Extreme Endurance Athletes at Risk for Blood Poisoning?

More is better?  Not necessarily true.  We know that our joints can take a beating during ultra events — but what about your gut?  Here’s an interesting guest post by Honor Whiteman about two recent studies investigating some unexpected effects of extreme exercise:

Extreme Exercise may lead to Sepsis, study finds
The health benefits of exercise are well documented, but two new studies by researchers from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, find exercising at extreme levels may do more harm than good – it could lead to blood poisoning.

People running a marathon
On analyzing blood samples from marathon runners taken immediately after the extreme endurance event, researchers identified markers of sepsis.

The studies – both led by Dr. Ricardo Costa of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Monash – are published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine and Exercise Immunology Reviews.

Blood poisoning, also known as septicemia or sepsis, occurs when immune chemicals leak into the bloodstream, triggering an overactive inflammatory response. This can lead to blood clots and leaking vessels, impairing blood flow and preventing the body’s organs from receiving the required oxygen and nutrients.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 million people in the US develop sepsis each year, with around 28-50% of these individuals dying from the condition.

Infants and children, elderly individuals, people with chronic illnesses – such as cancer or AIDS – people who have suffered severe burns or physical trauma and those with a weakened immune system are at highest risk of sepsis.

However, the latest research from Dr. Costa and colleagues suggests extreme exercise may also be a risk factor for the condition.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week.

But while it is estimated that almost half of us fail to meet these guidelines, some of us are on the other side of the fence, exercising to extremes.

According to Dr. Costa, exercising for more than 4 hours in one session is deemed extreme, as is engaging in repetitive days of endurance exercising. Such practices are common among people taking part in extreme endurance events, such as marathons, who often engage in these events during periods of high heat, putting extra strain on the body.

“Exercising in this way is no longer unusual – waiting lists for marathons, Ironman triathlon events and ultra-marathons are the norm and they’re growing in popularity,” notes Dr. Costa.

Marathon runners had markers of sepsis in blood samples

For the studies, the team analyzed blood samples from 17 individuals who took part in a 24-hour ultra marathon and 19 people who took part in a multi-stage ultra marathon. Blood samples were taken from each participant immediately before and after the events, and all samples were compared with samples from control participants.

In almost all of the blood samples taken from study participants after marathon completion, the researchers identified markers identical to those found in blood samples of patients who are admitted to the hospital for sepsis.

“Blood samples taken before and after the events, compared with a control group, proved that exercise over a prolonged period of time causes the gut wall to change, allowing the naturally present bacteria, known as endotoxins, in the gut to leak into the bloodstream,” Dr. Costa explains. “This then triggers a systemic inflammatory response from the body’s immune cells, similar to a serious infection episode.”
Note: Since endotoxins are not bacteria, for “…the naturally present bacteria, known as endotoxins…” a better phrase would perhaps be “…the naturally present bacteria, which SECRETE endotoxins…”

Interestingly, the team found that participants who were fitter and spent a longer period of time training for the marathons had higher levels of an anti-inflammatory cytokine called Interleukin 10 in their blood, which offset any negative health effects caused by the endotoxin-induced immune response.

Their findings, the team says, emphasize the importance of following guidelines when it comes to taking part in extreme endurance events. Dr. Costa adds:
“It’s crucial that anyone who signs up to an event gets a health check first and builds a slow and steady training program, rather than jumping straight into a marathon, for example, with only a month’s training.

The body has the ability to adapt and put a brake on negative immune responses triggered by extreme endurance events. But if you haven’t done the training and you’re unfit – these are the people who can get into trouble.”

In future research, the team plans to further investigate how exercise affects gut integrity function in both high- and low-heat environments, as well as uncover ways in which exercise-induced gut damage may be prevented.

In October 2013, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting marathon running may have a negative impact on the heart, reducing left and right ventricular function.

Original posting found at Medical News Today

Mentally Strong Athletes

We all know how important physical strength is to athletes but what about mental strength/mental toughness?  Something happened a few days ago that got me started thinking about the importance of mental strength.

The first thing was that I ran into a very dear friend of mine.  Through the course of the conversation, he started talking about a Dale Carnegie class he has been taking and how the first principle of the class had “changed his life”. At first, I mistook the comment as enthusiasm but as he continued to talk, he explained the class had literally changed the course of his life.  His turning point started with the first principle of the class, the 3C’s.

“Don’t  criticize, condemn, or complain!”

