Monday, February 27, 2012

Nutrition Review: PowerBar Gels

Editor's note: video is NSFW. But needed the first :30 for this post.

So, now that we've gotten the fun part out of the way...

See just how many, well, different flavors of gels and products there are? Each one of them isn't necessarily just a different flavor, but rather a different blend of carbohydrates, amino acids, and other supplements. In other words: there's a lot of choices. (bold added because, well, there's almost too many choices to make.)

We've reviewed a fair number of nutrition products here at Crashing the Boards, and wanted to try out a new brand and a couple of their flavors here.

PowerBar has been a sports nutrition giant, founded in 1986 in California. It was marketed as the first nutritional bar designed specifically for endurance athletics. As the company grew, it has expanded their product line to include drinks, gels, chewables, and bars. The company was purchased by Nestle in 2000.

In PowerBar's terms, there are three distinct phases in which their products will fall: it will either be meant for use prior, during, or after athletic activity. Each one of these is referred to in a numerical stage: Stage 1 products are meant for consumption before activity; Stage 2 products are meant for use during activity; Stage 3 products are then meant for recovery afterwards.

Here around the offices, been doing a lot of intense skiing here this winter; yes, despite the lack of quality snowfall, the snow's been fantastic at some of the ski resorts. So with that in mind, we (meaning yours truly and ski buddy Josh) wanted to test some of the during activity products out. This is where the PowerBar gel line comes into play.

Nutrition Breakdown

There were two flavors of gel that we ordered, but both follow the same basic breakdown of formula with one key exception. (We'll come to that in a bit.)

PowerBar uses a proprietary carbohydrate blend that they call C2MAX. Essentially, it is a 2:1 ratio of glucose (delivered as maltodextrin) and fructose. PowerBar claims that this gives anywhere from 20-50% more energy to muscles than glucose on its own and improve endurance performance by up to 8%. Now, if those numbers seem high, I won't claim to know whether or not they work. What I will tell you is that I know that this ratio works well in my system as compared to, say, Hammer Nutrition's gel products, which only use maltodextrin.

PowerBar also throws in 200 mg of sodium, as well as potassium and chloride. These are three of your five key electrolytes that you lose during athletic activity (the others being magnesium and calcium). This works well for a salty sweater, like myself. I mean, on a recent trainer ride, I had bricks of salt on my temples. It gets bad.

There are 110 calories worth of gel in each single-serving packet. PowerBar recommends one gel for every 25-45 minutes worth of activity. I find somewhere around the 40 minute mark to be ideal for myself, but like with many things in sports: your results can and will vary.

So, How's it Work?
We tried out two different flavors: Kona Punch and Tangerine. The key difference between them is the Kona Punch has no caffeine in it, whereas Tangerine has a double-round of caffeine in it totaling 50 mg per packet. Caffeine is something I try to save towards the end of the day, simply because too much of it doesn't do well with my heart-rate and stomach.

The Tangerine flavor is definitely brighter, very loud citrus notes. It also doesn't hide the sodium much. This is something I like, as during the course of racing I find that the saltiness hides away and you taste more of the sweet notes of the gel. The ones that taste good early in the day tend to taste like frosting by the end.

The Kona Punch flavor reminds me a lot of the Strawberry Lemonade nunn tablets, which makes it delicious. It's not as salty as the Tangerine, but that's a good thing. It fits in with my strategy of taking the uncaffeinated gels earlier in the day, and then switching to the saltier and more caffeinated bunch further down the road. I also found the Kona Punch flavor works well when mixed into a 20 oz. bottle of water, if you prefer to draw the majority of your calories from a bar.

Overall, I've found I really enjoy these gels. They are a fair bit thinner than other brands, making them much easier to get down and make sure you're getting all of your calories in. They also tend to be just the right consistency during colder weather runs when other gels almost become chewy. Definitely look forward to racing with them this summer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Easy For You to Say... of these days,
you will forget to hope and learn to fear...
But it's all right...
Easy for you to say
Your heart has never been broken
Your pride has never been stolen
Not yet, not yet...
--Foo Fighters, "These Days"

A lot has been weighing on me in addition to the training volume as of late, and I suppose it's time to start putting that weight into words. I apologize to you if in any way you find the use of my platform here offensive.

