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5 Tips to Run Faster

Running is becoming exceedingly popular in China, with every other weekend playing host to some sort of marathon, triathlon or trail run.

In light of this, XpertHealth wants to share with you a few hints regarding the best ways you can optimize your running efficiency to maximize your effectiveness.

First of all, running technique in the lower extremities comes down to a simple equation:
STRIDE LENGTH x STRIDE FREQUENCY
Research has shown that the optimal stride length and frequency will depend on the individual, however as you become fitter you can make changes to these factors due to improvements in your maximal oxygen uptake, ie: when you’re fitter your body doesn’t require as much oxygen and you don’t fatigue as quickly when running.

The image above highlights that oxygen consumption increases as the freely chosen running stride length (cm) increases. For this particular athlete, the optimal stride length at 14km/hr is around 135cm. As you can see, by taking a larger stride the subject places a greater stress on their lactate and cardiovascular system, hence improving your fitness should counteract some of these effects.

In saying this, if you are trying to improve your ‘cruising speed’ (the speed you can remain at for long periods of time), try to modify your stride length to be longer. Stride variability has been seen to vary with smaller stride lengths, which means a less efficient technique. Also, by increasing the length of your stride you will cover a greater distance at a faster rate, and this means a personal best time might well be on its way!

While there seems to be an optimum stride length and frequency for every runner and every speed, you can alter this to suit your needs by:

1. Improving your cardiovascular fitness. This will help improve the efficiency and rate of your maximal oxygen uptake. One way you can test your current cardiovascular fitness is via a VO2 Max Test.

2. Training via interval or sprint-based running. This will improve body composition and cardiovascular fitness, which will naturally increase both your stride rate and stride frequency. Hence, over time your cruising speed should improve as well.

3. Resistance train. Weights have been shown to improve a plethora of physiological responses to assist in improving your level of running, such as increasing neuromuscular efficiency and lactate threshold. This means you can run for a longer period of time before becoming fatigued.

4. Improve your body composition. Optimize your efficiency by having a better ratio of lean muscle mass to body fat. This can be achieved by working with a sports dietitian to help you manage your food intake and fine-tuning nutrient timing to adequately fuel your training.

5. Work on technique. Ask a friend to film you running and use the footage to assess your technique – is your foot striking under your knee? Are your elbows at 90 degrees or less? Are your hands relaxed? Most importantly, are you running comfortably and injury-free? Making small changes to your arms, torso and stride can all help improve your running effectiveness.

Ultimately, to be your best at running you will need to:

Optimize efficiency to maximize effectiveness!

Good luck with your event and don’t hesitate to contact us at info@xperthealth.comfor further advice or training/nutrition programs.

 

References:

1. Stride variability in human gait: the effect of stride frequency and stride length- F. Danion, E Varraine, M Bonnard, J Pailhous (2003)
2. How do stride length and stride frequency influence the energy-output during running? –Paul Hogberg

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The Importance of Hydration For Performance

Why is fluid important?

Our bodies are made up of 50-70% water – it is found in every cell, tissue and organ. Our bodies need water to:

  • transport nutrients in the blood
  • help chemical reactions take place (eg: digesting food)
  • replace fluid lost through sweating and breathing
  • remove waste products through the urine

Why is fluid important during exercise?

During exercise, the body cools itself by sweating. This results in a loss of body fluid that can lead to dehydration if not replaced.

Sweat production (fluid loss) differs for everyone and depends on factors such as age, genetics, clothing, body surface area, exercise intensity and the training environment – with increases in temperature, humidity, and high-intensity exercise causing a higher rate of sweat loss, and therefore requiring a greater need for fluid replacement.

Dehydration and performance

Exercise performance can be impaired when an individual experiences even mild dehydration. The reason for this is reduced oxygen intake due to the cardiovascular system working harder to keep body temperature normal. This increase in heart rate and body temperature, with reduced oxygen intake, can make exercise feel more difficult (compared to training in a hydrated state) and mental fatigue can occur, bringing about lapses in skill level, concentration and decision-making.

But can you drink too much?

