November 09, 2009

Archive #2 - Cutting Edge Hydration Strategies

The Tour De France is a unique crucible. Weeks long, extreme temperature variations, exhaustive exercise day after day, and otherworldly nutritional demands; Is there a better place to learn and maximize performance for the athlete? One of the areas of deep interest over the last several years is the relationship of hydration, thermoregulation, and performance.

Awhile back I went to a presentation by Dr. Stacy Sims, a post doctoral research fellow, and exercise physiologist at Stanford University. Dr. Sims was part of an exciting project with Dr. Allen Lim, chief physiologist for Garmin-Slipstream. Their goal was to help the team optimally prepare for the Tour De France, and to create effective thermoregulation and hydration fueling strategies for the race.

They project focused on a few critical components, namely a pre-race preparation/acclimation phase, the daily nutrition and recovery of the athletes, and the pre, during, and post event hydration needs. Through the course of the presentation Dr Sims touched on some rather interesting approaches and outcomes.

Hydration and Thermoregulation
First some background on water, hydration and thermoregulation. The human body is 55-65% water. Water is an essential aid in biochemical and metabolic reactions, it cools the body, and helps maintain the acid base balance.

Hydration is the equilibration of total body water (TBW) carried in the intracellular (66% of TBW) and extracellular (33% of TBW) spaces. Dehydration, medically speaking, is when the body contains insufficient water volume to maintain normal body function.

One of the foundational responsibilities of water is thermoregulation. Thermoregulation is “the ability of an organism to keep its body temperature within certain boundaries, even when the surrounding temperature is very different.” For you and I, that means maintaining homeostasis between 37 – 40C (92-100F). Thermoregulation is vital to the maintenance of exercise intensity. Find yourself much on either side of that range and you are in for some trouble.

The Problem(s)
Dehydration, and its role in thermoregulation and performance is broad and complex.
It has been shown that a state of dehydration of as little as one percent (1%) leads to decreased aerobic endurance. At three percent (3%) there is a decrease in muscular endurance, while at four percent (4%) there is decreased muscle strength, fine motor skill, and heat cramps. In addition the maintenance of blood volume is essential for maintaining stroke volume and plasma volume.

Different athletes have different sweat rates, but most will sweat at between 1.5 – 3.0 Liters per hour. That means a 150 pound cyclist can reach 3% dehydration in as little as 45 – 60 minutes with no fluid intake (1 Liter = 1 Kilogram = 2.2 pounds). Unfortunately, gastric emptying is typically in the range of 0.8 – 1.3 Liters per hour, so you are on the defensive immediately. The more so if you start your race or training session hypohydrated (0.5-1% dehydrated) as most of us do by some estimates. You simply can’t drink enough fluid to offset the loss from sweating.

All of this sweating leads to thirst. There are two kinds of thirst. Hypovolemic thirst is the result of sweating, respiration, and/or bleeding. It is a decrease in the extracellular fluid and blood volume. Osmotic thirst is the result of a decrease in the intracellular fluid (e.g. too many solutes). Both depletions must be addressed prior to the onset of thirst.

While there are many products on the market that purport to help with your hydration and electrolyte balance, the truth is that most of them also contain a significant carbohydrate (CHO) load in order to also be seen as a viable fuel source (yet not quite enough to actually be a viable fuel source) and to be palatable. There are a couple of downsides to this. First, the CHO actually serves to increase core temperature (gotta process that food!), secondly it impedes gastric emptying. Often these sports-drinks contain too little sodium to effectively replace sweat salt losses as well. Sodium loss through sweating ranges between 0.8 – 4.0g/hr

The Solution
Dr Sims came up with a comprehensive set of solutions to the problems presented above. First, the team undertook a preparation/acclimation phase that included 30 minute bouts in the Sauna at 100 degrees immediately after their regular training rides. This was to both increase tolerance of warm temperatures and to systematically dehydrate the athletes to create a natural increase in Red Blood Cell (RBC) volume; a natural ergogenic aid.