This is the hardest time of the year for me, simply because I fall into a longing pattern. Desiring those things that I do not have; desiring for things to be different. I find myself questioning a lot of past decisions this time of the year. It's simply difficult to find that equilibrium that I thrive upon. Life is predicated on balance. It's a time where I can't seem to find that balance.

There's two primary issues on the brain as of late, and we'll talk about each in turn.

All the photographs were peeling, colors turned to gray
He stayed in his room with memories for days
He faced the undertow of future's laid to waste
Embraced by the loss of what he could not replace
There is no reason that (he) passed
And there is no God with a plan
It's sad, and the loneliness is proof it's sad
(We) could only love you, it's sad
The door swings to a passing fable
A fate we may delay
We'll say holding on delivered without an embrace
Eleven nights he laid in bed
Hoping dreams would bring (him) back
It's sad, and our loneliness is proof
It's sad, and we could only love you...
Holding his last breath
Believing it's his own way to make sure he's not forgotten
He's haunted, searching for escape...
If just one wish could bring you back, it's sent...
--Pearl Jam, "Sad"

We just passed the two year anniversary of the longest 48 hour stretch of my life. I won't go into detail about the experiences at Dana Farber, but just to say that being there for so long, the nervousness, the energy, the emotional roller-coaster. I'm trying to convey something and I'm sitting here re-riding the same thing over and over again. I can't even begin to describe it.

It makes the month of February just an absolute bear, as the weather's supposed to be turning towards the spring, towards hope. And I can't find it. Hannah and I try to celebrate Valentine's Day and it's just bringing up that fateful period a scant two years ago.

They claim that with grief, it never gets easier, you merely become better accommodated to suffer through it. Well, I suppose along with that, it's impossible not to have moments like these where you just can't "get over it."

At least here, I've been trying to pour my emotion into my training, and it's been producing something resembling results. My last CompuTrainer session at Friday Night Fights resulted in a big jump in power (300 watts for my 6.2 mile effort). And it felt like I had more in the tank, which is good to note. I just had the mental energy of feeling like, I can take all of this emotional weight, so why can't I endure just a little bit more physical intensity?

Small my table, sits just two
Got so crowded, I can't make room
Where did they come from? Stormed my room?
And you dare say, it belongs to you...
Well this is not for you...
--Pearl Jam, "Not For You"

Noticing a 90s alternative rock theme? Yeah. It's big in this household.

At any rate, I've also been staring down the barrel of my parents (potentially) having to sell the home that was their dream. The one they worked so hard for, to build, the one that took weekends for us to put together with our hands. Yeah. That one.

Couple that with feeling a little responsible for having all of the student loans in the world that they co-signed (no, none of them are in default, and they aren't paying them, Thank God) and me deciding that being a lawyer was not for me...and, well, you can imagine why I feel like garbage.

Here's the thing: I can't imagine a career that I'd be happier with, being in the running/multisport industry. I'm completely content. For anybody to question that, and wonder why I'm not an attorney, well here it is: I need to be able to wake up in the morning and be proud of what I do everyday. I get to say that. Do you? If yes, awesome. If not, what are you doing with yourself? Do you not value the time that you get to spend everyday? Why loathe your career? I'd rather be broke and get to say, "I love this job!" than have to be stuck in a position that has me crawling inside my own skin.

That's what lawyering was for me. I couldn't get around the fact that inside the walls of a courtroom, I wanted to do nothing but run away from it. I couldn't get around the fact that getting a perfectly valid admission by a client thrown out would result in victory when you have the knowledge that your client is guilty as sin. I'm not one for pissing and moaning, an element that is almost required of being a tort lawyer. So what's that leave? Not much.

So instead, I love what I do. I'm passionate. I'm, dare I say it, successful at what I do. So to have people questioning my decision...well, I don't have time for you. Sorry. I use my education in ways you couldn't even begin to imagine. But I'm not going to be a lawyer. If that's an issue for you, then sorry, game over.

