Iron Supplementation — the new performance enhancer?….slow down and take a look

I just read an article with the title “Taking iron improves women’s performance, study says”.  What woman wouldn’t read an article with that title?  Don’t we all want to improve our performance?  Absolutely!!  And the title is absolutely correct….as far as it goes.

This new research found women who take iron…and wait for it….AND who were low on iron in the first place…..saw improved performance.

Ta-Da! There’s the critical piece of research information in this article — you have to be experiencing some amount of iron deficiency to experience improved performance with iron supplementation.

And while it’s true that iron deficiency can be an issue for athletic women (and women in general), it doesn’t necessarily follow that all women (athletes or not) should supplement.  Be careful about headlines — they’re designed to get you to read the article — not convey all the information you should know.

Interested in learning more about iron and iron deficiency?  Click here!


Using the 220-age formula for your heart rate max? pt.2

So you’ve had some time to give the heart rate max equation time to sink in.  And some of you have taken the time to run the equations to see how far off your training range was — (overachievers!!).

It’s likely what you noticed was a very small change in the absolute beats per minute if you are female and an even smaller or perhaps no existent change if you are male.  To illustrate my point, check out these graphs:


As you can see, there is very little practical difference in the trend lines for males.  There is a larger variation (+ or – 8) for females, depending on age.  In terms of training, this may not be a hugely important variation.  I mean, how many of us are that precise with our HR training zones?

So, why did I even bring it up?  First, it illustrates nicely how things we take for granted as absolute truth sometimes are based more on oral tradition than on solid, modern scientific research.

Second, it is important to keep in mind women and men are physiologically different in many ways.  The male and female bodies aren’t just the same body with different hormones thrown in — those hormones actually make these bodies distinctly different.  They have subtle (and not so subtle) differences in how they react to stresses of training.  From an evolutionary standpoint, male and female bodies developed for fundamentally different primary jobs — male to provide the necessities for life and female to provide life.  One is not better or more important than the other — both are necessary for the continuation of the species.

And looked how good it worked out for us!

But now, because we are no longer bounds as tightly to those roles for survival, we may sometimes forget that the differences exist.  Equal does not have to mean the same.

So here’s the real point of understanding the findings of this new heart rate max study:

Be caution about anything that lumps male and female physiology into a singular unit.  Perhaps there are some instances where both body types can be treated the same but older physiology research often did not use women in their studies because accounting for the cyclical nature of hormone fluctuations made for messy pre-computer math.  So much of the old-school thought on performance is based on male-only studies.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the information is wrong, it just may mean the information is incomplete — as this study indicates.

That is why, as always, I encourage you to pay attention to how your body is responding to training.  You could be training according to the textbook but that textbook just may not be written about you.

Using the 220-age fomula for your HRmax? It’s time to update your knowledge! pt. 1

Target heart rate can be a great way to train to ensure you are training in a zone appropriate for your goals!  Most of you know the 220-age formula (indeed, if you’ve ever been on a piece of cardio equipment, you’ve seen the breakdown by age stickered somewhere on it) but what you may not know is the science behind this particular bit of training “gospel” is limited to observational data compiled in the 1970′s.

Fast forward decades to research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session.  Researchers from the Mayo clinic collected information on 25,000 patients who underwent stress testing between 1996 and 2006 and started looking for commonalities in the data.  Here’s some of what they found:

  • Max heart rate does decline as we age but that men and women experience fundamentally different slopes in their decline.  Women decline more gradually than men.  This results in the overestimation of peak heart rate younger women can achieve and underestimation of the peak heart rate of older women when using the original formula.
  • Young men have a lower resting heart rate and a higher max heart rate than women and that men experience a more dramatic rise in heart rate and a quicker return to resting heart rate than women.
  • The results from this study indicate that women ages 40-89** should expect their maximum heart rate to be 200-(age x.67).
  • Men can calculate their HRmax using 216-(age x .93).