The next step was to create a specific “Pre Event” drink in order to attenuate dehydration and to provide an ergogenic buffering effect. This pre-event drink was used primarily in the time trials and contained sodium bicarbonate and sodium citrate mix in a proprietary ratio (sorry, can’t give away ALL the secrets!), and a 1.5% sucrose concentration. The team used approximately 100 Liters of this mixture during the race.

The goal of the ‘During” drink was to attenuate dehydration. Carbohydrate was generally supplied via food stuffs. The “During” drink was a proprietary ratio of sucrose:glucose, with sodium citrate, magnesium, b-vitamins, and potassium. It contained no Sodium Choloride (NaCL), instead they used Sodium Citrate due to its decreased gastrointestinal stress and higher water retention rate, and inherent buffering effect. The team used approximately 10,000 Liters during the race

The “Post” drink was intended to stop the stress response, rehydrate, promote muscle repair and glycogen regeneration. It contained, among the list, a 1.5% solution of maltodextrim, potassium, amino acids, antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, and vitamins. They mixed over 8,000 Liters during the race.

Each of these drinks was formulated to be slightly hypotonic to increase absorption rates since water goes into the higher solute compartment in simple osmosis. The drinks were <270mmol/L solution compared to the blood plasma which is ~285-290 mmol/L. The ideal composition included roughly 100 mmol/L of Sodium, 6 mmol/L of Potassium, and 1.5 – 2% CHO solution (most sports beverage drinks are in the 6-8% CHO range).

Carbohydrate was also optimized. A sucrose/glucose solution was used during the races as it provided the best balance between increased water and sodium absorption and the highest possible CHO load without negatively affecting the osmolality (an indicator of fluid balance and ease of transport across cell membranes). The recovery drink used a 1.5% solution of maltodextrins, which are absorbed almost as rapidly as glucose with less gastric distress and impact on osmolality.

The Results
The validity of the project can be seen in a number of ways.

The preparation and acclimation component, especially the dehydration protocol, saw the athletes’ red blood cell concentration rise by up to 4%, and total plasma volume to increase by ~7%. This is a natural ergogenic aid akin to erythropoietin supplementation. There was also a decrease in exercising heart rate, an increase in work capacity and less total sweat loss during the race.

The “Pre” event drink was shown, anecdotally (n = 1), to increase power by ~7-8% on a 40Km time trial from 365W to 385-390W (time equivalent of 57 seconds!).

During the race the athletes routinely ingested two times the normal volume of liquid, yet suffered no GI distress. For the balance of the Tour the team used NO IV Drips! That is virtually unheard of in grand tours. At several points the athletes’ urine was ruled ‘too dilute to test’ a testament to the effectiveness of the hydration strategy.

On the results sheet the team placed two riders in the top 10, finished second overall in the team competition and team time trial. During the Stage 18 individual time trial the team had three riders in the top 10, all within a minute of the stage winner.

Each year a variety of new technologies and methodologies are rolled out in the search for speed and consistency. Technicians buzz around checking details, tightening torque wrenches and generally pondering the speed to be gained. Similarly, the athletes and soigneurs engage in their own daily performance dance. Legs are embrocated, stretched and massaged. Food is constantly ingested and chased by fluids, prodigious amounts of fluids. All in the quest to take the athlete right to the edge of performance

One of the most demanding elements of the race is the quest to maintain hydration, electrolyte balance, and thermoregulation. This year Garmin-Slipstream brought in a leading researcher to help create the perfect plan for the team. By combining a rigorous pre event acclimation camp with the creation of some truly high tech mixtures for each phase of the race the team was able to succeed in the battle for results and the battle for the long term health of their riders. With notable increases in work capacity, fluid retention, and red blood cell volume; and with notable decreases in gastrointestinal distress, exercise heart rate and overall heat stress it can be argued that this type of cutting edge research and implementation was a key element in the team’s success. You can expect this project to make it into your list of hydration and fluid options within the next 12 months or so


- Maughan, R. J., and T. D. Noakes; Fluid replacement and exercise stress: a brief review of studies on fluid replacement and some guidelines for the athlete. Sports Med. 12:16-31, 1991.

