"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

To C or not to C? That is my question

(Vitamin C)
I will be the first to admit, inflammation is not always something I look forward to feeling when I step out of bed in the morning.  Whether it is an inflamed toe from cutting a nail too short, an inflamed and swollen ligament from training to hard, or something as simple as sore muscles, it can be uncomfortable.  In the case of muscle soreness, inflammation is often attributed to the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) which can damage cellular structures, impairing muscle function and result in fatigue.  ROS are generated during exercise through oxidative metabolism within the mitochondria, as well as in response to changes in oxygen availability and pH in the local microenvironment.   Importantly, ROS can be quenched by antioxidants such as Resveratrol, Quercitin, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C, and in the 90s antioxidants were heavily promoted to reduce muscle fatigue and enhance exercise performance.
                That being said, antioxidants supplementation is very common in exercise supplements, take a look at your favorite brand of gel or sports drink, does it contain Vitamin C or E?  I know several of my favorite products such as Gu, Succeed! Ultra and Amino, Cytomax, and Powerbars contain one or both.  Not surprisingly, studies suggest approximately 50% of elite and 40% of non-elite athletes take a daily vitamin supplement, usually in quantities well above the recommended levels (1).  Antioxidants work almost entirely independent of NSAIDs (Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Tylenol) to alleviate inflammation, quenching ROS produced during exercise by donating an electron to the ROS, preventing the generation of inflammatory signals.  In turn, this causes the anti-oxidant to become a pro-oxidant itself; however, anti-oxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E are rapidly converted back into stable forms by natural enzymatic pathways (2).  While there is strong evidence suggesting much of the cardioprotective effects of certain foods such as tea, chocolate and wine are due to high levels of antioxidants, there is also a substantial body of evidence suggesting antioxidant use during exercise may also impair the critical training adaptations resulting from exercise.
                  The first step to understanding this hypothesis begins with understanding that ROS can be both beneficial and harmful for an endurance athlete.  There is significant data supporting the concept that the generation of ROS during exercise is an important step in initiating the adaptations that result from periods of training (3, 4).   ROS production during exercise has been found to be important for the upregulation of several genes important for the increasing generation of mitochondria, the mini power plants within muscle cells.  One of the defining features of elite or highly trained athletes is mitochondrial density.  Muscle biopsies from these athletes show a much greater number of mitochondria per cell, theoretically indicating a greater capacity to produce ATP, the fuel source for exercising muscles.  To clarify, both carbohydrate and fat can be used as fuel for muscle, but these fuel sources must first be converted to ATP within the mitochondria before they are available for use by muscle. 
                Skeletal muscle adaptations from training have been linked to the increase in the activity of several regulatory pathways within the muscle cell, including a protein central to the biogenesis or formation of new mitochondria within the muscle cell. (4)  This protein, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ coactivator 1α (PCG-1α) promotes formation of new mitochondria through activating other proteins that bind to DNA and regulate gene expression (3).  Furthermore, this protein is found at much higher levels in slow-twitch oxidative muscle fibers (4), understandable as these fibers have a relatively high number of mitochondria and are responsible for sustaining endurance exercise (see my blog of fat oxidation in Type I muscle fibers).   Most importantly, the activation of PCG-1α is redox sensitive; ROS activate PCG-1α (3)!  Thus, this has lead to a hypothesis proposing that antioxidant consumption during training periods, results in the quenching of ROS, in turn impairing the activation of PCG-1α, and blunting mitochondrial biogenesis. 
                Because mitochondrial biogenesis is critical for the increase in aerobic capacity following training, there have been several studies attempting to address whether chronic antioxidant supplementation can reduce training induced gains in aerobic capacity.  While fairly consistent data exists in animal models (5, 6), there are mixed results in human studies as to whether this phenomenon holds true.  In one study, 4 week supplementation with a combination of vitamin C and vitamin E resulted in decreased expression of several markers of mitochondrial biogenesis following endurance training (7).  Furthermore, this study, and at least one other that I am aware of, have noted that other health benefits such as the upregulation of endogenous antioxidant enzymes as well as increased insulin sensitivity resulting from exercise training may also be subverted by antioxidant supplementation (7, 8).  However, scientists in another study supplemented 11 males with vitamin C and E while 10 received placebo.  The subjects were instructed to consume vitamin supplements with breakfast afterw hich they had the study participants undergo an intense exercise regime for 12 weeks.  Overall, the scientists that conducted this study observed marked increases in Vo2 max, maximum power, and power at lactic threshold following the 12 week training protocol, but found no differences between the group receiving antioxidant supplementation and the group receiving placebo leading them to conclude that in their study antioxidant supplementation did not impair training-induced gains (1).  However, the authors did not measure mitochondrial biogenesis, only examining factors influenced by mitochondrial density.   
                There definitely appears to be conflicting reports as to whether antioxidant supplementation impairs exercise-induced muscle adaptations.  I am of the opinion that the paucity of the data suggests that this concept is influenced heavily by one’s fitness status before beginning a training regime.  That is to say, less trained individuals taking an antioxidant supplement may observe fewer adaptations to training than someone of their same fitness level not taking supplements.  In highly trained individuals, the body has already considerably upregulated natural pathways to abolish ROS once they are produced, perchance making it more difficult to observe an effect of antioxidant supplementation.  While the data I have highlighted here is focused mainly on vitamin C and E, there have been reports that other antioxidants such as CoQ10 have the similar effect in dampening training induced gains (9).  After speaking with another Human Nutrition grad student, we both agreed that the take home message from this piece of word vomit is not that you should avoid your anti-oxidant rich blueberries, strawberries, glass of wine or piece of dark chocolate, but rather, think twice about taking pharmacological doses found in supplements (1000% Daily Value).  Interestingly, while Gu contains antioxidants, I noticed that Hammer Gel, Clif Shots, Powerbar Gel, and Honeystinger Gels do not.  Maybe my application of this principal will be to rely on Gu gels only when racing.  On a personal note, I enjoy basking in some good old soreness and encourage you to not shy away from feeling sore, because it is your body’s own way of telling itself to adapt.  Maybe there still is a place for antioxidants during exercise in order to increase performance and ward-off fatigue during racing when the goal is to just finish the damn thing or if it is your #1 A race of the year and its PR or fail – but that is a different blog all together!