Drinking more fluid than required can also impair performance. A stomach full of fluid is certainly not comfortable when trying to exercise, and on a more serious note, over-hydration can dilute electrolytes in the blood causing serious side-effects such as headaches, disorientation and in very severe cases, coma or death. Please note this is quite rare and dehydration is a lot more common in exercising individuals.

How much fluid should I drink?

The amount of fluid you drink will depend on your individual needs. If you are a serious athlete, you should consult a sports dietitian who can assist you with calculating your sweat losses and help you devise a hydration plan.

Before Exercise

It is important to start exercise in a hydrated state. An easy way to gauge this is to check the colour of your urine as per the image below – if your urine is a light yellow colour, you are most likely hydrated.

If your urine is darker, you’ll need to start sipping on fluids leading up to your exercise session. Between 200-400ml is a good start to help you commence exercise with an improved hydration status without feeling bloated from too much water.

During Exercise

“Drink to Thirst”. This means sipping on fluids as you feel is required. This will avoid visits to the toilet and an upset stomach. Again, if you are a serious athlete, “drinking to thirst” may not be enough and a hydration plan may need to be devised.

After Exercise

The goal after exercise is to replace all lost fluids and electrolytes. One simple way to achieve this is to weigh yourself before and after exercise. If you weigh less after your session compared to before, multiply the difference by 125-150% and this is the amount of fluid you will need to drink over the next 4-6 hours to replace the fluids lost during exercise.

In regards to electrolyte replacement, drinking fluids alongside slightly salty recovery snacks such as bread, milk or cereal, will help your body rehydrate more effectively. Another option is to drink a sports drink – especially if the session was over 90 minutes in length and/or in hot and humid conditions.

What are the best fluids to drink?

For short duration, lower intensity exercise, water is the best fluid option before, during and after exercise. If you’re exercising for over 90 minutes and/or in hot and humid conditions, sports drinks may be a better option due to their concentration of carbohydrates (for energy) and electrolytes (stimulating thirst and helping the body re-hydrate more efficiently).

Two beverages that are not good to drink around exercise are alcohol and energy drinks. Alcohol is a diuretic (causing us to urinate), so drinking it before exercise will set you up for dehydration and prevent rehydration if consumed after exercise.

Energy drinks are another poor fluid choice due to their higher carbohydrate content, which can cause stomach discomfort during exercise. Also, while a small amount of caffeine via a coffee per se, may help you feel more alert and energized for exercise, a recent study found the caffeine from energy drinks results in more profound changes in heart rate and blood pressure, which could have serious consequences in regards to performance and health. This could be due to the other stimulants in energy drinks. (For more information on caffeine, checkout our previous article posted on 12 May 2017).

 

While many athletes and fitness-lovers focus intently on their training and nutrition, it is imperative that hydration is not forgotten. The consequences of dehydration can be quite serious – especially with Shanghai’s hot and humid summer months coming up. If you want to know more about fluid and hydration, or would like to schedule a nutrition consultation with our sports dietitian, contact XpertHealth via our WeChat page or info@xperthealth.com.

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Successful Weight Loss

What is the best way to lose weight? There is an overabundance of information available on social media platforms about the “best way”. However, very few of us consider asking the people who have lost a lot of weight how they achieved it. These people are the real weight loss experts.

What is their secret? According to the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) – a research group that investigates the characteristics of individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss – there is no single best way to lose weight. Not one. There are actually many ways to lose weight. And the best way is that which suits the individual.

Even though the best method is that which suits the individual, the NWCR has found three common factors that are employed by individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss. These are:

1.     Regular self-weighing

2.     Eating a smaller variety of food

3.     Intense exercise.
To expand on these points:

1. Regular self-weighing

Regular self-weighing allows an individual to keep track of sneaky weight gain and make immediate lifestyle changes to rectify the situation. During particularly celebratory periods, such as holidays or Christmas, it’s quite easy to put on an extra 300-500g of weight. It doesn’t sound like much, but over the years we all know it can start to add up.

