Nitric Oxide and Running Performance

Nitric Oxide? It makes me think of pushing a button on my car dashboard for a little boost! However, NO is an important neurotransmitter important for nerve signaling, nerve signaling, tissue turnover, and blood vessel dilation

 

Seems like most research focuses on the dilation part and exercise as a performance enhancer via delivery of oxygen and removal of waste products. Along with that dilation comes an improvement in running economy and time to exhaustion. In terms of running economy, I have seen 5% thrown around. To put that in perspective, that’s higher than what the Nike Vaporfly’s claim to obtain and have taken the running world by storm.

 

So, who does that benefit? Running economy will benefit those running long distances (half marathon and above) while time to exhaustion will benefit shorter times. While we do produce NO in our bodies, we often don’t eat the right amino acids, or enough, to see a performance benefit. We also see a drop in natural NO production as we age. 

 

The research can get dicey because of the way it is set up. What worked for older athletes, didn’t have the same effect on younger athletes. The dosages that worked on 1500 meter runners, didn’t affect the longer distance runners. What worked for recreational runners didn’t exactly show promise for elite runners. There’s a lot of factors like dosage, quality of ingredients, and length of studies that come into play. With that said, let’s look at some practical advice.

 

For older and less trained athletes, you should take a single dose of 60-70 ml of nitrates 2.5 to 3 hours prior to your workout or race. Keep in mind that levels of NO will stay elevated for some time. These groups will see more response on fewer amounts, so max the response on the least amount of dose. 

 

For younger and more trained athletes, you should be at two doses of 60-70 ml of nitrate. You folks have things like naturally higher levels of NO and training adaptations that are going to make seeing a response require a larger dose. The same time frame applies here. 

 

NOTE: Unless you are building up to a goal race, these shouldn’t be taken every day as it can blunt the natural production of your NO. 

 

Ok, so, the second way to do this, is to do a gradual supplementation of 3-15 days, leading up to a goal race. Using the same two groups I just discussed, let’s determine the probable length of time to NO load. Less trained or older athletes may want to stay in a single daily dose for 3-7 days. The younger or more trained athletes may want to do a single daily dose for 7-15 days. 

 

What I will do for a workout: 

 

Night before a workout: 1 60 ml bottle of Amped Nox

AM before workout: 1 60 ml bottle of Amped Nox

 

What I will do prior to my goal marathon:

5 days prior to marathon: 1 bottle of Amped Nox nightly

 

HOWEVER: After reading more into the updated research, I think I am going to extend this out to 10 days prior to the race of a nightly dose and then one bottle the morning of the race. 

 

Interested in what I use? Check out my supplement site.

Nutrition: Diet Definitions

Last time, we talked about macronutrients and the importance for balance in general health as well as performance. I hope that’s what everyone took out of it, at least. At the end of the day, balance is key and if there are major swings to focus on one macronutrient, the swing really should be short term and recognized that it may not be a sustainable option for long term (years). At the end of that discussion, I mentioned where I would like to take that conversation. One of the areas included what the definitions of diets actually contained and why the lack of continuity can blur the lines between what we think we are doing and what we actually are. So, today I’d like to explore an article from Burke, et al. (2018) that serves as a guide to understanding diet and exercise strategies. This entire article will be in reference to this article. I will share the link at the bottom of this post!

Let me first discuss that I am moving beyond general strategies here for overall health and talking mainly about running performance and adaptation to training.

High CHO diet

This is what we traditionally think of when we talk about endurance athletes. However, there is no clear definition of what this actually is, other than it is considered a daily diet. Definitions of a high CHO diet range from anything over 50% CHO, 60-70% CHO, 500-600g of CHO per day, or 7-10g/kg of body weight! The underlying premise is that all endurance athletes have a daily need for high amounts of fuel and these are met by high CHO intakes to support hard training. Overall, it’s not recommended to be using in isolation because it’s a poor correlation with muscle fuel needs for training.

Very interesting, huh? If you take anything from this diet is that it’s broad and based off the original research done in the 1960’s. So, this would really be seen as the starting point for endurance athletes. Don’t take away from this that CHO is not needed in larger amounts, but rather that there’s more info needed on an individual basis. Things like- type of exercise, volume, intensity, etc.

It goes back to what you have heard me say before- “Eat to your daily needs.”

Luckily, there’s been a number of updates to that original research that we can build from.

