Thursday, October 30, 2014

Is Vitamin D An X-Factor Nutrient for Health and Fitness? Yes…

A recent study found that vitamin D levels correlated strongly with physical strength and power among soccer players. What made this finding of particular note is that a nutrient that is typically associated with bone strength and immune-system support, is found to greatly benefit elite levels of muscle strength.

The study focused on pro soccer players in Greece. It specifically found that the players who had higher vitamin D levels during the season (from the sun, not supplements) had faster ten- and twenty-meter sprint times, better leaping ability, and higher VO2 max, which is a measure of endurance strength. They specifically measured squat jumps and counter-measure jumps for the leaping piece of the study.

The study indicated a "linear relationship" between tested D levels, and the speed and power measurements, meaning that the higher D test results were invariably associated with better sprinting and jumping ability. These are results that any Everyman in training can hang her hat on. Get your vitamin D levels up, preferably with moderate doses of full-body UVB rays, and supplements when that's not possible, such as living in the northeastern US during the winter.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that has the effect of a seco-steroid hormone, similar to testosterone or cortisol. Vitamin D receptors (VDRs) are found in cells all throughout the body, including in muscles. The study authors stated that major muscle groups in the legs specifically benefit from better vitamin D profiles (thus providing the results they found for sprinting and jumping). In other words, vitamin D seems to have a greater benefit on leg power than upper-body strength.

Working out hard seems to lower vitamin D levels, due to "training stress," according to the study. Natural vitamin D levels went up during the off-season, when the players rested, but their power and strength dropped. This indicated that training is still the primary factor in strength and power, but an improved vitamin-D profile will give an athlete the edge, not to mention the injury-prevention factor.

Reference and link to study: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0101659

Monday, October 6, 2014

It Makes Little Sense To Run A 10-12 Year Old Soccer Player Through High-Intensity Intervals

I do a little Fall soccer coaching, and once in awhile another coach will tell me about the sprints they did in practice, or I'll hear a rueful tale from one of the young players.  Beyond 20-yard warm-ups or a single "suicide drill" to get the attention of an unruly bunch, I see repetitive sprinting as virtually useless as a training technique for boys.

Athletically, young boys are designed for random play, as in run after each other and the ball, leap, climb, and sometimes fall comically on to the ground, not be systematically exposed to high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

A young athlete's heart rate is very different than an adult's. For example, a 10-12 year-old boy or girl has a resting heart rate  (RHR) of 85-95 beats per minute (bpm) (it can vary, some may go lower, for others it could be 100).  An older, male competitive soccer player's heart-rate, on the other hand, will go at about 36-62 bpm. When I was a young soccer player my RHR was below 40.

To use a hyperbolic metaphor, imagine taking a hummingbird (cooking along at about 1,000 bpm) and trying to blast its heart rate further over and over again, to "improve its cardiovascular condition."

When a 10 to 12 year old boy is sleeping, their heart is beating as fast as a well-trained adult's when they are walking uphill. They don't have the heart rate reserve (maximum heart rate - resting heart rate) of an adult, to accomodate sustained periods of anaerobic sprinting at or very close to their maximim heart rate.

An adult male soccer player's heart rate reserve could exceed 160 beats (200 - 40), while a little kid's may be no more than 100 beats. So using hard sprinting drills for young soccer players is not only useless from a fitness standpoint, it actually goes against the design of their hearts and bodies.

As long as they are not overweight or obese when the season begins, kids will get very fit for soccer simply by taking part in the scrimmages and drills during practice. I've noticed kids make fitness gains much faster than out-of-shape adults getting back into exercise–the soccer conditioning blossoms in a couple of weeks or less.

The scrimmages are also obviously using the specific muscles and movements of the game, which is more useful training than static sprinting, which may tell you more about the coach's ego than work well as a training strategy.

If you feel the need to augment soccer training at the young ages, you'd be better off introducing light weighttraining (like taking a couple of 2 to 5 pound hand weights and doing push presses, or some light weight cable pulls), as it's another modern myth that all weight training is inappropriate for young boys.  And get them out of vitamin D deficiency!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What Factors Promote Peak Days For Weightlifting And Other Athletics?

I had a peak day today.  I felt surprisingly strong, like I could lift more and more…and more, and just about reached my PR with a bench press, which for me is the nirvana of pressing 1.5 times my body weight. Ever have days like that? It's been almost a month since I've had one of those days (is it "my time of the month?"), and I try to ponder the factors that promote these peak performances for the everyday athlete.

Here's what I've come up with for starters:

Vitamin D. Each morning before the peak day I took a 4000-IU vitamin D. My vitamin-D level right now is about 45 ng/ml, and I typically take 2000-4000 IU/day, or just enjoy some sun exposure (but at 57 I don't make Vitamin D naturally as well as I used to).

Vitamin D is an athletic-booster in terms of strength, reaction time, and endurance, and this notion can be found in the scientific literature. The fat-soluble vitamin is essentially a legal, seco-steroid hormone for athletes. This has been known since the East German trainers of the 1970s (and they admittedly did some really weird, illegal things to their athletes, but exposing them to UVB light to boost their vitamin D levels was not one).

I think the D supplements have contributed to my peak days. The only other supplement I take is vitamin K, but I would consider more, including magnesium. Fitness For Geeks will really inform you about vitamins and minerals!

Sleep. This is a no-brainer; I had very deep sleeps before each peak day. Possibly, the brain, where all health and athleticism begins, was more rested and focused for promoting the neurological events that must take place for a high rate of muscle contractions. Or, among other things, the adequate sleep promoted better growth hormone secretions?

Ironically, the day before was a "low" day for me. I had a poor sleep, due to stress and things happening in my life, and felt somewhat agitated with a less than perfect sense of well-being. Could the bounce-back from a low day, psychically and physiologically, help promote a peak day? It's an interesting concept, at any rate, and perhaps when you're feeling lowly, you can give yourself a kick in the pants by realizing, "tomorrow might be peak!"

Rest. Another no-brainer; I did not have heavy training days prior to the peak day. There's no way you can train day after day and expect a lot of peak performances in return. In fact, the "less is more" approach to training is one of the smart, beneficial fitness concepts that has come to the fore. I lift weights about four times per week, which for me is necessary for muscling up, but I often feel stronger when scheduling conflicts have forced me away from weightlifting for a week or more.

Fasted workout. Both peak days came during a fasted workout with coffee and vitamin D only. Caffeine is also a performance enhancer. However, virtually all my workouts are fasted this way, so I might have to discount this factor.

Night before meal. I had a healthy, home-cooked Paleo-ish kind of dinner with roasted chicken and lots of veggies, and one large glass of wine. This is the way I almost always eat, so I'll almost have to discount that factor, in terms of promoting a peak day. However, sometimes I put myself back to sleep with a glass of milk when I find myself waking up in the dark (ahh…aging…), and I didn't do that the night before, so perhaps I had very low fasting insulin and higher growth hormone at lifting time (milk, I drink whole milk, will probably elevate your fasting insulin).

Peak days are definitely not solely due to luck or coincidence; it's what you do in the 48 hours or so leading up to them that matters.