Give it some thought.  Criticizing, condemning, and complaining direct our focus onto things we beyond our control.  When engaged in the 3C’s, we are not looking for solutions, we are rehashing the past.  It’s a Lose/Lose.  Or, in the language of Wayne Gretsky, we are skating to where the puck has been.

The day after the 3C’s conversation, I came across the article “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”.  Number 4 on that list:

“They don’t waste energy on things they can’t control.”

Clearly, criticizing, complaining, and condemning are all wastes of time (they don’t change anything) on things we can’t control (other peoples behavior is not up to us!).

If you google mental strength, what you’re most likely to find is examples of how it is exhibited, not an actually definition.  I suppose this is because mental strength is not just one thing but many wrapped together.  I feel confident it can be simplified down to one’s actions supporting the decision to keep pursuing a chosen path, no matter what life (or our own bad day) throws at us, until we reach our goal.

If you can accept this, then by extension, complaining, criticizing, and condemning, which direct our attention away from our chosen path and focus it directly on the barriers standing in our way…while exerting no effort to figure out  how to overcome them, are actions exactly opposite of mental strength.

What gives our strength back?  Planning, executing, rebounding from negative experiences with optimism, and the willingness to keep trying until you are successful.  In other words, keep for focus on where the puck will be and skate to that spot.

No matter how naturally gifted, current skill level, or raw talent, without mental toughness, an athlete will never reach their full potential.  Developing your mental toughness is just another part of your athletic training and one of the best places to start is ditching the 3C’s.    Try it — it will change your life.

Musculosketelal Differences between Males and Females

Last month was the 43rd anniversary of the enacting of Title IX and the opportunities for female athletes have never been greater. It is worth considering, however, although male and female athletes have many things in common, when it comes to anatomy of the musculoskeletal system, the genders very different. As a result, men and women have very different patterns of injuries.

Knowing which injuries are more common to which gender can help athletes and coaches create strategies to address these inherent liabilities more effectively.

For example:

•Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are 2-8 times more common in females.
•Females are 5-8 times more likely than males to suffer an ACL injury in high-intensity sports like soccer and basketball that require sudden changes of motion.
•Ankle sprains are twice as common in females.
•Osteoarthritis of the knee is more common in females.
•Metacarpal and phalangeal (finger) fractures are more common in males.

These are just a few of the differences noted by researchers reported in the Journal of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.  There conclusion says it all:

“Gender differences exist in many areas of musculoskeletal disease.  The role of hormones, differential anatomy, joint stability, and bone quality must be considered when caring for orthopaedic patients, and the differences in recovery after injury and surgery are also important to consider. Gender must be considered as a factor in the diagnosis and treatment of many common diseases.”

Title IX can offer opportunities for females to play in sport but each gender has physical differences that have to be taken into account when it comes to creating a training program designed to help the athlete stay health AND perform better.  Knowing the injuries common to each gender can be a first step in setting that athlete up for a long career of competition!

Summer Temps are Here — here are the guidelines to stay hydrated!

With the temps and humidity climbing as we head into July, it’s time to take another look at your hydration patterns.  Are you heading out for training well-hydrated or are you trying to make up for neglected hydration during training?

To help you navagate this critical part of your training, here are some guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine:

1. Drink 16-20 fluid ounces of water at least 4 hours before exercise

2. Drink 8-12 fluid ounces of water 10-15 minutes before exercise

During Exercise:

1. Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of water every 15-20 minutes when exercising less than 60 minutes

2. Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of a sports beverage (5-8% carbohydrate with electrolytes) every 15-20 minutes when exercising more than 60 minutes

3. Do not drink more than one quart per hour during exercise

 Following these guidelines will help you stay hydrated but it’s important to remember that there is a high degree of variability in fluid loss between athletes.  If you’re wondering how to tell if you’re getting dehydrated , you can weigh yourself (without clothes) before and after your workout.  (Workout clothes will be sweaty after practice and throw off the measure of weight you lost through sweat).

Compare your pre- and post- training weight to see where you fit in this chart:

% Body Weight Change

Well Hydrated -1 to +1%

Minimal Dehydration -1 to -3%

Significant Dehydration -3 to -5%

Serious Dehydration > -5%

Based on these numbers, you should have a good feel for if your hydration patterns are sufficient for the temperature, humidity, and workout intensity and duration.  Now you’ll be able to make educated adjustments going forward.  Remember, not only is dehydration dangerous, it also impairs your thinking and reflexes.  If you want to excel, you have to stay hydrated!

Interested in more education on the science of hydration?  Click here to read ACSM’s handout on Selecting and Effectively using Hydration for Fitness!

