Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Cyclocross is something that I may never try, but I will always admire it and the crazy hardmen who do it.

...I couldn't help but include this one too since it's from my homeland. I even recognize some of the riders.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Be Thankful

So much of exercise and fitness is about moving forward, getting better, improving on what you have and leaving the old obsolete version of you behind. But if that was the only message that I ever offered you here it would be incomplete.

When I write, I am very progress minded, and this is a lot of what fitness is about. Improving so that you get faster, stronger etc. However, there comes a point where you need to reflect on what you have gained and where you are. If you don't it will only lead to discontentment.

Today is Thanksgiving, so what better time to take pause and be thankful for whatever you have to be thankful for in life and in the theme of this blog here are a few things that I am thankful for...

...a healthy body to run, bike, swim, yoga (I don't know if I can use that as a verb), jump, row, and just plain play.

...my lovely wife who supports my crazy endeavors and family who backs me up.

...the privilege of being in medical school where I can learn all about the human body and how it works.

...friends and riding partners who like to do some of the same crazy stuff that I do

...A beautiful world to explore in so many different ways

...A safe place to live and sometimes to rest and recover when I need to

...Good food to eat and fuel my adventures

...A trusty steed to take me wherever my little heart desires

God has blessed me with all of these things and it just wouldn't make sense not to be grateful for them. I hope you take the time to stop and reflect on the good things in your life from time to time and not just when we have a holiday designed for it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Functional Fitness

In the continued spirit of the cross training season, I'd like to remind you about the concept of "functional fitness." It sounds nice, but what is it? It's the kind of fitness that says sure I can run a mile to catch that train. Or if you want I could dig post holes and build a fence. Or maybe you'd like me to pull things out of the attic? Then again the yard needs to be raked and it would be nice to be able to pick up my nephews without hurting my back.

Oh yeah, those important kinds of things. Don't forget, fitness isn't really doing you a lot of good if it's not doing you a lot of good. (yeah, wrap your head around that...)

There are plenty health benefits to being fit: lower chances of coronary artery disease, improved mood, fewer chronic aches and pains. But those things are all future types of things and after a recent discussion on public health--and general observation of the world's obsession with instant gratification--we know that most people are less concerned about the future than they are about the here and now. So let's talk here and now.

My brother got into weight lifting a little bit in high school and was enjoying his new strength and muscles. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But then one day when he was just being lazy around the house my mom asked "So what are those [muscles] good for?" Ooooo....Point goes to Mom.

She has a good point though. I used to work at a health club teaching swimming lessons and would often see members come in who looked like they were way too clean to be working out and who spent most of their time building big muscles and toned bods just for the looks. But what are they good for? Put them to use!

Try things that give you functional fitness so that you can take advantage of being fit by doing everday real life types of things. Yoga workouts are great for building your core strength and helping prevent back injuries. Circuit workouts use your whole body, muscles and cardiovascular system. So does rowing! Kettlebells are great for stabilizing joints because they use multiple muscle groups instead of just isolating the good looking ones and are good at stimulating the muscles you use for picking things up (like the garbage). And you can still enjoy the other good looking benefits of the changes your body will make as it adapts to the stress you put yourself under.

The bottom line really is this: all that hard work you do ought be useful to you. Don't you think so? Staying fit and trim is functional because it prevents injury and helps you do everyday life types of things without stressing you out so much that you need a nap. When you take care of yourself it's not that big of a deal when you have to lift your luggage (and all your other family members) or carry it up the stairs, a walk in the park becomes a walk in the park instead of an exhausting amount of exertion and, who knows, your next landscaping job might be something you decide not to hire out. I have to say that these sorts of things all sound fantastic to me, and 100% worth it.

The next time you're working out, ask yourself "What is this good for?" The answer may be to win your next race, it might be to fit into smaller pants, it could even be because you want to be able to be able to keep up with your grandkids someday. Whatever your reason is, just make sure you have one. It will make your training all the more worthwhile and maybe even a little more FUNctional. (oof. That was bad wasn't it?)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hey Cow

With my recent move to America's Dairyland I have pedaled past my fair share of cows while they enjoy their daily meal. Man, I'm glad I'm not a cow. However, I don't miss the opportunity that presents itself while I am rolling past. Instead I insist on playing "Hey Cow!" It's a fairly simple game really. You yell at the cows and if they look at you, you get a point for every cow that looks. It's somewhat mindless, but ridiculously amusing and far more difficult than you would imagine. My score is rarely in the double digits, even after being on the road for 30+ miles. If there are enough cows you can melt miles off a long ride with this brainless entertainment.

