- Chamomile (widely available, many brands)
- Celestial Seasonings Sleepy Time and Sleepy Time Extra tea
- Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night tea
I’m going to start off this blog and blog series with a very blunt observation: Not enough people (even me, sometimes!) prioritize routinely getting a good night’s rest. Everyone is busy, and sleep seems to be the thing that is often compromised.
- Avoid the blue light of computers, TVs, iPads, and smartphones for at least an hour before going to bed. The blue light from these devices is the same blue light spectrum of the morning sky: it invokes the cortisol response. (Crash course in cortisol, until I blog more about it in October: In the morning, this is ok to have this response to using computers/phones, since our cortisol levels should be highest in the morning to wake us up and prepare us for the day ahead.) But cortisol and melatonin- the sleep hormone- are counter-regulatory hormones, meaning that when one is high, the other must be low. So if you’re snuggling under the covers before bed with the iPad, the increased cortisol levels from the blue light will suppress melatonin, making it difficult to get a quality night of sleep. Even if you feel like you don’t have issues falling asleep or staying asleep despite screen time prior to bed, you may not be getting the most deep and restful sleep as possible. If you’re waking up and not feeling rested, try turning off devices a little earlier and see if you notice a difference. If you must be on your computer/phone prior to bed time, consider using the NightTime settings (Apple products) or downloading f.lux to adjust screen settings in the evening to decrease the blue light.
- Make your bedroom is as dark as possible. If there’s any light coming in from the outside – or if you’ve got lights glowing from various devices plugged in – that is enough to disrupt your body from getting optimal sleep. Your eyes are closed so you don’t see the light, but your skin has photo-receptors that sense the light (even that little bit coming in through the slats of your blinds or from the power light on your electronics), and can prevent you from getting the most restful sleep possible.
- Cut off the caffeine earlier. Everybody metabolizes caffeine at a different rate. I LOVE my morning cup of coffee… but sadly, I’m sensitive to caffeine and I’ve noticed that even a small cup after lunch leads to sleep troubles. Just like I mentioned above with using electronic devices before bed: you may be able to fall asleep easily enough, but your sleep may not be as restful as it could be. Here’s a simple experiment: Try avoiding caffeine after 12pm and see if you notice a difference in your sleep. If the idea of skipping a post-lunch or mid-afternoon coffee sounds unfathomable, then try tapering the amount; move your coffee to one hour earlier; or drink green tea instead, which will give you a gentler boost.
Beautiful course? check!
Good organization? check!
Fun weekend destination? check!
The Luray Triathlon takes place near the Shenandoah National Park in Luray, Virginia. It’s about a 4.5 hour drive from Pittsburgh, which may be a bit farther than some want to travel for a race, but for a fun weekend trip and a race, I highly recommend this race. Luray offers Sprint distance (750 m swim, 27 km bike, 5k run) and International/Olympic distance (1500 swim, 41 km bike, 10 k run). With about 360 people in the Olympic race and 370 in the Sprint, there are enough athletes around to keep you feeling like it’s a race but not so crowded that it gets overwhelming or congested.
The swim is set in cozy Lake Arrowhead. By ‘cozy’, I mean it’s small enough that the International swim (1500m) required a “V” shape thrown to get the complete swim distance in. This required a little extra sighting due to the turns. This year, the water was 82.5 F, so it was not a wetsuit legal race. (Between temperatures 76 – 84, an athlete may opt to wear a wetsuit but they will not be eligble for overall or age group awards). The website states that in the 11 year history of the race, it was been wetsuit legal 55% of the time – a toss-up! The swim goes off in waves (I believe there were 8 this year), so it doesn’t feel like you’re in the swimming equivalent of roller derby. I started in wave 6, and after the first 100-200 yards, I didn’t have any issues with bumping into people or bottlenecking.
The bike course is a “lollipop” style course. Ride out from transition to a loop, do the loop once (Sprint, 27 km distance) or twice (International, 41 km) and ride back. This is easily one of my favorite and most scenic bike courses I’ve raced… (after the race, I want to plan a weekend to go back to this area and just ride my bike!) Lots of vibrant green pastures, farms, cows and horses, and the Shenandoah Mountains rising in the background. The course is a mix of rolling hills, false flats, and one or two nice climbs and descents on the “stick” of the lollipop loop. My GPS reported just under 1700 feet of elevation gain in 26 miles.