For the sake of an argument though, we shouldn’t purely base our weight loss success on the scale number. There are many other ways to track weight loss. For example, how do your clothes fit; how much energy do you have; are you making healthier food choices; are you sleeping better; are you managing your stress more appropriately? All of these lifestyle changes promote healthy and sustainable weight loss.
A sensible recommendation is to weigh yourself once a week or fortnightly on the same day and at the same time. This will enable you to stay on track without obsessing over it.

2. Eating a smaller variety of food

The NWCR found that individuals who succeeded with weight loss ate a smaller variety of food no matter if it was a weekday, weekend or holiday, ie: they always ate similar foods. This isn’t to say we need to eat the same food everyday (that would be both boring and unhealthy), but try to eat similar portions of food and similar types of food each day. For example, if you eat a sandwich everyday for lunch during the week, eat a sandwich for lunch on the weekend – just mix up the sandwich fillings to keep it interesting.

3. Intense Exercise

The NWCR found that people who have succeeded with longterm weight loss burnt an average of 2,621 calories per week. For an 84kg (185lb) male, this equates to a 1-hour jog four times a week, or two 1-hour games of basketball and two spinning classes per week.

Intensity is one of the most important factors when it comes to exercise and fat loss. One of the simplest and most effective ways to gauge how hard you are working is to measure your heart rate while exercising.

A possible way to do this is via the 180 Method, which subtracts a person’s chronological age from 180 to find their maximum heart rate. This figure is then adjusted to reflect their physiological age as indicated by fitness and health factors.

Once you know your maximum heart rate, check out our “What is Your Zone?” article from May 19 to see which zone you should be training in to reach your goals – be they related to speed, performance, or weight loss.

No matter what sport or physical activity you do, just make sure you are moving everyday! And find an enjoyable routine that suits your lifestyle.

So there they are – the three most common habits of individuals who have succeeded at longterm weight loss. Of most importance is this: find what works for you because you know your body best.

If you need some assistance finding the right approach for your own weight loss goals, contact us today. We’ll be With You Every Step of the Way.

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Vitamin D for Health & Performance


Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for health. Exposing our skin to sensible amounts of ultraviolet rays from the sun is the most plentiful way to obtain vitamin D, but it is also naturally found in fatty fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel), egg yolks and wild mushrooms. In addition to natural forms, vitamin D is found in fortified foods and in supplement form.

An optimal vitamin D status is essential for countless bodily functions, making it an important nutrient for all individuals.

ROLE IN THE BODY

Amongst other roles, vitamin D:

  • assists to maintain levels of calcium and phosphate in the blood to enable the continual formation, growth and remodelling of bones;
  • support cell growth;
  • maintain neuromuscular and immune function;
  • can help reduce inflammation within the body.

 

COULD YOU BE DEFICIENT?

The rates of vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency are prominent worldwide. A study in 2004 found over 77% of Americans were considered to have insufficient levels of vitamin D, and another study in 2013 found only 5% of Chinese citizens were sufficient in vitamin D.

 

Particularly “at risk” groups include:

  • People with naturally very dark skin;
  • People who cover up from the sun and delibirately avoid sun exposure;
  • People who work in occupations with limited sun exposure (eg: office workers);
  • People with chronic disease or fat malabsorption syndromes (eg: diabetes or coeliac disease, respectively).

ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE

Due to the many essential roles of vitamin D within the body, researchers have started to examine the influence of vitamin D on physical performance and injury.

  •  A study examining male military recruits found vitamin D status to be a significant determinant of maximal peak bone mass and that insufficient levels of vitamin D significantly increased the risk of stress fractures.
  • A study using female navy recruits found that those who supplemented with vitamin D had a 20% lower incidence of stress fractures.
  • Poor vitamin D status was associated with reduced forearm strength in adolescent females. In the same population group, muscle power and jump height were positively associated with adequate vitamin D levels.
  • Multiple performance studies in older adults (over 65 years) have associated low vitamin D levels to decreased reaction time, poor balance, and an increased risk of falling. In addition, vitamin D supplementation in this population showed improvements in strength and walking distance. Although the aging population is not quite indicative of a typical athlete, the positive results in older adults is encouraging for scientists to further research vitamin D and athletic performance.

