Running Preggers: Vein Popping

Popping veins may be every body builders dream, but as a pregnant runner it’s not something you show your friends with joy and enthusiasm. It’s more along the lines of shock and horror. Varicose veins are another one of those lovely pregnancy symptoms. Not all pregnant women have to deal with them.

Varicose veins appear during pregnancy because your blood volume increases and at the same time the rate at which blood flows from your legs to your pelvis decreases. This increases the pressure on the veins in your lower body and can cause them to become enlarged.

Another contributor to varicose veins is the increase in progestin levels, which dilates veins. The pressure of the uterus on the inferior vena cava, the vein that carries blood from the legs and feet to the heart also adds to the possibility of having vericose veins.

There are a few things you can do to minimize and/or prevent varicose veins during pregnancy. First don’t sit or stand too long. Changing position is your first line of attack. Next is don’t wear high heels (none of you wear them anyway because your runners, right?). Wearing high heels weakens your calf and can shorten (through tightening) your Achilles tendon.

Third, wear compression socks or sleeves on your calves or you can go full out and get maternity support hosiery. Fourth, don’t cross your legs (like you could if you wanted too) during pregnancy. Fifth, elevate your legs every so often to improve circulation. Sixth, sleep on your left side. This takes the pressure off of the inferior vena cava I mentioned earlier.

Finally, exercise. Specifically, running and/or walking. The idea is to have strong calf muscles which promotes good blood flow in the lower legs. Other than these suggestions, there isn’t much you can do about the vein popping while your pregnant.

Varicose veins that appear during pregnancy typically go away within three to twelve months after baby is born. But if they don’t, you’ll be joining the ranks of 1/4th adults in the U.S. who develop them during their life time.

When they don’t go away what’s happened is the small valves within the veins that prevent blood from getting backed up are not working like they should and the blood pools and increases the pressure in the veins. The body then tries to widen the veins to compensate and they end up bulging and thickening.

Varicose veins that don’t go away after pregnancy or that you develop outside of pregnancy should be monitored by a doctor. They can cause achiness, heaviness, throbbing, cramping and swelling in the legs. They are treatable and seeing someone about them sooner is better since they can indicate a more complicated issue.

 

Carbohydrate Intake and Uptake

Carbohydrates are the energy source most runners use to fuel their training and their racing. Wait? most runners. That’s right there are some runners out there who use fats, protein, and even nothing. But this blog is about the carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is what our bodies burn to fuel our muscles, nerves, and brains. Our bodies can store glucose as glycogen in our muscles, but it’s limited. When we run out, we hit the infamous WALL, if we haven’t properly fueled. Our blood also has glucose floating around. Maintaining our blood sugar level is how we prevent hitting, or reduce the impact of, the wall.

Ultrarunners and even some marathon runners struggle with GI issues and are constantly on the look out for ways to optimize their fueling strategy and minimize GI distress. It seems like a never ending cycle, and I’m not here to tell you there’s a way to end it, but there are different things to experiment with and thereby, possibly minimize your discomfort. In our efforts to maintain our blood sugar level and avoid the wall, we may overload on the carbs which causes sloshing, cramps, bloating, and other nasty things in our stomachs.

So the trick to minimizing GI issues, is knowing how much to intake to maximize uptake, but not overload the system. This blog is also for those who don’t suffer from GI issues, since we’re going to look at how much carbohydrate a body can uptake.

Depending on the intensity you’re running at, you’re going to run out of glycogen stores withing about 90 minutes to three hours as an average endurance runner. To maintain your blood sugar levels you need to start taking carbs in right before you begin your race or a long training run. Then, you’ll need to take more at regular intervals to meet that 60-90 grams per hour.

What we know is that regardless of how many grams of carbohydrates you intake, your body can only uptake between 60-90 grams an hour. What determines whether it’s 60 or 90 is the type of carbohydrate your taking in. Your body can process about 60 grams of glucose an hour. So if all you’re getting is glucose, don’t try to put more than 60 grams an hour in.

To get to the 90 grams an hour, you have to combine the 60 grams of glucose with 30 grams of fructose (although sucrose is a combination of fructose and glucose it’s not processed the same so avoid sucrose as a source of fuel). The reason your body can handle the 90 grams of carb processing is because glucose and fructose take different paths to be absorbed by your body.

Sixty grams of glucose produces about 232 calories. Thirty grams of fructose produces about 120 calories. For a grand total of 352 calories replaced during every hour if you play your cards right.