Tip for the bike course: Don’t burn too many matches on the last long climb back to the transition area. The last hill of the course is by far the longest/steepest, and if it weren’t positioned at the end of the bike ride, it may not seem so bad. If hills aren’t your forte, you may want to consider going to a rear cassette with a low gear of 27-28. You’ll have a short downhill coast into transition once you crest the hill. Added bonus: I do not recall seeing any potholes on this course – very smooth surface.
The run is an out & back (1.5ish miles – one out & back for Sprint, two out & backs for Olympic). While it was a little monotonous to run the same out & back twice, it kept the group of athletes together so it was easy to use others as pacers, or to set a “rabbit” to try to chase down. The run was rolling hills with one or two steeper pitches. The outermost part of the route was all exposed to the sun, and you could feel a noticeable increase/decrease in temperature when you went from the thickly shaded portion to exposed and back.
I think the Luray races are good for athletes of all abilities. They offer an Elite and Open wave for more experienced/accomplished triathletes as well as a special novice wave for newer triathletes. Luray Triathlon also offers Aquabike, Relay, Clydesdale and Athena divisions. The International race is on Saturday and Sprint is on Sunday, so there’s the option of a double challenge if you’re up for it.
As long as an athlete is comfortable with hills and possibly swimming without wetsuit, I feel this is a good first triathlon due to its size, smooth organization, relatively calm swim, and optional novice wave.
Unique Twist: Luray Triathlon offers campsites to racers ~100 yards from the transition area for $20/campsite. If you’ve got camping gear and don’t mind ‘roughing it’ a bit (only a bit — there are bathrooms and showers onsite), camping is a great way to save money and get a little extra sleep on race morning.
If you want to read more about my personal Luray Triathlon experience and what was going through my head while I was on the course, stay tuned!
Metabolic efficiency refers to the body’s efficiency in utilizing its internal stores of carbohydrates and body fat at various intensities of exercise and at rest. Our bodies constantly burn a mix of carbohydrates and fat to fuel us through our daily activities and exercise. As intensity of exercise increases, the body naturally starts to burn a higher percentage of carbohydrate and a lower percentage of fat for energy; this is simply how the human body works. After as little as 2 hours of moderate to intense exercise, the body’s internal glycogen (carbohydrate) stores may be depleted, causing a noticeable dip in energy levels or what endurance athletes commonly refer to as “bonking”.
But, did you know that with strategic nutrition and exercise adaptations, the body can actually learn to burn more fat at higher intensities of exercise, thus preserving our limited supply of glycogen and preventing or delaying onset of “the bonk”? Eating a metabolically efficient diet can bring about other benefits such as decreasing the risk of gastrointestinal (GI) distress during exercise, improving body weight and composition, and improving health markers.
The standard American diet is very carbohydrate-centric, and many people are accustomed to over-consumption of breakfast cereals, bagels, muffins, bread, pasta, refined grains and starches, snack crackers, cookies, candy, and soda. But, what most people don’t realize is how much added sugar is lurking in other foods, including foods often perceived as “healthy”: flavored yogurt, salad dressings, marinades, soups, sauces, those fancy flavored coffee drinks, granola bars, energy bars, and bottled iced tea and fruit juice beverages, to name a few.
Over-consumption of sugar and carbohydrates is the basis of metabolic inefficiency; that is, a body that always, or almost always, burns more carbohydrates than fat as its fuel source. Simply put, eating carbohydrates teaches the body to burn carbohydrates as its predominant form of fuel. This in turn leads to poor utilization of the body’s fat stores; an increased need for supplemental carbohydrates during exercise; increased risk of GI distress during exercise; and higher body weight and body fat (which we know are linked to increased risk of various chronic diseases).
