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Ultra Endurance Events: What’s going on in my body and my mind?

Have you completed an ultra-distance event or thinking of doing one? An Ironman? An ultra-marathon? A 24 or 48-hour event? All these events challenge the body far beyond what is experienced even during a tough marathon.

No time to read? Here’s the cheat sheet!

One of my Ultra Low Points!

I’ve had lots of highs and lows in racing. But not many when I’ve captured the low in a photo! A couple of years ago my wife and I ran the TransRockies Run – a 6 day mountain run event. The distances are relatively modest however once you add in the sleep deprivation experienced at altitude, notably we live at sea level, and the elevation changes in this event which dwarf our local hill training – suffice to say we had a tough race!

Battling the fatigue

We experienced significant altitude sickness, heat by day, freezing during the night, we had rubbish sleeping bags, so that by day 4 our bodies were ruined – see the picture of me? That’s me trying to get my head ready to eat some pancakes and run again!

But like many of you, still we continue and we go back to do longer and more challenging events! 

They’re tough, a major physical and mental challenge. But the challenge is what we’re here for!  Ultra distance events don’t have the same limiters as shorter all-out events. In a sprint, you’ll know what you’re finishing time is likely to be within a small margin. In an ultra, you can have a great day, or finish hours off your pace, or not finish at all – even if you’re the best in the world.

Ultra distance events are a chance for us to explore our depths. They offer a positive environment to answer the questions:

Can I do this,? What will happen when I start hurting? How am I going to respond when the suffering mounts? Do I have the mental fortitude to endure when all the signals from my body are begging me to stop?

So what are some of those signals? What exactly happens to us during these events? Let me take you through a whirlwind tour of the havoc wrought in your body by an ultra-distance event!

In this post we’re not going to talk about the months and years of training required; we’re going to show you some of the changes that take place in your muscles, organs, blood, and also your mind during ultra races.  

How can we tell?

During really long or very tough exercise, the cells in your body become leaky and let stuff pass through their walls more easily – their permeability increases, changing a solid barrier into a sieve.

So, chemicals, proteins and other substances that should be on one side of the cell wall move to the other side. That gets worse the harder or longer you exercise; that means we can measure those substances and see what’s going on at the level of your cells. Pretty cool!

Main Point: Your cells become leakier as you exercise harder and longer. We can measure levels of various substances and metabolites in your blood to get an indication of the amount of damage taking place inside those hard-working cells of yours!

The Good News

All the worrying things you’re about to read are temporary! Well, nearly all of them – we’ll cover the effect of years of endurance training on your heart muscle in an upcoming post.

The changes we’ve mapped out below will help to explain why you feel so awful during these races, just like I did in that photo!

First, Muscle Damage

Hardworking muscles that are damaged by exercise leak specific enzymes into your blood. Some of those enzymes can go up by hundreds of times their normal levels (like creatine kinase and myoglobin). The levels are scarily high at the end of a 48-hour ultramarathon!  

Running for that long causes severe muscle damage! This is mind over muscle!

Muscle Strength

After ultramarathons, particularly mountain races where there is a lot of climbing and descent you probably felt weak as a kitten the next day, right? So, how long does that last after, say a 100-mile mountain run?

Well, you may be surprised – most of your strength is back after just over 1 week but it takes another week for your muscle function to normalize. So that’s 2 weeks for the connection between your muscles and nerves to recover.

Namely, your neuromuscular function takes longer than your muscle alone to settle down. Neuromuscular function is the name given to how your nerves and muscles work together to make you move. Your brain recruits muscle fibres by making your nerves send little electrical impulses into the muscle – the more muscle you recruit at the same time, the harder you push. It takes 2 weeks for that nerve-muscle link to bounce back to pre-race function.

So that’s why the stairs are a struggle for so long after an ultra!

Heart, Liver and Kidneys Damage

These are some hardworking organs – and you’re about to push them through a massive challenge.

Liver

Wait! My liver isn’t doing any running, what’s going on there? Your liver sits in the upper right of your abdomen and it’s basically a very complex filter. It changes chemicals from one type to another. It gets first dibs on anything that comes into your bloodstream from your stomach to detoxify and make it safe for the rest of your body. Your liver also helps in metabolism, glycogen (carb) production, and hormone production among many other jobs.

Because of all these critical functions, a healthy liver is vital for athletic performance and recovery. So when you run an ultramarathon, you’re giving your liver a workout too.

We can easily test the three most important markers of liver damage in your blood; the same as those we use for annual health screening and for monitoring liver disease from any cause.

You’d expect to see these double after a tough weightlifting session. But after a 24-48 hour feat of human endurance these could be 20-30 times higher than normal levels. Those signs of liver damage will take about a week to settle down to near normal levels, though they’re back to 5-10 times normal levels after only 2 days. 

Tip: Don’t go for those health insurance blood tests the week after running an ultra marathon!

Heart

This one isn’t a stretch of the imagination. Your heart is a muscular organ, muscles suffer strain when they work hard. Beating hard and fast for an entire ultra-distance event is a major challenge for your heart, and it shows.

To look at this we can use the blood tests that we normally use to detect a heart attack or heart failure. Heart failure is usually a condition of old age when your heart can’t keep up with pumping blood around your body – that results in a buildup of fluid in the lungs, ankles, and around the body.

During ultra-events of 12 to 48 hours there’s a marked increase in heart strain biomarkers – up to ten times baseline levels!

Taken out of context, these results would be enough to diagnose heart failure or a heart attack in many athletes! Thankfully they go back to normal after a few days, which they would not do in a clinical heart problem. However, this repeated strain is what is blamed for the chronic scarring of the heart seen in lifelong marathon runners.

Kidneys

It will come as no surprise that your kidneys get stressed out during prolonged exercise. You’re probably thinking this only matters if you don’t drink enough fluids – don’t be so sure!

Like your liver, your kidneys also act as a complex filter but for different reasons. During ultra-exercise, the cells lining the part of your kidneys that filters blood get inflamed and damaged. This is like taking the dust filter out of your hoover – sure you hoover up some dust but a lot of it gets spewed back out again!

It takes a day or two for your kidneys to catch up on this filtering process. This is one of the reasons you should not use anti-inflammatory medications to mask injuries or pain. Those drugs put extra stress on your kidneys and can cause serious problems – I’ll explain this in more detail in a blog post very soon.

Oxidative Stress and DNA Damage

One of the by-products of our use of oxygen to make energy is the production of reactive oxygen species – call them ROS. These are forms of oxygen that can damage proteins and DNA in your body – oxidative stress. Stress is bad, and oxidative stress is often quoted as the reason we should all eat more antioxidants. That’s one of the main reasons why we use wholefood products at YPB, they contain the antioxidants you need while on the move (unlike refined energy products).

