Friday, March 9, 2018

KSI Results Part 2

Aside from the physical testing I went through at The Korey Stringer Institute, we also thought it would be beneficial to do a Sodium Balance Test, which consisted of a 24 hour diet log and urine collection. The purpose of the this test was to calculate my total sodium loss throughout an entire day, including what I lose through sweat and urine, in order to make sure I replace what I lose through my diet. We wouldn't be able to get to the bottom of my nutrition and hydration issues on race day without looking at the overall picture of how I'm fueling myself on a regular basis.

Here is the total sodium balance from the 24 hour period (which included both of the Sweat & Electrolyte Tests):

BalanceSodium (mg)Potassium (mg)
Intake 34282161

If we isolate race day, it's clear that with my previous nutrition and hydration plan for Cabo, I had a pretty significant electrolyte deficit, relative to what I was losing. But if we look at the whole picture, and take into account that I'm at a deficit already, due to my daily intake vs. loss, my race day fueling becomes negligible.

Ok, so now that my brain is at it's capacity with data, where do we go from here? The first step has to be correcting my daily electrolyte intake, so that I'm not starting out on race day already at a deficit. I have exactly what I lose right here, so this is what I'm aiming to take in:

24 Hour UrineTotal Loss (mg)

The next step is addressing my exercise electrolyte deficit and finding the right sports nutrition products that a) provide adequate sodium, potassium, and chloride; b) provide the right proportions of each electrolyte since I seem to lose a greater proportion of potassium; c) make sure that the concentration of the sports nutrition product has an appropriately low osmolality in order to prevent gastric distress.

Taking the numbers from the Sweat & Electrolyte Tests (in the previous post), in Kona-like conditions, I need to aim to take in between 70-90% of fluid loss and replace my electrolyte losses accordingly:

  • Bike: 1L of fluid per hour, 682mg of sodium, 207mg of potassium, 920mg of chloride
  • Run: 1L of fluid per hour, 1030mg of sodium, 364mg of potassium, 1384mg of chloride

The next ironman on my schedule is IM Texas on April 28th. Since I'll be training in mild Colorado weather leading up to Texas, it's going to be important that I get myself heat acclimated. In a non heat acclimated state during testing, my body kicked ass at dissipating heat on the bike. My core temperature got up to about 101.5 at the highest, and then just hovered around that number for the 2 hour ride. However, on the run, my temperature response looked like this:

Aka- not good.

In an ideal world, I would travel to Hawaii for 10-14 days leading up to Texas (actually in an ideal world, I would just move to Hawaii). This is the amount of time it takes for your body to absorb 90% of the effects of heat acclimatization, some of which are: reduced core temperature at rest, increased plasma volume at rest, and more efficient sweating- which is a higher rate of fluid loss combined with higher retention of electrolytes.

The protocol for heat acclimatization if you're in a cool climate, is to simulate your own little indoor Kona, which in my case will be my guest room, and exercise for an hour once every 3-4 days (depending on how quickly you want to acclimate) in those conditions. So I'll be turning up the heat in my house, adding a space heater, a humidifier, and a few extra layers.

Fortunately for me, my brother lives in Florida and has already qualified for Kona this year, so I'm going to go stay with him to do a mini training camp about a month out from Texas. Since I can only go for a week, I'll be doing my indoor Kona sessions once every 3 days leading up to that trip. And then to maintain heat adaption, you only need to do those 1 hour heat sessions once every 5 days, so that's what I'll do leading up until Texas.

So now I have a plan, and just in time since IM Texas is right around the corner! I've always worked really hard at this sport but I've never put this much energy into the science of it. I'm a 5 foot tall, 120lb. meathead and I've always preferred to just muscle my way through things. It took a near death experience at IM Los Cabos to knock some sense into me, but now I have all of this information at my fingertips PLUS my work ethic, so I'm excited to see what I can do next month!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

KSI Results: Part 1

I got my results back from my testing at the Korey Stringer Institute at UConn and to say I learned a lot about my body would be an understatement. Not only have I been racing and training for triathlons for a number of years now, but I work in this field too, so it's important that I keep myself knowledgable about the many aspects of this sport. I've been following general protocols for nutrition and hydration, specifically for the ironman distance, because that is the main discipline that I train for, and it is the one that requires the most attention to detail. I've even worked with a nutritionist to dial in my race day fueling strategy, but even that wasn't enough.

I've had some decent results in the first 4 ironman races that I competed in. I qualified for Kona, had a few podium finishes, and some relatively speedy times as well. When I DNF'd Ironman Los Cabos this past November, it forced me to have to address some of the issues* I'd been facing if I wanted to continue racing.

*Issues are outlined in previous blog post (bloating, swelling, hyponatremia).

