Based on the website WWW.CPTIPS.COM

This blog is based on the scientific content in the website Cycling Performance Tips. Idea about a new topic --forward it to the webmaster for CPTIPS.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Training - Is there science in "training to the numbers"?

You have put in your base miles. You are feeling good on the bike. And you have made a personal commitment to improve your speeds and aerobic threshold. But where next?? Friends talk about heart rate monitors and "training zones". You have read about lactate threshold and the theory of pushing your limits using intervals. And in surfing the web you have stumbled across the Carmichael Training System Field Test (CTS). But the numbers vary from program to program. Which ones are right - is there any science to call upon?

The fact is that all these training programs are based on the same principles, all provide improvement, and there is not a proven "best" way (at least based on any head to head comparisons I've  been able to find). In fact, after chasing my own persoanl heart rate numbers from day to day (which varied significantly - especially when I compared them to my road speeds and how I physically felt) I decided that logic really supported perceived exertion as the most logical. And for the last many years, that is how I have trained. I have found myself much happier in my training, feeling less stressed than when I would miss my day's target, and I find I am just as strong as ever when it comes to how I ride. So in the end, I think this is a personal choice, and the real decision lies in that commitment to take that first step to push your comfort limits and stress the cardiovascular system.

I think the following question and my answer reflect the frustration many feel and my approach:

Question:  I am not sure which base calculation I should use for setting up my training zones. My measured Max HR is 181 and my measured LTHR (by the CTS) is 170. Do I base my zones off the MHR or the LTHR. Because of the high LTHR compared to my low measured MHR, there is a large disparity between the two zones. Training so far using the MHR method seems hard enough, but should I be pushing it harder and go for the LTHR method? - BL

My answer:  As far as I can research it, the CTS Field Test is a proprietary Carmichael idea. I could not find any studies that correlate it with traditional methods to determine lactate threshold or MHR.

Will it work? Sure, any approach that forces you to push yourself will lead to improvement. Is it the best? There is no data.

What are the risks of picking one approach over another? If the heart rate you are aiming for in a recovery zone is too high, you risk over training when you really wanted to be in what is a very important part of a training program, a recovery zone, and as a result you risk a higher rate of burnout or overreaching/over training in your program. And if you are riding at a high level threshold zone at a heart rate that is excessive, you may be putting in a lot of unneceassary pain for minimal additional if any increase in training benefits (and may in the end decide to bag the whole thing).

There is no question that I feel different in training from day to day - what I ate, time of day, an extra cup of coffee, and even the effects of my ride the day before. I worked through this quandary (for myself) a number of years ago and decided that perceived exertion (not using HR numbers) avoided the focus on the monitor and in my mind made the most sense to maximize my training benefits and keep cycling enjoyable.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nutrition. No fuel = No performance. Carbohydrates are the key!

Your muscles need fuel (Calories) to function. If you do not provide enough energy (Calories) and in the right form, your performance will suffer no matter how rigorous your training program or balance of training and rest. If you have been on a good diet, your body should have enough stored carbohydrate energy to perform at a high level for 1 1/2 to 2 hours before you bonk. For longer rides, or if you are riding daily and not replacing Calories, you need to provide additional energy in what you eat and drink (energy drinks, not water alone) to maintain performing at your best.

These Calories need to be in the form of carbohydrates, not protein or fat. In fact, you have enough fat stored in your body to exercise for days (really) but as it is not as efficient a fuel as carbohydrates (sugar) you will only be able to maintain about 50% of your personal maximum. This is why you Bonk - you are running on fat Calories alone.

Riding day after day (multiday rides) are a special case. You have to actively work to replenish, each day, what you expended that day, or, over time, you will find you are slowly running out of oomph as carbohydrate stores are depleted and fat takes over as the source of the muscle's energy.

Here is the question that prompted this post:

I am preparing for Texas Hell Week, a cycling event in Fredericksburg that incorporates 8 straight days of 100+ miles rides. I am an avid cyclist who commutes 24 miles daily and I generally put in 3 to 5 hour rides on Saturday and Sunday. I love being on the bike and am fairly strong but am concerned about nutrition after my rides. I have been using a supplement called MuscleMilk for some time as a post ride supplement to build muscle. I'm about 165 pounds (fluctuates 163-168) and 5'8" and would like to lose some weight. I don't count Calories mostly because I don't have the patience. I'd like to drop down to around 155 lbs ultimately, but my main concern right now is Hell Week.

At any rate, looking at your site and thinking about the label on a bucket of powdered MuscleMilk... that stuff has a lot of calories (~250), gobs of protein (~42g) as well as a fair amount of fat and not much CHO. My thought was to drop that in favor of Endurox R4 for post ride recovery. It has more CHO, less protein and less fat. Then I saw your recipes for drinks and figured that might be a better deal... I hate Coke. Seriously, I just think it’s a nasty substance.

