A Surprising Health Issue for Elite Athletes

Here’s an interesting issue amongst elite athletes:

A new study found that oral health may be a significant problem amongst elite athletes.

Really??  Who knew?  Doctors and dentist have long known an unhealthy mouth can cause be part of greater ill health but I, for one, hadn’t ever given any thought to athletics contributing to greater oral health challenges!

As survey of athletes at the 2012 London Olympics found:

“18% of athletes said that their oral health had a negative impact on their performance and 46.5% had not been to the dentist in the past year.”

This is more than a matter of not taking time to brush (although, how many of you are brushing the literal as the PSA’s recommend?)  Athletes have some special obstacles to overcome when maintaining the health of their teeth and gums.

First, many of the sports drinks, goos, and gels are high in sugar.  That’s exactly what’s needed from a sports performance perspective but from an oral health perspective, the high sugar and acid levels of sports supplements can erode enamel in much the same way soda does.  And even something as simple as dehydration can play a role in tooth decay since saliva acts to prevent erosion and tooth decay.

Added to these issues, athletes, many times, are under nutritional stress as they strive to attain proper nutritional and caloric demands to both fuel their training and meet the everyday demands of maintenance and repair of bodily tissues.

While the study frames the issue for elite athletes, non-elite level athletes face many of the same pressures.  Many studies link oral health to the overall health of an individual and all of us want to live the healthiest life we are able.  So take some time to remember a part of our body we don’t normally consider when thinking of athletic performance: your mouth.  And don’t let the health of your teeth and gums get in the way of your performance.



Budgeting for what’s important

I recently sat down to create a new financial budget.  As many of you budgeters already know, budgeting when and how you spend you money is a great way to keep yourself financially in tip top shape.  But sometimes, a budget get stale or loses it’s meaning because, over time, goals have been accomplished but new goals haven’t replaced them.  So then, the budget becomes more about an autopilot function, which often, does not serve our best financial interests.

In an effort to be a rockstar home financier, I took some time to research household budgets to see if there were some skills and techniques that could offer better results than the ones I was currently using.  One of the most impactful things I found was one expert’s point that budgets are continually in flux.  Car repairs or other expenses pop up unexpectedly and you have to deal with them somehow.  Hopefully, when that happens, you’ve got enough money in savings to cover those costs and reduce the stress that goes along with unexpected expenses.  Some expenses, however, are not unexpected, like the fact that my heating bill will be increasing as it gets colder.  How much it increases is a little bit of a mystery right now depending on the weather but I can say with certainty, it will increase every month from now until March.  This means, once I get my budget set, I will need to make adjustments to it for the foreseeable changes coming my way AND still keep putting some money away for unexpected expenses.

As I was working all of this out, it occurred to me how similar my time budgeting is to my financial budgeting.  Obviously, like money, we all have a limited amount of time.  We can use that time however we want but if we’re not careful, we could burn through our allotment and not accomplish the things that are really important to us.

As with money, there are always foreseeable time “expenses”, things like work, family dinners, and cutting the grass. There are also unexpected “expenses” like a friend coming into town which means whatever you had planned is likely to get tabled when you make the time visit with them.

Attaining performance goals is just like being successful at attaining financial goals.  It takes time, intention, planning, and the willingness to sacrifice immediate gratification for success that, at times, may be far off in the future.

Also, much like financial budgeting, performance budgeting needs constant evaluation to make sure the process we are using to improve our performance meshes well with the other “expenses” in our lives.  For most of us, performance can be our top priority at some times, but not all the time.  How we budget our time during those periods with unexpected “time expenses” unrelated to performance will mean the ultimate success or failure of our athletic performance over the long haul.

So what do you think?  Is it time to get out the pen and paper and redesign your time budget?  Are you using your training time optimally to ensure you get the greatest return on your investment?  Don’t guess — be sure.  Your ultimate success is riding on your answer.

Grass fed v. Grain fed beef

Organic.  Free-range.  Cruelty-free.  Local.  Sustainable.

Do you remember when eating was just eating and not a political statement?  ….yeah, me neither….but my mom tells me of time when she was young when there weren’t so many questions or concerns about eating.  You just ate.  Usually sitting down at a table with your family.  Ahhhh, the good old days :)

Let’s face it, this is not the way most of us live now.  So! Instead of moping about wishing for a time that is unlikely to come back, let’s try to make some sense out of what we’re facing today so we can make better choices about what we are choosing to eat.

Today, let’s tackle the idea of grass-fed beef.

