5 Questions Athletes should ask Themselves at the End of Each Day

Reflection and review are important to any successful training program.  You have to have an accurate sense of your training status because we all know, just going through the motions is not the pathway to success.

Like a great training program itself, you will be more effective in your analysis  if you use a systematic approach to reviewing your program.  This means a system of questions and a systematic time of day to ensure the review gets done completely and thoroughly….daily.  When done daily, you can be nimble and responsive as your training needs change.

Here are 5 questions every athlete should be asking themselves every day to make sure they are doing their best for themselves and their team.

1. Did I do my best?

This is a yes or no question.  Sometimes, we get so caught up in justifying why we didn’t do our best, we forget to acknowledge we just didn’t give it our all.  I’m not asking you to beat yourself up — I’m asking for honesty.  If you didn’t give it your all, you have room for improvement tomorrow.  At this point, reasons do not matter.

2. How do I feel?

This addresses your physical and mental sense of well-being.  Athletes are encouraged to push through the discomfort during training and competition.  However, you need to make some time to assess your aches and pains.  Are you feeling the beginnings of an injury in the making?  If you never take time to listen to the quiet signals of what your body is telling you, the signals will get louder and louder until you’re dealing with an injury that sidelines you.

The same set of assessment skills needs to be applied to your mental state.  All of us get burned out on training from time to time but if you start to notice burnout taking a solid hold of your mental state, it’s time to address the cause and take action to alleviate it.  Action could be something as simple as making sure you get extra sleep for the next day or too —  or as complicated as needing to revising your training schedule to give yourself some deep recovery.  Either way, your performance will suffer if you don’t address the issue.

3. How stressed out am I?

Competing priorities add stress exponentially.  Although we are used to handling a certain amount of stress, sometimes levels get out of control and end up taking a toll on our bodies.  Stress reduces blood flow and increases blood pressure –both of which can impede healing.  Stress can cause tight muscles, extra fatigue, and lack of concentration.  All of these not only make us less effective athletes but also increase our risk of getting hurt!  So pay attention to your stress levels!

4. How did I treat my teammates and coaches?

Even if you compete in an individual sport, you still have a team that supports you.  Whether it’s the people you train with, your coaches and trainers, or, in the case of recreational athletes, your family and coworkers.  How you treat them matters!  One of the greatest skills an athlete can bring to the table is the ability to set aside all non-essential details in pursuit of a goal.  Your team IS essential but it’s easy to forget just much of a role your team plays in your success.  You don’t want to treat them poorly — you need their support!

5. What do I need to change for tomorrow?

Once you’ve gleaned the data of your day through asking yourself these questions, what are you going to do with it?  The only way you’ll improve your athletic outcome is to act on the information you’ve discovered.  Based on what you’ve learned, what needs to change tomorrow for you to be able to answer question #1 with a resounding yes and no “yeah but’s”?

Experiencing Hip Pain?

Play sports long enough and you’re going to experience some pain.  Hopefully, with the right diagnosis and treatment, the time you spend away from your sport will be short but what happens if a nagging injury persists?  According to a recent report, this can be a common situation with hip pain.

The first thing to realize with hip pain is although you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your hips (unless they are causing you pain), the joint and structure supporting it is amazingly complicated.  Think about how much range of motion the joint is designed to provide.  Add to that the amazing amount of force that can be transferred through the joint (running causes impact forces of 2-3 times your body weight!).  To get both strong and flexible means there’s a lot going on in this joint.  When someone is experiencing hip pain, the source could be as near as the joint structure itself, as distant as the back or could be sourced any place in between.

One often misdiagnosed issue is hip impingement.  This results from the ball or socket of this joint being out of round and impeding the movement of the joint.  Under many conditions, this abnormal movement can lead to a tear in the labrum (the rim of cartilage around the edge of the socket that helps keep the ball in socket).  This tear then causes pain in portions of the hip range of motion and, often, is initially diagnosed as a groin pull.

One tell-tale sign that it is something other than a groin pull is if the pain seems to persist even after taking the standard muscle pull precautions of ice, rest, massage, easy movement and gentle stretching.  If left untreated, this injury could potentially lead to arthritis development within the joint.  Treatment often consists physical therapy or perhaps, a minimally invasive surgery.

As with everything else, the real key is to make sure the muscles surrounding your hips are as strong as possible making it less likely that an injury will occur in the first place.  However, if you’re experiencing hip pain that last more than a couple of days, it may be time to visit your trainer, physical therapist, or orthopedist to make sure you’re doing everything possible to get those hips pain-free and healing correctly.

