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Originally Posted 8/14/2008

In the world of competetive sports the word rest is not regularly used.  Athletes continually push themselves for hours on end each and every day of the week in order to become the best they can be.  Often times this means training through fatigue sickness and even injury.  On one hand this is very heroic behavior.  On the other hand it can mean a downward spiral with respect to an athlete’s health and performance in the long run.  I share a philosophy with other nutrition and sports performance professionals.  It is simple really: if you give your body half a chance it will find a way to heal.  A body regularly fueled with the proper nutrient-rich foods is of course the foundation from which this philosophy is validated.  But there is more to the story than just eating well and it makes all the difference in the world.

I am not going to explore the concept of resting your body when you have an injury.  In the first place it should be commonplace that an injured athlete at least modify his or her training regimen and seek treatment to expedite the healing process.  In the second place this is a decision that is often complicated by specific individual scenarios that go beyond the scope of this article.

I am most concerned with a more subtle sign that the body is in need of a break from training.  John Douillard explains it in his book Body Mind and Sport.  It is a very simple method and only requires a moment each morning to monitor and track.  All you need to do is create a heart rate log take your heart rate first thing each morning before you get out of bed and record it in your log.  Do this for several weeks and then compute an average.  This will be your target early morning heart rate.  You will continue to monitor and record your heart rate each day.  If on a particular day you take your heart rate and it is either 10 beats per minute higher or lower than your average (target) morning heart rate you would do well to rest from your regular regimen for the day.  A fluctuation in heart rate by 10 beats per minute or more is an indicator that your body’s immune system is preparing to mount an attack on a bacterial or viral infection in your body.  It can also mean your body is under a great deal of stress.  In any case if you push through and choose not to rest you will most likely put your body in jeopardy the result being sickness increased fatigue or even injury.

Listening to your body is typically not difficult to do.  It just takes a little practice at raising your awareness-level.  The most difficult thing for driven goal-oriented athletes to do is make the decision to actually take a break.  In the long-run however it is the key to staying healthy competitive and fulfilled.

Live well.
Ryan

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Originally Posted 12/15/2007

Recently I was discussing nutritional sports supplements with a fellow colleague in the field of nutrition.  As we discussed some of the more popular supplements on the market and in use today I realized that the focus in this area of athletic performance has increased significantly compared with when I was in organized sports.  Athletes are now taking various ergogenic aids as early as at the high school level especially in sports like football and wrestling.  There are several potential benefits to taking nutritional sports supplements.  Some of these benefits include: increased strength increased lean body mass reduced protein breakdown following exercise improved tissue repair/wound healing decreased muscle fatigue/time to exhaustion…the list goes on.  Certainly these are appealing benefits to an athlete who is looking for the edge on his or her competition.  However it is important for an athlete to be a well-informed consumer when considering supplementation.  Otherwise he or she may be putting themselves at risk for serious negative and deleterious health effects resulting from improper supplementation.

When working with clients I make it a point to help them understand how specific supplements will affect their biochemistry and ultimately their sports performance.  I also  explore with them the potential side effects of using various supplements so that they can make informed decisions.  For example there are many sports supplements that when regularly ingested require that certain nutrients/vitamins/minerals are readily available and in good supply within the body in order for them to work properly.  If one of these types of supplements is taken by an athlete who isn’t aware of the nutritional requirements for effectiveness that individual may be at risk for depleting their body of vital nutrients and missing out on the full benefit of that particular ergogenic aid.

It is also important for athletes to realize that their particular sport plays a large role in what kind of supplements they should be taking if any.  Just as a ballerina and a football player would not eat the exact same diet (never mind the difference in quantity!) they would also most likely not take the same sports supplements.  Each sport is unique with respect to its requirements for energy/endurance strength/power speed flexibility and coordination just to name a few.  This translates into needing different supplements to support those variations between sports.

At the foundation of all of this (and in my opinion far and away more important than taking supplements) I make sure my clients are nourishing their bodies with the best foods for their unique physiology each and every day.  Supplements can be a great ally to an athlete’s armamentarium however they should not be looked at as a panacea.  If you are considering supplementation be sure to discuss your situation with an experienced sports nutrition specialist.  You’ll be way ahead of the game and on your way to your best season ever!