For those of you not living in the Midwest, let’s start with the idea that (unless otherwise indicated) most beef you come into contact with is going to be feedlot cattle.  This means the cows grow up under industrial farm settings where many cows are housed in relatively small feedlots where they are fed grain mixtures and do not graze on grass.  This allows for more cattle to be raised on smaller area of land.  It required much less grain to provide nutrients for the cattle, as grains are a far more calorically dense food source than the grass cattle have historically eaten.  Feedlots make the whole process of raising beef cattle much more efficient and cost effective.  This is one of the reasons we find hamburgers on $1 Value menus.

Grass-fed beef, on the other hand, has grass as the cows’ dominate food source.  These cattle require a much larger area per cow to graze which means the herd is spread over lots of land.  This increases the cost of production for the farmer and, therefore, raises the price we consumers pay at the meat counter.

The price aspect aside, much like people, changes in diet alter the composition of the beef.  Grass-fed beef actually contains 100 fewer fat calories per 6 ounces than does grain-fed beef.  And not only does it contain less fat, it contains more Omega-3 fatty acids (these are the heart healthy ones!), more Vitamins A and E, and higher levels of antioxidants.

So what does this actually mean to you, the athlete?

We’ve heard the warnings that Americans should cut back on their red meat consumption and while the jury is still out on how much of a role dietary cholesterol really plays in the development of heart disease, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that, in general, most of us could be better off with more veggies and a little less meat on our plates.  That being said, if you’re going to continue to eat beef (and I know I will!), it may be worth looking into your local options for grass-fed beef.  A little less fat and a few more Omega-3′s, Vitamins, and antioxidants from a less industrial food source could not hurt!

Healthier eating made easier? Declutter your kitchen!

We all know it’s important to our performance to eat healthier.  We also know, in an age of convenience foods, fast food, protein meal-replacement bars, and crazy schedules, cooking nutritious meals sometimes takes a backseat to other things but here is an interesting tip for making healthier eating choices in your kitchen:

Declutter your kitchen.


According to Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and author of a number of interesting books on eating behaviors, cluttered kitchens prompted people to eat 44% more of their snack food than a kitchen that was organized and decluttered.

This means making sure what is out on the counters actually supports your nutrition goals: fruits and veggies, washed and insight.  The flip side of that is to get everything else (cutting boards, caddies of cooking utensils, toasters and any other food) off the counter!

In one study, Wansink found women who had even one box of breakfast cereal visible anywhere in the kitchen weighed an average of 21 pounds more than those who didn’t have any cereal in plain view.

So, clean off those counters and take control of your home eating environment.  Sure, it takes a few minutes to do this but the payoff is to create a kitchen that supports your training instead of sabotaging it!

Interested in more ways you can take control of your eating environments to improve your health?  Click here to read about Wansink’s new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

(ht to M.Boyle for pointing us in this direction!)

Female Triathletes at Risk for Pelvic-floor Disorders more often than You Think

Now I know this isn’t something we like to talk about but….

A new study from researchers at Loyola University Health System found:

One in 3 female triathletes suffered from a pelvic-floor disorder such as urinary incontinence, bowel incontinence and pelvic-organ prolapse.

The female triathletes surveyed ranged in age from 35-44 and 82% of them were training for competition during the time of the survey.

1 in 3!  That is a lot of women!  According to USATriathlon, there were upwards of 510,000 triathlon participants in 2012 — with 36.5% of them being female, that’s just over 186,000 women participants.  That also means (if the population is representative of the whole field of female triathletes) that nearly 62,000 women could be experiencing pelvic-floor disorders.  That is a LOT of women!

Let’s be clear: this research does NOT tell us that triathlons CAUSE these problems — what is says is that many of women who participate in these events suffer from pelvic floor disorders.  Because this can be a sensitive subject for many women to discuss, some women might think they are experiencing these issues alone but the numbers tell us a very different story.

And more importantly, there are things women can do if they experience these issues!  First and foremost, don’t be embarrassed and talk to your doctor.  They can help develop a treatment plan that is right for you and your active lifestyle. Physical therapists specializing in female health may be an option to eliminate some of the incontinence issues.  Most of all, know you aren’t alone and don’t have to silently accept this as your fate!

We want you to keep moving, keep training, and keep loving the active life!  Don’t let something like this keep you from training – speak up and make sure you are getting the medical guidance you need.

Anemia, Iron absorption, and what an athlete needs to know

From time to time, every one of us has felt tired and worn out.  If this sounds like you but no amount sleep, lighter practices and time off hasn’t seem to help, you may be suffering from anemia.  According to the ACSM:

An estimated 50% of female athletes have iron-deficiency, as indicated by low serum ferritin stores. (In the general population of women, about 14% are iron deficient.) A study with college-age male runners suggests that 21% of male cross-country and distance runners had low serum ferritin.

