Monday, March 16, 2015

QT2 Pro Camp – It’s a Gift

It’s a huge opportunity, a gift, and a blessing to be able to attend a professional training camp with other hard working like-minded individuals.  Deep in my heart I knew that was true.  On day one, you wake up fresh and excited about what the day holds.  On day ten, you start wondering if your endurance and mental fortitude will be gracing you with its presence.  On day fifteen, you wake up feeling like someone beat you with a baseball bat and left you for dead.  You need two more hours of sleep to even have any hope of mustering up the” chutzpah” needed to summon your motivation.  Yet, you have a sneaking suspicion that today very well might be the day where you ride your bike well over 112 miles.  

 It is a gift, though, and the fact remains that as hard as pro camp gets, you’re always thankful you’re there for so many reasons.  My first year (2013) I didn’t know much about what to expect so I counted down the days and waited for fun group rides and a few little workouts to push me a little so I wouldn’t be alone.  I was greeted with a lot more mentally grinding days and tons of swim, bike and run miles that made me strong, but also let me know this was no warm, fuzzy experience.   The second year, I was a bit wiser.  However, I had my good friend Beth in tow, so I used her presence like a child’s blankie and even though there was no hiding from the pain on plenty of days, I still made it through and had some great races to follow.  This year I seemed to be dreading camp a bit because I knew just how hard it could be, but about two weeks out I realized I was as fit as I was going to be able to get on my own.  I longed to ride my bike outside and wanted the companionship of others around me.  Even though I knew it would be hard, I knew it was going to be good for me.  Many bikes and runs prior were spent visualizing my time there, hoping that I was prepared for the mental tenacity necessary to tackle day one to day seventeen.  

I could tell you about the “epic” days (I can’t really stand that word) or I could describe individual workouts that really pushed me, but in the end the value of camp goes far beyond fitness gains.  It’s a chance to see how some of the best in the world think, breathe, function, train, work, live and eat.  The beauty is, at camp we are all the same.   Sure there are multiple champions at various race distances, but we realize very quickly that you leave all that behind.  We are now a band of brothers and sisters, placed in situations that challenge all of us to our very core.  Everyone had a day where they felt like poo (to put it nicely and PG).  Some days you were the windshield and some days you were the bug.  There were days when I had to get pulled home in the pouring rain by hugging the wheel of my teammates and there were days where I pulled my teammates home.  No one was immune to the suffering and each day was a clean slate to rise to the occasion of what we were called to do.  No matter what happened, you couldn’t take it too hard and you realized we were all in the same boat.  The goal for each person was the same, do your best, be a professional, survive until the end of camp.  Period. 

We laughed a lot and sometimes, we also cried.  We jammed out to Pandora’s “Hip Hop BBQ” station where Wheeler, Corbin, Shutt, Cindy and I traveled back to high school and became rappers.  We asked more and more of bodies and even more of our minds.  Sometimes we got it and sometimes, not so much.  The value of being in an environment with people who are not excuse makers and are positive individuals is that it makes you want to be a better person and a better athlete.  There’s something about doing that together, day after day that bonds you.  You are warriors together blazing through miles in the rain on two wheels, laying down mile repeats on a track as the last bit of sunlight fades into the dusk, and jumping in the pool long after the sun has set for a second time to complete the last of a 7k swim day.  

Best of all, I took a piece of each of my teammates with me as I came back to my normal life.  Sure, I came out a stronger physical athlete, but that’s the easy part.  The hard part is carrying that same motivation and love of the grind back to your trainer for another 5+ hour bike ride.  That’s where camp trickles back into the psyche the most.  This week when I hit number five of a 14 x 1 min all out bike set I heard Angela’s hard working breath coming up behind me on the bike and felt her energy as she surged past me laying down some extreme 10 min effort on the bike, pushing herself to the absolute brink.  If she brought that kind of intensity and focus, so could I.  I geared up the bike and was able to find another level in those next nine minutes of intensity.  Another tough run this week where my fitness was forcing me to push to a new level, I felt my mile repeat group around me.  I heard their footsteps and took in the outline of their heads bobbing as we surged around the track together as one unit.  If they could do it, I could do it I told myself that day at camp.  My key words that workout were “rise to the occasion” and “lean in”.  “Rise and lean, rise and lean” I repeated to myself as I hit the numbers I was searching for so desperately.  Finally, the same swim set that continued to make me cower before I left, I approached with a new mindset this morning.  I remembered so many days where I didn’t know if I could even move my arms, but my swim partners, specifically Heather and Suzy, were right there.  We all knew what was expected and we each took our turn forging the way.  We stepped up to the plate together and when sendoff time came, I felt them right beside me stroke for stroke matching my efforts and pushing me to PR’ing several distances.  The set came and went and I was pleasantly shocked at the results.  Progress my friends, progress. 

