13 April 2007

Nutritional Healing & Genetic Potential

This week, I will discuss some tips on how to frame our relationship with food and share some thoughts on VO2 Max testing.

I know that some readers like to keep track of what I am reading.

The best article that I've read recently is Managing Oneself by Drucker (legit link & bootleg version). It was an absolutely fascinating read for me. The article helped me see how comunication failings (on my part) are often due to the pathway, rather than the substance of, the message.

I also decided to educate myself a bit more about the nature of armed conflict -- an interesting read on this is Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Jet Pilot by Stockdale. I'm a little over halfway through.


Nutritional Healing

I'm going to keep this as simple as possible to remove any wiggle room that our minds might seek to create.

Training is a process of breaking down the body. Effective nutrition provides the building blocks that heal the damage that training causes. If you are looking for a sustainable, long term performance edge over your competition then nutrition is where you can find it.

Training = breaking down
Nutrition = healing
Training + Poor Nutrition = stress fractures, illness, burnout, injury, early athletic retirement and failure to achieve ultimate potential

When I look at many images of elite endurance athletes, I see highly motivated people mortgaging their future health for a perceived short term performance edge. The media sex-up, then serve, these images in order to market goods and services. [I acknowledge my role here -- we'll tone down the shirt off shots on the new website!]

When athletes share their honest opinions with me there can be an underlying current that they could really achieve something if they could just eliminate their need to eat. I know many people that spend quite a bit of time searching for reasons to malnourish themselves in the name of performance. From time-to-time, I am one of these people -- fortunately, I have a strong desire to eat and low attachment to self-defeating patterns (once noticed by me).

Blood shot eyes, extended muscle soreness, night sweats, slow training recovery -- you might be starving yourself, rather than striving for excellence.

It's a complex challenge and I'd encourage you to talk to your doctor/counsellor about it. You will need a trusted professional to guide you through the psychological and physiological construction that is disordered eating.

If you are sitting on the edge, waivering back and forth, good days and less good days... then here's how I approach my own nutrition. I am far from perfect but I manage better than most.

I nourish my body to maximize its potential to heal itself.

What does that actually "mean"?

***Other than sleep, no long periods without food -- I find that I do best with something every three to four hours.

A classic disordered eating pattern is fasting during and after training resulting (a) slower recovery; (b) lower metabolic rate; (c) weight gain due to inevitable binging on poor food choices; and (d) increased muscle breakdown.

***Eating the least processed, highest quality foods available to me -- that means wild and/or organic "real" food. "Real Food" is food that comes without an ingredients list -- an apple, a steak, a carrot, a bag of quinoa...

Choices that prevent us from achieving what we truly value are not "treats" -- they are patterns of self-sabbotage.

***Protein with every meal and readily accessed protein during all long training sessions. We need to minimize the catabolic effects of endurance training.

***Strength training (functional, traditional and terrain) within my year round program.

***Complete elimination of hydrogenated oils and trans fats.

***Reduction of refined sugar and processed carbohydrates.

***Take the majority of my intake in the form of lean protein, fruits, veggies, unrefined carbs and good fats.

Be wary of our mind's habit of a constant search for "new information" as well as our ego's desire to look for justification of self-defeating patterns/habits.

If an elite athlete happens to win a race after eating pizza for dinner -- there might be other factors involved than cheese and bread!

I will leave you with an interesting article on eating real food.


Sports "Nutrition"

Novice and low/moderate volume athletes have little need for sports nutrition products -- use them cautiously and in moderation. These products are energy dense, you'll get a lot more nutrition (and satisfaction) from a balanced meal than 5-600 calories of sugar and salt.

There is an multi-billion dollar industry out there trying to get us to "carb-up" and "recover" in ways that add to our waist-lines and their bottom-lines. I use sports nutrition products during and after training for convenience. In my view, the sports nutrition industry over-promotes their goods.

I know world-class athletes that train exclusively on water and real food. However, with long training sessions and busy lives, an element of sports nutrition is useful. Remember that manufactured foods are convenience-oriented, and rarely nutrition-oriented.

Read your labels -- some of these companies are not acting in our best interests! I can't understand why leading nutrition companies market products with artificial sweetners and hydrogenated oils.

Good health is good business.


Genetic Potential

When I think about genetic potential, I tend to think about VO2 Max testing.

For the record, I've never been tested in a lab. I sense that a certain minority would enjoy finding out that I had a VO2-Max in the 80s -- that might let them off the hook a bit. Well it might, but I know athletes with VO2s in the 80s that struggle to finish their races. So oxygen uptake is merely one factor.

Still, some enjoy these conversations so I'll share a recent email thread...

A.S. asked -- what has your VO2max been at what you consider your peak period?

I replied -- 74 kgs, 75s per 400m, running -- 73 kgs, 400 watts, cycling. Those are my best VO2 pace/power numbers of my career.

A.S. replied -- I estimated it to be around 52ml/kg/min and for cycling around 4.9 L/min or 67ml/kg/min.

I did first the one for running and when I saw that number I thought "No way, this can't be right, it is not high enough". I only started training for triathlon this year, so I can't say that I am experienced enough to judge, so I searched a little bit more to see if there are any measurements for world class athletes. What I found is that the lowest number for runners was Derek Clayton's at 69. For cyclists Lance's was 84 and Indurain's was 88.So my initial thought was more or less confirmed, your numbers are not high enough.

Furthermore after all these years of training you have improved a lot your VO2max which means that it can't increase a lot more.

The thing here however is that you have already ran a 2:48 marathon in an Ironman race and you have done that more than once. So I guess the key words are "high enough". Your numbers are not "high enough" for running these events seperately but on the other hand they are more than enough to complete an Ironman race in 8:30 hours.


That's pretty much where we left it. I confirmed that his estimate on my running looked reasonable to me (2:46 is my run PB) -- I tend to reference Daniels' V-dot tables. He asked about my thoughts on the cycling number... I have no idea, I've always considered my IM bike ride to be efficient transport to a fast marathon and far from centrally governed.

If you break it down (I have), a blazing fast Ironman race isn't centrally constrained -- you don't need single sport VO2 prowess. Swim 50 min, Bike 4:45, Run 2:40.

Here's what's really interesting to me...

Why test?

A. Some athletes want to test their VO2 to DEFINE their limits. Personally, I've chosen to avoid tests that might give me an excuse, or a perceived limit, in achieving my ultimate potential.

B. Others may seek to understand their potential -- WE HAVE NO IDEA! Here's another set of data -- 85 kgs, 95s per 400m, running -- that data set is the SAME guy... me!

C. Other athletes may test for an external validation of themselves. I suppose that external validation lies in the attraction of competition (or blog writing!). Using people, tests, races to try to achieve more than we thought possible. However, I doubt if lasting satisfaction will accrue from hitting a magical number in a human performance lab.

Still, if we see it as an interesting game, then I don't see the harm in it. Just don't expect to get meaningful information from what a machine tells you is possible. Similar to finance, the trick is maximizing the use of what you've got, rather than constantly wishing for more.

As for thoughts on my not being able to improve anymore... I'll file that under "M" for Motivation. I've got a few quotes in there from strangers and retired world champions.

Until next week,

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