Category Archives: General health

Losing weight and specific needs with training

After returning to Las Vegas, I gained about 15 pounds before arresting what was clearly not a positive trend.

I have since lost about 5 of those extra pounds and am working on the rest, while also training for the Vancouver Marathon. I had to first correct the most important factor behind that weight change: Diet. I like my family’s home cooking, but they like to eat too much. I had to correct any controllable eating patterns I had fallen into, and eat better quality food as well as eat less of it.

I had eating patterns that made sense for me living in Chicago, where I traveled everywhere on foot and trained at a higher volume of running than now. Living in Las Vegas, where I now need to drive just about everywhere, and didn’t need to walk nearly as much, I needed to pare down how much I ate.

Still, even ramping up mileage in training for Vancouver, even now that life’s gotten a lot busier between my CPT study and work demands… I struggle quite a bit to get my scale weight to move downward.

I decided to look towards history for answers… and by history I mean my own personal history:

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Training progressions, stabilization, and running health

I’m learning a borderline unfathomable amount of information from my Personal Trainer course, and a lot of it applies just as well to running as it does to general strength training.

It’s hard to get into much of what I’m learning right now, especially given I’m studying for new material through the accelerated program and I need to focus on processing all that information on top of still trying to ingrain the previous information.

One thing that sits with me is the NASM structure to training progression known as the OPT model. The basic premise is that, before you should work on maximizing strength and athleticism, you first need to work on and improve the stabilization of your existing muscle systems.

The idea is that your muscles have some natural imbalances, and jumping right into swolework or athletic drills not only can risk injury but also further solidify and thus complicate those imbalances.

Someone with an incredible amount of strength or athletic development might actually be surprisingly weak in a key core muscle group, and if this person has recurring injury or performance problems that weakness could be a key factor in their problems. It may seem like a step back to work solely on stabilization basics, but in reality improvement here avoids bigger, longer setbacks in more serious situations.

Going back to running… even prior to this training, I could watch someone run for a few moments and immediately point out what kind of injury problems they either have dealt with or will deal with. I could see mechanically what was limiting them.

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Valuable Training Recovery Habits

woman in gray crew neck shirt running on brown soil during daytime

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I don’t get a lot of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) during training. Incidentally, I had some a couple days ago after an interval workout, though I also hadn’t been training that much and I’m ramping back up to a normal training volume.

I’ve been able to train 7-10 hours per week over the years despite a full time job in Chicago and other commitments. A lot of that is creatively integrating training into my commute by running to train stations or all the way home from work, sure.

But those daily 4-7 mile runs, especially with some true speedwork sessions during the week and long runs during the weekend, not to mention all the work and walking and errands I did when I wasn’t running… could have burned me out quickly had I not developed effective recovery habits to follow between work and all those runs.

Even if you aren’t running 6 miles in your work clothes right after getting off work, many of the habits that have helped me can help you as well. In fact, the busier you are and the more you train, the more important it becomes that you adopt as many of these habits as you can:

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Primal Endurance: An approach to making low carb endurance running work

Image result for primal blueprintBack in 2011, famous Primal Blueprint guru Mark Sisson wrote a post about how he’d train for a marathon. Mark’s no novice when it comes to distance running: He is in fact a former marathoner! Mark’s conversion to his lower-carb, paleo-style “Primal” approach to eating and lifestyle is in no small part a byproduct of his experience and life lessons from training to race the longest run.

Sisson of course generally discourages any sort of endurance training, prefering a more biologically natural sprint-and-saunter approach to outdoor activity akin to our prehistorical ancestors. Like many paleo-minded humans he’s more into occasional high intensity low duration activity surrounded by lots of regular but very low intensity activity.

This level of activity is of course a better fit for a lower carb Primal style diet, as endurance training traditionally requires a very high carb intake… intake that Sisson’s experience and research taught him can be damaging to your long term health.

However, a lack of carbohydrates can compromise the quality of your endurance workouts, let alone your race performances, since your body typically utilizes glycogen for extended endurance activity.

Sisson historically has preferred to avoid endurance training entirely and focus instead on what he’s found to be a more long-term sustainable lifestyle. His 2011 piece was more of a hypothetical, ‘If I had to train as a Primal disciple to run a marathon this is how I would approach it.’ Sisson’s piece definitely hinted that he had far more intel behind it, and that there was probably a book in him on the subject.

