Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Recovery rides

"Ah, im just doing a recovery ride!". How often do you hear fellow cyclist say that? Recovery rides are essential and now part of a well laid out training plan, but people seem to do it plain wrong. This is really a case of keeping the easy days easy, which as been lost in translation among the cycling community, especially for folks riding on HR or feel.

 These kind of rides are supposed to be short and easy. When I say easy, I mean boring easy, granny passing you on the bike path easy, 39/36 gearing style. Got it? Anyone who passed me yesterday on the bike path must have told themselves "geeeezz he's either very unfit or having a flat tire!!". Indeed, a 140 watts ride means you go overly slow, just turning the legs and refreshing your body, both physically and mentally.

Recovery rides are not uspposed to induce further stress and are meant to favour vasoconstriction in the working muscle to move blood arround without stressing your body further more. Blood is your nutrient and waste carrier. Increasing blood flow in the working muscle helps removing metabolic wastes and distribute nutrients more effectively. As a bonus, going out on the bike on a sunny day is easier on your mental health then sitting on the couch and having an off day.

I generally make sure I stay arround 50% FTP during my recovery rides and use a pretty flat course. If any hills are involved during the ride, I make sure I climb them very slowly, even though it might mean climbing in the 26/34 gear, I dont care. I also try to keep cadence relatively steady and fast, arround 90-100 RPM.

Most people think they are doing easy spins and recovery rides, yet they overshoot intensity, spike power on hills or headwind and climb too fast to make it a real recovery ride. They'd be better off sitting on the couch then screwing their only recovery days. I think you only realize how piss slow a recovery ride is when you start riding with power, among many other things a powermeter will make you realize.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Racing is getting closer and closer

First race in less then a month now, pretty stoked! I just can't wait to hammer the trails. Unfortunately we can't ride the trails here just yet as there is still some snow and ice over there. The weather is weird. Yesterday was super hot, 25+ C, riding with summer gear, even getting my first tan lines for the year. Today it's raining and 5 C...

Yesterday was another good training session. Numbers are up there where they should be and my form is awesome. I pay a lot of attention to rest, food and sleep. Things on which I should blog in a near futur. But today, I am going to adress my last equipement choice before the season starts.

I want a new oakley lens tint. I currently use the basic grey one and I am wondering if it will be good on the trails with the shadows and covered condition when riding in the woods. It seems to lack a bit of protection in direct sunlight. I also have fire iridium on my jawbones but they are too dark for the woods. So now I think I am going to keep the grey (radars) for trail riding and get a darker tint for sunlight.

Not sure which one I should get though. Positive red iridium, blue iridium, ice iridium, fire iridium, black iridium? Or should I just keep the grey ones for sunlight and get a more contrast oriented lens tint, like G30, VR28, high intensity persimmon, G26 iridum...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Endurance Athletes and Carbohydrates Part 3

In previous Part 1 and Part 2 of this serie, we mentionned the importance of carbohydrates (CHO) in the recovery process which starts during the training session and continues post-workout. We also realized the impact of proper CHO feeding during exercise to delay peripheal fatigue within the working muscles. There have been some very interresting theories about CHO ingestion during exercise and the onset of central fatigue. The  evidence on the subject is very thin. Some experts say CHO feeding and glucose level regulation could have an impact on central fatigue, some say it doesn't. Nevertheless, the whole mecanism surrounding this phenomenon is fascinating and worth's some attention, even though nobody knows for sure what's happening.

CHO and Central Fatigue
The central nervous system (CNS) is the master commander within the body. Any physiological and biomechanical action originates from the CNS. It relies on glucose as it's sole source of energy to work properly. It can't use any other macronutrients to fuel itself, therefore glucose needs to be available for your CNS, be it by liver glycogen degradation, neoglucogenesis or circulating blood glucose level.

