“Healthier” Linguine and Clams

Growing up, Easter was my favorite holiday. Christmas was a close second, but Easter had it by a slight margin. Easter was going to Church in a new Easter dress, jelly beans after the service, checking out what the Easter bunny had left for us in our baskets, polish bologna with spicy mustard, Italian meat pie, and best of all, spending time with my family.

This year, both Brett and I had to work the day before Easter, so we weren’t able to get to see family for Easter. But, the next best thing is spending time with friends. Our friend Betsy is an Episcopal minister in Northern VA, and always gives a wonderful service. She has a way of bringing the sermon into very relatable terms in a creative way. This Easter’s sermon even involved Walking Dead references.


After the service we had a light brunch at Panera, then headed into the crazy DC-Baltimore traffic. I think a normal 1 hour drive took 2 hours. We, or at least I, am very used to the traffic, so what do I do….? Turn on talk radio or a pod cast. There are several good triathlon pod casts and my latest pod cast has to do with money talk. Brett and I have started Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey, so I like to keep my motivation up (for gaining financial freedom) by listening to him when I can. Clark Howard is also pretty interesting. I’m sure there are others too. Eventually we got home and I pulled out my brand new birthday present from my parents. I love Williams Sonoma, and I love Easter. So, my parents got me an Easter serving bowl from Williams Sonoma. Not having the time to cook Italian meat pie, I decided linguine with clams was the way to go. And it would look great in my new bowl.


We save “white” pasta for nights before a race, when we don’t want the fiber. But because we wanted to have a healthier dinner, we chose a 100% whole wheat pasta. And while I am saying linguine and clams, to be correct, it was actually fettucine and clams. As much as I searched, I couldn’t find whole wheat linguine. so, fettucine is pretty close. Here are some other changes I made:

  • typical linguine and clams has a ton of butter/oil, my version only has 1/4 cup total
  • the basic recipe doesn’t have any added veggies, I add onion, asparagus and mushrooms
  • I added white wine to help with the richness of the sauce due to the lack of fat added

If you haven’t had linguine and clams, the sauce is meant to be for dipping a hearty bread and mopping up the wonderful sauce. Don’t be alarmed if this dish is a bit watery/liquidy. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Here’s my recipe for Linguine and Clams (Serves 4-6) :


  • 1x 16oz package of whole wheat macaroni (fettucine, linguine, etc)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups of sliced mushrooms
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 (6.5oz ) cans of chopped clams with juice
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • several sprinkles of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and return the water to a boil. Follow the directions on the package, but most likely for 7-9min. Drain
  2. In a large skillet, place unsalted butter and olive oil and heat on medium
  3. Add chopped onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent
  4. Add mushrooms and asparagus and cook until softened, 5-8 min more
  5. Without draining the clams, pour the clams into the vegetables. Add the 1/4 cup of wine and parsley and cook for 3-5 minutes. You don’t want to clams to over cook and get to rubbery.
  6. Sprinkle in parmesan cheese, red pepper and salt and pepper
  7. Toss the macaroni and the sauce together. Sprinkle with additional cheese if desired
  8. Enjoy with a hearty bread!

Nutrition per serving for 6 servings:

  • 473kcal
  • 69g carbohydrate
  • 11g fat
  • 27g protein
  • 2g fiber


No Crust Veggie Lentil Quiche (gluten free, veg)

Who else thought winter was over already? I did…Thankfully, it seems to just be yesterday and today. Tomorrow is a high of 54 degrees, quite balmy. Certain foods taste better when it’s cold out, and nice warm quiche is one of them.

I love quiche, but it’s quite high in fat if made the traditional way. So for the past few years, I have been making versions of quiche without the crust, using skim milk, egg whites/less eggs and plenty of healthy veggies.

This time, I had onions, broccoli, sweet potato, red peppers and mushrooms. I also had some dried lentils on hand. So what better then extra protein, fiber and vitamins/minerals like folate, iron, molybdenum and B vitamins with the lentils.

Cooking a crustless quiche is quite simple. It’s really just sauting the veggies, and mixing the liquid ingredients, and baking. This time, also cooking the lentils.