What’s your Best By date really telling you?

So you’re a busy athlete with a full training schedule and a life on top of that.  Add to that your desire to eat more whole foods (which necessitates shopping and cooking) and the occasional stress of having a fridge full of food about to go bad.  Not a recipe for stress-free living, right?  Maybe this can help.

The general thought is that many whole foods are expensive to purchase but often, the largest part of that expense is the food waste that comes with having to throw out food about to go bad!  (to the tune of 33 pounds of food waste per person per month!) Ultimately, whole foods are a great investment in your body’s health and performance but not if that food starts to go bad before you have a chance to use it or figure out how to store it for later.

That’s where Eat By Date comes in.  The website states:

It may come as a shock, but printed food dates are not federally regulated and do not refer to food safety. Thus, it is usually safe to eat your “expired” food after its printed date has passed.  Getting to the bottom of whether a food is okay it eat is as easy as clicking over to their website and searching for the food or browsing the food categories.

The articles for each food are filled with tips to determine when something is getting ready to go bad and tips on what you can to do save that food before it has to go in the garbage.

If you’re committed to improving your nutritional profile through eating more real food, it’s worth the time investment to improve your understanding of the foods your buying.  This is a an easy to use website designed to do just that!

Training to Change the World

Hey – all you endurance athletes — Here’s a cool app that let’s you train and improve your world!

Charity Miles, started in 2013, rounds up corporate sponsors willing to donate to great causes, all in the name of publicity.  You and I can harness this power-for-the-good next time we head outside or to the gym to train.  These sponsors are willing to pay $.25/mile for walking and running and $.10 for each biking mile you log, to a charity of your choice, while the app is running!

The app uses your phone’s GPS and accelerometer to calculate your mileage and shows you the amount you’ve raised for your charity of choice during each workout.  And speaking of charities — there are plenty to choose from:

  • Girls on the Run
  • Wounded Warrior
  • Standup to Cancer
  • Feeding America
  • World Wildlife Fund

and 27 more…. so lots of options!

The only downsides to this app seem to be getting into the habit of turning it on before you start to workout out and that the use of the GPS adds some battery drain to your device.

On the upside, it’s available for both Apple and Android devices, it’s easy to download and set up, and with every session, you hard work is paying off not just for your performance but also for the charity of your choice!

Want to know more?  Get the FAQs!



Injury Prevention — how are the pros doing it?

For any athlete, the key to a long athletic career (even if it’s only ever your hobby), is to stay healthy and injury-free.  You may think with all the great advances in medical options, minimally invasive surgeries, and physical therapy techniques prevention is not as important as it once was.

Not true!  And to prove my point, let’s look at a company just names one of the Top 50 Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company: Catapult Sports.

Catapult is selling a specially design wearable gadget to elite Teams like the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, and Baylor University that can measure, according to the company, heart rate, speed, distance traveled, player load, and acceleration and deceleration force.  This information is then processed into usable data to help coaches make informed decisions about practice schedules, recovery needs, and rest states of their athletes — all in an effort to keep those players healthy and injury-free.

I know most of you are not playing to this level…yet…but if you have aspirations of taking your performance to the next level, you need to make injury prevention a priority just like those who manage the pros!

This means making use of the data tracking available to you right now.  Are you monitoring your sleep to understand and ensure proper rest and recovery?  Monitoring your daily activity, as well as, the efforts your putting into training?  Are you logging your nutrient intake — and then taking the next step of pulling all of that data together to make sure the 22 hours a day you aren’t actively training are still inline and supporting your training goals?

You may not be able to afford the Catapult system but there are any number of wearable devices that will help you collect and analyze all of this data.  From FitBit to Garmin to Jawbone, depending on what you really want to monitor, there are options available in many price ranges.

Don’t lose out on getting the edge you need because your not taking care of yourself.  Injury prevention is key to athletic performance and knowing how your training is effecting your body is key to staying injury-free.

Maximalist Shoes….really?

We’ve officially come full circle.  From the minimalist shoe movement of the recent past, the pendulum has now swung to the opposite end of the arc with the advent of ……wait for it….. that’s right — the maximalist shoe.

As the name implies, these shoes can have up to 2.5X the volume in the sole as traditional running shoes.  This creates a really tall, highly cushioned shoe designed to give maximum cushioning while still providing rebound to help speed you along.