Dextrose and Maltodextrin are made from starches, but are absorbed like glucose. This is nice to know because fructose is very sweet and sometimes sweet things become intolerable during a race. Maltodextrin and Dextrose are not as sweet as glucose and so they can be combined with fructose to get the same benefit of the 90 grams of carbs.

Water intake with the carbs is important. Your digestive system needs water to break things down and get it into your blood stream to be used. Without water, it just sits in your stomach (which is why dehydration causes GI issues). If you put more than the 60-90 grams in an hour, your body is not going to be able to absorb them and they will just sit in your stomach causing problems.

What if you’re feeling depleted, but can’t stomach more food/gels/chews? You can rinse your mouth with a carbohydrate rich drink and spit it out. This will make your brain think that carbs are on the way and give you a little boost for a little bit, but unless your close to the finish line, you still need to figure out your GI issue.

 

How many carbs do I burn when running?

Carbohydrates are one source of fuel our bodies use to provide energy for our daily activities and for our runs. Fat is the other source of fuel our bodies use. Carbohydrates have to be replaced during training and racing, but fats don’t. How much and how quickly we burn through carbohydrates and fats depends on a variety of factors. Understanding how many calories we burn and where it comes from can help us dial in our nutrition plan for race day and for training.

When we run fast and for shorter distances we burn mostly carbohydrates. As our distance increases and our pace decreases we begin to use fat as a fuel source too. We begin to use fat at slower long distance events because we have a lot of energy stored up in fat, even very thin people. Fat takes more oxygen to burn so if you’re running hard, it’s not a good source of energy. Fat also takes longer to burn, so if you’re running fast, it’s not a good source. If you’re running a 5k-half marathon, you’re tapping into your carbohydrate stores and burning very little fat.

This is the core of the belief that endurance athletes can perform well on a low carbohydrate diet. The problem comes when the same athlete tries to push hard and go fast. I raced and trained on a low carbohydrate diet for 18 months and was fine, unless I wanted to push my limits and then…I died. Despite being low carb (under 50 g a day), my body still could not burn fat fast enough to sustain hard effort. So I switched back to a higher carbohydrate diet.

One way to figure out the ratio of carb to fat that you are burning is to use your heart rate. To do this you need to know what your maximum heart rate is (220- your age. This is a guestimate). During your run, check your heart rate. At 70 percent of your max heart rate, about 50 percent of your fuel comes from carbohydrates. At 75-80 percent of your max, it increases to 65% carbohydrate.

So a person who is 150 lbs, running at a 7 mph pace (8.5 min/mile) for one hour burns about 782 calories. If that puts the person at 70% heart rate that’s 391 calories from carbohydrate. At 75-80% heart rate that’s, 508 calories from carbohydrates. The same person running at a 5 mph pace (12min/mile) burns 544. Because they are going slower, the amount of calories coming from carbs is less and the amount coming from fats is more.

The American Council on Exercise has a physical activity calorie counter that is based on your body weight, duration of exercise, and intensity. You can find it here. There are a bunch of different tools there to try out, if you’re curious.

Once you know how many calories per hour you’re burning on average during your runs, you can begin to understand and build a strategy for resupplying your body with those calories. Your body cannot process enough food to be able to make up for the amount of calories lost through carbohydrate burn if you maintain a high intensity. The most you can hope to process per hour is about 352 calories. We’ll get into how to maximize that in the next post.

 

 

Protein Intake

We all hear so much about carbohydrates, but we don’t hear a lot about protein. Many runners think that since they’re not trying to gain muscle mass protein isn’t as important. And that is where they would be wrong.

Protein is essential for people who are trying to build muscle mass, but endurance athletes need just as much and ultrarunners may need more. The recommended amount of protein for the average Joe is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For endurance athletes the recommendation is 1.5-1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight. For ultrarunners, it jumps to 1.8 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Why we need so much protein? because we push our bodies on a regular basis. And we don’t just push them a little bit. We push them beyond what most people call reasonable. We need the protein to repair those micro tears that occur through our regular training. We need the protein to strengthen our muscles when we’re doing our weight lifting throughout the week. Finally, protein is converted into energy by our bodies, requiring us to take in a little more to make sure we have enough to repair and strengthen.

