Monday, December 21, 2015

Fast after Fifty, a book review

I am over fifty and I am trying to get faster on my bike and working to improve my fitness in general.  Thus, Joe Friel's book "Fast after Fifty" sounded real intriguing to me.  So I put it on my read list and finally had a chance to read it recently.  These are my thoughts on the book.

First, this book is not sport specific and will not give you pre-made workouts ready for you to go out and ride.  It deals more with the general topic of how to stay fast or get faster for any endurance sport when you are older than fifty.  Why fifty, why nor 45 or 55?  The first section of the book goes into the physiology of aging and its impact on sports performance. Using data from many studies he shows that the endurance performance of the population at large drops off significantly as age increases, especially after 50.  Then he brings up some other studies that show this decrease in performance can be greatly reduced by maintaining training volume and intensity even as you get older.  This means that a great deal of the drop off in performance in the general population is due to a reduction in training, with intensity being the best indicator of how much performance will drop off.  This counters the long slow distance (LSD) training methodology for maintaining and or improving fitness.  Training using LSD rides only will not maintain your fitness levels.  You need to have intensity in order to hold on to your fitness levels.  As you age it does become more difficult to maintain high levels of intensity, so the rest periods built in to the training schedule become more important.

Section two of the book goes into the kind of training required to maintain endurance performance for the aging athlete.  The information is more general and not real detailed for cycling.  One would want to have a book like the "Cyclist's Training Bible" at hand to develop specific training workouts and schedules, or perhaps just get the book "Cycling Past Fifty" which covers the same information about aging, but in a more cycling specific way.  The book does cover aspects of training and measurement of training results in great detail and includes sports specific testing examples and examples of training schedules in the appendix.  I just feel that the "Cycling Past Fifty" book is a better fit for cyclists and does a good job covering the information you need to know.  I am reading that book now and will post a review of it shortly.  "Fast after Fifty" is an excellent book for some doing cross training or preparing for triathlons.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments on the topic of training books and training in general.  What have you used to guide your training and how has it worked for you.  Also, what are you using to track your training?  Do you use an app like Strava, or Training Peaks.  Or, are you using pen and paper for a more traditional logbook.  What works for you?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Does pickle juice stop cycling leg cramps?

Leg cramps are a cyclist's nightmare.  They usually crop up toward the end of the ride, just as you are thinking about that cold beer waiting for you at the finish!  Why do athletes get cramps, what can you do to prevent them, and how can you get rid of the cramps quickly once they have started?  The answers may surprise you.

First, conventional wisdom has been that cramps are caused by dehydration and loss of electrolytes. The thought is that you should drink an electrolyte replenishing drink such as one made with Nuun or Gu tablets to prevent the cramps.  However, several recent studies have cast doubt on this mechanism as the cause.   Certainly athletes still need to stay hydrated and keep their electrolytes in balance as since dehydration will affect your performance and health in other ways.  But, recent studies point to a failure of a neuro-muscular mechanism that prevents extreme muscle contractions as the most likely cause of cramps.  The nerves that keep the muscle from going into extreme contractions fail and your muscle goes into a cramp.  Your hydration level does not appear to have much affect on when this occurs and re-hydration doesn't change the duration of the cramp significantly.

If the cramps are caused by fatigue and confused muscle contraction signals, then what can be done to avoid them?  There are a few things you can do before the ride that will help.  Since you are more likely to get to the levels of fatigue that cause cramps when you ride in a competitive event when you push yourself, one way to reduce the chance of cramps is to have your training mimic the event in duration and intensity.  This way you will be less likely to develop the level of fatigue that leads to cramps.  Another thing you can do is develop a self awareness of how your legs are doing.  This awareness will enable you to predict when the cramps are about to happen and adjust your intensity down slightly before the cramps start. I have done this on rides in the past and it has even helped after the cramps have started.  I was able to continue the rides by reducing the intensity and stretching my legs during the ride.

Once the cramp develops you can't keep riding at your previous pace.  You may need to stop at and take some action if backing off the intensity of your riding doesn't make it go away. Things that work to relieve the cramps are light stretching, rest, water, and pickle juice.  The stretching can be done on the bike, for example, standing on the pedals and dropping your heels in order to stretch your calves.  Rest and water will help as well, but studies have shown that a 2.5 ounce shot of pickle juice is more effective at making the cramp go away than drinking lots of water.  One particular study showed that pickle juice “relieved a cramp 45 percent faster” versus drinking no fluids and 37 percent faster versus drinking water.  Indeed the time it took for the pickle juice to affect the cramp was quicker than the time it would take for the electrolytes to be absorbed through the digestive system and into the blood stream.  The blood levels showed no determinable increase in the level of electrolytes during the test which supports the theory that it was not electrolytes that caused the cramps.  The hypothesis is that the vinegar in the pickle juice stimulates nerve receptors in the throat or stomach that then send out signals that reset the fatigue induced mis-firing caused muscle contractions.

Now, you can get your pickle juice from that jar of Vlassic dill pickles, but it is kind of hard to carry on a bike ride.  Fortunately, one company makes a handy 2.5 ounce pickle juice shot size that you can carry in your cycling jersey pocket or your saddlebag for when those unwanted cramps try to ruin your perfect ride.  You can get them online from Amazon here  or if you live in the Oakdale area you can go by the Oakdale Bike Shop.  Go ahead and get some to take with you on your next ride, your legs will thank you, even if your taste buds won't!

On a separate note, for those rides over two hours in duration you should be thinking about using an carbohydrate replenishing drink such as Gu Roctane to keep your glycogen levels up so you don't bonk.  Why you should do this will be the subject of a future post.  Until the next time, happy cramp free riding to you!