Dave Scott: Hi I'm Dave Scott and I've been in endurance sports for about thirty years now as an athlete, coach and as a fitness instructor. And this is one of four podcasts we're going to be doing on enduranceandnutrition.com. We'd like you to go to the website and comment on these future podcasts, as well as this one. And we've stocked them with a lot of information. Today my guest here, is Simon Lessing: five time ITU champion and I'll say my training partner, and that's sort of stretching it, but Simon, welcome.
Simon Lessing: Thank you. Yeah, good to be here.
DS: Today, Simon, we're going to try to hit a topic we're both familiar with, and we're just going to talk about nutrition and performance. Sort of a general topic, but more specifically why your muscles get tired, or why they get fatigued. And I know you claim yours never get tired, but mine certainly do as I'm chasing you out there. I do recall that…
SL: I have noticed that Dave. I have noticed
DS: [Chuckle] You have noticed that. We had a workout this morning and I uh, noticed I had I had a little difficulty staying up with you again, so it's somewhat humbling to chase around a young stallion like yourself.
But anyway, back to the topic here… The first one is, when I was thinking about this podcast and talking about muscle fatigue, we had a ride run and a swim about six weeks ago. It was an extremely hot day here in Boulder, Colorado , and you started out somewhat under caloried and slightly dehydrated.
DS: Came back and said you were very very dehydrated. And we'll look at one of the first factors of muscle fatigue is dehydration. And I just want you to tell us about that day.
SL: well actually I think what happened was actually, if I remember correctly, is that w had a few days when it was really really hot, in the mid-90's or so. And I remember going out that day not feeling too bad during the ride and obviously working extremely hard. It was a pretty hard day for all of us. And generally speaking, you have a tendency to forget to drink and obviously to take calories in. Specifically with your working hard and your mind is more on trying to beat your opposition than anything else.
DS: That wasn't me was it?
SL: No that wasn't you. In fact there were a few other people on that ride as well Dave. So anyway… I didn't notice it that much during the ride and then I think, pretty much, as soon as we got done with the ride, we went to the pool did a work out, but really, I remember after the ride, feeling thirsty and just hot and thirsty and I ended up putting a lot of my recovery drink, in fact quite a bit of liquid, in my my blender and essentially having thirty ounces of fluid replacement drink in a matter of five minutes or so. And…
DS: A bit excessive…
SL: A bit excessive yeah, but obviously it tasted great. I was tired, dehydrated, whatever. And it tasted great at the time. And I think I started having a few problems later in the day.
DS: We all learn. We all do that. We're actually going to address your problem, Simon, in the fourth podcast. We're going to talk about fueling after exercising. Yeah you did the wrong thing. For a guy who's pretty experienced and has been in this sport for twenty years and I thought I was your pseudo coach once in a while, you did very poorly.
SL: Well I was being encourage by my five year old daughter, who also thought fluid replacement drink tasted great, “So uh… hey daddy, how ‘bout another one?”. So anyway… obviously I got the calories in, but it was probably a bit too much.
DS: Let's just back up for a moment. At the start of that ride and the start of your run and backing up to the first session you did that day, swimming. One of the first thing we want to do is hydrate before you go out to exercise. One of the simple cues that you can use for hydration is to take the replacement drink in quantities of six to seventeen ounces. Seventeen ounces correlates to about five-hundred milliliters, if you're familiar with the metric system. Which you are.
SL: About half a liter.
DS: And if you take that about ten minutes before you exercise, you'll actually utilize the electrolytes in the drink and also the sugar that's in the drink. One of the big mistakes is that people have a tendency to drink too much to early and they want to excrete it out. Or they don't utilize it. So remember, if you come up with a plan, that's the first one.
Let's just talk about some of the factors that effect muscle performance. When we look at how your body is fueled, and we think of it as a drip system with sugar, one of the first problems we have is low blood sugar. And every athlete's familiar with low blood sugar out there. There's a lot of other factors: Low muscle liver glycogen because we tap into our muscle liver glycogen stores and we have two-thousand to three-thousand calories of those two combined sources. And increase in lactic acid if you're going very hard; a lot of times that blood PH can change and you can produce lactic acid.
SL: Which is pretty much most days for myself, and actually, for you as well Dave.
DS: I reach that state a lot because you put me at that state. I just have to concentrate. The last one is this mental fatigue and we'll talk about it in a minute, about being fatigued while you're exercising and it's really a true factor in performance. You will have mental fatigue if you don't fuel yourself properly.
The second question I want to ask you Simon is: Of those factors, and I know your retention's not real good… I'm just kidding. I just want you to talk a little bit about just blood sugar and what you feel are some of the symptoms. When you sense you're getting low in blood sugar, what happens when you're out there performing?
SL: Actually, I think I've actually gone through the full circle with regards to, you know, triathlon and essentially I've covered all distances. It's only been in the last four or five years where I've stepped sort of up in distance. And prior to that, I was only doing short distance races. Races of only about 1:50 to two hours. And really nutrition was never a key factor. And I think, a lot of the time, we can get through those races purely on ability. And rarely even in racing, I never used to take anything. And I actually do remember that on a fairly regular basis at least a couple of times during the year, during the season, while train, we call bunk, obviously have low blood sugar. Barely scrape it home and I'd be dreaming of hamburgers etc. And maybe…
DS: I hope not.
