Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Triathlon Off-Season Top 10

I recently presented my "TOP 10: Tips for Triathlon Off-Season" at our triathlon club get together and thought I would share it here as well. Although I wanted it to be a true top 10 list, beyond the first two, it's hard to say what the actual order is as they are all necessary ingredients to have a successful off-season. How much time should you take off? Your body will tell you when it's ready. In my "younger years" it was almost standard two weeks completely off. Now it's often 3-4 of rest and rehab before I start itching to begin cross training. Good luck on your off-season journey of fun activities!

1. Family Time: Spend time with, and do some extra nice things for your family and friends. They put up with all of our training and racing needs following us around to races, running for things we forgot, dealing with our over-training induced mood swings the rest of the year. For the next few months go above and beyond to show them how much you appreciate it by doing extra house chores, take the kids on play trips, etc.

2. Time-Off: If you use TrainingPeaks there is a reason the symbol is a little couch. Day off means day off...not a light run or ride or “Hey now I have time for 10 hours of yard work.” Those “light” or “recovery” days have their place too but the body needs it’s rest at some point. Perfect the art of relaxation on these days by playing with the kids, reading, seeing a movie, or just enjoy sleeping in past 5:30am.

3. Rehab: Rest, rehab and heal your injuries from the season. Don’t forget about them just because you’re training less and assume they’ll heal themselves. If it’s something that’s been bothering you for a while get it checked out by a specialist or a PT to get you on the mend (The Summit, Hutchinson).

4. Strength Training: Use a comprehensive program utilizing all major muscles with at least 2-3 sets of 8-12 exercises, 8-12 repetitions each exercise, 2-3 times per week to prepare your body for the pounding of miles that are coming. Spend additional time on posterior muscles that see less action...hamstrings, glutes, back, shoulders or additional corrective exercises to address muscle weaknesses (Pinnacle Sports Performance, Hutchinson).

5. Cross Train: Try new sport activities to scratch the exercise itch. If weather is nice, kayaking/canoeing/SUP are all great cross training activities that develop underutilized muscles. Mountain biking, cyclocross, road bike, hiking, and walking will also provide a great benefit.

6. New Shoes: As soon as you are ready to start hitting the road again double check the mileage on your shoes and make sure it's less than 100 miles. I’ve been taught this lesson several times the hard way by lacing up old shoes and ending in pain on my first run back (First Gear Running Company, Wichita).

7. Massage: Get a massage from someone who ideally works with triathletes (Eddie U. Massage Clinic, Wichita), or a sport specific massage therapist who works with athletes, to work out the kinks from a season worth of training and lets face it, you earned it.

8. Bike Overhaul: Take your bike(s) over to your local bike store (Bicycle X-Change, Wichita) and get your tri bike overhauled so you won’t have to part with it when next season starts and your off-season bike (mountain/road/cross) for a tune up.

9. Yoga: Put a little extra attention into your flexibility whether through a yoga class or a set aside time for your own 15 minute stretching routine. If you do yoga you'll get the bonus of some strength and meditation as well.

10. Triathlon Weakness Focus: Late off-season/early pre-season is a great time to do some focused time on your weakest triathlon sport. Get a coach or go workout with people who only do that sport. Group runs/trackworkouts (First Gear Running Company, Wichita), masters swim club, or a cycling group that will push you to be better.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Gluten Intolerance: An Endurance Athlete's Quest for Health and Performance

I have been on a lifetime long search for race day nutrition that my sensitive stomach would allow me to eat. Most of my triathlons and road races of any distance in the past 6-8 years resulted in stomach pains/cramps that I had attributed to two things over the years 1) it was just a part of the discomforts of racing that go along with endurance sports, and 2) not being able to find the right race day nutrition that agreed with my stomach. On shorter races I could push through it but on longer races I had become less and less willing to accept that pain as part of my race and would just simply slow down to alleviate the discomfort.
I had given some thought to a general sensitivity like gluten or dairy being my downfall, and had even experimented some with my race day meals and nutrition, but without successful results. In a somewhat random occurrence I confirmed that I do have an intolerance to gluten by doing some longer term experimentation to try and alleviate some other sinus inflammation I had been dealing with in which I experienced prolonged sinusitis throughout the winter months. In February 2015 I made a concerted effort to cut dairy and gluten out of my diet as two known troublemakers for a portion of the population. I saw an improvement to my sinuses in just a few short days and eventually narrowed it down to gluten being the biggest trouble maker. Granted this was not easy for a Kansas boy who grew up on wheat pasta and bread at almost every meal. Our home is literally surrounded by wheat (pic above just out our back door). But the benefits have, by far, out weighed the costs of change.
The bonus came once I started getting back into higher intensity training, and eventually my 2015 racing season, as I appeared to be having less stomach pain associated with race efforts. This established a new pain free baseline that I didn’t know existed for me and has led to the fairly simple diet plan of “if it makes you feel bad…don’t eat it!” The list has grown to include other items that my sensitive stomach just doesn’t tolerate, or perhaps as I said, was just willing to live with the discomforts as “normal.”
I’m not sure of the relevance of this on a greater population scale and the many who, like me, have eliminated gluten from their diet without evidence of an allergy or positive blood work / diagnosis, etc. I would be a firm believer that there are a percentage of people who fall into this category. Although it may be somewhat tolerable to live with, you may not be performing at your best be it as an athlete or even more generally as a thriving and healthy human being. I have since found a book by Pip Taylor, The Athlete's Fix, that outlines almost exactly what I went through during this discovery process. I would encourage you to read it as well if something I have said hit home with you. I believe what makes endurance athletes unique is their ability to continue the quest for the goal despite the pain and discomforts associated with accomplishing that goal. However, you may be accepting more than just the burning of your muscles as "normal" parts of the sport. You may find yourself with a new baseline level of comfort you didn’t know could exist.
It has now been over a year since I adjusted my diet to gluten free and I have not only avoided my usual winter of sinus attacks but I haven't been sick once in the last 15 months. This is by far the most significant part for my general health and well-being that goes beyond the improved performance gains I have also noticed. I have also talked with others who have experienced similar life-changing effects, but also those who did not notice any changes at all.
I think what we know about nutrition effects at an individual level is still very much in it's infancy and we must become our own experiment in order to determine what our body truly needs. We must also realize what was true for our body five years ago may not be how our body continues to respond as it ages and changes. Good luck on your own self experimentation and quest for a healthier you.