Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Favorite Workouts (Part III): Bike Sessions

This is the third part in a series of my favorite workouts. Check out Part I on swim sessions here and Part II on run workouts here

Back when I was setting my goals for the 2013 season, I mentioned wanting to both gain additional power on the bike, and become stronger and more efficient running off the bike. Not only are the following workouts a few of my favorites, but I've found myself regularly incorporating them into my routine as of late to work towards those two goals. The interval sessions are a lot easier to structure on an indoor trainer, but can certainly be done outside if the weather is cooperating and you have access to some decent stretches of stop-sign-free roads. Brick workouts can be structured a hundred different ways and can be done either outside or inside, barring you have access to a treadmill as well.

So, let's dive into the workouts.

Modified Tabata Protocol

This is my go-to workout when I'm crunched for time. Now, traditional tabata training can be applied to almost anything, whether push ups, squats, running, or cycling. The basic concept is the same: 4 minutes of 8 intervals lasting 20 seconds. The kicker is that these 20 seconds are flat-out, as hard as you can go. The concept is based of research done in Japan by Izumi Tabata who essentially found this type of high-intensity intervals training to benefit both aerobic and anaerobic fitness to a greater extent than doing moderate high-intensity training. I always do this workout on the indoor bike trainer, and it's great for those cold or wet days when you don't feel like getting outside.

10 minute warm-up

15-20x 40 seconds as fast as possible / 20 second recovery

5 minute cool down


Bike Gear Intervals
This is another great session for the trainer that I incorporated quite frequently during the winter months. Not only is it a solid session for maintaining decent fitness during the off-season, but in really focusing on building strength and endurance on the bike, I incorporated a lot of bigger gear work into my workout structure. This is predominately a cold-weather session as a substitute for hill intervals, which I've begun to do now that the weather is getting a little warmer (not exactly the same as hill intervals, but it gets at some of the same strength objectives). The design of the session is another I've adapted from Chris McCormack's MaccaX12 program.

15 minute warm-up

9 minute holding about a 90-95 cadence in a moderate gear
1 minute recovery

The subsequent intervals use the following time pattern, while increasing the gear each interval and trying to hold the same cadence. The last interval should be on one of the biggest gears (if not the biggest).

8 minute / 2 minute recovery
7 minute / 3 minute recovery
6 minute / 4 minute recovery
5 minute / 5 minute recovery

5 minute cool down


Brick Workouts
I've mentioned the benefits of brick workouts before, or doing a run session immediately following a bike session so as to try and simulate "running off the bike" as you would in a race. Coming from a running background, I've made a concerted effort this off-season to try and improve on the bike, particularly to ensure I have enough in the tank for my strongest of the three triathlon disciplines. I've found that the run segments don't necessarily have to be long as long as your consistent with including them. That's where the improvement lies.

20-25 minute warm-up

3-4x 5 miles at race pace

5-10 minute spin at a slightly higher gear to get the legs turning over and primed for the run

2-3 mile run at close to goal pace immediately following the bike session


In the fourth and final part of this series I'll be sharing a few of my favorite strength training exercises. I've regularly incorporated strength training for years, sometimes for different goals, but it's nonetheless proved invaluable for strength (obviously), but also endurance and injury prevention. Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is that really tuna you're eating? The unfortunate reality of seafood fraud

The importance of consuming fish has become a fairly common part of nutritional advice. There are certainly a variety of well-known health benefits to eating fish, particularly cold-water fish that contain a strong omega-3 fatty acid profile. In my February Reading Roundup I linked to a major study just published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine that showed the benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet, which according to the study protocol, included a recommended three or more servings of fish (preferably fatty) a week.

But, before you go and buy just any piece of fish, make sure it's really what the label says it is.

A few weeks ago there was a new study released that generated quite a bit of buzz in the media; the focus - fraud in the seafood market. The study, conducted by a company called Oceana, used DNA analysis to answer the basic question: is the seafood we buy at the grocery store or sushi restaurant really the type of fish that's being marketed?

Over three years (2010 to 2012) Oceana staff and volunteers involved in the study purchased some 1,200 seafood samples from 675 retail outlets in major cities in 21 states in the United States. The specific retail outlets they looked at were restaurants, sushi venues, grocery stores and seafood markets, and used the well-known websites Zagat and Yelp to identify retail outlets. Those involved with the study focused particularly on a select group of fish species that had been found to be mislabeled in other studies or had some regional significance.

The genetic identify was found in 97 percent of all samples tested, which consisted of 46 different types of fish, with more than 80 percent consisting of various types of salmon, snapper, cod, tuna, sole, halibut and grouper.

Here's what they found.

