Lessons Learned: Marathon #7

Reflecting on the elements that make or break our performance & goals is one of the most powerful predictors of future success.  Being able to take a step back and non-judgmentally evaluate a performance takes experience, maturity, and an open mind. I believe a huge piece of my success in the Columbus marathon is just that. I am more reflective, mindful, and at times, tough as nails. (Thank you adversity in the past 7 years for building a stronger me.) 

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If you haven't read my previous marathon history recap, that would be a great place to start before reading this post so you have a little more context into the elements below. 

The three categories that I believe were instrumental to my success this time around include sleep, hydration, and nutrition. Not necessarily in that order, but you know I had to save the best for last!

Sleep

Sleeping might just be my most favorite thing to do. And, you guys know how much I love to run, so this is a bold statement. I purposely chose the Columbus marathon because training would start when my daughter turned 1 year old, well beyond the point where I needed to be up at all hours of the night with her. Adequate sleep is one of the most powerful sport enhancing activities. Lack of sleep slows our running speed, increases our injury risk, delays recovery, and decreases our mental health and clarity. All terrible things for our training, right?! Nothing fancy here - just a reminder to get your zzzz's. Aim for 7-9 hours per night as consistently as you can.

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Hydration

Training through the summer months, I knew I needed to nail down my hydration. Training for previous fall marathons, I dreaded training through the summer months. I experienced migraines after long runs in the heat. I felt awful all day after runs in the heat. I knew I was a heavy sweater but no matter how much I drank, I felt awful when I lost too much sweat. In past training, I played around with adding more salt into my gatorade and even taking salt packets out with me on long runs. (I'd pour it into a small amount of water at a water fountain and chug it down. Gross. And, not the best idea.) Honestly though, I was never fully comfortable with the guessing game of how much sodium and other electrolytes I needed. And, I definitely was far from nailing this hydration thing.

This time early on, I prioritized getting to the bottom of my specific hydration needs and coming up with a plan for training. I completed an at home sweat composition test which determined not only how much fluid I was losing but the electrolyte composition of that loss.  Check out this blog post for a full recap on hydration and my sweat test. No surprise, I was losing 4 cups of fluid an hour and nearly 1 gm of salt! I switched to a higher sodium electrolyte drink, used salt tabs, and strategically added higher sodium foods to my daily diet. The biggest gain I noticed from this was my ability to push myself longer and harder in training runs. I always thought my fatigue in long runs was related to 'not being in good enough shape.' Dead wrong. I was dehydrated. When we're dehydrated, we fatigue early and running effort feels 20-50% harder. The second biggest gain was in recovery. Being able to fully replace and replete lost fluid and electrolytes within hours of training, allowed me to train hard and mom harder on the daily. And lets be real guys, all you moms and dads out there, our kids show NO mercy on us after training! 

Race day weather was the polar opposite of my summer training weather. My sweat test was done in 71 degrees and 92% humidity. This is drastically different than the 30 degrees and 55% humidity on race day. So, I completed a simple weigh in - run - weigh out a week before the race in similar weather to determine how much fluid I needed to plan for during the marathon. To my shock, I went from losing 4 cups per hour to less than 1/2 a cup per hour. From here, I was able to plan my fluid plan for the marathon - which was drastically different than my summer training runs. And I have to humbly say, I nailed this! But... the cool weather made that easy so I can't take all the credit.

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Nutrition

Lets break this down into nutrition mentality, daily nutrition, and performance nutrition. Lets also remember that everyone is very different - with different nutrition needs, nutrition backgrounds, goals, and overall health status. My struggles and successes may look nothing like yours and that's okay. And, also why I love my job - I absolutely dig helping people individualize their own nutrition to smash their biggest and baddest goals!

Nutrition Mentality

Like the majority of our society, I have struggled with my relationship with food over the years. Nutrition often seemed like the source and blame of my poor body image. (Which couldn't be further from the truth. News flash: it had nothing to do with food.) This bad relationship led me to look at my nutrition and running relationship like this.... run so you can reward yourself and eat what you want. This was the mentality I had for years and it only perpetuated that poor relationship with food. Over my time off from running marathons, while pregnant and nursing, I was able to slowly repair that relationship with food. It was no longer about restriction and omitting certain foods. It was about looking at food as supporting my goals. Going into this training cycle, my nutrition and running relationship looked completely different than ever before, more like this... what can I eat to support my running and goals. For the first time ever, I was eating more leading up to big training runs and races instead of rewarding myself and eating whatever I wanted after. (I mean, that happens too. But because I have finally given myself complete permission to choose the foods that I want to eat at all times, it was just a choice - not a reward.) Think about it. When does your body need the most fuel? First, during hard workouts. Secondly, to repair after hard workouts.

So give your body what it needs, when it needs it, without an ounce of guilt or judgement and get ready for it to ROCK your training goals!

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Daily Nutrition

Shortly into this training cycle after a I bombed a couple long runs, it dawned on me that my eating habits had drastically changed since I had my first kid. I used to eat a very high carbohydrate, lower fat, moderate protein diet. This is what I enjoyed and it worked for me before kids. This also worked for me training for my previous marathons. But between pregnancy and nursing, I felt like I was ALWAYS hungry (like a major case of the hangries multiple times daily), so I tinkered with my nutrition choices and started eating a lot more protein and fat because this kept me fuller, longer. When I started training, I realized I was going to have to shift this to support my long training runs. This is when I decided to incorporate my own version of nutrition periodization. Or in other words, eating to support the workouts ahead.