High CHO availability:

CHO spread across the day and is targeted at optimizing glycogen stores by exogenous supplies to meet the fuel demands of the days training/event. Amount is based on goals of training and body weight. Daily intake from 3-12 grams/kg of BW. Basically, we are going to make every run a focus for providing carbs right before, during, and after a run. Then the rest of the day might be a lower overall intake of CHO.

The potential problems are that it may take some guesswork and experimentation on your part to really nail down what works. In really high volume training (2+ sessions/day or 25+ hours per week of training) a person will probably have some training sessions that are low CHO availability.

Peridozed High CHO availability:

Essentially, the strategy as above, but now we decide which ones to make available based on the goals of the training. Each single session may have a different approach based on where you are at in training. So, early on, we may make all easy runs and shorter long runs low CHO availability, but keep high intensity SOS days a high CHO available day. Then, the closer we get, all SOS days may be high CHO available and keep shorter easy days at a low CHO availability. Two studies shown this to show performance improvements, but subsequent competitor studies have not been able to replicate.

Nonketogenic low CHO/high fat:

CHO availability is chronically (up to months) below muscle needs so that adaptations occur to promote fat oxidation. However, it is high enough to avoid ketosis. Typical: 15-20% CHO, 15-20% protein, and 60-65% fat daily intake. Or, CHO can be less than 2.5 grams/kg of BW. One important factor here is that this in combination with a moderate endurance program of less than 5 hours per week. I think that last sentence is pretty key to this! In context- It has been shown that this can up to double rates of fat oxidation, but this has not been shown to be in association with endurance performance overall.

I think there are some very important aspects to look at with this. The first is that there’s no doubt that it can increase fat oxidation and thus probably improve overall body composition. This alone will probably improve endurance performance.

If you weighed 200 pounds and lost 25 pounds of non excess fat, then yes, you will run faster.

However, this is only going to be true up to a point. Also, the amount and intensity of exercise you should be doing with this is pretty low- basically meeting the AHA guidelines for everyday health. I just think you are limited with the situations where this will be successful- especially long term.

Ketogenic LCHF:

A person severely restricts their CHO intake to less than 5% CHO (or 50 g/day), while protein is 15-20% and fat is 75-80% of daily intake. The basic premise is that this type of diet will produce very high rates of fat oxidation within 5 days to 2 weeks. However, extreme fatigue can occur for the first 3 weeks. Overall, exercise seems to be sustainable up to about 75% VO2max, but higher intensity exercise is not tolerated well, if at all. Another factor involved is that the severe restriction of food minimizes nutrient density and variety.

Thinking about the exercise tolerated makes sense. When we discussed macro nutrients, we talked about the body’s back up is to make glucose out of non glucose sources (both fat and protein), but it’s extra steps and it’s slow. The glycogen and glucose required for higher intensity exercise simply can’t be met with these back up mechanisms. I think it goes back to the level of athlete and their desired goal/outcome.

To wrap up, this is all pretty interesting.

For one, the body is really good at making due with what is being provided to it. Also, I think that what works for a lower level athlete isn’t particularly going to work for a higher level athlete. I am referring to both ability and amount of training.

Third, I think it’s important to note that these long term “diets” aren’t really suitable for more than a short period of time.

For instance, a high carb diet might only really be needed for a few days before a marathon. Meanwhile, a LCHF diet may be exactly what an overweight runner needs to shed some weight before starting a training plan and then can eat a more balanced diet. Lastly, what’s interesting in these diets is that the two main variables are fat and CHO. Why not change the amount of protein? For most endurance athletes, I would almost say that you keep CHO at 50-55%, fat at 15% and then protein at 30%. I’d have to work the numbers based on grams per kg of BW, but who knows? I mean, we know CHO needs are slightly higher, but so are protein needs. If we boost protein a little, we can maintain or build muscle during hard training, have a place to store glycogen, and we still change our body composition for the better. Ah well, maybe another time!

So next time, I think we continue on with the article I referenced and look at the more short term strategies and sequences for workouts and tapering (loading). I believe that propels us more into the idea that our “diet” really can shift from day to day. While one day may require a lot of CHO to replace what we utilized, another might not require as much. All in all, I think we are starting to paint the picture that from 10,000 feet, saying calories in, calories out is fine. However, as we zoom in, there’s more to it than that. Until next time!