**A word of caution: since the data for this research based on people undergoing stress tests for reasons other than pure research, there were not very many woman under the age of 40 included in the data (there aren’t very many women under the age of 40 having reason to have a stress test in any given year).  So for our purposes, you need to keep in mind that this is a research limitation and this information may or may not be directly applicable to females under the age of 40.

Remember these are guidelines for training!  Although these formulas are a step up from 220-age because they have a larger base of data and improved method of collecting that data (not to mention they take into account the physiological differences between men and women!), these formulas are not gospel for you as an individual.  We each have a little bit difference physiology, so you still need to pay attention to how your training feels and what kind of results you’re getting!  Even if you’re training at the perfect pace according to the formulas, remember there is a certain amount of art in mixed into the science of training.  If the pace feels off for you, it may be time to bring in a coach to take a look at your training program.

What does this really mean for your training?  We’re going to talk about that next time!




Seafood — good or bad? It’s so confusing!!

On board with the idea of eating more home cooked, whole foods but confused about just what foods are good and what foods are bad?  You’re not alone!  Take fish for example:

Lately, I’ve had several clients ask about whether seafood was a “good” food (because of its higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids) or a “bad” food because of its higher levels of mercury and other toxins.

Well, first of all, I’d like to get a way from categorizing any food as “bad”.  To my mind, even soda, with no nutrition and lots of sugar (plus a healthy dose of chemicals to color and add flavor) has a place (albeit, hopefully a small place) in a diet full of other whole food choices.

For the questions of seafood, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) released guidelines to help.

If you are a pregnant woman, the guidelines state, you do need to pay attention to and limit the amount of seafood you eat because mercury and other toxins found in varying levels among seafood can harm the development of your baby.

But for the rest of us guidelines state the cardiovascular benefits of eating seafood outweighed the risks toxins presented. Making the take home: eat more wild caught fish!

So what kinds should you be eating?  And is there a way to limit toxins?  Indeed, my friends, here’s a handy dandy graphic put together by the Washington Post to help you out with that!

A quick guide to healthy seafood choices

Guidelines for Post-Concussion Cognative Rest

Here is an interesting and important article on post-concussion recovery!  If you’ve wondered about how important “resting” the brain really is, this should answer the question with a solid, “VERY!”.

From Medical News Today:

While for the last 10 years or so, there has been a general view among doctors and health experts in the US that people who suffer concussion should give their brains a rest while they recover, until now there has not been much firm evidence to back it up.

For instance, in October 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a clinical report that suggested students may need a break from school after concussion. In that report, which was based on expert opinion and a concussion management program at a children’s hospital, the AAP called for more research to establish the effects of cognitive rest following concussion and how best to help students recovering from it.

Now a new study from Boston Children’s Hospital, published recently in the journal Pediatrics, appears to have done just that. Senior author Dr. William Meehan of the hospital’s Division of Sports Medicine explains:

“We believe this is the first study showing the independent, beneficial effect of limiting cognitive activity on recovery from concussion. Previously, the lack of such data has led to varied practice with regards to implementing cognitive rest, making it even controversial.”

The effect of cognitive rest on concussion recovery in student athletes

For their prospective cohort study, Dr. Meehan and colleagues enrolled 335 teen athletes diagnosed with concussion who were treated at Boston Children’s Concussion Clinic between October 2009 and July 2011.

Teen athletes jogging
In a study of teen athletes who suffered concussion, researchers found that those who engaged in high levels of cognitive activity needed more time to recover from concussion symptoms.

Using the Post-Concussion Symptom Scale they recorded patients’ symptoms, and they also invited them at each visit to complete a Cognitive Activity Scale to assess their level of cognitive activity.

They then put the participants into four groups according to level of cognitive activity:

  • Complete rest
  • Minimal activity (no reading or homework, less than 5 text messages and less than 20 minutes of online activity or video gaming per day)
  • Moderate activity (less than 10 pages of reading, less than 20 text messages and less than one hour homework, online activity and video gaming combined per day), or
  • Highest level (no limits).