Instead of drinking carbs, can I eat carbs and drink fluids and replenish in the same manner as the shelf products? I'm a little confused about what constitutes carbs in the form of glucose as opposed to fructose. If memory serves correctly fructose is fruit and glucose is ... Simple sugars? Dense multi-grain Bread? What about meat products? - GS

My comments-

1) You want to replenish the energy you expend on the ride each day with carbohydrate Calories. Maybe a smidgen of protein if you believe the articles about better carbohydrate absorption with a little protein in the mix, but no fat. So get rid of the muscle milk if it is CHO light and all the Calories are fat and protein. It provides the wrong type of Calories to support riding at your best.

2) I'd go with at least 50% of your glucose replacement plan (fructose works too) immediately post ride (first hour or two when carbohydrates appear to be stored most efficiently in the depleted body storage areas) in liquid form (that is where my fondness for Coke comes from). Then switching to complex carbs (bread, pasta, rice) for the other 50% of your needs in the evening (with fluids). But if you are light on replacing the Calories you used that day, you will probably bonk earlier the next day. And it will get worse day by day.

3) If you hate Coke, do you like any other drinks that are based on sugar syrups? Any will work. Or you can buy more expensive sports drinks if you prefer. There is a current fad to use low fat chocolate milk which tastes good and has some sugar as a post ride Calorie source. That could add a little variety.

4) Meat (protein) does not need to be pushed. You should get enough protein from a normal balanced diet and eating more than the basic amount will just get cycled into fat.

5) If you want to lose weight (eat fewer Calories than you burn on a ride) wait till after your week long ride or I can almost assure you that you will have a bad time. It is hard to ride at your best when you are CHO deficient (negative balance). Then you are riding on fat energy alone - at about 50% of your potential. And it will feel like a struggle.

Dick Rafoth

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reaching your Personal Best - it's the balance of training, nutrition, recovery

Your "personal best" in any aerobic athletic event or endeavor is ultimately limited by your inherited (or genetic) makeup. But on the practical side, it is really the triad of:

  1. optimum training
  2. nutritional support specific for that training and the event
  3. proactive and adequate recovery
that will decide how much of your genetic potential is realized. In fact, it is not that unusual to see someone of lesser potential beat an athlete with the genetic gifts based on their commitment to a balanced training program.

Your genetics set the limits of your lung capacity, ratio of muscle fiber types, body habitus, and the mechanical aspects (advantages/disadvantages) of the relationship between limb and muscle lengths. Detailed analysis of family pedigrees suggests that both positive and negative genetic factors can be traced back for up to 6 generations.

This combination of inherited traits not only sets the ceiling or upper limit for personal maximal performance, but can also determine how quickly you will respond to a training program to achieve your optimum. Two riders, using exactly the same training program for an event, will improve at differing rates. A study of 650 subjects demonstrated that a group of riders on exactly the same endurance training plan, stratified into 5-10% slow responders, 5-10% rapid responders, with the remainder spread inbetween. And their ultimate improvement in VO2 max varied from 4 to 40%.

Understanding how you respond (compared to others) is just one part of tailoring your unique training approach which will address your strengths and needs to be understood to minimize the expected frustrations when you see someone else improving at a faster rate.

You can gain an edge by understanding these advantages of following a sound training regimen for an event to give you the edge you need. The content of this website, although originally written to minimize the limiting effects of poor pre event and event specific nutrition, will also touch on training theory and tips as well as the third component, a proactive recovery training strategy.

In the series of blogs that will follow, I will comment on all aspects of training, nutrition, and proactive recovery as they relate to developing your own a personal training program. Feel free to add comments or ask questions as they cross your mind.

Here are 5 tips to remember -
  • BE PERSISTENT - Attitude can be everything. Even though your maximum performance as measured by anaerobic threshold (AT) or VO2 max. may be predetermined, you should understand and work toward your personal optimums. A cyclist who maximizes their own AT at 93-94% of maximum heart rate can prevail over a genetically endowed slacker who has trained below their maximum.
  • BE PATIENT - Some of us reach our maximum more slowly, sometimes over years. One study documented a consistent, biopsy proven increase in the ratio of type I muscle fibers (and improvement in performance) over a 5 year training program!!
  • DON'T BE AFRAID TO TRY DIFFERENT TRAINING ROUTINES - When you feel you may have plateaued with your current training program, take a break and try alternatives - intervals, weight training, more rest. Or switch to a different type of ride, from stage races to a long tour for example.
  • BE SMART - Technique (smooth pedal stroke) and tactics are important attributes of a premier rider, along with psychological toughness. It's not all aerobic or anaerobic capacity, so don't sell yourself short. A positive attitude combined with riding smarter can make the difference.
  • SET THE RIGHT GOALS - Set realistic goals that give you the satisfaction of achievement rather than unreasonable ones that lead to disappointment from flailing at the impossible. Breaking your PR (personal record) can mean more than winning an easy criterium with little competition. And maintaining good health along with the camaraderie of a training group add to the satisfaction of training for a personal time or distance goal.
Dick Rafoth