Runners Connect Mon, 28 Jul 2014 10:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Does Sunscreen Affect Your Performance When Running in the Heat? Mon, 28 Jul 2014 10:00:10 +0000 Summer is kicking into high gear across the country. For runners almost everywhere, that means running in the heat.

Hot weather can cause a whole set of problems, but something that’s often neglected is the effect of the sun itself.

Sunburn can be a real pain, but some long-time runners claim that sunscreen clogs up your sweat pores and makes you overheat.

But does this hold true or is it yet another old wives’ tale?

Should you hesitate to lather up with sunscreen before your next big race or important workout?

Sunscreen and the heat

The effects of sunscreen on your body’s ability to regulate heat production during exercise isn’t a particularly popular research topic, but there are still three solid studies which examine the issue.

The first and oldest is a 1984 study that looked at the effects of sunscreen on heat regulation in high and low humidity conditions.

Wells and colleagues had 16 men ride stationary bicycles in hot and humid as well as hot and dry conditions either with or without a mildly protective (SPF 8) sunscreen applied to their exposed skin.

Wells et al. found that sunscreen did not have any significant impact on physiological variables like heart rate, oxygen consumption, and sweat loss, but the sunscreen did cause an increase in skin temperature in the hot but dry condition.

The researchers hypothesized that the sunscreen impeded the evaporation of sweat, leading to increased heat buildup on the skin.

However, there were a number of flaws with this study, as pointed out by Declan Connolly in his 1994 Ph.D. thesis at Oregon State University.

Skin temperature

Wells et al. had their subjects complete a static amount of work (100 Watts of cycling) instead of adjusting the workload to be proportional to the subjects’ fitness. Additionally, some—but not all—of the subjects drank water during the course of the experiment, and Wells et al. did not report how they calculated skin temperatures.

These deficiencies led Connolly to conduct his own study, which consisted of 22 men undergoing a 45-minute stationary bike ride at 55% of their VO2 max in a hot and fairly dry lab. Each subject underwent the test twice, once while wearing sunscreen (SPF 15) and once while not wearing sunscreen.

Connolly also found no significant differences in heart rate, oxygen consumption, or sweat loss between the two conditions, but in contrast to Wells et al., Connolly found a decrease in skin temperature in the sunscreen-wearing cyclists.

Connolly hypothesized that the sunscreen improved heat loss by “wetting” the skin, aiding the evaporation of sweat from the skin.


Finally, a study commissioned by the US military that was presented at an Australian conference on performance in extreme conditions also examined sunscreen’s effects on cyclists.

Seventeen well-trained male cyclists rode for 60 minutes at 60% of their VO2 max in two trials, one while using sunscreen, and one without.

The researchers found that sunscreen use did not affect any performance or heat-regulation variables, including skin temperature.

So, the balance of evidence to date indicates that sunscreen has no measurable detrimental effects on performance or heat regulation.

Though Connolly and Wells et al. found conflicting evidence related to skin temperature, this didn’t seem to have any impact on heart rate, core temperature, or oxygen consumption.

If sunscreen really were impeding performance by increasing heat buildup, we’d expect to see an increase in some of these variables.


It is important to note that these three studies, which represent the entirety of the scientific research on heat regulation and sunscreen, have some significant shortcomings.

  • All three studies involved indoor exercise in simulated heat—sunscreen, of course, is designed to be used outside, in direct sunlight. And riding a stationary bike in a lab is significantly different from a normal bike ride or a run because of the lack of airflow.
  • In the real world, when you go for a run or head out on the roads with your bike, you create natural airflow simply by moving forward, which impacts how well your body gets rid of excess heat.
  • Finally, the sunscreen used in these experiments is relatively weak—only SPF 15. Stronger sunscreen might have a more measurable impact on heat regulation.

For now though, it looks like using sunscreen isn’t going to impede your ability to run fast.

Moreover, performance is a small sacrifice in comparison to the very real dangers of skin cancer. Your next long run is going to be challenging enough—no need to add to it by finishing beet-red and sunburned.

At least until there’s more robust research done on using sunscreen during exercise in the heat, runners should have no reservations about slathering up with sunscreen to protect their skin.

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How Do You Pace the Ultramarathon? Mon, 21 Jul 2014 10:00:45 +0000 Track fans had their eyes fixed on Sacramento in July for the USATF outdoor track championships, but that wasn’t the only championship event in the running world. That weekend also played host to the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile ultramarathon that’s arguably one of the most storied ultra-endurance events in the world.

The big story at this year’s Western States was a strong push through the first 60 miles of the race by Max King, a latecomer to ultramarathoning who boasts very impressive track and marathon credentials, including a national-caliber 3km steeplechase PR.

Alas, Max King faded in the final third of the race, passed by eventual winner Rob Krar, who finished the hundred-mile trek in just under fifteen hours.

For the better-known running distances like the 5k or the marathon, it’s pretty well-accepted that even pacing is the best strategy (here’s some research). But how about the ultramarathon?

Does the ideal pacing strategy change when you push out your race distance far beyond the length of a marathon?

Identifying the ideal pacing strategy

A study published in 2004 by Mike Lambert and a team of other researchers at the University of Cape Town in South Africa looked to find some answers to these questions.

In the study, Lambert et al. analyzed the 10km splits of 67 high-level ultramarathoners at the 1995 and 1997 IAU World Challenge, a 100 km ultramarathon.