Our protein intake should be spread out over the day. You’re body can only process and use so much protein at a time so taking more than 25 grams at one time doesn’t do you a whole lot of good. Eating six smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large meals, makes spreading protein out much easier. You don’t have to use protein shakes either. There are many healthy sources of protein to fit any eating lifestyle. Obtaining all of your protein from animal sources has its health consequences. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you need to make sure you are getting your protein from a variety of sources to ensure you’re getting all nine essential amino acids (there are more amino acids, but your body can produce all but nine of them).

Another myth is that you need to take in so much protein within a specific length of time after your workouts because your body is primed for absorption. This is true when it comes to carbohydrates, but not for protein. There isn’t a do or die time frame for getting it in after a workout. That said, it’s best to get it in as soon as you can so you don’t get behind in your intake for the day. Also, protein can help with the absorption of carbohydrate after a hard workout. This is only the case when your body is carb depleted. Ever heard of the 4:1 carb to protein ration after a hard workout? It comes from this benefit.

Your body’s ability to absorb protein when it is working, like in a training run or a race, is very limited. Most people are fine with about 1% of their fuel intake being protein. Much more beyond that and you could suffer some GI issues because protein is harder for your body to break down, which means it could be sitting in your stomach sloshing around for some time.

Where am I? Proprioception.

Proprioceptors are the sensors in your muscles and tendons, which govern your balance. They tell your brain where your body is in relation to itself and other objects in your environment. Having good proprioception is essential to runners, especially trail runners, who are constantly being asked to shift their weight to adjust for the terrain. It’s also important for winter running.

Proprioception is something runners should be working to improve all the time, but it’s even more important after an injury. Injuries to muscles and tendons damage the proprioceptors. If proprioceptors are not functioning properly, you’re much more likely to get re-injured.

Take an ankle sprain for example. It’s your proprioceptors, which would send a message to your brain to prevent the initial roll of the ankle, but if you rolled it anyway the likelihood of rolling it again increases especially within the next four to six weeks after an injury. Injury prevention isn’t the only thing that improves with these exercises. Your speed will also improve.

Here is an easy test to give you an idea where you’re at proprioceptionwise. Stand up, balance on one leg and close your eyes. If you immediately put your foot to the ground because you lost your balance, you have some work to do.

It’s not difficult or time consuming to include a few proprioception exercises into your routine. You can do them after a run or do them when you’re hanging out watching TV. If you have kids, they’ll find the exercises fun and you can make it into a game (and teach them about their bodies). You don’t need any special equipment, but there are things that you can buy to make things more challenging as you improve. A stability cushion is $16.50 on Amazon. A  wobble balance board is $22.

Even if you choose to purchase either the cushion or the board, you should start on the flat ground. Stand on a flat hard surface. Take off your shoes (you can put them back on if it’s too difficult). Now, stand on one leg for 30 seconds. Then do the other leg. If you can do this easily, increase the time to 60 seconds. From there, you can close your eyes.

Other single leg balance exercises that can help improve your proprioception are:
Air Plane: standing on your right leg, hold your arms out like wings, bend over lifting your left leg up and back, and make a straight line from head to your left foot. Once you’ve mastered this. touch your right toes with your left finger tips and then your right, returning to arms straight out between each touch.

Single leg squats: stand on one leg, roll your hips forward and squat. You can bend the leg your not standing on and touch it down onto a step or stool or you can hold it straight in front of you for a piston squat.

Ball toss: stand on one leg and toss a tennis ball at a wall or to another person and catch it while remaining on the one leg.

Here are some exercises you can try on either the cushion or the balance board once you have achieved that level.

HIIT

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is something every runner should be adding to their training routine, but especially runners who find themselves short on time for those extra long runs. Interval training is not new to runners. Most think of it as speed training such as 800 or 400 repeats. But HIIT can and should be more than just speed interval training. HIIT that incorporates strength moves helps build total body fitness in a way that just speed interval training doesn’t do.

HIIT is hard. You should be close to maximal effort. If you ever feel nauseous, light headed, or dizzy take a break before getting back to it. Some experts say that fifteen minutes of HIIT provides about the same physiological benefits as three hours of long slow distance. That does not mean you can train using only HIIT.

Adding in HIIT once or twice a week will actually allow you to reduce your total weekly miles by 10-20% without losing any fitness gains you’ve made. Many running coaches recommend that 20% of your training should be HIIT because of the many benefits you will reap. HIIT focuses on the fast twitch muscle fibers and as endurance runners we don’t tap into these all the time, but we do when our slow twitch muscles are fatigued because we begin to recruit anything we think will help. Training those fast twitch muscles will give a boost to your slow twitch as they become fatigued.