SL: I have noticed with the transition to longer distances the fact I have made it a key factor with regards to my training, I haven't really had that experience. Ya know, I think I still train as hard, but I do on a consistent basis, meaning on a two hour ride, I'll be taking a gel, two gels. Essentially, constantly fueling myself with gels or fluids or replacement drinks. One thing I have noticed is that… I go running with other guys and we do a fourteen mile run, and a lot of the guys don't bother taking any fluids or any calories in during that run and I've found, without a doubt, that just by taking something, it may not help you for that run specifically, but it will help you with your next session and obviously with recovery and further on to the next day.
So, you know, symptoms really are, with a little bit of experience, they should be, with a second sense, keeping your eye on the time. Always keep an eye on your watch and keeping an eye on what you've taken. And obviously, what you have for breakfast prior to your exercising. And then getting a general feel. I can pretty much hit it spot on. I don't ever to the extent where my blood sugar is extremely low and I'm dizzy and I want to sit down. And when I'm starting to feel tired, not necessarily hungry, but a little tired, I take a hundred to a hundred and fifty calories in every fifteen to twenty minutes. Maybe every half hour. That seems to carry me through.
DS: I think a lot of things you said, we're gonna hit on them in our future podcasts. But a couple things you did mention about calories before you exercise and the other athletes you were running with on this fourteen to fifteen mile run… You know, big mistake if you don't pre-fuel and take in the calories. If you go to the website, enduranceandnutrition.com, we have some table on there. You can actually figure out for your body size and your fitness background, how long you're going to exercise, and what speed or what rate you're going to exercise, you can actually figure out how many calories you should take in before you exercise and while your exercise.
It really is a key. You're genetically gifted, so you can allow yourself to get out there and do your exercise back to back. But it's cumulative. If you exercise hard one day and you actually have a hard sessiont he next day, it does catch up with you. And if you have multiple sessions, it catches up to you.. One of the interesting things about the carbohydrate drinks, and for thirty years I've been in this sport, we had carbohydrate drinks and we always kinda shied away from them. Are they too strong? Is it the right kind of sugar that they put in there? Al the drinks are about the same as far as sugar. They all have a combination of simple sugars and multi-extrins, which is a simple sugar. But the new age ones that are out in the last couple years, specifically Accelerade which has a carbohydrate to protein ratio of four to one, they found out that too much carbohydrate, big mistake. And if you have too much protein, it ca also cause GI distress. But if you have this ratio of four to one, it can really enhance your performance, spare some of that muscle glycogen, prevent some of the muscle breakdown you have, actually during exercise and really enhance your overall recovery. Plus it seems to enhance your immune state as well.
So, I know that over the years we've kinda fiddled the fluid replacement drinks and got you on Accelerade and it seems like it allows you to rebound. At least when we're working out I always see you're not ailing as far as your fitness level.
SL: I have found, without a doubt, the key to it is fuelling yourself consistently, and not working out and having about twenty peanut butter sandwiches afterwards and then go for a swim. You can actually carry yourself though a pretty intensive day os exercise, combining two or three sports, purely on replacement drinks and gels. And that's not dissimilar to what you're doing in a race. To a certain extent, it's good practice and it's a good way to figure out what you need to take in preparation for a half hour to a half iron Man/Iron Man or anything obviously longer than an hour.
DS: I mean, I think the plan you just said, is that you need a plan. And if you don't have a plan and you go in with an abstract notiont hat I need to take in a certain amount of calories and it can be a combination of this food, it can be fluid, and you're in for a big mistake. And certainly a lot of problems can occur.
I get about fifty e-mails a week at my office from people with nutrition concerns. And quite often it's a problem of combining the wrong types of foods. Too calorically dense. And typically too much. People have a tendency to take in too much overall calories and way too much fluids. And if you go to the website, you can look at particulars for your body size. I know one of the things, Simon, we found out at the beginning of the year, [is] that when your fitness level is coming up, you have to take in more calories.
SL: Yeah, that's right.
DS: You're more economical as the year goes on.
SL: I've also realized for me right now, a good indication is, double my weight in pounds per hour. Now I know…. For me being a hundred and seventy-eight, that's pretty much spot on what I've found over the last year or two, but that may not work with everybody. Especially if you weigh a hundred pounds.
DS: Well your science isn't spot on exactly, but part of it is that you have to go back to what works for you. I think that when people are grappling what is the optimum type of fuel and how many calories, you really gotta look at the areas of “What does the science say on it? What does the application say as far as the science? What do the athletes say as your self?” Then maybe a combination of my background where I've been an athlete, looked at the science and also looked at the performance parameters of the coaching part.
SL: I thought you still claimed yourself to be an athlete.
DS: Well I do on occasion. Until I get with you and then you humiliate me again. Which is hard on my ego for a young guy like myself.