Yes, oxidative stress markers in your body will rise during ultra-distance events but… not very much, only a few percent. That’s because your body is an expert at fighting these on the go and increases the number of antioxidant substances in your body to balance.

However, even that small change causes measurable DNA damage in your white blood cells over the course of a marathon, and far more damage for longer events.

If the impact is small, why mention it? Well, this will blow your mind! Two studies found that higher levels of antioxidants in your body before starting an ultra-race is linked to faster finishing times.

So, get your diet in order and get your antioxidants up before your next ultra! Think of some of the greats like Scott Jurek or Rich Roll who eat plant-based diets. They’re blood is surging with antioxidants at the starting line!

My theory on this is that the effect is the same as you see with the experience of flow in athletes. The benefit isn’t the antioxidants on race day, rather the cumulative benefit seen over months and years of higher levels during training. The same with flow, people who enter flow states more frequently in training tend to finish faster regardless of how they feel during a race (flow blog to follow). 

If you want to know more about the science behind this, researchers use 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine (8-OHdG), which is an oxidized/damaged part of DNA, to look for DNA damage. When your body repairs your DNA, it gets rid of 8-OHdG in your urine.

So, urinary 8-OHdG can be used to examine oxidative stress and has even been identified as a risk factor for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

What if you do really long training sessions all the time?

Maybe you have a week-long stage race coming up and as well as everything else now you have to worry about damaging your DNA?!

Don’t worry, yes you will have some oxidative damage to your DNA and this increases with the duration of the race but, this actually goes back down while you consistently do long distances over consecutive days.

Your body appears to increase your antioxidant processing in response to this shock. Your immune cells release proteins called cytokines with a specific role to inhibit oxidation and reverse the widespread inflammation resulting from your determined run!

What else do we see from inflammation?

The number of your immune cells goes up and blood markers of inflammation rise considerably. Fortunately, these deranged results mostly return to normal after 2 days. It should be said, these are average levels taken across many people, within that group some people have extremely abnormal blood tests during an ultramarathon while others aren’t so bad.

Breathing hard?

All that persistent effort causes you to breath heavily for a really long time. Have you ever hyperventilated and felt tingly fingers or lips? That’s from exhaling too much carbon dioxide which raises your body’s pH which modifies blood electrolyte balance for a short time.

Well, breathing hard for 1-2 days of exercise does something similar but much more slowly – it causes carbon dioxide levels to drop in the blood, raising pH and dropping calcium while raising potassium. That low calcium can persist for a couple of days but it is only a slight drop.

You may be wondering about sodium levels in all this as that’s one of the big concerns endurance athletes have, especially in the heat; in all these groups of people, sodium didn’t change much. Abnormal sodium levels are almost always down to hydration problems, namely drinking way too much.

We can’t find a study that’s looked at specific signs of muscle damage for the muscles you use in breathing – it probably isn’t possible – but there are lots of studies showing improved endurance performance by training your respiratory muscles. After all, they’re just made of more muscle tissue that can be prepared to work more efficiently for longer.

Endotoxemia and Nausea

During a 100 mile ultramarathon, stomach symptoms are experienced by most runners at some stage, with nausea being the most common complaint.

We mentioned that your cells become more sieve-like during ultra-exercise, so they leak. Well, that means bugs and toxins can leak from your intestine into your blood – that’s called endotoxemia and it makes you feel sick. More toxins in your blood means more nausea. In one study on a 100-mile run; nutrition, hydration and temperature didn’t seem to have any role in causing nausea.

Psychological Stress and Perceived Recovery

There’s a part of your brain (pretty close to the front – your prefrontal gyrus) that’s heavily responsible for choosing one course of action over another. So when an inner voice says

  • Please stop, everything hurts and I hate this!

there’s another inner voice saying

  • Keep going, if I can just get to the next checkpoint… and the next…

This little heroic part of your brain is what lets you pick the harder option. That’s true in every part of your day (fruit over chocolate etc.), but it gets tired. An ultra-marathon is a microcosm if this in an extreme setting.

In fact, ultra runners who are better and more flexible at directing their attention and concentration in this way while ignoring irrelevant information tend to finish races faster than those who struggle with it.  

Why bring this up?

Well, if you spend 100-miles or 24 hours or a full Ironman continuously choosing to keep going over stopping for tea and cake, that is mentally exhausting and comes at a cost. We know what that cost is! Would you like to know? This might be useful to explain to your significant other before your next ultra!

Here are some of things you’re likely to feel after a typical 24-hour ultra (shorter races have this too, just less intense).

  • General stress
  • Emotional ups and downs – anxiety, anger, irritability
  • Social irritation – you’re more likely to get upset or pick a fight over something small
  • Rumination – have you ever spent days after a race just thinking about that one thing you could have done better?!
  • Fatigue and low energy – difficult to concentrate and get things done, difficult to make decisions or motivate yourself
  • Burnout – this is when you’re more likely to feel like quitting, it’s offset by having a good race but if you’ve had a DNF you’ve probably also had that thought of “I’m never doing this nonsense again!”
  • Sleep – disturbed by frequent waking
  • Physical – injury, peculiar bodily sensations

I’m writing this list smiling at how scarily true it’s been for me after lots of races!

But how long does it take for your mental state and sleep to recover? Simple –

  • 1 week for most of your negative stress reactions to go back to your baseline
  • but 2 weeks for your positive mindset (motivation, energy, enthusiasm) to recover to pre-race levels

Why is this so important? Well as you saw above, many of your blood tests recover more quickly that your mindset.

Regardless of these results, most ultra distance racers and coaches state that it takes closer to 5 weeks of recovery before you’re ready to go back to regular training.

Your sense of how you are feeling is more sensitive than any tests we have to detect over-reaching – over-reaching is the term given to pushing yourself too hard for too long that results in a bad mental state and poor exercise performance.

If you really want to monitor your mental state before and after your next ultra, just take the RESTQ-sport questionnaire. If you do, let me know what happens!

This is useful because ignoring how you’re feeling is one of the most common causes of overtraining. Injury and fatigue should be tracked just like distance and pace – these are the early warning signs for overtraining.

In fact, a lot of the research in this area comes from military sources. They want to know how hard they can push their recruits without breaking them. If you want to train with ‘military precision’ then maybe give some kind of simple mood and stress tracking a go!

Main Point: During training, just like after your next ultra-marathon, listen to how you feel to judge when you should return to regular training. Do you feel like training? Are the legs still heavy? How’s your motivation? Still feeling tired or are you eager to get out? 

Congratulations! Despite all that ultra damage, you’ve come through it!

Have you been through this experience? Did any of this come as a surprise? Let us know your experience in the comments below!