Works Cited

1.            Yfanti C, Akerstrom T, Nielsen S, Nielsen AR, Mounier R, Mortensen OH, Lykkesfeldt J, Rose AJ, Fischer CP, Pedersen BK. Antioxidant supplementation does not alter endurance training adaptation. Med Sci Sports Exerc.  Jul;42:1388-95.
2.            Linster CL, Van Schaftingen E. Vitamin C. Biosynthesis, recycling and degradation in mammals. FEBS J. 2007 Jan;274:1-22.
3.            Kang C, O'Moore KM, Dickman JR, Ji LL. Exercise activation of muscle peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma coactivator-1alpha signaling is redox sensitive. Free Radic Biol Med. 2009 Nov 15;47:1394-400.
4.            Suwa M, Nakano H, Radak Z, Kumagai S. Endurance exercise increases the SIRT1 and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator-1alpha protein expressions in rat skeletal muscle. Metabolism. 2008 Jul;57:986-98.
5.            Strobel NA, Peake JM, Matsumoto A, Marsh SA, Coombes JS, Wadley GD. Antioxidant supplementation reduces skeletal muscle mitochondrial biogenesis. Med Sci Sports Exerc.  Jun;43:1017-24.
6.            Gomez-Cabrera MC, Domenech E, Romagnoli M, Arduini A, Borras C, Pallardo FV, Sastre J, Vina J. Oral administration of vitamin C decreases muscle mitochondrial biogenesis and hampers training-induced adaptations in endurance performance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jan;87:142-9.
7.            Ristow M, Zarse K, Oberbach A, Kloting N, Birringer M, Kiehntopf M, Stumvoll M, Kahn CR, Bluher M. Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 May 26;106:8665-70.
8.            Yfanti C, Nielsen AR, Akerstrom T, Nielsen S, Rose AJ, Richter EA, Lykkesfeldt J, Fischer CP, Pedersen BK. Effect of antioxidant supplementation on insulin sensitivity in response to endurance exercise training. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab.  May;300:E761-70.
9.            Malm C, Svensson M, Ekblom B, Sjodin B. Effects of ubiquinone-10 supplementation and high intensity training on physical performance in humans. Acta Physiol Scand. 1997 Nov;161:379-84.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Groovy Weekend

One mean looking bird

Finally found myself getting back into the groove of solid mileage after Oil Creek 100.  I know I jumped back into my high mileage lifestyle too quickly, as after taking 1 week fairly easily, I logged over 100 miles in the week starting only 7 days after OC100.  After that it was crash and burn for the rest of October, and besides a PR 2:23ish on the 18 mile Potawatomi aka Poto (on my birthday none-the-less), I had a pretty hit and miss month of running. 

