Thursday, February 24, 2011

Get Focused, Find Purpose, Be More Effective...Here's A Thought.

This week I'm going to depart from my discussion on endurance in the traditional sense and take some time to go in a little different direction. I think we have all experienced days where we can't seem to get focused and/or organized no matter how hard we try, the day just feels lost. Then there are days when everything seems to click, we have a feeling super efficiency and productivity...why can't everyday be like this? Well, we all have off days, even off weeks at times but there are techniques that can help "right the ship" so to speak.

I recently came across a new phrase (new to me at least) that re-affirmed an old concept, I love when the old is made new. The phrase was "day-righting". I have heard this before as "morning ritual", etc, but I just seemed to like the way "day-righting" sounded.

Whatever you want to call it, take your pick, "day-righting" is just a way to help yourself get your mind and body prepared for the day that lies ahead. I sometimes find that days have flown by that have lacked focus or specific purpose. This is not to say those days aren't incredibly busy, in fact I would love a day that didn't feel jam packed with one thing or another. I think a lot of us spend our time being and feeling busy, but at the same time we lack effectiveness, focus and purpose? I imagine that much fewer of us can say yes to the latter (yes we lack focus), but I bet just about all of us can say "yup, I sure was busy today". So I am challenging myself to be less busy from day to day while striving to be more focused and effective with my most precious items...time and relationships.

So my strategy is to employ this concept of "day-righting" to help my cause. As I mentioned above the strategies may be different for each of us, but hopefully have a similar outcome...leading to a more focused day even if it means waking up 15-20 minutes earlier. I am going to go back to something I did once upon a time and ask myself a few questions each morning I took from a Tony Robbins book in high school. I found they really helped me get focused and provided purpose each morning. Here's a quick overview:

What am I happy about in my life now?

What am I excited about in my life now?

What am I proud about in my life now?

What am I grateful about in my life now?

What am I enjoying most in my life right now?

What am I committed to in my life right now?

Who do I love? Who loves me?

(Who do you Love!?)

Some people may find "day-righting" effective in other ways like spending a few minutes journaling, meditating, exercising, spending a few minutes breathing or simply in silence. There is no right or wrong way/technique as long as the result is a more focused and effective you.

If you have read this post and have your own "day-righting" routine or are thinking of starting a new one please take a minute and share it with us by leaving a comment below.

Here's to the "Roots Of Your Health!"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How to Avoid Water Intoxication....a.k.a hyponatremia

There is on question that the popularity of endurance and ultra-endurance sports is on the rise. The health benefits of participating in such endeavors is hard to argue with, increased HDL (good cholesterol), decreased triglycerides, decreased blood pressure, increased feelings of well being, the list goes on and on and on...

However, there are considerations that individuals participating in and training for these events must be aware of in order to decrease the risk of bodily harm. One such consideration is proper hydration. A common consequence of participating in endurance sports is hyponatremia, otherwise known as water intoxication. Hyponatremia is a metabolic condition in which the concentration of sodium (salt) is lower outside the cells with in the body. As you may have read in past posts the word homeostasis has been mentioned. In short, it's the scientific word for "balance" and something the body is consistently striving for at the cellular level. So as a consequence of having less sodium outside the cell, water begins to move into the cell in order to balance the concentration of sodium on each side. When this happens the cells begin to swell.

Most cells in the body can handle some of this swelling, but the cells in brain cannot and it is the swelling of the brain that causes most of the outward signs/symptoms of hyponatremia. Mild/Moderate symptoms include: Confusion, headache, irritability, fatigue, muscle spasms and even hallucinations. If not treated and corrected in time more severe symptoms develop including: decreased consciousness, possible coma and death.

Obviously, we would like to prevent any and all of the above listed symptoms from occurring. With a little science and Know-how we can understand how it can be done, but I will tell you that it is easier in theory than in practice (just ask any seasoned ultra-endurance athlete). One of the main reasons why it's difficult in practice comes down to human physiology. As our bodies exert themselves, blood flow to the stomach and intestines decreases and makes digestion more difficult. Furthermore, the body's hunger and thirst mechanisms are inhibited so the body simply doesn't have the same drive to consume fluids and/or solids as compared to resting state.

So, here are some keys to success when working to avoid hyponatremia.

Determine your sweat rate: The sweat rate is simply the amount of bodily fluid loss/unit time. On average humans sweat 27.4 to 47.3 oz./hour of exercise. Obviously variables such as speed/intensity of exercise, environment (hot/cold) along with others will influence this number. Here is a pretty simply strategy to follow in order to zero in on your sweat rate (as adapted from Runners World Article).