 

References

  1. Cona, Giorgia, et al. “It’s a matter of mind! Cognitive functioning predicts the athletic performance in ultra-marathon runners.” PloS one 10.7 (2015): e0132943.
  2. Coutts, Aaron, L K Wallace, and Katie Slattery. “Monitoring Changes in Performance, Physiology, Biochemistry, and Psychology during Overreaching and Recovery in Triathletes.” International Journal of Sports Medicine 28 (February 1, 2007): 125–34. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2006-924146.
  3. Hattori, N., T. Hayashi, K. Nakachi, H. Ichikawa, C. Goto, Y. Tokudome, K. Kuriki, et al. “Changes of ROS during a Two-Day Ultra-Marathon Race.” International Journal of Sports Medicine 30, no. 6 (June 2009): 426–29. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0028-1112144.
  4. Jastrzębski, Zbigniew, Małgorzata Żychowska, Łukasz Radzimiński, Anna Konieczna, and Jakub Kortas. “Damage to Liver and Skeletal Muscles in Marathon Runners During a 100 Km Run With Regard to Age and Running Speed.” Journal of Human Kinetics 45 (April 7, 2015): 93–102. https://doi.org/10.1515/hukin-2015-0010.
  5. Kłapcińska, Barbara, Zbigniew Waśkiewicz, Stanisław J. Chrapusta, Ewa Sadowska-Krępa, Miłosz Czuba, and Józef Langfort. “Metabolic Responses to a 48-h Ultra-Marathon Run in Middle-Aged Male Amateur Runners.” European Journal of Applied Physiology 113, no. 11 (November 2013): 2781–93. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-013-2714-8.
  6. Millet, Guillaume Y., Katja Tomazin, Samuel Verges, Christopher Vincent, Régis Bonnefoy, Renée-Claude Boisson, Laurent Gergelé, Léonard Féasson, and Vincent Martin. “Neuromuscular Consequences of an Extreme Mountain Ultra-Marathon.” Edited by Mark Tarnopolsky. PLoS ONE 6, no. 2 (February 22, 2011): e17059. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0017059.
  7. Miyata, M., H. Kasai, K. Kawai, N. Yamada, M. Tokudome, H. Ichikawa, C. Goto, et al. “Changes of Urinary 8-Hydroxydeoxyguanosine Levels during a Two-Day Ultramarathon Race Period in Japanese Non-Professional Runners.” International Journal of Sports Medicine 29, no. 1 (January 2008): 27–33. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2007-965072.
  8. Mrakic-Sposta, Simona, Maristella Gussoni, Sarah Moretti, Lorenza Pratali, Guido Giardini, Philippe Tacchini, Cinzia Dellanoce, et al. “Effects of Mountain Ultra-Marathon Running on ROS Production and Oxidative Damage by Micro-Invasive Analytic Techniques.” PLoS ONE 10, no. 11 (November 5, 2015). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0141780.
  9. Nicolas, M., M. Banizette, and G.Y. Millet. “Stress and Recovery States after a 24 h Ultra-Marathon Race: A One-Month Follow-up Study.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise 12, no. 4 (July 2011): 368–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2011.03.005.
  10. Ostrowski, Kenneth, Thomas Rohde, Sven Asp, Peter Schjerling, and Bente Klarlund Pedersen. “Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Cytokine Balance in Strenuous Exercise in Humans.” The Journal of Physiology 515, no. Pt 1 (February 15, 1999): 287–91. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7793.1999.287ad.x.
  11. Pettersson, Jonas, Ulf Hindorf, Paula Persson, Thomas Bengtsson, Ulf Malmqvist, Viktoria Werkström, and Mats Ekelund. “Muscular Exercise Can Cause Highly Pathological Liver Function Tests in Healthy Men.” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 65, no. 2 (February 2008): 253–59. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2125.2007.03001.x.
  12. Radák, Z., J. Pucsuk, S. Boros, L. Josfai, and A. W. Taylor. “Changes in Urine 8-Hydroxydeoxyguanosine Levels of Super-Marathon Runners during a Four-Day Race Period.” Life Sciences 66, no. 18 (March 24, 2000): 1763–67.
  13. Ryu, Jae Hoon, Il Young Paik, Jin Hee Woo, Ki Ok Shin, Su Youn Cho, and Hee Tae Roh. “Impact of Different Running Distances on Muscle and Lymphocyte DNA Damage in Amateur Marathon Runners.” Journal of Physical Therapy Science 28, no. 2 (February 2016): 450–55. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.28.450.
  14. Stuempfle, Kristin J., Taylor Valentino, Tamara Hew-Butler, Frederick M. Hecht, and Martin D. Hoffman. “Nausea Is Associated with Endotoxemia during a 161-Km Ultramarathon.” Journal of Sports Sciences 34, no. 17 (September 2016): 1662–68. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2015.1130238.
  15. Sugama, Kaoru, Katsuhiko Suzuki, Kayo Yoshitani, Koso Shiraishi, and Takashi Kometani. “Urinary Excretion of Cytokines versus Their Plasma Levels after Endurance Exercise.” Exercise Immunology Review 19 (2013): 29–48.
  16. Sugama, Kaoru, Katsuhiko Suzuki, Kayo Yoshitani, Koso Shiraishi, Shigeki Miura, Hiroshi Yoshioka, Yuichi Mori, and Takashi Kometani. “Changes of Thioredoxin, Oxidative Stress Markers, Inflammation and Muscle/Renal Damage Following Intensive Endurance Exercise.” Exercise Immunology Review 21 (2015): 130–42.
  17. Tharion, W. J., T. M. Raunch, S. R. Strowman, and B. L. Shikitt. “The Psychological Attributes of Ultramarathon Runners and Factors Which Limit Endurance:” Fort Belvoir, VA: Defense Technical Information Center, April 30, 1987. https://doi.org/10.21236/ADA185015.
  18. Tharion, W. J., A. L. Terry, D. J. McMenemy, T. M. Rauch, B. L. Shukitt, E. Gallego, and L. Gowenlock. “Psychological Attributes, Coping Strategies and Other Factors Associated with Ultramarathon Performance:” Fort Belvoir, VA: Defense Technical Information Center, January 1, 1989. https://doi.org/10.21236/ADA208300.
  19. Vezzoli, Alessandra, Cinzia Dellanoce, Simona Mrakic-Sposta, Michela Montorsi, Sarah Moretti, Annamaria Tonini, Lorenza Pratali, and Roberto Accinni. “Oxidative Stress Assessment in Response to Ultraendurance Exercise: Thiols Redox Status and ROS Production According to Duration of a Competitive Race.” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 2016 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6439037.
  20. Wu, Lily L., Chiuan Chian Chiou, Pi Yueh Chang, and James T. Wu. “Urinary 8-OHdG: A Marker of Oxidative Stress to DNA and a Risk Factor for Cancer, Atherosclerosis and Diabetics.” Clinica Chimica Acta; International Journal of Clinical Chemistry 339, no. 1–2 (January 2004): 1–9.
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Feeling sick? Not sure if you should race or rest?

