Summer of Nuun: Testing the Nuun Electrolytes hydration supplement

Sometimes I get lucky. A few months back, I found out I was a winner. A winner of stuff!

Race Advisors – a cool outfit that publishes reviews of races from all over – does a weekly giveaway to its social media followers, and my name turned up. What I got: A package of Nuun Electrolytes, made by a company that specializes in performance nutrition you need without all the sugar and other “extra” stuff that comes with so many other sports drinks and supplements.

I’ve heard of Nuun before. They’re all over the place on all things running. Part of the deal were four sleeves of tablets that I was free to use. At the time, summer was just getting ready to start, so this was a great time to do some experimenting.

WHAT IS IT?

Technically, each tablet of Nuun Electrolytes is designed to supplement 16 ounces of water with sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. When you work out, you sweat a lot. And that means more than losing just water. Certain nutrients are also lost, minerals that are essential to proper body function, especially during exercise.

But how does it work? Think of this visual: Have you ever used Alka-Seltzer? It works just like that. You take a glass/bottle of water, snag a Nuun tablet, and drop it in. It dissolves in effervescent fashion, and in about a minute, presto! You have an electrolyte-infused drink to replenish your body. It’s got 10 calories a pop, and a remarkably short ingredients list.

My guess is you can use this in one of two ways: Prepare the drink beforehand and bring a bottle of it with you as you run (for longer runs) or use it as a recovery tool after a hard workout.

HOW DID IT DO?

Over the summer, my miles drop. It’s freakin’ hot in Tulsa, so there aren’t many long runs happening for me. But when I run, I work hard and sweat a lot. If I’m not hydrated perfectly, those wonderful dehydration headaches appear, and I’m lethargic as can be, even if I down a bunch of water when I’m done. So my test was simple: Would Nuun help me avoid both?

I burned through a few tubes of Nuun tablets over the course of three hot months of running. So this isn’t a “try it a couple of times and review it” sort of test. I know I’m only one guy, but I think the duration of usage should count for something.

I’m also what might be called a “high-demand” person when it comes to post-workout recovery. I sweat buckets, even in mild temps, so that means I’m losing a lot of water and electrolytes at every workout.

The taste takes a little getting used to. It’s not sugar-sweet like a lot of popular sports drinks. My advice: Let the tablets dissolve for a minute, then drink. It goes down pretty good then.

But I also think it did its job. Sixteen ounces of a Nuun-infused drink definitely helped curb those headaches. And yeah, I did notice that the post-workout sluggishness that usually happens after a super-heated 90-minute workout was noticeably blunted. So that’s a win-win.

A further test would include taking a water bottle with Nuun in it, but I didn’t go that far. However, I do have numerous long runs planned in the coming weeks, and maybe that will be a good time to test it further.

But the bottom line is Nuun advertises that it not only helps you hydrate, but replenishes valuable minerals the body needs to keep working and recover more quickly. So far, so good. It seems to have done the job for me.

Price: A sleeve of 10 tablets is $7.

Disclaimer: Nuun and Race Advisors furnished me with four sleeves of tablets at no cost to me, and with no obligation of review or promotion.

Bob Doucette

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It’s past time to scrap ‘The Biggest Loser’

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If you’ve followed this blog much over the years, you understand that I take fitness and the outdoors seriously. Spending time in the outdoors is, I believe, critical to our physical and mental well-being as well as to our understanding of how the planet works. Being fit dovetails nicely into that, as being more fit allows you to do more (and thus enrich the experience) outside.

So I follow fitness trends carefully, partly to help myself, and partly to share things I’ve learned here. Let me say from the outset, I am all for anything that gets people moving, in shape, and healthier.

A little more than a decade ago, a reality TV show and competition emerged on NBC called “The Biggest Loser.” Its premise was to take people whose lives were hijacked and even threatened by their obesity, and to put them through a rigorous diet and exercise program to help them shed the weight, get in shape, and be healthy. The winner of the show was the person who lost the most weight. The promise to the viewers: inspiring stories of how these people, with the help of their trainers and nutritionists, took back their lives.