They found that the participants who engaged in the highest level of cognitive activity needed the most time to recover from concussion symptoms.

Brain training to see better?

You’ve probably seen the commercials on TV for “brain training”.  If you’re like me, you may have thought it sounded kind of interesting but, well….who really has time for that?  But what if brain training could improve how well you could play your sport?

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside studied the effects of visual training on baseball players to see if it “brain training” could positively impact their games won.

Check out the video below to learn about what they did and what they found!

Can’t see the video? Click hereto watch it on YouTube!

What’s sodabriety?

It’s no secret that the US adds a lot of calories to our diets from sugary beverages — not just sodas (although they are a huge contributor) but sports drinks, energy drinks, flavored milks and coffees and the like.

An Ohio State University researcher decided to investigate whether high school peers could positively impact consumption of sugary beverages and it turns out, peer pressure can be used to improve healthful behaviors!

In an effort to help teens cut back on  ”the largest source of added sugar in the U.S. diet”, teen advisory councils were developed at two high schools to see if peers could positively impact sugary drink consumption.  The advisory boards’ message?  Cut back on sugary drinks for 30 days.  (notice they didn’t say cut them out all together)

The results:

“Overall, participating teens did lower their intake of sugary drinks, and the percentage of youths who abstained from drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increased from 7.2 percent to 11.8 percent of the participants. That percentage was sustained for 30 days after the intervention ended.”

And interestingly enough, water consumption in these same teens increase by 2/3′s!

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80 percent of youths – especially those age 12 to 19 years – consume sugar-sweetened beverages daily, and these drinks contribute between 13 and 28 percent of their daily calorie intake”

13-28% of daily calories are coming from drinks with no nutritional value!  It’s no wonder even athletes are having facing the challenge of keeping themselves at a healthy weight!

So give it some thought: sugary drink consumption does nothing to improve your performance (unless you are honestly meeting the guidelines for high humidity/long duration play that will deplete your energy stores….and most of the time, most of us are not).  Soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and flavored milks and coffees are entertainment and that’s that.  They won’t help you and may be holding you back from achieving a more healthful level of water consumption.  Perhaps you and your team should try a 30 day sodabriety check.

For more information on the Sodabriety study, click here!


A 12 oz can of Coke has almost the entire day’s recommended allotment of sugar — This is NO Joke!

Being that it’s April 1 (April Fool’s Day), I just want to make sure you know this is NOT a joke.  It’s true: A 12 oz can of Coke has almost the whole day’s recommended amount of sugar.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has drafted a guideline recommending that added sugars make up no more than 10% of a person’s calories, and ideally just 5%. If you consume 1800 calories a day, then only 180 should come from added sugars. Divide 180 by 4 to get 45 grams of added sugar per day. A 12-ounce can of cola has 40 grams of sugar. (from Fooducate)

Okay, okay — you’re an athlete in training and you know better than to put that poison into your system (soda, that is).  You may not drink soda but your recovery drink of choice may be adding more sugar than you think at 20 grams for 12 oz.  (and let’s be honest here — who among you is really only drinking 12 oz of anything whether it’s soda, Gatorade, PowerAde…whatever!)

And yes, you do, under specific hydration situation, actually need the nutrients in your recovery drink but are you drinking it only in those situations? It’s a fact, you can’t out-train a bad diet and too much sugar is hard on an athlete in a number of ways:

Obviously, too much sugar can cause weight gain.

And sugar, although it adds calories, does not add any nutrients.

Some of you may be thinking that sugar is the fuel our bodies run off of, and you’re right.  BUT…for most of us, most of the time, we want to be efficient at converting our fat stores into the dominant fuel used for anytime we are within our aerobic zone.  (which is actually most of our life spent working, doing homework, watching TV, and anytime we are training but not activity engaged in doing a strength exercises or sprinting at max speeds)

Our constant consumption of sugars (snacking, sipping, as well as, what we eat during meals) can cause us to become less efficient at burning fats to fuel our aerobic workouts.  That is BAD news for athletes who spend most of their play in their aerobic zone.

