Many athletes get so caught up closing activity rings, counting steps, competing in Strava challenges, or reaching a distance goal, that they forget to make recovery a priority.
One form of recovery, that often gets overlooked is an Epson Salt Bath.
Especially in the cold winter months, a hot sudsy bath does sound pretty inviting. But, besides being relaxing, how else does it help you recover?
We don’t have many concrete scientific studies that support how an Epson Salt Bath helps recovery, but we do know that it works. On the most basic level, taking a warm bath helps calm the nervous system which has a ripple affect, allowing your body to direct it’s energy into repair mode.
If you want to take it a step further, if the athlete also uses this time to focus on breathing, or follows another form of relaxation technique such as listening to music or reading a novel, your brain has time to shut off and recharge. Think of your body like your iphone; it has a long battery life, but the more you use it, the longer you need to stop to recharge.
So what is it about the Epson Salts?
Dissolving epson salts in water releases magnesium and sulfate ions, which can be absorbed through the skin. Magnesium plays many crucial roles in the body and is required in more than 300 essential metabolic reactions in the body. Some of the most important roles for an athlete are:
regulates energy production aka improves performance
regulates muscle and nerve function
regulates blood sugar levels
regulates blood pressure
helps release melatonin which helps you sleep
So, instead of thinking of your bath as a guilty pleasure, you can add it to your arsenal of recovery tools to make you faster, stronger, fitter, and healthier overall.
In the summer, we will talk about ice baths and contrast baths, which also have amazing benefits in aiding recovery, but much harder to convince when it is already cold outside.
After several weeks of indulging over Christmas, it can be challenging to return to our usual, healthy way of eating. This is not just due to a lack of willpower. Physiologically, your body and brain are now programmed to want more sugar, making the cravings almost impossible to ignore.
The brain demands sugar
Sugar fuels every cell in the brain. Your brain also sees sugar as a reward, making you want more of it. You reinforce that reward system every time you eat sugar, making it a tough habit to break.
And the body wants it’s share as well
As if that wasn’t enough, now your body also demands that you give it another hit. As insulin moves glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells for energy, this rapid drop in blood sugar leaves you feeling wiped out and shaky, searching for more sweets to regain that sugar “high.”
Starch equals sugar
Think you don’t have a sweet tooth, but crave bagels, chips, crackers, or french fries? Highly refined starches are complex carbs that the body breaks down into simple sugars. When eaten without protein, fat, or fibre, starches can make blood sugar levels surge and crash, similar to a simple sugar bonk.
So how do we break this cycle?
January is notorious for making massive commitments to change our lives and diet, only to fail by February and give up.
Instead of going cold turkey on quitting sugar, do it gradually. Try cutting out one sweet food from your diet each week. For example, pass on dessert after dinner or eat one cookie instead of two.
2. Retrain your taste buds
Over time, you can train your taste buds to enjoy things that aren’t as sweet. Start by putting less sugar in your coffee, oatmeal, and baked goods. Over time your taste buds will change, and you will experience the same pleasure or “high” with less.
3. Change up your sugar choices
Include more fruits and vegetables containing natural sugars, fibre, antioxidants, and essential vitamins.
4. Educate yourself
Check food labels. Watch out for items that list any form of sugar in the first few ingredients, or have more than 4 total grams of sugar per serving.
The word “sugar” sometimes goes by another name, like these:
Brown rice syrup
High-fructose corn syrup
Evaporated cane juice
5. Add more protein and fibre
High-protein and fibre foods digest more slowly, keeping you feeling full for longer. They also don’t make your blood sugar spike the way refined carbs and sugars do. Good protein sources are chicken, yogurt, eggs, nuts, or beans. Good fibre sources are soaked chia seeds, oats, beans, lentils, berries.
Food combining (eating a high protein or fibre along with a high sugar food) will slow the release of insulin and help prevent a sugar crash. But the brain will remain in the same “sugar = reward” feedback loop.
6. Do NOT substitute with artificial sweeteners
Some studies suggest artificial sweeteners may leave you craving more sugar, which doesn’t help break your taste for sweets. Pay attention to your body. Are sweeteners making you crave even more sugar?