Another benefit of HIIT is the psychological training. HIIT makes you push through barrier after barrier when your body is screaming stop. You can tap into those experiences when things get hard out on the trail. Other benefits of HIIT: it’s very effective at burning fat, it boost your metabolism, and builds muscles

How long your HIIT workouts should be will depend on your current fitness level and your fitness goals. You can start with 20-30 minute and build up to 45-60 minute workouts. Here is an example of a HIIT session you can start with.

If you are recovering from an injury do not start HIIT training until you’re fully recovered. The intensity will increase the likelihood of re-injury. Warming up before a HIIT session is essential to reduce the risk of injury.

Workout ONE 30 minutes

3 minute dynamic warmup: Jumping jacks, high knees, lunges, inch worms, and leg swings.

1 minute rest

First set: 1 minute pushups: 20 second rest; 1 minute squat jumps: 20 second rest: 1 minute front plank: 20 second rest: repeat.

Second set: 1 minute burpee: 20 second rest: 1 minute dumbbell row: 20 second rest: 1 minute bicycles: 20 second rest: repeat two times

Third set: 1 minute mountain climbers:  20 second rest: 1 minute dumbbell/kettlebell swing: 20 second rest: 1 minute split squats with a jump: 20 second rest: repeat two times.

Tired Body or Tired Mind

Have you heard the expression, “An ultra is 50% physical and 90% mental,”? No, well then, you’re probably not an ultrarunner or haven’t been one very long. A critical aspect of training that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is the psychological side of getting your body to keep putting one foot in front of the other for 100 miles as quickly as possible.

We all know it’s important, but we don’t spend much of our training time on it. I’m guilty of this myself. Sure, I have strategies I use when I get into that dark place, but I have never taken the time to actually make psychological strategies a part of my training to the point where I actively think about and practice them during my training runs. There are two types of psychological strategies you must have for an ultra. First, is dealing with the negative moods and thoughts. Second, is dealing with being so freaking tired.

The problem with not actively including psychological strategies as a core aspect of your training plans is that it’s mental fatigue that will stop you before physical fatigue in a race. Might want to read that again. Mental fatigue is more likely to put a stop to your race than physical fatigue.

That’s right, it’s your brain being tired that is going to slow you down and stop you before your muscles and nerves will. It actually takes an enormous amount of energy to fight off the persistent urge to sleep. I’ve fallen asleep while running and my pacers have had to persuade me not to crawl into small caves to take a nap while out on the course. I’ve seen runners curled up on the side of the trial sleeping while their pacer waits. When 100-mile events can take up to 36 hours it’s no wonder that those who run at the mid or back of the pack are exhausted, in every way, by the time they cross the finish line.

There are a few things we can do to be prepared for this level of extreme mental fatigue. Use caffeine strategically. Most ultrarunners are using caffeine in some form for a race, and caffeine is very effective at keeping you awake. However, if you drink a lot all the time, it’s not going to be as effective. You should taper off caffeine about 30 days before a race for it to be most effective during a race. Caffeine comes in all forms. You can get gels with caffeine, tablets, or drink it.

Another option is to take a nap. What!? I know, I know. I will admit I’m one of the last people who would suggest this. I’ve never napped during a 100-mile race, but if you’re out of options and falling asleep on your feet, sleeping for 30 minutes might be your best bet for picking up your pace. It goes back to the amount of energy it takes to force yourself to stay awake. I’ve run many relay events where my team runs through a day, a night, and a day. I know that if I sleep for two hours, I’ll be as good as new for the last leg of my race on day two. My muscles haven’t had time to recover, but I’m able to sustain the same pace as my first leg if I get those two hours. If I don’t, I’m going to be slower.

Another strategy is to train your mind to deal with being tired and running anyway. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, do something mentally challenging throughout the day (this is easy if you have a job that is mentally challenging) and then go for a long night run without sleeping between the two activities. Another way is to perform challenging mental tasks while you run. A research study used cyclists and the Stroop Test. The Stroop test is like the picture above. You have to read off colors when the word is written in a color other than what the word says.

The cyclists who did this training had a significant increase in their ability to stay mentally focused beyond the point where they previously became mentally fatigued to the point where it impaired their performance. The Stroop test is a little difficult to do while running, unless you’re on a treadmill (yuck!), but it maybe worth your suffering. You can use anything that is going to cause your brain to really work while you run (complex math anyone?).

Ultras challenge us in more than one way and we have to prepare for each. Psychological training is not an area you want to let slip by.