SL: Let's move on to the next question.
DS: One of the real interesting areas is an area called central fatigue or mental fatigue. And that mental fatigue that athletes get can cause muscle fatigue. And when we have the mental fatigue, what really happens… Well as we exercise we access what's call your branch amino acids. And those amino acid levels or protein levels start to fall into your bloodstream. When they start to fall, it affects the chemistry of your brain. There are certain amino acids that travel into your brain. It's called the serotonin-tryptphan loop. And as it enters your brain it has this period of drowsiness.
I don't know how many times… You might not experience it…. You have the inability to concentrate. You tell yourself to get back to your rhythm, get back to you pace, and all of a sudden you lose your focus. You take the fluid replacement drink that has carbohydrate and protein in it. And for an athlete it's almost instantaneous. Once you're down in blood sugar and you take that, within three to six minutes it comes back up and you fell alert. Have you ever experienced that?
SL: Ya know, I did experience that, obviously, during the very first Iron man I did I started to feel, around the twenty mile mark on the run, just really finding [myself] really lightheaded and kinda just finding it hard to focus. And I have noticed, that without a doubt, specifically during the bike section, when you have a nutritional plan and you get wrapped up in the race, I think towards the latter end of the bike I definitely have experienced you kinda lose track of what you've had and what've taken in both from a caloric intake perspective and a fluid intake perspective. You kinda start second guessing yourself. “Now when did I last take a gel? When n did I…” Ya know? And again it comes down to concentration and essentially your concentration span. I have definitely struggled with that. I have found myself, lately, making it a little bit easier for myself by setting my watch off on a beeper. Or marking my bottles off, knowing it's a lot easier to keep track easier than trying to figure it out. Specifically when you're tired and fatigued. Mentally fatigued that is.
DS: Those are two great suggestions. I mean… If you're out on a training run or in a race you can notch it off every three ounces or four ounces, you know you at those intervals, you're going to take in t certain amount. Or set your watch with your beeper so you have that. You're not out there doing a hard training session or in a race where you can do a crossword puzzle. Your mental clarity is really focusing on what you're doing. You can't think, “OK… I'm going to tackle the most difficult mental task that I can filter through my mind,” you're just thinking just about exercising. And if you don't have the right fuel, you're in for a big problem.
And you hit on a couple things in your career. When you started our, you primarily did the short course. And really excelled, obviously, in Olympic distances. Then [you] gravitated to half and then to Iron man distances. And that fuelling issue for people who are exercising for three, four, five, six hours, and they're doing multiple sessions, is a huge one on establishing plan and getting that fuel into your system at a proper rate.
SL: I think that what has happened, without a doubt, over the last ten to fifteen years, there has been a great advancement in terms of the types of drinks that we're taking. A lot more science behind what we're taking. In the early ‘90's you could get corn syrup gels and that was about it. And I always struggled really going out and doing the the hard workout or even racing hard on a full stomach, or at least with anything in my stomach. But you do have such accessibility now in terms of types of drinks. Fluid replacement drinks and gels. It's a lot easier now. I look back on when I started my career and when I was racing Olympic distances, I used to go through a two hour race and not drink a thing, or take any gels or take in any calories whatsoever. Of course, nowadays I know better. Can you imagine how good I would have been if I had a gel or two during my Olympic distance career?
DS: I can't imagine…. One of the areas on fueling is the science and the athlete's performance has gone stride and stride. And when I look back on when I started, we were taking figs and eating ten bananas on a long training day or race and wondering why you had GI distress at the end of it. Gravitating to fluid replacement drinks and fortunately having the opportunity to consume Accelerade, which has a four to one carbohydrate to protein ratio has really been a key for me. I'm really not I'm not as fast, but I've never had a nutritional issue. And I know that athletes that I coach, and yourself, gravitating toward a carbohydrate/protein blend has really been key.
I think we have to remember when we look at fluid replacement drink or food, they don't allow you to go any faster. You can't take a magic bullet and say, “This is really going to work. I'm going to go a lot faster. “ The food or the fluid replacement drink or gel allows you to prolong your effort at the highest possible workload for the longest period of time. It doesn't allow you to go any faster, but it allows you to recover and I think that's the biggest plus.
SL: It also allows you to maximize your ability. You spend hours and hours and hours, and that's just not us racing as professionals, there are a lot of people who dedicate a lot of time and energy and effort into the sport only to find out down the road that, here I've spent all this money going to, for example, the Hawaii Iron man, and missing one key factor which is nutrition. And just sort of winging it and are very disappointed and rarely reach their ability…. There natural physiological ability.
Yeah I think it's, without a doubt, nowadays, a lot easier. And obviously wit the science behind, for example, Accelerade and the other products out there, it's given us the easier option.
DS: Well Simon, I'd like to thank you for coming in today, and we're going to wrap up our first podcast. We're going to come back again. We have three more. Again, if you just came on, I'd like you to go to our website, enduranceandnutrition.com, and you can check out the tables and some more information on your own performance parameters. And hopefully you'll join us for the next one.