1) Measure your pre-exercise weight (naked).
2) Exercise at race or training pace for one hour, keeping track of how much fluid (in ounces) is taken in during the activity.
3) After the activity, strip down, towel off any sweat, and weigh yourself nude again.
4) Subtract your post activity weight from your pre-activity weight and convert to ounces. Then add to that number however many ounces of liquid you consumed on your activity. (For example, if you lost a pound and drank 16 ounces of fluid, your total fluid loss is 32 ounces.)
5) To determine how much you should be drinking about every 15 minutes, divide your hourly fluid loss by 4 (in the above example it would be 8 ounces).
6) Because the test only determines your sweat losses for the environmental conditions you were active in that day, you should retest on another day when conditions are different to see how your sweat rate is affected. You should also redo the test during different seasons, in different environments (such as higher or lower altitudes), and as you become faster, since pace also affects your sweat rate.

I should tell you that even though you may be adequately replacing fluids you may not be adequately replacing electrolytes like sodium, without which can lead to hyponatremia. So we still have to consider salt intake during long bouts of exercise. This is where many questions arise! The American Heart Association recommends that we limit salt intake to 1.5 grams/day. Remember, this is for an inactive individual trying to prevent cardiovascular disease. This is not a recommendation for the ultra-endurance athlete.

Sweat typically contains between 2.25 - 3.4 grams of sodium/liter, and the sweat rate in a long, hot race can easily average 1 liter per hour. So, for a 12 hour race (like that of an ultra-marathon or triathlon), one could lose approximately 27 to 41 grams of salt. If the athlete only replaces the water and has little salt intake, hyponatremia can result. One study which looked at athletes completing a 160km race found that those who consumed more fluids had a higher incidence of symptoms associated with hyponatremia vs. those who consumed less fluid. Do not read this as saying that you should limit your fluid intake! Instead be sure you are ingesting the proper amounts of water and salt together.

There are no specific guidelines on salt intake/hour, but some sources discuss 1-2 grams/hour. If you were counting on sports drinks like gatorade to supply this amount of sodium you would be falling well short. For example, the nutritional facts state that gatorade has 110mg of sodium per 8 oz serving. So if we do the math and assume an individual consumed 32 oz of gatorade/hour (by the way...good luck trying to consume 32 oz of gatorade per may be seeing it on your shoes!) you would only be taking in 440mg of sodium.

This is not even 1/2 the amount your body may need. Other ways to increase salt intake are utilizing salt tablets or making salted boiled potatoes (the carbohydrates and high glycemic index of the potatoe offer a great energy source as well). Other strategies include pairing other foods that are high on the glycemic index with salt for that 1-2 punch of sodium and carbs that the body can quickly use.

So there you have it...a long winded guide to avoiding hyponatremia during your next ultra endurance training session or event. Good Luck and be sure to post questions, comments and feedback so we can continue the discussion.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Thinking about recovery

The human body is a pretty amazing piece of machinery when you sit back and think about it. But unfortunately it is often taken for granted, that is until something goes wrong. When working with clients I often make a simple analogy to a car. I say "if I told you to drive your car indefinitely without changing the oil, skip rotating the tires, etc. you would probably look at me like I am crazy!" But that's what the majority of we humans do to our own body's! We simply do not maintain our own machine properly and that is too bad because it can really be quite simple to maintain it. If you have been reading along in previous posts and checking out other blogs of my colleagues you may be starting to wonder if there is something to the whole "recover" part of "Fuel, Move, Recover, Endure". Well there definitely is.

One of my particular interests is how elite athletes, especially endurance athletes, perform at such high levels time and time again. If you happened to be at the PACER Team banquet at the end of January, you heard me speak a little bit about this very subject.

After reading an article in the January issue of Trail Runner Magazine that recapped Karl Meltzer's running of the 2,064 mile pony express trail from Sacramento, California to St. Joe, Missouri. That's right, you did not misread the last sentence, I just wrote a human being ran 2,064 miles in 6 weeks. He did however take 1 whole day off to stop at home and sleep in his own bed... I know what you are thinking "slacker"! So over those 6 weeks he averaged 53 miles per day and to make up for his day off he completed the 2,064 mile trek with a 105 mile last day.

I don't know about you, I know from my own experience of running 50 miles that I had trouble walking for a few days afterwards, so I ask myself how can someone possible do this! How could he recover from one day to the next? Well, part of Meltzer's secret is that like most elite athletes he knows just how hard he can push his intensity from minute to minute, day to day, week to week, etc. This is a skill that many individuals simply do not possess as they have the tendency to run the body past the red-line and essentially blow the engine making it impossible for repeated performance. This is one of the important attributes, but as I began discussing, the actual recovery process is of up most importance too.

So what are those key components to recovery? Well, it depends on who you ask, but there are a few important underlying principles (not all of which I'll cover here). Sleep, post performance nutrition & hydration.

Unfortunately, a brief synopsis of each will have to wait until next week as I now hear my daughter signaling to me that her nap is in fact over! Yes I sometimes feel like I am working through this. Lydia (my daughter) has a way with her really is quite uncanny!

However, before I run to change a diaper, I just wanted to let you know I updated my event calendar (to the left) with a 5k. If any one is interested in joining me in Morristown on March 12 it would be great!