Lentil Veggie Quiche, 6 servings

  • 1/2 c dried lentils, cooked per the package instructions
  • olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 cups of broccoli, broken into florets
  • 1 cup sweet potato, chopped
  • 4 oz of mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 4 eggs beaten
  • 1 cup of skim milk
  • 1/2 c 2% sharp chedder cheese
  • salt, pepper, italian seasoning if desired
  1. Prepare lentils according to the directions, set aside. You might need to drain the lentils if any water is left in the pot (I did). Pour the lentils into the bottom of a pie plate. This will act kind of like a crust to the quiche.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  3. Swirl olive oil once around the pan and heat to medium. Add the garlic and onion and saute for 3 minutes.
  4. Add broccoli, sweet potato, mushrooms and red pepper. Cook an additional 5-7 minutes until the veggies are lightly cooked.
  5. Season the veggies with salt, pepper, italian seasoning or any additional seasonings desired
  6. In a bowl whisk the eggs lightly. Add milk and whisk. Gently add the cheese.
  7. Pour the cooked veggies onto the lentil layter. Gently pour the milk/egg/cheese mixture on top of the veggies.
  8. Bake for 45min  or until the center of the quiche is firm. Cool 10min before serving.
  9. Enjoy!


  • 209kcal
  • 24g carbohydrate
  • 6g fat
  • 14g protein
  • 7g fiber



Carbo Loading, Should We or Shouldn’t We?

The Boston Marathon is quickly approaching. Every year this is an exciting time for runners, and most certainly the city of Boston. This year will be especially special for athletes and Americans alike. Because of last year’s terror attacks at the marathon, both our nation and the running community suffered loss. But, in true American and athlete style, we’ve picked ourselves up and this years race will be better than ever. No terrorist will stop runners from running, or make Americans live in fear. So, what better to talk about today than carbo loading. Carbo loading has always been a hot topic, especially with marathon runners. Spaghetti dinner anyone? As a coach and an athlete, I always say “never try anything new on race day.” The same thing applies with what I’ll talk about below.

After watching the finish of the 1924 Boston Marathon, scientists wondered if the “state of shock” (this is referring to what the runners looked like) could have been prevented, or at least ameliorated, if a larger supply of carbohydrate had been taken the night before, or the morning of the race, Levine SA et al (1924) JAMA. It’s funny they didn’t even think about taking in carbs during the marathon at this time. That would come many more years down the road.

So, what they did next was to start to perform many different research studies, to either prove or disprove that ingesting carbs pre race helped. I’m sure you can guess the outcome of those studies, that yes, carb loading did work. But lets now talk specifics. What is carbo loading and should we do it…..?

Traditional Carbo Loading:

  • Started in 1969 with marathon runner Ron Hill. Side note: Ron Hill won the European Championships in Athens in 1969 with a 2:19, then again in Edinburgh in 1970 with a 2:09. A 10 min drop!
  • First step is to do an exercise workout to exhaustion.
  • Second step, 3 days of low carbohydrate, very little if any exercise
  • Third step, 3 days of high carbohydrate intake, very little exercise
  • Fourth step, race!
  • Ron’s most telling anecdote is that at mile 20 of every one of his marathons, when everyone else started fading, he was able to pick up the pace and win decisively. Yes, he was a great athlete and might have won anyway, but he was the first to start thinking outside of the box with carbohydrates.

Later studies in the 70’s showed that following this protocol did not allow the athletes to run faster in the early stages of the race, but they slowed down less. Karlssan & Saltin (JAP 1971). This shows the exact thing that Ron’s racing showed.

There are many studies that show this traditional carbo loading protocol works. These are from the 70’s-90’s. There are more recent ones as well:

  1. Maughan, RJ, Poole DC 1981 Eur J Appl Phys
  2. Saltin et al 1973
  3. Goforth el al, 1980
  4. Bangsbo et al 1992
  5. Nicholas et al 1997

So, then with all of this good data, we should all be following this carbo loading strategy right?

Potential Problems with Carbo Loading:

  • Adverse symptoms during the low carb phase Fatigue, muscle weakness, hunger, cravings, GI discomfort
  • Bloating and GI problems once you’ve started loading back up with carbohydrates
  • Psychological issues during your training taper
  • Uncertainty over food choices can make you nervous, stressed or cause you to over or under eat

But, going back to all the data from the 60’s-90’s. All of those studies showed with doing a traditional carbo load, the athletes could increase their glycogen stores by almost double their beginning stores. Wow! So, then the researchers thought, if doing a traditional carbo load can work this well, I wonder what a modified carbo load would do.

Results of a modified carbo load:

The modified carbo load was this: the athlete took in a high carbohydrate diet (10g/kg/day), and rested/tapered for 7 days.