 

 

HOW MUCH DO I NEED?

The intake measurement of vitamin D is expressed in “International Units” (IU). The Endocrine Society recommends 400–1000 IU of vitamin D per day for infants, 600–1000 IU/day for children (1-18 years) and 1500–2000 IU/day for adults. This is in addition to sensible sun exposure, which is about 15 to 20 minutes daily with 40% of the skin surface exposed to sunshine.

The serum level of vitamin D is measured in nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) via a blood test. As mentioned above, although research in the area of vitamin D status and athletic performance is preliminary, the findings suggest a serum level above 40 ng/mL will give athletes the best chance of possibly improving their anaerobic athletic performance.

 

 

From a nutrition perspective, food should always come first! However, for most of us living in China, it would be prudent to look into a vitamin D supplement due to many of the “at risk” criteria being relevant. If you did want to obtain most of your vitamin D from food, you would be looking to eat similar to the following each day: 100g of canned salmon (624IU), 1 mackerel fillet (403IU), two large eggs (36IU), and two cups of fortified milk (254IU).

 

 

Optimal vitamin D levels are essential for many significant functions of the body – including bone health, electrolyte regulation, protein synthesis and immunity. These vital functions are essential for all individuals, and especially so for elite and recreational athletes who put their bodies under repetitive stress. Therefore, even though there is limited literature available to support a positive effect from vitamin D on performance, obtaining optimal levels should be a goal for all athletic and active individuals.

If you are curious to discuss your diet and want to know more about vitamins and how they can affect your health and training, please contact XpertHealth today!

 

References available.

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Eating For Health And Performance

What is RED-S?

RED-S stands for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport. It’s a relatively new term that was introduced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to give a name to the complex collection of impaired physical functions that occur due to low energy intake in athletes (male and female). RED-S is a more comprehensive term that builds on the condition known as the “Female Athlete Triad”.

According to the IOC, RED-S refers to “an energy deficiency relative to the balance between energy intake in the form of food and energy expenditure required for activities of daily living, healthy bodily functions, growth and sport activities such as training and competition”.

The amount of energy left over after exercise is called “Energy Availability”, and ideally we want a adequate Energy Availability otherwise health consequences can arise.

Possible signs of RED-S?

It is important to note that weight loss and/or a low body fat percentage are not good indications of RED-S. The body is very adaptable and will conserve itself for survival. The body is able to maintain weight eventhough Energy Availability is low. This is common in female athletes with menstrual disorders.

The signs and symptoms listed below might be your body’s way of telling you to look closer at how you are managing your energy intake.

  • Health signs and symptoms of RED-S can include:
  • Disordered thoughts and practices around food
  • Slower metabolic rate
  • Decreased immunity
  • Impaired hormonal health (in males and females)
  • Compromised menstrual function (in females)
  • Poor bone health
  • Problems with protein synthesis
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Gastrointestinal issues.

Sporting signs and symptoms of RED-S can include:

  • Ongoing fatigue
  • Inability to gain muscle
  • Increased fat stores in the body and aninability to lose weight (especially pertinent to athletes who need to “makeweight” for their sport)
  • Stress fractures
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Decreased strength, speed, agility, endurance
  • Overall poor performance.

What can you do if you think you are experiencing RED-S?

Nutrition might be a key factor! However, first and foremost it is important to receive a medical assessment to ensure your health is stable.

If nutrition is found to be the underlying cause, treatment should include increasing diet
ary intake of energy and/or decreasing energy expenditure by limiting exercise duration or quantity.

One way to achieve this is to incorporate one or two additional snacks into the day, especially around exercise. Examples include a small tub of yoghurt, a handful of nuts and a banana. Or perhaps two slices of fruit toast topped with peanut butter and followed with an icy cold glass of milk.

