As I veered left onto Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica toward the finish line at the recent Los Angeles Marathon, I began to experience a vast array of emotions probably triggered by the extreme endorphin overload I was experiencing. You’d think this would be getting old by now. I was just about to complete my 93rd marathon. I had completed close to 150 triathlons and numerous other crazy endurance events (not many have swam from Alcatraz to the mainland). But my constant fascination with the finish line in endurance events continues to be as uplifting as ever.
What goes through my mind? Well, I view entry into an endurance event as a long-term commitment. It may not be like other commitments we undertake – personal relationships, education, a career. But it is a 3- to 6-month commitment. I view it as a journey that, if successful, becomes gratifying beyond belief.
Where do I start? Well, I think the key word is “commitment”. I have committed myself to a prolonged period of training, nutrition and supplementation. As with a relationship where there are certain ideologies I must commit to for success. There is also a strict training regimen I must commit to for success. The first, and most obvious, is putting in the training time. With endurance events, you have to put in the miles. If I’m going to run a marathon, then I have to run – a lot. You have to be strategic in your training, which is beyond the scope of this article. But the bottom line is that it is a time commitment. The same is true for anyone who commits to a test of endurance – whether it’s running 26 miles or whether it’s walking around the block 5 times. You have to work to achieve your goal.
Commit to Eating Healthy
Nutrition is a component that must be adhered to when you make “that commitment”. Regardless of whether you have committed to an endurance event or just want to be healthy, you must eat a nutritionally sound diet. And that is not quite as easy as it sounds. Processed foods are all around us. In this day and age of processed foods, how do you find foods that are truly healthy? Not at your local chain supermarket, that’s for sure. These chains stock nothing but processed junk disguised as food. Don’t consume this stuff. I know it may take a little more effort, but consider shopping at health food stores rather than chain supermarkets. These stores have fresh, organic foods, the highest quality vitamins and supplements, and is a source of reliable nutrition.
Whether you are a world-class athlete or a weekend warrior, athletes always perform their best by eating a variety of foods and much of this stems from quality carbohydrates stored in the body. Healthy fats also provides the body with fuel, which I will touch upon later in this article. And training will always increase the need for protein. Finally, as I’m sure you know, water is a critical to perform at your best. Always begin an exercise session hydrated and replace as much lost fluid as possible by drinking chilled liquids at frequent intervals during exercise. Chilled fluids are absorbed faster and help lower body temperature.
Eat Complex Carbs
As mentioned earlier, people who are active benefit the most from the amount of carbohydrates stored in the body. And this is best accomplished by consuming complex carbohydrates. The general rule is don’t eat simple carbohydrates which are processed and generally white. In the early stages of moderate exercise, carbohydrates provide 40 to 50 percent of the energy requirement. Carbohydrates yield more energy per unit of oxygen consumed than fats. Because oxygen often is the limiting factor in long events, it is beneficial to use the energy source requiring the least amount of oxygen. As intensity increases, carbohydrate utilization increases.
Complex carbohydrates come from foods such as spaghetti, potatoes, lasagna, cereals and other grain products. Simple carbohydrates are also found in fruits, milk, honey and sugar. During digestion, the body breaks down carbohydrates to glucose and stores it in the muscles as glycogen. During exercise, the glycogen is converted back to glucose and is used for energy. The ability to sustain prolonged exercise is directly related to initial levels of muscle glycogen. The body stores a limited amount of carbohydrates in the muscles and liver. If the event lasts for less than 90 minutes, the glycogen stored in the muscle is enough to supply the needed energy. Do not consume extra carbohydrates as this will not be beneficial.
For my purposes (my events always last more than 90 minutes), I eat a high-carbohydrate diet two to three days before the event, which allows for maximum glycogen stores. My pre-event diet consists of 70 percent carbohydrates. Now, adjustments need to be made based on the number of hours you train.
Healthy fats also provides the body with the critical fuel it needs. For moderate exercise, about half of the total energy expenditure is derived from fats. Using fat as fuel depends on the event’s duration and your conditioning. Trained athletes use fat for energy more quickly than untrained athletes. Fat may be as much as 75 percent of the energy resource during a longer event.
Protein for Energy!
After carbs and fats, protein provides energy for the body. Exercise may increase an athlete’s need for protein, depending upon the type and frequency of exercise. Always be aware that extra protein is stored as fat. In the fully grown athlete, training builds muscle along with the protein you consume. According to the American Dietetic Association, a protein intake of 10 to 12 percent of total calories is enough. Most health professionals recommend that endurance athletes eat between 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per 2.2 pounds of body weight daily.
Finally, as you all know by now, I love supplements and I take them predominantly for energy pre-event and intra-event and for recovery post event. My favorites for my endurance events are:
CoQ10 (Ubiquinol): CoQ10 is one of those encompassing dietary supplements with both general health benefits (e.g., anti-aging, antioxidant) as well as specific health applications (e.g., cardiovascular, diabetes, etc). It is a fundamental component in energy production, immune response and protection against damage by free radicals.