By sorting the runners into groups based on their finish time and applying statistical analysis to their intermediate splits, Lambert et al. were able to identify what type of pacing strategy led to a good race outcome.

Fast runners vs slow runners

Unlike many ultramarathons (including Western States), the course at the IAU World Challenge is a flat loop course, which makes comparing split times much easier.

Unlike the pacing of elite runners in shorter events, everybody at the IAU World Challenge 100k slowed down over the course of the race—even the podium finishers.

But critically, the most successful runners were the ones who slowed down the least.

The fastest group of runners only ran their last 10k loop 15 percent slower than their first, and they were able to maintain their initial pace up to about 50 km into the race before slowing at all.

The pacing of the slower runners dropped off by 40%, and they started to slow significantly earlier. Even the middle-of-the-pack ultramarathoners slowed by 25-30%.

Further, the fastest runners also had less variability in their splits, meaning they didn’t have any big surges or drastic drop-offs in pace.

Now, some of this might be incidental: a runner with stomach problems or one who tripped and fell would obviously have more split-to-split variability than one who didn’t.

Low split variation and gradual slowdown

And one of the study’s other findings—that the faster runners started out at a higher speed than the slower runners—is almost surely correlative, not causative.

But the combination of low split variation and a more gradual slowdown in the best ultramarathoners makes a strong case for efficient pacing in the ultramarathon.

Why do runners slow down?

This still doesn’t provide a direct answer as to why even very successful ultramarathoners tend to slow down in the latter portions of the race.

Lambert et al. propose a number of different possible reasons.

  • First among these is fueling: even with very high carbohydrate intake, there comes a point where your body’s ability to absorb carbohydrates limits how fast you can run, because faster paces necessitate higher carbohydrate utilization and you can only absorb carbs so fast.
  • Interestingly, Lambert et al. point out that this threshold occurs around 40-50km in most people when running at a moderate pace, right around where the best runners in their study started to slow.
  • Alternatively, muscle fatigue or simply pacing mistakes by the slower runners could account for much of the slowdown.

Whatever the cause, it’s not unique to ultramarathon running.

A 2008 review study by Chris Abbiss and Paul Laursen at Edith Cowan University in Australia cites research on Ironman triathlons and long-distance cycling races that shows a similar progressive slowing of pace in the later stages of the competition.

Unlike in a 5k or even a marathon, a progressive (though gradual) slowing of pace after about 50km (31 miles) appears to be part of the ideal pacing strategy—at least according to the research published to date.


Scientific evidence isn’t always in-step with the latest training and racing strategies, but it does help explain the reasons behind the phenomena we observe on race day.

If you are shooting for success in your next ultra race, you should maintain your goal pace as evenly as possible for as long as possible.

Although some slowing is probably inevitable after running for a few hours, you should do your best to keep the slowdown as gradual as possible.

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A Detailed Look at the Diet of an Elite Marathoner Thu, 17 Jul 2014 10:00:03 +0000 jeffrey-egglestonIn 2014, Jeffrey Eggleston was the 3rd American at the Boston Marathon.

At the time, it was a big PR and one of Jeffrey’s best races to date (He also finished 13th at the World Championships in 2013).

Not to be outdone, Jeffrey traveled to Australia earlier in July to compete in the Gold Coast Marathon.

This time, he lowered his PR to 2:10:52, becoming one of the fastest American Marathoners this year.

In our continuing series on marathon nutrition, we asked Jeffrey to detail his training and pre-race diet for the marathon.

Finding an effective diet is an individualized journey because each person’s training and nutritional demands are different, such as variations in mileage, intensity, running experience and goals. Moreover, each runner’s body responds differently to foods.

For some, following Jeffrey’s diet would work great while others may have gastrointestinal problems or feel sick.

The goal here isn’t to provide something you should necessarily copy, but hopefully it helps you connect the theoretical to the practical and highlights some of the principles that will help you fine-tune your nutritional approach.


Diet of elite marathon runner

I hope this in-depth look helped you visualize how to structure your diet when training for the marathon.

For reference, Jeffrey runs about 120 miles per week on average and peaks at about 140 miles per week when training for the marathon. You can follow his blog and some of his training here.

Does this help you structure your nutrition plan?

Answer any burning questions?

Let us know in the comments section, we’d love to help.

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Can Pickle Juice Really Cure Muscle Cramps? Mon, 14 Jul 2014 10:00:28 +0000 Last week we took a look at what causes exercise-associated muscle cramps, the painful and seemingly random muscle spasms that can fell everyone from recreational marathoners to professional basketball players.

Popular wisdom holds they’re caused by a lack of electrolytes, but scientific research shows that it’s more likely that muscle cramps are due to the failure of a neuromuscular mechanism that usually keeps extreme muscle contraction in check.

Like any ailment that affects athletes, there’s a veritable arsenal of remedies and tricks that runners and athletic trainers swear by to prevent or clear up a muscle cramp. Some of these remedies end up being subjected to scientific testing to validate or refute them.

One simple trick—gently stretching out the cramping muscle—proved to be quite successful, and gave researchers a clue as to the real mechanism behind cramping.

Today, we’ll be examining another remedy that has some surprising implications: drinking pickle juice!

Pickle juice for muscle cramps

Yes, believe it or not, old-school athletic trainers swear by gulping down a mouthful of pickle juice as a rapid cure for muscle cramping.

