Sleep matters and building muscle

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Sleep matters

How important is sleep? Really important.

In this study, cyclists were either allowed normal sleep (about 7.5 hours) or kept sleep deprived (about 4 hours) after a workout.

The result? Sleep deprived cyclists were sleepier (shocker!) and less motivated to train. In addition, their blood pressure had not recovered as much as those who were allowed normal sleep, suggesting less complete recovery from the workout.

These results shouldn’t be shocking but they are a good reminder.

Building muscle

I’ve been going back into the archives a bit recently and this one popped out at me. What does it take to build muscle?

In short, all those things we have usually thought of from weight to number of reps doesn’t matter as much as one thing: lifting to failure or near failure.

There are no non-responders, how to cool in hot weather races

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

There are no non-responders

We’ve all seen those people. Maybe some of us are those people. It seems like they work so hard and they just don’t respond to the training. They just don’t get more fit. It’s so frustrating to see that person who works hard and doesn’t get results. What do you tell that person?

Well, maybe it’s not the answer we want but it looks like the answer may be step up your training.

In the interesting study Alex Hutchinson writes about, there were non-responders in those who performed 1, 2, or 3 training sessions a week of 60 minutes each. In the 4 and 5 workouts a week group, not a single non-responder.

Even more interesting, when the non-responders returned to increase their training by 2 sessions a week, every one of them increased their fitness enough to fall out of the “non-responder” range.

In other words, they were all responders. They just needed more training time.

How to cool in hot weather races

It may seem strange to be thinking about hot weather racing in February but maybe less so with the weather we’ve had this past week.

Anyway, warm weather racing isn’t that far away. So what’s the best/most beneficial way to cool?

According to this study, performance improvements came from in event cooling via facial water spray and menthol mouth rinse. Pre-cooling via cold water immersion and ice slurry ingestion didn’t help.

Other studies have suggested the pre-race cooling might help but this seems to cast some doubt on that. The good news is mid-race cooling did seem to help. While we may not have menthol mouth rinse available at our races this summer, we can do other things to help cool us down and hold out some hope that those other interventions, performed while we’re running, will help.

Motivation and injury, in competition fueling strategies

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

I’m feeling a little under the weather and low on energy this week so, instead of a regular weekly post, I’m going back into my archives to find some research that I never got to post in a monthly recap post. There are some good ones out there, here are a couple that jumped out at me.

Motivation and injury

You’re heading into a race. You have a goal that you set for yourself and you’re highly motivated to get that goal. Does this make you more or less likely to get injured on race day? Before reading this study, I could have guessed you might be more susceptible. If you’re motivated to get your goal, you might push through some things you wouldn’t with less motivation.

Well, it turns out I would have been wrong. Self motivated runners appear to be less likely to get injured.

In competition fueling strategies

There are so many options for in competition fueling these days. It used to be sports drinks and that was it. Now, you can get gels, energy bars, and other forms. What’s the best way to get your fuel?

This study tried to look at some options, including sports drinks, gels, bars, and a mix.

The result? Bars seemed to be the least effective in terms of performance and also seemed to be the most likely to cause gut discomfort. Other fueling options showed slight differences but not enough to be certain one was better than the other.

As usual, though, we’re all individuals. My suggestion: try your options in training and figure out what works for you individually. Personally, I prefer to try what the goal race will be offering as you then don’t have to carry things with you and it’s one more logistical issue on race day you can let someone else take care of.

LCHF charts, stress fracture warning signs

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

LCHF charts

I’ve written about low carb, high fat (LCHF) diets previously (see here and here for examples of what I’ve written before, there may be more). However, people still question me about this. Can’t you teach your body to burn enough fat to never have to worry about running out of fuel.

As I stated previously, the evidence suggests the answer to that is no for most runners.

Well, here’s more evidence. This study looked at elite race walkers and followed what happened with them after 3 weeks of three different diets (high carb, “periodized” carb, and low carb high fat). The three charts at that link summed up the result pretty well.

1) The LCHF group burned a lot more fat after completing the LCHF period.

2) The LCHF group burned more oxygen to complete a 50K race (they were less efficient).

3) The LCHF group was the only group to not improve their 10K performances over the course of the study.

In short, the LCHF group could burn more fat but, due apparently to losses in efficiency, they didn’t get faster while both other groups did.

Stress fracture warning signs

To me, stress fractures are possibly the most scary running injury. Why wouldn’t a broken bone be?

What if we had a list of warning signs to tell us when the risk of stress fractures is higher? Well, we do. This is a list of warning signs for female runners and some are gender specific but I suspect those that are not gender specific would be helpful for everyone.

Sugary fruit can lower your blood sugar? When to take ice baths?

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Coming to you a day early so we can all enjoy our Thanksgiving.

Sugary fruit can lower blood sugar?

Even though most Americans get way more sugar than we should, we all know the importance of reducing sugar intake to lower our blood sugar and reduce our risk of chronic diseases.