But before this trend follows it’s natural course and those of us left disillusioned with the minimalist shoe revolution jump on this new, much softer, bandwagon, let’s take a minute to think about this little piece of advice:

“To me, maximalist shoes fall right in the line of every other shoe trend,” she said. “There’s some good reasoning, but we don’t know enough about how it affects the body longer term, and we won’t know until everyone has been using it a while and all the other research comes out about how it destroys your body or whatever, and then there’s a lawsuit, and then there’s a campaign about how to use the technology properly, and then in the midst of all this confusion the next trend takes off. There is no shoe savior coming for us.”  –Lauren Fleshman

I think that quote says it all.  Many of the injuries athletes suffer happen over the long term.  Short duration studies may give you the mechanics of what a new shoe can do but it isn’t going to tell you how this action is going to effect the body when repeated over hundreds of thousands of strides.

There isn’t a shoe out there that’s going to be able to take an average runner and make them great.  A shoe is a tool — no more and no less.  While a shoe can provide protection and comfort, it can’t completely compensate for every biomechanical peculiarity of an athlete.  Shoes may play a part but so will training volumes, strength, and movement patterns.

So before you get caught up in this new trend, take a moment to examine what your expectations for these shoes really are.  I suspect most of us are better off staying away from either end of the shoe sole spectrum and, instead, focusing the financial resources we save on additional coaching and guidance to help us maximize our strength and running efficiency.

HT: Jay Dicharry an athlete’s body

Common sense isn’t sexy but neither is an Achilles injury

Here’s an amazing statistic:

It’s estimated 52% of all distance runners will injure their Achilles tendon at some point.  Better than half of all distance runners!

The greatest stress to the Achilles, for runners, is running downhill.  If you’re looking to reduce your risk of injury, running on flat courses are a way to reduce this kind of stress.  However, if you’re on of those runners planning on running the Kalamazoo Marathon/Borgess Run for the Health of It this spring (like our 1200+ Run Campers), avoiding the downhills all together is just not possible.

If you can’t avoid downhill running, what else can you do to limit your risk of Achilles injury??

Use your common sense!  Our bodies do an amazing job at adapting to many different kinds of stresses to which we subject it.  The key is to make sure we are easing in to those changes slowly enough to give the body time to change our physiology to meet the demands of the new stresses.

For our Run Campers just starting out and anyone who normally trains on a flat course, this means making sure to add their downhill mileage slowly enough to give the body time to strengthen all of our tendons — not just our Achilles.  Tendons and ligaments, like muscles, will get stronger when we put them under additional demands.  However, these adaptions take longer than it takes muscle to adapt to the same stresses.  The take home:

Ease into any new training demand slowly and give your body time to adapt.

This training strategy isn’t as sexy as throwing yourself into a high intensity training plan full of hills but it is the smarter and safe choice for those of us who don’t want to fall victim to a nagging, slow to heal Achilles injury that could potentially sideline us for months.

Be smart.  Add to the volume of Achilles stress slowly.  Stay healthy and we will see you out on our course May 3!

Another reason to steer clear of supplements!

As is often the case here, this is just another example of why the main source of the nutrients you need to perform at your highest level, should come from real food:

The Attorney General from the state of New York has asked major retailers to halt the sale of a number of store brand supplements because these “products… either could not be verified to contain the labeled substance, or which were found to contain ingredients not listed on the labels”.

The investigation leading up to the report and subsequent actions against retailers GNC, Walgreens, Walmart, and Target, used DNA testing to identify ingredients in 6 different herbal supplements across 13 regions of the state of New York.

According to the Attorney General’s press release:

“While overall 21% of the product tests confirmed DNA barcodes from the plant species listed on the labels, 35% of the product tests identified DNA barcodes from plant species not listed on the labels, representing contaminants and fillers. A large number of the tests did not reveal any DNA from a botanical substance of any kind. Some of the contaminants identified include rice, beans, pine, citrus, asparagus, primrose, wheat, houseplant, wild carrot, and others. In many cases, unlisted contaminants were the only plant material found in the product samples.”

So only 21% of the products tested contained what the packaging said it contained!  Add to that, 35% of the products contained ingredients NOT listed on the label!!

You might ask yourself, with the emphasis put on label reading and being an informed consumer, how is this possible??  But don’t forget — the Food and Drug Administration (the Federal agency charged with ensuring prescription medications are safe and effective) does not oversee Over the Counter (OTC) products like supplements.  There is NO government agency ensuring the safety and efficacy of any kind of supplement!!

