June 2, 2022

THIS WEEK: Training and nutrition of the Marathon Trials women. Should you do more speed work or more distance? Compression socks might play a role at longer distances. The best “life advice” running can teach. Sugar doesn’t diminish coffee benefits. Why male runners develop bone issues. More.

How the 2020 Marathon Trials women managed their weight and training

We don’t often get to peak under the hood at the training and nutrition of Olympic Marathon Trials competitors. But here we gain insights on 146 women who ran in the 2020 Marathon Trials in Atlanta. At an average age of 30.8 years, most ran 80-90 miles/week, and had an average marathon PR of 2:39:57. They reported an average height of 5’ 5.5”, a weight of 118.5 lbs and a BMI of 19.41. They also noted that they had recorded their best marathon time at an even lower weight--1.5 lbs less than in Atlanta. 

The researchers were primarily interested in eating disorders. Among the Trials marathoners, 34% reported a prior issue, but only 6% at the time of the 2020 Trials. 67% of the Trials runners said they had restricted their food intake at times via methods like “no sugar or alcohol,” “reducing calories but increasing protein,” or “keeping calories and energy expenditure the same.” But 75% were not doing this in the three months before the Atlanta event, instead figuring their weight “would take care of itself via the training plan.”

The research team wrote in summary that “disordered eating in athletes can contribute to an array of negative consequences.” At the same time, they acknowledged: “Dieting and weight periodization can not realistically be eliminated from an athlete’s training plan, but they should be implemented mindfully.” More at Int J of Exercise Science.

Will you improve more with more speed work or distance?

It’s a really good question, and one we’d all like the answer to. So a research team put it to the test. Two matched groups of trained but non-elite runners were assigned to two weeks of: 1--5 hard interval sessions per week (ouch!); or 2--A 70% increase in volume of easy training miles, from about 30 miles/wk week to about 48 miles/wk. Both groups were given 3000-meter time trials before and after their 2-week training assignments. 

Result: Both improved about the same in the 3000-m running performance--a bit surprising when you consider that 3000m is much shorter than a half marathon or marathon. However, “The HIIT block induced some negative responses not observed in response to a comparable VOL overload,” including more muscle soreness. The researchers also called attention to the importance of “monitoring subjective recovery” to “provide the most valid and actionable assessment of ‘readiness to train.’” Visual graphic here with more at Trail Runner Magazine and Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Salt depletion doesn’t cause of marathon cramping. Consider strength training

Many of the marathoners I know are obsessed with preventing late-marathon muscle cramps, and a lot are convinced that salt and other electrolytes are the answer. The research generally disagrees, pointing instead to inappropriate pacing and muscle fatigue. The latest research paper does the same. Of 84 marathoners who agreed to a battery of tests before and after their race, 24% complained of cramping. Their sodium and potassium levels were not different from the non-crampers, but their muscle biopsies were. Conclusion: The marathon crampers did “not exhibit greater degree of dehydration and electrolyte depletion after the marathon but displayed significantly higher concentrations of muscle damage biomarkers.” Also, the non crampers were almost twice as likely to have included strength training in their preparation period. More at The J of Strength & Conditioning Research.

Running and life: the best advice ever

Three women’s running role models with books in print (Alexi Pappas) or coming soon (Alison Mariella Desir and Lauren Fleshman) discuss how lessons learned from running have helped them in other life arenas. Pappas relates an important story about bad days in training: They’re normal. They happen to everyone. You shouldn’t let them discourage you. Her Olympic coach told her she would only feel good in about 1/3rd of workouts, while another 1/3rd would be “okay,” and the final 1/3rd would be “crappy.” All three runners are careful to monitor any negative self-talk, and to find a way to recast it. More at The Cut. 

