The Daily Tune-Up

Posted by Inside Trail Racing in Blog, Commentary, Uncategorized on Nov 2, 2018

As athletes, we tend to obsess about our sport and how our training is progressing, or even how our personal workload compares to others’. We plan, log, sweat, fuel, and prepare. Sometimes this leads us to invest too much in the available numbers; we ignore fatigue and feel ashamed if heart rate or power falls outside of an expected value. Our bodies have amazing complexity and are more sensitive than we imagine.

If you’re interested in sport longevity and the luxury of being able to safely enjoy trail-running for years to come, first acknowledge that endurance exercise demands a lot from our bodies, and we need to treat it kindly from the inside out. Just as much focus should be placed on the fueling and recovery portion of training as there is on the active workout sessions.

The following are 5 things to take to heart (literally and figuratively):

1. Your cardiovascular system is working hard, so protect your heart where and when you can. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is involved in ATP production and is found in the mitochondria of our cells. Studies illustrate that it has a significant impact on heart health. If you have read the current findings about the relationship between structural cardiovascular abnormalities and endurance sports, you may want to pick up a bottle of CoQ10.

Magnesium, which helps transport potassium and sodium, gets depleted by sweating, enduring stress, and consumption of coffee and alcohol. When the body is deficient, muscle problems can arise. The heart is a muscle, and it’s the one you cannot live without, so I suggest taking a Magnesium, Calcium, Vitamin D supplement, all of which support the plumbing and electricity of the heart.

Garlic and Hawthorn are two plants that are used to treat heart disease. Maybe think about using more garlic in your cooking, though your running buddies may be displeased by your use once you begin sweating!

Athletes over age 40, and those who come to the sport later in life after having mistreated their bodies when they were young, might consider meeting with a cardiologist to make sure their hearts are in good shape. If something is found and a diagnosis is made, it does not signal the end of participation, but it does allow a runner to make safer decisions about how to proceed in the sport.

2. Take a day off. And if you take more than one day off–perhaps life outside of training stole the time or motivation is no where to be found–know that you are benefiting from the extra recovery. Exercise addiction is a real thing, and though it can feel terrifying to break a streak or disrupt consistency, your fitness does not begin to decline until around 3 days of being completely sedentary. Even if you feel strong and brimming with energy, the nervous system, heart, and muscles need time to relax and repair. Be proactive about it. I’ll repeat this for emphasis: Be proactive about recovery. Not one human, not even the seemingly inexhaustible athletes we see on Strava or Instagram, can maintain performance without taking a break. Waiting until you’ve dug yourself a hole is not fun, and waiting until an injury is even worse. Choose the day and stick to it. If you get antsy, go for a walk and enjoy being outside, but don’t let the sight of someone else running make you feel lousy! Your off day is yours, and other runners have their own.

3. Prioritize sleep and respect circadian rhythm. Waking up for an early run may not be worth it if it’s going to compromise rest. Body temperature rises throughout the day, which means muscles are more flexible and can produce more force later in the day, so maybe save a hard workout for lunchtime or early afternoon if that is an option. Hormones, especially in women, fluctuate throughout the 24-hour cycle, and our senses are sensitive to what time of day it is, so don’t expect to have the best quality sessions if you’re in the process of adopting a new schedule. When traveling across time zones, it will take one day per hour of time change to adjust. This is good to remember if you are traveling for a race!

Some of us have shorter circadian rhythms, leading to earlier bedtimes and rising just before the sun is up, others are the typical night-owls. Chronotypes, the natural waking/sleeping cycles that are casually referred to as ‘early-bird’ or ‘night-owl’, are heavily genetically predetermined, so rather than feeling envious of those who hop on a treadmill at 5:00 AM, honor your natural rhythm and try to work around it.

4. Eat for your goal. Fueling for weight loss is different than eating for performance. Weight loss involves losing some muscle tissue, which we want to avoid the aim is to get faster and stronger. Ketogenic diets don’t work if you plan on pushing into the upper zones of intensity, where glucose is the main fuel, but they can be wildly efficient for those who are looking to make gross metabolic shifts, lose weight, and end sugar addictions.