Learn how to make the right decision when you’re under the weather and unsure if you should train

After putting in hours of training, it’s tempting to go ahead with a race even if you don’t feel up to it. But you will pay for it later if you ignore signs you should rest.

Here’s what you need to look out for:

  • Systemic symptoms: fever, chesty cough, general muscle and joint pain.
  • “The Neck Test”: If you have any of the above symptoms or anything else (like an upset stomach) below the neck, take a rest.

What will happen if I train when I’m sick?

Exercising hard temporarily reduces the function of your immune system. So, training at a time when your body is already struggling with an invader may result in complications like inflammation and pneumonia.

Most runners (85%) will race regardless of feeling poorly – whether they have just a runny nose or a feverish hacking cough.

Be smart and rest up, because:

  • DNF: You double your chance of getting the dreaded ‘DNF’ beside your name if you run with an infection.
  • Your performance will suffer: You will be slower and weaker even up to 4 days after a viral illness

Never get sick?

Well, chances are you might…about 1 in 5 of runners will have some kind of an infection in the 8-12 days before their next race. Put another way, you are likely to get a viral type illness just before one of your next 5 races.

So, should you race or rest?

If you pass ‘The Neck Test’ then you might consider going out for an easy session. But remember, training when you’re sick has a long term effect on your performance so you’re better off resting up if you’re not feeling well.

We hope this helps!

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Beetroot Blog 2: juice shots – are they worth it?

Beetroot for Performance?

Make sure you check out the first part of our Beetroot blog!

To get the required amount of nitrates for performance improvement, you’ll need between 1-2 concentrated beetroot shots for each session depending on your size. At the time of writing, you can get a shot for €1.50-2 each depending on whether you buy in bulk. 2 shots (about 800mg of nitrate) significantly lowers the amount of oxygen your muscles need for moderate intensity exercise. However, about 1 shot all that’s needed to max out the benefit in terms of time to exhaustion in a time trial by about 12-15% over placebo. The improved time to exhaustion is reasonably consistent across cycling and running at high intensity. That’s also consistent with other research showing a 1-2% improvement in time trial performance over various time trials.

1-2% you say? That’s hardly worth mentioning! Why not just get a carbon fibre bike? Race wheels? Wind-tunnel testing? Those Nike shoes they used in the Breaking 2 attempt?

OK, let’s assume you exercise 4 times per week and you ingest 1 beetroot shot per session plus 1 extra for your weekend session as a ‘just in case’ – that’s 5 shots per week giving you €10/week or €520 per year for a consistent 1-2% improvement in endurance performance.

Wind Tunnel

An enthusiastic cyclist could go for wind tunnel testing which will set you back around €500-750 per hour (you could need 90-120 minutes) and might give you a slightly better than 2% improvement in your time trial performance. The benefit of this assumes you can hold that ‘ideal position’ during a race, it might be too uncomfortable.

Race wheels will do something similar when compared to bog standard factory wheels, but they cost around €2,500, give or take.

A carbon fibre bike compared to a steel frame?

Well, that works out at about 2.5 seconds quicker per 500g weight reduction on a quad-burning 7% incline – which most of us won’t do very often! What does that mean? That means you could spend thousands more on your bike, and it absolutely definitely will save you time in the Alps. Or, over a year, you could spend €520 on beetroot concentrate and the extra €2,000-3,000 on a gym membership (about €700/year), a personal trainer (about €700 for 10 sessions), a nutritionist (€350 for a few assessments) and lose more weight while also boosting your health and performance.

Nike’s Vaporfly 4% shoes?

They claim, in a Nike funded study, to improve running efficiency by 4% by returning more energy in each stride. That’s assuming you’re one of their testers already able to run 10k in less than 31 minutes. A 4% boost in running economy should translate from a 2:05 marathoner cropping that right down to just over a 2-hour marathon in his new shoes – but that’s not what happens; so whatever we’re missing in the puzzle there, a couple hundred euro for new shoes doesn’t equate to 4% improvement in real life.

The Winner!

So, in the grand scheme, beetroot juice looks pretty attractive as a dietary performance enhancement.

Hang on! I’m really into this so I’ve tested my performance with and without beetroot and I’m no faster after beetroot!

That’s an interesting point. Some research has shown that, while runners in a time trial performance run at the same speed regardless of beetroot ingestion over most of the trial – as fatigue sets in over the last mile, the beetroot fuelled runners maintain their high pace while the beetrootless runners slow down. RPE also seems to be lower at the beginning of the effort. So while it’s possible that you’re not going faster at max effort, you’ll feel more comfortable and hold that pace for longer.

We hope this helps with Your Personal Best!

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What’s the Beet? Part 1

Why are athletes drinking beetroot juice?

Beetroot has quickly become a staple offering of health food stores in the form of juice and juice concentrate. We feel like beetroot concentrate shots have gone mainstream. Will this go the way of protein bars? Will everything become beetroot enriched? Beet-milk, beet-porridge, beet-beer?!

While we like to go into some depth in our articles, we also aim to keep it relevant so that you can take what you read and bring it straight into your next training session. So, feel free to skip straight to our Sprint Summary!

Do beetroots improve my athletic performance?

Yes! Beets make you a more efficient athlete in a few different ways. Beetroots stimulate the muscle’s ability to contract and shorten. Secondly, nitrite seems to make your mitochondria function more efficiently. Third, nitrite may increase blood flow to the working muscle, especially for sprint (type II) muscle fibres. Regardless of the mechanism, the athletic performance boost granted by beetroot is well documented.

How do beetroots make me a more efficient athlete?

Beetroots are awesome! They are riddled with nitrates. Nitrogen and oxygen in the form of NO3 (Nitrate) is found in very high concentrations in beetroot. When you eat nitrate rich beetroot, about 25% of the nitrate enters the salivary gland circulation – your saliva is loaded with nitrate! Then, bacteria in your mouth change it to NO2(Nitrite), which is mostly what you absorb into your bloodstream. Finally, some tissues, particularly your oxygen hungry working muscles, can change nitrite into nitrous oxide (NO). That’s it; 3, 2, 1, go – nitrate, nitrite, nitrous oxide, boom!