What if some sugary foods actually lowered our blood sugar levels, though? That doesn’t make much sense, does it? Well, it might actually be true:

Fruits such as blueberry and mango may help with blood sugar regulation, even though they contain sugar. They may not have very strong effects like medications do, at least in isolation, but a diet rich in different plants may compound the benefits of any one single plant food.

It seems crazy on the face of things but, in a way, it makes sense. We evolved to eat natural foods like fruits. It makes sense that the sugar in fruits would not be harmful to us like the sugar in unnaturally processed food is.

So now we have another reason to enjoy fruits as a great snack or dessert.

When to take ice baths?

We have known for decades now that ice baths are good for recovery. However, as with many other methods to speed recovery, we now know that they may actually be detrimental during training because they will reduce the training response. In other words, you recover more quickly but you don’t gain as much fitness.

However, there are still some cases, such as shortly before a race, where ice baths can still be beneficial. Shortly before a race, you’re not trying to get additional training benefit. Your primary focus is on max recovery.

So when to take the ice bath and when to skip it? Here’s a handy cheat sheet.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. As always, I’m incredibly thankful for your support.

Running: good for fighting colds, also good for the knees?

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Running is good for a lot of things. We already know that, right? Well, here’s a little on the positive aspects of running.

How exercise may help us fight colds

Have you ever noticed that fit people are sick less often? You’re not imagining things.

Working out could help us fight off colds and other infections, according to a timely new study. The study, which found that regular exercise strengthens the body’s immune system in part by repeatedly stressing it, was conducted in animals. But the results most likely apply to people, the researchers say, and could offer further incentive for us to remain physically active this winter.

Is running good for your knees?

I’m sure we’ve all experienced people telling us that we’re ruining our knees. The interesting thing I’ve noticed recently is that, lately, people who are younger than me will say this while complaining how their knees ache. What’s up?

There has been some research suggesting that, much like stressing our immune systems to build them up stronger and stressing our muscles to build them up stronger, running can do the same for various structures of our joints.

Well, here’s another study that attempted to address a possible reason running might be good for the knees. Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive. There were some interesting results but there simply wasn’t enough data to say anything conclusively.

That said, we already know that, regardless of what your non-running friends tell you, running is definitely good for your knees. So keep it up.

Recovery aids and racing shoes

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Once again, some of the best things I’ve read this month have come from Alex Hutchinson’s excellent Sweat Science blog. The two I’ll share this month are one on Curcumin as a recovery aid and how the weight of your shoes affects your performance.

The Curcumin Cure for Muscle Soreness?

I used to take antioxidants nearly daily to aid in recovery. My belief, supported by the best knowledge at the time, was that enhanced recovery would allow me to train harder. That would allow me to get more training benefit. Then a number of studies came out showing that antioxidants actually affect the training benefit. So you recover faster to train harder but there is less benefit you’re getting from the training.

Every time we hear about a new recovery aid, it seems like the same dilemma comes up. The issue as we see it now is that the damage caused by workouts is actually what triggers our bodies to build back stronger, which is the whole point of working out to be more fit. If you take a recovery aid, you’re lessening that damage and, as a result, lessening the training benefit.

Well, here’s another recovery aid that leads to the same dilemma. Curcumin, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory found in turmeric, is the latest.

In this case, scientists tested runners doing a demanding downhill run to inflict muscle damage. Typically, after one workout like this, our muscles adapt and a second one is much less painful. This is why it’s a good idea to include some downhill training before running a downhill race like the Boston Marathon. However, those who took curcumin after the first run were actually more sore after the second run a week later.

Once again, when looking to maximize the benefit of training, it seems like it’s best to stay away from the recovery aids. Save them for when you have a race coming in the near term future and your goal is to be as recovered as possible when you are stepping up to the start line.

How Much Do Heavy Shoes Slow You Down?

As many of us are in or soon will be heading into our fall racing seasons, this is a topic that may be on our minds. What should I wear on race day? How much of a difference does shoe weight really make?

Well, the answer is even a few ounces can make a difference. This has been theorized for some time. I recall in the 1990s talk of around 1% reduction in performance for a 3.5 ounce increase in shoe weight. However, this hasn’t been well tested until now.

It appears that the real world results are pretty close, coming in at roughly 0.8% per 3.5 ounces at 5:30 per mile and possibly higher amounts at slower paces.

There is one important catch, though. Cushioning increases efficiency. If you decrease your shoe weight too significantly, it’s very possible that you actually negatively affect your performances.

So where does that leave us? Largely, trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try lighter shoes but don’t jump right into the lightest you can find because that might not be as good as it may seem.

About those muscles

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

This post will be all about the muscles. I have an interesting article on some muscle research I’ve been holding on to and another one just popped up yesterday that I think has some interesting results for those of you who might deal with seasonal allergies.

How much protein do you need?

First, how much protein do you need as a runner? Many runners underestimate what we need. After all, we’re runners, not bodybuilders.