It's just one of those things that can't quite be understood until you give it a try.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

MapMyRide.com - Regular Run: Quick Run on 11/18/2010

I discovered I can share my workouts from MapMyRide. I'm just giving it a try to see what happens when I do that. It may or may not be worth doing again.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Those must have been some Ripped slaves

You know all those movies where the ships roll in with the galley full of slaves rowing away. Now I know why they always made the slaves do the rowing. It's really stinkin' hard!

With the advent of cross training season I'm moving indoors to try some alternate training that will help keep my cardio fitness up and give me enough variety to keep going even when I'm stuck inside not going anywhere. Thus, I have turned to rowing. Rowing is not for the faint of heart. It's a total body workout from your shoulders to your toes. Just make sure you do it right so that you stay injury free.

There are lots of good tutorials that you can find on Youtube. Anything from an actual rowing coach walking you through the motions, to stick figures and animations. The thing that I like best about rowing is it will keep my legs in shape, but help build some of my core and upper body at the same time--areas that tend to be neglected when training for cycling, but are needed if I want to stay useful for everyday life types of tasks.

If you want to try rowing, I recommend you watch one of the instructional youtube videos so that you don't incur any injuries and send yourself backwards instead of forwards. Start slow and then build up and reap the benefits.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Careful Cross Training

It's getting to be that time of year again. Cross training base fitness time. This can be either the most liberating time of the year for a cyclist with a structured training plan if you use it carefully. Or else it can wind up being just wasted time if you don't care to use it appropriately.

Let me explain what I mean.

As an amateur racer in the midwest, the summer months are race time. It's a fairly short season compared to professionals and those in warmer climates, so it means that we have a lot longer off-season since we're not getting paid to ride. For lots of people that off season is their undoing. They stop riding and so they stop doing much of anything. However, the best part of an off-season that long is that you get some time to just play. The first couple months after a full cycling season should be used to rest and then just enjoy being active anyway that you want to. Play soccer, go running, try something new like curling or polo. Okay, maybe that's a little extreme, but you get the gist.

After that, though, comes a good stretch during which you have the opportunity for solid base training before the next Spring. I generally consider mid November until January a good time to start some nonspecific base training and strength building. This means using your exercise time to maintain general aerobic fitness and do some muscle building as well. The best part is that if you get a little interrupted (for instance with Thanksgiving and Christmas in there) it's not the end of the world. You're workouts don't have to be killer long either because they are maintenance workouts. Maintenance workouts are typically most beneficial when they are a little bit shorter and a little more intense. The long workouts come in springtime when you are trying to increase your aerobic capacity and get ready for early season riding again.

It's generally accepted that fewer high intensity workouts compared to longer low intensity workouts more often will help you hold onto your fitness a little bit longer. Regardless, I don't expect to feel as fit as I was in July when I get to January. For that I'll need to rebuild again during the spring. It's frustrating that your fitness cycles from high to low through the year, but don't despair. That's normal. The cool thing is that each year that you increase your fitness the following low is a little higher than it was before and you can build a little higher than your previous height of fitness. That's why you hear of cyclists, runners, triathletes etc peaking in the careers during their 30's, because they've had several years to build fitness.

You're fitness, then, might look something like this over the years:
Each peak and trough here is roughly a year's cycle of fitness. This is by no means scientific, just qualitative.

Cool, eh? So get out there and make the most of the off season...and if all year is your off season, maybe it's time to make some goals for next season.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Carbohydrates are not evil

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy that your body needs. That's right needs. Without carbs your body generally doesn't get enough high quality energy for your daily activities. Eating only protein leaves your body to starve in between meals (and especially overnight) because you cannot store protein and eating only fat in place of carbohydrate leads to LOTS of other problems.

If you want to do any kind of physical activity, carbohydrates are a necessity. They directly feed your muscle glycogen stores which are the primary source of energy for your muscles. Also, carbohydrates are the main way that your body feeds your brain the glucose that it needs. So fruits and veggies really are brain foods.