Given this fact, how can you know, with certainty, what is in the supplements you are taking?  Right now, there are a number of private testing companies providing certifications for supplements but how rigorous is there testing? We as consumers just don’t know! Consumer advocacy groups like Consumer Reports have been testing not only what is in the products but also whether or not there is scientific evidence to support supplements actually do what they say they do.  Often, these reports end as articles entitled:

What’s Wrong with Herbal Remedies
6 Reasons Not to Take Zinc for Your Cold
Garcinia cambogia weight-loss pill is no miracle

And at the same time articles like this tell us not to waste our money on these supplements, they also highlight real dangers found lurking in the ingredients of some of these supplements.  Some testing agencies have found “prescription drugs, experimental drugs, and even untested “designer” drugs” as unlisted ingredients in OTC supplements!  And worse yet, some of these ingredients can show up a banned substances in pre-competition drug screens!!!

Is it really worth the to risk your health AND your chance to compete at the next level to put your faith in an industry that is unregulated and has been shown to lie and cheat to make a profit off of us?

It’s time to us to take stand and stop looking in the wrong places for that little something extra!  Eat clean, train hard, and be smart about what you are putting into your body — that is the BEST way to take it to take your training to the next level!

If you would like more information on the NY Attorney General’s actions, click here!

Does your Kid need a Premium Sports Drink?

The short answer: most of the time, they don’t need a sports drink, premium or not!

When there’s money to made, lots of companies are willing to jump into the ring to compete which leads to more marketing designed to convince us we need something we really don’t.  Case in point, as of 2013, sports drinks are a $6.9 billion market  and new companies are looking to take down the old standbys at every turn.

Fooducate recently reviewed one such sports drink aimed at making parents feel better about their kids’ sports drink options.

Fooducate’s review on the pros and cons of this particular sports drink are worth hopping over to the site to read.

What strikes me most is how, again and again, I see parents feeling compelled to give their kids (and themselves) sports drinks for fear the athlete will not recover from a game or training session without them.  Serving up 9 teaspoons of sugar, these drinks are not a positive for athletes unless they’ve really expended a lot of energy or lost a number of pounds of fluid.  Honestly, most of us just aren’t training for that long at that high of an intensity.

The threshold for sports drink usage is above 60 minutes of intense exercise (with the common sense caveat of high heat/high humidity conditions will make this time shorter). Under the 60 minute threshold, with normal environmental conditions, where, let’s be honest, most kids train and compete most of the time, water and fruit will work just fine to rehydrate and replenish any lost electrolytes.  Plus, let’s face it, the fruit is going to give the athlete fiber, vitamins, minerals and a mindset that real food is a better alternative to manufactured food.  A neon blue sports drink just can’t compete with that!

Ultra-hyped sports products almost never live up to their performance promises.  While your athletes may not have to worry about the obesity crisis in the same way other kids do, you still want to give them the tools that will best serve them well into adulthood.  Learning the importance of rehydrating with water and refueling with fruit is one of the lessons that will help them maintain their athletic abilities long into the future.

For more information on sports drink guidelines, check out this great guide from the American College of Sports Medicine!


You are not a Machine

More, bigger, faster remains the prevailing mantra in most organizations.

Machines have no interior life and they can run continuously, for long periods of time, on a single source of energy. Human beings are designed to pulse between spending and renewing energy.  –T. Schwartz

How many times have you heard and used the machine comparisons as it relates to your body and your performance.  We use them all the time — talking about being more efficient, fueling, performance, limits…you name it.  But, guess what? You body isn’t a machine.  It has mechanical functions, electrical circuits, it is subject to physics, and it can be taken apart and put back together…all like a machine.  But there’s something else….something magic we don’t understand that really pulls it all together and makes it come alive.

And what is that magic?  Your spirit, will, consciousness…we have different words for it but whatever we call it, we can’t forget it in our quest to be great.

Are you actively cultivating renewal for this magic part of yourself? Rest, playing, ensuring time with family and friends even when training demands are high?  Foods more closely aligned with comfort than performance? Days on the couch watching TV in sweatpants not designed to wick?

As our culture, both in sport and in general, continues to push the mantra of bigger, faster, more, the drive for continual improvement will end up at injury, or worse, burnout, if we don’t remember this important fact:

We are not machines.

We need rest, renewal, comfort, and non-competitive social interactions.  If this is not a staple in your training plan, both in the office and at the gym, you’ll never be as great as you could be because you do not have a clear vision of what you really are.