I’ve watched the show from time to time. And I’ve read quite a bit about it. And I have one conclusion.

I loathe “The Biggest Loser.” Despise it. And I have a few reasons why.

First, the training programs shown on the program are injurious. You can’t take someone who is morbidly obese and have them work out for six or more hours a day. This is a schedule even professional athletes can’t maintain. Contestants are shown running on treadmills, lifting weights and doing all sorts of metabolic conditioning exercises until they drop from exhaustion, all the while being yelled at by celebrity coaches to get off their butts and do more. No trainer in their right mind would ever put these folks on such a program. Their fat-to-muscle ratio is far too out of whack to put that kind of strain on their muscles, tendons and ligaments. Injuries – stress fractures, knee problems and more – have been known to pile up on the show (you can read about that and more here, in this story about former contestant Kai Hibbard). The contestants should be eased into a program, which can intensify as they get stronger and begin to shed weight. But no, that won’t happen because it doesn’t conform to a TV production schedule.

Second, the radical training programs and extreme caloric deprivation from the contestants’ diets create metabolic damage. A recent New York Times article highlighted a study in which past contestants of the show were tracked to see how well they maintained their new weight, and why things did or didn’t work. In nearly every case, they couldn’t keep the weight off after the show, often regaining 100 pounds or more. Many gained all their weight back, and then some. Even the best-case scenarios showed significant weight gain. Contestants who continued to exercise faithfully and maintain low-calorie diets piled the pounds back on. The reason? Their bodies were so shocked by the new regimen (daily food intake would be cut to 1,000 calories or less) that they reset their metabolism to a slower rate to conserve energy. If calories were cut back even further, the body reacted by putting the brakes on their already slowed metabolisms to match. This is metabolic damage, and it runs deep, all the way to the hormonal level. So for the sake of ratings and a spectacular reveal show at each season’s finale, producers set up the contestants to fail miserably once they were outside the “guidance” of their trainers and nutritionists.

Third, the show actually is more discouraging than encouraging to viewers. Winning a shot to be a contestant allows the “lucky” few to have the time and outside advice to radically (if not healthily, and definitely temporarily) transform their physiques. But for the rest of us, who has six months to take off from work and turn working out into a full-time job? Who has the sort of funds to hire expert trainers and nutritionists to monitor every rep, every step, and every bite? The answer: Almost no one. It’s unattainable. And even if it were, the extremes these people go through on the show will, to most sane people, look impossible. Imagine yourself as someone who is a couple hundred ponds overweight, and getting the message that you’ll have to spend the equivalent to a full work day every day doing nothing but hard exercise for half a year. It would be similar to asking a person who can’t run a block to log 30 miles a week right now. People need to know a healthy transformation can occur without these extremes, and be shown how. “The Biggest Loser” does the opposite.

"Give me another 100 reps! NBC demands it!"

“Give me another 100 reps! NBC demands it!”

Looking at all this, I cannot imagine celebrity trainers like Jillian Michaels ever putting their “real life” clients through something like this (to her credit, she recently backed out of the show, but not before cashing in on the fame it created for her). I can’t fathom any nutritionist cutting someone’s caloric intake so deeply as to induce a near-permanent metabolic crash. But they do it because the show can make them famous, and that can benefit their own businesses.

Few things would please me more than if the producers of this show would grow a conscience and end it. But “The Biggest Loser” is actively seeking contestants for Season 17, culling a list of a couple hundred thousand applicants to another crew of hopefuls wanting to change their lives. Sponsors like Planet Fitness, Larabar, and others will keep lining up to ride the show’s publicity coattails to profits.

What will happen is that the cast will be led into an unsustainable, unrealistic and probably damaging experience that’s been repeated far too often. And a televised version of frankenfitness rolls on, as long as we keep watching and enabling what is the opposite of health, fitness and well-being.

Bob Doucette

Eight little things to boost your health and fitness

When you're trying to improve fitness and athletic performance, it's often doing -- and not doing -- the little things that takes you to the next level.