Live well.
Ryan

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Originally Posted 6/28/2008

Let’s face it.  If you are an athlete no matter what the level you most likely have been injured in the past.  The longer you have been playing the higher the probability that you have been injured more than once.  There’s also a good chance that many of you continue to re-injure the same body part time and time again in a seemingly endless cycle.  So what gives?  Let’s say you roll your ankle and incur a severe sprain while playing soccer.  You rest you ice you compress you elevate you stretch you strengthen and you return to sport.  Maybe it’s a year later maybe it’s 6-months maybe it is 6 days later but the pattern of injury recovery and injury continues.  To say the least this pattern can be very frustrating.  But what if there was a solution?  What if you could significantly reduce the chance of injury if not nearly eliminate it?

A big part of the solution is SASTM.  So what is SASTM?  Technically speaking SASTM is an acronym for Sound Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization.  It is a form of instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization whereby specially designed instruments made of a highly resonant ceramic polymer are utilized by a trained clinician to literally break-up tissue restrictions in injured muscles tendons and ligaments.  Because the instruments are made of such a rigid material when moved across the surface of injured (read rough calcified and fibrotic) tissue they transmit sound waves through the instrument that are then felt by the clinician.  In this way the instruments act much like a stethoscope allowing the clinician to accurately detect and treat abberant tissue.

By carefully grading the pressure and direction of tissue mobilization the clinician introduces ‘controlled microtrauma’ to the affected tissue.  This then stimulates an inflammatory response and a subsequent cascade that sets the stage for tissue revascularization tissue remodeling and ultimately tissue healing.

The main reason this technique works better than other more conventional techniques is that it actually frees up restrictions (scar tissue long-standing adhesions tendonosis) in the muscles tendons and ligaments allowing movement that is biomechanically correct.  In the end this translates to fewer injuries and re-injuries which means you stay healthy and you stay in the game.  One added benefit that is certainly worth mentioning is that your performance could actually improve after having received SASTM treatment (more on this later).

As a physical therapist who is certified in SASTM I can say that this form of treatment has enhanced my ability to get athletes back to sport quickly and safely and keep them there.  No other single form of treatment even comes close.

Should you have any questions or comments please post.

Live well.
Ryan

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Originally Posted 6/3/2007

In my experience with organized sports dating back to when I was in grade school I remember learning how to stretch by assuming various postures that isolated each major muscle group.  I knew that this was the accepted ritual both before and after activity and that doing so would “get me loose for the game” and “keep me from getting hurt” or so my coaches said.  As time went on and I had played under increasing numbers of coaches and trainers I began to see that there was definitely some variation in the theory behind stretching and muscular flexibility in general.  Some of my coaches said I should get my muscles warm by jogging a half mile or so before I stretched.  Others said I should only stretch after practice or competition.  Still others did not even emphasize stretching at all and left me and my teammates to our own devices when it came to flexibility training.

During this time of my formative sporting years I began to develop my own theories on stretcihng and used myself as a guinea pig of sorts to test my hypotheses.  I tried everything from not stretching at all to stretching cold to stretching warm to stretching during competition to stretching after competition to just imagining myself stretching and more.  You would think that I really enjoyed stretching from the sound of this but I can tell you that for me stretching was never a walk in the park.  When I had to perform the sit-and-reach during the “Presidential Physical Fitness” testing in school I always scowled thinking to myself that this test had nothing to do with how fit I was.  The real reason that I held a certain amount of distaste for sit-and-reach was due to the fact that I was extremely inflexible and found it almost impossible (and quite painful) to even reach the nominal “passing” grade of the 25th percentile.  This is when I really began to test my theories however and the testing hasn’t stopped since.

With an undergraduate degree in biomechanical engineering and a doctorate in physical therapy I have studied musculoskeletal anatomy neuro-anatomy and the biomechanics of human movement quite extensively over the last 12 years.  I have certainly learned a great deal with respect to both active (read muscular) and passive (read ligamentous/fascial) connective tissues.  What I have discovered is that although most of us come out of the box with ample flexibility (babies are pretty floppy until their muscles begin to develop) everything changes from there.  Some people are able to sustain and even improve on their good flexibility while others struggle just to maintain the ability to bend down and touch their toes (or sit-and-reach and attain the meager 25th percentile mark).  So why the variation as time goes on?  And is flexibility really that important anyway?

When I was in kindergarten and the teacher sent us to the big red shag carpet square to sit for story time I sat “pretzel-style” with my legs folded in front of me.  My best friend would sit right next to me in a “W” configuration in which he kneeled quite extremely to the point that his knees and hips were hyper-flexed and his lower legs and feet pointed out to the side.  You may be thinking I’m running on a completely wild tangent right now but let me drive this point home right now.  I was regularly and habitually assuming a sitting position that put my hips into external rotation and my best friend was assuming a sitting position that put his hips into internal rotation.  In essence we both sat in ways that put our hips in opposite directions with respect to rotation and now to this day he has a great deal more internal rotation in his hips than me and I have a great deal more external rotation in my hips than he does.  My point is that over time our bodies adapt to the positions we put them in and muscles nerves ligaments skin and fascia all either lengthen or shorten to optimize our habitual positions.  What does this mean in the big picture?