  • From day 1-4, the athlete’s glycogen stores went up twofold. From days 4-7, the athlete’s glycogen stores stayed elevated at their high levels.
  • When looking at the traditional carbo load, from day 1-4, the athlete had much lower amounts of glycogen stored in their muscles. From days 4-7, the athlete was able to replenish the amount of glycogen, plus gain a little bit more
  • So, when comparing the modified diet to the traditional carbo load, the traditional carbo load gave just slightly higher glycogen stores. Is this enough to do a traditional carbo load vs just a higher carb diet in the week preceding your race, not in my opinion. Especially with how eating low carb makes you feel in the 3 days.
  • The other thing to think about is you don’t want to be overloading your body with a lot more carbs than you are used to. If you normally eat 5g/kg/day, then the week before you eat 10g/kg/day, you will also feel bloated and sluggish. So, eat a high amount of carbs, but practice to see what your body can handle.
  • Also, unlike traditional carbo loading, prior glycogen depleting exercise in not necessary to achieve high muscle glycogen levels. Just eating a high carb diet, plus resting is enough to super-compensate your muscle glycogen levels.

Another way to Enhance Glycogen Storage: Creatine

In the late 90’s till today, there has been several good studies done on creatine supplementation and increased glycogen storage.

  1.  Robinson et al, 1997
  2. Van Loon et al, 2004

These studies showed the highest glycogen stores ever recorded to date. I’ll reference the first study. Robinson, looked at glycogen, glycogen placebo, creatine placebo and glycogen/creatine . Over 6 days, the athletes took 1 of the 4 fuels. The group that took the creatine plus glycogen showed the highest amounts of stored glycogen, and the longest amount of time to exhaustion. The study used 5g doses of creatine, 4x per day. So, 20g of creatine, plus a high carb diet. There are more studies needed to show further effects of creatine and glycogen storage though.  Additionally, there are studies being done with caffeine and glycogen storage as well.


To Sum up, traditional carbo loading does work, especially for endurance athletes and team sport athletes like soccer players. It does have some downfalls though. These are mainly GI distress, fatigue and bloating due to the low carb diet. However, if you can do the traditional carbo load successfully, it will help your performance. If you aren’t wanting to do something this drastic the week before your race, feel free to follow a modified carbo load. You’ll want to make sure you are getting in a lot of good carbohydrates in, while resting. With these two things, you’ll be primed for your race. And lastly, it shows us once again that low carb diets just don’t work. Your performance will be impaired with a low carb diet, at least with the sports mentioned above.




Preventing Muscle Fatigue

I studied exercise physiology as well as nutrition as an undergrad. Now, my IOC program is leading me to a Master’s in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. It’s nice to be back to ex phys for a little bit. April is still all about carbs as you’ll see from some of my blog posts, but today I wanted to touch base on more of an exercise physiology subject…..muscle fatigue and how to prevent it. And can we?

Before I delve deeper into fatigue, we need to get some basic terms from energy metabolism down. From there I”ll explain more about fatigue. Try to hang in, I won’t bore you with the too technical stuff. However I do have a great chart if you’re interested in seeing all the different pathways of fuel. The profs call it the “dreaded pathway chart.”


ATP: adenosine triphosphate-this is the “energy donor” for our muscle contraction. We use ATP for energy. I’ve heard ATP called the currency of life. Without ATP, we wouldn’t be able to move. ATP is created in the mitochondria and can be generated by aerobic and anaerobic metabolism.

Aerobic Metabolism: the creation of energy (ATP) through the breakdown of fats and carbohydrates in the presence of oxygen. Aerobic metabolism is the main energy creation source for when we are going easy to moderate intensity. For example, walking, jogging or going for an easy bike ride uses aerobic metabolism as our energy source.

Most endurance athletes use aerobic metabolism due to the fact that endurance sports don’t require as much high intensity exercise. This isn’t always the case when doing ITU triathlon, or sprinting to the finish line. When I say, you want to train your body to burn fat as fuel, this is using aerobic metabolism. You can spare your glycogen (carb) stores this way. Slow twitch muscles operates using aerobic metabolism.

