Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pixie dust

I'm really quite skeptical about these magic powders that I'm "supposed" to take, especially after what I have been reading lately. It is so difficult to isolate the effects of a particular nutrient and it seems to me more important to get your overall diet right and then, and only then, think about taking supplements if you are feeling low on energy or a blood test shows up a particular imbalance. It is true that the training I am doing is not exactly "natural" and so it may well be the case that I am lacking in some nutrients, vitamins or minerals and it may also be the case that it is impracticable to get those nutrients, vitamins or minerals through eating whole foods - perhaps you would have to eat inordinate amounts of oysters for example, and this would provoke other imbalances. The bottom line is that my coach said that it would be a great shame if I got ill during my training, or especially near the event itself, and that I should consider taking supplements to help prevent this from happening. I know everyone else he trains is taking a similar cocktail, so now superstition or the fear of hearing "I told you so" is twisting my arm to do the same.

I have been taking omega 3 capsules and, in particular, cod liver oil (tasty burps, yeurghh!!) which is also high in vitamin D. Vitamin D is a peculiar vitamin in that we actually produce it in our bodies as a reaction to exposure to sunlight. There seems to be some controversy over the RDA (Recommended Daily Amount) with some researchers suggesting that we should be getting considerably more. Of course, you have to be careful not to burn but the irony is that it seems to be the very same people who spend an unusual amount of time in the sun who have vitamin D deficit; this is because they wear sun block. Now I'm not advocating that we should throw away the sun creams and welcome skin cancer into our bodies but  perhaps judicious and measured sun exposure is what is called for. Vitamin D apparently helps boost athletic performance and particularly fat burning activities.

Every so often I have a protein shake, typically made from whey protein and taken with milk. Its actually quite a nice drink but I'm not yet taking this every day.

I had hoped to get all the amino acids from eating more fruit and veg. The amino acids are very important because they act as anti oxidants, that is to say, they bind with the free radical oxygen atoms that are produced by literally burning foods and limit the damage they could otherwise cause to healthy cells. I think of the anti oxidants as a kind of sprinkler system. As there are many different types of amino acids, each with their own functions in the body, it is important to have a varied diet. The Essential Amino Acids (EAA) are the ones that our body cannot manufacture or synthesize but this does not mean that the other amino acids are not "essential" to life. A good guideline is to try to eat fruits and vegetables of many different colours because it is the amino acids that are responsible for the colour so this helps ensure we get all the amino acids we need. Now the superstition has kicked in, I've decided to take some supplements for amino acids (essential and BCAA, Branched Chain Amino Acids) just in case. Its probably going to bugger up some kind of delicate natural balance but while I am following a particular school of training I think I should also follow that same school of nutrition. Maffetone would doubtless frown upon my decision but then he would also insist that I did absolutely all my training below the aerobic threshold which is not completely consistent with the training program I am actually following. I'm thinking of going "holistic" next year - perhaps taking a sabbatical from competition - and trying out just doing lots of low intensity long runs and eating whole foods, a la Forest Gump. I'll see how I feel after the Ironman - its something that cannot leave you indifferent: you either feel you have done so disasterously that, after 6 months, you have got the bit between your teeth again or it is such an amazing experience that you are ready to think of doing another one a couple of weeks later. I can't imagine I will cross the line and think "OK, that's done, now what?".

I'm also starting to take L-Glutamine which is a special amino acid which is supposed to help in recovery from workouts and to help prop up your immune system. Add to that, L-Carnatine which, as its name suggests ("carne") is found in red meat and supposedly helps fat burning. I may also start taking Creatine which, to be honest is the only magic powder I have taken for which I have definitely noticed an effect (notice I didn't choose the word "benefit"). I tend to put on several kilos of what looks to be muscle mass but is apparently mainly water retention and I notice that my strength improves but at the cost of having to lug those extra kilos 42km. I think I will give it another try, now that I am eating more conscientiously,  and if I find myself getting too heavy I should have enough time to slim down. In any case, as there is thought to be an increase in water retention, perhaps this added weight is not as bad as it sounds. The guys at the triathlon club swear by Man Clout - just the thought of that disgusting flavour brings back bad memories - but I have to remember not to try ordering it from work because the websites that offer it look like dodgy porn sites. Lastly, there is L-Glucosamine which reportedly helps strengthen cartilage which is what tendons, ligaments and bits of the knee are made from (and ears too, but I've never heard of anyone injuring their ears running). I will start to take this too.

This is what I am taking every day - check out the size of that amino acid tab!
The weirdest thing I tried taking in an attempt to "hyper-hydrate" before a race was Glycerol. (I had thought that it was necessary for bomb making but maybe I am getting confused with Gycerine.) The only way to get my hands on it was in the guise of a treatment for glaucoma, which is the painful pressure in the eye due to the collection of ocular fluid. Apparently the glycerol binds with water molecules in such a way that they don't pass through the kidneys and out as piss. I've become much less paranoid about being hydrated in races and also better at drinking on the run, so I won't be taking this stuff again.

All these supplements were recommended to me when I went for a dietary analysis about three years ago. I remember it being quite a challenge to remember how much of what to take and when. I don't think there is any reason to believe that I will be told anything different by repeating the analysis now - and the diet I was prescribed was frankly impractical - so I've decided that I am going to take Protein, Omega 3, Cod Liver Oil, L-Glutamine, L-Carnatine, L-Glucosamine, Creatine and BCAA and EAA in addition to eating as "heathfully" as possible. Any adverse effects and I'll try to work out which of the supplements is the offender.

At some point I would like to do a detailed blood test, one that is specifically aimed at endurance athletes, as well as electrocardiagram and echocardiogram tests on my heart. As you know, I am doing this Ironman in honour of my dear friend, Neil, who died suddenly from a heart attack last year. Another friend of mine who was preparing an Ironman last year did an electro- and an echocardiogram and only in the latter test did they spot a defect in his heart. His doctor allowed him to compete (which he did with great success) but on the condition that he kept his heart rate below a certain threshold.

1 comment:

  1. The Man Clout arrived today and thankfully they have changed the flavour. Its still some way off tasting like something I would choose to drink for any other reason...