I visited the Korey Stringer Institute in January to go through some testing in their brand new Heat Lab. The first day of testing consisted of a Substrate Utilization Test on the bike to determine how many calories I'm burning at different intensity levels (levels determined by power output, heart rate, and perceived exertion) and what percentage of fat vs. carbohydrate I burn at each level. Most endurance athletes rely primarily on burning fat for fuel (especially at low intensities) because it is a more efficient, longer lasting fuel source. I have always thought that my body was more well-suited for shorter, faster races because of my background playing anaerobic, high intensity sports, and now I have the proof for that right here in this graph:

I'm a sugar burner. There are no points in this graph, even at low intensities, where I rely primarily on fat for fuel. Granted, I did this testing during the time of the year when I'm the most de-conditioned, so I might become more efficient as I increase my fitness, but this data definitely doesn't scream "ironman athlete." Regardless, I am an ironman athlete in my heart and soul, so my body is just going to have to deal with that. The Substrate Utilization test is only a small piece of the puzzle, and while this information will help me determine my caloric intake for races, it doesn't explain the bloating and swelling that I undergo while I'm racing.

Substrate Utilization Test

At the end of Day 1, I picked up my "temperature pill," and started a 24 hour diet log and urine collection, which meant I was going to be walking around carrying a jug of my own pee. No one ever said this was a modest sport. I then set an alarm for 2:00am, when I was supposed to wake up and take my "temperature pill," which was actually a tiny thermometer that we needed to be sitting in the upper part of my intestines by the time we were going to begin testing later that day. If I took it too late and it traveled down to my stomach, the temperature readings would be thrown off by my fluid intake during testing. If I took it too early, we would risk me pooping it out. The risk was high for this timing because if I missed the window, I'd be doing 3 hours of testing with a rectal thermometer.

I prayed to anyone who was willing to listen, set a whole bunch of alarms, and showed up the next morning with my thermometer right in place. For the Sweat Rate & Electrolyte Tests (both bike and run), I had to drop off my clothes the night before to be washed free of electrolytes, and the first thing I had to do upon arrival was take a shower with no soap or shampoo, and try to wash any tiny amount of anything that could simulate an electrolyte off my body... and then not put on anything afterwards, like deoderant, or moisturizer. #sacrifices

We then took my weight, and I got on the bike in the 96 degree, 60% humidity Heat Lab, aka indoor Kona. The goal was to ride at Ironman intensity for 2 hours, to determine how much sweat I lose (in fluid and electrolytes) in those conditions, so that I can replace what I lose, accordingly. Since we knew that my previous nutrition and hydration plan that I had in place for Cabo didn't work, we decided that I should just drink to thirst during the session. That ended up being a good plan because I ended up replacing my fluids at an ideal rate to which I was losing them (athletes should ideally be replacing 70-90% of their fluid losses during activity). We also had an idea going into this that I had a low sweat rate, and we confirmed that as I lost only 1.3L/hour in those conditions. Now I know how much fluid to aim to replace per hour on the bike (which I was previously over-consuming), and I also know how many electrolytes to replace per hour (which I was substantially under-consuming):

Electrolyte Loss (mg/h)Loss (g/L)Normal Ranges
Na+6821.160.79 - 1.2 g/L
K+2070.210.20 - 0.27 g/L
Cl-9200.920.78 - 1.48 g/L

My heart rate response and core temperature response remained relatively stable throughout the test. This is a good sign because sweating is the body's cooling mechanism, and I am able to keep my core temperature under control, despite my low sweat rate.


In order to gather all of this data for the Sweat Rate & Electrolyte Test, at the end of my session, the team put me into a bucket with the towels that had been used to wipe my sweat throughout the test, and systematically rinsed me off in order to collect every droplet of sweat that I had excreted, into a "sweat soup," to be weighed and measured.

"Sweat Soup" Collection

After we took a lunch break, it was time for another soapless shower and the Sweat Rate & Electrolyte Run Test. The Kona conditions remained the same and I was thankful that this test was only an hour. Ryan even volunteer to run on the treadmill next to me for this last test but no one is allowed to enter the heat lab without a rectal thermometer, so he opted out. 

I lost another 1.3L/hour of fluid on the run, which is out of the ordinary since your core temperature is typically higher while running, and therefore your sweat rate is typically higher as well. However, I was losing electrolytes at a greater rate, and with my previous race plan, I was only replacing about 1/3 of what I was losing, contributing to my hyponatremia:

Electrolyte Loss (mg/h)Loss (g/L)Normal Ranges
Na+10300.930.79 - 1.2 g/L
K+3640.330.20 - 0.27 g/L
Cl-13841.250.78 - 1.48 g/L

Unlike the bike test, my heart rate and core temperature responses were indicative of someone who is not heat acclimated, and I sure felt as uncomfortable as these numbers look:  


Just imagine running with a 103 degree fever. That's kind of what it feels like to compete in Kona.... with a headwind. 

Because my next race will be Ironman Texas, in April, and I'll be coming from mild Colorado temperatures, it's going to be really important for me to become heat acclimated before racing. 

This blog post seems long enough for now so the next one will include strategies for heat acclimatization, race day fueling and hydration, and the results of my Sodium Balance Test (pee jug and diet log), and how that corresponds to daily hydration levels and daily electrolyte needs.

New Bio, who dis?

As I've witnessed myself shift and change, I've been experimenting with some new coaching strategies. Most of my athletes know that ...