 

Nutrition Basics: Macronutrients

I have gotten into my fair share of “discussions” regarding nutrition. As a coach and a simple observer, I could see that certain fads were just not healthy in the long term. I couldn’t explain it from a data standpoint, but my intuition always told me that any extreme swing in a nutrition plan couldn’t be healthy long term. I know how to write workouts and place them in the right place in a training plan, but that only takes you so far. Looking at my athletes, most of them know how to string days of training together, but don’t know how to deal with the details of training. So, I decided that I needed more data to accompany my intuition and decided to earn a nutrition coach certification. This certainly doesn’t make me a dietician, but certainly more equipped.

The question now becomes, “where the heck do we start?”

I don’t want to get into a major physiological discussion, but I do think it’s incredibly important to understand the role of macronutrients (fat, carbs, protein) in the body and how we utilize them to fuel our exercise.

Role of macronutrients:

Carbs (CHO) are subject to a lot of scrutiny these days. Blamed for making people fat and unhealthy. The truth of the matter is fat will also make you fat and unhealthy. Protein will also make you fat and unhealthy. If you overeat any combination of these three, you will become fat and unhealthy.

From a simple view CHO are readily available and primary source of energy in the body. Your brain prefers carbohydrates, but also helps maintain body temp and internal organ function. Utilizing carbohydrate as a fuel also indirectly helps you preserve and build muscle mass (so that your body doesn’t have to break down tissue to do so). Your body likes carbs and needs carbs to support a healthy body and exercise. It’s the type, volume, and timing of eating carbs that get people hung up. There’s also some individuality based on body type you are,  that we will get into another time.

How CHO is metabolized in the body:

  1. Glycogenesis- taking glucose and storing it as glycogen
  2. Glycogenolysis: Taking stored glycogen and converting to glucose
  3. Glycolysis: Taking glucose and turning it into pyruvate
  4. Krebs Cycle and Electron Transport Chain: Produce Acetyl-CoA to ATP, CO2 and H2O
  5. Gluconeogenesis: Turning non CHO sources to glucose. This can be
    1. Pyruvate from glycolysis
    2. Lactate from glycolysis
    3. Most amino acids
    4. Glycerol from triglycerides

Ok, so are carbs bad?

Well no, absolutely not- as long as we are eating the right volume and the right kinds. As far as volume, that depends on what we are doing and our body type. For now, let’s look at the type. The big thing is fructose, or as we tend to see it, high fructose corn syrup. It is certainly true that if you overeat this stuff, you set yourself up for a whole host of potential problems. Current research is suggesting that over 50g of fructose per day is the threshold. HOWEVER, whole food sources like FRUIT, does not contribute to this number because of their water, fiber, and vitamin content. In America, we are obsese, and there’s no way around it. We are inactive and we eat a ton of junk.

Over 20% of the average American caloric intake comes from sweeteners.

So what does 50g of this look like in real life?

  1. A 32oz soda = 50 g
  2. 32 oz sports drink = 50g
  3. 1 bag of Skittles = 24g
  4. Honey nut Cheerios and orange juice = 45g
  5. Grande Frap = 39g
  6. Gas station protein bar: 25g

You can see how easy it is to over consume these products and contribute way to much to our daily needs. However, to say that we need to go low carb is relative. Within a standard deviation of mean intake, 68% of people fall. 18% of people probably need more CHO than average and 18% probably need less. For most people, it’s about going low processed sugar and simply eating more real food.

Fat is also a nutrient that sometimes gets a bad rap, but fat is crucial for plasma membranes, hormones, transport of other nutrients, and of course, fuel. There are a number of mechanisms that fat is metabolized in the body.

  1. Fat transport and lipogenesis- Mostly as free fatty acids
  2. Fat mobilization and lipolysis- breakdown of triglycerides into fatty acids and glycerol.
  3. Fatty acid synthesis- system of enzymes that synthesizes fatty acids
  4. B-oxidation- breaks fatty acids into Acetyl CoA (remember that one?) It’s efficient, but it’s slow and it requires oxygen.
  5. Ketone formation- when CHO is low, the liver can make keytones as a glucose substitute to keep brain, muscles, and blood cells healthy.
  6. Cholesterol synthesis and catabolism

I think most people understand the first four of these. When we exercise at a low to moderate intensity, move around, walk down the hall, take the steps, etc, that fat is a great fuel source for those. However, the 5th option, the ketone formation, is all the buzz these days. With a view of carbs being bad, it makes it easy to think it’s completely fine to substitute the carbohydrate intake with a higher fat intake. However, this system is really viewed as a back up and is not the body’s preferred system and we don’t really know what the long term effects are. The diet was really intended for children with epilepsy. Permanent ketosis can lead to high blood lipids, lowered white blood cells, optic neuropathy, lower bone density. Children ultimately developed hydration problems, constipation, decreased bone mineral density, and kidney stones.