So grab your food log and take a couple days to figure out just how many grams of sugar you’re consuming daily.  You just may be surprised at how far above 10% WHO recommendation you find yourself.


Nature v. Practice — some interesting facts

Maybe you’ve never thought about how body mechanics really work but they play a HUGE effect in the ultimate success of many athletes.  Here are some body style facts about performance from Steve Stewart-Williams at Psychology Today:

  • Why is Michael Phelps such a great swimmer? There’s no single answer, of course. But one secret of his success is his atypically long torso. This functions like the long hull of a canoe, and is ideal for swimming. Phelps also has relatively short legs, which gives him an additional advantage in the pool. Of course, if Phelps didn’t put in the long hours of training, his canoe-like, short-legged body would never win a race. However, there are probably hoards of swimmers who are equally dedicated, but who none of us have ever heard of, in part because Mother Nature cursed them with short torsos and long legs.


  • Why are sprinters and football running backs usually short? The main reason is that shorter limbs have less “moment of inertia”—in other words, it takes less time to get them moving. For any athletic task that relies largely on acceleration, as opposed to maintaining speed, shorter is generally better. Curiously, the world’s greatest sprinter, Usain Bolt, is an exception. At 6’5”, Bolt is extremely tall. Is he exempt from the laws of physics? The hypothesis is certainly tempting, but it seems not. Because he’s so big, it takes Bolt longer than most of his rivals to get going, and he’s usually near the back of the pack in the early part of the race. But he tends to win anyway because his top speed—when he finally reaches it—is much faster than anyone else’s. He soon catches up with the little people, and leaves them and their low moments of inertia in the dust.


  • Why are marathon runners generally small? One important factor is that smaller bodies are less likely to overheat, because they dissipate heat more rapidly. That’s because, compared to larger bodies, they’ve got more surface area relative to their overall volume. This means that, for each square inch of volume, smaller bodies have more skin surface for the heat to leak out from. This is basic physics, and thus the principle applies right across the animal kingdom: Smaller animals lose heat faster. That’s why diminutive creatures like mice are more prone to freezing to death, and why an elephant could never run a marathon. It is true that Paula Radcliffe, one of the greatest female marathon runners of all time, is a head taller than most of her competitors. But Radcliffe only won consistently in cooler weather. When it was hot, she was basically out of the running.

Interesting, right?  Obviously, there are always exceptions (Usain Bolt, anyone?) For more on this topic, head over to Psychology Today and read the full article.  Or check out the interview with author of The Sports Gene, David Epstein, here.

Winning isn’t everything — at least not to kids — so what DOES motivate them to play?

According to the University of Notre Dame, kids play sports because:

  • It’s fun
  • They like learning
  • They like being with their friends
  • They enjoy the excitement of competition

(note: winning is way down the list)

Why do they quit?

  • Criticism and yelling
  • Boredom
  • Emphasis on winning
  • Lack of playing time

Fun makes the time fly.  If you can be learning valuable life lessons while having fun, isn’t that the best of both worlds?

Okay, so we can’t have FUN all the time, that’s just not the way life works.  We know making athletic dreams into a reality requires hard work, patience, and practice, practice, practice.  But when youth athletes are just starting out, shouldn’t it be fun?  Don’t we want them having so much fun they can’t wait for the next practice?

Only 25-30% of youth athletes play past the age of 14. It’s time to take a serious look at what drives them to play and how coaches and parent introduce those negative elements that cause them to want to quit.  Can we ratchet back the pressure we put on these kids to win?  If we don’t worry quite so much about the winning part, would more kids get the opportunity to play?  And it goes without saying that great coaching can be done without yelling and criticism.

As we look at the news reports that talk about the obesity problem in our country, it is more important than ever to consider what we are teaching our kids about athletics.  Create a positive sports environment where they can learn, grow, improve, and stretch their skills and we may just be able to keep them moving and competing for the rest of their lives.  And that is a great gift to give any child.