I loved eating a massive salad covered in nuts, seeds, tuna, dried cranberries, and full fat dressing for lunch at work. But, my GI tract didn't like this the next morning on a long run. And, it wasn't nearly enough carbohydrates to support a 14 mile morning run the next day. So certain days of the week, I ate a higher carbohydrate, lower fiber diet. And other days, I ate how I wanted - which sometimes meant that big old salad and other times meant sushi or pizza. It took some thought and some planning. I was putting all that sports performance meets nutrition science I studied for months to become a sports dietitian to work. But it worked, it worked really well for me!

It is really important to realize that our daily nutrition choices have a huge influence on our performance during training runs. We will get the most out of our training runs if we have the right fuel available to our body to sustain that workout and all the athletic gains that come after that workout.

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Performance Nutrition

I briefly touched on this in my last post about my previous 6 marathons. But my performance nutrition in the past sucked. A lot. Think about the time, energy, and effort we put into training. Why in the world wouldn't we do everything in our nutrition power to support that hard work so we can perform and train at the highest level? I pose that question to my former self more than anyone!  My performance nutrition allowed me to push and push harder throughout the entire 26.2 miles to finish with negative splits, a 12 minute PR, and overall time of 3:03:23. For the first time ever, in the last 10k of the marathon, I passed 45 runners - many of them dudes - and that was an unbelievable motivator to keep pushing. There's a crap ton of science out there about the grams of carbohydrates distance runners need per hour to perform at their highest level and not hit the 'wall.' In a well trained athlete, hitting the wall is when our body runs out of endogenous carbohydrate stores (glycogen) and exogenous sources of carbohydrates (gels, chews, and electrolyte drinks.) The oxidation of fat into energy is a much slower process than turning carbohydrates into energy. Therefore, when we run out of carbohydrates and begin running mainly on fat, we cannot sustain the same pace and exertion level. This happens at different times for all athletes depending on how well those glycogen stores were stocked, training status, nutritional intake during training, level of athlete, and size of athlete, etc.

In past marathons, I took anywhere from 48-70 grams of carbohydrates TOTAL the entire marathon. (I'm fairly embarrassed to admit this! I knew better.)  The recommendation for endurance athletes is 60-90 gm of carbohydrates per hour.  One study in 2010 found that marathoners take in an average of 35 gm of carbohydrates per hour. So, this is a huge area for opportunity.

Kipchoge's nutrition is challenging the current sports nutrition research on how many grams of carbohydrates endurance athletes can utilize per hour. Kipchoge used a newer technology of carbohydrates and was able to ingest (and we assume utilize) 100 gm of carbohydrates per hour when he set the marathon world record at Berlin of 2:01:39. Pre-Columbus marathon, I did the math and if I wanted to fuel like Kipchoge that meant taking in 7.7 gm of carbohydrates per mile. This worked out to 65 gm of carbohydates per hour which was more than I trained with - and you never try anything new on race day, so.... maybe next time!

This training cycle, I aimed for 50 gm of carbohydrates per hour through an electrolyte drink and chews. After much research, I decided that for me a slow intake of carbohydrates over long runs and race day was the best. This allows you to pull from carbohydrate stores slowly while also using the exogenous carbohydrates I was taking in every two miles. My theory here was that I would hopefully not completely deplete those storage forms of glucose (glycogen) until I crossed that finish line. Plus, I didn't experience any negative GI issues when I changed to a slow intake of carbohydrates versus a big dose via a gel.

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Areas for Opportunity

Some people have an incredible genetic and god given body to crush distance running. Those of us who don't (me! me! me!) have to maximize the elements that we do have control over to continue to see performance improvements and it just so happens performance nutrition is my thing. But you know what's not my thing, running training plans, pacing, distances, tempo runs, speed work, etc. So, I guess I should find myself a running coach if I think I'm going to continue to see improvements in my running!

Contact me if you have coach suggestions, please!! Or, if you want to work together to tackle the different areas of nutrition and hydration in your training. I'd be honored to see how we can use nutrition in your life to help meet your biggest and baddest goals.

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References:

Seebohar, Bob. Nutrition periodization for athletes: taking traditional sports nutrition to the next level. Boulder, CO: Bull publishing company, 2011. Print.

Rosenbloom CA, Karpinski C. Sports nutrition: a handbook for professionals 6th ed. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2017. Print.

 

 


My Marathon History: the abridged version

I have not always been a runner. But for as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to 'be' a runner. In middle school, I went out for track. They put me in the 100m. (Guys, I'm the worst sprinter around. And my reflexes are anything but cat-like.) I finished dead last every meet. Needless to say, I finished out the season and hung up my shoes and vowed to try another sport.

My freshman year of high school I went out for field hockey. (I'm still not sure why. I'd never played in my life. I knew no one playing. And, I grew up playing soccer - which most of my friends were playing.) After the month of July's conditioning and way to many timed 2 milers, the coach put me on varsity. This certainly had nothing to do with my complete lack of talent and experience with the sport and everything to do with 'Meghann can run!' I still remember the shock of coming in 3rd in the timed two mile the first week of practice. I still didn't like running. And, I definitely didn't consider myself a runner. But, I will never forget that this was the first time in my life that I heard that I had some potential as a runner. I went on to also play lacrosse, which suited my 5'11" frame slightly more appropriately, and I was able to use my endurance a little better standing upright as opposed to bent over.