The logic behind this was that the liquid left in the pickle jar is incredibly salty and full of electrolytes.

But here’s the paradox: as we saw last time, there’s fairly strong evidence that your body’s electrolyte levels have no bearing on whether or not you develop muscle cramps during exercise.

So pickle juice, despite its reputation, shouldn’t do anything to alleviate muscle cramping.

What happens when you put pickle juice to the test?

Exercise-associated muscle cramps can be tricky to study in a controlled environment, because the cramp location and severity can vary from person to person. A better way to study cramps in a controlled environment is to artificially induce them.

By electrically stimulating a leg nerve in just the right way, researchers can cause cramps on demand. Then, by using an electromyography machine, or EMG, they can quantify the length and severity of a muscle cramp.

A 2010 study using just such a protocol was published by Kevin Miller and colleagues at North Dakota State University and Brigham Young University.

In the paper, the researchers used an electrical current to induce foot cramps in a group of 12 volunteers. Two cramps were induced, each separated by 30 minutes.

The first cramp was a baseline test to establish what a “normal” muscle cramp looks like in terms of its EMG signal and its duration. Then, a second cramp was induced, and the subjects immediately ingested two to three fluid ounces of either water or pickle juice.

A week later, the experiment was repeated with a cross-over design, meaning the subjects who received water the first time got pickle juice the second time, and vice versa.

To guard against any possible placebo effect, the researchers used nose plugs to prevent the subjects from smelling the liquids they drank, and even blinded themselves to which solution was being administered to which subject.

The effects of the pickle juice were rapid and impressive: The control cramps and the cramps followed by water consumption lasted over two minutes, while cramps followed by pickle juice consumption lasted less than a minute and a half—a reduction of almost 50%!

Are cramps really due to electrolyte loss?

So, do the impressive effects of pickle juice revive the “cramps are because of electrolytes” hypothesis?

Miller and his co-workers designed another experiment to test this idea.

This time, nine healthy men underwent three trials where they were given two to three fluid ounces of pickle juice, a sports drink, or plain water.

After ingesting the liquid, Miller et al. took blood samples every few minutes over the course of the next hour, then analyzed the water and electrolyte content of the blood samples to observe the impact of each liquid.

None of the three liquids produced any substantial changes in electrolyte or hydration levels, which is perhaps not surprising considering how small the ingested volume of liquid was (2-3 fluid ounces) when compared to the amount of water in the entire body (several gallons).

Miller et al. conclude that any explanation of the efficacy of pickle juice that is related to electrolytes or hydration isn’t satisfactory—the electrolytes in 2-3 ounces of pickle juice are negligible when compared to sweat losses during exercise.

Further, there’s no way the electrolytes could make their way into the blood within a minute or two after ingestion.

The researchers propose that the acidic pickle juice triggers a reflex when it hits a nerve center on the back of the throat. This reflex sends a signal to the nervous system to shut down the overactive neurons causing the cramp.


So, in a roundabout way, investigating the “pickle juice cure” leads to two surprising conclusions:

  • First, it works very well! You can expect a shot of pickle juice to decrease the length of a muscle cramp by almost half.
  • Second, because of how quickly the pickle juice acts, this result provides more evidence that muscle cramps are caused by a malfunction of the nervous system, a glitch that leaves a muscle unit (usually the calves in runners) stuck in an “on” position.

If you’ve had major cramping problems during your workouts or races, it might be worth giving pickle juice a try.

The procedure from Miller et al. calls for drinking 2-3 fluid ounces of pickle juice—in the studies, strained from regular Vlasic dill pickles—as soon as possible following the onset of a cramp.

Obviously, carrying around a glass pickle jar isn’t practical.

You’ll have to find a tiny, 2-3 ounce plastic bottle to carry some pickle juice with you when you do a work out or race you anticipate might cause cramping.

Fortunately, this is small enough to tuck into your waistband or put in a pocket.

Someday I’m sure a budding entrepreneur will come out with GU-packet-like pickle juice shots for people prone to exercise-associated muscle cramps, but until then, you’ll have to improvise!

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4 Lessons We Can Learn from Runners on Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) Thu, 10 Jul 2014 10:00:13 +0000 It seems like every few months, another runner that I know gets caught using performance-enhancing drugs.

This past week, the situation struck eerily close to home. A runner recently caught using EPO (Mo Trafeh) is someone that I’d met many times.

My second race as a professional runner was the USA 10 mile championship in September, 2011. I placed 5th in the race and was immediately escorted to the drug-testing tent where other top finishers sat and waited to be tested.

Mo Trafeh was among them, laughing and chatting with the testers, completely at ease.

The memory makes me sick. Why is it that we feel so violated when an athlete we know or admire is busted for PEDs?

PEDs go against everything that long distance running stands for

When I was in college, I began to notice a trend in other sports. All of the girls on the volleyball team were over 6ft tall and built similarly, long legs and slender figures.

All of the swimmers had broad shoulders, and narrow waists, perfect for propelling them through the pool.

The basketball players were built like stacks of muscle, rippling quads, and biceps hinting at explosively developed fast-twitch muscle.

Then there was the track team.

Even among the distance runners, there were all shapes and sizes, stocky little powerhouses like me and tall slender gazelles that ate up the track with strides twice as long as mine.

Long distance running is a sport that does not discriminate based on genetics; all can participate. The simple rule of thumb is that you get out of running what you choose to put into it and those who work hard will continue to improve and compete well.