When you’re trying to improve fitness and athletic performance, it’s often doing — and not doing — the little things that takes you to the next level.

Search the Internet and the bookstores long enough, and you’re bound to find “revolutionary” workout programs and diets that promise to transform your life. The thing about these deals is they have broad appeal, resonating with athletes and the out-of-shape alike.

Some of these are good: Bill Phillips made a mint with “Body for Life,” mostly because the exercise and diet plans he made were easy to follow and effective in terms of spurring fat loss, muscle gain and overall health.

Others are junk. I won’t get into those here, but if anything is promising great results from a pill or a workout plan that includes massive numbers of reps, weird gadgets or whatnot, buyer beware.

What doesn’t sell a lot of books, videos, gear or dietary supplements, however, is possibly the secret to getting where you want, and it costs nothing. And that’s doing the little things.

I’ve noticed that when I get the little things wrong, or ignore them altogether, I often don’t get the results I’m looking for in terms of maintaining my fitness or improving my overall health and athletic performance. So it’s always nice to do an audit of your behaviors and see where you could stand to add or subtract some of the little things.

DO THESE THINGS

Take the stairs. I live in a multiple-story apartment building, with my unit on the tenth floor. It would be easy enough to take the elevator every day, and most of the time, I do. But when I finish my shift at work and come home, I make a point to forgo the elevator and turn my apartment into a tenth-floor walk-up. That gives me about two minutes and thirty seconds of glute/quad/hamstring and calf work and gets my heart rate up a bit, and an added 450 feet of vertical gain every week.

Getting your vert, urban style.

Getting your vert, urban style. (pixelwhip.com photo)

If you live a few floors up, you can do the same. If you work in a high-rise building, start taking the stairs, and if that’s too much, take the elevator part of the way, then get your extra work by walking the stairs the rest of the way. When you’re about and about, skip the escalators and elevators and climb those stairs. One stair climb is small, but turn that into a daily habit over a year, and you’ll be that much more fit and strong than you were before.

Walk or ride to work. This may not be possible for everyone, and certainly the weather can dictate how you get to and from your job. But if it’s possible, consider walking or riding your bike to work. This is a particularly good idea if your workplace has a shower you can use; then your options increase even more. You might even be able to run to work, if that’s your thing. It will take some planning, and it won’t be nearly as simply as dressing for work, jumping into your car and heading down the road. But you burn no calories driving (sometimes, you consume them if you make a habit of snagging a latte on the way to the office), nor do you work any muscles. A human-powered commute will do both.

Stow the cellphone more often. I wish I had a timer to see how many minutes (hours?) a day or a week I burn just looking at my phone. And I wonder how much less intense my workouts are when I have my phone with me, even if I’m using it as a music player. I’ve found that leaving the phone out of my workout plans makes for a better-paced, more intense session than when it’s with me. Too often, a social media notification or a text message pops up, and the temptation to check Facebook or Twitter gets the best of us when we should be focusing on the task at hand. Most of the time, that stuff can wait.

Even in a non-training situation, the wonderfully connected world of that hand-held device can be a tremendous time-suck. How many more things could you get done around the house if you just left it in your bedroom for a couple of hours? How much more quickly would you get to sleep if you didn’t spend time in bed staring at that little glowing screen? How much more peaceful is that hike or run when you’re completely unplugged? If you don’t know the answer, maybe it’s time to put the damn thing down and find out.

Get more plant-based foods in your diet. Seriously. We’ve been hounded about eating our fruits and veggies. But come on, man. Just do it. The nutrients and fiber in plant-based foods are awesome for you, and if you eat enough of these (start out at getting six servings a day), you won’t need a lot of supplements you may be taking now. Put some greens on that sandwich. Build a wrap with some spinach. Make a salad a big part of your dinner. Put some berries in your cereal or oatmeal in the morning. Your body will love you for it.

CUT BACK ON THESE THINGS

Lessen your booze intake. I’m no teetotaler. Far from it. If folks enjoy a beer or some wine or a nice single-malt Scotch, I’m good with that. I like that stuff, too. But let’s talk about a few things related to alcohol, and how it affects your health.