No, this doesn’t make you go faster like pushing a red nitro boost button in The Fast and The Furious movies! While we don’t have a total grasp on what happens with NO in the body, we know that your muscle mitochondria waste less energy after eating nitrate rich foods (actually, they improve oxidative phosphorylation efficiency, wasting fewer protons if you want us to be precise). Mitochondria are basically your cellular engine, that’s where your energy comes from by using up the oxygen you breathe, combining it with nutrients from food and ultimately releasing energy. That energy goes into making ATP (your body’s universal energy molecule or currency), which makes your muscles move!

Basically, beetroots make your cells even better at doing what they already do. It’s like oiling up your bike chain!

Tell me more about what’s going on and why this is good!

Beetroot and nitrate supplementation allow the exercising muscles to maintain effort while using less oxygen and even prolonging the amount of time you can exercise. So, oxygen consumption drops while the performance of the working muscle stays the same or improves. Normally your performance drops when you can’t use, or don’t have, enough oxygen. With enough nitrate however, you use less oxygen, make the same amount of lactate, and exercise at high intensity for longer!

As a real-world example of this in nature, Tibetans living for generations at high-altitudes have nitrate levels in their bloodstream ten times the level of the rest of us living at sea level. This appears to contribute to their ability to exercise effectively at such high altitudes where there is less oxygen around.

How much? How often? How long before I exercise?

When?

  • The performance benefits can be seen as early as 2.5 hours after ingestion of beetroot juice, other studies have looked at several days of consumption prior to testing – both show beneficial effects.

How much?

  • Let’s go by the nitrate content, you’re aiming for around 400-500mg of nitrate for an average person, which is what most beetroot concentrate juice shots aim for. That’s 0.1-0.2mmol/kg (6.4-12.8mg/kg) of nitrate.

What’s that in numbers of whole beetroots?

  • You’ll need to chow down on nearly half a kilo of beetroots for that much nitrate – that’s why the concentrated forms are popular. The good news is the nitrates seem to survive cooking if you want to have the full veggie-fest.

Is more better?

  • You may need more than 400mg if you’re a heavier individual. If you go toward the upper end of the per kilogram range, you will probably see more benefits in some aspects of performance but not all of them – time to exhaustion and time trial performance seems to plateau earlier.

Tip: Be careful – not all beetroot juices and powders are equal. Some have very high levels of nitrates, and some have very low levels. There are only a few that have the nitrate level clearly labelled.

Will I tolerate it ok?

Most studies report no significant GI side effects from ingesting beetroot before exercise. Well, aside from red urine and stool – be warned and don’t let that surprise you!

Can I have something else? I don’t like beetroot!

Unfortunately if taste is your issue, it’s difficult to get other concentrate juice drinks!

For commercially available drinks with nitrate rich contents, beetroot shots are best, beetroot juice second, then vegetable juices, and the fruit juices. These results don’t change with price, processing or storage of the juices, just what they contained. Beetroot juices maintain the highest total antioxidants and polyphenols after digestion – up to 5 times higher!

But you can try getting 400mg nitrate from:

  • Cooked Beets: 2.5 cups
  • Uncooked Beets: 2 cups
  • Swiss Chard (Uncooked): 3 cups
  • Basil (Uncooked): 3 cups
  • Butterleaf Lettuce: 3 cups
  • Arugula: 3 cups

I heard something about beetroot and my blood pressure – is that important?

Research shows that nitrate ingestion consistently reduces blood pressure, usually hitting its greatest effect 3 hours after eating/drinking beetroot and returning to your baseline blood pressure after 24 hours.

In case you’re curious about the numbers, the effect seems to be a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure of up to 10 and 8 mmHg respectively after 3 hours. If you’re not sure what that means, it’s similar to what is achieved with some blood pressure medications (it’s worth noting here, some blood pressure medications have other beneficial effects aside from just lowering blood pressure). The blood pressure effect increases with the amount of nitrate you ingest.

Is that amount of nitrate safe?

For raw inorganic nitrates the upper acceptable limit set by the WHO to avoid health concerns is 3.7mg/kg (about 250mg for a 70kg individual). Vegetable form nitrates, however, appear to avoid the health problems associated with raw nitrates.

Most studies on performance use 350-475mg of nitrates per day which is about double the WHO recommended limit. Nitrate supplementation appears to be healthy from whole foods.

Is it healthy then?

First, we need to mention some little gremlins called reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS). RONS cause oxidative stress – that means RONS react with proteins, lipids, even DNA causing them to malfunction. We can all agree we want less stress of any kind but this one sounds particularly bad. Oxidative stress can cause premature cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurological decline and other kinds of cell dysfunction. Protecting yourself against reactive oxygen and nitrogen species is a key part of maintaining optimal health.

Your diet, if it is antioxidant heavy, can help soak up RONS. The good news is that beetroot juice is full of antioxidants, as well as lots of other good stuff like zinc, B6, calcium, magnesium, folate, iron etc. Specifically, beetroot juice contains polyphenols – sounds technical but bear with us and it’ll all make sense. Betalains give beetroot it’s colour, aside from being a funky way to make a mess on the couch they are great antioxidants sacrificing themselves against the harmful RONS so that your cells keep functioning optimally.

But the question is, how useful are the antioxidants in beetroot juice/shots for your body? Do they survive digestion to make to the useful sites? The answer is yes! Thank goodness for convenience! In fact, the beetroot shots are around 2-3 times higher in usable antioxidants than regular beetroot juice, vegetable juices, or fruit juices after digestion (up to 5 times higher in some products).

I want antioxidants in beetroot juice form – what’s the summary?

Beetroot shots are best, beetroot juice second, then vegetable juices, and the fruit juices. The nitrate in beetroot juice improves exercise performance in both your maximal effort in a time trial and in your time to fatigue. 1 or 2 shots are needed about 2-3 hours before exercise.

Read on to Beetroot blog 2 for more!

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Protein for Your Personal Best Recovery

All of us on the YPB team have a passion for organic, plant-based, delicious food that can fuel your exercise all day long and promote optimal muscle recovery and strengthening.

We investigated the best mix of plant-based protein sources so that you could have the benefits of plant over animal sources without sacrificing taste or performance. Our mix of pea and rice based proteins are perfectly blended to satisfy a complete essential amino acid profile similar to that found in whey protein. So your muscles will have all the building blocks they need to grow stronger than ever before after a tough session.

In the past, animal sources of proteins have been superior to plant proteins for muscle repair in lab studies. They have also tended to taste better. However, as the vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian choices have gathered momentum, we have been working harder and harder to push the limits of what is achievable to bring you the best without compromising on your performance or personal choices. So while vegetarian diets for strength and power athletes have involved sacrificing some hard earned gains from each training session in the past, YPB After bars make that a distant memory.

How Much Protein?