If you are interested in becoming more metabolically efficient, you can start now by decreasing the quantity of added (refined) sugars you’re consuming. Become a thorough label reader: scan the ingredients and try to avoid savory products (ie, soups, sauces, marinades) that contain a form of sugar in the ingredient list. Here are some easy swaps you can do now to decrease the added sugar in your diet:
- Replace flavored yogurt with plain yogurt topped with fresh berries or fruit slices
- Swap out your mid-afternoon granola bar for a handful of raw almonds, or celery sticks with peanut butter or almond butter
- Replace soda and sweetened beverages with water (add a spritz of lime or lemon juice for some flavor) or unsweetened tea
- Opt for plain rolled or steel-cut oatmeal topped with cinnamon, butter, berries and/or chopped nuts or nut butter instead of the flavored single-serving varieties
- Make your own salad dressing by mixing equal parts of olive oil and balsamic, apple cider, or red wine vinegar; or olive oil and lemon juice (add salt/pepper to taste), and you’ve got yourself an easy, homemade option that is not only free of added sugars, but also free of icky preservatives/stabilizers.
More to come! If you’re interested in doing a walk-through of your diet and learning how you can become more metabolically efficient, drop me a line!
In my recent posts about sugar, I discussed why sugar and excess carbohydrate consumption leads to fat storage (read here!) and places where sugar hides and some strategies to reduce the added sugar you’re consuming (read here!). My first post explained how over-consuming carbohydrates and sugars raises your blood sugar above your body’s comfort level, and subsequently the body secretes insulin which transports the sugar into fat cells for long-term storage. Consuming a highly sweetened beverage like soda, or eating a bag of Skittles, will instantly exceed that comfort level and turn on the insulin response and subsequent fat storage mechanism.
But, there’s another reason why excess sugar consumption is unhealthy. Not only is it bad for your waistline, but it could also be leading to vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.
You’ve heard the old adage, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, right? Well, there’s no such thing as a free digestive process, either! Digesting and metabolizing carbohydrates and sugar requires specific nutrients, including B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
You can visualize your body as having a “nutrient bank” that collects and stores nutrients from food and vitamins you’re taking. The body uses these nutrients for all of its processes, from hormone production and regulation to regulating circadian rhythms to your mood and ability to concentrate to athletic performance to repairing and maintaining your tissues. When you’ve got a full nutrient bank, you’re feeling great! But when your nutrient bank runs low, you are feeling tired, irritable, foggy-brained and maybe you’re getting sick often.
Any time you eat carbohydrates, your body needs the specific vitamins and nutrients mentioned above to digest and metabolize them. Often, fruits and vegetables contain the very same vitamins and minerals that are needed to digest and metabolize them. How convenient! And, fruits and vegetables provide additional vitamins and minerals in addition to what is needed for digestion. By consistently eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, you’re making deposits in your body’s nutrient bank to build a foundation for optimal health. On the other hand, consuming foods with added sugar that contain few or no nutrients (cookies, crackers, candy, soda) will force your body to make a withdrawal from its nutrient bank. With time, overconsumption of sugar will lead to insufficiency or deficiency of B vitamins, magnesium, iron and zinc.
The best thing you can do is to be cognizant of how much sugar you’re consuming and try to reduce or avoid when possible. The FDA has recently announced that it will be requiring changes to nutrition labels in the near future, and food manufacturers must report the added sugar content (vs naturally occurring in fruit, milk, and vegetables). Many people are unaware of how much sugar may be hiding in foods, or how much sugar consumption can add up over the course of a day. Track how much added sugar you’re consuming in a day, and then think about which strategies from this post you can implement to cut back.
8 Practical Ways to Reduce Sugar Consumption (Sugar Blog Part 2)
In my first blog post on sugar, I discussed the impact sugar has on our blood sugar and why consuming sugar puts us on the “blood sugar roller coaster” and is bad for our weight-loss goals. Sugar turns OFF our fat burning mechanisms and turns ON our fat storage mechanism – not what we want!
How can you utilize this information? You can be cognizant of how much sugar you’re consuming on a daily basis. Reduce consumption of desserts and sweet snacks, sodas, sweetened teas and flavored coffee beverages. Be especially wary of sweetened drinks delivering a sugar overload: A seemingly innocent 12-oz vanilla latte from Starbucks has 14g (3.5 teaspoons!) of added sugar in the flavored syrup, while the 12-oz white chocolate mocha packs a whopping 33g (8 teaspoons!) of added sugar. (For the record: that’s more sugar than the World Health Organization and American Heart Association recommend consuming in an entire day, neatly packaged into a single beverage that you can consume in under 15 minutes.)