Anemia occurs when blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells or (most commonly) the red blood cells do not contain enough hemoglobin.

Hemoglobin is a protein that allows the red blood cells to carry oxygen to the cells of the body.  Without enough hemoglobin in your blood, your cells do not get enough oxygen and therefore cannot create energy to fuel activity, resulting in excessive fatigue.

If you think you may be anemic, first things first — talk to your doctor.  Second, let’s take a look our diet and make sure we are doing what we can to ensure adequate hemoglobin production.

  1. to make sure we are getting an adequate intake of iron
  2. make sure we are able to absorb the iron we take in

Iron comes in two forms:

  • heme iron found mainly in animal products
  • non-heme iron found in plants like spinach, lentils, beans, broccoli, and whole wheat

Plant-based sources such as spinach have more iron per calorie than animal sources but heme iron is absorbed more easily by our bodies than non-heme iron. No matter what the iron source, there are some things you can do to increase your iron absorption:

  • Vitamin C can improve your body’s ability to absorb iron.  So make sure you’re adding Vitamin C rich fruits or vegetables (think brightly colored like sweet bell peppers, citrus fruits, and tomatoes) with your iron rich meals.

And limit your tea and coffee intake, as both of these have compounds (tannins and caffeine), that inhibit your body’s ability to absorb iron.

You can’t perform optimally without being able to carry optimal amounts of oxygen to your cells.  Taking these dietary steps (no matter what your current hemoglobin status) is a great do-no-harm way to ensure you are doing everything you can to keep your iron levels high…naturally.


An Inverted-U World

The other day, I received Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath in the mail.  My dad sent it to me with the instructions “Read It”.  Well, since he doesn’t ever dictate instructions like that, I started reading the day it arrived.

It’s awesome!  The premise of the book is understanding when and how perceived advantages and disadvantages effect the decisions we make….and more importantly, how sometimes we miscategorize events.

Chapter 2 is a case in point.  It discusses the concept of an Inverted-U, which looks like this:

Easy to understand, right?  Too much little of something has negative effects.  Too much of something also has negative effects.  This is part of our training since infancy:

Not enough food, we get ill.  Too much food….we get ill.

Not enough time to play, we get cranky.  Too much time to play and we don’t get our homework done…and we get cranky.

There are lots of things, once we think about this framework, that are applicable to the Inverted-U curve.

Why then, is it so easy for us to assume (and make our training plans) on the linear relationship between volume of training and performance, where we assume more is better:

Maybe we acknowledge more is not better on a daily basis — at some point every athlete reaches their max.  But what would lead us to believe more-is-better can be applied to our macro training schedule of year-round single sport competition?

We’ve talked before about the important and often forgotten benefits of late specialization for youth athletes and yet, I still see parents encouraging early sport-specialization.  I assume it is because no parent wants to take the risk of not doing everything possible to give their child-athlete the advantages that will help them unlock their potential.  But this philosophy only holds true for as long as one believes that more is always better.

When taken from an Inverted-U perspective, what we’re really looking for is the sweet spot between too little (not providing enough opportunities to train and practice skills) and too much (where the mental and physical toll of practice is doing damage at a greater rate than the athlete’s recovery rate).

I’m sure we could debate the location of this sweet spot forever and have as many opinions as we have participants in the discussion.  To me, however, several things seems obvious:

  1. There are three major points in this curve: too little, just right, and too much
  2. Eventually, everyone needs to recover
  3. Recovery can either be built into the training schedule or can come at an unscheduled time (usually due to an injury or burnout)
  4. We all get to choose for ourselves

The whole premise of David and Goliath is to think about the world around us and challenge our assumptions to see if they do indeed stand up to some critical thinking.  That’s what I’m asking here.  For the sake of our youth athletes, let’s take a critical look at our training practices and make sure the training principles we are operating from will actually meet the goals of creating healthy, well-adjusted, life-long athletes.  (Because when it comes right down to it, isn’t that what we really want for our kids?)

Enterovirus hospitalizing kids — what you should know

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably have heard about children in the US, especially in the Midwest, being hospitalized with a (usually) rare virus: Enterovirus D-68.  According to the CDC, this virus was first reported in 1962, but hasn’t often been seen since.

During this current outbreak, hundreds of kids have been hospitalized with symptoms ranging from mild to severe flu-like symptoms:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • body aches
  • fever

The real problem comes in for kids with a history of asthma or wheezing.  These kids are prone to a severe form of the virus, 15% of which are requiring hospitalization.  Yikes!