Amino acids in the food you eat are responsible for triggering protein synthesis in your muscles. Leucine is a particularly potent signal for this process, which is why you might read about leucine content on some performance supplements. Muscle synthesis continues for 1 or 2 hours once triggered, then switches off until it’s needed again. You can trigger it again of course, and that’s where we get into quantity and frequency of protein intake.

In general, your ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis peaks at around 20-25 grams of protein every 3 hours after a tough session for up to 12 hours. Additional amounts of protein and carbohydrate will help further but mainly stimulating an insulin release which inhibits normal muscle breakdown after activity.

At YPB we believe in the role of whole food to deliver the best performance and health for your body. We have prepared our YPB After bars with 10 grams of plant protein and 25 grams of carbohydrate to optimise your initial recovery. We recommend you use this as a stepping stone toward getting further fuel from your regular diet. We’re working hard to bring you a plant-protein powder with 25 grams of protein soon! It’s delicious already, but we want to make it perfect!

Tip: Optimize recovery by eating 20 grams of protein immediately after exercise and every 3 hours for 12 hours. That’s the same as1 YPB After bar and a typical soy yogurt. If you did a very tough session or you know you won’t get a chance to eat again for a while (in the evening) then you will be better served having up to 40 grams of protein in one go.

Tip: Unlike with carbs or fat which get stored when eaten in excess, you can ingest far more protein than your body can use for muscle synthesis. You just divert it the excess protein to other metabolic pathways, but don’t waste your time eating lots of protein products which are hyped up at the moment, the quantities needed to optimize the benefits are relatively modest.

Animal vs Plant-Based Protein

Animal and plant-based proteins differ in their amino acid profiles. Animal sources are usually complete in that they have all essential amino acids. Taken separately, plant proteins do not have all the essential amino acids – that is why YPB After bars contain a blend of plant proteins.

Those who advocate in favour of animal-based protein sources like dairy and meat point to several well studied positive effects. The YPB Team don’t dispute the advantages listed below, however just as you don’t know what a whole plant looks like by studying a single of its cells, there is more to protein sources than their use to build muscle.

Bio-availability: First, the bio-availability of animal proteins is greater than that of plant-based protein, meaning more of what you eat is absorbed for use by the muscles. So, animal proteins are more readily used by your body after you eat them. However, when plant-based proteins are blended to form a complete amino acid profile (as in YPB products) that gap is closed and plant-proteins have comparable effects to animal sources.

Leucine: One of the main amino acids to trigger growth of muscle proteins is called Leucine. Some animal proteins contain greater concentrations of Leucine than plant proteins – this is a general guideline but not always true, in fact some plant protein sources are very high in Leucine and other amino acids that are beneficial for muscle protein synthesis.

However, crucially this is not the full story as muscle protein synthesis is not the only effect that proteins will deliver when you eat them. Consider the general health and wellness effects, cardiovascular protection, cancer risk reduction, and societal, ethical and resource consumption effects of plant over animal protein sources. These are typically neglected when one is highly focused on the single goal of maximal and speedy stimulation of muscle protein synthesis at the expense of all other goals.

Acid-Base Balance: One of the main reasons YPB opts for whole foods and plant-based foods are for the many subtle and complex holistic benefits on your body. Similarly, one of the many reasons we opt for plant protein sources is that is that plant proteins have a beneficial effect on your bodies acid-base (pH) balance. This is well studied and not to be underestimated.

Plant proteins, unlike animal sources, do not contain sulphur. Sulphur in animal proteins forms an acidic metabolite. Acid lowers the pH and necessitates the use of acid buffers like calcium, with potential leaching effects on the strength of your bones over years, not to mention cardiovascular effects and obesity links. That acidic effect is also blamed by many athletes, particularly endurance athletes, for blunted performance due to combined exercise and diet induced acidosis. It is also blamed for poor recovery over prolonged periods. Plant proteins, on the other hand, yield an alkali effect – opposite to the acidic animal protein effects.

There are many other links made in studies like The China Study highlighting the link between animal proteins and different kinds of cancers – this is a topic we will return to in a specific and more detailed blog. Additionally, we have not discussed wider geopolitical implications of heavy dependency on animal proteins, this is also best left for another day! For now, thanks for reading and we hope you agree with our choice to pursue only plant based protein sources so you can get on with Living Your Personal Best!

We hope this information helps you get the most out of your sport and exercise! 

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Carbohydrate Part 4: Training Your Gut

When you exercise your muscles are turning fat and carbohydrate into forward progress. If you’re pushing hard, that shifts to mainly burning carbohydrate. Most of us will run out of carbohydrate after around 2-3 hours of exercise depending on the intensity. Then you only have fat left. While we think of this as “hitting the wall”, it is actually a more gradual process and your performance decreases over time. You avoid this by ingesting carbs before and during exercise. It follows that how hard and how long you can exercise may well be determined by your gut’s ability to absorb carbs to send to the working muscles.

So training your gut allows you to absorb more fuel and reduces that fullness feeling by teaching your stomach to empty faster – giving you a more enjoyable session or race. Your gut needs practice!

If you try to eat 2-3 bars per hour on race day without practice, you risk putting your gut under stress and not being capable of handling it. You spend so much time training your muscles, heart and lungs; when you also include your gut in the training programme you will perform better and reduce the risk of a GI problem ending your race early.

How do I train my Gut?

We take a practical approach to training, whether it’s fitness or nutrition training. There are so many variables to take into consideration that any plan must be flexible and personalized. That said, just as with your muscles, your gut can be prepared to handle what a marathon (or whatever event you are doing) will throw at it.

If you have a race coming up, we strongly recommend you start getting used to your race nutrition plan by practicing it in training from at least 2 months beforehand – that means eating as though it’s race day in all of your key sessions. At YPB, we do cyclical training of our GI systems just like with regular training plans – sometimes we back off, other times we really work at it. Just take a minute to think whether you’re doing an easy or a hard session and try this as part of your training…

YPB team fueling up while cross country skiing!

Eating on Easy Days

On easier days when training is not so focused on building speed or distance, feel free to see how your body handles fat as a fuel source by cutting back, but not eliminating, carbs during your session. The exercise intensity will have to be low but these easy days will allow you to retain and develop your ability to burn fat.

Eating on Harder Days

On other days when you train hard or work on your longer sessions, quality of the training is important and this is the perfect chance to train your gut to perform just like you will on race day. These are the days we try to work toward 90+ grams per hour of carbohydrate for sessions over 2 hours long. That’s approximately 1 YPB During bar every 20-25 minutes.

You may not be able to do that straight away, but your GI system will learn to deal with it. This is how elite level athletes can consume such high volumes of energy on the go in races like the Tour de France – they had to work on it just like the rest of us.

Tip: It is up to every athlete to work out that balance between GI comfort and the maximum amount of carbohydrate you can ingest. We all know those lucky people with iron stomachs, however some of us have a low threshold for stomach cramps.