Think about it for a second. What stops you when exercise becomes too difficult? Sure there is massive leg pain, heavy breathing and general discomfort but all those signs of ''pain'' are actual signals sent to your brain. It then analyses those signals and they result in a perceived effort. A general physical en psychological sensation that originates from your brain. Your perception of the effort you are actually putting in is a major factor influencing your capacity to keep going or not. I can tell you I had tons of incoming signals to my brain yesterday during my 3 minutes efforts! Your brain controls your sensations during exercise, your motivation and mood. Remember what it uses as fuel: CHO. Maintaining blood glucose at optimal level as been shown to lead to high CHO oxidation rate, higher blood glucose, reduced perceived exertion in subjects and lower cortisol and growth hormone concentration. Adequate CHO availability to the brain can enhance these physical and psychological parameter and help you achieve your training session or race with higher performance and/or less fatigue.

Now the most interesting part (and debatable one) is the relation between blood glucose level and circulating blood free fatty acids (FFA). If blood glucose level is not maintained, insulin decreases and concentration of hormones epinephrine, cortisol and growth hormone increases, which means blood FFA also increases. An increase in blood FFA as been shown to lead to an increase in blood free-Tryptophan (f-TRP), an amino acid that can be converted in the brain into serotonin. Tryptophan (TRP) generally circulates in blood attached to albumin, a protein found in blood which plays a transporter role. When blood FFA increases, f-TRP also increases because FFA fights with TRP's binding site on albumin. Free-Tryptophan can make it's way to the brain and be converted into serotonin, a major CNS neuro-transmitter associated with arousal, mood, sleepiness and lethargy. Higher concentration of serotonin are generally associated with higher concentration of it's major byproduct, a specific acidic metabolite.

Some studies have shown a relation between fatigue and high concentration of serotonin and it's metabolite. They also investigated dopamine level, another neuro-transmitter involved in muscular control, motivation and arousal, along with it's major metabolite which has stimulating effects on the CNS, as opposed to serotonin, which has suppressive effects. They found dopamine level and it's metabolite were lower when fatigue occured whilst serotinin and it's metabolite level were higher. An inverted relationship which potentially explain fatigue originating from the CNS. All of this very complexe phenomenon originates from blood FFA higher concentration caused by lower blood glucose levels.

Take this with a grain of salt, as some studies have found no relation between brain serotonin levels and the onset of fatigue. As with any study, one says something, the next one says something else. But I thought the whole complexe relationship between CHO and the subsequent chain reaction was a very interresting one to write about and it would certainly require more investigation.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Racing form is coming along nicely

Spring WAS here this week and could log some decent ride outside. Did some very good tempo efforts during the week, which at the time did not feel that hard but got me pretty fatigue on following days. Skipped a Vo2max workout to allow better recovery and did the workout today. The damn snow ruined everything and I was confined to the trainer yet again.

Road were clean this week and there was very little snow left on the ground

So I asked myself  why not make it an epic trainer ride? Set my trainer in the garage with door opened so I could see the snow fall, but it turned into rain. It was pretty cold in the garage and I started with multiple layers, removing some parts gradually until I was comfortable. I officialy had my first outdoor ride without leg warmers! I could make it past my Vo2 intervals. I chose 3 minutes efforts at 115% FTP. I dont know what's wrong with 3 minutes efforts but they are pure DEATH. Especially the first 2 intervals. Maybe the greater anaerobic contribution and O2 deficit caused by higher intensity make them feel harder. I usually like 4 minutes efforts at 110% FTP. They feel totally different then 3 minutes ones. At least I could make it through all intervals without droping intensity, which is quite good.

Today's office view

Overall it was a very good week of training with good numbers. Got to keep things nice and steady until racing starts. Recovery is even more important then before so I need to watch energy intake and sleep a lot. Hopefully this is the last snow and it clears rapidely, so we can keep tuning our racing shape!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Vo2max intervals: a love-hate relation

Some of you might know about these type of intervals. They are generally short effort performed at 105-130% of Functional Threshold Power (FTP) or 80-100% of Maximal Aerobic Power. There are plenty of duration possibilities but I usually go with 2 to 5 minutes intervals with equal rest time between efforts. Their general purpose is obvious: increase one's Vo2max, the maximal oxygen volume your body can process during exercise. I think they are essential in a training programme because they bring some adaptations required to raise the aerobic ceiling but they also provide some of the lower intensities adaptations as well. So, they are essential, but I hate em, and love em at the same time. Here's why.