Any alcoholic drink has calories, sometimes lots of them. Alcoholic drinks also contain sugar. Aside from a few small health benefits of having a drink every now and then, the fact is if you’re a regular drinker, you’re taking in empty calories (anywhere from 90 to 400 calories a serving, depending on what you’re drinking) that go straight into your body’s storage containers, which we know as fat cells. Popular mixed drinks, which often contain fruit juices and syrups, are tasty but they’re also massive calorie bombs. So if you want to gain flabby weight, drink up.

Alcohol also dehydrates the body. Drink too much booze, and that headache you get is actually a reaction to dehydration. Alcohol consumption will detract from athletic performance, be it during training or in competition.

I do love me some good beer. But this needs to be an occasional treat and not a daily habit if you're looking to take your fitness to the next level.

I do love me some good beer. But this needs to be an occasional treat and not a daily habit if you’re looking to take your fitness to the next level.

Lastly, let’s look at beer. The hops in beer helps spike levels of estrogen in the body, which can give the fellas those distinct beer bellies and man boobs. It can also lower testosterone levels, which will affect athletic performance and recovery as well as sex drive. And for any beer consumer, regardless of gender, these fluctuations can throw your hormones out of balance — never a good thing.

If your goal is high-level performance or weight loss, consider the effects of alcohol. A drink every now and then is fine. But as a daily habit, I’d suggest changing course.

Ugh, the sweets. This is a huge downfall of mine. I’ve love a sweet treat. A package of cookies, a brownie, whatever — after a savory meal, a sweet little dessert just sounds so good.

Like the booze, however, it’s just empty calories that goes straight to your gut/moobs/hips/thighs. The nutritional value is next to zero. If you go to a vending machine and snarf a small package of cookies, you’ll have to run an additional four miles from what you’ve already done that day just to burn that junk off.

The same is true of sugary drinks, be it sodas, fruit juices, sweetened teas, energy drinks or those delicious “coffees” that’ll run your five bucks at a lot of coffee shops these days. You’d be shocked out how many calories you drink every day.

You don’t have to go cold-turkey on this stuff, but if any of this is a daily habit, you need to rethink your daily habits. Start out by replacing one of those daily drinks with a 16-ounce glass of water. Better yet, keep a water bottle handy, keep it filled with the H2O and sip on that all day. No calories, plenty of benefits.

And erg, the fried food! You know you’re in trouble when you look at your dinner plate and it’s mostly food that is the color brown. Fried foods are tasty, satisfying, and their texture (the crunch!) is really pleasing to the palate. But fried foods also gum up your arteries and cause inflammation, two nasty side-effects that contribute to heart disease, strokes and a number of different cancers.

An occasional fried food ain’t that bad. But if you’re eating the fried stuff more than three times a week, cut-the-eff back. Replace that crispy brown stuff with the fresh green goodies I mentioned earlier.

You may think you'll run it off, but no. You won't. (popsugar.com phoro)

You may think you’ll run it off, but no. You won’t. (popsugar.com phoro)

Eat out less. There are restaurants that focus on offering dishes with locally sourced or even organic foods, and those are great. But most American eateries fill their pantries and freezers with industrially produced foodstuffs that are high in sodium, fats, sugars and chemicals that just aren’t good for you. They’re also often served in portions that a far bigger than you need (sometimes a single dinner at many popular restaurants can top 2,000-3,000 calories, not including appetizers or desserts). If you want to sabotage your diet, gain bad weight, and feel like crap, then eat out often. If you want to control what goes into your body and get healthier, concentrate on your home food prep and limit the restaurant visits. Your waistline and your wallet will thank you.

So that’s it. No huge secrets, no whiz-bang workout plans. Just a list of little reminders that will help you get faster, stronger, leaner and healthier.

