Friday, February 22, 2008

How much should you eat?

A reader asked me to comment on how much an athlete should eat. Obviously, it is not possible to recommend an amount that works for every athlete. There are too many variables.

For example, yesterday I saw that Deena Kastor, the American women's marathon record holder, eats about 5,000 calories a day when training hard and about 3,000 when recovering or tapering. She is 5'4" and probably weighs less than 100 pounds so that is a lot of food. But I expect she runs in the neighborhood of 100 miles a week. This is probably about 10-12 hours weekly of training, much of it done at moderate to high intensity (the more intense the workout, the more calories are burned).

On the other hand, I coach a 56-year-old triathlete/road cyclist who weighs in at 156 pounds. He also trains, on average, about 12 hours a week with a significant amount of moderate to high intensity and eats around 2500 calories day, I expect. If he was to eat 5,000, or even 3,000, calories daily he'd soon look like the Michelin tire guy. He basically has to watch how much and what he eats every day, especially in mid-winter when he is trying to get back down to race weight after the holiday season and a break from training.

In terms of how much to eat, I like the Okinawan way of being aware of food intake. I understand that they stop eating when satisfied and about 80% full. We Westerners tend to eat until everything on the plate is gone regardless of how we feel. And the portions we consume, especially in restaurants, are huge. If weight control is an issue for you as it is for many of my client-athletes, following the Okinawan example would help a lot. You don't need to "clean your plate." Stop eating when no longer hungry.

But it isn't simply how much you eat, but also what you eat. My pet peeve with athletes is that they eat way too much starch. Starchy foods such as rice, bagels, bread, cereal and corn are the staples in many athletes' diets. Such foods are great for recovery. Eating them in the meal following a long and/or intense workout is a great way to restock your glycogen stores in preparation for the next workout. But contiuing to eat such foods as a significant source of calories outside of the narrow recovery window is a sure way to pack on excess poundage. And to make matters worse, most starches are very low in micronutrients (for example, vitamins and minerals)compared with vegetables. Once beyond the recovery window, micronutrient intake is the key to becoming more fit and healthy.

And to make matters worse, eating a high starch diet upsets the body's acid-base balance which ultimately results in the loss of bone calcium and muscle nitrogen. The only exceptions are potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes which raise body fluid pH levels and help to maintain bone density and muscle mass. This is what makes these particular starches the best possible recovery foods. All other starchy foods (along with dairy, legumes, meats, fish, nuts and eggs) have a tendency to increase acidity forcing the body to react to maintain pH balance by pulling calcium out of the bones and nitrogen out of the muscles (Remer and Manz 1995). Only fruits and vegetables have a net alkaline (acid-lowering) effect on the body's pH level. There is a great deal more that could be discussed on this topic and perhaps I will in a future post. I'd strongly recommend that you read Dr. Loren Cordain's and my book, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, for more details on this important topic and more.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Negative Splits

One of the hardest things to teach athletes who do steady state events such as triathlons, bike time trials and road running races is negative splitting the course. In other words, the second half should be slightly faster than the first half. Last week I spoke at the Serotta International Cycling Institute (SICI), in part, on this topic. The following are points I made in the talk.

The 51-49 principle
* Generally, the first half of a 10-minute or longer time trial should be completed in 51% of total finish time (Foster 1993, Robinson 1958)
* In road running nearly all world records have been set with the first half run slightly slower than second half (50.5 – 49.5)

Reasons behind the 51-49 principle
* Go out too slowly and you never ‘catch up’
* Go out too fast and acidosis increases rapidly (acidosis is inevitable for steady-state events lasting less than ~60-75 minutes)
* It’s easier to tolerate high acidosis for short periods than long
* It’s easier to tolerate high acidosis at the end rather than the beginning

Why don’t riders follow the 51-49 principle?
* They lack confidence that they can finish strongly
* They have a misguided belief that time ‘gained’ early in the race is greater than that gained late in race
* They have the best of intentions but lack self-control

Accompanying are two examples of steady state rides by the same athlete. In the negative splits example he split the course 50.1-49.9. Nearly perfect. In the positive split example he went 47.4-52.6. In both races the courses were not substantially different in terms of grade changes in the first versus the second halves. If you look on the left side of both charts you will see his “VI” (Variability Index) for the negative split was 1.08 and for the positive split it was 1.15. The lower this number is the more steadily the athlete rode and generally the less energy that was wasted due to frequent accelerations. This, again, lends credence to the adage of negative splitting the course.

While for longer steady state events it is almost a certainty that you will race better by holding back a bit at the start, it is a rare athlete who actually does it. I find this is the most difficult skill there is to teach the athletes I coach and yet the most basic to their success. We work on it frequently in training. But training doesn’t have the same emotional baggage that racing has. The key to negative splitting successfully in a race is to mentally prepare yourself to hold back initially. This can be very difficult to do if you are in a duathlon or running race and scores of people are passing you for the first mile. It takes great discipline to hold back, but realize that all of them will come back to you later. Failure to get this basic skill right generally means the athlete will seldom achieve their potential in such events.
Thanks to Arnie Baker for contributing thoughts to this post from his excellent book, Smart Cycling.