If you eat a lot of processed, packaged foods – even those that are not “dessert-like” or that you would suspect to contain sugar (granola bars, store-bought salad dressings, soups, marinades, sauces, flavored yogurt, cereal… to name a few), you are probably consuming more sugar than you realize. Read labels and look for sugar or its many aliases (high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, agave, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, rice syrup, corn syrup). You’ll be shocked when you realize all the places where sugar lurks!
Here are a few ways to reduce the sugar in your diet:
- Mix fresh fruit into plain yogurt instead of buying fruit-at-the-bottom or flavored yogurt (which carries added sugars!)
- Eat plain nuts and sunflower/pumpkin seeds with fresh fruit instead of store-bought granola bars
- Make your own salad dressing by combining olive oil with lemon juice, red wine vinegar, or balsamic vinegar instead of using store-bought dressings
- Snack on veggie sticks with peanut/almond butter, hummus or salsa instead of cookies or crackers when you’re craving something crunchy
- Replace soda and sweetened bottled teas with water (still or sparkling) with lemon, lime, or cucumber wedges
- Replace flavored coffee creamers with half & half, milk, or heavy cream. Gradually cut back on the sugar you’re adding to your coffee. Consider trying “bulletproof coffee”: blend coconut oil and unsalted organic butter into your coffee with a hand immersion blender for a frothy treat that will keep you feeling full ‘til lunch!
- Have fresh fruit and cheese for dessert instead of sweets
- Replace candy or milk chocolate with dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa)
Interested in learning more about cutting back on sugar or reviewing what you’re eating to see where you can do some dietary “post-holiday cleaning”? Contact me to see how I can help you!
Are you thinking about the 2017 Race Season yet?
I know I am! I’ve got a pretty big race on the radar for July, but I’m keeping it under wraps until it’s officially confirmed. Since that will involve a trip across the pond (hint!), I’m planning on doing more local, or relatively local races this year that can be done with only a one-night-away-from-home trip OR even better, sleep-in-your-own-bed races!
Here are my tips for setting goals to set yourself up for success.
First… Consider the following question: What is your motivation for lining up at the starting line? Do you simply want to cross the finish line? Do you have your eye on a specific finish time, or are you looking to set a new personal record (PR)? Do you want to land a podium spot or win the race? Knowing what you want to get out of the race is crucial goal setting.
You’ve probably heard of “SMART” goals, right? SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-oriented. To simply say “I want to get faster” is not an example of a good goal. How much faster? Faster in a particular discipline? Do you want to be faster next month, next year or in the next decade?
Here is how to set up a SMART goal for yourself:
Specific: Does your goal apply to a specific distance, particular race or particular discipline? (Examples: Half marathon, the Philadelphia Olympic Triathlon, or biking abilities – 20 min average power, for example)
Measureable: How will you know when you’ve reached your goal? Instead of saying “get faster”, which is very vague, you could say “I want to shave 3 minutes off last year’s 10k triathlon run time” or “I want to finish in the top 10% of my age group”.
Action-oriented: Your goal should have defined actions you can take to get there. “I will run 3 days each week” is an action-oriented goal that you could take in order to reach the above example of taking 3 minutes off a 10k run time.
Realistic: It’s great to shoot for the stars. But, your goal also needs to be realistic; something that with the right attitude, training and execution on race day, is within your grasp. If you ran your personal best-ever 5k of 25:00 in May, then setting a goal of a 19:00 5k in October is not probably realistic for most people (that’s 2 minutes off per mile!). But, an October goal of breaking 24:00 or even 23:00 is probably realistic for many people.
Time-oriented: Put a timeframe on your goal to stay on track. In general, by committing to a race, you’re establishing a time-oriented goal. Example: I want to run a sub-24:00 5k by October.
Goal setting can be tricky – especially if you’re a newer athlete, or if you’re taking on a new distance or a new course for the first time. Looking at past race times and recent workout metrics, as well as the course itself, can help you determine realistic pace and finish goals. Doing some workouts, or segments of workouts, at goal race pace can help you to decide if your goals are realistic. A coach who has access to your training data and recent race or workout paces can be very help with setting realistic goals and recommending pacing strategy for your race. Want to learn how we can work together to help you reach your goals? Fill out the contact form on my website to contact me to set up a complimentary phone consultation!