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Tag - Endurance Athletes

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them

By Larry Carroll

When you’re an elite athlete, the only thing that approaches your workout in terms of importance is what you put into your body. Like any human being, food nourishes, sustains and on some occasions delights you. But more so than most people, you depend on food to build muscle, stave off injury and allow you to perform at peak capacity. 

More and more these days, athletes are coming forward with revelations of embracing a plant-based lifestyle. And with many of them, it’s hard to argue that any other sort of diet could make them better at their respective sports: tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, Olympian weightlifter (and holder of the U.S. record in the clean and jerk) Kendrick Farris, NBA all-star Kyrie Irving, world champion surfer Tia Blanco and more. 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

Then there’s Scott Jurek. Considered one of the greatest runners of all time, the 46-year-old Minnesota native has won the Hardrock Hundred, the Badwater (twice), the Western States 100 (7 straight years) and more – and has been on a plant-based diet since 1999. In 2012, Jurek published “Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultra-Marathon Greatness,” an autobiography which concludes each chapter with one of his favorite vegan recipes.

Anecdotally speaking, athletes quickly notice a difference in their bodies after switching over to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle – and most of what they notice appears to be good. 

“I wasn’t feeling as inflamed, creaky or sore, or just kind of blah in the morning,” Olympic medal cyclist Dotsie Bausch told US News recently (Athletes Can Thrive on Plant-Based Diets), looking back on her switch. “I was bouncing out of bed – I felt ready to go. I was more energized.” 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

“I think it’s a great lifestyle for long-term stability,” Venus Williams, who credits veganism with overcoming the autoimmune disease Sjogren’s Syndrome, told Shape magazine ( A Venus Williams Interview That’s Not About Tennis ). “You also have to look at everything else in your regimen, what you’re putting into your body, like supplements. I’m always learning and I’m hoping to perfect my system.”

Accordingly, Venus made headlines earlier this year (Venus Williams said her raw vegan diet was unsustainable, so she now eats potatoes and lentils too) when she revealed that her raw food-diet aspirations had proven difficult to sustain over long periods of time, leading to an amended diet that includes such foods as  potatoes, rice and lentils. “Sometimes you just need something more substantial — some rice, some potatoes — after a workout,” she reasoned. 

According to a series of studies published in the journal Nutrients ( Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports )

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

“The effect of plant-based diets on cardiovascular risk factors, particularly plasma lipid concentrations, body weight, and blood pressure, and, as part of a healthful lifestyle, reversing existing atherosclerotic lesions, may provide a substantial measure of cardiovascular protection. In addition, plant-based diets may offer performance advantages. They have consistently been shown to reduce body fat, leading to a leaner body composition. Because plants are typically high in carbohydrate, they foster effective glycogen storage. By reducing blood viscosity and improving arterial flexibility and endothelial function, they may be expected to improve vascular flow and tissue oxygenation. Because many vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants, they help reduce oxidative stress. Diets emphasizing plant foods have also been shown to reduce indicators of inflammation. These features of plant-based diets may present safety and performance advantages for endurance athletes.” 

Bausch, for her part, certainly agrees with the recovery advantages. “When you recover faster, you can handle more load … You can handle more damage, more training. The more training you can do, the faster you’re going to become. People can’t train 24 hours a day, because you have to recover. So if you recover fast, you can train again.”

So, where do you start? According to “Forks Over Knives” ( Top Tips for Plant-Based Athletes ), you need to train yourself much like in athletics – but to avoid all animal products, processed foods, oils and refined carbohydrates. Many athletes worry about where they’ll get their protein, but the human body only requires 5 to 10 percent of its caloric intake to be protein, so simply maintaining adequate caloric intake will often satisfy that need. You’re also likely to get all your essential amino acids. 

Plant-based diets, athletes and what we can learn from them.

In a gradual manner, a plant-based athlete needs to transition to a diet of calorically-dense whole plant foods, starchy vegetables and fruits for fuel. Rather than large meals, it is wiser to eat many smaller ones per day. It’s also crucial to keep close tabs on weight, looking to the Harris-Benedict calculator “Calculate Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) online (Harris Benedict Equation) ” to determine caloric needs and  BMR (basal metabolic rate). 

Naturally, you want to consult with your physician before embracing any radical change to your diet. But the keyword here is exactly that: naturally. Athletes who embrace the plant-based lifestyle and are able to make it work to report all kinds of benefits from putting all-natural foods into their bodies. Ultimately, it’s a matter of having an open mind, a compliant palate, and training appropriately. 

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Blood Testing

Blood Testing: Is it the path to peak performance?