7. Get enough sleep and rest
Many times we crave sugar because we are tired and looking for energy. In addition, if we are well rested, we can make better decisions and, therefore, better food choices.
8. Snack on exercise
It is usually around 2 or 3pm when our blood sugar drops and we start to crave something sweet. Instead of reaching for a cookie, get up and complete a short but vigorous form of exercise. Run up and down the stairs or whip off 10 fast push-ups or do burpees in your office. The quick adrenaline rush will boost your energy levels and curb the craving.
9. When baking, cut the sugar by half
Unless the recipe was designed for weight loss or a low-sugar diet, EVERY recipe I have found uses way too much sugar. As a general rule, I cut the sugar by half. If it is just for myself and my husband, I will continue to cut the sugar until I find how low I can go before he notices.
10. Make it easy
Have tasty snacks and food available and easy to access, for when your next sugar craving hits. Some snack ideas are: celery sticks with peanut butter, yogurt and blueberries, hummus and any vegetable, apple and almond butter, raisins and almonds. Eat foods that you enjoy so you don’t feel deprived.
Here is my favourite healthy cookie recipe courtesy of Dr. Leslie Wicholas. Leslie is a psychiatrist and an avid cyclist who rides with Kits Energy. She also designed the food as Medicine program to treat depressive mood disorders and fibromyalgia at the Mood Disorders Association of BC. I love these cookies so much that I double the recipe, so I always have a few in my freezer.
Chocolate Spice Cookies (gluten and dairy free)
by Leslie Wicholas, MD
2/3 cup baked cooked garnet yam. Remove the skin from the yam before using. (You can bake yams ahead of time and freeze them to use later)
4 Tbsp mild flavoured olive oil
3 Tbsp dark maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup oat flour
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
3 Tbsp dark chocolate chips
Bake yam at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until really soft. Fully cool in refrigerator before using.
Pre heat oven to 350 degrees
Mix the wet ingredients well.
Combine dry ingredients and add to wet ingredients. Mix well. Batter will be sticky with a cake like batter consistency. It will firm up after baking.
Grease cookie sheet with coconut oil. Scoop a spoon full of batter onto the sheet. Gently shape into cookies
Bake for 20 minutes. Cookies should be firm, with a little “spring” when you touch it.
We all love our yogurt and granola, and nothing says comfort food better than a steaming bowl of oatmeal before a long ski day. But when was the last time you tried soaking your oats?
Without using heat, soaking overnight slowly cooks the oats, while preserving much of the goodness. Adding an apple, yogurt, or a dash of apple cider or lemon juice ferments the oats which promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria in the digestive tract.
Whichever way you eat them, oats and oatmeal are among the most nutrient dense foods that you can eat.
Why are they so great?
Oats are rich in antioxidants and both soluble and non-soluble fibre that may help lower blood pressure levels, reduce blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, boost heart health, reduce constipation, and aid in weight loss.
1/2 cup of dry oats contains 151 calories, 25 grams of carbs, 6.5 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fat, 4 grams of fibre, and are packed with the following vitamins and minerals:
Manganese: 63.91% of the daily value (DV)
Phosphorus: 13.3% of the DV
Magnesium: 13.3% of the DV
Copper: 17.6% of the DV
Iron: 9.4% of the DV
Zinc: 13.4% of the DV
Folate: 3.24% of the DV
Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 15.5% of the DV
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 9.07% of the DV
smaller amounts of calcium, potassium, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and vitamin B3 (niacin)
There are so many recipes you can choose from to keep your oats interesting, however, be careful that you aren’t adding too much extra sugar, to what should be a very healthy breakfast choice.
Here is my personal favourite recipe. Feel free to adapt based on your taste buds. As you can see there are lots of different ways you can adjust the recipe. You can add almost any combination of fruits, nuts, and seeds, even peanut butter! Just remember to keep the ratio of milk to dry ingredients 1:1 at a minimum.
Apple Cinnamon Soaked Oats
Makes 2 servings
1 cup whole rolled oats
1/4 – 1/3 cup coarsely chopped raw almonds, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp hearts, or a combination of a few of them (the more variety the better)
1 apple grated (skin on)
1 tbsp unsweetened coconut
1 tsp cinnamon (I use more because I love cinnamon and its anti-inflammatory properties)
1/8 tsp nutmeg (optional – can also use pumpkin spice)
dash of sea salt
1-2 tbsp raisins
1 1/2 – 2 cups milk or milk substitute of your choice (or half milk and half cold water)
Place everything in a bowl, together with the milk. Place in fridge overnight or for 10 – 24hrs.