Searching for motivation, November has found me running more roads with my mind focusing on turn over and legspeed.  I have been mixing it up with other workouts on the treadmill, with a mind to keeping the incline turned up and the speed moderate.  This seems to be a better workout for me than really cranking between 8.5-9.5mph, which almost always leads to an injury of some sort. 

This weekend I did not record a huge number of miles, but I found myself happy to just be running.

The Poto is relentless in its rolling nature - an excellent trail system
 Jason Robertson and I met up Saturday morning for a nice outing on the Poto, and like usual, we had a great time.  I really want to get a large group of people together sometime and do a "fatass" style 50k on these trails.  Maybe I can get organized and make it happen this spring.  This loop is a gem and we managed 22 miles without ever having to travel the same trail twice.  Even better, it has a solid 2300 feet of ascent and 2300 feet of descent to keep ones mind occupied.  Oh and did I mention its very technical and rocky? :)  A trail runners dream (or nightmare)...

I followed up Saturdays AM effort with a light 5 mile shakeout run in the PM.  The next morning my Dad told me about a cyclocross route he had envisioned and invited me along to run it.  Looking at a topo map, I was excited by the amount of hills and looked forward to running some completely foreign roads.  Despite losing my map about 5 miles into the run and having to back track for an extra 2 miles, I had a great time and saw one of the biggest red tail hawks I have ever seen.  It was great to do a long road run - in fact this is the longest road run I have done in almost a year - and I was even more pleased to hold a 7:30 pace without too much stress for the entire jaunt.

Suh-weet Sunday run followed up by a Detroit Lions victory!!!
I really think I need to incorperate more fast pace road runs of this nature into my training in order to keep my leg speed up when I am running mostly trails.  While I have great stamina, I have never been a particularly fast runner.  Maybe this is because I never ran XC or Track in my youth and have no formal running training.  I like to think so.  I generally avoid long road runs due to the increased chances of hurting myself, but I think by finding dirt roads to run on, I may be able to avoid this problem.  I wonder if other ultrarunners maintain leg speed by doing road runs or if they are just naturally fast.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Brooks L.S.D. Lite II Jacket Review

Oh shit, I thought as I bounced across the pavement.  Running at night can be dangerous, even with a headlamp.  Somehow I missed the branches that lay across the sidewalk and cruising along in my own little world, tripped hard.  As I gingerly picked myself up, I decided I was ok, and nothing was broken.  Then I thought, oh man, I am sure I trashed my new jacket.
Photo - Runningwarehouse.com

The run had started a good 3.5 hours earlier, when I learned that Montrail along with local shoe store, Playmakers, was hosting a fun run at the Harris nature center.  Excited to actually have some destination running, I packed my Nathan pack with a headlamp for when it got dark, a couple gels, a pair of gloves, and my arm sleeves.  I also strapped my Brookes L.S.D. II jacket to the shock cords before I left. 

Strap it on and forget about it.  Until you need it, of course...
I bought this jacket for several reasons.  1) I wanted a ultralight jacket that I would not notice carrying around.  2) I wanted something that would provide some measure of protection if caught unprepared in rain.  3) The vast farm fields in the East Lansing area really get windy during the winter.  4) I was concerned it would rain at OC100 and wanted to avoid the ultrashakes as much as possible.

So far I am quite happy with my purchase.  Most of the time it remains strapped to the back of a waist pack or backpack, but occasionally I will tie it around my waist.  It is advertised as a lightweight windproof shell with a DWR water resistant coating, and it is certainly windproof (now I just need some windproof briefs), and while I have yet to test it in a downpour, it works great during light showers.  There is one small pocket that the jacket itself can stuff into.  I dont use this feature often, but I guess its a nice touch.  One of the huge selling points for me was that it came with a hood, and while its not a fancy adjustable hood, its compact and fits my head well.  The zippers etc seem to be well made, I guess we will see how well it holds up after a winter of abuse.
Compact yet protective - very nice!