Monday, February 4, 2008

More on Active Spokes

In my post on Active Spokes below I mentioned that my son, Dirk, was the lab rat for the field tests that were done to see what the effect of the device was in the real world (roll down tests were also done). Dirk completed two runs within a workout once or twice each week on a standard, rolling, 4.3-mile course in Boulder, CO. He would warm-up riding to the start position and then ride the course holding about 330 watts. At the completion of the first run he'd go home--a short distance from the course--and change to another wheel. In one run he would use the Active Spoke technology and in the other he would use the same type of wheel only without the Active Spoke. On some runs the Active Spoke wheel would be run first and on other it would be second. There is a weather station next to the course. Dr. Joe Voelkel from the Rochester Institute of Technology who set up the protocol and monitored the testing, checked the online wind reports from that station in order to better understand the external variables affecting the results. This testing went on throughout the summer of 2007.

The accompanying chart is from one of those tests. In run #1 the standard wheel (without Active Spoke) was used. The Active Spoke wheel was used in run #2. There were 24 minutes between the runs. These two runs are highlighted in black. Notice that in run #1 he averaged 334w and his time for the run was 9 minutes, 35 seconds. In run #2 with the Active Spoke he averaged 327w but was 48 seconds faster (8% improvement).

To check what he was seeing in the tests Dirk did one of the Wednesday night, 10-mile time trials (same course) with the Active Spoke and posted his fastest time ever, the fifth fastest of the summer's series results. He used a road bike with clip ons and had a 53 big chain ring (the other fast rides were done on aero bikes with 56s). At age 37 he is far from being one of the youngest guys in the Boulder race. He is thoroughly convinced of the benefits. (Go here to see the results from that race.)

Here's what he had to say about the race: 'When I crested a hill and started to accelerate, the weights transferred to the rim aiding the acceleration. I would actually feel the weights hit the rim and in some cases it meant I could shift to a bigger gear. It literally is like a small turbo booster.'

This field study will continue as soon as the weather in Boulder breaks. For more details go to

Friday, February 1, 2008


I've been curious about yoga for endurance athletes for a long time. Several of my athltes have tried it with good results as far as their range of motion goes. Others have liked it for the meditative state which they believed enhanced recovery. So I asked Sage Rountree, the author of The Athlete's Guide to Yoga, to write a guest post for my blog. Her comments follow. I'm curious as to what others have experienced with yoga. Please feel free to add your personal experiences under 'comments'. -- Joe

Why Do Yoga?
By Sage Rountree

In a training week already chock full of wor
kouts and other commitments, it can be tough to see the benefit of adding yoga to the mix. Wouldn’t that time be better spent on the road, trails, track, or in the pool? Not necessarily—especially if you have limited flexibility that impairs your range of motion. Yoga can certainly improve your flexibility, but it will also enhance your training by increasing your strength, your mental focus, and your mind-body awareness. In addition, yoga gives you an opportunity for recovery between workouts.

Strength: Yoga uses whole-body movements to increase your functional strength, making you stronger organically. This serves as a good complement to the work you do on the weight-room floor. Be sure to schedule your class or longer home practice on a day when you are not lifting.

Flexibility: Yoga’s stretches, practiced mindfully and noncompetitively, will increase your flexibility and help correct imbalances in the body. This improves your efficiency and can help prevent overuse injuries.

Focus: Yoga teaches you to focus your attention on the present moment, using form and breath to stay relaxed at the edge of intensity. It’s an experience very similar to being in a race: you come up to just below the limit of what you expect you can sustain, and keeping your attention on form and breath, you hold yourself there.

Breath awareness: Yoga emphasizes long, slow, diaphragmatic nasal breathing, which teaches you to use oxygen efficiently. The more you know about your breath and its patterns, the more you can use it as a tool to gauge your effort. Breath awareness also improves your swimming by helping you grow more comfortable with different inhalation to exhalation ratios.

Recovery: A dedicated yoga practice gives you a chance to relax. On the mat, you’ll tune out the distractions of your day and tune in only your breath and your body, focusing just on the moment. Some yoga positions, like the one described below, can actually speed up the recovery process.

A Pose to Try
Viparita karani, or legs-up-the-wall pose, is a great pose for practice after a long workout or on a rest day. You’ll give your legs a chance to recover while resting your back and, depending on your flexibility, stretching your hamstrings.

Sitting on a soft surface (a mat, a blanket, a carpet), scoot one hip as close to the wall as you can, then swing both legs up so that you are “sitting” on the wall. If your legs don’t want to stay put, you can strap them together with a yoga strap or a necktie, or slide your seat away from the wall a little without locking your knees. Hold your spine neutral and choose a comfortable position for your arms: in an inverted V by your hips, out to a T, bent to a W, or in a full V overhead. This will give you a chest stretch as you rest here. Stay for at least three minutes and up to ten or more, breathing slowly and deeply. If you find your mind wandering, bring your awareness back to the sensations in your body—they should remain pleasant—and to the motion of your breath. To come out, turn to your right side and rest a few breaths in a fetal position before moving on.

Finding a Class
Many athletes are turned off of yoga because they drop in on a class that’s either far too easy or way too hard. You’ll want to find a class appropriate for where you are in the training cycle. In the off-season and base period, a more dynamic class (Ashtanga, power, and vinyasa yoga) is appropriate. As you build, stick to gentler classes that focus on flexibility. Your racing season is a good time to work on restorative and very gentle yoga classes, and these make a good introduction to yoga throughout the year.

Look on and to find a local studio or teacher. If you don’t connect with the first teacher you meet, visit other classes—there is a wide spectrum of styles out there, and with a little searching, you’ll find a good match.

For More
To learn more about how yoga will enhance your training and racing, see my book, The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, just released by Velo Press. It contains a DVD to guide you through 15 minutes of yoga practice. (A full-length DVD will be released by Endurance Films this spring.) I blog about yoga and training at You can follow my podcast of short post-workout routines and check out my upcoming workshops, including one in New York City on February 9, at