Of course, talent plays a large role in determining who is at the front of the pack in a race and who is in the back, but hard work and determination are what establish personal improvement and success.

The use of performance-enhancing drugs is a slap in the face of hard work.

When two athletes of a similar talent level and training experience are barreling down the homestretch of a race, gritting their teeth and pumping their arms and legs furiously, the athlete who finally pulls away to cross the line first should be the athlete who simply wants it more or who has pushed just a little harder in practice, not the athlete who takes performance-enhancing drugs.

Running should not be a “free ride”

The things that make you better as a runner require sacrifice. Hard training requires the sacrifice of your body.

Eating healthy requires both a financial and social sacrifice; after all, who wants to be the one sitting with a plate of pasta and green salad while the rest of the group is enjoying hot wings and beer?

Getting the proper amount of sleep requires a sacrifice of time.

Athletes who wish to get the absolute best bang for their buck in training sacrifice a lot, moving to altitude, purchasing massages and spending quality time with their coach, discussing the many aspects of training.

Performance-enhancing drugs provide the benefits of hard training and speedy recovery without the sacrifice.

In essence, PEDs eliminate the need for hard work.

At the core of PED use is laziness and deceit. Runners who choose to use performance-enhancing drugs don’t have the guts to be vulnerable on race day by trusting in their own fitness and bravery.

In college, I took a sports psychology course that covered the use of PEDs. We learned that the number one reason athletes choose to use performance-enhancing drugs is that their best years are behind them and in an effort to get back to the race times of their prime, they opt to use PEDs.

This denial of the natural aging process shows an enormous amount of pride and denial.

Any athlete who can stand on a podium and accept a trophy and a check for prize money that they didn’t earn is a criminal.

What can we learn?

Accept the ebb and flow of your running career

It is extremely rare to have a running career in which every year boasts improvement.

There may be a year or two in which your progress seems to be slowing or at a stand still.

Don’t panic.

Instead, enjoy running for the love of running and continue to believe in your body, trusting that eventually, breakthroughs will happen.

Accept the decrease in speed that comes with aging

Age group running exists because of a fundamental truth that many of us try to fight. We slow down as we age.

Speed is a relative term and we should always remember that even if our “fastest” days are behind us, our “best” days could still be ahead of us!

Running is a great way to test yourself and it helps to remember that the amazing race that you had for a minute and a half 5k PR that won your age category is worth just as much as the performance of the 20-something who won the race.

Focus on your own hard work rather than anyone else’s race results

It’s so easy to get caught up in the fallacy of comparison.

On the long ladder that is racing, there will always someone a little faster than us on a higher rung and someone just below.

All we really have to beat is ourselves.

Be brave

Having confidence in yourself and your training is one of the hardest things to master.

Accepting doubt as a normal part of the racing experience and choosing to be brave and race hard anyway is the only way to truly test our limits.

After all, “courage is not the absence of fear, but the realization that something else is more important than that fear”.

So, take joy in the struggle and the sacrifice it takes to be a runner.  It’s part of what makes this sport so wonderful.

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How to Calculate Your Exact Hydration Needs Mon, 07 Jul 2014 10:00:05 +0000 When the temperature outside heats up, hydration becomes a big obstacle for distance runners.

The running community in Minneapolis is indignant about malfunctioning drinking fountains at parks and along popular running trails which were damaged by frozen pipes over the winter.

This has thrown off the regular hydration routines of countless local runners as the summer heat rolls in.

This got me thinking.

Knowing what we know now about the latest research on hydration, dehydration, and performance, how should you structure your own hydration routine, and what’s the best way to figure out how much you need to drink?

One of the most popular ways of measuring your water needs is by weighing yourself before and after you run, then calculating the difference.

It seems fairly basic: if you go out for a run in the heat, you sweat out a lot of water and need to replace it.

But, there’s more to it than that.

If you use this simple equation you’ll be getting it wrong.

In this article we’ll look at the research and help you develop both a super-simple method and a more scientific calculation for exactly how much you need to hydrate.

Body weight, body sweat, and body fuel

Under the conventional and dated model, to figure out how much you sweat, you simply measure how much weight you lost over the course of your run.

But scientific research has shown that there are a few problems with this model.

First, not all of the weight you’re losing is water!

A significant portion is fuel—carbs and fat, burned for energy during the course of your run.

The exact caloric cost of running varies from person to person, but:

  • A figure of 120 calories per mile is about right for most runners.
  • So, for example, over the course of an eight or nine-mile run, you’d expect to burn about 1000 calories.
  • If you are running at an easy pace, about half of these calories will come from carbs, and the other half will come from fat.
  • After doing some math on the energy content of carbs and fat, you’ll find out that you’ll be losing almost half a pound of fuel during your run.
  • On top of this, a wide body of research has established that your body stores water alongside glycogen, the molecule carbohydrates are converted into for storage.

A look at the research to confirm

In one representative study by Karl-Erik Olsson and Bengt Saltin at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, 19 healthy subjects had their total body water and muscle glycogen content measured before and after a three-day period during which they consumed only fat and protein, depleting their body’s carbohydrate stores.

Following this, the subjects ate a carb-rich diet again for four days and the measurements were taken again.

Olsson and Saltin demonstrated a fluctuation in body water content according to the concentration of glycogen stored in the muscles, to the tune of three to four grams of water per gram of carbohydrate.