The CDC and local health departments are working to track down more information on finding the cause of this current outbreak but right now, there just isn’t enough information to understand the Why’s.  What we do know is how to limit the spread of this virus — which is, as far as I’m concerned, the more important information for athletes.

It’s important for teams and coaches to follow the common sense approach to limiting the spread of this virus.

  • Wash hands often
  • Don’t share water bottles
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Disinfect the shared equipment
  • Cover your cough: with your elbow — vampire cough, as it’s colorfully known

And possibly most difficult for athletes to understand:

  • Stay home if you’re sick — you’re not doing yourself or your teammates any favors by coming to practice and spreading your germs!

And what about those kids with asthma or wheezing?  Keep an eye out for rash, fever, or breathing difficulty.  Should these symptoms develop, you should give your doc a call and fill them in your concerns.

Need more information on Enterovirus D-68? Click here!




The (often forgotten) Importance of Breathing

“Are you breathing?” is a question I often ask my clients. Sometimes they let out an enormous exhale and sometimes they just look at me like I’m crazy. But the question still stands: are you breathing?

Often, when we are concentrating on other things (like using proper form or moving through a challenging set of weights), we hold our breathe and stop breathing.  This is part of the idea behind exhaling through the most challenging part of the repetition and inhaling through the easiest: if breathing forms part of the lifting motions, you’ll continue to breathe.

The downside of holding your breath is it increases pressure in many areas of the body.  Blood pressure will increase, creating a situation where there is an increased risk of blowing blood vessels.  Interabdominal pressure is likely to increase, as well. Perhaps you’ve seen the videos of powerlifters herniating themselves as they hold their breath through their max rep? Obviously, that would be a set back to any athlete!

On the flip side of the coin, breathing expels dirt, pollution, and other nastiness from our lungs, creating a generally healthier lung environment.  Breathing is also linked to stress reduction.  Ensuring proper breathing throughout your training session will encourage your efforts to stay centered on the muscles you are trying to strengthen rather than using that energy to maintain tension in muscles that aren’t currently being worked.

Plus, let’s not forget, the body cannot provide energy for very long without oxygen — you need to be breathing properly to ensure your ability to continue your training.

So next time you attempt a new or particularly challenging lift, give some conscious thought to maintain proper breath patterns throughout the lift and see if it helps you better as you train.  I am betting it will!

The Importance of Posture

How often do you think about your posture?  If you’re like most people, you stand like you always stand, very rarely giving any thought to your posture at all.  That may change if you injure your back or are trying to impress a date – you may stand up straighter due to pain or social pressure but for the most part, your postural muscles run on auto-pilot.

That’s not such a bad thing if you have good posture all of the time but as I people watch during my workday, I find most of us could use a little reminder about what good posture is and why it’s important for us take time to actively work on it.

According to Clara John, at BrianMac Sports Coach, good posture is defined by these attributes:

  • Upright head positioned to keep the ears over the shoulders
  • Shoulders should be rolled back at the joints
  • Upper back should not be arched or humped — stay tall
  • An arc in lower back is also vital by keeping the belly button in and hips neutral
  • Knees should be relaxed and slightly bent

This standing posture is an energy saver and will allow gravity to work for you.  Much like a tall stack of blocks, when your joints are stacked on top of one another, gravity’s pull reduced the amount of work it takes to stay upright. The smaller stabilizing muscles will make small adjustments to keep you balanced but there isn’t a great deal of strain put on these muscles when the spine is in proper alignment.

When part of the body is hanging off this tall stack (for example, if your upper body is slumping over in a relaxed, slouchy posture) gravity is now working against you.  When your muscles relax and your posture collapses, gravity pulls unevenly on your spine. Your giant, heavy head hangs off your skinny and, comparatively weak, neck, leaving your ligaments and tendons straining to hold your joints together.

All of this effectively creates the need for the body to fight against gravity. This constant fight between the slouching body and gravity results in noticeable fatigue pretty quickly. Ligaments and tendons were not created to operate in this fashion.  The resulting strain to these tissues wear then down over time and the slouchers among us start to feel pain in our necks, upper and lower backs from our bad habit.

AND since the muscles are not actively engaged, they weaken.  This increases the instability of the back both during rest and at play.  Obviously, weak muscles increase the risk for musculoskeletal injuries and can result in an injury from something as simple as bending over to pick up a pencil or small laundry basket.  Not a very pretty picture, huh?

Here’s where the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” comes in.  Stand up straight — every minute your posture is in correct alignment, you are increasing the endurance power of those muscles at the same time you are decreasing your risk of injury to ligament, tendon, bones and muscle.

Plus, you’ll seem taller, thinner, more confident and all around more attractive….if you care about that sort of thing.