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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Do People Do Triathlons?

The other day I saw an interesting question posed on the Trifuel website asking people why they do triathlons. The author has some interesting points and addresses the reason why folks take up this sport. Some do it for the pure enjoyment, some for bragging rights, others to improve their fitness, still others participate just so they can tell their friends that they are athletes. Hats off to Ben Greenfield, the author of that posting for being so inquisitive.

I've been doing triathlons since the late 1990s. My first race was the Bass Lake Triathlon, up by (you guessed it) Bass Lake California. It must have been 1997 give or take a year. I don't even know whether that race is still in existence. A buddy and I signed up as dare and met another friend up there. It was cold and misty on the lake to the point that our friend, who is a multiple Ironman finisher, got "lost" in the lake because he could not see the buoys from the thick fog and, as a result, took several wrong turns. I cramped up from the cold rain toward the end of the bike portion then had a v-e-r-y slow run. When I finished, I never felt more alive in my life. I knew that I simply HAD to do that again.

The reason I still do triathlons after 12 or so years had passed and intend to continue doing them as long as I live can be summed up in the short essay I pasted below. I do not know who wrote it or when, but it describes the reasons many of us get excited before each and every starting horn goes off. Also, it is my answer to Mr. Greenfield's question. Here is the essay, reproduced - credit should go to the original author, whoever you are:
“I love to be alive. I love the gift of life. Never have I felt more alive than when my heart is beating, my lungs filling and my muscles pumping with life - in pursuit of a goal. I'm not in it for the T-shirts, or the "Wow, you're a triathlete?" admiration conveyed by the gaping mouth of the spectator.

Each of us has within ourselves the desire to move from spectator to participant in our own lives. A key to becoming a participant in life is to set specific, measurable and worthwhile goals, and then to pursue these goals with all our heart. Committing oneself to a triathlon is a very special way to set these goals, and to love the pursuit.

Deep down inside everyone of us is a place of terror. This is the place where we doubt ourselves, where our self-confidence dwindles and where our dreams are called into question. During a race, and through this magnificent sport, people have to pay a few visits to this place - at mile 17 of the Ironman run or even at the bike-to-run transition of a shorter race. People go to Doubtsville, and then they return. And you know what? They leave this place behind and come back with a golden smile. For with every heartbeat during a triathlon, we pound away acres from that land of fear, anxiety and doubt.

Through triathlons, I have gained a greater capacity to give and to love. I can feel my soul glow a bit brighter, my smile stretch a bit wider, my self-confidence grow a bit stronger and my happiness penetrate a bit deeper.

It's a way to hug life, to participate in life, to search deep inside and to let life flow through you at 168 beats per minute.

There is a spark to the people involved in this sport. Triathletes are here to pursue a dream, to reach deep inside and to discover how we can all break though false limits.”

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Post Exercise Recovery and Nutrition

This article addresses recommended nutrition immediately following an exercise session to aid in optimal recovery. Some may have started training for a 5K or a 10K and may even be following the training plans suggested in my 5K training or 10K training posting.

After an exercise session, be it running, swimming, cycling, or weights, we lose various vitamins and minerals through sweat. It is true that eventually we end up reloading most of the nutrients we lost through food and drink. However, to make sure that your body recovers as fast as possible and receives the needed nutrients when it needs them most, it is recommended by sports nutritionists that we eat or drink a combination of carbohydrates and protein within 30-40 minutes after each exercise session. The carb-protein combo is a good rule of thumb for most post-exercise recovery plans. However, low-key (aerobic) training that lasts less than an hour can be replenished by a sports drink containing carbohydrates and sodium. For moderate or high-intensity training sessions of up to and in excess of an hour, a recovery drink containing a mixture of carbohydrate and protein is ideal.

The reason this nutrition recovery plan is a good idea is because during the 30-40 minutes immediately after exercise the body is more capable in absorbing glucose (a carbohydrate-based energy source we consume during exercise) and protein. This means that almost all, if not all, nutrients you ingest during this window will be sucked up by your body immediately and the protein will quickly be transported to thirsty muscles (to minimize soreness and help in building strength) and the carbohydrates (and the glucose) will quickly travel to your liver to replenish it with the glucose that was used up during exercise.

There are many recovery drinks on the market today to help in proper post-exercise recovery. You can try several to suit your taste. As long as you get 15 to 20 grams of protein and about 60-80 grams of carbohydrates it will be a sufficient recovery drink. I know of some athletes who go "old-school" and use a glass of chocolate milk as their recovery drink. This may work for you if you end your workouts close to home where refrigerated milk is accessible. However if you go cycling or running somewhere and your recovery drink has to wait for you for several hours in a backpack that is in a hot car, this may not be a good idea since we all know what happens to milk after it stays in the hot sun for a while. Various sports recovery drinks have worked for me over the years. I also like the fruit or vanilla flavors. So try some out and chose one that you like best.

Several hours following exercise, once your stomach calmed down, a high protein meal with some starch is ideal. One example would be a light meal consisting of chicken breast or fish, with a side of vegetables and some rice or potatoes. Other recovery meals (or snacks) that can be eaten a few hours following exercise include peanut butter and jam bagel (or sandwich), yogurt with granola or fruit, an energy bar, pasta salad with cheese (preferably low fat), or a turkey/chicken sandwich on whole wheat.

Proper recovery is essential to keep our bodies healthy and strong so we can continue with the chosen training regimen for weeks, and in some cases, months at a time. If we recover nutritionally after exercise, our muscles, liver, and other parts of our body will be properly fueled for the next training session. This way, we can attack each session with renewed energy and perhaps with a bit more vigor as a result of past training and effective recovery.