But..... I have always been an endorphin junkie. So, it was just a matter of time until I found my true calling: The grind of the distance runner. Ironically, running my first marathon was my new years resolution. This is the one and only resolution I have made - and tbh, I actually strongly detest new years resolutions. But, thank you 25-year-old-Meghann for making that one, sticking to it, and shaping me into a runner.

Marathon #1 : Cleveland 2009

GOAL: FINISH! But, secretly.... Sub 4 hours

My first marathon was everything short of conventional. The first race bib I ever pinned to my chest was the 2009 Cleveland Marathon bib. I do not recommend this btw. The furthest I had ever ran before training was 5 miles. I trained 99% by myself. I enlisted zero help. (Unless you consider Hal Higdon's free marathon plan download help) I had no clue what I was doing. But, the marathon sounded prestigious and challenging and I was really up for a good challenge. Challenge accepted and mission completed. My outward goal was to finish. But that top secret goal I kept only to myself because I was afraid of telling people and 'failing'  was to finish in less than 4 hours. By the skin of my teeth, and with the help of a Cincinnati-based science teacher who made me quit walking at mile 25 when I was seeing dead people, I met that goal!

I have zero photos of me running the race. (Obviously this was pre-social media days.)  I do have a post marathon pic with mom and dad but this got me thinking....

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Are there still race photos out there I could find? An extensive google search led me to 'smugmug' and this gem. (Yes, I gladly paid $1.99 for this and it was worth every penny!) 

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This unflattering photo doesn't come close to depicting the pain I was in and sheer confusion of what just happened. (Why would anyone willingly put themselves through this?!) And I swear my neck wasn't really as thick as my head in 2009. But, I do swear that was an iPod on my arm, not a phone.

Result: 3:58:42

What I did right: I had the courage to start.

What I did wrong: Nearly everything! Trained in secret because I was worried others would know I failed if I didn't follow through. Fueled my body poorly on the daily. I refueled post long runs with M&M cookie bars because I would fuel so minimally before and during that the nausea would wreck me and this is the only thing that sounded appealing. I didn't carry fluid on runs or come up with a hydration plan, ummmm ever. Zero cross training, stretching, and ab work. Whoopsie Poopsie!


Marathon #2: Columbus 2009

Goal: A Goal- Run Faster. B Goal- Boston Qualify.

I'm not sure what transpired between immediate post race Meghann and 'I'm gonna run another marathon' Meghann. But, I kept up my training. (Still on team Hal Higdon) But, I enlisted a local ART certified chiropractor, Tim Keyes, to help me with some hip issues and learned a ridiculous amount from this smart, ironman, beast of an athlete. Over the summer while I was training, I started talking to this guy (thank you match.com) who kept telling me he wanted to meet for a run. After a couple weeks of talking over the phone, he said he was going to meet me for my long run. At the time, I was doing my long runs after work on Friday through cleveland heights - shaker - downtown. (Wait, can we talk about this... Who does their long runs on Friday nights exhausted from the week!??! I did. Because then I could still go out with my friends all weekend. #priorities) So, he met me in a parking lot for a 14 miler mid summer heat run, shirtless, for our first blind date. Needless to say this stud hung around for awhile because this was an epic start.

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This race felt significantly better. I had fun. It didn't hurt as much. And, I officially had the I-love-marathons plague. I didn't qualify for Boston, but I was so close I could taste it.

Result: 3:42:43

What I did right: Enlisted help. Communicated my goals with others. Found some running support. Carried water on runs. Started taking gels during long runs. Started stretching and foam rolling.

What I did wrong: Only carried water (no electrolytes or glucose) in a disposal water bottle. (what I would give for a photo of me running up Cedar Rd, Friday afternoon rush hour, carrying a Poland Springs bottle) Still under fueling on the daily and during runs.


Marathon #3: Cleveland 2010

Goal: Boston Qualify or BUST.

At this point, females under 35 had a 3:40 qualifying time for Boston. (After the 2011 Boston Marathon registration when the marathon filled in 17-ish minutes - they changed the qualifying times and registration process.) My previous marathon was less than 3 minutes off a BQ and that was far too close for comfort and I wanted to run Boston so badly. That shirtless runner named Matt was still in my life and training to run his first marathon in Cleveland. Unlike me, he had history with running in high school and college but had been much more focused on weight lifting than cardio until we met.

 

Do you like how I lined these up to make it look like I beat him? I didn't. He was waiting for me at the finish line........ with an engagement ring.

I said yes and ugly cried like a crazy person. Then, I started wheezing and couldn't breathe. You know how hard it is to breathe and cry at the same time post marathon?!

BQ + Engaged = Crusty, Ugly Crying, Wheezy, Ecstatic Meghann 

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Result: 3:35:11

What I did right: I trained my tail off. I slept more. I started wearing a GPS watch. I started cross training. And, I had some competition in my then boyfriend - now fiance.

What I did wrong: Still only drinking water during races. Only taking 2 Gu's (not nearly enough carbohydrate.) Still under fueling on the daily.


Marathon #4: Boston 2011

Goal: Soak up every second of running Boston. And, secretly, I wanted to PR.

It doesn't take a veteran runner (which I was not!) to understand the magnitude and prestige of the Boston Marathon. The allure of the unicorn, heartbreak hill, and Boylston street hang over us all. I was told by many people that the course was tough and it wasn't a place you PR-ed. So, my first goal was to enjoy it. Soak it all up. And I did.

Wedding planning made me nervous and training for the Boston marathon was the ying to my wedding planning yang. At the time, I lived 75 minutes from work, so between my commute, training, work, wedding planning, and moving into a new home it forced me to be very strategic with my time and training and this was, actually, exactly what I needed. I was more disciplined with my training than ever before.