So why do carbohydrates get such a bad wrap? Mostly because our society has become so sedentary. It is easy to eat a lot of carbohydrates without even thinking about it, and when you eat too much at one time you wind up storing it as fat because you have more than you need for the time being. Also, diets like Atkins and South Beach have said "no carbohydrates = weight loss." Most people can't see through that to see that "no carbohydrates = water weight loss." When you have carbohydrates stored in your body you are also storing a significant amount of water with them, but when you cut out carbohydrate for long enough you also lose a lot of water resulting in a chronically dehydrated and lighter body. I think we can all agree that being well hydrated is a good thing, so if you are really wanting to be fit and healthy, cutting carbs out is not a sensible option (although cutting back may not be a bad idea).
Furthermore, your body knows what it needs, so the next time a carbohydrate deficient body gets any carbohydrates it latches on to them to store for later because it has been starving for carb. It may result in dropping some weight, but initially that weight is water weight and in the long term a significant amount of the weight that is lost is muscle. Additionally, the first carbohydrates it gets after starving for days weeks or months get stored right away and sometimes as fat. I don't know about you, but I'm most interested in losing fat, not storing it up to lose water or muscle.

Carbohydrates come in all sorts of different foods. Whole unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables and grains are the best sources because they include other important vitamins and minerals with them, but there's nothing wrong with satisfying your sweet tooth from time to time with a chocolate bar. Whenever possible it's important to include some fiber or protein with carbs because carbohydrates do not trigger your "satiety switch" quite the same way as other nutrients. Satiety has to do with feeling full and satisfied and it takes longer for your body to realize this with carbohydrate than it does with fat or protein. Including enough fiber and staying well hydrated can help too.

The bottom line, carbohydrates are an essential part of your daily diet (and the FDA generally recommends that you get around 50-60% of your daily caloric intake from carbs). Not only that, but if you have even the slightest desire to live an active lifestyle you are going to need carbohydrates to fuel your fun.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Portion size, why it is that a super-sized portion means a super-sized you.

Everyone has heard about the movie "Super Size Me" by now and has seen how a sustained period of terrible eating can do terrible things to your body. The protagonist in the documentary was up against a lot more than just lots of calories, but that was the primary contributor to his 24.5 lb weight gain over the 30 days of his experiment. He was a 6'2" guy who weighed 185 lbs to start. During the 30 days of his experiement he ate around 5000 calories a day. His BMR based on those figures is right around 2000 calories/day, which means that he was eating in excess of 2500+ calories/day assuming that he was minimally active (which was another constraint of his experiment).

So what?

Before we answer the "so what?" let's start by laying some baseline information. Calories are a measurement of energy. Calorie with a capital "C" is actually a kilocalorie, but we use Calories to talk about food because measuring in calories like physicists would give us giganticer numbers than we want to deal with. Your body needs a certain number of calories per day which it gets from food. Food is your fuel. There are three main pathways that those fuels take when you eat them. They get used for 1)energy now, 2)they get stored as energy specifically for muscle in glycogen or 3) they get stored away as fat.

Now let's answer the "so what?" question.

If I only need around 2000 calories per day to do everything that my body needs to do what does it do with the extra? It stores it! Let me introduce you to your friend, the liver. The liver organizes most all of this fuel. It's first job is to maintain your blood sugar. If you don't have enough glucose in your blood the liver will move glucose into your blood. If you have too much glucose in your blood, the liver will take it out and send it where it can be stored. Pretty handy organ to have, eh? The liver also does a lot to direct the storage of extra fuel as both glycogen and fat. But here's the deal, you're body can only store so much glycogen before it's full. Fat cells on the other hand just keep getting bigger and bigger the more you stuff in them. It's not such a bad system when you don't know when your next meal will be, but living a developed nation we can usually count on eating every day. Which means that if you don't want to store food as fat you need to control your caloric intake.

There are two really important ways to do this. First, keeping an eye on your daily caloric intake vs. output. If you are using 2600 calories a day and eating 3000 you are going to have 400 extra calories a day that the body wants to hang on to, which means more fat. This explains the well known idea that if calories in > calories out you will gain weight.