Each sport has a unique range-of-motion profile with some requiring more than others both globally (entire body) and locally (one or two body parts).  If you want to perform optimally in your particular sport it is essential that you have adequate flexibility in both your active and passive connective tissues.  If you don’t you will have to work much harder to achieve the same results as a more flexible athlete and over time you will develop mechanical compensations that lead to tissue breakdown tissue failure and ultimately injury.  So what are the best ways to increase flexibility?

I believe that there is no singular best practice to increase flexibility.  It is important to incorporate several techniques.  It is also important to choose techniques that you can adhere to on a regular basis otherwise you won’t see results.  The first place to start is by maintining adequate hydration so that the plastic elastic and viscoelastic qualities of your connective tissue are as high as possible all the time.  Next consider an active/dynamic form of stretching before exercise/practice/competition.  This is a form of stretching where you are moving your body through sport-specific ranges of motion by activation of your muscles.  It helps prepare the body by giving it stretching input and also by warming the tissues and circulating blood.  Passive stretching can be an excellent adjunct to active stretching but should really only be performed after exercise/practice/competition as you will see most gains that way and will minimize injury.  Finally consider yoga tai chi or another form of soft martial art that will act as a time for you to focus on slowly gaining flexibility and body awareness over the long-term.

Flexibility is not something you can improve overnight.  It takes diligence but it is definitely worth the effort in the long run.

Live well.
Ryan

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Originally Posted on 4/17/2007

As more and more people have realized the proven health dangers of eating based on the standard American diet (SAD) they are looking to make a healthy change.  Many choose to give vegetarianism (of one form or another) a try.  Included among these people are competitive endurance athletes.  Although it wasn’t as popular or as prevalent 10 years ago vegetarianism among athletes and especially endurance athletes is most definitely on the rise.  You may know of someone who claims to be following some form of a vegetarian diet be it vegan (excludes all animal foods dairy products and eggs) lacto-vegetarian (excludes all animal foods and eggs) lacto-ovo-vegetarian (exludes all animal foods) semi-vegetarian (no red meat) fruitarian (raw or dried fruits nuts seeds honey and vegetable oil) or any other hybrid plant-based platform.  You yourself may be experimenting with one such diet hoping that by eating a well-balanced plant-based diet you will not only be healthier but will perform better in your particular sport.  If this is the case and you are serious about eating this way then you may find the rest of this article to be of particular interest to you.

Typically the most popular draw of a vegetarian diet for the endurance athlete is the high carbohydrate (CHO) intake involved and the potential for making it easier to maintain a low body mass (BM).  Additionally it has been well established that vegetarian diets are protective against many common diseases including some cancers coronary artery disease diabetes and obesity.  While the idea/concept of a plant-based diet sounds good on paper what does it take to effectively facilitate and execute one?  And at the end of the day do the benefits/rewards outweigh the risks involved in eating in such a manner?  My intention for this article is to neither persuade nor dissuade you from choosing a vegetarian diet.  I only want to present relevant information that you can use to help you in your decision-making process.

The jury is still out with respect the effect of a vegetarian diet on exercise performance however research has shown that there are significant training and competition benefits in consuming a high CHO diet.  And high CHO intake is typically easier to achieve with a vegetarian diet compared to a mixed diet.  The most important consideration to any diet be it plant-based or mixed is that it is well-balanced so that the athlete does not become deficient in any nutrients.  We will explore these considerations now.

As far as calories are concerned a vegetarian diet does pose a challenge.  Due to its high fiber content a vegetarian diet can cause an individual to feel full before he or she has consumed an adequate amount of calories for his or her energy needs.  The best way to combat this is to incorporate more calorie-dense foods into the diet.  Appropriate vegetarian meat alternatives include tofu tempeh nuts and seeds.  Regular ingestion of these foods will help the athlete augment his or her diet with enough calories to perform at a competitive level without running into energy issues.

Competitive athletes require 1.2 to 1.5 g/kg of BM per day of protein.  Although this can be a challenge for vegetarian athletes (especially for those that are vegan) it is possible to consume adequate amounts.  Concern has been raised in the past regarding plant food sources of protein not being able to supply all of the essential amino acids.  This notion has been debunked by the American Dietetic Association which suggests that vegetarian diets so long as they are comprised of adequate calories are able to supply sufficient protein without amino acid supplementation.