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I mean, look at that face at mile 22!!! I was pumped. In retrospect, I was trained to run faster than I did this day. But that meant the whole race was enjoyable. I never felt uncomfortable. And, I truly believe this experience is a huge part of why I love Boston so much.

Result: 3:25:30

What I did right: Nailed my training plan - deviated from Hal this time. Incorporated different types of runs (tempo, LT, etc) into my training, not just running the mileage. Started fueling more strategically throughout my days. Began looking at food as fuel for setting up my runs for success instead of a reward for running or 'burning it off.'

What I did wrong: I still have such euphoria for this race that I do not think I would change a thing.... wait, i would have worn sunscreen. It got real sunny. And, I got some real sweet tan lines that escorted me down the aisle a month later. But, it was the experience of a lifetime.


Marathon #5: Columbus 2011

Goal: PR- See how fast I can go on a flat course.

At this point, I officially had the itch. The I can't stop training and running marathons itch. I not only enjoyed the race but the process. I was running 5-6 days a week. I was logging the highest mileage ever. I felt strong yet out of control.

Out of control because the pain in my feet was becoming nearly unbearable. When I started training for my first marathon, my right big toe immediately gave me trouble. I saw a doctor after that marathon, was diagnosed with 'turf toe' (hallux rigidus) and chalked it up to my days on the field. He wanted to do surgery and told me to stop running and I was obviously completely non-compliant and never went back. But by this point- 2 years later- the pain was now in both big toes. Oddly enough, the pain was less when running (than walking) as I was severely compensating while running by rolling to the outside of my feet, altering my gait, and not engaging my glutes. But, before this marathon - every walking step I took was painful. My hips and back were constantly irritated and painful. And, all the sudden, something that I loved so much was causing me a significant about of pain and suffering.

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I vowed to give this marathon everything I had in the tank and see where it got me. In my heart I knew I needed to intervene with these feet regardless of my running future.

Results: 3:15:44

What I did right: I got gritty. I believed in myself. I trusted my training. And when it got hard, and it felt impossible, I kept pushing.

What I did wrong: I was still under fueling during the runs. I might have taken 60 gm of carbohydrates this entire marathon. To put that in reference, Kipchoge just took 100 gm of carbohydrates per hour of his 2:01:39 PR. Now, he was covering a few more miles than me per hour, but if we equalize this - I was still significantly under fueling and should have been taking 60 gm of carbohydrates per hour - or over 3x the amount I took.


Surgical Interlude

To make a long story short, it was more than just a turf toe injury. My toe joints are genetically square instead of round. This led to premature arthritis, bone spurs, and cartilage loss in the second joint of my big toes. The options were presented to me and I decided on joint salvation surgery now, knowing that this is a degenerative condition, it will come back, and something will need done again in the future.

I went to a new doctor, Mark Mendeszoon DPM, who specializes in athletes and was a collegiate and Olympic runner himself. We decided on a procedure to reshape the joints, remove the bone spurs, and drill some holes to help regrow cartilage.

Post surgery, I got some sweet photos and the news that they looked even worse than the x-rays. Pre-surgery, I was apparently the proud owner of big toe joints that looked like an 87 year old at the ripe old age of 27. Post-surgery the owner of some sweet booties and even sweeter scars. (Warning: slightly gross pictures ahead. Skip to Marathon #6 if you're squeamish.) 

If I haven't lost you yet, here's what they looked like all sewn up. This was about 10 days post-op.

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Who wants to go grab lunch!?!? I get it - it's a little graphic. But this is what I was working with 11 months out from my return to the Boston marathon in 2013.


Marathon #6: Boston 2013

Goal: To finish.

Little did I know at the time, my goal was the overarching most important goal for all the runners of the 2013 Boston Marathon. To finish safely. (The picture below is turning left onto Boylston St and seeing the finish line for the first time.) 

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Training for this marathon was the toughest - mentally and physically - yet. The first time they put me on the AlterG after surgery, I ran 5 miles at 80% of my body weight. Then, I went home and cried all night because I was in so much pain. Lesson learned: Meghann will run through a brick wall if you let her. I needed strict supervision and a plan. Through trial and error, we came up with a plan. That plan was no back-to-back days of running. My feet just couldn't handle it. (TBH... my feet didn't really handle training this soon after surgery at all. It was gruesomely painful.) So, my training plan consisted of 3 days of running - a long run, a tempo (or other speed work) run, and a medium long run with maybe some speed play. This left time to cross train, lift, and all the other things I ignored in marathons past.

This was the hardest marathon I've run to date. I was in pain the whole time. I was out of shape for the hills, training mostly on a treadmill. And, I almost stopped and walked more times than I can count. My mental game was in the toilet - and I wasn't sure I even cared to keep putting one foot in front of the other. But something kept me running. Someone kept me moving. And, I thank god daily for this - as my parents were waiting at the finish line right below the flags where the first bomb went off less than 1 hour after I finished. If I had stopped. If I had walked. They would have been there. (In the picture below - the man in the orange hat by my left hand is my dad. Mom's camera lens is under my hand.) 

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Thankfully, we were taking these lovely photos in a park when the bombs went off and we were back in our hotel room before we even knew what had happened. However, my heart is forever with all the victims, their families, and the city of Boston for this unthinkable event.