Image result for primal enduranceWell, eventually he did write that book. Primal Endurance by he and Brad Kearns spelled out the ideal combination of the Primal diet and lifestyle with the ideal training approach to maximize your performance in a marathon without the usage of carbohydrates and their glycogen.

I’ve given the book a gradual read over time. While a lot of it reads like sales-letter filler for the Primal Blueprint (which seems superfluous since you probably aren’t reading the book unless you already own, have read and believe in the Primal Blueprint), the deeper material is a compelling and well-written approach to training as a Primal endurance athlete.

Sisson and Kearns of course are hardly the only believers that endurance athletes can succeed with a lower-carb approach. Many ultra-runners have sworn by training low-carb to train their bodies to maximize fat usage in their excessively long races. Other non-ultra runners have sworn by training low-carb as well (I even know a few!).

I’ve long since argued (as many do) that accepting this lifestyle and swearing off most carbohydrates does to some degree limit your capability as a distance runner. In principle, I still find that to be true.

But there’s no denying that long term the traditional endurance diet and lifestyle does take a toll on your hormones and to an accordant degree your health. I recall half marathon champ Ryan Hall being forced to retire in his early 30’s due to wanting to start a family and his training lifestyle compromising his body’s ability to do so. Sure enough, once Hall stopped running, his health rebounded.

I do think there’s a middle ground, mostly that you train in cycles and that you take breaks from training and the diet it demands. However, Sisson and Kearns argue that their recommended lifestyle can be practiced year round, in and out of training, without damaging your race performance.

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Running coaches should coach diet and rest too

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Every running coach will give you a training schedule of workouts, when to do them, how to do them, and how to adjust those from day to day.

Very few running coaches will give you more than trivial, general feedback on how to eat between workouts, or on your resting and sleeping habits. This despite your diet and recovery being even more important than what you’re doing in workouts.

Without the nutrients of a sound diet, you will not recover properly between workouts. And without a proper amount of sleep, you will not recover properly between workouts.


So, there’s obvious complications to coaching a person’s diet and sleep along with their running.

What makes diet and sleep hard to coach is that, unlike what a runner does in their workouts, these are everyday-living factors beyond a coach’s control. A coach may or may not be able to stand watch over your workouts (many athletes are coached remotely), but there’s no way they can stand and watch your every move, let alone every meal, in your personal life. And they certainly can’t monitor when or how you go to sleep. Even if they told you what to do, chances are good you’d flake on a good portion of their instructions. And, of course, who wants to have their lives micromanaged? The advice probably wouldn’t be welcome for many.

Plus, there are countless different approaches to diet even within a given culture, let alone between cultures. Those who have tried to bean-count the caloric intake of athletes have produced more problems for those athletes than they solved in doing so. Never mind the substantial differences in a vegan or carnivore or Atkins diet. Even the macronutrient needs can vary from person to person, never minding their age/size/shape/health in general.

Most of all, coaching diet is considered the field of a dietitician, a field outside of the specialty of a coach better versed in crafting and moderating workouts.

Now, all of that said (and no, I’m not providing any scientific citations), I can posit that a large number of injury and burnout problems are in no small part a product of deficiencies in each said athlete’s diet and sleep. The vast majority of humanity, in all fitness levels, is deficient in one or more key nutrients, whether it’s as simple as protein or as micro-specific as a vitamin like magnesium or iron.


Still, you don’t need to be an RD to know that:

  • The first half hour following a workout is the best time to ingest protein and carbs
  • Clean unprocessed food is better fuel between workouts than processed food
  • On average you ideally consume as many calories as you burn in a given day
  • You need more protein than most would recommend if you’re going to train hard
  • The more intense aerobic effort you put in, the more carbohydrates you need to consume between workouts
  • The harder you work on a given day, the more sleep you need that night to recover most effectively

The only resource that I’ve seen address post-workout nutrition with any specificity is Matt Fitzgerald’s New Rules Of Marathon And Half Marathon Nutrition. The book’s recommended workouts are bookended by a recommendation of carbohydrate/protein volume to consume in the minutes following a workout. The book is written around learning to effectively fuel a workout, and the information in general is a bit dated (the book was published in 2013), so its use is a bit limited. But it’s still more feedback on training nutrition than most authors provide.

The subject of what to eat between workouts is a broad and sensitive one, granted. It’s one I’m not going to get into now.