Another strike against antioxidant supplements

Runners face a double bind of sorts when it comes to antioxidants. On the one hand, running produces muscle strain and inflammation that should, in theory, be calmed by antioxidants. On the other hand, research has shown that supplements like beta carotene and Vitamins C and E don’t fight cancer, and might actually shorten lifespan. They may also interfere with the “training effect” (muscle adaptation to repeated stress). A new study appears to confirm this negative relationship. It found that runners taking supplements had lower levels of a protein, SIRT1, that activates “endogenous” (within the body) antioxidants and is normally increased after exercise training. The authors conclude: “An exogenous source of antioxidants” [ie, from supplements] could lead to “effects that are actually detrimental rather than beneficial.” More at Nutrients.

The effect of compression socks in a half-marathon 

Research on compression socks for runners remains an active area, with many reports finding no or small effects. This one falls into the “small effects” category. 20 well-trained runners ran a treadmill half-marathon with and without graduated compression socks.There were no differences in ratings of perceived exertion, heart rate, or blood lactate accumulation. The socks delivered “a positive effect on proprioceptive control of the ankle joint” at the end of the 21 km runs. This could possibly reduce injuries in long runs or races. More at J of Science & Medicine in Sport.

Coffee with sugar? It’s still life-extending

Like many I’ve been pleasantly surprised in recent years by studies showing that coffee consumption, up to 4 cups a day, is linked with a longer life. But I always wondered and felt guilty about the sugar I add to my coffee. Apparently, I’m in the clear. A large new investigation considered the sugar question, and found that it had no impact on the positive results. With or without sugar, coffee appeared protective. (Not so for artificial sweeteners.) “Moderate consumption of unsweetened and sugar-sweetened coffee was associated with lower risk for death.” I’m definitely a moderate consumer, which helps keep my sugar moderate as well. News summary at Web MD, and original study at Annals of Internal Medicine.

Do transgender women belong in female sports?

If you’re interested in the question of transgender athletes and sports, this is perhaps the best article that has been written so far. It began on page 1 of the Sunday NY Times and continued for 2 full pages inside. It also departed from prior NYT articles on the topic, focusing more on biology than culture. It’s becoming clear that physiologists-physicians and sports people believe transgender females should not be allowed in female competitions, while those with more of a social-cultural perspective believe they should. It’s entirely possible to support gender rights in all non-athletic arenas, but not in sports. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem possible to resolve this question without someone being left behind. More at New York Times.

Why male runners develop bone issues

We hear frequently about stress fractures and bone density issues in female runners, but some men also encounter bone issues. This study looked into veteran male runners who averaged about 35 miles/week. It found that higher mileage and poor diet were linked to poorer bone-health scores. This was particularly true for males who consumed fewer meals per day, less cottage cheese, fewer dairy products, less butter and cheese, and also more vegetables (They might have been substituting salads for higher calorie meals.) Conclusion: “Pro-healthy dietary patterns and lower mileage may favor high bone mineral density in male amateur marathoners.” Also: “There are multiple pieces of evidence that energy intake, the appropriate calcium to phosphorus ratio, family history, high BMI, and weight-bearing exercise influence the bone mineral density in the general population.” More at Nutrients.

Climate change likely  to lower outdoor exercising

Too few Americans exercise on a regular basis, endurance athletes dislike the summer heat, and climate change seems likely to bring us more heat. As a result, even fewer people may exercise outdoors by running or cycling. That’s the conclusion of a study that examined trail use in Austin TX across the seasons. “Pedestrians” including runners preferred to exercise when the temp was 63 F. Cyclists could tolerate more heat, turning out in the greatest numbers when the thermometer hit 81 F (Bicycling speeds generate a lot more cooling breeze against the body.) The results suggest “that climate change may reduce trail use.” More at Int J of Biometeorology. Also, World Athletics has launched an “Every Breath Counts” global campaign for clean air. You can register your support by signing a declaration here.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> A veteran runner and biomechanist summarizes all the arguments for minimalist shoes (free full text).

>>> Try a joy workout that includes simple, rhythmic movements “designed to make people happy.”

>>> A systematic review of exercise for men and women over 40 shows that “exercise exerts anti-ageing effects.”

GREAT QUOTES make great training partners

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”--Noam Chomsky

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