Especially among female endurance athletes iron intake is an issue that should not be ignored.  Endurance athletes typically require higher levels of iron than a sedentary individual to begin with.  Couple this with the fact that vegetarian sources of iron (non-heme) are not as bioavailable as animal sources and you have a serious concern on your hands.  In addition certain plant-based sources of iron contain natural iron inhibitors such as polyphenols phytates and tannins.  However vitamin C and citric acid are known increase the absorption of non-heme sources of iron.  Of interest to any health-conscious athlete vegetarian or otherwise is the fact that eating too much meat can create an over-abundance of iron in the system thereby leading to the formation of free radicals which damage tissues and create the potential for disease formation.

Aside from dairy products few if any foods provide a concentrated source of calcium.  However what many people don’t realize is the fact that broccoli (and almost all other greens) contain more bioavailable calcium than milk and without the added fat and cholesterol.  There are a few greens that cannot be counted on for supplying the body with calcium.  These greens are high in oxalic acid and other phytates (which inhibit calcium absorption) and they include spinach and rhubarb.  Arguably it is less important for the athlete to concern themselves with adequate calcium intake and more important for them to focus on minimizing calcium losses.  This is done by maintaining adequate but not excessive protein intake exercising (we’re talking about athletes here) controlling sodium intake and getting vitamin D either through sunlight or supplements.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is clinically rare however your body does need traces of it for healthy blood and nerve function and if anyone is at risk for low levels of B12 it is a vegetarian who is more specifically vegan.  No active vitamin B12 is found in any plant foods.  It is only found in animal foods.  The interesting part about B12 is the fact that it actually isn’t made by plants or animals but by bacteria and other single-celled organisms.  The reason it is found in animal foods and products is because it is formed in the intestines of animals and ends up in trace amounts in the meat.  If you’re vegetarian the best way to ensure adequate levels of B12 is to eat fortified cereals drink B12 fortified soy milk or take B12 supplements.

Zinc is important for immune function and your body’s ability to heal wounds.  It is also essential for a myriad of biochemical reactions in the body.  Studies are inconclusive as to the levels of zinc intake between vegetarians and non-vegetarians however high intake of fiber as in a vegetarian diet can negatively impact zinc absorption.  Healthy vegetarian sources of zinc include nuts legumes and fortified breakfast cereals.

Riboflavin or vitamin B2 is essential for energy production through fat and protein metabolism.  It is also necessary for red blood cell formation antibody production cell respiration growth and development.  Soy is a good source of riboflavin for the vegetarian athlete as are vitamin B2 supplements.

This has been a general survey of the key nutrients needed for optimal athletic performance.  It is my hope that you will take this information and use it as a springboard to learning more about them.  Remember that bioindividuality plays a huge role in choosing what works best for you as a unique athlete and human being.  Use research and information about nutrition but get to know your own body and its responses to what you eat when you eat and how you eat.  This can be a more tedious process than just following an outlined regimen but it will pay large dividends in the end with respect to your performance overall health and well being.

Live well.
Ryan

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Originally Posted on 3/11/2007

It has been said that you can live for 4 weeks without food and even 4 days without water.  Yet after only 4 minutes without oxygen your chances of survival are extremely slight.  It is safe to say that each of these elements is essential to human survival however most people don’t see themselves running low oxygen any time soon.  Interestingly enough most people breathe as if that is just the case.  Why do I say this?

First let me explain the two basic types of breathing…diaphragmatic/abdominal and chest/clavicular.  In diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing the diaphragm (an umbrella-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs) contracts during inspiration (breathing in).  When it contracts it flattens out and pushes down on the abdominal cavity creating a protrusion of the abdomen.  As it does this the lower ribcage expands causing an increase in the thoracic space where the lungs are housed.  This causes oxygen-rich air to move primarily into the lower lobes of the lungs.  During exhalation natural elastic recoil of the ribcage and diaphragm pushes the oxygen-poor air out of the lungs with help from the abdominal muscles which can be engaged to expel as much oxygen-poor air from the lungs as possible.  In chest/clavicular breathing (the method most often practiced by people in our society) the intercostal (between the rib) muscles and the muslces in the front of the neck that attach to the top of the collarbones vertically lift the ribcage/chest cavity in order to create space for the lungs to expand.  This causes oxygen-rich air to move primarily into the upper and middle lobes of the lungs.  Exhalation of oxygen-poor air is pushed out during elastic recoil of the intercostal and neck musculature to complete the cycle.  So which type of breathing is better during sports and why?