Results: 3:28:53

What I did right: I enlisted a LOT of support. Dr. M's guidance, PT and AlterG. Dr. Keyes ART expertise. Kurt's 6am spinning class two days a week at Lifetime Fitness for some serious cross training. I was fueling well and consistently on the daily.

What I did wrong: Trained mostly on the treadmill. Any uneven or slippery surface under my unsteady feet caused more pain (and worry) - so I found myself on the treadmill more often than not training through a very cold, icy, snowy winter. That hindsight'll get ya - and I'm gonna say it. I rushed back too fast after surgery.


Baby Interlude

Goal: To have a couple kiddos.

This wasn't the easiest process for us. It was filled with a lot of grief and sadness before we got these two adorable little rascals on this earth. For me and my feet, I knew I did not want to return to running full marathons until I was done having kids.

I stayed fit. I ran almost my entire pregnancies. But the only thing I was training for was my mental wellness, sanity, and those bambinos. I knew that staying active was the best way for me to mentally and physically stay healthy for these kiddos.

I also had the dream of this easy breezy delivery and beautiful birth story - where I barely broke a sweat, coughed and baby arrived (I kid on those last two .... you all know I break a sweat just walking briskly to my car) because I stayed in such great shape. Nothing was further from the truth when my mammoth 9 1/2 pound kid got stuck and after 36 hours of labor we had a c-section. Followed by some vascular issues with kid #2 and the fear that I'd get 'stuck' in the same situation as kid #1 again led to c-section #2.

On the left is 2 days before 9# 5oz Smith arrived and on the right is the morning 8# 2oz Sloane 'arrived.' Those planned c-sections allow for cute photo ops wearing the same clothes like this one. 

Running post c-section, I'll save that for another post, but it's just as hard as it sounds. I enlisted an incredible chiropractor, Leo Kormanik, and his team to help me get all my muscles talking to each other again and regain strength, form, coordination, and function.

During this interlude, I started the long process to become a sports dietitian. I had seen first hand the difference that fueling can have on athletic performance. And, quite frankly, I wanted to learn everything I could about it to help others smash their training and goals. Becoming a sports dietitian requires 2000 hours working with athletes' nutrition, studying like I was back in college (hellllllloo Krebs Cycle and all things energy metabolism), and taking a board certification exam. I had an absolute BLAST. (And, shout out to everyone who let me work with them during this time!) I took the exam 6 months pregnant and passed that bad boy. I got to add 4 more letters to my name - CSSD: Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.


Marathon #7: Columbus 2018

Goal: Sub 3:10 (But really want to get close to 3:05!)

So here we are, onto marathon #7. Over 5 years since my last marathon and life is barely a glimmer of what it was back then.

As some of you may have noticed, two things were constant in my first 6 marathons: the white hat and my wide arms. Really... look back at the pictures. That white hat made it to every starting line. I'm terribly superstitious and this hat was the one thing that carried me, connected me, and reminded me of the grind that got me to that line. Five years wiser, and that hat has been retired. I haven't worn it once in this training cycle. I'm hanging it up. Because this is a new start, a reintroduction, with bigger and badder goals than old Meghann would have ever felt she was capable of achieving. And, I can promise you all one thing - no matter the time I step across that finish line, I will have given that race absolutely everything I have to give.

And as for the wide arms, old habits die hard - and I apparently still think I'm carrying a lacrosse stick- and they will undoubtedly be making an appearance!

 


How-To: Master Your Hydration Plan

We all sweat. Some a lot more than others.

We all get salty crusty. Some with much more visible salty sweat rings than others.

Hydration is one of the most personalized elements in sports nutrition. There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation. It varies so dramatically from person to person and is very hard to predict without some cold, hard science. So let's nerd it out -

Basics of Hydration & Sweat

Water is the largest constituent of the human body. It is essential to maintaining optimal physiological function and health. Our body is made up of 10-12 gallons of water. Water is a transporter of all the nutrients in our body. It eliminates waste and toxins. It lubricates our joints and organs. And thankfully for us athletes, it dissipates heat through sweat to help us regulate our body temperature during exercise.

The DRI (dietary reference intake) for water is 2.7 L for women and 3.7 L for men per day. This includes water from all beverages (except alcohol) and liquid in food. So, they estimate that 80% of your water comes from fluid, the rest from food. I'll do the math for you - this is where the 8 cups for women and 10-12 cups for men per day originated. It's important to note that these recommendations are based on the 'median intake of generally healthy people.' We athletes are certainly considered generally healthy but our sweat losses can greatly increase these needs.

We lose not only water but electrolytes in our sweat as a consequence of thermoregulation during exercise. In order to fully rehydrate, we need to replace not only the fluid lost but electrolytes as well.

There are two important elements to master your own personal hydration plan - knowing your sweat rate and sweat composition. 

Step One: Calculate Your Sweat Rate

A simple calculation can help you determine the amount of sweat you lose per hour during exercise. The graphic before shows you how to calculate your hourly sweat rate. 

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Once you know how much you're losing per hour, you can begin to calculate a plan for fluid on training runs, rehydration, and race day.

Your sweat rate may change related to weather (temperature and humidity), effort level, altitude, and physical condition status. It's definitely worth the time to calculate your sweat rate for different conditions.

Step Two: Understand the Impact of Dehydration

For many athletes, it is a delicate balance between drinking and performance. Drink too much and you can risk stomach sloshing, GI upset, and hyponatremia (if you're only drinking water.) Don't drink enough and your performance suffers due to increased perceived exertion, higher heart rate, reduced blood volume, increased core temperature, decreased sweat rate and increased rate of muscle glycogen usage.