For a runner in the summer, this means that each gram of carbohydrates that you burn liberates a few grams of water which can help maintain your hydration level, even though you’re losing water to sweat.


Timothy Noakes, a South African exercise physiologist and medical doctor, has demonstrated in several studies that athletes can lose at least 2.2 pounds of weight during exercise, and possibly up to 4.4 pounds, without any measurable decrease in hydration, as measured by total-body water content.

Additionally, Noakes points out that runners seem to have differing levels of sensitivity to water loss.

Some become extremely thirsty after only a pound or two of body weight lost, while others lose up to 8% of their body weight during a race, even when they’re drinking water en route!

Some multi-hour ultramarathon events feature weight checks at intermediate points along the course, but primarily to prevent overhydation in the form of hyponatremia, a dangerous condition that results from drinking too much water or sports drink.

Runners who develop hyponatremia often drink so much that they put on weight over the course of their run.

Hydration level through urine

What about urine color, another popular method of checking your hydration level?

Unfortunately, that too fails to pass scientific muster.

A 1999 study by three researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands compared the color and volume of urine production in eight trained cyclists before and after a long cycling session in the heat which led to a 3% loss in body weight.

While it is true that urine color and output followed the trends we’d expect—a small amount of dark yellow urine immediately after exercise, then increasingly clear urine and larger volumes produced as the subjects rehydrated—neither the color of the urine nor its volume were statistically correlated with the amount of water in the body.

In fact, the only scientifically valid measurement of hydration is the concentration of your blood plasma, which is not exactly easy to measure.


So what’s a runner to do?

Fortunately, there are two solutions. One of them pretty simple and one a little more complicated, but perhaps a little more useful for those racing marathons.

Solution 1: Drink to thirst

The best hydration plan, both for performance and for health, is to listen to your body. When you’re thirsty, drink water, and if not, don’t.

This is easy to do on a treadmill, or along a running path with frequent drinking fountains, but it’s a little trickier if you’re doing a big loop on the roads.

Most runners find that they need 13-27 fluid ounces of water per hour of running to keep from getting thirsty, so that’s a decent starting point if you’re stashing water bottles on your long run route or carrying a fuel belt.

The only drawback to drinking to thirst is that it’ll take you a few tries to figure out when and how often you’ll need water.

Solution 2: Create a calculation

Developing a calculation that factors in your carbohydrate and fat burned while also compensating for glycogen storage and actual sweat loss is a bit complicated.

But, once you have the numbers it’s not bad.

Step 1: Calculate your total calories burned. 120 calories per mile is about right for most runners

Step 2: Calculate percentage of calories burned from fat and carbohydrates. This is a reflection of intensity. This is a relatively complicated calculation, but if you want the in-depth details check out the article we did on this earlier here.

Step 3: This will give you how many grams of carbs and fat you burned.

Step 4: Measure how much actual weight you lost

Step 5: You can now subtract the value from how many grams of carbs and fats you burned from total weight loss. The difference is how much sweat you lost.

Why the heck would anyone want to use this method?

Other than the fact that most runners love data and are obsessive-compulsive by nature, there is a really good reason!

If you’re running the marathon, knowing exactly how much you need to drink is critical to determining exactly how much, when, with what and how often you need to refuel.

Since we know the body can only process a finite number of carbohydrates per minute/hour, you need to factor that into how much carbohydrate beverage and how much gel you’re taking.

As an example, if you choose to drink to thirst and thus drink 20 oz of sports beverage in an hour, you’ll also be consuming 20 to 35 grams of carbohydrates – depending on your exact drink of choice.

But, let’s say the next hour of the race you’re not as thirsty and you only drink 10oz of sports drink. Now, you’re only consuming 10-15 grams of carbohydrate.

That means you need to make up that carbohydrate deficit somewhere or you risk bonking.

On the flip side, you could also be planning to take a gel every 45 minutes during the race. But, if you drink more because you’re thirsty, you could end up exceeding your body’s limit of carbohydrate processing.

This is what leads to an upset stomach, bloating and even potentially a shut down of the digestive system.

Or, what if the weather changes – you’re going to drink more during a warm marathon than a cool one.

How do you adjust your fueling plan then?

But, if you know exactly how much you need to rehydrate with every mile for any given temperature, then you can plan this into your marathon nutrition strategy.

The calculation ensures you get your fueling right 100% of the time, regardless of weather.

That’s why we include the hydration calculator in the Marathon Nutrition Blueprint.

We do all the calculations above for you. You just weigh yourself before and after you run and we do the rest.

Then, we use your specific hydration needs to create a personalized plan.

If you want to learn more, you can check out the full details of the blueprint here.

Regardless, use this info as you train this summer and as you begin to develop your marathon nutrition strategy for this fall.

If you’re just training, drink to thirst. It’s simple, easy and effective.

If you’re training for a marathon, let the numbers guide you to ensure you factor in all the variables.

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Is Dehydration & Electrolyte Loss Really the Cause of Your Leg Cramps? Mon, 30 Jun 2014 10:00:04 +0000 Have you ever gotten cramps during a race or workout?

If so, you know how debilitating they can be.

Basketball fans got a memorable example of that during the 2014 NBA finals. In a sweltering-hot arena, star player Lebron James hit the ground after an easy layup, then grimaced and grabbed at his leg, stricken by a cramp. He had to limp off the court, helped by his teammates.