By Larry Carroll

For the most part, runners have become accustomed to certain measuring tools for assessing their training and overall health. Some rely on the latest technology (heart-rate trackers, post-run stats), others on old-fashioned observations (pulse, dehydration), but in this sport, everyone is always looking for that next great advantage.

Which is where direct-to-consumer blood testing comes in. The industry claims that our blood contains vital information we cannot attain elsewhere, which can lead to diagnostics that will keep us operating smoothly and effectively, as an electronic device or automobile; critics point out that results are often misinterpreted, that you may be opening yourself up to privacy concerns, or that claims of accessibility and ease could be Theranos-like missions of misinformation.

Blood Testing

What’s the truth? Below, we examine some facts and fiction about the blood test movement – and the possible advantages of do-it-yourself blood analyses. 

Is the price right?

Testing your own blood while bypassing a physician or healthcare practitioner is a rapidly growing business. Companies like LabCorp, Health Testing Centers and Walk-In Lab offer easy-to-use tests, typically with online result delivery. With prices typically ranging from $99 to $1000, the question then becomes a more complex one: What are you screening for?

The services you need

Blood testing companies typically offer to screen you for everything from allergies and cancers to diabetes and STDs. If you’re a healthy athlete, many would be an unnecessary expense; if you have a history of iron-deficiency anemia, low hormone levels or other afflictions, testing might be more helpful. While some athletes are driven to blood testing because of symptoms – sluggishness, underperformance, etc – others see it as a preventative measure. Clearly, if you have significant deficiencies in zinc, vitamin D or magnesium, it’s better to know and adjust your diet than pushing harder in your workouts and potentially compounding your problems.

Blood Testing

What are the benefits?

Over at Simplifaster 7 Reasons to Blood Test Athletes “, Track and Field coach/sport technologist Carl Valle recommends quarterly blood testing, calling it “one of my top three metrics for athletic development.” He then explains how analysis of a person’s bloodstream measures biomarkers represent long patterns over time, revealing “cold and direct” truths about such things as vitamin D levels (which he says are easy to work with) and hormone levels (which must be approached more cautiously). 

“Blood testing helps coaches elicit performance when athletes are free of such barriers as nutrient deficiencies and problems away from the track or field,” he says. “A clean bill of health and perfect scores on blood tests do not guarantee an athlete will reach the podium or win a championship, but it does rule out wellness as a limiting factor.”

Also worth considering is Valle’s assertion that since information is power, many athletes will use its acquisition as motivation to further push, nourish and rest their bodies – and the results are often beneficial. However, this also marks the point where certain substances could be labeled as “performance-enhancing” and get an athlete in trouble – so proceed with caution.  

Misreading the results

Although many of these companies present their findings in easy, user-friendly readouts, to many physicians and lab technicians the thought of a layman interpreting their own lab results is nothing short of horrifying. Then there are studies like this one “Assessing the utility of yearly pre-season laboratory screening for athletes on a major professional sports team.” on healthy professional athletes, which found that 10.1% of initial screening lab results were abnormal, leading to 40.3% receiving additional testing, but only .35% leading to a change that resulted in a significant positive outcome. In short, only one out of every 300 abnormal blood tests in a healthy athlete leads to anything more than additional testing, additional money and increased worry. 

Blood Testing

Reading the symptoms

Ultimately, much of this stuff is simple common sense. If you’re not feeling well, dial back your exercise regimen and discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider who may or may not recommend a blood test. If you are feeling well, then you most likely have little to gain from a blood test – striving for perfection in every metric, or overcompensating for a certain shortcoming by taking vitamins and mineral supplements beyond their daily recommended allowance, is a slippery slope. 

Proceed with caution

With the above in mind, it seems clear that anyone seeking to cut doctors out of the diagnostic process should proceed with extreme caution and skepticism. False positives are a very real concern with any blood test, and if you are interpreting them without professional help you could end up impeding your physical regimen via paranoia and unnecessary response measures. The sweet spot for those looking to test their own blood is to look over any possible concerns while accompanied by a trained physician or specialist, and then proceeding accordingly. 