- Takamara, A., Y. Tetsuya, N. Nishida, and T. Morimoto; Relationship of osmotic inhibition in thermoregulatory responses and sweat sodium concentration in humans. Am J Physiol Regulatory Integrative Comp Physiol 280: R623–R629, 2001.

- Gillen, C. M., T. Nishiyasu, G. Langhans, C. Weseman, G. W. Mack, and E. R. Nadel; Cardiovascular and renal function during exercise-induced blood volume expansion in men. J Appl Physiol, 76: 2602 – 2610, 1994.
Hargreaves, M., and M. Febbraio; Limits to exercise performance in the heat. J Sports Med., 19: S115-S116, 1998.

- Montain S. J., and E. F. Coyle; Influence of graded dehydration on hyperthermia and cardiovascular drift during exercise. J Appl Physiol, 73(4):1340-1350, 1992.

- Sanders, B., T. D. Noakes, and S. C. Dennis; Sodium replacement and fluid shifts during prolonged exercise in humans. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol., 84:419-425, 2001.

- Sims ST, Rehrer NJ, Bell ML, Cotter JD. Preexercise sodium loading aids fluid balance and endurance for women exercising in the heat. J Appl Physiol 103: 534–541, 2007.

- Sims, ST, L vanVliet, JD Cotter, and NJ Rehrer. “Sodium loading aids fluid balance and reduces physiological strain of trained men exercising in the heat.” Medicine and Sciences in Sports and Exercise, 39 (1), 123-130, 2007

Archive #1 - The Training Week

Nearly all of us have limits on our available training time, yet all of us are looking to improve our cycling abilities and performance. This often creates a paradox where we try to cram as much “stuff” as we can into our rides, but end up with sporadic fitness gains and performance. To this end let’s look at some ways to organize your training to accomplish all of the above and more.

The Training Week – Classical View
Cycling, like many other sports, is built on the history of what came before. It has been, for example, a long standing tradition to take a rest day on Monday after a weekends racing. The rest of the training week has followed a similar pattern: Tuesday is for sprint work, Wednesday is for threshold training, Thursday is long endurance day, while Friday is a tune up for the Saturday and Sunday races. This plan, as the story goes, puts the most intense workouts early in the week, when the body is most prepared for them.

This pattern has been drilled into athletes, and coaches, for a long time, and is often considered to be merely the micro-cycle component of a periodized training plan. Tudor Bompa, long credited as the father of periodization, first introduced macro, meso, and micro cycles in the 1950’s. Indeed, the original concept of periodization was built on Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which looks at the stress placed upon a system, and the adaptation that occurs as a result.

When he came to the United States in the 1980’s Eddie Borysewicz brought a similar structure to the training program at the United States Cycling Federation (USCF, precursor to USA Cycling). His plan, espoused in the seminal (for US riders!) “Bicycle Road Racing – Complete Program For Training and Competition,” included Monday rest, and sprints on Tuesday and intervals Thursday. Wednesday was endurance, while Friday was recovery/tune up. Saturday was high intensity/race simulation and Sunday was the longest and hardest day.

Recently I was cleaning out some of the vast clutter that is my filing system and came across the 1994 U.S. National Team training plan for Senior Men. The plan was written by then National Team Coach Chris Carmichael. In thumbing through the pages a familiar pattern began to emerge. In the forty weeks of training listed there was not one week where the “Monday rest” pattern was broken. Fortunately, there was substantive variation in the day to day program design of the rest of the program, a testament to Carmichael's embrace of modernization of training even then. Interestingly, there is no mention made of lactate threshold based training. It is either Aerobic, Anaerobic, or VO2max!

The Training Week - Updated
The previous examples are not offered as a “what not to do” but more as back drop when looking at your own training. To be sure the foundations of periodization are sound and should form the basis of your plan design. Rather than preach a “perfect” model for organizing your week, let’s look at some of the factors that may play a role in how you might schedule your week and optimize your workouts.