Alternatively, small changes can be made to your regular meals – add cheese and avocado to sandwiches; roast vegetables in oil; eat fatty fish such as salmon instead of chicken, etc. These small changes shouldn’t affect gastrointestinal comfort, however they are a good start to increasing overall energy intake. Also remember to eat regularly, and incorporate both carbohydrates and protein into every meal.

If an athlete is experiencing RED-S on a more serious level, it is imperative that a treatment plan is devised and implemented via a medical team that includes a physician, qualified dietitian, and psychologist (if need be).

Although not every athlete and sports person is at risk of RED-S, it is still important to be aware of the signs and symptoms, and act accordingly if suspected. Sports should be beneficial for our bodies –not detrimental! By maintaining an adequate energy balance, you can enjoy good health and longevity in your sporting endeavours for many years to come.

 

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Stretching for Performance

All of us stretch, some more, some less. Stretching is a natural occurrence and we often stretch instinctively, for example after a long sleep, after having spent time in tight spaces or in uncomfortable positions. By stretching we straight away feel more awake, but also more relaxed.

When we stretch, our muscles lengthen, muscle tension is reduced and that tightness or stiffness melts away.

The most common forms of stretching are 1) static stretching, where you stretch the muscle and joint to their maximum and hold the position for a set period of time, and 2) dynamic stretching, a movement stretch.

Over the past couple of years the science community has investigated the role of stretching in areas of, for example, pain management, exercise and athletic performance, as a prevention of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), flexibility and rehabilitation.

Stretching and Performance

In a review from 2016, Behm et al investigated the role of stretching on performance and the risk of injury. By analysing over 150 studies they found that stretching before exercise, that was either power-speed based or strength-based, reduced performance.

This reduction in performance is due to the reduced tension of the muscle as it lengthens during the stretch, and therefore it no longer has the right tension to create as powerful contractions, reducing the amount of force produced and performance. However they also found that not all types of stretching have this effect. Dynamic stretching actually resulted in a small increase in performance. A dynamic stretch is a movement stretch, which involves moving the active joint through the full range of motion, for example by swinging your leg forward to stretch out the hamstring and the hip joint.

The dynamic stretch increases blood flow to the muscle, decreases viscosity and increases the temperature of the muscle, and since it is often performed in a similar movement to the coming exercise the body is better at handling the exercise and therefore performs better.

Many of us like to stretch before heading out on a run or starting an exercise session. It feels good to release some of that tension ahead of the training session. If you are not too worried about your sprint times, the heaviest weight that you can lift that session then you should not worry about using static stretching ahead of a session. If you on the other hand are an athlete and performance is at the top of your list, then choosing dynamic stretching exercises will get you ready for your next training session or competition.

And then again, the effects of any stretching lasts roughly 15 minutes and after that your muscles are ready to perform at the top of their game again.

Does Stretching Reduce Injury Risk?

Yes it does! One reason why stretching has been recommended to athletes and people with active lifestyles, is that it reduces the risk of muscle and tendon injuries. It doesn’t matter what type of stretching but stretching is most effective for injury prevention in sprint and short distance running exercises. If however the stretches are performed in a rush or carelessly there is a risk of muscle tares, so when stretching take it slow, and listen to the feedback from your muscles.

There is a connection between the total stretching time and injury risk- the longer you stretch the bigger the protective effects get.

Stretching and Flexibility

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that stretching increases the range of motion and flexibility of muscles and joints. Stretching for as little as 10-30 seconds can increase the flexibility of the hip joint or the hamstring. However to make this permanent you need to stretch often.

Stretching not only increases flexibility through the reduction of the tensions in the muscles, it also builds up your stretch tolerance. This means that the more you stretch, the more used to it you get, and can therefore tolerate the feeling of the stretch better, hence allowing you to stretch deeper and for longer.

So for performance:

  • Stretch after your training sessions to release muscle tension.
  • Alternatively perform dynamic stretches before the training to increase blood flow to the muscles you will be using.
  • The longer the stretching session the better the protection against muscle injury.

And for flexibility:

  • As little as 10-30 seconds of stretching will increase your range of motion.
  • Perform often for lasting effects.

Happy Stretching!

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