All of these things are truly a performance buzzkill. Relying on thirst isn't a great idea because we don't feel thirsty until we are already 1% dehydrated. And, at just 2% dehydrated our physical and mental performance begins to suffer.

Effect of Dehydration on Performance

Avoiding dehydration during a race is an important goal. But don't forget about staying hydrated on a daily basis during and between training sessions. In a busy life filled with intense training sessions, it's easy to overlook adequate hydration and over time dehydration can really sneak up on you and you'll see your performance slowly start to decline.

 

Step Three: Perhaps You Need an Analysis of Your Sweat Composition

Many factors influence the electrolyte concentration in our sweat. As fitness improves, so should our electrolyte retention. In other words, an unfit person will usually lose more electrolytes than a very fit person. Another factor is heat acclimatization. If you trained all winter long in the cold, and race day was an unseasonably warm day, you could expect to lose more electrolytes in your sweat. Size may matter, as larger athletes tend to sweat more. However, there is also a large genetic component to sweat composition too.

The variability of sodium lost in sweat is huge. It can range from negligible to more than your daily requirement of sodium in just one hour. It's not uncommon for endurance athletes to lose 3-8 grams of sodium in a 3 hour race. That's 3-5 times your daily requirement of sodium or 1 1/2 to 4 tsp of salt.

If you are continually depleting your sodium stores throughout your training and not adequately replacing these losses, performance will suffer.

What's in Sweat_

*1 L of sweat = roughly 2# sweat loss 

Several companies have been offering sweat composition testing at the elite and team level for years. Championship collegiate football teams routinely analyze their players sweat composition, conduct daily weigh-ins & weigh-outs, and develop detailed hydration plans. Gatorade Sports Science Institute has conducted series of sweat composition tests on elite endurance athletes to maximize athletic success and achievements. Now, this analysis is available on an individual level - mailed right to your house - for us all to fine tune our training.

After much research, I decided to contact Levelen, a leader in sweat testing for all athletes. My results and takeaways can be seen below. Please note: I was given a discount for my sweat testing but I was not paid for mentioning them. And, all opinions are solely my own. If you are interested in completing a sweat test, let me know. I have a discount code I can share with you. Again, no kickbacks to me. Just sharing the love!

Levelen kit

Step Four: Nail Your Rehydration & Recovery

For every pound you lose, you need to drink 20 oz of fluid to fully replace this. Each pound lost represents 16 oz of fluid, however we need a little extra to rehydrate. It's not a perfect system. Need to rehydrate more quickly between training sessions? Up that to 24 oz per pound lost.

Sodium is needed to adequately rehydrate. This can come from a sports drink with sodium or high sodium foods plus water. Add some carbohydrates into this mix to maximize your rehydration even further. Remember: this can be achieved through a combination of fluids and foods that works best for you.

Contact me anytime for help, advice, or suggestions to nail your hydration plan 24/7.

Who May Benefit from a Sweat Test

  1. Heavy sweaters - especially those who participate in triathlons, marathon and ultramarathons, football, cycling, basketball, rugby, tennis, or other sports with padding in the heat.
  2. Salty sweaters - you know who you are. As the sweat dries, you're left with salt rings on your body and clothing.
  3. Endurance athletes looking to individualize and optimize rehydration between training sessions and to perfect race day hydration.
  4. Athletes experiencing muscle cramps. Muscle cramps are a complex phenomenon but the first culprit to rule out is a hydration component.
  5. Those following a low sodium diet for health reasons. If you are following a low sodium diet, say 1500-2000 mg per day, and avoiding extra salt while training - you can see that you will deplete your sodium tank very quickly.

 

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Things I Learned from My Sweat Test

I have been interested in completing a sweat test for awhile now. Thinking back to my field hockey and lacrosse days in high school, (Truth: I didn't put on a bib and run my first race until I was 25 and it was the Cleveland Marathon. Don't recommend this btw.) I was the 'sweaty' one on the team who sweat through her jersey during warm-ups. I frequently got light headed during practice yet all I drank was water and no one told me differently.

I wish I knew then just a little of what I know now. But, that leads me to the sweet things I learned about myself from my sweat test and how it impacts my training.

  1. I am not nearly as 'salty' of a sweater as I thought. I am actually quite 'average.' I lose 950 mg of sodium per hour of running. Average losses for athletes is around 1,000 mg per hour. Another way to look at this is a 1/2 tsp salt an hour. Not a big deal for an hour of exercise, but if you're looking at a 2 or 3 hour run or race - this adds up and absolutely needs to be accounted for in your fluid/food during races and training. salt loss
  2. I lose significantly more potassium than average - 265 mg per hour of running and the average is 50 mg. But, this is still only a 1/4 of the amount of sodium I lose per hour (950 mg.) To put this into reference, half a large banana contains the amount of potassium I lose per hour. Other good sources of potassium are apricots, coconut water, melon, dates, potatoes, beets, and beans.  Fun Fact: the Institute of Medicine recommends 4700 mg potassium daily. Most American's barely reach half of this recommendation daily. potassium
  3. The weather (humidity and temperature) did not alter my sweat composition or rate. (I did two sweat tests one in hot and humid conditions and another in cool and drier conditions.) In fact, I lost slightly fewer electrolytes during the warmer and more humid weather. Riddle me that?! I feel confident knowing my hydration plan can hang tight regardless of the weather. I appear to lose about a liter of fluid per hour of running. sweat rate
  4. After 80 minutes of exercise, my body will reach the 2% dehydration threshold where performance tanks. My current personal 'rule' is carry fluids for runs over an hour - I'll stick to this. It's easier to rehydrate after a run when you're not totally in the hydration hole.
  5. My husband is indeed a chemistry master. He converted mmol to mg of Potassium for me. Because my brain doesn't comprehend mmol and DRI's of nutrients - or really chemistry, anymore, for that matter. IMG_0643

 

If you're interested in seeing what your sweat 'looks' like, contact me and I'll share a discount code and help you interpret the information into your training, if you want of course! Again, I don't get any kickbacks from this - I'm just ruthlessly passionate about helping others perform at their finest through nutrition and hydration. Or a huge nerd who likes to see other peoples sweat composition - you decide if that's creepy or cool! Kidding. 

