Monday, August 20, 2012

Sleep like an Athlete

Thanks Danell Leyva for being the best Olympian
On Saturday, I overheard some party-goers discussing sleep. They were touting the utility of sleep deprivation, joking as if it were funny. The gist of their comments was that less sleep means more time to work. Although there are two problems with this premise (the first being that one should spend all non-sleep time working), the second is the primary problem: scientific evidence establishes that lack of sleep produces a host of ill consequences. Insufficient sleep may:
The best quote from any article I read was:
"Very extraordinary boy. . . . Goes on errands fast asleep, and snores as he waits at table . . . a wonderfully fat boy." Charles Dickens penned the first description of the Pickwickian syndrome, a syndrome that provides one of many intriguing links between nutrition and slep. Though patients suffering from it may be improved by dieting their basic disorder is a neuro-physiological one that gives rise to overeating, to daytime sleepiness, and to characteristic nocturnal sleep made up of an endless sequence of apnoea, abortive grunts, and explosive snorts. —Nutrition and Sleep (1972) British Medical Journal.
But for the purposes of this blog, the most important ill effect is that lack of sleep diminishes athletic performance. Getting enough sleep produces optimal performance. In the WebMD article on the topic, the author states:
"Not only do athletes need sleep to improve on their athletic skills, but the restoration that occurs within muscles during deep sleep is important," says Sara Mednick, PhD, a sleep researcher at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. "If you don't get enough sleep it can be detrimental to your performance."
 The WebMD article lists ways the researchers used to improve the athletes' sleep.

Not only can lack of sleep negatively affect your athletic performance, but extra sleep may actually improve your athletic performance. For instance in one study:
Athletic performance was assessed after each regularly scheduled swim practice. After obtaining extra sleep, athletes swam a 15-meter meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds quicker off the blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds and increased kick strokes by 5.0 kicks.
Scooby has an excellent article on burning extra fat by getting enough sleep:
Turns out that when you are sleep deprived your leptin decrease[s] and your ghrelin levels increase which causes your metabolism to slow down. It also makes you hungrier so that you eat more. Sleep deprivation is a double-bad for people trying to lose weight – it makes you burn off fewer calories AND it makes you eat more, so you get FAT!  (See his references.)
Ghrelin is a hormone which regulates hunger. The more hunger, the more you want to eat. Sleep deprived people have whacked ghrelin levels and an increased difficulty with weight loss. Leptin is a hormone which regulates energy intake — and an decrease in leptin causes your metabolism to slow down.

Sleep deprivation causes the body to burn muscle:
Sleep deprivation makes you burn muscle rather than fat! If you are dieting while sleep deprived, you will burn twice as much muscle and only half as much fat.
And do we really have to describe the importance of muscle to cyclists? Really? If so, read here.

Scooby touts a book called the seven habits of some-kind of effective people. I personally hate self-help books, so I won't advocate it here. But Scooby does have some pointers on how to get better sleep. Try them out. Various things which have worked for me are:
  • Giving myself some breathing room before bed time by spacing out with a good book.
  • Imagining myself floating over the house, and then slowly rising up to view the earth, then the solar system, then the galaxy.
  • Trying to clear my mind of all thought.
  • Taking a hot shower before bed.
  • Washing my feet in cold water before bed.
  • Telling an imaginary computer to lower the temperature, suffuse the room with sleep aids, or anesthetize me.
  • Avoiding stress right before bed.
  • Not drinking too much alcohol right before bed.
  • Being well hydrated.
  • Getting enough exercise during the day.
  • Taking ibuprofen when needed for exercise-related aches and pains.
I have many other little things which help.

If stress is the thing which keeps you awake, consider what the stressors are and how you can eliminate them. Life is too short!
Carpe diem quam minimum credulo postero. —Horace.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Thighs: Go big or go home (psyche). Weight training for endurance cyclists.