None of that would be possible if I hadn’t had these folks around me showing me their love of the sport and the process.  They weren’t afraid to fail.  I saw that multiple times as people tried to lead a lane they probably had no business leading, but they did anyway.  The minds process was simple “what’s the worst that can happen here”.  If you make it, then great, if you fall off the pace, there are no consequences of note.  If you do pull it off, you’ve gained a new experience to draw on when times get tough and built a new swim gear that you didn’t know you had.  Sounds like a win-win in my book.  That’s what camp is about.  Challenge – Rise – See what you can do – Find the next gear. 

None of it would also be possible without the coaches who were willing to give of their time and energy for seventeen whole days of being away from their families and friends to tend to our needs and guide us each day.  We are not an easy group by any stretch, and yet they handled everything in stride (and a LOT of bitching behind the scenes I’m sure).  There’s no amount of words that would ever say enough about their devotion to this group and how hard they worked so we could achieve new levels.  Thank you to Jesse, Tim, Tara, John and Michelle for all of your attention and sacrifices to help us become better athletes.  

All in all, it was a great 2015 camp and despite my trepidation, I enjoyed much of it and felt I gave every last drop out there in the lanes of the NTC and the roads of Clermont.   I’m a different athlete every time I leave, not just because of the training, but because of the new friendships I’ve encountered and the honor of getting to know these athletes on another level.  They are truly an inspiration to see at work and it’s not something I will ever take for granted.  It is a blessing and it is a gift.  Most of all, it’s an experience worth working for and I promise to use it to springboard into the 2015 season (which consequently will kick off next month at Ironman Taiwan on April 12th!)!  Let's do this!!! 

Thanks to my 2015 sponsors Ultragrain, Coeur Sports, QT2 Systems, Rudy Project, NormaTec Recovery, FuelBelt, TriSports and Powerbar (and a new one coming soon!  Stay tuned!). 

Enjoy a little slideshow about our time there!  Thanks to Pedro and everyone else who took the pictures!  

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Here's a great video Pedro created as well!  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Carbohydrates Are Not The Enemy

Somewhere between the gluten-free movement and the Paleo push, being carb-free became the hip new thing.  Whether you were a weekend warrior or endurance junkie, carbohydrates, mostly grain-based carbohydrates, seemed to be conspicuously left off the menu. 

As a registered dietitian and CSSD, I thought this was especially interesting considering we’ve been preaching for decades that there is and always will be value in consuming carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates are one of the three principal types of nutrients used as energy sources (calories) by the body.  Carbohydrates can also be defined chemically as neutral compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

Not all carbohydrates are created equal.  They have different structures and can be classified as simple or complex, which impact the absorption rate of the body and concurrent rise in blood sugar.  Complex carbohydrates come from foods such as spaghetti, potatoes, lasagna, cereals and other grain products. Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits, milk, honey and sugar.  Regardless of the type that is consumed, the body eventually works to break carbohydrates down into its simplest form called glucose.  It then stores its excess as either glycogen in the liver and muscles, or fat depending on the body’s energy needs at the moment. 

The confusion about carbohydrates appeared on multiple fronts.  The first was the verbiage.  The term “carb” and even “sugar” became synonymous with “bread” or “grain-based” carbohydrates.  Sure, breads, pasta, barley, quinoa, popcorn and other grain-based items are in fact carbohydrates.  However, carbohydrates are also a major macronutrient in fruits, vegetables, lentils, beans and low-fat dairy.

Recently there has also been a big push toward gluten-free, which is an absolutely necessary dietary modification for those who have celiac disease.   Certain individuals who do not have celiac disease or a gluten-intolerance undertook this modification as a lifestyle choice for various reasons.  During this time, they not only lessened their grain-based carbohydrates, but also increased their intake of other highly nutritious vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean proteins, seeds, legumes and other antioxidant rich elements.  Over time, they might have found their energy increased and they may have even lost weight because these higher fiber and protein elements aided in satiety.  In turn, they made better choices in terms of portion size, and therefore, matched their energy expenditure more closely.  It was easy to attribute the way they felt to the lack of grain-based carbohydrates, but considering the number of changes that were made, it is hard to isolate the actual variable that made the difference. 
In essence, when I hear individuals and even “nutrition experts” talk about the elimination of carbohydrates or “junk” as I most recently heard it on a podcast, I’m concerned about the over simplification of the issue, that it will cause additional confusion and may remove valuable nutrients, antioxidants and other phytochemicals from the diet of athletes. 