Snapper was the most commonly mislabeled type of fish, followed by tuna and cod. Salmon, which was the most sampled type of fish, was also found to be correctly labeled the most. Also, seabass was never found to be correctly labeled, and yellowtail was only found correctly labeled three times (compared to mislabeled 24 times).

My wife and I love sushi, but this next graph certainly gave me reason to pause. Almost three-quarters of all fish sampled at sushi restaurants was found to be mislabeled! On a more positive note, the majority of fish samples were taken from fish in grocery stores, but they were also found to have the lowest percentage of mislabeled fish.

More than half of all fish sampled in Pennsylvania and southern California were found to be mislabeled. That's pretty staggering. Even more so, there were nine additional cities where 25% of fish samples were found to be mislabeled (even including my hometown of Washington, DC).

Salmon is a huge part of my diet (along with a lot of other people being one of the most commonly consumed fish in the U.S.), so I was particularly interested in this next graph looking specifically at mislabeled salmon. One specifies in particular to note is wild salmon, which was found to be mislabeled a number of times as Atlantic salmon. A similar mislabeling was found for king salmon.

What is the bottom line here? Is it that we should stay away from sushi restaurants or not eat as much fish? Don't count on me being one of those people. I think the real value of this study is to reinforce a point I continue to try and make through this blog: pay attention to where your food comes from and the quality of the food we eat really matters. I'll still continue to have the occasional sushi meal, but I certainly make sure I'm going to a reputable restaurant that I know sells a quality product. Ditto with the grocery store. 

So, I'll leave you with this...continue to ask questions and investigate where your food comes from. It matters. Because in the end, that piece of tuna you're eating, may not be tuna.

Monday, March 11, 2013

My Favorite Workouts (Part II): Running sessions

This is Part II of a series on some of my favorite workouts where I share a few running sessions I've incorporated into my training over the past year. Check out Part I on swim sessions here.

Modified Time Trial ("Mini Races")

This is one of my favorite types of workouts to do on the weekend with a bit more time, but I'll usually always keep the "main set" portion of the workout to 45-90 minutes. The example I have below is one I used several times in my build-up to the Philadelphia Marathon last year and was critical for three main reasons in helping me post a Boston qualifying time. First, the goal was to progress towards race specificity by simulating race pace (or slightly faster) during the 25 minute time trial. The second aspect was mental. Using 30 minutes as a structure for each interval (including the recovery) was something I carried over mentally to a full marathon race. Sure, for a full marathon at a 3 hour pace it's essentially doubling the set, but breaking the race up into smaller intervals, or "mini races," allows the mind to focus on something a bit more proximal rather than the daunting challenge of 26.2 miles. Lastly, I love this workout because it's all about feel. It's more about getting in tune with what 25 minutes at race pace feels like.

2-3 mile warm-up

3x25 minutes at slightly faster than race pace with the aim of covering a greater distance with each subsequent interval (You can vary the time of the interval based on the distance you're training for).

5 minute recovery between each set

1-2 mile cool down

This is a session I do in my neighborhood on about a 1/3 mile stretch of road. The great part about it is the beginning is a 100-150 yard incline, then it's relatively flat, and ends with a 100-150 yard decline. Hence the name table-top - the incline/decline on either end are the table legs and the flat is the table top. The workout is structured around 2:00 minute intervals, with roughly the first 20-30 seconds on incline, the middle 1:00-1:20 segment on a relatively flat segment, and the final 20-30 seconds on a downhill. Similar to the short high-intensity interval swim workout from my favorite workouts swim positing, the goal is consistency. If you go out too hard on the first two or three, you won't have enough in the tank for the last two or three. After that 10th

10-15 minute warm-up

10x 2:00 minutes at faster than 5k pace with a :25 second rest between sets

5 minute cool down

Incline or Speed (on treadmill)
This is one of those workouts you dread, but feel incredible once it's over. Similar to the previous workout, the fact that it's interval based makes it a good weekday workout focused on speed. I never used to enjoy treadmill workouts, but the controlled environment really allows you to dial in on specific paces. As you progress through each interval, alternate between increasing the incline (I usually do by 1 or 1.5) or the speed, which I usually do about 15 seconds. By the time you get to the last interval, you're essentially running faster than your 5k pace (above lactate threshold) and up a fairly challenging incline. 

10-15 minute warm-up

6x 2:00 minutes with 1:00 recovery, increasing the incline by one on the odd numbers and increasing speed by 10-20 seconds on the even numbers (or whatever your desired interval).