Damn you, pain!

Yes, these are painful! They generally have a relatively high anaerobic contribution especially in the first effort when your anaerobic stores are fresh. Depending on intensity, duration and pacing strategy, you can manipulate the anaerobic contribution to these efforts and therefore make them more or less painful. Though they will remain very uncomfortable. The intensity means you will create a relatively important oxygen deficit in the first few minutes and depending on your particular physiology (Vo2 kinetics) you will reach the effort's oxygen requirements within a given time duration, usually between 60 and 180 seconds. Say you are very well trained and gifted, and reach the required O2 consumption within 60 seconds during a 4 minutes effort, this means you will theorically spend 3 minutes at your maximal O2 consumption, since the effort's intensity is supposed to ellicit Vo2max. Overall, it all means the same thing: pain in your legs, pain in your chest and soft arms.

They are hard to perform on a flat terrain at a certain intensity. Or at least I prefer doing them on climbs because the power is more consistant, more specific to my racing demand and aerodynamics play's less of a role. So they are perfect for hill repeats if you have some long enough hills nearby.

They generally dont create a large kilojoules expandure since the total work duration is usually between 15 and 25 minutes of effort. For those on a kJ's target, they might not be the best type of workout, even though this aspect is debateable.

Finally, I see them more as a complement, the icing on the aerobic cake (who once said that eh?) so you might not want to live on a steady diet of these intervals. Careful, it does not mean they should only be included in your programme when racing comes close, as is the general belief in the power training community. They do induce a significant fatigue so they should be planned carefully in your programme along with well thought out rest days. Indeed, these efforts rely heavily on your glycogen stores so they should generally be attempted in a well rested state unless you are doing some sort of block including multiple days of hard efforts

Yay, only one more to go!

Given the low total work duration, the workout is usually pretty short and all intervals can be done within a 60 minutes workout. Sure the first, second, third intervals are very hard but the mental pain eases off when you reach the second to last interval. I always see the last effort as a bonus. Easy done, only 4-5 minutes of pain and it's over! Ironically, my last effort is often my best one.

The logistic of such a workout is pretty easy to sort out: find a 4-5 minutes hill, climb it 4-5 times and use the descent as your rest time. The best type of hill is a steady one so you can settle in a certain rythm. Speaking of which...

I like these efforts because their duration allows you to settle into a steady, yet very high rythm and maintain it for a nice chunk of time. This is especially true when doing 4 or 5 minutes efforts. Oh, did I mentionned 5 minutes intervals are WAY harder then 4 minutes ones? That additionnal minute makes a significant difference. The feeling of these intervals is pretty close to race situations when you are digging deep on some medium duration efforts. In my opinion, they are very cross-country specific since XCO racing almost always involves a medium duration hill on the course which is repeated 4-6 times.

Finally, I feel they are very effective at inducing marked aerobic changes that will impact a lot of other durations like your FTP. People generally dont think of them when speaking of mitochondria adaptations but the High Intensity Training guru's seem think otherwise (see my post on Hill Climb Repeats). I think they are a wise training strategy when coupled with either long slow rides or more sustained tempo work.

What if...?

Purely speculating about these intervals, I thought (and did read somewhere) they could bring significant skeletal muscle adaptations, namely mitochondria and capilary ones. I recall some high intensity training experts discussion on twitter relating the muscle recruitment patern of such high intensity efforts and targeted muscle fibers adaptations. The ''theory'' mainly speculated that these efforts recruited more motor units, therefore more muscle fibers, which would mean more fibers are working to produce power. More working fibers means more tissu needs to recover and adapt to the stress they ecountered during training. More targeted tissu for adaptations means more mitochondria density and size in more fibers. It also means more capillary density and more capillary arround more fibers too. Now this might be all broscience and pure speculation but the theory makes sense in some way.

What about doing these on hills? Hills generally mean lower cadence and more force applied. More force means more motor unit recruitment... Food for thoughts