Optimize Your Training Time
If you are on a limited training schedule you have to learn to optimize the time you have available. That means cutting out the ‘junk’ hours and focusing on the task at hand. While it sounds logical and doable, you’d be surprised how easy it is to squander training time. Take that extra 20 minutes to warm up and you’ve cost yourself both the 20 minutes, and the positive training effect of having stepped up the intensity, even if it’s only to a tempo pace. Multiply that over 3 training days and your 10 hour training week only has 9 hours to accomplish the goals you set.

One of my current favorite workouts is what I call a “Sweet Spot – Level 2.” A traditional “sweet spot interval” is doing 88-93% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) for 60 minutes. If you do a 15-minute warm up and cool down then you’ve got a very good training ride in an hour and a half. A level 2 effort takes the warm up and cool down and moves them up to tempo efforts (ok, maybe a five minute warm up). Instead of rolling around for 20 minutes at 50% of FTP, you are on the gas immediately and holding 70-75% of FTP for the warm up cool down (ok, maybe five minutes warm down too). In the end you have the same 1.5 hour workout, but you have a higher total training stress score and more aerobic development.

Another favorite workout is the 3peat Threshold Workout (or 2peat, 4peat, etc). Find a climb that is at least 10 minutes long, the minimum needed for a true threshold level workout. Time yourself up and down holding a steady threshold effort on the way up and a brisk recovery pace on the way down. Now that you have a baseline see how many up/down cycles you can do in an hour.

Around my house that is a 3peat climb on Montebello Road; a 2-mile climb that averages around 10%. It usually takes me about 15:30 to climb at 300W (which is about my FTP) and about 4:15 to descend, so if I do 3 up/down in an hour it gives me about 45:00 minutes of threshold work, a nice recovery between intervals, and a serious dose of climbing. As fitness goes up I can push harder to try and get as far below an hour as possible. My current best is 55:55 with individual intervals of 13:35 at 350 Watts, 14:44 at 319 Watts and 13:54 at 343 Watts, for a total TSS of 100.7 and an Intensity Factor of 1.07 at 258 Watts average/322 Watts normalized (My FTP was set at 310 at that time, but was probably closer to 330). Since it’s about 15 minutes each way to the climb this is a pefect workout on those days I don’t have long to ride.

Recognize Stress
Hans Selye referred to the effects of either “eustress” (positive/beneficial) or “distress” (negative/detrimental) on the system. Eustress resulted in feelings of improvement, increased muscle strength, and other markers of a positive impact on your training. Distress, on the other hand, leads to tissue damage, fatigue, and ultimately can lead to overtraining. The challenge is to recognize the difference.

Let’s look at the Monday rest, Tuesday sprints model for example. You race on Sunday and do pretty well, although you are tired. Monday comes and you are feeling pretty good, but it’s a rest day so you chill. You don’t sleep well on Monday night, work stress is piling on, you ate a double death burger for lunch and now you “have” to go do your sprints or else you’ll lose fitness and never upgrade! The workout is a mess. You don’t even come close to your top speed or max power, your heart rate is stagnant and you feel so slow you think about giving up the sport. Clearly you’ve experienced more ‘distress’ than “eustress.”

While that is an extreme example of how life, for us working stiffs, can interfere with your ideal training plan, it does offer a little insight into possible modifications to your training that won’t cause you to lose fitness or motivation.

Ride Hard Fresh
Time and again coaches advocate recovery over additional intensity, volume, or both. Improvements in Chronic Training Load (CTL) are most effective long term when the ramp rate (or gain) is approximately 6 – 8 TSS points per week. If the athlete is gaining CTL at a faster rate it is generally unsustainable long term.

Let me take a step back here and define what is meant by Chronic Training Load. CTL is a measure of accumulated training stress across a long period of time, typically at least 30 days. It is expressed as a rolling average of Training Stress Score (TSS) points per day. For example a CTL score of 100 means you have averaged 100 TSS points per day over the length of your ‘snapshot’ (eg 30 days). By tracking your training across time in this manner you are able to get a good overall picture of both your training trends and fitness improvements.