ATP is generated for long periods of time, at a fairly decent rate in aerobic metabolism. You and will increase ATP production with endurance training

Anaerobic Metabolism: the creation of energy without oxygen. There are two ways:

  1. Creatine Phosphate (CP) CP uses ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) and hydrogen ions to create ATP and creatine. The CP system is in play from the first :2-7 seconds mainly. Think of a swimmer sprinting down the pool. If it takes them 12 seconds to get to the other end, they might be using their muscle’s entire CP amounts in only half the time it takes them to get to the other end.
  2. Glycolysisglucose is rapidly broken down during glycolysis, and lactate, hydrogen ions and ATP are produced as byproducts. Glycolysis takes over after the CP system for up to several minutes. Then, the aerobic system comes into play. The hydrogen ions that are given off as a byproduct are what makes you feel like your muscles are burning when sprinting. Coaches and athletes used to think it was lactic acid that caused the burning and fatiguing in muscles…It’s actually the hydrogen ions.

The muscles that operate using anaerobic metabolism are fast twitch muscles. Think, high intensity bursts of speed for up to several minutes. This is more of your track sprinter (running and cycling), weight lifter, cross fitter. They are using carbohydrate as their fuel source, very little will come from aerobic metabolism. For most athletes doing anaerobic sports, 80% of your energy metabolism will come from CP and glycolysis, 20% will come from aerobic sources.

ATP is generated quite fast with anaerobic metabolism. We have small reserves and capacities and we can increase our production of ATP with glycolysis, however not with CP. More on this later.

*Both systems listed above that generate ATP, are activated during sprint exercise. Some athletes think that sprinting is entirely anaerobic, this isn’t the case. When sprinting you will be using both systems, just the shorter and faster the sprint, the more you rely on anaerobic. You can think of this as a carb/fat fuel source debate as well. You will almost never be using 100% carb, or 100% fat during exercise. You will always use a mixture of both. Likewise, with aerobic and anaerobic exercise, will use both energy metabolism pathways.

Carb basics:

  • Both your muscle and liver carb stores can be depleted in 60-90min with high intensity exercise. Think about this as a half marathon and under.
  • Both your muscle and liver carb stores can be depleted in 2-3 hours with moderate intense exercise. Think about this as a marathon, or 50+ mile bike ride.
  • So, its very important for athletes doing endurance exercise/and both aerobic and anaerobic exercise to have fuel on board before your exercise/race, during your exercise/race (if it’s longer) and as your recovery.
  • This is a definite and easy source of muscle fatigue. Athletes that “bonk” don’t have enough carb sources on board, and deplete both their liver and muscle glycogen fuel sources. There are other causes of fatigue too.

Case Study-Causes of Fatigue During Sprinting:

-Imagine that you are a sprint swimmer or track athlete. Your coach gives you 10 sprints in the pool or the track with only a short rest interval. Since I was a swimmer, I’ll use 25y sprints. Let’s say we had to sprint all out, with 5 sec rest. When you start #1, you are using about 80% glycolysis and CP and about 20% from aerobic sources.  By #10, you are 80% aerobic sources and 20% from glycolysis and CP. They have in essence switched. What this means is, once your system has run out, your performance will go down with each subsequent sprint.

By #10, it is harder to turn on glycolysis because the muscle is becoming acidotic with hydrogen ions (byproduct). So you can’t nearly produce what you could in #1 with glycolytic systems. Then, you must rely on aerobic generating ATP systems. Glycolysis needs time to rest in order to generate ATP again. So if you are getting short rest intervals, you won’t be able to do this. CP however can start to be generated again, at least partially. It isn’t bothered by the hydrogen ions.

There are specific exercises that can be done to improve your glycolytic pathways and increase your anaerobic capacity, so when you’re training and racing, you won’t get as fatigued as quickly as you did before. I’ll give some specifics in more detail below.

What are the Causes of Fatigue, and How Can we Decrease Fatigue?

  1. Not enough muscle mass-To fix this, doing more strength training work both in the weight room, and on the road/bike. Think hills. The more muscle, the more mitochondria, thus the more ATP available.
  2. Not enough mitochondria-ATP is produced in the mitochondria, and they are found in muscles. So, like #1, you need to build more muscle to create more mitochondria. Also, to increase mitochondria, you need to do more of both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. This will increase your mitochondrial density. The best way to increase your mitochondrial density is long aerobic exercise 3-6 hours on the bike) and  high intensity anaerobic exercise (20min of Vo2 max intervals).
  3. Fuel stores run out-This one’s easy. Eat more carbs pre, during and post workout.
  4. ATP production low/slow fuel metabolism-Your ATP production will decrease during exercise due to a decreasing rate of substrate delivery, plus byproduct inhibition (hydrogen ions being released, causing the burning in your muscles). You an increase your fuel delivery, and decrease your byproduct (lactate/hydrgen ions) by specific exercise.