Whole oats work the best but steel cut oats work as well, especially if you like a chewier recipe. Quick oats are not recommended.
If you have kids or a sweet tooth, you have to check out these super quick tasty recipes.
Earlier this year, we had a live Q & A with Jennifer Thompson from Herstasis.com, which was highly informative and answered many of the questions women have about menopause.
Some women will pass through this stage without skipping a beat, while others may suffer terribly.
If you are suffering from new and uncomfortable symptoms, first rule out the possibility that they are not a sign of something more serious. Once your symptoms are diagnosed as peri-menopausal, you may need to make some lifestyle changes, at least until you get through it.
In this interview and the Herstasis website, we discuss hormone replacement, natural alternatives, and other coping methods. We are not promoting any particular method nor should you feel judged for making the choices you need to live your best life.
Wherever you are, please know that you are not alone.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation and a general lack of research on menopause. If you are looking for a good article to familiarize yourself with the history and where we are at today with the research, please read this article from the New York Times.
Let’s try to be kind to ourselves during this time. Becoming informed is a good place to start.
Please click on the following to view the one hour video with Jennifer Thompson.
When exercising your body converts both glycogen (aka sugar) and fat into energy. Converting glycogen is quick and easy so these sources are used for high-intensity efforts such as short sprints and hill climbs. Converting fat takes longer so it is used more for lower intensity efforts like steady long training rides.
But this doesn’t mean that you can fuel up on nuts and fat for your long rides. Unless you have trained your body, by strictly following a Keto Diet, your brain only survives on sugar/glycogen of which we have a limited supply. So when you suddenly feel tired, dizzy, lightheaded, short-tempered, or sick during a ride, this is usually because you don’t have enough sugar going to your brain.
We call this lack of glycogen, “bonking”. You may have already experienced this so you will know that it is an extremely difficult state to reverse.
To avoid BONKING, always stay one step ahead of what your body needs.
Whether you feel like eating or not, following a predetermined schedule will ensure that you avoid “the bonk”. Set a timer on your watch to remind you.
Normally we count calories so that we don’t overeat. Now I’m teaching you to count calories so that you eat enough. The time to diet is not on the bike.
The timing of when you eat and the number of calories you eat at each interval are the keys to having a great ride.
If you eat too much at one time, you will upset your stomach. As you are working hard, your blood is in your muscles trying to do work – not in your stomach digesting food.
Everyone is unique in regards to how much they can digest comfortably. But 200-300 calories/hour is what is usually recommended. If you can eat while still pedaling, it is best to eat little bites of food every 10-15mins instead of the whole 200/300 calories at once.
It is your job to find out which types of foods and combinations of carb, protein, and fat percentages work best for you and your type of riding.
The following is a guideline to get you started. Add or subtract calories as your stomach insists or your energy demands require.
Always start a ride well hydrated and with enough fuel (inside of you) to last 60-90 minutes. You should NOT need to eat for a ride less than 90minutes.
Your pre-ride meal should be eaten within 1-3 hours before the ride, and consist of mainly carbohydrates. Fat and protein take 2-3hrs to digest so don’t eat them right before a hard workout. Avoid foods with high fiber as they also slow down digestion and may break up your ride with too many bathroom stops. As fat and protein digest slower, you can eat more of them before longer rides as you will use this stored energy later in the ride. Examples: toast with peanut/almond butter and banana, yogurt and granola and fruit, fruit smoothie, oatmeal with honey, eggs and toast, bagel and cream cheese, muffin
During the ride eat small bites but eat often. Eat your first snack 45-60minutes into the ride. Your snack should contain 200-300 calories of mainly simple carbs with very little fat and protein. Generally speaking the smaller you are, the less you need to eat, however, there are exceptions to every rule.
Examples: fruit bars, gels, boiled potatoes, bananas, fig newtons, sesame snaps, shot bloks, cliff bars, dates, homemade granola bars or cookies, sharkies, or a drink with calories in it like pure maltodextrin, Scratch, Vega Sport, Eload, etc.