Time and time again athletes forego that advice in the pursuit of fitness gains. Unfortunately that tends to create randomization of training. That is to say that week to week the athletes total training load shows wider variation than that which is recommended for a ‘responsible’ progression. Are you one of these athletes?

If so, try something different. Schedule your weeks training around a more gradual gain and then play with the daily specifics to try and address physiological needs. If you are focused on developing FTP, spend lots of training time at FTP. If your focus lies in VO2max development, spend your training time on that. The caveat is that you have to scale back the volume, and possibly the frequency, of training you do, but that doesn’t matter. If you’re target is 600 TSS points for the week and you can get it done in 9 hours instead of 12 you’ll have three more hours to spend on another part of your life while still making steady and substantive gains in your total fitness.

It is far too easy to fall into a predictable pattern of training. Coaches and other athletes will readily offer you the ‘perfect’ training week as described across time. However, with the demands of work and family often taking priority it is common for one’s training to stagnate on a traditional plan. Rather than continuing to follow the same patterns to the same conclusions try to vary your training around a few core principles.

Freshness: Training should be a positive stress in your life. If you start a training ride and are carrying residual fatigue from the weekend races give yourself an extra day to recover.

Focus: Look at your current training. Are you optimizing your training time or just riding around on your bike? Find or purchase some high quality, highly focused workouts that will help you get the most out of your limited training time. If you use a power meter, look at the files. Did you ride for two hours and average 50% of your threshold power even WITH the 2x20 minute intervals? Perhaps it’ time to try some focused tempo efforts!

Consistency: Try to create a realistic training plan that allows you to progressively improve your fitness over time. Sure, you can ‘get fast’ in a few weeks of heavy overload, but you’ll ultimately pay the price in reduced motivation and time off from training later when the cost of those hard miles comes due.

Putting these elements into your weekly training schedule will help you realize consistent gains, have more fun, and chew up the competition at the next race (which is the fun part!)

November 05, 2009

Housing At CX Nationals

This is for all those headed to Bend for Nationals....

I rented a sweet house with some available beds/rooms for the week of the races (wed - sun). The house is located about 2 miles from the race venue, is over 2500 square feet and includes: Outdoor rock gas fireplace in private patio area, large kitchen for entertaining and cooking at your leisure, large eating bar and formal dining room, wine chiller, comfortable beds and linens, plush towels, Jacuzzi tub in master, full DVD library of movies, and more!
We have the following available at way better than hotel rates -

Master Bedroom: 1 King Bed - reserved
Guest room #1: 1 Queen Bed - reserved
Guest Room #2: 2 Twin Beds - $75 night ea w/2night minimum. Book your for all 4 nights for only $250
Bonus Room: 2 Twin Beds - $75 night ea w/2night minimum. Book your for all 4 nights for only $250
Plus: 2 full sized Fold out Beds - $65 night ea w/2night minimum. Book yours for all 4 nights for only $230
The garage will be set up as bike heaven. In addition to tools and workstands (and possibly a mechanic on site), we'll have two computrainers as well....ready and loaded with various workouts and options to be sure your training is optimized in the runnnup to your race no matter the weather. We'll also be leading a few outside rides, weather permitting.

We will plan to co-op purchase and preparation of food to help keep costs down and quality up. I'm working on a meal plan (well, ok my wife the super-chef is making the plan) and will forward it to those attending. If you have a specialty, and want it included let us know and we'll add it to the mix...

Need more information? Drop me a line - -
Full information will be sent upon receipt of your non-refundable, but transferrable, deposit of $100 via paypal to the same address

This is gonna be fun!


November 04, 2009

Articles Archive

I've written quite a few online articles over the past year and a half. Some of them were even pretty good. Yet time and again I forget to post them on my own blog - that seems sorta silly. So, I'll be posting a variety of old articles and labeling them over the next couple of weeks. It'll give me something to do and who knows may even provide you with something worth reading!

Among The Upcoming Topics:

- Cutting Edge Hydration Strategies
- Cutting Edge Nutrition Strategies
- Optimal Tapering Strategies
- Managing Your Training Week

and more...