Part of the issue I see with ketogenic diets (and high carbohydrate diets for that matter) is lack of continuity in definitions. I see some where it’s  percentage of 70-75% fat for a diet and then I see others where it’s an absolute limit of 25-50g of CHO per day.

To me this is particularly dangerous as the brain alone needs 130g of glucose to function properly.

Looking at it from a logical standpoint, I wonder why I would load up on a source of energy that I already have an abundance of, but then limit the source of fuel that I have very limited stock piles of. Even if I burn a higher rate of fat, I am significantly increasing the amount of fat in my diet. Then I wonder how the limit of foods is good for overall vitamin and mineral intake. Now, to be fair, I don’t feel that a daily high carb diet is the way to go for all people either. I do think that somewhere along those extremes is a good middle ground to burn more fat, but not deprive yourself of crucial elements to overall health and performance. I realize I will get a lot of pushback on this from some people who swear by ketogenic diets, and I will welcome that discussion later. However, for now just bear with me as this is just a general discussion of macronutrients.

Protein is the final  macronutrient I want to discuss today. Like the other two we have discussed, it’s vital to everyday health and running performance as long as it’s consumed in the right manner. Protein is crucial to giving our body strength and structure, make enzymes and hormones, helping our immune system, and transportation.

The three protein pathways are:

  1. Protein turnover (synthesis and breakdown)
  2. AA catabolism and deamination
  3. Transamination

In terms of providing energy, we need to look at deamination. In deamination, AA are broken down and the portion that remains is called a carbon skeleton. That carbon skeleton can then be converted into one of the following:

  1. Glucose
  2. Ketone bodies
  3. Cholesterol
  4. Fatty acids
  5. A product needed for Krebs cycle where it would ultimately be resynthesized into ATP

These conversions are all seen as backups to when we are under duress of starvation or fasting and isn’t intended to be the primary source of energy.

When you look at use of energy during a marathon and it’s typically less than 2%.

From an endurance athlete standpoint, how much do we need for optimal intake? A healthy sedentary person needs about 0.8g per kg of body weight. An athlete needs anywhere from 1.2-2.2g per kg of body weight. Endurance athletes would probably fall in the middle of those ranges. I think max rate of digestion is something like 3.6 g/kg. This increased rate isn’t for fuel, but rather to help rebuild and repair the muscle damage we create with heavy training.

At the end of the day, if we eat too much excess dietary fat, it gets stored as fat. If we eat too much carbohydrate we increase carbohydrate oxidation. This impairs fat oxidation and causes more dietary fat to be stored. Finally, excessive protein increases protein oxidation and also causes a decrease in fat oxidation. The end result that if you overeat any macronutrient, your body will store more fat.

When we engage in a certain diet, we ultimately gravitate towards high or low CHO. A lot of old school endurance athletes feel like they need to be 60% and above on CHO intake daily. Now, the new school is suggesting that high amount of daily fat is where it’s at. We also tend to muddy the waters between what is ok for a sedentary person and a person in full-blown marathon training. Either way, if a strategy beyond eating an overall balanced diet is extended for a long period of time, then you definitely increase the risk for many nutrient deficiencies and potential health issues.

Where to go from here?

I think we talk about the definition of diets. We can also discuss the idea of “Fueling the day.” Finally, we can talk about safe strategies to decrease fat weight, maintain muscle mass, and improve performance.

 

Course 4 of our Boston Marathon Series is ready!

Our 4th course of the installment focuses on nutrition, starting from general nutrition, then narrowing down to performance considerations and your taper strategy. This is a course that all marathoners could benefit from, not just those running Boston. If you've taken the previous courses, then you probably received an email with a 15% off code for this course. I am writing this one to provide you a better code! How about one for 100% off?

 

To see the course: Course 4 Nutrition

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