Let's get more specific though and talk about how much you eat at one time. Would you believe me if I told you that eating 5 times a day is better for your body composition than eating 3 times a day? What if I explained that you would be eating the same number of calories, but in smaller portions spread throughout the day? Think about the liver's priorities..1)blood sugar, 2) glycogen, 3) fat. All right, so now imagine you ate 2500 calories in 5 portions. That means that you would eat around 500 calories each time you ate. Not too bad. That's a big PB&J sandwich. But it also means that your portions are small enough that you are primarily addressing liver priorities #1 and #2. Once the food is used to balance your blood sugar and fill up your glycogen tank there may not be any left for your fat stores. Now that's pretty cool!

Try it and see how it works for you. The worst part is the inconvenience of eating outside of the normal Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner window. However, eating small portions several times a day, will help your body to store less fat and use more of the energy it is consuming when it enters the body.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's nice to know there are somethings nobody knows

One of the coolest things about taking classes like Biochemistry or Genetics, or any other upper level science class for that matter is that you realize how many things that we still don't know. There are a lot. It may seem like we've got this whole world all figured out, but there are still a bjillion different little gaps to fill in. Some of which are not so little.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Food is Fuel

...and you're body is a power plant. Think of it a lot like a steam engine when you fuel the fire in a steam engine there is more heat to create more steam and thus more power from the engine. The engine doesn't work unless there is fuel to burn. (for those of you who need a refresher on steam engines check out How Stuff Works)

The difference is that our bodies also have batteries. The problem being that the batteries for our body tend to come in the form of love-handles rather than the nice copper tops. That's right, fat is the human battery. It's the primary way that we store energy for using later and it's pretty stinking good at storing a lot of energy (we can talk more later about how fat really isn't a bad thing unless you have too much of it).

Food is fuel. Sounds great, but what does it really mean. It means that what you eat lets your body do what it needs to do. There are three main nutrients that give energy to your body, protein, fat and carbohydrate. There is potential energy stored up in all of the chemical bonds that exist in the foods you eat. When you eat, your body breaks those bonds and transfers the energy in them to make other molecules your body can use, primarily ATP. Don't worry that's about the end of the sciencey discussion for now. The bottom line being that if you don't eat, you don't get the energy you need to do the things you like to do like running, biking, swimming etc.

There are three main plans that your body has for the fuel you put into it: 1) turn it into glucose right away to maintain your blood sugar levels and feed your brain, 2) store some energy in small energy stores for muscles called glycogen so that your muscles have the immediate energy they need to do things like walk, jump, sit, stand, etc. and 3) store whatever is left as fat.

Your body's goal is always to use the fuel you give it, even if you give it too much. Now the trick is finding out how much fuel you need and to give yourself the right amount. A good place to start is by doing a simple calculation of a basal metabolic rate. There are lots of calculators on the internet that you can find which will help you do this. The basal metabolic rate really is just a starting point though, because this is the absolute minimum number of calories you need in a day. Which means that even someone who has a sedentary job will burn more calories than their BMR...albeit not a lot more. The more active you are the more calories you burn because your muscles are using more fuel. Makes enough sense, right? If you drove your car 100 miles a day it would need more gas than if you drove it 10 miles a day. It's the same idea. Some calculators will try to compensate for this by giving you an opportunity to estimate activity level, like this one I found or the Livestrong.com calorie calculator. These are only estimates, but they work fairly well.

Not all fuels are created equally, either because you are never getting just one nutrient from what you eat. This is a good thing too. Interestingly enough it is often found that natural whole foods frequently have a combination of nutrients and vitamins that complement each other in such a way to benefit your body. For instance, eating an orange or a bell pepper is a more efficient way for your body to obtain vitamin C than taking supplements...but now we're getting into vitamins and other add ons. They aren't really fuel, but they help your body do what it needs to do with the fuel. We'll leave that for later.

Ultimately you need to choose your fuel carefully. Most people would be quick to agree that eating all fat is no good, but eating all protein is also no good. Foods need to be balanced between nutrients (fat, protein and carbohydrate) and they need to be enough to meet your needs. A caloric deficit--which is what you usually aim for whenever you go on a diet--will make your body lose weight, but it will also stress your body. Remembering that food is fuel will help you realize that when you eat you should be considering the amount of energy you have used or will need to use. The key being balance and establishing a beneficial average quantity.

Until next time, fuel up!