like trying to get hydrated it is very difficult to catch back up once you are down on fuel. If you are depleting your calorie consumption because of a weight loss program, not keeping a dialed in nutrition log or you just don't think it needs improvement, then you will run into problems. When you have a big event like the California Classic you must concentrate on healthy and adequate food consumption 3-5 days leading up to the weekend. What food should you eat you ask? Well I think for the most part you know the answer to that question. Healthy fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat breads and pastas, lean proteins and healthy fats. Endurance athletes need approximately 50% of their calories coming from healthy carbohydrates, 30% healthy proteins and 20% healthy fats. And you won't know if you don't track your foods. Practice tracking everything you eat 3-5 days leading up to training weekends. Also track the food you eat before, during and after the training day. You will start devising a nutrition plan that works exactly for you and then it will be your goal to execute this plan leading up to a race. Personally, I usually up my calorie intake 100-200 calories 4 and 5 days before, 200-350 calories 2 and 3 days before and eat to stay satisfied the day before. I DO NOT OVEREAT the day before an event. My loading of carbohydrates and liquids should have already happened. I want to eat high quality foods the day before but just enough to not be hungry anymore. The morning of, I want to eat food that is light on my stomach, quickly digestable and that will top of my glycogen tank and give me the energy for the beginning of the training. There are many options. I ask, "What works for you?" Practice with different foods and strategies and find the best one that works for you. Once the race or training begins, how and when you replenish your loss of calories will play a huge role in how the day will unfold. I usually focus on drinking my electrolyte drink every 5-15mintues. I start this right out of the gate. Do not wait because you will quickly fall behind. And sip, don't chug. If you feel you need a few sips then take them. A great strategy to keep you on target of fluid intake is to set your watch to 5-7 minute intervals. When the watch beeps you sip fluids. For workouts or races longer than 90 minutes its a must to add more than my liquid calories into the plan for proper replenishment. Liquid calories can come from gels, fluids or soda. Solid calories can come from bars, fruits, sandwiches, etc. The question I ask again, "What works for you?". That is why food logging is crucial because it can assist you construct an individualize nutrition program that works for you specifically. Once training comes to an end, quickly consume a post-workout snack. At a large event like the CA Classic there was plenty of fluids and food to consume post-training. I quickly grabbed water, drank down my gatorade and headed for the food lines. The quicker I get calories into my body, the quicker I can start the rebuilding phase. When I am in this rebuild and regeneration phase, this is when my body is at its highest response to improving and getting stronger. Take advantage of this 30-60 minute window.

Lack of performance
Training for a large event takes consistent training, proper nutrition and a disciplined lifestyle. There were many different levels at the CA Classic Weekend but everyone had their individual training and nutrition plans. Leading up to an event of this stature you wish for an ideal training schedule, unlimited recovery ammenities, and nutrition coaching to guide you to maximized performance. Unfortunately these tactics are not feasible for every athlete. Here are some strategies that can tremendously help your program:
-Be progressive but allow for recovery. If you want improvement you must create stress to the body. You must slightly increase training loads, intensities and volumes week to week. If you did 4 hill repeats last week, then do 5 this week. Don't be random. Randomness can cause overtraining, injury and lack of performance. There is nothing wrong with a random workout every once in awhile but a progressive schedule is the most efficient. As you want to produce this stress on the body you must also implement an active recovery week every 3-4 weeks. During this week you drop training volume.
-Find some training partners or a qualified coach. Training with like minded people makes for a more enjoyable experience. When you have similar skilled training partners you are likely to push yourself more than if you were alone, thus improving your fitness. Hiring a coach earlier in my career, personally, gave me the education and knowledge I needed to increase my fitness. There was no brainwork needed when you have the right coach. The workouts are written up, progressive, and on track to your A race. Make sure the coach you are looking into is ingrained into the lifestyle and staying current with the latest research and education.
-Know your limits. Do not be in a rush to do long distance events. In my opinion, Ironmans should take 3 years of solid training, Half Ironmans and Marathons need 12 months of consistent training and half-marathons, Olympic distance triathlons and century bike rides take 6 months of training. And this is the minimum time frame. Yes, you can go out and finish an Ironman with 6 months of training but you increase your chances of chronic injury and fatigue post-race. So be smart in your endurance lifestyle because that's what it is, a lifestyle. Get committed and understand that this sport is a long term project to reaching your goals.

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