So, what causes exercise-induced muscle cramps? And is there any way to prevent them?

What causes leg cramps?

The traditional explanation for exercise-related leg cramps is that they are the result of dehydration, electrolyte losses, and excessive heat.

However, the evidence for each of these claims is poor.

Part of the reason is that exercise cramps are very difficult to study with the scientific method because they are not easy to reproduce in a laboratory—it’s pretty hard to round up more than a handful of athletes who are prone to cramping, and getting them to all cramp up during the same type of exercise in a lab is even harder.

But, we do know a few things.

It’s likely not hot weather

First, as noted by physiologist and MD Tim Noakes, exercise cramps don’t occur exclusively on hot days.

Even swimmers in very cold water can suffer from muscle cramping, and (again, probably because of the unpredictability of cramps) there’s little high-quality research linking exercise in the heat to an increased risk of cramps.

It’s likely not electrolytes

One way to study cramps is to look at a sample of athletes who are particularly prone to them.

A 2005 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training had 13 college-aged men with a history of calf cramps perform a rigorous and demanding exercise routine designed to fatigue the calves, including toe-walking, jump roping, and calf raises.

The exercises were done in hot, humid conditions, and the routine was performed on two separate days. During one trial, the men were given large volumes of sports drink with extra salt added in, and during the other, no liquids were consumed.

While the salty sports drink allowed some of the men to exercise longer before cramping set in, nine of the 13 men still got cramps even in the sports drink trial

Moreover, in the no-liquid trial, only seven men experienced cramps.

Though the obvious interpretation would be that the sports drinks helped prolong the duration of cramp-free exercise, the authors cautioned that factors other than hydration clearly played a role, given how many of the men cramped up even when drinking large volumes of an extra-salty sports drink.

Probably not hydration either

Another scientific article that examined the role of hydration was published in 2011 by Martin Schwellnus, Nichola Drew, and Malcolm Collins at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Their study evaluated over 200 Ironman triathletes before and after competing in an Ironman triathlon and attempted to identify factors associated with cramps.

Some 43 athletes developed cramps during the course of the race, but neither body weight changes (which can estimate dehydration levels) nor blood electrolyte levels were correlated with suffering cramps during a race.

Instead, the only two factors linked to cramping were a faster race time and (not surprisingly) a history of cramps in previous races.

Schwellnus’ study was a successor to a smaller and perhaps-overlooked 2004 study on distance runners that used similar methods. Seventy-two runners competing in an ultramarathon were weighed and had blood samples taken before and after the race.

Of these runners, 21 developed cramps.

Like in the later study, electrolyte status and hydration status had no correlation with cramping in these runners.

The neuromuscular theory

In contrast to the traditional mantra of heat, hydration, and electrolytes, the scientific evidence points to a different theory of cramping.

As described by Serajul Khan and John Burne of the University of Sydney in Australia, cramps appear to be the result of the failure of some type of cramp-inhibiting reflex in the spinal column.

Normally, nerves in the tendons of muscles send information back to the spine about the state of the muscle and tendon.

If a cramp were to develop, it should be “shut down” by a reflexive reaction in the spine, which inhibits the muscles that are firing.

Khan and Burne cleverly demonstrated this by artificially inducing calf cramps in volunteers via electrical stimulation, then were able to reverse them by electrically stimulating the Achilles tendon.

This neuromuscular theory of cramping also explains why stretching the affected muscle helps so much—stretching out the muscle sends a stronger inhibitory signal back to the spine, because the nerves in the tendon are sensing the stretch.

Unfortunately, because the discovery of the neuromuscular root of muscle cramps is fairly recent, there’s no good research yet into how you can manipulate this to your advantage to prevent cramps.


Ok, so we’re starting to get at the real reasons why you might be cramping. But we’re not all the way there yet.

Here’s what we do know and what you can put into practice right now:

  • Stretching appears to be a good bet once you get a cramp, since it’s been shown to reduce night-time calf cramping.

Despite conventional wisdom, loading up on electrolytes isn’t going to prevent cramping and pounding sports drinks to stay hydrated can leave your stomach feeling bloated.

Moreover, drinking more to try to replace electrolytes can mess with your carbohydrate intake and result in taking in too much sugar at one time, causing your stomach to actually slow down the rate it delivers glycogen to your working muscles.

So, how can you make sure you get everything right?

What if I told you there was a comprehensive blueprint that takes uses the latest scientific research and makes it simple to calculate YOUR exact, specific fueling needs during the race and then provides an actionable, easy-to-follow prescription for how to practice, carbo-load, taper and execute your exact marathon nutrition strategy?

Luckily, now there is.

With the combined powers of our nutritionist, team doctor, head of running research and marathon coach extraordinaire (yes, we’re kind of like Voltron) we created the first of its kind Marathon Nutrition Blueprint.

This Blueprint calculates for you exactly how much, when, and what products you need to fuel optimally during the race and provides you with specific, actionable information on how to practice during training, carbo-load, taper, and recover.

Are you ready to vanquish the marathon bonk for good?
Get Your Marathon Nutrition Blueprint Now

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Can Beetroot Juice Improve Running Performance? Mon, 23 Jun 2014 10:00:27 +0000 Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an all-natural supplement you could take for a guaranteed boost in performance with no harmful side effects?

That’s the claim made for beetroot juice, a vegetable juice that has awkwardly settled somewhere in between “food” and “dietary supplement.”