As I work with athletes on an individual basis, I encourage them to tailor their overall energy intake, as well as their macronutrient needs (carbohydrates, proteins and fats), to their current training phase.  This dietary periodization can also become another element for positive adaptations within the training program and therefore, produce elements of stress necessary to make long term gains.  At the beginning of general preparation or base training, I may suggest a carbohydrate ratio of 55% of their total diet because of the many long endurance based sessions.  This percentage may increase slightly as the season wears on and the intensity of sessions gradually picks up.  Again, the appropriate amount is based on the athlete and their individual needs.  A place to start for individual guidelines is 3 – 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound body weight (with endurance athletes being on the upper end of this equation).  

There are also ways to individualize the diet based on both the type and timing of carbohydrate consumption.  The type of carbohydrate as either simple or complex should be adjusted in relation to exercise.  If an athlete is preparing for a training session, the goal is to include simple refined carbohydrates that are easily digested and low in residue to prevent gastrointestinal problems.  Research has shown that the consumption of carbohydrates before, during and post activity aids in fueling the muscles and even improving concentration to assist in performance.  These carbohydrates prevent early fatigue and the goal of any athlete is never to be nutritionally limited during their training session.  Examples of simple more easily digested carbohydrate sources are tortillas, non-whole grain bread, rice cakes, crackers, pretzels, bagels, English muffins or applesauce.  If an individual is not preparing to be active or recover from activity, then choosing whole-grain sources with a slower absorption rate and other valuable antioxidants is a great choice such as barley, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, bulgur, faro, kamut, millet or other whole grains.  These whole grain foods and whole grain flours contain the bran, germ and endosperm which provide a range of vitamins and minerals and in turn, can provide health benefits from lowering cholesterol to promoting healthy gut bacteria. 

The timing of the carbohydrate consumption within the daily schedule can be modified based on the body composition goals of the athlete and length of time until their “A” race of the season.  In addition, if an endurance athlete has nearly maximized their training volume and they are in their aerobic general preparation or base phases, they may also benefit from a limited number of individual sessions in either a fasted or low-glycogen state.  Often times, I find this occurs naturally because many endurance athletes train twice daily and are therefore already in a slightly glycogen depleted state.  Becoming a fat adapted athlete is certainly a key part of the endurance equation.  However, heart rate training / intensity of sessions is a bigger portion of this equation than just what you consume.  Regardless of how trained at utilizing fat you become, athletes will always utilize large amounts of stored glycogen during exercise lasting longer than one hour.  Choosing specific sessions to work on this variable is best done by working with a sports nutrition registered dietitian as picking the appropriate training session and duration is of the utmost importance. 

In summary, to say a person or athlete should “avoid all carbohydrates” is not only an oversimplification, but can even be a detrimental health decision as many food groups would be eliminated, as well as the many health benefits provided by these elements.  Instead, let’s choose not to demonize any macronutrient and realize that even simple carbohydrates like sweet treats  or other foods people enjoy can be included if the rest of the diet is generally good.  Instead of reinforcing absolutes, it’s best to make choices based on informed decisions that take into account the individual needs of each person.  Eating should be a joyful experience that has less “rules” and should occur without guilt.    

With that said, I’m excited to be working with Ultragrain® for a second year to help support their recipe development efforts, product promotion and to assist in getting the word out about substituting this amazing product for your regular flour to provide the benefits of whole grain.
Here’s a great recipe I just made with Ultragrain® Flour to kick the whole grains up a notch while providing a lean protein source to assist you with recovery after a long day of work and workouts!

Chicken Marsala made with Ultragrain® Flour
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. Ultragrain Flour
4 Tbsp Olive oil
2 cups fresh mushrooms, washed and sliced
¾ cup Marsala cooking wine
¼ cup water
¼ tsp rosemary
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
1 oz feta cheese

Pound chicken until thin. Dredge lightly on both sides with Ultragrain® flour. In large skillet, add 2 Tbsp olive oil and heat to medium.  Sauté mushrooms over medium heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove mushrooms and set aside.

Melt remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil in skillet. Add chicken and cook through, 4 minutes on each side. Remove to serving platter. Return mushrooms to pan, stir in cooking wine, water, parsley and rosemary. Heat and pour over chicken.  Top with feta cheese. 

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving, with chicken: 330 calories, 28g protein, 10g carb, 15g fat (8g sat. fat), 105mg chol, 430mg sodium, 0g fiber

Recipe Adapted from:

Disclosure:  I am a sponsored athlete working with Ultragrain®.  However, the opinions expressed in this post are 100% my own and were not influenced by this affiliation in any way.