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Bad news for Vibram, running nutrition, rad moms and murder and intrigue in Texas

Vibram Five Finger shoes. (wikipedia commons photo)

Vibram Five Finger shoes. (wikipedia commons photo)

We’re back for a more normal version of the Weekly Stoke, and I’ve got some good links for you. So sit tight and check these out…

First up is some big news from the world of running footwear. A recent study showed that people using Vibram minimalist shoes were more prone to foot injuries, and the company is working hard to get a legal settlement over disputed health claims of its Five Finger shoes.

Just in time for Mother’s Day: A list of eight of the most rad moms you’ll ever know.

Here is a post about some things to think about in terms of nutrition for your long run training days.

And finally, here’s a yarn about adventure, murder and intrigue in a small west Texas town.

The Weekly Stoke: Sherpa evolution, protein for runners, avalanche season, a BASE jumping tragedy and Alex Honnold on video

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Some of us are starting to come out of the thaw. Unfortunately, many of you are not. Cabin fever is setting in. You need an escape. So let me give you a little reading material to help you get through it. Let’s do the Weekly Stoke!

Scientists say new research shows that the Sherpa people of Nepal have evolved over the years to become the stout high-altitude climbers and hikers that we’ve all come to know and appreciate.

Are you getting enough protein? Everyone knows people trying to gain muscle mass need to up their protein intake. But even leaner athletes like runners need to seriously increase how much protein they take in per day. I can vouch for that personally.

This link takes you to some photos and a video about a guy’s project to build a wooden camper top on his truck. Seriously cool overland travel stuff here.

It’s been a rough winter in terms of avalanche deaths, and several have happened in recent days.

Another tragic note: A couple did a BASE jump together, but the woman’s chute didn’t open properly, causing her to fall to her death.

And finally, this amazing video of Alex Honnold doing what he does: Scaling ridiculously big walls with highly technical lines, and doing it free solo.

Product review: Performance nutrition with ENERGYbits

This little can contains a couple of serving of ENERGYbits. (ENERGYbits photo)

This little can contains a couple of servings of ENERGYbits. (ENERGYbits photo)

A lot of times when we’re discussing fitness, sports and performance, the talk drifts to training methods and gear. But let’s face it: your training is often only as good as your diet.

If you’re trying to lose weight or cut fat, it’s often been said that 80 percent of your success is what you do in the kitchen.

And really, athletic performance of any kind is directly related to how well you fuel.

I could stand to be more disciplined in this regard. For the most part, I fuel well. But I like to eat. And like most of you, that’s code for “I like to eat big, fatty, carby, tasty things in large quantities.” Still, I put in a pretty good effort to get my fruits, veggies and lean proteins in.

I was talking about fueling online not too long ago when the folks at ENERGYbits contacted me about trying a sample of their product. Hey, I’m game for trying new stuff, so I agreed.

The package I got gave me enough for about two servings. My test would be to use them as part of a pre-workout or pre-race fuel strategy. We’ll get to that in a second.

About the product

ENERGYbits are made from spirulina algae. That’s the only ingredient, and the company notes that it is organically grown and no GMOs or outside chemicals, colors or fillers are in the product.

Algae is commonly eaten in east Asia (seaweed dishes) and has been long known as an excellent source of nutrition. For this company’s purposes, the algae is grown, dried and pressed into small pellets the size of a baby aspirin. It’s recommended that you swallow the pills, but they can be chewed. I find that for taste purposes, it’s just easier to swallow them with water or some other drink. They go down easy enough.

Nutritionally speaking, each bit is about a calorie. One serving is 30 bits. Each serving contains about 5 grams of protein. ENERGYbits also have 40 vitamins and minerals and are a source of Omega 3. So what you’re getting is a nutrient-dense, low-calorie food.

So far, there is a lot to like about this, and honestly, I think the American diet could use more seaweed and similar foods. There is just a lot of bang-for-the-buck nutrition there.

But how did they help me?

Putting them to the test

My tests would be pretty rigorous. The first would be during a long training run, which in this case would be 20 miles, including a few miles on some pretty rugged trails.