Timing is important. I’m confident we’ve all heard how vital it is to consume a blend of simple carbohydrates and high protein post-workout, but we should also consider the general window for eating and fasting. Recent studies show that our cells and chromosomes are better preserved if we aim to devour our day’s calories within 9-12 hours. Again, the circadian rhythm plays a role here: Triglyceride fats are synthesized later in the day, so eating late at night contributes to fat storage and triglyceride build-up in the heart and liver. Those fats cannot be metabolized as efficiently when the organs that process them are ready for bed.

Avoid fats and fiber before intense workouts and races. The digestive system needs time to break these molecules down, and you may find yourself behind a tree or walking with a cramp if you eat them too close to go-time.

Limit sugar–all kinds, even juice and low/no-calorie sugars. Sugar, especially fructose, damages cells and induces hormonal responses that can lead to disease and/or weight gain, but the new stevia craze also contributes to the problem. Low-calorie sugars promote the use of sweet things because we still have a positive response to the taste of sugar. Some studies even show that the body will absorb more calories during a meal if you wash it down with a zero-calorie drink. Sugar is fine during a long run and post-workout, but tone it down (way down) at other times of the day.

Consume enough protein! Trail running tears muscle fibers on both the uphills and the downhills, particularly during long runs and races. Aim for around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

Take an iron supplement. Even in the absence of anemia, having low ferritin (an iron carrier) levels can decrease performance and cause fatigue. It’s a good idea to get iron levels checked during the off-season, or when training volume is low, in order to get a baseline.

Get your B-vitamins but be aware that some of us need the methylated form. Folate and other B-vitamins are necessary for healthy cellular processes and managing genetic material. MTHFR is a gene that orchestrates the production of methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, an enzyme that works with folate and other B-vitamins to reduce homocysteine (an oxidizing metabolite that is harmful in high concentrations) levels. If a person has an impaired capacity to reduce the homocysteine build-up by converting it back into the amino acid methionine, it can put one at risk for blood clots, heart disease, and stroke. The current estimate of the population who have a methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase mutation is around 40%. Those with the mutation cannot fully convert folic acid into its active form, which can lead to toxicity and an inability to metabolize otherwise benign compounds in the environment. Individuals with the MTHFR should not take folic acid; it is best for them to take methylfolate with methyl-B12. It is better absorbed and allows them to recycle homocysteine. Folate deficiency can contribute to anemia, and supplementing with folate alone can mask B12 deficiency. Supplement can be found at most health food stores or online.

Try to make most meals nutritious. The infrequent “bad” food snack or meal is fine, and not many of us really need extremely restricted diets, but the athlete’s body does best when it has a diet rich in veggies, good fats, a variety of both complex and simple carbohydrates, and lean protein (either from plants or animals). Include probiotics, such as yogurt, pickles, supplements, cheese, just google the rest. We each have our own microbiome and genetic profiles which influence what cultures will help us the most, but some of the most interesting research is coming from the fields that examine how genes and bacteria sculpt everything from personality to disease to athletic performance.

Food is your friend. Counting calories can lead to disordered eating and obsession, which could hamper recovery and weight loss, and it takes up too much mental bandwidth. Free up the space in your head for more enjoyable, encouraging thoughts.

5. Don’t just run; set aside time for strength work. Not all of us can afford a gym membership, but a little bit of creativity can replace the need for weights. Hit up a local park and use the jungle gym, or hop on YouTube and follow along with a pilates or ballet barre workout–you will be surprised by how challenging they can be. Strength work increases power and muscle endurance, which every trail-runner needs to get through their runs, even if they plan on hiking the entire course. It helps maintain bone density, and it affords the heart a break from endurance training while still supporting fitness for the sport.

Sensing discomfort is an emergent property. We cannot feel each individual cell, but being aware that they get damaged and require many different biochemical processes to repair them is the first step in preventative care.


By Tanya Stahler

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