IMG_0333

References

Rosenbloom C. Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals. 6th ed. Chicago, IL: SCAN Dietetics Practice Group, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 2017.

McArdle WD, Katch FI, and Katch VL. Sports & Exercise Nutrition, 4th ed.  Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012.

Sawka MN, Burke L, Eichner R, Maughan RJ, Montain SJ, Stachenfeld N. American College of Sports Medicine. Exercise and fluid replacement position stand. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2007; 377-390.

Clark N. Sports Nutrition Guidebook. 4th Ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008.

 


Performance Enhancing Nutrition Series: Part II Collagen or Gelatin + Vitamin C

One of the many fascinating things about nutrition is its ability to strengthen, heal, and augment our health. Utilizing nutrition to help our bodies achieve all the above is certainly not a new concept. However, in our current state of nutrition, we often focus too much on the foods to restrict neglecting to focus on foods that really augment our body’s success in life and athletic pursuits.

In this Performance Enhancing Nutrition Series, we will take a deep dive into the components of different foods that show promise in enhancing our sports performance, recovery and/or whole body health. Next up is gelatin/collagen + vitamin C.

Collagen/Gelatin + Vitamin C

Collagen is the main structural protein that makes up connective tissues in the body.

Vitamin C functions as a co-factor in collagen synthesis. More commonly, people may be familiar with the deficiency of Vitamin C or scurvy - the disease that gave pirates their classical look of no teeth and missing limbs - but really the deficiency of vitamin C disrupted the synthesis of collagen and led to poor wound healing, bone loss, and much more.

Gelatin is made from the skin, tendons and ligaments of cows and pigs. Therefore, gelatin is essentially a derived protein from the breakdown of animal collagen. A study by JE Eastone from 1955 examined the amino acid profiles of different commercially available gelatin and animal collagen and found them to be 'closely similar' concluding 'gelatin is representative of the main protein constituent of collageneous tissues in amino acid composition.'

You're likely familiar with gelatin as a food product that makes gummy candy or gives Jello its signature jiggle. Hydrolyzed collagen protein supplements are further broken down to dissolve in water and not create a gel. Both gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen have been used in research studies to support the potential benefits and claims below.

Potential Benefits and/or Claims *see end for references

Increased collagen synthesis

Improve tendon function

Prevent injury

Speed healing post injury

Decreased joint pain

Increased cartilage thickness

 

Dosage and Food Form 

The easiest and more readily available source of gelatin is Knox gelatin, found at any grocery store. It is also the most cost effective ($0.23 - $0.60 per 7 gm servings, individual packets vs bulk on Amazon at the date of publishing). Remember, gelatin is made to form a gel - so when you mix this with a high vitamin C juice it will be slightly lumpy. Another option is a collagen hydrolysate, such as Vital Proteins. ($0.73 - $1.70 per 10 gm serving, individual vs bulk on their website at the date of publishing) Because of the further processing of this protein, it will mix with a high vitamin C juice. 

Dose: 5-15 gm gelatin + 50 mg Vitamin C (Or, 10 gm collagen hydrolysate + 50 mg Vitamin C) 

This would be approximately 1 heaping Tbsp (10 gm) or 1 pkt (7 gm) of Knox gelatin 6-8 oz juice with vitamin C. 

Frequency: Best results are seen when taken before exercise targeting the injury site. Therefore, it doesn't have to be daily but rather targeted to your training. (See Timing for more details.) Perhaps 3-5 times weekly.

Timing: This is best taken 30-60 minutes before a high intensity training of the specific injury site. (This could be something such as calisthenics targeting the injured tendon/ligament or an endurance training session.)  

Concerns or Unknowns

Much of the research on tendon/ligament response to collagen/gelatin + vitamin C comes from engineered ligaments (from human ACL cells) exposed to similar conditions your body would provide your tendons/ligaments with supplementation of collagen/gelatin + vitamin C. It's incredibly hard for researchers to directly study an intact human tendon or ligament. This means we have to extrapolate the data and with this always comes some assumptions and uncertainties.

Final Thoughts

Does collagen/gelatin + vitamin C enhance performance for everyone? The verdict is still out on that one. But, if you have a history of a tendon or ligament injury or current injury to these tissues, the research certainly supports giving this a try. The healthier your soft tissues, the harder and more frequently you can train which will ultimately enhance performance.

Research

Eastone JE. The amino acid composition of mammalian collagen and gelatin. Biochem J. 1955 Dec;61(4):589-600.

Maughan RJ et al. IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:439-455.

Shaw G. Lee-Barthel A. Ross M. Wang B. Baar K. Vitamin C- enriched gelatine supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr 2017 Jan;105(1):136-143.