It is best to have a variety of food with you so you can change the balance of carbs, protein, and fat throughout the ride. DO NOT BRING ONLY SUGAR and AVOID CAFFEINE until closer to the end of the ride.
Don’t put your body into a state of extreme highs and lows by overloading the body with pure sugar and caffeine. Consuming ONLY pure sugar will place you on an insulin roller coaster and will quickly make your stomach rebel. The exception to this rule would be an intense race where you are pushing a hard effort for the whole ride or the event is less than 2.5 hours.
Foods to avoid before or during a ride: – apples, berries, prunes (too much fibre) – nuts or high fat foods (a few are ok at the start of the ride) – large amounts of meat or protein including high protein bars (too long to digest) – salad or only veggies (you need calories not vitamins right now)
Hydration Use the rule of a minimum of one full water bottle of water (with added electrolytes or salt and lemon depending on how much you sweat) for every hour on the bike.
As endurance athletes, we often think that we burn so many calories that we can eat whatever we want and as much as we want. In truth, athletes need to be more careful with their diet as food is fuel. Everything w eat should contain properties that will boost performance and speed recovery.
Two contradicting ideas about sugar are:
Endurance athletes should eat more carbohydrates because glycogen is our primary fuel source.
Carbohydrates make us fat.
Both statements may be correct. It all depends on the timing of the meal, quantity, and stage or period of training. However, each macronutrient: protein, fat, and carbohydrates, is essential for the performance, growth, and repair of the body. Many athletes have found enormous success following a KETO, Paleo, or Vegan diet. Nevertheless, choosing a diet that eliminates certain food groups requires much research and planning. These diets only work if followed explicitly.
Eating protein does not result in bigger muscles, but muscles cannot grow without it.
Protein is one of the building blocks that make humans who we are. Every cell in the human body must contain protein. During exercise, we deliberately create micro-tears tears in the muscles. The long-chain amino acids help repair the cells and even create new ones, strengthening the muscles. Without enough protein, micro-tears in the muscles may take longer to recover or not repair at all. With more training, instead of getting stronger, muscle mass decreases, and the risk of getting injured increases.
Athletes require 1.2 – 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So a 68kg (150lb) athlete will need between 80 to 136 grams per day. Since the body can only digest and use 30 grams in one meal, we require at least 3 to 5 small protein meals throughout the day.
Vegetarians and vegans need to combine foods to ensure their meals include complete proteins. Note: A complete protein contains the nine essential amino acids that our bodies do not produce.
Eating fat does not make a person fat. Overeating anything does.
Fat is essential for providing long sustained energy, supporting cell growth, allowing the body to absorb certain nutrients, and controlling inflammation, which is crucial after a long hard ride. Once an athlete runs out of glycogen within the first hour, the body turns to fat for energy. Fat is not the enemy but an endurance athlete’s best friend who never lets them down.
Carbs are not better or worse than fat and protein. Each macronutrient serves a unique purpose, and each is essential.
The primary function of carbs is to provide quick, immediate energy, sparring fat, and protein so they can do all of their other vital jobs. However, we can only store so much glycogen at once. Once glycogen stores are full, sugar transforms and is stored as fat. Converting fat into energy is slow and not as efficient as glycogen, therefore reserved for long, slow, sustained efforts. Topping up our small glycogen reserves by eating simple carbs during a long workout helps the athlete access quick, readily available energy. Athletes can train their body to work and become efficient using only fat, but this requires a dedicated commitment to a specific diet and eliminating almost all carbohydrates both on and off the bike.
Without following a specific diet plan, which foods are best?
Variety is the key.
Foods that are whole, unprocessed, and from various sources will help bring about the most significant gains to enhance training and decrease recovery time. Most fast convenience foods lack the necessary nourishment and may deplete the body of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
To help simplify things, ensure that each meal contains a selection of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The exception to this rule is immediately before training, exercising, or racing. Choose food from a wide variety, in every colour, and always fresh if possible. For athletes suffering from stomach issues, lack of energy, slow recovery, irritable bowel, or possible food allergies, take notes and record energy levels one to two hours after eating.