Exercises to Increase ATP production and Decrease Hydrogen Ion production:

*I am not your coach (unless I really am), so please speak with your coach before starting any additional training. And if you aren’t working with a coach, getting a coach can really help you to dial in your training and increase your performance. Contact me if you have any questions on coaching.

Start at the first and move down:

  • Increasing your volume of training- this should be the first thing that you focus on. You can use the old adage of 10% a week in miles, or hours. If you’re only running 10mpw, slowly ramp up, 10% each week. If you train in hours per week, slowly increase from say 3, to 3:30, to 4 hour, etc. Just adding volume will do this. My athletes know, that I don’t allow them to move onto the 2nd or third stage until they are running at least 20mpw for injury prevention. Cycling and swimming are slightly different.
  • Tempo/Steady State- This is your pace/effort right at your lactate threshold. You want to start at workouts at 20min at your LT, then increase each week from there. Most athletes can’t do LT for more than 60-90 min (most not over 60min though)-think fast half marathon or 10k or under.
  • Workouts above your LT/Interval training- This would be Vo2 max pacing or above. Workouts in this range will be 6 min or less. This could be doing intervals of 120% FTP on the bike for 4 min on, 4 min off. Also, it could be 200-400m sprints on the track. You could even do up to 800m repeats on the track, but things closer to a mile and above would be in the LT range.

*Remember, you want the majority of your training (75-80%) to be aerobic in nature. Then, 20-25%, depending on your level of training and years of training can be LT/Tempo/Steady State and Vo2 max. You’ll see a vast improvement on your performance just from increasing your volume. Then after you’ve spent time on your aerobic base, move down the list into the anaerobic areas.

There are currently several nutrition supplements being studied for reducing fatigue, increasing your anaerobic metabolism and increasing ATP. Some of these include nitrate, creatine and carnitine. I’m not going to go into those today, but will in a later post down the road.






Good or Bad-Training “Low” with Carbohydrates?

A few posts ago I wrote on having a daily diet of higher fat and lower carb. The conclusions from the latest research show that while eating a high fat diet, you are indeed going to oxidize more fat as fuel, but you are also turning off your carb utilization. Plus there was no performance benefit for eating this way. Today I want to elaborate on this subject a little more.

The Debate:

Several years ago I heard of many athletes that were trying to train “low”. Low meaning, low carb fuel sources. I had done a bit of research into it for my own athletes and training, but here I’m diving in a bit deeper. First I want to talk a bit about social media, misperceptions, outdated numbers, and good carbohydrate ranges.

Right now, it’s in vogue to be on a low carb/high fat diet. You’ll see these diets around, but the main one that sticks out right now is Paleo. One of the problems is, is that there are very polarized views on the subject, and it’s been brought into the social media. Once things go into the social media, things really seem to take off. There is one well-known researcher that I used to respect quite a bit, but as my husband likes to say “has jumped the shark.” He’s stopped doing research and started using anecdotal evidence. And there has been a lot of public debate on things like low carb diets, etc. So, today I just want to bring you some data from studies. And while studies are very important, nutrition is an art form (as is coaching), and what works for the majority, won’t work for everyone. There is a lot of trial and error in nutrition. Also, nutrition should be periodized. Meaning:

what you eat during your transition period will be different from your base period, will be different from you peak period.

Paleo can and might have a place in your diet, you just have to look at your training goals and what period you are in.

Old numbers:

  • 70% of your daily diet should come from carbs. This is outdated as it doesn’t take into account the period you are in, what sport you are doing, how intense your training is, etc. Realistically, it could be 40-70%

New numbers:

  • low intensity training/skill based- 3-5g/kg/day
  • moderate intensity- 5-7g/kg/day
  • endurance exercise-1-3hrs/day- 6-10g/kg/day
  • extreme exercise 4-5+ hours/day-8-12g/kg/day

The goal of every athlete should be to replace the carbs that they are burning, so they are set up for a succesful session the next day, or later in the day. I’ll contradict myself just a bit later in this post, as reasearch is ever-changing. However, for the majority of the time, for the majority of athletes, this line is key.

Research: Simonsen did a research study involving rowers over a 4 week period. Once group of rowers were eating a moderate intake of carbs (5g/kg) while the other group was eating 10g/kg, or a higher amount. The high group maintained their power, plus increased their overall power by 8%. The moderate intake carb  group actually wasn’t able to maintain their high intensity exercise and lost power. So, this does a good job at showing, if you aren’t taking in enough carbs to replenish what you are using, your performance could fall.