Beetroot juice comes from the humble beet (as it’s known here in North America), a vegetable formerly known for being served steamed or pickled as a healthy side dish.

But if you extract the juice from a beet, you get a liquid that is quite rich in nitrate, a chemical that the body metabolizes into nitric oxide, which has a potent effect on a number of biological processes, including lowering your blood pressure.

Some research shows that beetroot juice also appears to improve performance in endurance exercise, though the mechanism is not fully understood.

So, is beetroot juice really a wonder supplement?

As always, we’ll turn to the scientific research to find out.

Studies and research on beetroot juice

Initial research showed some promising findings:

A 2010 study by Katherine Lansley and other researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK tested the oxygen consumption during walking and running in nine healthy men after consuming 17 fluid ounces of beetroot juice for six days, then compared the results to another six-day trial when the men drank a placebo.

  • Lansley et al. found that the six-day beetroot juice protocol caused the subjects to consume less oxygen while walking and running at a range of speeds, implying they became more efficient. Further, they lasted 15% longer on a treadmill run to exhaustion.
  • Another study, this one published in 2012 by Naomi Cermak, Martin Gibala, and Luc van Loon, found that a similar six-day stretch of beetroot juice consumption in trained cyclists improved performance and power output by about 1% each over the course of a 10km cycling time trial.
  • And a group of researchers at St. Louis University found that eating seven ounces of baked whole beets led to 11 recreational runners finishing a 5km time trial faster.

However, not all research has found a positive effect from beetroot juice.

  • Two studies on well-trained cyclists found that beetroot juice consumption had no effect on a 50-mile cycling time trial or a one-hour time trial, and a third also found no benefit in well-trained kayakers.

Even though oxygen consumption was lower in the kayakers who consumed beetroot juice, their peak power output and time trial performances were not superior to when they consumed tomato juice as a placebo.

  • Finally, a Master’s thesis by Robert Kyle Boorsma found no effect of either acute consumption (one dose) or chronic consumption (daily for eight days) of beetroot juice on 1500m performance in a group of ten elite middle distance runners with PRs of about 3:56—equal to around 4:15 for the mile.

Well-trained versus beginner runners

One thing all of these negative trials have in common is that they were conducted on well-trained athletes.

Most of the studies on beetroot juice that did find a positive effect were conducted in physically active normal people or recreational athletes.

Because the mechanism by which beetroot juice may improve performance is uncertain, it’s hard to pin down exactly why well-trained athletes don’t benefit.

The authors of one study speculate that fit athletes (cyclists, in their case) have already maximized whatever physiological mechanism that beetroot juice stimulates, hence the lack of effect.


So, as is often the case with popular supplements, beetroot juice does not quite live up to the hype.

There appears to be some benefit if you are an untrained runner, but if you’ve been putting in good training, you’re not likely to see any boost in performance.

If you want to give beetroot juice a shot anyways, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The standard protocol used in most experiments calls for drinking 17 fluid ounces of the juice around three hours before exercise. It’s important to stick to natural beetroot juice, not a supplement claiming to have the same active ingredients.
  • As pointed out by three researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, nitrates—which are quite safe, especially from a natural source like a beet—are often confused or intermingled with nitrites, which have potent effects on the body and can be quite toxic.
  • Finally, you should be aware that there are some side effects to consuming beetroot juice. The dark-red color of the juice often makes its way into your urine, changing it to a pinkish hue. Though harmless, it’s a bit unsettling if you haven’t seen it before. Second, if you have a history of kidney stones or are at risk for them, you should avoid beets and beetroot juice, as they are high in oxalates, a chemical which can crystallize in the kidneys.

At the end of the day, there are still no secrets to success.

Beetroot juice might bump up your performance by about 1% if you’re a beginner, but more experienced runners will not see any benefits. They’ll have to improve the hard way—training!

It’s easy to fall victim to over-hyped supplements, especially when the results of studies are not fully analyzed.

If you’re interested in learning more about what supplements can help you improve your performance, I suggest you check out the Supplement Reference Guide that is published by is a completely independent (i.e. no supplement company can buy recommendations) reference guide that gathers and interprets all the research on supplements and how they might work for you.

The guide has information on over 300 supplements. All you do is search the supplement name or your goal (i.e. run faster) and the guide will tell you whether it’s worth it or not – with links to scientific papers.

This is definitely one of our go-to resources at RunnersConnect and I encourage you to check it out. Here is the link again.

In full disclosure, we recorded an in-depth interview with Kamal Patel, who has a double MBA/MPH (Master of Public Health) from Johns Hopkins University and is the director of, about supplements specific to runners as part of our Marathon Nutrition Blueprint.

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4 Ways Training With a Group (Even Online) Can Make You a Better Runner Thu, 19 Jun 2014 10:00:51 +0000 There is a reason that the best runners in the world train in groups. A community of runners with similar goals and dedication drive each other to be the best version of themselves.

Long distance running is a notoriously lonely sport. For many runners, training is a solo affair, and hundreds of solitary miles add together to bring each runner to the starting line of a race.

For athletes who don’t live in a place with a large developed running community, it is important to stay in touch with other runners.

In today’s age of technology, the Internet is a wonderful tool that can be used to unite the running community! These online communities offer valuable training tools and a unique online community that strives to bring out the best in each and every athlete!