Levine M. Violet PC. Breaking down, starting up: can a vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplement before exercise increase collagen synthesis? Am J Clin Nutr 2017;105:5-7.

Baar K. Minimizing injury and maximizing return to play: lessons from engineered ligaments. Sports Med 2017;47 (Suppl 1):S5-S11.

 

 


Performance Enhancing Nutrition Series Part I: Tart Cherry

One of the many fascinating things about nutrition is its ability to strengthen, heal, and augment our health. Utilizing nutrition to help our bodies achieve all the above is certainly not a new concept. However, in our current state of nutrition, we often focus too much on the foods to restrict neglecting to focus on foods that really augment our body's success in life and athletic pursuits.

In this Performance Enhancing Nutrition Series, we will take a deep dive into the components of different foods that show promise in enhancing our sports performance, recovery and/or whole body health. First up is tart cherry.

TART CHERRY

Tart cherries and tart cherry juice are an abundantly rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Because exercise causes oxidative stress, inflammation, and muscle damage it has been proposed that these compounds in tart cherries may help both strength and endurance athletes by reducing muscle damage, reducing pain levels, improving recovery, bolstering the immune system, and improving sleep.

Potential Benefits and/or Claims *see end for references

Lessen Muscle Damage

Reduce Pain

Improve Recovery

Improved Sleep Duration & Quality

Bolster Immune System

Dosage and Food Form 

The immediate allure of tart cherries, for me, is that they can be taken in whole food form - we don't need them to be processed into a supplement. I firmly believe in turning to whole foods first. That is if the researched dose of the beneficial elements of a food can be healthfully obtained through the whole food. And, tart cherries can.

Dose: 50 tart cherries

Frequency: 1-2 times daily

Timing: varies depending on desired benefit.  Research on recovery often gives athletes tart cherries over an acute time period, centered around a competitive event. Typically around 4-5 day prior to and 2-3 days post event. 

Most researchers use the 'equivalent of 50 tart cherries' once or twice daily. Naturally, my nutrition nerd curiosity got the best of me and I wondered how the different forms of tart cherries stacked up- by nutrition, cost, and added ingredients. So, here it is:

Tart Cherry Product Serving Size * Cup Equiv. Calories Carbo- hydrates Fiber Added Ingredients Price per serving
Cheribundi Regular 8 oz 1 130 32 0 Apple juice $1.63
Cheribundi Light 10 oz 1 1/4 100 26 0 water, Reb A $2.05
Cherry Bay Orchards, concentrate 4/5 oz <2 Tbsp 64 15 0 $0.50
Dried Tart Cherries, sweetened 46 gm 1/3 151 37 1.2 sugar, oil $1.53
Dried Tart Cherries, unsweetened 44 gm 1/3 141 33 3.3 $2.00
Tart Cherries, canned in water 151 gm scant 1 cup 96 22 3.2 water $1.75
*equal to 50 tart cherries

Please note: the information in the table above is representative of the nutritional value and price of these products as provided by their customer service and sales in Jan 2018. There are many different brands of tart cherry products - this is a small sample of the brands which are easily accessible to athletes with transparent tart cherry concentration information. I purchased all these products - no compensation was provided for including.  

DSC_0750

Pictured are 50 tart cherries: sweetened, unsweetened, and canned

The information provided in the table above are things that, as a dietitian, I feel may weigh into someones choice of using one avenue of cherry consumption vs another. If you are unsure which is best for you and your training, or you're wondering when you should eat/drink your cherries, contact me.

Concerns or Unknowns

There may be a time during training when we do not want to override our body's stress response by providing exogenous antioxidant sources  - say during the build up phase of training, where we do not want to blunt the bodies natural physiological adaptations to training. However, more research is needed on this and it may be less of a concern when consuming a whole food product vs a mega dose antioxidant supplement.

Only one study has been conducted on non-land athletes, and it did not show a benefit to consuming tart cherries. This raises the question, are tart cherry compounds less beneficial to athletes who aren't going through the wear and tear of a land athlete? Is there a differing oxidative stress load in aquatic athletes that may be responsible for the lack of benefit? Perhaps.

Long term benefits? Research hasn't explored this in depth. It would be interested to see more studies on joint pain and tart cherry intake in athletes over a 3-4 month training period. There is some anecdotal 'word on the street' that professional and Olympics athletes are using tart cherries in this manor.

Final Thoughts 

There's no doubt that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components of tart cherries are beneficial to our bodies. Current research shows promise that tart cherries could be an advantageous addition to an athletes diet in various ways. For many athletes, the allure is the proposed alternative of using tart cherries in place of NSAIDs.

With this being consumed in a whole food form, the potential benefits certainly outweigh the very minimal risk. And, when taken at the appropriate times during training, could certainly give a well trained athlete the edge they are looking for.

Research

Bowtell et al. Montmorency cherry juice reduces muscle damage caused by intensive exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(8):1544-1551.

Howatson G et al. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010;20(6):843-52.

Howatson G et al. Effect of tart cherry juice on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2012;51:909-916.

Kuehl et al. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Intern Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:17.

Bell et al. Montmorency cherries reduce the oxidative stress and inflammatory responses to repeated days high-intensity stochastic cycling. Nutrients. 2014;6:829-843.

Vitale KC. Hueglin A. Broad E. Tart cherry juice in athletes: a literature review and commentary. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2017 Jul/Aug;16(4):230-239.

Schumacher HR et al. Radomized double-blind crossover study of efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in treatment of osteoarthritis (OA) of knee. Osteoarthritis & Cartilage. 2013;21:1035-1041.