At YPB, we’re always working hard on new solutions to allow us to work out this balance for you – we’re excited to bring you new solutions that will help you with living YPB!

If some carbohydrate is good, is more better?

Research is increasingly clear that carbohydrate intake is linked to better performance in what is called a ‘dose-response relationship‘. That means more carbs yield a better exercise result. That’s why we advocate for nutrition training being a crucial part of your performance! If your gut can learn to absorb more energy on the go, then you will improve your athletic performance.

Your gut can absorb up to 60 grams per hour of a single carbohydrate (like glucose). Eating more isn’t necessarily a good thing, in fact you could get cramps and other problems from carbs pooling in your gut. That’s why YPB bars have multiple carbohydrates (a combination of glucose and fructose among others). That allows you to increase your gut’s capacity to absorb energy so you can keep exercising faster for longer.

Tip: Be flexible with your nutrition plan. If you feel like food and drink is pooling in your stomach, ease off the intensity and slow down your intake to allow your gut to catch up before hitting the gas again.

What kind of carbs?

Your gut will learn to digest and absorb the carbs you train with. So, if you train with only glucose or only fructose, your tummy will get better at handling them but not any other sugars. What this means is that, to get your best, you should train with the exact nutrition bars that you will race with. This reduces your chances of an upset GI system and maximizes your performance.

Don’t Forget Fluids!

Remember to drink water along the way, this will help your gut absorb the energy from your bars by speeding up how fast your stomach empties into the rest of the GI system. Combining adequate hydration with optimal carbohydrate intake improves performance. Avoiding water while eating can contribute to GI distress for some athletes. This is particularly important in the heat as you lose more fluid through sweat.

But Remember

With gut training just as with your fitness, you lose what you don’t use. If you regularly train with very low carb intake, or keto-training, then your gut will learn that routine. Then, if you try to force carbs in on race day, you run a high risk of not being able to handle the strain and suffering GI distress. Athletes training “low-carb” are more likely to get stomach problems on race day.

Thanks for reading! We hope this is helpful to get you to Your Personal Best!

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Carbohydrate Part 3: Why Whole Food Plant-Based?

At YPB we believe in more than just enjoying your exercise and performing well. We are also in pursuit of longevity in our sport. That is why we chose to make our products with wholefood, plant-based ingredients and – as much as possible – from certified organic sources. But why?

There are lots of reasons – at YPB we have made our decisions on moral, ethical, sustainability, and health grounds. But for now, let’s talk health promotion!

There’s more and more research going into supplements and diets and how they affect our health. What we’re learning is that non-vitamin and non-mineral antioxidants (e.g., phytochemicals) in our food are responsible for the majority of antioxidant effects in our diet. In general, people who have diets rich in phytochemical-containing foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains etc.) enjoy better health with lower risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis.

What about antioxidant supplements? Unfortunately, it seems these don’t have the full picture. While antioxidant supplements may give some benefit, scientific research proposes that any additional micronutrients should be just as the name suggests, supplemental to and not substituted for, a plant-based diet.

That means real food is better than the supplement containing the same stuff. 

To explain just a little more on this, free radicals are chemicals that cause damage to your body’s cells. We all make free radicals all the time as part of normal metabolism, but your body also has ways to mop them up as soon as they are created. Antioxidant vitamins (C & E), carotenoids (give fruit & veg their colour), and minerals needed for antioxidant enzymes (zinc, magnesium, manganese, selenium) are essential in limiting free-radical reactions and the damage they can cause. Unfortunately, trials on supplemental antioxidants have struggled to show reduced risk of common diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The evidence still supports a healthy overall diet as your source of antioxidant nutrients.

What about fibre in wholefood?

We all know that increasing the fibre in your diet is good for you. However, some people worry that eating foods rich in fibre might upset their stomach during exercise. That’s based on what we know about the GI system and what we think might happen while you digest it, but what we predict isn’t always the whole story.

Research on people doing intense, endurance exercise compared raisins, which are rich in fibre, to high-end energy products without fibre. There was no difference in exercise performance or GI problems between the groups; that’s great news! But just in case, YPB bars deliberately contain slightly less fibre than found in raisins, so they shouldn’t give you an upset stomach while you exercise and now you can get more fibre while you live Your Personal Best!

Which kind of energy? Chewies? Bars? Drinks?

Generally, you get more carbohydrate out of bars because they are denser. They’re also easier to eat on the go – we asked our YPB community what you wanted and that’s what you said! So we started with our YPB bars – we have more stuff on the way, shhh!

Regardless of the form, one of the problems we and others have found with a lot of sports nutrition companies is that it’s difficult to figure out how much carbohydrate you’re really getting. That’s where our personalisation comes in and we can recommend exactly what you need for each session.

Unfortunately, many sports nutrition products out there contain mainly glucose and don’t have a blend of carbohydrate sources. By using natural, wholefood ingredients in our bars, we are able to supply your body with a diverse array of carbohydrate sugars (specifically fructose and glucose mix). That means you can absorb greater amounts of carbohydrate more quickly throughout your session, with a lower risk of GI distress.

For more practical tips read on to the fourth and final Carbohydrate blog post!

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Carbohydrate Part 2: Timing Your Sports Nutrition

Fuel Before Exericse

How can YPB help if you’re an early bird? When you wake up in the morning, your liver is virtually depleted of glycogen (carbohydrate energy); you used it all up during the night! If you exercise before eating in the morning, you’ll probably find you can feel a little sluggish. You might not even get out the door! If you don’t have time to eat breakfast first, then the YPB Before bars are a handy way to give you an energy boost 15-30 minutes before you start to boost performance. Maybe have a tea or coffee with it to make a great morning exercise routine.

Tip: if you get stomach problems when you exercise after breakfast, try avoiding dairy and see if that helps!

Just like with early morning training, you might prefer to train during lunch time or after work. The YPB Before bars are perfect for that energy top up about 20 minutes beforehand. Many people get an energy dip and feel exhausted if they eat about an hour before exercise. That’s a normal reaction and is due to your blood sugar dropping. Try eating either 2 hours or 20 minutes before exercise instead.

Tip: If you start a training session an hour or so after eating and you feel that energy dip making you want to stop, try adding in a few short sprints toward the beginning of your session. The high intensity effort triggers a rise in blood sugar.

During Exercise

Our recommendations for optimal carbohydrate intake depends mainly upon the duration and intensity of the exercise. The longer your session and the harder you push, the more carbohydrate you will need in order to maintain and optimize performance. There are two key principles to keep in mind:

You can burn carbohydrate faster than you can ingest it so the longer your planned session the more you should be eating right from the beginning – do not wait until you feel hungry or tired, at that point it’s already too late.