-Also, another take away from another study with endurance runners was, when training with carbohydrate, this enhances our “guts” ability to provide fuel. So, after training with carbohydrates, the runners had improved their ability to absorb carbohydrates from the gut, thus making more fuel available to the muscles.

Pros and Cons of Low Carb Training:

  1. Pro: You can change your body’s chosen fuel source to fat in as little as 5 days. Con: This wasn’t shown to be beneficial to performance.
  2. Pro: You can spare your body’s glycogen and utilize fat as fuel. Con: once your body is in a fat burning state (aka-fat adapted athletes), you can’t “turn on” carb utilization. So, if you need to pick up the pace say while cycling, like you’re sprinting to the finish, your body can’t use carbs as a fuel source, so you will lack power. You will need the power to push, and you just won’t have it. This is true even if you are taking on carbohydrates during exercise. The one place this might work well is for recreational athletes. Athletes looking for performance gains, will find this not beneficial.
  3. Pro: Training low will increase cell signaling, and that leads to enhanced adaptations and training responses aka-better fat oxidation, glycogen storage and possibly greater endurance. Con: You’ll feel sluggish, terrible, irritable and get less work done.
  4. The last con to low carb training is that if  you aren’t consuming carbs before or during your workout, this can have a negative effect on your immune system. So, if you get sick often, this might not be the way for you to go.

So, there are some benefits to training low. Mainly, we want better fat oxidation, better glycogen storage and better endurance, right? At least I do….So, how do we get these benefits, without either shutting off our carb utilization or having a terrible workout?

  • Use easy exercise sessions/non key sessions
  • Do this in your base training period
  • Use this selectively
  • New research is showing that supplementing with caffeine or a carb mouth rinse might trick your brain into thinking your taking in carbs.

To conclude, there are benefits to training low. You just don’t want to train low when  you have an important session, you’re trying to hit certain numbers, you’re in a high intensity period, etc. I think the best way to go about getting the benefits of training low is:

  • Eat a carb diet based on your sport, the period you’re training in and personal preference
  • A workout or two a week, do your a.m. workout without taking in any carb prior. Just wake up, take some caffeine or a mouth rinse of a carb drink, and get started
  • The workout should be nice and easy. Think a cycle session on your training of 1 hour at 65% FTP.

Remember, our goal as coaches and hopefully your goal as an athlete is to figure out the best and safest way to make you better, healthy and happier hopefully. There is room for lower carb training, but the majority of your diet, and the majority of your training should be of moderate to high carb intake. It might just take a few weeks for your body to get used to absorbing the extra fuel. But once it does, your performance will increase.

Cherry Blossom Race Report

cb5Many months ago, I signed up for the Cherry Blossom 10 miler believing I’d be healthy enough to race by April. Last year I worked at the Cherry Blossom expo for PowerBar and I loved the local enthusiasm for the race. It’s a rite of spring passage in DC. Unfortunately, due to my injury, I wasn’t able to run the 10 miler. I did do the 5k run walk though. Brett did the 10 miler and killed it…1:08:0x and 600th/17,000 runners (top 3.5%) And he’s just started training again. If I’m being precise, he’s been running for about 1 month after taking several months off.

My latest update about my hamstring/sciatic nerve isn’t very detailed. After the PRP lysate, things seemed slightly better, but I was still in quite a bit of pain. So I consulted my PT and physiatrist about our next steps. Dr. Victor told me he wanted me to get a MRN (Magnetic resonance neurography). MRN is the direct imaging of the nerves in the body. It is similar to an MRI, just specific for nerves. Due to the rarity of this imaging, I have to wait until I can be seen at Johns Hopkins. And there seems to be a waiting list. Meanwhile, my PT has started working on the piriformis and doing other manual therapy trying to see if they’ve missed something.

This injury seems to be the never ending injury. We think we figure something out, yet what we think it is, turns out to not be it. Mentally I’ve been breaking down. Those that have injuries know what it’s like to feel helpless or have no outlet for their stress. I’ve tried very hard to stay positive during this ordeal, but realistically, I can’t beat myself up for starting to feel negative after 1+ years of unknown injury. I have accepted that I’m human and it’s ok to feel helpless, scared and frustrated and not feel positive all the time. Positivity is key though, and I’m going to do something about my emotional energy. I’m going to try Raiki. Raiki is a Japanese form of energy healing where the practitioner lays their hands on you or above you and helps to move any stuck energy. I’ll let you guys know in a later post what that’s about and how it goes. I’m very excited and I do think there is a place for both eastern and western medicine in the world today.

