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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dihydrogen Monoxide - the molecule you can't live without

Doesn't it make me sound smarter to call it Dihydrogen Monoxide. What I mean is H2O. . . WATER!! Drink some! (on a side note, don't believe everything you read on the internet! Click here to see what I'm talking about and have a little chuckle at the people who blindly believe everything!)

Everyone knows hydration is extremely important, and as the heat index around the country pushes 100, hydration is basically all I can think about. The weather man says to stay inside, but the training must go on, so what should you do?

First of all, how much water should a normal person drink in a day? According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA) the human body is 50 - 75% water, and a person can lose about 2 1/2 liters a day. However, you aren't a normal person! Hot weather or heavy exercise can cause 1 - 2 liters of fluid loss every hour - imagine exercising IN hot weather. The problem with water loss at this level is that it can happen before you start to feel thirsty, so it is up to you to keep up with it.

But how much fluid do you need? According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) you need to be taking in fluids the whole time leading up to an event - or a workout - and 2 to 3 hrs before you need to drink 2 to 3 cups of water. That's easy, 2 to 3, 2 to 3 beforehand! Then during exercise you should continue to drink 6 to 12 oz every 15 to 20 min. How can we make that easy? I suggest carrying a measuring cup with you on every run. . . Kidding! Actually, you can swallow about one ounce at a time - give or take - so every 15 to 20 minutes you need to stop at a drinking fountain and take at least 6 swallows of water, even if you aren't thirsty. Something worth looking into though is carrying a water bottle with you - not kidding this time -and, there are a lot of options. Different companies like Nathan, Fuel Belt, and Amphipod (as well as others) make products that make carrying water easy. There are hand-held bottles with straps so your hands don't get tired (this is what I use) and also belts that have bottles for water and pouches for other nutrition products. Water will keep you hydrated for up to an hour of exercise, but don't forget to drink after your workout too!

WAIT! You're training for a marathon? And you can't get your Sunday 20 miler done in less than an hour? Don't worry, the ACSM has some recommendations for you too! After an hour, liver and muscle glycogen stores become depleted. Have you heard of the term "hitting the wall?" This is it! What you need is a drink that has 4 to 8 percent carbohydrate - sugar - and also added electrolytes - mainly sodium. This is easy to get in a drink like Powerade or Gatorade, or by drinking water, eating fruit - like an orange or banana - and some pretzels - with salt on the outside. (On that note, don't forget that a lot of the food you eat every day contains water, especially fruits and vegetables - which I know you are all eating anyway!)

Why do these drinks need to contain salt? Actually, there are two real reasons for this. One is that salt continues to make you thirsty, promoting intake of fluids when you may not normally feel like drinking. The other is that water alone can cause abnormally low levels of blood sodium, otherwise known as acute hyponatremia (acute = severe and rapid onset. hypo = not enough. natr = sodium. emia = blood. . . so rapid onset of not enough sodium in your blood.) Your cells need a balance of sodium and potassium, but when you sweat you lose sodium at a higher level, and it needs to be replaced. This condition can be life threatening, mainly because it is often misdiagnosed and mistreated, so be careful!

It might be helpful for you to know the symptoms of dehydration as well as hyponatremia, so I included them here (from


  • increased heart rate
  • increased respiration / trouble breathing
  • decreased sweating
  • muscle cramps or weakness
  • nausea / vomiting
  • confusion
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • lethargy
  • loss of consciousness


  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps
  • Seizures
  • Decreased consciousness or coma

  • As you can see the symptoms of hyponatremia closely resemble those of dehydration, so when in doubt you need to take in a drink with electrolytes. Those drinks won't hurt you if you are dehydrated, but downing a lot of water can be a problem if you are experiencing hyponatremia. And if you think you are experiencing either one of these in the extreme, you should go to a doctor for help. Don't let this scare you away from running in the heat though! Now that you are informed you can get your workout in and still feel good the rest of the day, and the next day for your next workout - which we all know is the most important thing!

    Happy running!!

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    wake up! my thoughts on caffeine and training

    If you're like me you might not be able to get going in the morning without a caffeine boost - actually it's almost 12:30 and I'm still working on my iced mocha! But what about the bad rep that caffeine has been getting lately? Not only has it become known as a diuretic (which can dehydrate you - YIKES!), but it is an NCAA banned substance, so should you skip your morning pick-up? And if so, what should you do to survive?!

    The truth is that there are no 100% conclusive studies relating caffeine and athletic performance. But to be quite honest, I got through the training for my first marathon with a lot of luck and about a hundred pots of coffee. You should know, however, that I was running around 5am and then going to a full day of class, then coaching, and then studying - and don't forget having a social life. So did caffeine improve my performance? For me, I think it is the only way I could get myself out the door for that early morning run, with another cup of coffee to get me to Biochem by 8am. That was something I learned about myself. To me, it is important to experiment. I would NEVER recommend drinking coffee for the first time before the race you've been training for. . . you need to slowly integrate it into your training routine. And, don't forget to experiment with amount of time you take in caffeine before you leave for your run.