Several Definitions of Prehab

Medical News Today hosted an interesting article on the injuries and prevention in youth athletics.  The whole article was informative and I found the discussion of the special problems associated with youth ACL repair especially helpful.  The article also highlighted the relatively new uses of the word prehab.

Most commonly, we use this term to mean the supervised pre-surgical physical therapy designed to improve the outcome of a surgical intervention. But another, increasingly common, use of the term denotes specialized, professionally supervised training, often done by a strength coach, to significantly decrease the risk of a particular injury before the injury occurs.  This type of training combines strength training, balancing opposing muscle groups, and re-training muscle memory patterns.

The benefits of improved strength to support joints through complex movements is obvious.  A little less obvious may be the importance of having hamstrings and quads, biceps and triceps, or abdominal muscles and back muscles in optimal strength ratios.  In many cases, opposing muscles group ratios are not 1:1.  For the most part, one muscle group of the pair will need to be stronger (but not too much stronger) than its opposing muscle group.  Ensuring these optimal ratios improves any athletes safety and performance.  Movement pattern training targets those bad jumping/landing/cutting habits likely to produce injuries and replace them with patterns that will not only keep athletes safe but also increase their performance.

I especially like this version of prehab because it focuses on bringing in the professionals before an injury occurs.  If you’ve ever experienced a significant injury, you know how hard it is to come back from even the most “routine” surgery.  Added to this is the special case that kids are experiencing significant injuries at a higher rate than ever and the complications to their general growth and development (let alone their athletic performance) can be impeded from the surgical fixes common for these injuries in adults.

With all the money now being spent on specialized gear, travel, lessons, and year round play, it seems like a worth while investment in your youth athlete to get them in to see a professional for a prehab assessment.  We want these youth athletes to have years and years of competitive play and not have to retire their athletic dreams in their early teens due to injuries, as so many athletes are doing now.


Good Form in the Weight Room — do you know what you’re doing?

Summer is a great time to slow down and focus on what’s important.  For many athletes, that can be building strength and athletic skills to support their sports training during the other parts of the year.

One area that can always use improvement is strength training technique.  If you think your technique is pretty good, let me assure you, there’s always room for improvement!

Many athletes have never had formal technique training in the weight room.  Even those who have, often times, fall out of the habit of using solid form.

Is lifting technique important?
YES, YES, YES! Without practicing proper technique, we are doing our bodies a disservice and putting ourselves at a higher risk for injury.  We are in the weight room to prevent injuries and to perform better, right?!

Below are 5 suggestions that may be helpful to add or utilize throughout your training program.

1. Be cautious of using exercises from a fitness magazine you have not tried — especially without guided help from a coach or lifting partner. Remember, those exercises may not be appropriate for your training level and/or training goals.

2. If you are new to strength training, learn the basics first. Ask a qualified trainer or coach to help you develop a program specific to your needs and skill level.

3. Utilize mirrors during your training session (to keep an eye on your posture and technique – NOT to check yourself out!)

4. Never sacrifice technique for more plates on the bar.

5. Make sure the machines or equipment is set up and adjusted properly to fit you! We are all physiologically unique — take the time to set up your equipment properly!

This is important work!  Don’t leave it to your gut feel or trying to figure things out from some health magazine.  There are plenty of options for connecting with professionals to teach you proper approach and execution of the lifts that will make you a stronger, more resilient athlete.

Learn the correct way now and be more effective in all your workouts to come.

The Tip to Turn Pre-Competition Stress into a Performance Boost

Can a quick mental redirect change the chemistry of your body from tension-fill pre-competition anxiety to performance-boosting focus?

“…The way that you think about something can actually transform the effect that it has on you. Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, author of the new book The Upside of Stress, explains how positive thinking can put you on the road to positive outcomes while negative thoughts run the risk of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.”

Interested?  Click the link to watch Kelly’s short video explaining how to harness the power of that stress!

“Optional” Strength Training for Runners

Runners love to run.  As a general rule, however, they don’t like to strength train – and this is causing runners to have higher injury rates than necessary.

Why is it so many runners feel more running is the answer to running faster, safer, or generally more efficiently??

While it is true running is necessary to improve your cardiovascular and metabolic capacities that allow you to improve your PRs, if you don’t have the musculature to stabilize your joints and support your movements, you are going to end up limping no matter what your aerobic capacity.  Need proof?  A quick Google Scholar search pulls up 134,000+ articles on how strength training can impact many aspects of running capacity.  More running does not improve your muscular strength.  That is the job of a well rounded strength program but many runners just don’t want to listen.