While I wait to get the MRN, my PT decided it was time to push the leg a bit. So, he had me run .1 mile and then walk .1 of a mile on the treadmill for a total of 1 mile, or .5 of a mile of running. Running might be an overstatement as I believe I was going 11:30-12min miles. It was a jog for sure. I couldn’t believe that after all this time, I was actually moving faster than a walk…..It was liberating. So, 2 days after my PT visit was the Cherry Blossom. And he said I could walk 4 min, run 1 min. And I did!!!

Race day morning we were up at 4:30am to get breakfast (2.5 hours pre-race and it was a white bagel with honey and a banana-simple digestible carbs). It’s about an hour drive to DC at that time from Baltimore. We left at 5:30am so we could make sure to get a spot. Tidbit: parking in DC is free on Sunday’s, you just have to find a spot. We did thank goodness. I was a bit stressed about that. I’m going to leave my spot a secret, but I had scoped it out a few days before.

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The weather was beautiful, in the 40’s and 50’s with sun. The cherry blossoms were a week or more late, but we found a few trees starting to bloom. My PT and our friend Stevie was running, but we didn’t see either. It was a perfect day to run among the monuments in the mall. Brett might have been going to fast to enjoy them, but I certainly had time to. The race had 17,000 runners in the 10miler, then a few thousand in the 5k. The 10 miler race is a wave start, and the lead runners take off at 7:30am, while the rest of the group is out by 8:15am. The 5k took off at 8:40am, so I actually got to see Brett finish. He started at 7:30am, so I literally saw him run by as I was walking to my starting line. He looked fast!

I placed myself in the back of the 5k knowing that I would walk the majority of it. I’m so competitive and used to being competitive, that I had to remind myself that pushing it would or could cause more injury. So, I held back. Normally I’m very talkative before a race, it calms me down. But it felt so strange to be waiting for a race to start, when I wouldn’t be racing it. I felt very inside myself. No Garmin, just a stopwatch to watch the minutes go by was what I used. I knew that I would have to start by jogging as I knew even though I wanted to go easy, crossing the starting line walking just wasn’t going to work. I then promptly slowed down, making sure that I wasn’t in anyone’s way.

Every morning Rogue and I walk 3 miles, so I knew how long it would take me, or how long it would feel. Normally I find someone and pick them off. This time, I focused on staying positive, telling myself that it was ok that I was walking, to look at everyone else around me walking and having a great time, and to enjoy the moment. And I did. When I got to run my 5th minute, it felt very freeing. And even though I wanted to keep going, I stopped after the minute. My hamstring ached every time I ran, but my typical glute pain wasn’t around. That felt awesome.

When I saw the finish line ahead, I knew I would run though it. I also knew my tendency would be to sprint. That was a definite no-no. So, I waved to Brett and Lorraine (my mother in law visiting from Oregon) and crossed the line somewhere in the 42min range. I could care less about my time, I was overjoyed that I was able to run 8 minutes or almost 1 mile! After grabbing a banana (not enough for anyone racing a race, but fine for me having mainly walked a 5k) we headed for home. Brett had been done for quite some time and was getting cold. Even with his space blanket.

Even though I can’t call this a real race or an actual race report, I can say that I ran 8min, which is a lot longer than I have run in quite some time. I’ve very positive that the Raiki will help get my mind back in the right direction, and that I’ll get the MRN to see if something is wrong with my nerves. I’m still scared that they can’t find the source of my pain, but I’m accepting the fact that I can’t control this, that everything happens for a reason, and I will again be back to a competitive arena soon.








High Fat Diet=Better Endurance?

I turned 33 on Sunday, and because we were having torrential rain, we decided to go to the National Aquarium. We’ve had tickets for a few months, but were waiting for a rainy day. And boy was it Sunday. We also went to Little Italy and to a fantastic little Italian Bakery, Piedigrotta. Piedigrotta’s owner, Carminantonio, was the supposed creator of Tiramisu, 40 years ago in Naples, Italy.

I thought about trying it, but since I don’t like coffee, and the lady fingers in Tiramisu are soaked in coffee liquor, decided against it. But we hear that it’s to die for. We did partake in splitting a shared meal. We got to chose 5 things on the lunch menu. And as you can see, it was a lot. We chose, vegetarian lasagna, pappardelle, frittata, gnocchi, and steamed veggies. It was all delicious! And full of both carbohydrates and fats, which is the topic of this blog.

