Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Endorphins ?

Sometimes referred to as a "runners high" there is a general feeling of bliss that can occur during any long intense cardiovascular training session. Personally when entering this state, my riding becomes very even or smooth.  Everything has a natural rhythm to it, the sound of the wind running past my ears...even the trees and hills around me seem to flow together. It's kind of a meditative state with a high heart rate. At this moment, more than any other, you feel alive. This "state" is not something that just occurs to the beginning athlete or exerciser, it may take weeks or months, but eventually you start to have different experiences. Eventually you go places the untrained will never reach.

For the majority of the last two decades, scientists have struggled with defining the chemical reaction associated with the runner’s high. It was largely believed that the sensation was caused by endorphins, natural opiates in the body that are produced after trauma such as running for long periods of time. Just one problem – endorphins are too large to pass through the blood-brain barrier, making it impossible for this chemical reaction to be the sole cause. But in early 2004, Dr. Daniele Piomelli (UC Irvine) and Dr. Arne Deitrich (University of Beirut and Georgia Institute of Technology, also a marathoner) found another possibility – anandamide, a natural chemical that stimulates the brain in the same way marijuana does. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that can reduce feelings of pain, dilate blood vessels and bronchial tubes and induce tranquility. The Georgia Tech researchers believe that the ednocannabinoid system reacts to stress and pain experienced by the body during prolonged exercise. This could have been an evolutionary development, a method of keeping the body going when injured or overworked.

Piomelli and Deitrich, looking for the runner’s high connection, performed a study in early 2004 with two dozen college students who ran or bicycled for 40 minutes at 76 percent of their max heart rate, and then had blood samples drawn immediately after exercising. The results showed that both the runners and bicyclists had 80% more anandamide in their blood after exercising.

Whether we realize it or not we are training more than just our bodies.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Energy Gels and Sugar

There always seems to be some confusion regarding the types of sugars in energy gels. Here is an overview of the sugars most commonly used in the most popular gels.  Maltodextrin is the most easily digested form of carbohydrate, 36% faster than glucose, making it ideal in a gel. More importantly, Maltodextrin requires far less water to be isotonic than glucose or fructose. The flavor is mild even at high concentrations.

Fructose is useful as it is absorbed via different pathways increasing the total carbohydrate absorption above what is possible with Maltodextrin alone. Fructose must be converted into glucose by the liver before it can be used as a fuel by the body. As a result, when fructose is consumed it is a “slower release” carbohydrate. Consuming a gel with both Maltodextrin and Fructose is what I have found works best for me giving your body 2 different pathways of sugar. Some athletes do have an issue digesting Fructose. Fructose malabsorption is an increasingly recognized condition where the person has an inability to absorb fructose from the small intestine into the blood. The fructose passes through to the large intestine, where naturally occurring bacteria digest the fructose and produce gas. People with fructose malabsorption experience abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas if they eat large quantities of fructose. If you have an issue or think you might have an issue with Fructose, Hammer Gel is noteworthy as one of the easiest to digest gels. It is nearly all Maltodextrin dissolved in a greater volume of fluid than other gels. The low level of sugars and electrolytes makes this far easier on the digestive system, and is recommended for athletes who have issues with other types of gel. I do prefer the taste of Hammer gels myself.

The gel I do prefer most of the time is GU gels.  It contains 5g of Fructose, with the rest of the calories coming from the easily digested Maltodextrin. I just seems to give me the best "kick", though the taste is sometimes a little strong or excessively sweet. Fructose is 1.7x as sweet as sugar.

Some gels do contain caffeine which is great for improving performance and speeding the absorption of Carbohydrates. With my love affair with caffeine I normally choose gels that contain as least a little.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Racing and focus

For years while competing in sports I've always shied away from endurance sports mainly because of my bodies predominantly higher content of fast twitch muscle fiber, which have given me a knack for strength in speed. Though, at the time I didn't realize this it's probably why I've always excelled in most stick and ball sports ex: Football, Baseball or anything that required a fast sprint, agility, or strength. Generally these are all attributes of fast twitch muscle fiber or strength fiber as opposed to slow twitch fiber which most endurance athletes possess at a higher level. However, sometimes in life things take a different path or a seed is planted inside of us which elicits a change in our perspective. Cycling has become a major icon of my life in the past 10 years, that is road cycling. Love it, always will.  But lately getting my feet wet in mountain bike racing is something’s that's really caught my interest. That's right endurance sports. My experience with mountain biking only began a few years ago so my overall technical skills are still being honed. Why race?  Racing makes you a better rider. You can improve your riding skills more in a single race than in months of casual training. Why? A race focuses your mind and floods your neural system with adrenaline. When our brain is exposed to high levels of adrenaline during a time when we need to focus the brain adapts to skills much more efficiently. The race environment makes your brain pay attention, it force feeds your system and you find you’re doing things you didn't think you could. Plus knowing a race is coming up you'll have a tendency to eat and train better. This all brings me to last weekend’s race, the SOS challenge in Stewart forest near Stewart airport in NY State. It's part of the NYS mountain bike series and I can't say enough good about their organization. It's top notch in every way. This would only be my second race and I went to get some experience in on a fast course. Fast course it was as well as a slick mud fest due to the heavy rain during the race, but still a blast. The forest seems to contain a lot of Shale rock which gives surprisingly good traction when wet as opposed to the rock content in Connecticut. After getting lost pre riding the course with 2 other riders and putting about 11 - 12 miles extra on our legs we arrived back with about 20 minutes to spare before the start. I felt pretty good during the race and with more experience this is the kind of course that should suit me. Unfortunately, I dropped my chain no less than four times which ensures a little frustration. I knew something was bent or twisted because the shifting was erratic and the occasional ghost shifting can really break your rhythm but hey so what it was still fun. I just left the chain in the small front ring a rode the best I could. I was doing 2 laps but decided to bite the bullet and pull off at the end of the first, truly a hard thing to do but it was frustrating with the mechanical issue. I wasn't the only one with mechanical issues as I saw a few "walkers" on the way. Some guy parked next to me lost both his front and back brakes halfway thru the first lap. When I looked at his bike sure enough no brakes. Kind of gets your attention on a fast course. When I arrived home and dug through the mud on the drivetrain I found the rear derailleur damaged, the hanger bent and the pulley guide damaged. Hey just serve up new X-9 rear derailleur. All in all an excellent experience.

A popular spot after the race.

Rear Derailleur took a hit and bent the hanger

Start finish SOS challenge