I have 23 inch thighs based on my non-scientific tape-measure-only measurement. I'm proud of my thighs. I developed them over years of cycling and I'd say they were my best feature. But they're not at all like these muscle puppies:

Andre Greipel and Robert  Förstemann
This is the famous "quad-off" image where two track cyclists compare their lower guns. Förstemann's thighs are an astounding 34 inches in diameter at the thickest point. That's 11 inches larger than mine, and larger than his waist! Thighs of no shorter than 23.6 inches are necessary for track cyclists:

“The picture is definitely real,” said Benjamin Sharp, the high-performance endurance director for USA Cycling. “[Track c]yclists have strange shapes: big quads, small waists and big butts. It’s hard to find pants.”
                                                *                 *                 *
Athletes tabbed the baseline measurement for an acceptable sprint cyclist’s thigh at 60 centimeters, or 23.6 inches. Newell cited the American cyclist Jennie Reed as someone she envied in that regard.
[Source, New York Times, August 6, 2012; see my prior entry for another picture of the great Mr. Förstemann.]

Fortunately for us mere mortals — and for endurance riding, which is what we do on the AIDS/LifeCycle and on your average century ride— thighs of that proportion are unnecessary. Developing nut-crunching quads is probably going to be counter productive for most of us anyway.

Still, weight training is important to help improve endurance and stamina. Focus on helper body parts. This is what I've experienced, though its, again, not entirely scientific. (Here are some generalized tips for weight training and endurance cycling; let me know if you find other sites.)
  1. Developing arms, chest, and shoulders will give you strength to hold your body in equally between the seat and the bars, improving balance and technical skills.
  2. Developing your "core" — abs and lower back — will give you more power in the saddle and will reduce back pain, allowing you to ride for longer.
  3. Developing your gluts will give you power and balance out the pressure on your quads.
  4. Developing your calves will strengthen your up stroke and give you better control over the bike.
Of these, developing your core is probably the most important. Having a strong torso will allow you to more readily maneuver the bike and that should improve reaction time to obstacles, making you a more confident rider.

Also, larger muscles mean more fat burning during aerobic exercise; and being generally lighter means there is less to push up Quad-Buster or Cardiac.

Ginger Brewlay atop Quad-Buster:

This video makes me remember how every time we reached a new point on the ride there was some wonderful, inspirational person waiting to cheer us on. I'm crying as I type. Thanks Ginger. Thanks to every single person who smiled and waived at me as we rode by.

Your Bear

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Training like an Elite Athlete for the Dilettante

With the Olympics in full swing, reports abound (well, I've heard one) about the roll of science in elite athletics. From materials research to physiology to psychology, the sciences are producing steady and legal gains on performance. In sports where tenths or hundredths of a second divide the winner from the loser, tiny gains are important.

Specifically, I was listening to the Naked Scientist's podcast entry, "How Science Goes for the Gold."

Robert Förstemann
As I listened to the report, I was wondering how we mortals can freeload some good training advise off of the Gods without paying a red cent. Here is some information — some more, some less useful and some more, some less new news — I gleaned from the story:

  1. Feeling well prepared for your event improves your performance more than psyching yourself up for it at the last minute.
  2. Carbon fiber rocks.
  3. Lactic acid is not the evil it was once thought of.
  4. Each type of exercise has a lactic acid profile, and scientists can 
  5. You burn more fat from low-intensity activity and more carbohydrates from high-intensity activity.
  6. Polyurethane swim suits scared the IOC so badly that they were banned from the competition.
  7. Hydration is vitally important in competition.
  8. Only a tiny fraction of the population can be an elite athlete.
Although no single thing struck me as something I could use on a day-to-day basis to change my workouts, one thing does fall out of all that hi-tech information: athletic competition is hard. It astounds me to some degree that Olympians think about the same things I think about when I ride: keeping my heart rate at a good level, keeping hydrated and well-fed, worries about not performing up to my potential, wondering if my equipment is aiding or hindering my performance, among other things.

Another thing which stood out: I'm never going to be an elite athlete. While its true I never thought that before, it is good to think about. Sport needs to be fun for its own sake to be worth doing. So don't worry if an oldster smokes you on a hill; the only person you have to psych out is yourself.

Your, Bear.