    As for the worry about caffeine being an NCAA banned substance - well it isn't really a worry at all. For an athlete to get in trouble for caffeine, the concentration in the urine would need to exceed 15 micrograms/ml - that's been estimated at over 10 - 12 cups of coffee in about an hour. So steer clear of that and we'll be okay.

    So what about increased energy? This is very important: ENERGY COMES FROM CALORIES! When your body does work it burns calories - starting with carbs, moving to fat, and then in rare cases hitting on protein (this is a worst case scenario - you DON'T want to burn your body's protein!). Caffeine has no calories. Caffeine can, however, make you feel more alert by speeding up your heart and respiration and some other of your body's functions. Also, many substances containing caffeine also contain calories. In fact many popular 'running nutrition' products have started including caffeine. One example is GU - Roctane energy gel contains 35 mg of caffeine per serving, regular GU has 20 mg per serving, and GU chomps has 23 mg per serving. Compare this to other products containing caffeine:

    • coffee - 90 - 100 mg per cup
    • tea - 30 - 70 mg
    • soda - 30 - 45 mg
    • chocolate bar - 30 mg

    And GU isn't your only sports specific option either - There are TONS of products on the market including PowerBar, Cliff Bar, Accel Gel and so many more. That gives you a great chance to experiment with different flavors, textures, and amounts of caffeine!

    So, have you made a decision? To ingest caffeine or to not ingest caffeine, that is the question. . . Notice that I haven't given you a real answer - You really need to test this on your own. But I won't leave you hanging! Remember when I told you that there are a lot of studies about caffeine, but none have been 100% conclusive? Well I compiled a short list of pros and cons that different researchers have come up with dealing specifically with caffeine.


    • Caffeine may increase adrenaline production - either for a short time (to get you out the door in the morning or ready to race) or a prolonged amount of time (to keep you going mile after mile)
    • caffeine may have been shown to stimulate the Central Nervous System - which goes along with increased adrenaline production - this is where that fight or flight response comes into play. When the CNS is stimulated you may feel like you have more energy.
    • Caffeine has been shown in some studies to diminish pain - one researcher found that caffeine actually increases serotonin production in the brain, which is something your body releases when you feel happy.
    • Caffeine may spare glycogen - glycogen is the storage form of the carbs that your body burns, but your body burns fat more efficiently when the effort put forth is of a longer duration. What this means for you is that normally at mile 16 of a marathon your body is out of glycogen and is burning fat. Some researchers, however, have found that caffeine can cause your body to break into the fat stores earlier, saving glycogen for the end of the race when you will need some energy bursts.
    • Caffeine has been shown to increase your VO2 max - this is a fancier way of saying that athletes have reported being able to exercise for a longer period of time before exhaustion or excessive pain sets in.


    • Caffeine does not last forever in your body - it may make you feel more alert with more energy at the start of a workout, but once that feel-good feeling wears off you may feel sluggish or experience a 'crash' (or the worst thing that can happen to a long distance runner - you could 'hit the wall' GHASP!!)
    • caffeine has not been shown to improve performance in short-burst type exercise - like sprinting or short distance swimming.
    • caffeine can speed up some of your bodily functions - this is why we always test things before race day. Plan on a potty stop if you are unsure - remember your body feels different while running anyway, if you add anything to your running routine (even if you drink coffee every morning anyway) you should plan for the worst just in case! Mostly beware that you may feel more dehydrated or you may feel some GI distress.
    • some studies have not shown caffeine to increase your VO2 max - keep in mind that pain is very subjective and can be influenced by many different factors. In some studies the placebo had the same effect as the caffeine pills.
    • caffeine can effect every person differently - some will feel jittery while their running partners feel a positive energy boost. Just remember to try different forms of caffeine if you want to experiment!

    Good luck and Happy running!

    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    my new blog - up and running

    Now that I am finally settling into my new job at The Runners Flat (, and a new home town of Cedar Falls, IA, I decided it's time to get my blog going!

    Why nutrition, you ask? Well I just graduated with a B.S. in Food, Nutrition, and Dietetics from Illinois State University (go Redbirds!) - But mostly, I love food. And why "up and running"? I've been running for as long as I can remember! I started with 5Ks, then competed on my Jr. high and High School cross country and track teams, and eventually competed at a collegiate level at Elmhurst college for one year and Illinois State for 2 years. When my college running career was over I began coaching, which is really what I love. Last year I was part of a coaching staff that brought a central Illinois catholic high school cross country team to state where the ladies placed 7th overall and one very special lady ran her way to her 2nd cross country championship title. As well as coaching, I have recently discovered a love of marathon running! I've completed 2 marathons (Quad Cities last September and Boston last April), and I'm planning on another soon. Actually I love the marathon training more than the actual marathon, but that's another story for another time!

    So this blog is not aimed at elite level athletes (although if any of you are reading this I would love to know what you think. . . a girl can dream, can't she?) I think nutrition plays a big role at every level of athleticism. In fact if you weren't born as an elite performer, you need all the edge you can get - I should know! And nutrition isn't all about running faster or jumping higher, it's about feeling your best.

    So let's see how this goes. . .