Co-Q10 is part of the mitochondrial electron transport system and is synthesized in all cells. It is essential to the body’s production of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This holds special importance for the heart, which is loaded with mitochondria and has the body’s highest concentration of Co-Q10 because of the significant demands made upon it.
Aging reduces access to Co-Q10. Although it is obtained from the diet (mainly from fatty fish, organ meats, and whole grains) as well as synthesized in small amounts, both of these routes decline with age. The body’s declining capacity to extract and assimilate Co-Q10 in later years plays a role in the development of various cardiovascular conditions.
Ubiquinol is the reduced form of CoQ10 and the most highly absorbed. Ubiquinol is directly used in human metabolism as a lipid-soluble antioxidant. While standard CoQ10 (ubiquinone) supplements can be converted into ubiquinol in the body, this conversion can be less efficient in some individuals, based on age, genetics, blood sugar status or level of oxidative stress.
*I take 300 mg daily leading up to my event and 1 mg periodically during an event lasting more than 2 hours.
Clary Sage Seed Oil: The mainstream media has been reporting on the benefits of Omega 3s for years – largely in the form of fish oil and krill oil. The wide ranging benefits of these oils are undeniable. However, I have recently discovered Clary Sage Seed Oil (CSSO), another healthy Omega 3 as a source for energy. CSSO contains 50% of the Omega 3 Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA), the most stable Omega 3 found in nature. ALA does not oxidize at room temperature for up to two years. CSSO also contains 25% of the Omega 9 EFA (also found in olive oil), which reduces hypertension and is important for brain health and memory.
There are also more than 100 medicinal substances in active concentrations, among them CoQ10, the potent antioxidant agent sclareol, nine different types of natural sterols, which reduce LDL levels, and the four active forms of Vitamin E. In addition, there are many other antioxidants, anti-inflammatory substances and antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral compounds.
* I take 2 grams daily leading up to my event and 500 mg periodically during an event lasting more than 2 hours.
Glycine Propionyl L-Carnitine (GPLC): Backed by years of scientific research, GPLC (glycine propionyl-L-carnitine) has been shown to assist the body in a number of ways including:
- Energy: GPLC increases nitric oxide levels in the human blood stream resulting in the optimization of endurance, stamina and recovery. GPLC assists the delivery of oxygen and nutrients through vasodilation, encourages blood flow, and helps the production of ATP energy while diminishing harmful free radical buildup in the body.
- Recovery: Through its antioxidant properties, GPLC aids in muscle recovery by not only speeding up post workout recovery, but also recovery time during training. This helps increase both endurance and stamina.
- Cardiovascular Health: Studies show that GPLC increases nitric oxide retention, which is important to the regulation of blood circulation while improving the vasodilatory ability (increased blood flow capability) of blood vessels.
* I take 5 grams daily leading up to my event and 1.5 grams periodically during an event lasting more than 2 hours.
Ribose: High-intensity exercise means different things to different people. However, simply put, it means stressing muscles beyond their normal limit. Regardless of how we individually define high-intensity, the effect on our bodies is the same. Intense exertion taxes our muscles to stay energized. The resulting energy demand/supply mismatch leads to a drain in energy, depleting the cellular energy pool. This loss of cellular energy is a disaster because re-supplying this energy is slow and metabolically costly. Ribose accentuates the body’s natural process of energy synthesis. It helps to reduce the loss of energy during stress and accelerates energy and tissue recovery. Through this action, ribose helps muscles regenerate lost energy and minimizes any physiological consequences when energy is depleted.
* I take a heaping teaspoon of powder twice daily leading up to my event (for energy), five 1-gram chewable tablets after every training session leading up to an event (for recovery), and, depending on how my GI tract is feeling, one 1-gram chewable periodically during an event lasting more than 2 hours (for energy). Plus, if I am carrying a water bottle (either running or cycling), I mix a heaping teaspoon of powder into my water (for energy). After an event I take 10 1-gram chewable tablets to aid my recovery.
Note: The above supplement recommendations work for me. Please consult your qualified health professional to design a supplement regimen that is best for you.
Eat Immediately Following an Event
I always eat as soon as possible after an event – ideally within 30 minutes for the fastest recovery. Make every effort to eat two ounces of lean meat or protein equivalent; a 1/2-cup of fruit and two servings of an easily digestible carbohydrate (bread). Repeat this each hour for the next couple of hours. Protein synthesis is greatest during the window of time immediately following a workout and carbohydrates will help replete diminished glycogen stores. I understand that it is difficult to eat food within the 30-minute window after an event as you may be experiencing nausea or lack of hunger. Believe me, I have been there. However, there are ways around this. I often consume drinkable carbohydrates that contain protein in the form of a smoothie or a beverage of some sort.
So, as you can see from all the above information, this truly is a commitment. As I get closer to the marathon finish, I think of all the preparation, things I did well, things I could have improved on, things I may do different next time. However, as I cross the finish line, that all goes away and is replaced by the euphoria of success! I urge all of you to make that commitment one time in your life. It is an experience unlike any other.