The problem with that is that, while we’re not be bodybuilders, running causes a lot of muscle damage and the damaged muscles need to be repaired. In addition, we burn some protein while running, especially when our glycogen levels get depleted such as late in long runs or longer races.

How much protein do we need? Well, the good news is that, if you eat a typical American diet but a little more because you’re burning more calories, you’re probably fine overall.

However, you may want to think about when you’re getting your protein. As pointed out, your body can only absorb and put to use a certain amount of protein at one time. The rest gets converted to fat and stored in that form. So try to spread out your intake more. For most Americans, this means more protein at breakfast and lunch, some in snacks, and less at dinner.

Antihistamines and our muscles

What do we know about how antihistamines and our muscles? It turns out not much.

What we do know is taking antihistamines appears to reduce muscle soreness.

Sounds good, right? Well, there’s a catch. It appears less soreness come with the side effect of more muscle damage. It seems that the same system that blocks the feeling of soreness may also block the signals to the body that the muscle is damaged and needs to be repaired.

So, in the short term, you gain the advantage of less sore muscles but the tradeoff is more muscle damage in the long term.

As a side note, a few years ago I attempted to take some Claritin when spring allergies were hitting me fairly hard. Within a day or two, the allergy symptoms cleared. However, within a week, my running took a complete dive. I stopped taking the Claritin and was back to normal within a few days. I don’t think the what I felt was due to the effects noted in this study but just beware, if you consider taking antihistamines during allergy season, make sure you give yourself time before any important race to ensure they won’t negatively affect you.

Overstriding and cadence/injury risk

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Because I’m busy watching the Olympics and writing Seattle Marathon training plans this week and because I have a backlog of interesting research I’ve wanted to write about, I’m going to do a recap post this week. There will still be another one on the usual schedule next week.

I have two related topics for this post. Often, people talk about increasing cadence as a method to reduce overstriding. So I have a topic on each. First, what is overstriding? Second, what is the relationship between cadence and injury risk?

What is overstriding?

We all know overstriding is bad, right? We all know what overstriding is, right?

Are you sure?

What if we don’t?

I always looked for a runner’s lower leg angle as a way to spot overstriding. Roughly speaking, if your heel is in front of your knee as your foot comes in contact with the ground, that’s not a good thing. The more your heel is in front of your knee, the worse.

Well, here’s a study that found another method worked better. Essentially, the "favorite" method of the researcher was a measure of the proportion of the overall step that was in front of the center of mass.

That’s hard to measure in the real world, though. Hopefully, more research can be done to find whether other methods are reasonably effective.

Does cadence predict injury?

Another thing we all know, your cadence (or stride rate) affects your injury risk. We hear it all the time. 180 strides per minute is the number universally offered as ideal.

Personally, I hate "universal ideals" as we are all different. The concept of a "universal ideal" instantly has my BS monitor spiking. That said, I have been known to tell people increasing your stride rate might help in some scenarios.

Does it really, though? Two recent studies offer conflicting results.

So what should we make of these studies?

First, we simply don’t know. It’s possible increasing your stride rate does lower your risk of injury. However, it’s not a sure thing.

Second, I’d point out how nobody was talking about a stride rate of 180. Most of the runners involved were in the 160s, even the low 160s. 180 sounds nice but, in the real world, it is much more likely to happen at 5:00 per mile than the paces most of us are running most of the time. If you want to work to increase your stride rate, great, give it a try. However, don’t think you have to aim for some arbitrary number just because some self-proclaimed experts say that’s the "universal ideal".

A couple timely reminders

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

It’s hot out there. Here in Wisconsin, it’s been unseasonably hot for a while now and it’s not letting up yet. To the east, the heat has been settling in and, if what we’ve experienced in Wisconsin is any indication, I’m sorry to report that you might have a while to go.

So what do we do in the heat? Well, the usual things apply. Slow down, drink plenty of fluids, try to run during the early morning or late evening hours. What else should we keep in mind?

Well, for one thing, know what your medications might do to you. This is good advice any time. You should always be aware of the side effects any medication you’re taking, prescription or non-prescription, may have. As the heat bears down on us, remember that certain medications can cause heat sensitivity or exacerbate dehydration.

What’s another thing? Well, a piece of good news. I’m sure we’ve all heard about how dehydration affects our cognitive function. It turns out there may be more to that story than previously reported.

As usual, Alex Hutchinson does a great job explaining where the research is right now. Previous studies on dehydration and cognitive function were not all that well designed and performed. A new study, more well performed, suggested that cognitive function actually improved after dehydrating exercise but returned to normal during recovery and rehydration.

Does this mean that dehydration improves cognitive function? Absolutely not. In fact, some research shows that exercise improves cognitive function. If I were to hazard a guess, that’s where the post-exercise gains came from. However, more important, the results of this study call into question the results of the previous studies and at least suggest that, if there is decline, it may not be as significant as some have wanted us to believe.