A common reason cited for not strength training is lack of time.  Truth of the matter is, your strength program doesn’t have to be extensive and time consuming to be effective.  A focused 20 minute program 3 days a week using complex movements targeting multiple large muscle groups (think squats because you are moving lots of weight through coordinated hip, knee, and ankle range of motion while balancing and stabilizing) will help your training stay efficient and effective.

There are many programs designed to achieve this goal available online, some of them more reputable and effective than others, so be warned to use your critical thinking skills to weed out the ones carelessly put together and thrown up on the web.  If you’re currently having some aches or nagging pains, it may well be worth the time and money to have a professional design a workout for you and walk you through it to make sure a. it’s right for you and b. you are implementing it correctly.  In your effort to get stronger, you don’t want to use a poorly designed plan that sets you back!

And as always, we are here to help!  Feel free to contact Jen if you have question about how Borgess Athletic Performance can help you become the athlete you were meant to be!

Summer Play

The end of the Spring sports season is here and many athletes are thinking about how to spend their summer vacation.  In the US, many athletes will spend the summer playing for a travel team in the same sport they participate in during their school year.  It seems commonsensical that greater time spent in specialized play equals a better athlete in that sport.  But this is one area where gut feel and research are at odds.

Much of the recent research on what makes a great athlete (you know the ones I’m talking about — the ones with huge contracts and millions in endorsements) – show they played many different sports in their younger years and held off specializing until late in high school or even in college.

What is it about late specialization that benefits these athletes?  Research indicates these athletes are stronger both physically and mentally because they have encountered a larger variety of physical and mental stresses.  These stresses cause them to have greater adaption proficiency that athletes specializing early in a single sport.

Adaption to stress, from the stress of lifting more weight to the stress of becoming adept at anticipating the movement of the ball or another players and intercepting either one faster, is the stuff of which athletes are made.  The quicker and more successful the adaptions, the more successful the athlete.

When your year round training is designed to give you new experiences to which you need to adapt (i.e. different sports stress the athlete mentally and physically in very different ways), your training makes you a stronger overall athlete.  When this groundwork laid in a young athlete, they have a more solid physical and mental foundation upon which to build in their later high school and college years.

So the question becomes: how should your athlete be spending the summer:  doing more of the same?  Or, should they be seeking out new stressors to make a stronger overall athlete so when the high school and college seasons come around they are stronger, faster, and mentally more sharp?

Want to check out the research for yourself?  Click here, here, and here!


5 Tips to Stop craving Junk Food

Even the most determined and disipliced athlete deals with the cravings for junk food.  Salty or sweet, no matter the variety of your Achilles heel, here are 5 tips to help you steer clear and stay on track:

1. Don’t buy them — cravings are often times triggered by visual cues which is why there are so many junk food commercials on TV.  If they are not in your house, it is a lot harder to munch on them after the commercial comes on to trigger your craving!

2. If you do buy them (or others bring them home), keep them out of sight.  Again, if you see them, you’re more likely to crave them so put them in a cupboard that’s out of your normal traffic pattern or store them above or below eye level.

3. Treats are treats — that means you don’t eat them every day.  If you don’t eat them often, you won’t get habituated to the taste.  To make a clean break, try doing a 10 day cleanse where you cut all processed, convenience, and fast foods out of your diet.  It’s a challenge, especially if you’re stuck in a situation where you have to eat out.  This is enough time, however, for your tastebuds to start to reset to less salty or sweet flavor.  Be warned, the first 5 or so days of sticking to the cleanse are really difficult!  But if you can get through those, it will get easier.  And once done with the whole 10 days, you will be surprised how you don’t have the cravings for junk food.

4. Drink more water.  Sometimes you’re just bored and looking for entertainment.  Although water is not that entertaining, the mere act of drinking is sometimes enough to distract you from the craving.  Add in the mental imagery of washing away the craving as you drink and you will be reinforcing the positive behavior of water consumption and reminding yourself food does not need to be your source of entertainment.

5. If you’re going to breakdown and indulge, pay attention as you eat!  New studies have found being mindful as you eat increases your sense of satisfaction with smaller amounts of food.  So, if you can’t cut your junk food out completely, pay attention to taking smaller bites and chewing more thoroughly.  If you do this, you will actually taste and appreciate the junk food you do decide to eat.  More satisfaction with less of the health-derailing junk food!

You can make healthier choices and learn to control your cravings so they don’t control you.  It just takes willingness to make different choices and extra effort spent on learning new habits.  But you can do this — after all, those two skills are exactly what it takes to take you to the next level!