5 minute cool down


Give them a try and let me know how they measure up. Stay tuned for the next posting in this series where I'll share a few of my favorite strength training exercises.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Monthly Reading Roundup: February 2013

A few days late, but here is the second installment of my Monthly Reading Roundup. A few headline-grabbing studies were published during the past month, including one on Mediterranean diets and the other by the well-known pediatrician from UCSF Robert Lustig, who does a ton of research on the links between sugar and chronic disease. A few other things to note, one being the use of cold therapy and metabolism (something I'm experimenting with and I'll be writing about soon), and then a bonus video at the end.




Once a Runner: A novel, by John L. Parker


"Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet," Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et. al. (New England Journal of Medicine, March 2013)


"The gluten-free triathlete: Part II," Ironman News, March 2013

"Are you majoring in the minors?" Elite FTS, March 4, 2013

Challenges and Opportunities for Change in Food Marketing to Children and Youth, Institute of Medicine Workshop Summary, March 4, 2013

"A different view of intensity and volume," Elite FTS, February 28, 2013

"For self-quantifiers using, life is but a spreadsheet," Washington Post, February 16, 2013

"Hot Trend: Tapping the Power of Cold to Lose Weight," Wired Magazine, February 12, 2012



And there's one more thing I wanted to share this month, which comes in the form of a video featuring one of my favorite endurance athletes - Tim "Lucho" Waggoner. 

"Quality of life is when you wake up everyday and you wouldn't change a thing. That's it."

Monday, March 4, 2013

"Great for You" Food Labelling: Great for nutrition or great for the bottom line?

First Lady Michelle Obama took to the media last week to hype some of the progress on the anniversary of her Let's Move Initiative. Particularly, she discussed a bit about how the initiative is helping to move big corporations like Wal-Mart to offer "healthier" grocery options. And despite some significant criticism for over-emphasizing physical activity as the solution to childhood obesity (at the expense of taking on the bigger battles with "big food"), Obama wrote in the Wall Street Journal last Wednesday that "businesses are stepping up to invest in building a healthier future for our kids." In the case of Wal-Mart this has meant the introduction of its new "Great for You" food labeling system.

There is no doubt big box stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and others have made efforts to expand their grocery sections. In 2011, Wal-Mart specifically committed to reformulating packaged food items; making "healthier" foods more affordable; and improving its front-of-package food labeling. In her op-ed, Obama also mentions the role such businesses have played to expand food options to so-called "food deserts," where there are significant limitation on the availability of groceries, and particularly fresh produce. But, if I was to follow "Great for You" labeling system as a guide, would it really be great for me nutritionally? Here are a few "Great for You" products, their ingredients, and some context based on some of the latest research. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Instant Non-Fat Dry Milk
Ingredients: Nonfat Dry Milk, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3. Allergy Warning: Contains Milk. May Contain Traces Of Eggs, Almonds, Cashews, Pecans, Walnuts, Wheat And Soy.
The Caution: Powdered milks (and eggs) contain much higher amounts of something called oxysterols, which are essentially oxidized cholesterol, and it's these oxysterols that have been founds to play a key role in human atherosclerotic plaque development.

100% Apple Juice
Ingredients: Water, Apple Juice Concentrate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).
The Caution: There has been growing concerns about the level of arsenic found in apple juice and apple juice concentrate, particularly those sourced from China (which some sources estimate this to be as high as 70% of all apple juice sold in the U.S.). The results of one study found arsenic levels in Mott's Apple Juice of 55 parts per billion, which is more than five times the EPA limit for drinking water. A study by the FDA looked specifically at arsenic levels in apple juice from 2005 to 2011 and disclosed the results on its website. However, what critics said they failed to disclose was the fact the 3 of the 5 failing samples from the study were taken from Wal-Mart products. The negative health effects of prolonged consumption of arsenic are pretty well-documented, showing a dose-response relationship with many chronic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, as well as all-cause mortality.

