March 31, 2022
THIS WEEK: Carbo-loading mistakes. Can salt save your marathon? Isometrics vs plyometrics. Music for better stride frequency. Hot or cold: Which is the best recovery plan? The latest coffee-caffeine update. Boston Marathon women and "warfighters." The power of positive reinforcement. More

7 carbohydrate-loading mistakes to avoid

We’re hard upon the spring marathon season, also known as carb loading time. When I first learned about pre-marathon carbohydrate loading in the late 1960s, we believed you had to deplete your glycogen supply for 3-4 days before carb loading for several days. This strategy is noted in the below article, but follow up studies revealed that it’s mainly the loading that’s important--not the depletion. Otherwise, I agree about the noted “mistakes.” Be consistent, don’t stuff yourself at a pasta party, and of course taper your training. All in the name of building your glycogen supply for a long day of 26.2. More at Run To The Finish.  

Can salt save your marathon?

I know many marathoners and even more ultra runners who swear by their savory snacks and salt pills. But the science-health-performance connections seem modest and cautionary. For example, many Americans consume too much salt, which could lead to high blood pressure. Here a research team reviewed the big questions. Conclusion: We all need sodium, perhaps 1.5 grams a day. “It is equally important for endurance athletes to consume 300–600 mg/h.” But there’s little evidence that salt can prevent muscle cramping. Salt can “mitigate” the risk of hyponatremia but “cannot eliminate it.” Distance runners should attend first to fluid consumption, then to sodium. More at Int J of Environmental Research & Public Health.

Isometrics beat plyometrics for performance boost

Plyometric strength training has often been shown to improve running performance. This trial pitted plyometrics against isometric training for six weeks. I would have bet my retirement account on the plyos, since isometric exercises don’t move the nearby joints. And I’d now be a much poorer man. Conclusion: “Both plyometrics and isometrics were similarly effective at enhancing running endurance performance. However, isometrics resulted in greater improvement to running economy.” More at Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport.

Music helps increase stride frequency

Researchers wanted to see what would happen iif they took a group of healthy runners and asked them to run while listening to music with a beats/minute that was 10 percent higher than the runners’ initial stride rate. After six weeks with this protocol, they concluded that “training with music feedback helps to increase stride frequency in recreational runners.” This could reduce future injuries, since shorter, faster strides produce lower shock impulses when running. It might even improve running economy. Plus, many runners simply find that music is motivating. More at Int J of Environmental Research & Public Health.

Your best recovery plan: hot vs cold (or both)

Here’s an excellent summary of hot (sauna) vs cold exposure for exercise recovery and adaptation. There are plenty of fans for both individually, and Lady Gaga alternates the two in her post-show recovery routine. In fact, a new paper advocates for both (contrast) plus compression, finding that the three-way combination can improve muscle function and reduce glycogen “disruption.” More at Dr. Stacy Sims.

Our regular/irregular update of coffee and caffeine research 

A review of data compiled from the massive, long term U.K. Biobank found more evidence that coffee consumption (2-3 cups a day) is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and dangerous heart rhythms, and also to a longer life. The head researcher noted that caffeine increases heart rate, and for decades many thought this must be a risky thing. But it’s apparently not. Another paper, a systematic review and meta analysis, looked into caffeine’s effect on neuromuscular fatigue. It found that caffeine “had a relatively large effect” on several measures of neuromuscular fatigue such as “endurance running or jumping or muscle bending and stretching.” The improvements didn’t come from a changed heart rate or vo2 max. More at Brain Behavior.

Women are tough enough to run Boston and be “warfighters”

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the first year women were officially allowed to enter the Boston Marathon--1972. A big celebration is planned. Women were first admitted into the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948 but not permitted to attend the military academies until the mid-1970s. Forty years later, in 2015, they gained access to all combat positions. Was this a good idea? You bet, concludes a paper titled “The Rise of The Female Warfighter.” The authors conclude: “It is clear that women are different from men in many aspects of physiology (ie, women are not just smaller men). However the salient finding is that the anatomical and physiological differences that do exist do not seem to limit the ability of women to achieve goals that are necessary to excel at all levels in the U.S. Military.” More at Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Does an altitude birth or altitude training make you faster?

Ever since East African runners began dominating marathons in the mid 1990s, we’ve wondered why. The first and easiest explanation was their birth and upbringing at high-altitude locations around 7000 feet. This has been difficult to prove, however, as Europeans often have an equal or higher vo2 max. A new study of top endurance cyclists favored those from altitude, concluding “Acute altitude exposure influences real-world performance differently in low landers and altitude natives, which might confer a competitive advantage to the latter.” On the other hand, a six-week test of altitude training (in “hypoxic rooms”) was not enough to produce major differences among experienced runners. More at Outside Online.

The power of positive reinforcement

When David Roche takes a cue from Steve Magness, we end up with a long, glancing review of positive psychology and performance. It’s glancing (for us runners), because a number of the studies look at rugby players. Also, they mostly measure testosterone, cortisol, and strength outcomes, not 5K or half-marathon performances. Still, you won’t read many articles with the words “erotic” and “porn,” so have at it … or be forewarned and take a pass. All in all, what we have here is an endorsement of the Ted Lasso school of positive coaching. More at Trail Runner.

Thyroid problems that cause occasional runner woes

Here’s a great article about a subject rarely raised in running circles--thyroid disease. Who among us doesn’t feel a bit overtired from time to time? We accept that as part of the game. However, there’s also a hormonal cause--low thyroid--that can cause excessive fatigue. Olympic marathoner Jared Ward was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, a low-thyroid condition. Other runners have developed Graves Disease from an excess of thyroid. The conditions are treatable, but difficult to diagnose because they can closely mimic the symptoms of hard training or overtraining. More at Runner’s World.

SHORT STUFF you won’t want to miss

> How to tame your nerves and emotions in the hour before a big race

> Study shows that greater midsole cushioning, as in new super shoes, increases energy return from the Achilles to help you run faster.

> Meta analysis/systematic review finds ginseng and derivatives “significantly effective in improving exercise endurance” (Note: Funded by a pharma company with a ginseng product).

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

Since I was forty and definitely slipping, I have won seven full marathons, got second six times, and third four times. I'm wondering what I can do after I'm fifty.”--Clarence DeMar, 7-time Boston Marathon winner

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. Stay well, and see you next week. Amby