The upper lobes of the lungs house a concentration of sympathetic nervous system receptors that are activated when we breathe air into these regions consistently as in chest/clavicular breathing.  This triggers a typical sympathetic fight or flight stress response in the body.  This is exactly what should happen when we are faced with an emergency situation like being pursued by a hungry mountain lion because the body is then ready to deal with such a serious threat to it’s survival.  However in our day to day lives this response is unnecessary and actually detrimental to our health and well-being in many ways.  The lower lobes of the lungs house a concentration of parasympathetic nervous system receptors that are activated when we breathe air into these regions consistently.  When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated the body and mind are calm and composed an ideal state for optimum sports performance.

In addition to this there is a significant difference between the middle/upper lobes of the lungs and the lower lobes with respect to each region’s ability to transfer oxygen to the bloodstream.  The middle and upper lobes of the lungs are not nearly as well vascularized as the lower lobes of the lungs.  This means that when we regularly breathe air into the middle and upper lobes (which if you look around a health club most people do) the amount of oxygen getting to the bloodstream and ultimately to our cells is much less than when we breathe air into the highly vascularized lower lobes of the lungs.

If you want to perform in your sport at the highest level that you possibly can employing proper diaphragmatic breathing techniques to drive air primarily into the lower lobes of the lungs will benefit you greatly…not only in your sport but in your everyday life as well.  In my 6-month program I train my clients to breathe in such a way that allows them to maximize their lung capacity for optimum blood oxygenation.  Their breathing becomes much more efficient as does their workout and competition performance.

So here’s to making the most of vitamin O and to making the most of your sports performance and enjoyment.

Live well.
Ryan

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Originally Posted on 2/22/2007

As promised I want to give you some tips on how to make the most of a big day in your particular sport whether it be competition training or otherwise so that you can feel and perform at your absolute best.

Let’s start with hydration.  In my podcast about hydration called ‘Body of Water’ I explain many of the healing benefits of staying properly hydrated at all times.  There are too many points to outline in this post however with respect to energy water is a key ingredient.  In his book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water Dr. Batmanghelidj explains that water at the cell membrane (by osmotic flow through it) generates hydroelectric energy thereby creating ATP and GTP (chemical sources of energy) which can be used at a later time for the body to draw on when it needs more energy.  A good rule of thumb for an exercising individual is to drink 2/3 of an ounce of water for every pound you weigh.  So multiply your weight (in pounds) by 2/3 and use that as a starting point for hydrating yourself throughout the day.  Of course bioindividuality must be taken into account as your body may need more or less so pay close attention to your urine making sure that it is a light yellow at all times.

Remember that muscle glycogen is the fuel stored in your muscles to be used during sports requiring highly intense activity.  When muscle glycogen stores are low your ability to produce powerful muslce contractions for prolonged periods of time diminishes.  This typically results in fatigue/lethargy during your sport.  With respect to building up glycogen stores in your muscles studies show that your body is most sensitive to insulin (the hormone that is responsible for transporting glucose (carbohydrates) into the muscles for storage as glycogen) during the first 2 hours following exhaustive exercise.  After this time the body becomes more resistant to insulin meaning less glucose is moved to the muscles.  So on days when you either compete or have an especially taxing training day it would be a good idea to replenish your body with high quality carbohydrates shortly after you are finished.  Avoid pop candy doughnuts and other processed chemicalized junk foods.  Rather try whole wheat bagels/breads potatoes brown rice pasta rice cakes or honey.  Fructose (fruit fruit juice sugar) has been shown to be less effective in its ability to be stored as muscle glycogen so this should not be your primary choice immediately following exercise.  Fruits are important for liver glycogen storage so eating various fruits throughout the week is a great way to top off your liver stores.  A good rule of thumb for carbohydrate supplementation after competition or intense exercise is 1.0 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight.  Studies have confirmed that this is the ideal amount to maximize recovery and get your body ready for the next bout of activity.

Hopefully this gives you some insight about taking steps to maintain your energy throughout the season.  In my posts I will continue to stress bioindividuality.  All of the scientific studies in the world cannot compare to your ability to read your own body.  I suggest that you take this information as a baseline and devise your own individual experiments with yourself.  A great way to do this is by creating an exercise training journal that includes a section for what and how much of each food you eat and the times you eat them in relation to activity.  You will also want to write about your performance that day with respect to your energy levels.  Over time you will be able to create a program that fits you.

In my next post I will discuss the benefits of proper breathing for better sports performance.  Until then…

Live well.
Ryan

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