When the jacket first arrived, I was amazed by how light it was.  Compared to other running jackets I have, its unbelievable.  Surprisingly, it breathes fairly well, probably much better than a true waterproof jacket.  However, I find that it keeps me very warm.  Its advertised to be used between 40-55 degrees, but I start to cook pretty quick when running if it is warmer than 40 outside.  On the other hand, when standing around, I pull on this jacket and instantly warm up (especially if its windy), which is a big plus for such a light jacket.  Upon noticing that it was so lightweight, I was immediately concerned I would get it snagged on a branch or plant or fall down and tear it up.  To my astonishment, when I fell on the sidewalk hard enough to scrape up my elbows, the jacket didnt seem phased.  While the sleeves dont have a lot of stretch, I find that my size small can still roll up past my elbows if I want to keep my core warm and cool off my arms a little.  That being said, the size small still has plenty of room underneath, maybe too much.  The baggy fit might be nice for this winter though, as I plan to use this over one or two layers for running outside.  Probably my biggest disappointment, was that the jacket quickly will fall down and wont stay in place if not zipped up.  I noticed that Salomon puts a small button and tie across the chest of their jacket, so that this doesn't happen.  If brookes would include this small feature, the L.S.D. lite II would be hard to beat, especially at Runningwarehouse.com's prices.  

Overall, this is a great piece of gear for an ultrarunner who never knows what to expect from the weather.  When shopping around I was between the L.S.D lite II, The North Face Better Than Naked, Sugoi Helium, New Balance NBx windblocker, and the Salomon Fast III Jacket.  TNF was too expensive, Sugoi fit like a windshirt, NBx was fairly heavy and the Salomon jacket - well I couldnt find my size.  Again, I am very pleased with my decision to get the L.S.D. Lite II, a good price with more than adequate protection.  I imagine a windproof water resistant jacket is almost an absolutely necessary piece of gear for a mountain runner, but I wouldnt really know :)  I am very pleased with the durability as well as the weight of the garment.  And because of its super lightweight and easy stow-ability, this jacket comes almost everywhere with me.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tomorrow is the day

The Western States 100 lottery opens up tomorrow.  I tried to get in last year, with no luck.  Part of me is glad that I didnt.  I think WS100 would be an overly ambitious first 100.  But now I have two 100s under my belt, and have finished them with decent times.  For me, that first 100 was brutal, the lows are really low, and I didnt know how to eat like I do now.  That being said, since I did enter last year, apparently I will get an extra ticket in the hat.  Last I heard, I will probably have an 11-12% chance of getting picked.  Who knows if I will get in, but I am cetainly gonna give it a try.  I wont get into too much into the debate about whether WS100 needs to update their lottery process, you can read about that over at http://www.irunfar.com/2011/11/supply-and-demand.html

I do think the best process would be to require a 100 mile finish before allowed to enter the lottery as well as tightening up the qualifying times (sure stratify them by age/gender) at specific races in each region.  Anyways, I cannot imagine anything I would rather spend $375.00 on than a chance to run WS.  Not to mention plane tickets, car rentals, hotel rooms, etc.  It could mean $1000.00.

For those of you interested in WS100, enjoy these videos.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Healthier Pumpkin Muffins

Being a carbohydrate monster, I like to supplement my diet with muffins.  One of my favorite fall recipes (although I make these year-round) is my pumpkin muffins.  The below recipe will make between 18-24 muffins.  I like to use Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chips.  The walnuts are definitely optional.  I add the soy flour to give them a little extra protein and a slightly nutty taste.  Spray your muffin pan lightly with Pam or baking spray and bake on 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

1.75 cups white flour
1.75 cups 100% whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
0.5 cups chopped walnuts
2 tablespoon canola oil
0.5 cups soy flour
2 eggs
30 oz pumpkin puree
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
120 grams chocolate chips
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves
A dash of cayenne pepper

Calories                        242

Total Fat                       7.0g
Saturated Fat                2.2g
Trans Fat                     0.0g
Cholesterol                   23mg
Sodium                         91mg
Total Carbohydrates     39.8g
Dietary Fiber                3.0g           
Sugars                          17.3g
Protein                          6.2g

Vitamin A 148% Vitamin C 4%
Calcium 5% Iron 13%
Nutrition Grade B
* Based on a 2000 calorie diet