21 May 2008

Thoughts for female athletes


This week I will share some observations that are relevant to female athletes. Much (most?) of the exercise physiology chatter that we hear is geared towards male athletes. In particular, large/strong/speedy male athletes. You can be sure that nobody is posting their worst workout data in their blogs! :-)

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Before we get into this week's letter an announcement:

Colorado Altitude Camp -- June 27th to July 5th
Seven Days of bike-focused training in the Rockies. Start/Finish in Boulder, CO. ~550 miles of cycling, plus run, plus swim. Appropriate for sub-10 hr IMers.

Five athlete slots -- one coach (me).

Highlights -- Brainard Lake (10K); Trailridge Road (11K); Steamboat Springs, Vail, Vail Pass, Loveland Pass, Berthoud Pass, Winter Park, Snow Mountain Ranch Swimming Pool (>9K!), Mt Evans (14K).

$2100 per person includes everything but transport to/from Boulder. Contact me with your athletic CV for more info. Discounts available for sub-8:50 IMers and/or athletes that swim faster than me.

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Below is a chart that we prepared to illustrate a typical profile for a fit amateur female athlete. The chart is a mixture from a few different ladies and shows a 'normal' profile. If you would like then click on it to see a large image.

The chart above shows an interesting paradox for many female athletes. The point at which many women oxidize the greatest amount of fat (per minute) tends to feel "too easy". A recent visitor commented that she'd have to "pedal with one leg to go that slow".

Interestingly, fit female athletes have the capacity to do nearly 100% of their training at an intensity that shuts down most of their fat burning. If you have body composition goals -- you want to burn fat, not calories.

I am not talking world class female athletes -- I am likely talking about YOU. By "fit" I mean a woman that has been training for a few years, is active and can get through a triathlon of any distance. In other words, fit relative to the general population -- not the people winning at World Champs.

How many women (and men) train "hard" and never seem to be able to lose weight. While it is tempting to blame our genetics... the fault may lie in our approach.

I don't know about you but I started training to lose weight -- period. Weight loss was my ONLY goal. I have never coached an athlete (male or female) that didn't share this desire, at some level.

In my experience, a moderate approach to training intensity yields a much deeper satisfaction from your athletes. Why? Here are the benefits:

***Faster weight loss
***Lower cravings
***Reduced incidence of injury & illness
***Way less physically painful (your ego may take a knock from time-to-time)
***Improved metabolic rate, less risk of stress fractures and bone density loss (from persistent energy deficits)

The "go hard" approach will work for some -- there are well-known training squads that thrive on energy deficits and extreme work ethic. What I am suggesting is for you to make an informed choice based on the life you want to live.

Remember that, as human beings, we are not great at considering long term costs/liabilities. As well, our media doesn't cover the shattered tibias, twisted psyches and torched metabolisms of our athletic heroes of yesteryear -- they run cover photos of the lithe bodies of today.

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So, for the ladies out there that may be coping with frustration, or a personal plateau. Here are some simple tips to maximize both your performance and your athletic satisfaction.

What to do?
***first goal is 3 sessions per sport, per week // if you can do that for 12 weeks then...
***add an additional session per sport, per week // combo sessions count
***keep the program "too easy" for the first few years // training should always be an emotional release -- if is becomes a source of stress then back-off immediately, and learn. Remember why you chose to be active.

What counts?
***Everything counts! 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes... whatever. For running... walk, hike, jog, run -- it all counts! The most important thing is to do something, anything. Aim for about an hour per day.

How hard?
***90% of your training should be done in the zone that maximizes your fat burning. If you are starting out then this will likely occur with FLAT cycling and fast WALKING. If you are puffing then SLOW DOWN, you have likely shut down your fat burning.
***For the other 10% of your training keep your heart rate under "180-AGE" -- if you want to go harder than this then fine -- I don't think that it is a big deal. What matters is staying healthy, looking good and being active.
***For $240, you can get a Fuel Test in a lab (like ours) but this is not essential. The above guidelines are "close enough" for the early years (not weeks!) of your program.
***Your mind/ego will try to convince you that you are somehow "different" -- however -- heart rate outliers are pretty rare.

What to eat?
***Forget about sports nutrition until you are training over two hours in a single session.
***Eat normally with two modifications -- no refined starch/sugar after 4pm and lean protein with every single meal (and at least 5x per day).
***Once you have the above sorted for a few months (not weeks) -- increase the amount of "real food" you eat. Real Food = food that comes without an ingredient list on the side. Read labels -- sugar is everywhere in packaged foods.
***Make incremental changes, gradually.

In all areas, focus on positive choices that support your long term goals -- denial strategies aren't effective.

When it all gets too much -- take a break and try to keep things in perspective. As my home page says... do not take life so seriously, no one will make it out alive.

We all make mistakes -- my failures are signs that I have been trying too hard. The main thing is staying in the game.

Good luck!

g

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