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I’ve heard a lot recently about a resurgence in people thinking that they need to eat more fat and less carbs, in order to burn more fat as fuel. This is true to a degree, but I’ll explain why it’s not in your best interest as an endurance athletes. First, let’s look at our stores. Our carb stores are limited, vs our fat stores are abundant. In our liver, we only have about a 2 hour reserve of glycogen. When tapping into our fat stores, it’s close 10,000 calories worth. We could ride a long time on that. Unfortunately we use a mixture of fat and carbs while exercising. The harder you go, the greater the percentage of carb being used. The slower you go, the greater the percentage of fat being used. You’ll almost never use 100% of either at any one point though.

We studied quite a number of trials from the 20’s till today. I’ll go over the results of some of the studies, to show you where we have come from and where we are today.

Trial 1:

In the 20’s-40’s, experiments with high fat diets started to emerge. Scientists wondered, is there a way to utilize more fat as fuel, since we have a limited supply of glycogen? The studies placed athletes on a high fat/low carb diet for 3 days. Then, they placed them on a high carb diet for an additional 3 days. During the first 3 days, the athletes drove their muscle glycogen levels down, and felt tired, sleepy, fatigued and dizzy. Even in submaximal exercise (easier), they felt terrible. The following 3 days of high carbohydrate eating relieved these symptoms.

There was little research done in the 50’s-60’s.  Enter the 70’s and 80’s, and in came books like the Zone Diet. 40:30:30, or 40% carb, 30% protein, 30% fat.  This was a fad diet done by a few athletes, who turned it into a sports diet. The diet was meant to increase fat burning, increase endurance and decrease body mass. There wasn’t any research done, just anecdotes from athletes, which doesn’t qualify as scientific. This diet I consider to be one of someone who is more in their off season, not an athlete competing currently.

Trial 2:

1990’s-Old carbo loading premise. The athlete trains most of the year on a high carbohydrate diet, then one week before a major event, undergoes a 5 day period of fat adaptation, followed by 24-36 hours of a high carb intake to restore muscle and liver glycogen. This did allow athletes to use more fat as fuel, but not very practical. Eating a generally moderate to higher amount of carb just generally is considered to be best overall. For moderate to heavy exercisers, 7-10g/CHO/kg is a good start.

Trial 3:

2000-2010-multiple studies were done where athletes (highly trained cyclists and triathletes) were put on a one week HF (high fat) or HC (high carb)  diets with a 3 week wash out in between. They used the same athletes so they could compare the athletes results. They did 5 days of either HIT, long distance or hill work, followed by a rest day and both groups refueling with carbs and then a TT day. Results- muscle glycogen levels super-compensated in HF diets and HC diets. This was the first study to show spared muscle glycogen stores and higher fat oxidation in HF diet. Burke LM et al. J Appl Physiol 89:2413-2421, 2000

Trial 4:

Same study design as trial 3 although this time they increased the exercise time to 4 hours at 65%. Previously it was 2 hours long. This study showed higher rates of fat oxidation in HF diet and sparing of carb, the only downside was the HF athletes felt higher rates of perceived exertion then the HC.  But still, This seems pretty good right? We do want more fat oxidation and more sparing of glycogen, so far so good. Carey Al et al. J Appl Physiol 91:115-22, 2001

Trial 5:

Havemann L et al. J Appl Physiol 100:194-202, 2006

100km bike race, with regular intervals of bouts of 100% effort at 1km and 4km. Now under conditions where we are asking athletes to sprint, interspersed with steady state exercise, the fat adapted athletes were not able to put out as much power as athletes on higher carb diets. We learned that the muscles did burn more fat, but it also diminished the muscles ability to burn carb. So, fat adaptation is an impediment to utilizing carb.

Here are some general takeaways:

*high fat diets put the brakes on the body’s ability to use and oxidize carb. Not advantageous for athletes.

* the failure to find clear evidence of benefits to prolonged exercise at steady state, so we can delete fat-loading and high fat diets from the list of ergogenic aids for endurance athletes. “Louise Burke.”

So, the recommendation is some training down in a “low” carb state, while the majority should be done with carbs available.

So even though eating a high fat diet did allow athletes to spare glycogen and utilize more fat at fuel, there was no performance benefit seen long term. In fact, athletes were inadvertently shutting off their bodies abilities to utilize carbs, thus not allowing for performance gains.

In the next blog or two, Ill cover the benefits of training in a glycogen depleted state, or training “low.” As we could see today, there is definitely some benefit, just not in doing this type of diet full time.