Our recommendations assume you want to maximize performance toward your personal best every day and feel great, not just eat enough to avoid hitting the wall or feeling hunger pangs.

Quick Training Sessions <30min

You don’t need any carbohydrate for these sessions, even if they are high intensity. You might want to bring something with you if you are exercising from a fasted state such as in the morning before breakfast. However, you should still aim to take in carbohydrate and protein for recovery afterwards to get the best out of your training.

Tip: If you want to make this session feel easier and push yourself harder, take a small amount of carb in a bar or sports drink. Once your brain tastes the incoming energy it knows it can relax and lets you push harder and with reduced sense of effort.

Most of Your Training: 30-75 min

Most of us tend to do sessions in this bracket, maybe longer at the weekend. You will perform better by taking in some carb, even if it’s just a small amount like 20-30 grams, or one YPB During bar. If you are exercising hard, it follows that you will probably need more carbohydrate as your session progresses. Approximately 30-40 grams of carbohydrate should be enough if you’re pushing hard for 60-75 minutes.

Tip: 1 YPB During bar if you’re closer to 30 minutes, 2 YPB During bars if you’re closer to 75 minutes and working hard!

Even Longer Training Sessions: 75 min +

If you are doing a session between 1-2 hours in duration, you will likely need 30 grams of carb per hour. That means, for a 2-hour session of moderate intensity, we recommend up to 3 YPB During bars (1 every 40 minutes), 2 might be enough if you are very metabolically efficient or exercising at lower intensity. This level of carbohydrate will improve your performance so that you are exercising as hard as you can and not wasting that determination.

Tip: 1 YPB During bar every 40 minutes for these sessions and you’ll be getting just the right fuel to squeeze the last bit out of this session!

Over 2 hours

Once you go over the 2-hour mark, we increase our carb intake to 60 grams per hour. That is 2 YPB During bars per hour. While this may seem like a lot in the first hour of the session, this is the level required to optimize your performance toward the end – you’re planning ahead with carbs in the fuel tank that you’ll need later.

Over 2.5 hours you should increase further to 90 g of carb per hour if you can. At this point, training your gut (blog 4) becomes crucial. If you also plan on racing in events over this duration (marathon, cycling, triathlon) you can benefit enormously by encouraging your gut to learn how to handle and absorb this level of carbohydrate without distress.

Getting more from your gut: For some athletes with “elite” trained guts, it is possible to absorb carbs at up to 105 grams per hour during very long endurance events! One of the benefits of using wholefoods here is that they naturally contain a mix of carbohydrates which your gut is able to absorb much faster compared to single concentrated sugars, like glucose only for instance. Getting to that level of gut superiority takes determined practice but will pay off enormously in longer training sessions and races with outstanding performance and constantly high energy levels.

Thanks for reading! For more information on why we use wholefood in YPB bars read on to the next blog!

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Carbohydrates Part 1: The Fuel for Optimum Performance

Carbohydrate and Performance – The YPB Way

Your body is a genius at absorbing, storing, and utilising energy! Carbohydrates and fats are your two main sources of energy. Fat is great for getting you through gentle intensity exercise like a brisk walk or hike, but your body can’t break it down fast enough when you push harder. Carbs release energy quickly, they are what let you achieve your personal best. Carbs deliver the crucial energy for you to excel at high intensity and can be easily replaced on the go while you exercise.

Think of it like traveling by boat or by jet plane; they’ll both get you there but only one is built for speed. Even if you’re very lean, all of us carry lots of energy in our fat that could theoretically get you through even the longest race (fat isn’t a dirty word in metabolism; it’s a happy, useful little organ!). However, while a boat can go on for days or weeks, a jet plane only has one quick trip in it before refuelling. Your carbohydrate stores don’t last long, typically you will run out after 2-3 hours of exercise, much faster if you exercise in the morning without breakfast.

The Wall”. If you’ve hit the wall you have experienced carbohydrate depletion – it was awful wasn’t it?! Just like you can’t let a plane run out of fuel early, proper planning is needed to make sure you keep your carb fuel tank topped up. That way, your muscles are primed for performance and you can focus on living your personal best every day!

Carbohydrate Stores

Your body stores carbohydrate as ‘glycogen’ – a string of glucose all stuck together, think of grains of sugar when they form a clump. You break that back down to glucose when you need to use it. If you start training with low levels of glycogen then you’ll run out of energy much earlier. So, we want you to have lots of glycogen ready to go for every session (unless you are specifically training periodically in a “glycogen-depleted” state which we’ll talk about in a future blog post).

If you’re preparing for a race, you can eat extra carbohydrates in the days before to build up your stores, affectionately referred to as “carb-loading” at pre-event pasta parties! But no matter how well you fuel up, you burn through your glycogen stores every time you exercise. If you train several times each week or every day, your glycogen stores gradually decreases until, at the weekend, you’re too tired to do any quality training. Further, you will feel a lack of motivation, low mood, fatigue, and disinterest in your sport. Fortunately, this is easy to overcome with a personalized nutrition plan. 

During and after exercise, your body is primed and ready to keep you fuelled up. That readiness to use and store carbs goes away very quickly after you stop exercising. What this means is that you want to start preparing for your next session before you finish the current one. You can do that by eating carbs toward the end and in the 30 minutes after a training session – during this time your muscles are like carbohydrate sponges working hard to recover stronger than before. If you eat during this golden carb window, your body will be in peak form for recharging your glycogen. If you miss that window by waiting a couple of hours before eating carbs, no matter how much you eat you will not be able to recharge your glycogen stores as effectively in the following 24-36 hours. That’s where your YPB After bars fit in, as well as providing you with high quality plant-based protein your muscles need to repair and build after a tough session.

Can YPB help improve my performance?

There is a mountain of research concluding that eating carbohydrate during exercise improves your performance. In fact, the more carb you eat, the better your performance in longer events like a half marathon or longer. Take marathon and ironman triathlon for instance, the fastest finishers tend to be those who eat the most carbohydrate during the race. But that doesn’t happen by accident, you have to train your gut (blog 4 on carbs) just like you train your muscles. YPB offer you a personalized plan to get your sports nutrition just right, giving you the chance to reach your best.

YPB bars give you the fuel you need when you need it.

Keep it simple

What does eating the right amount of carbohydrate during my training do for me? All good things!

  • Increases the amount of time you can exercise
  • Makes your exercise feel easier or reduces the sense effort required to keep going
  • Improves coordination, skill and form during the session – really important for skill sports
  • Slows down muscle glycogen (carb) use so you have more in the tank for later and, most importantly, you recover faster for the next session when you can smash it again!

For further helpful and concise information read our Carbohydrate 2 blog post!