But I do think it’s a subject that running coaches need to give more than mere typical consideration. It’d be helpful to at least get a baseline idea of how many calories a runner consumes, estimate how many they burn per mile and during other exercise, get a good grasp on what the runner prefers to eat, and come up with some sort of concrete plan of what they should eat between workouts.

(And if you do actually want to become certified, there is a path to that. It’s not free, and it does take time, study and effort, but you can do it.)

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How long will the offseason last?

So, two weeks after arriving in Las Vegas, it’s clear to me that finding time to run more than 10-15 miles a week will be tough until the temperature comes down.

Before beginning remote work duties this past week (I had the previous week off to move), I had no problem getting outside at 6am and getting at least 3-4 miles in before 7am.

However, most of my colleagues are 2-3 hours ahead in the Eastern US, and that requires I work an earlier shift. I get up at 6am PDT every day and starting work at 7am isn’t a problem. But it means that 6am runs are somewhat impractical. I did sneak out for a run during this past week, but I couldn’t go too far since I needed to be ready to work by 7.

Even though (for now) I usually finish up work around 4pm local time, by that point the Vegas heat has reached its peak. Running outside at all in those conditions is probably a suicide attempt.

Never mind the perceived heat index of the 105-115’F, 10-20% humidity conditions is around 120 degrees, akin to running in 75’F weather with 70% humidity. The mere temperature and abundant sunshine alone makes running outside at midday in Vegas very dangerous. The city has a handful of short, weekly 6pm fun runs, but even at that hour temperatures are over 100 degrees, and the sun will not go down for a couple hours. Even if do-able in short doses, it doesn’t lend itself to extended aerobic training.

Even the treadmill becomes difficult after about 10-20 minutes, and after my recent injury I’m looking to avoid using the treadmill for anything more than brief warmup runs or run/walking.

So this means:

  • More consistent strength training. Since my current gym now has a lot more space, a lot more machines, and is not nearly as crowded, I can fully strength train whenever I like rather than have to work around a crowd of Wrigleybros. I have settled into a pattern of doing a full strength workout every 2-3 days. Most work out on certain days of the week, but I prefer to space my workouts out by days-between.
  • A variety of cross training. I still have the ARC Trainer available, which is the best and closest approximation to running available. This new gym also has rowing machines and aerobic hand crank machines, allowing for extended aerobic upper body training that will leave my legs along while also giving my upper body a lot more dynamic exercise. We forget how much the upper body needs to work during running, so this is very helpful.
  • Extra time on the spin bike. I can either take a “rest day” by riding easy on the spin bike, or do some aggressive Anabolic Training intervals, a form of high intensity interval training similar to Daniels style repetitions: You go all out for 30 seconds, then ride easy for 2-3 minutes, repeat about 4-6 times. This form of HIIT is supposed to help generate helpful muscle-building hormones as well as test and improve your anaerobic capacity.
  • An offseason. I will still run at least a couple times a week, but I’m going to focus much more so on my cross training and strength training in the interim. I have and probably will gain a bit of weight, which is hopefully mostly added muscle mass. The cross training will help maintain general aerobic capacity and help maintain some fat burning normalcy.

I don’t need to begin training for Vancouver before January, and could begin some form of ramped up training as soon as early November. Since my new job poses enough of a challenge and adjustment in the short term, this is clearly not a problem.

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A Gluten Free Diet Is Actually Really Simple

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You cannot possibly eat gluten without eating something that is processed, period. Every food that contains gluten had to be manufactured from gluten-grains and other ingredients into its final form.

I always tell people that it’s actually very simple to eat a gluten-free diet… if you only eat meat, fruit, vegetables and legumes.

You could even eat some grains, such as rice. While processed, rice in its purest possible form can’t possibly contain any gluten.

The only chance you have of accidentally eating gluten is if you eat anything processed.

This unfortunately includes most restauarant food. Most of it is made from processed ingredients, and you don’t have control over its preparation. Obviously, following the above advice isn’t so easy if you go to a restaurant. You have to make adjustments and do some planning.

But if preparing food at home, and you know how to cook, you don’t have much of an excuse.

Even price is not a concern: Processed food is more expensive per pound, per calorie, than whole food from the produce/meat aisles in their purest available form.

If you need to follow a gluten-free diet, and you’re struggling to maintain it, you may find adherence a lot easier if you go clean and stick to meat, fruit, vegetables, and legumes.

(And of course if you’re vegan, you won’t eat meat. But the other three categories should cover your nutrition needs well. If vegan, I would make sure to include rice.)

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