4 reasons why connecting with other runners is important

1. Accountability

Reporting your daily runs and workouts to a community makes it a lot more difficult to let yourself be lazy and skip a run. Having coaches and teammates who care encourage you to keep the day-in day-out consistency that is so important to running success.

Running truly is about the journey, not the destination, and having a team that is traveling the same journey as you is a great way to keep yourself accountable on the “less exciting” running days.

Seeing the runs and workouts that your teammates post remind you that it is daily consistency that is shaping you into the runner that you want to be.

Putting your goals out there for your teammates to see is another important step in the process of greatness.

When your team knows what you are training for, it will help you to stay true to the act of training to reach the goal that you’ve set forth. Don’t be afraid to check up on your teammates and see how their training is progressing; accountability is a good thing!

2. Inspiration

I’ve always thought of running as a ladder. There is always a runner on the rung above you, running faster than you are, just as there is always someone below.

It is possible to draw inspiration from both ends of this spectrum.

Just as inspirational as the guy ripping an easy run at your tempo pace is the beginning runner who hits a double-digit 10 mile run for the first time despite a heavy work schedule and a full house of kids.

Watching the way great athletes train inspires you to do the same and shows you that it is hard work, not just talent, that pushes great athletes to do great things. It also helps to know that there are runners who look up to you too and someday want to run the kind of mileage and workouts that you do.

When I lack the motivation to put on my shoes and hit the trails, it helps to check in with what the athletes on Runnersconnect have already done for the day.

Every day there are wonderful success stories of athletes running fast and feeling good but there are also stories about those who managed to push through and put the miles in despite hectic schedules and tired bodies; these are the stories that get me out the door.

3. Camaraderie

Having a built-in team and having teammates and coaches who share the same lifestyle as you can be a great comfort.

Running is a tough sport at times and racing, when done correctly, is both physically and mentally taxing. It’s easy to feel like you go through the difficult sections of training and racing alone, which is why it is so important to surround yourself with like-minded runners that understand and can encourage you through the “lows” and celebrate with you through the “highs”.

Being successful in the sport of distance running requires discipline, dedication and sacrifice.

Family and friends who don’t run often have a hard time understanding why we have to give up the late nights out because of an early run in the morning, or why we choose to forgo the extra beer and plate of wings because we know we will regret it during the 20 miler tomorrow.

The online community of RunnersConnect is a place of understanding for runners and sympathy for their sacrifices. It’s nice to know that you’re not the only one who had to give up strappy sandals because of another black toenail!

4. Information

For every running goal that you set, there is a runner who has accomplished it. What better way to chase your dream of qualifying for Boston than to get to know a teammate who has already qualified and find out how they did it!

We have a lot to learn from runners who have accomplished what we’ve yet to accomplish, and other runners have a lot to learn from us. Questions as simple as finding a trail system to run while visiting a new city or as complicated as how to take care of a specific injury can all be answered by our teammates and coaches.

Final message

Take the time to share your struggles and lessons learned along the way with your teammates, chances are, one of them will go through the same struggle eventually and will draw strength from your experience. It helps to know that you are not alone with the mental and physical roadblocks that seem to haunt the path to PRs, and understanding how others overcame them can be the difference between success and failure.

So take the time to be a good teammate. Engage with your teammates, encouraging them through the difficult times and celebrating when the sailing is smooth! Let the pain of the “Michigan” workout bond you with others who have done it and let the support system of your team carry you through every step!


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Cathy Ahearn from Learn to Run Strong Stealing From RunnersConnect Tue, 17 Jun 2014 10:00:18 +0000 I can’t believe I am writing these words again.

For the second time in a month I’ve found a “running coach” stealing and selling the RunnersConnect Strength Training for Runners Program.cathy

This time, Cathy Ahearn from Learn to Run Strong is blatantly selling our program to unsuspecting runners.

Here is the email she sent to a RunnersConnect fan after she purchased a personalized strength training plan for her upcoming marathon.


Take a look at the PDFs at the bottom. Recognize the names?

If you’ve purchased our Strength Training for Runners program then you know they are the exact duplicates of our PDFs.

Let’s take a closer look at these PDFs.



Amazingly, Cathy was brazen enough to not only keep the names of the routines exactly the same, but actually use my images as well. She simply removed the header and footer so it no longer says RunnersConnect.

The best part is, take a look at the email receipt for this purchase.

Email 2

$90. What!

She’s selling 1 of the 18 total routines for twice the price of what we’re selling the entire program for. As far as I can tell, this doesn’t include the injury prevention or the video files either.

Like I mentioned in my last post about the theft of our content and products, it’s not about the money. I price the products the way they are so you can get as much value from them as possible.

What really pisses me off is that she’s calling herself a “coach” and that runners are trusting their training to her.

That’s unfair to you and it’s unfair to all the real coaches out there that work hard, attend conferences, and learn everything they can to help fellow runners.

I do apologize to you reading this, our fans, that I keep needing make these discoveries public. But, I strongly believe that whether it’s my content or another coach’s, we need to rid our sport of these charlatans.

You need to be able to trust that when someone calls themselves a coach, they have real experience and integrity behind the advice and coaching they provide to you.

We, the running community, should work together to rid our sport of these frauds and thieves.

Final note: If you purchased a similar program from Cathy, email me and I will send you the full Strength Training for Runners program for free. No strings attached. I just want you to have the full compliment of material.

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