Part of the struggle of long runs like this during a training season is cumulative wear-and-tear/fatigue. It’s one thing to pop out a long run, but it’s another thing to bust out 20 miles after 15 weeks of tough training and high-mileage.

So down went the ENERGYbits with breakfast. For the first half of the run (which included that trail section), I was pretty energetic and fast (or faster than normal). I probably could have used a second dose for the back half, because I slowed considerably on the last six miles or so. But those first 13 went pretty well, especially during the road portion. Most notably, I was faster on the front portion of that run than I was on my last 20-miler, and not far off my best half marathon time. So far, so good.

The next test came during a race. In this case, it was the 15K Tulsa Run. Last year, I ran it pretty slow. I’ve become a much stronger runner since then, but I wasn’t sure how much time I could peel off my 2012 showing.

Just like with the long run, I downed a serving with breakfast pre-race.

I started fast and set a pace that was much quicker than a year ago. When it was over, I’d shaved 15 minutes off my 2012 time.

There are a lot of factors in that improvement – a year’s worth of training, 10 fewer pounds, etc. But despite a poor night of sleep and some muscular tightness caused by dehydration (I’d gone out the night before with friends and had a few; not the best pre-race strategy), I was quick and energetic. A 15-minute improvement in a 15K race is significant.

What I’m saying is what you do pre-race or before a workout matters, especially with nutrition. Are the ENERGYbits solely responsible for my performance improvements? No. But did they help? I think so.

In conclusion, I’d say this: If nutrition is important to you, it would be hard to find more nutrient-packed foods then algae. Getting algae in pill form makes ingesting and storing it easy enough. Check out their website, look at the nutritional information and then see if this is an area of your nutrition you want to invest in. There’s a lot of junk out there; ENERGYbits are anything but.

Price: ENERGYbits clock in at about $3.25 per serving; you can buy a bag of 1,000 bits for $115.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Dealing with the physical toll of marathon training

runners

So right now I’m in the heart of my marathon training program. I won’t lie, it’s getting pretty tough. But then again, if it was easy everyone would be doing it, right?

Well, maybe not. But you get the point.

I’ve learned a few things during this latest training cycle, and all of them have required some adjustments for me.

First off: Endurance training is catabolic. No duh, right? This is a problem I knew of early on and hoped to avoid. It’s a simple math problem.

Let’s say you’re running 30 miles a week. That means you’re burning somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 calories a week just running, depending on how hard you’re training, what sort of routes you run and whether or not you’re doing stuff like hill repeats and intervals.

If you’re consuming 2,500 calories a day, the sort of calorie burn you’re adding with your training means you’ll be running on a weekly calorie deficit. Part of your weight loss will be fat. But mixed in with that will be muscle. When you hit 40 miles or more a week, the process just gets worse.

Many runners will make up that calorie deficit with more food, but is it the right food? Specifically, are you getting enough protein?

Chances are, you’re not.

I’ve noticed this catabolic effect on me. I’ve been putting down about 100 grams of protein a day. During marathon training, that’s not enough for someone my size. I’ve been told to consume 175 grams a day.

My solution is to continue my regular regimen of strength training and to up my caloric intake somewhat and my protein intake much more. If I can do that, I think I can retain muscle mass and strength.

This is important because those muscles are the things that will help protect my joints (a future post on that is forthcoming). No, I don’t want to get bulky, even with pure lean mass. That won’t help my endurance training goals at all. But I also don’t want to get too small and weaken my body. It’s simply way too hard to get that back, and losing too much muscle mass will hurt athletic performance.

Here’s another bummer, especially for male endurance athletes: Endurance training over time lowers your testosterone, sometimes by as much as 40 percent. This type of condition saps energy, strength, performance and muscle-building/rebuilding capabilities, among other things.

Again, training and diet will have a lot to do with staving this off, or at least mitigating it.

But I may also have to concede something. If I don’t want this to happen to me, I may have to do some serious re-evaluation once my marathon is over. I love pushing my limits and trying new things. But I love sustainable fitness more. We’ll see how that goes.

What do you do to maintain strength and energy during endurance training? Share your tips and thoughts!

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088