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Know Your Macros: A Recovery Guide for Endurance Athletes

Know Your Macros: A Recovery Guide for Endurance Athletes 
By: Amy Tribolini, MS, RD, LD
You’ve done it!  Maybe you finished your long run for the week or your highly anticipated race.  You are feeling proud and accomplished but your body is feeling run down.  No matter how good your fueling strategy during your run or race is, it is near impossible to end up anything short of depleted.  It can be easy to overlook the proper nutrition your body needs to repair, recover, and rebuild.
While there are many factors to consider, let’s start with the basics:  carbohydrate, protein, and fat.  These substrates are the building blocks of food and athletes have specific needs when pushing their bodies to the next level.
Carbohydrates:
Carbohydrates are stored in your muscles and liver in the form of glycogen.  If you have been running more than 3-4 hours, your glycogen stores are likely running on empty.  There is a short window of time after finishing your workout or race, when carbohydrate is more effectively absorbed.  This window is about 30 minutes.  This is why it is very common for runners to begin to imagine, dream, or even fantasize about what they are going to eat at the finish.  This is the body’s natural way of cueing the mind to consume carbohydrate-rich foods while the body is still rushing with adrenaline and enhanced blood flow.  During this window of time, your cells are more receptive to breaking down carbohydrate to glycogen and rebuilding the body’s stores.  The faster your body’s glycogen stores get re-filled, the less muscle soreness you may experience.
It is also important to understand that all carbohydrates are not the same.  A research article published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluated the effectiveness of glucose vs. fructose at re-fueling muscle energy stores.  The results showed that glucose was significantly more effective and lead to increased exercise performance the next day.  Some handy whole-food, post-run snacks high in glucose include: bananas, grapes, dates, and dried fruits.  There are also many sports bars and supplements high in glucose that are easy to take during or after endurance activities.
endurance athletes
Protein:
Protein is another big factor in refueling.  While protein is not a primary substrate that is burned for fuel, it is critical to repair the standard muscle breakdown and tears that can occur.  If you are in the market for a post-run protein or amino acid supplement, look for ones high in the branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.  These amino acids are especially beneficial because they are more rapidly absorbed.  Unlike other amino acids, the branched-chain can bypass the liver and be directly transported into the muscles for repair.
Marketing and media have really pushed the idea that more protein is better, but science disproves this theory.  According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the athlete needs only slightly more than non-athletes.  The daily recommendation for athletes is 1.2-2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  The lower end is better suited for endurance athletes while the higher end is more directed toward bodybuilders and power athletes.
Fat:
Fat is definitely part of a healthy diet, but science has yet to demonstrate that fat consumption is essential for recovery right after a race.  Its function may be more to provide satiety and let the brain know that the body no longer has to be in fight or flight mode.  Fat is also essential to aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.  Remember to choose foods high in healthy fats like avocados, nuts, chia seeds or olive oil.
An Important Mineral for Recovery – Magnesium:
Repleting magnesium may aid in preventing stress fractures and demineralization of bones.  Magnesium largely exists in muscles and bones where its primary function is muscle contraction and energy metabolism.  Ensuring you consume enough magnesium-rich foods after events can aid in longevity
and quick recovery in your sport.  Some great whole food sources of magnesium include dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.
Nutrition
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure:
Going into a race or a hard workout well rested, well nourished and well hydrated can be worth more than anything you can do to fix your body up after.
While exercising in moderate doses boosts your immune system, long endurance events, such as ultra-marathons and multi-day events, tend to do the opposite.
Prolonged endurance events can kick out the release of cortisol (a stress hormone), which causes your immune system to kick into high gear.  This may be one reason it is common to hear athletes complain of getting a cold after a hard race.
Research shows that consuming sports drinks or carbohydrate-rich supplements during a race can slow down the production of stress hormones leading to less stress on your immune system.  This, coupled with consuming adequate macronutrients post-run (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) can really get you out running again quicker with higher performance.
References:
Protein and the Athlete – How Much Do You Need? (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2017, from https://www.eatright.org/resource/fitness/sports-and-performance/fueling-your-workout/protein-and-the-athlete
Rosset, R., Lecoultre, V., Egli, L., Cros, J., Dokumaci, A. S., Zwygart, K., . . . Tappy, L. (2017). Postexercise repletion of muscle energy stores with fructose or glucose in mixed meals. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 105(3), 609-617.
Matias, C., Santos, D., Montiero, C., & Vasco, A. (2012). Magnesium intake mediates the association between bone mineral density and lean soft tissue in elite swimmers. Magnesium Research, 25(3), 120-125.
Nieman, D. C. (2007). Marathon Training and Immune Function. Sports Medicine, 37(4), 412-415.
About the Author:
Amy Tribolini currently works as both a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Professor. She lives, trains, and competes as an ultra-runner out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Amy specializes in fueling endurance athletes, athletic performance, and plant-based diets. Amy holds both a Bachelors Degree in Dietetics and a Masters Degree in Human Nutritional Science from the University of Wisconsin
Instagram- @ultrarunningdietitian
Email contact: [email protected]

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