Orange Juice
Ingredients: 100% Orange Juice
The Caution: The typical child or adolescent living in the U.S. consumes about 10-15% of their daily calories in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, i.e sodas and 100% fruit juices. More and more evidence is supporting the strong link between consuming high amounts of sugar, particularly fructose (which is the type found in both soda and fruit juices) and risk for chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Some nutritionists have even said, "It's [fruit juice] pretty much the same as sugar water." Consuming high amounts results in rapid fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin release, leading to a much greater probability of developing insulin resistance (i.e. diabetes). If you remember in previous posts, I've mentioned insulin being the switch that inhibits fat burning in favor of the glucose that was most recently consumed. There's been research that's demonstrated this precise point using orange juice consumption. Basically, one group ate breakfast with orange juice, and the other ate the same exact breakfast, but with water instead of OJ. What they found was that 150 minutes after the meal, those who drank orange juice were less likely to oxidize the fat consumed during the meal before their next meal. Essentially, the insulin release from drinking the OJ blocked the body's ability to burn fat as a fuel after the meal. On a population level, there is strong evidence to suggest that sugar consumption influences the prevalence of diabetes independent of both physical activity and obesity.
100% Whole Wheat Bread
Ingredients: Whole Wheat Flour, Water, Wheat Gluten, Yeast, High Fructose Corn Syrup Or Sugar. Contains 2% Or Less of: Molasses, Soybean Oil, Salt, Calcium Sulfate, Honey, Dough Conditioners (Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Mono- And Diglycerides, Ethoxylated Mono- And Diglycerides, Datem, Calcium Dioxide, Dicalcium Phosphate And/Or Azodicarbonamide), Vinegar, Yeast Nutrients (Ammonium Phosphate, Ammonium Chloride, Ammonium Sulfate And/Or Monocalcium Phosphate), Wheat Starch, Cornstarch, Soy Flour, Whey, Calcium Propionate (to Retain Freshness), Soy Lecithin.
The Caution: Just because something says 100% whole wheat, doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't contain a whole bunch of other ingredients, like this example. Regardless of the many cautions associated with wheat, which I'll mention in a second, many brands of whole wheat breads or cereals (see the Raisin Bran example below) actually contain high fructose corn syrup. Yes, that isn't a typo - high fructose corn syrup; the same stuff found in a lot of sodas and juices (so, the same caution would apply as above). Aside from the HFCS issue, there are a number of cautions to think about when it comes to wheat. Not only does whole wheat significantly spike blood sugar (an easy way to remember is one slice of bread as being equivalent to one tablespoon of pure sugar), but modern wheat really wreaks havoc on the gut; it's pro-inflammatory; it disrupts the body's pH balance; and it accelerates the aging process to name a few other things. Not to mention it's an appetite stimulant, targeting the same brain receptors as opiate drugs, which gives wheat it's addictive properties. Many of these effects stem from the genetic modification of wheat over the years, something Dr. William Davis discusses quite a bit about in his book Wheat Belly.

Organic Fat Free Milk
Ingredients: Organic Grade A Fat Free Milk, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3
The Caution: There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to skim or fat-free milk. First, most industrial milk goes through fairly extensive processing, including exposing the milk to high heat (pasteurization), which can damage some of the good fat and enzymes found in milk. Second, this processing also removes the vitamins (Vitamin A and D) found in milk, which are then re-fortified back in, however with synthetic vitamins. Third, vitamins A and D are both fat-soluble vitamins; meaning, they require fat in order to be properly absorbed. Without fat present, it's almost useless to fortify milk with vitamin A and/or D. Lastly, it's important to pay attention to whether milk comes from a grain-fed or a grass-fed cow (this is also important to keep in mind when buying the meat). When a cow eats a grass-based diet, it contains a better ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, and elevates precursors for Vitamin A and E, as well as "cancer fighting antioxidants" called glutathione and superoxide dismutase.

Raisin Bran Cereal
Ingredients: Wheat Bran, Raisins, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Salt, Malt Extract, Iron (Ferric Orthophosphate), Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), Vitamin A (Palmitate), Niacinamide, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine Mononitrate), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Folic Acid. BHT Added To Packaging To Help Preserve Freshness. Allergy Warning: Contains Wheat. May Contain Traces Of Almonds And Soy.
The Caution: Cereals are one of the most widely marketed food products out there, particularly when it comes to children and adolescents (something I wrote about in this posting). One way companies do this is through front-of-package labeling, which are often filled with various health and nutrition claims. A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommended the FDA reassess its approach when it comes to such health claims. What happened was that in 2002 the FDA started allowing food companies to put health claims on food labels with less scientific evidence. Eight years later, in 2010, FDA issued two warnings to food companies who were claiming specific health benefits on their products that wasn't supported by scientific evidence. Front-of-package labeling is notoriously deceiving. It draws the consumers attention to one or two very specific pieces of information while masking the entire picture. Sure, a product might have "whole grains as the first ingredient," or it's a good source of a particular vitamin, but what about the other 12 ingredients listed, which may include a bunch of sugar, artificial sweeteners/flavors, and even carcinogenic preservatives (like BHT)? The point is, think about the whole product.


So, after doing a little investigating, would you still consider these products "great for you?" The point of this blog isn't to bash the First Lady - she's using her office in a very constructive way to try and bring attention to a monumental public health challenge in childhood obesity. But, the broader point is around independent thinking and investigation, particularly when it comes to food and the food we put in our bodies. Our bodies have a very intimate relationship with food. It's our currency to a healthy (or unhealthy) life. What foods are you going to choose to invest in your long-term health?