Above all things if kindness is your king
Then heaven will be yours, before you meet your end.
--Dave Matthews Band, "Squirm"

Now to say thank you to the support crew that I have:

  • Family: Mom, Dad, Diane, Peter, Sean, Kylen, Rachel, Stephen, Robin, and everyone else: As much as we disagree sometimes, it's your backing and talks that have let me become the person that I am today. I can't ever thank you enough.
  • Friends: God, I can't even begin to put everybody here because I'd forget some people. But from ski days with Josh to training rides with Adam to dinners with Katy, or Sam, or beer tastings with Luke, Jake, to hanging out at Freeman's chatting and learning, etc.: these are the things that I truly value. And that friendship bears repeating.
  • Colleagues: To the entire Maine Running Company crew: it's your passion and support that lit the fire in my gut, to make me realize just how much I love working in this industry. That kick in the tail is what the doctor ordered. John, Maggie, Bill, Seth, Doug, Ben, Brandi, Jonny, and Brian: thanks.
  • Team Rev3 Triathlon: I KNOW I can't list everybody here. Because, well, I'd leave somebody off. But you guys have been a dream. The energy that I feel from you guys has left me inspired, day after day. From the whole Rev3 race crew, to MB, to all the team members, to the sponsors: just an amazing support system.

Thank you all.

Editorial Note: Got some upcoming posting's reviewing some PowerBar nutrition products, as well as a training update. But just needed to put this one out there.

Monday, February 13, 2012

So...What's My Shoe Size?

This short post is distilled out of a discussion over on the Slowtwitch Forums about wide-fitting racing flats. The first thing I noticed was: a lot of people are posting about being 2E or 4E width (that's wide and extra wide widths for men, for those who don't speak running-shoe-ese). And the second was my wonder if people were actually buying the correct size shoe.

In the course of my career in the shoe industry, I've noticed that more often than not I'm changing people's shoe size. Well, let me qualify that: I'm changing a person's running shoe size. I put the emphasis on running shoe size here because, well, it doesn't translate into any other shoe that you wind up purchasing.

This post is for you if you answer one of these questions in the affirmative:
  • Have you ever suffered from bruised toes or black toenails during the course of running?
  • Have you ever felt like the arch in the shoe has been in the wrong place?
  • Have you felt like there isn't enough room in the toebox of the shoe?
  • Have you felt like shoes haven't been deep enough, pressing down over the instep and not wrapping the middle part of your foot?
This post won't go into gait analysis and pronation rate, as they don't relate to the sizing of your shoe.

A running shoe is comprised of three distinct measurements that, when taken together, will result in the "true" size that you'll be looking for. Of course, there's variation in manufacturers and how they size. As an example, Brooks shoes currently size about a half-size smaller than they are. So, in their line, take the number that we compute here and add a half-size to it to get the correct "true" size. However, most major brands do now fit true to size.

We'll analyze each piece of the correct sizing spectrum in turn. To get there, though, you'll need to have access to a Brannock Device. A Brannock, you ask? It's one of these old school things:
The Original Brannock Device (courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute).
So, visiting your favorite local running retailer is always a good idea to have them do this sizing for you.

Part I: Foot Length
Yes, this is the part that you should know by now, although often I'm still finding people get this wrong. But, at any rate, it's pretty self-explanatory: we're looking for the total length of your foot here. 

To do this correctly, make sure you are standing with even pressure on both feet. Also, ensure that you're sitting in the back heel cup of the device. Finally, allow the person doing the measuring (yes, somebody else needs to read it!) to measure both feet. We aren't symmetrical! One of your feet will be larger than the other. 

Part II: Arch Length
Here's where things get more difficult, and this is typically where people go wrong with their running shoe size.

In the picture of the Brannock Device up above, you can see a small slider on the upper part of the photo. This is the arch length measurement tool. We're looking for the length of your foot from the heel to the ball of your foot.

To do this correctly, remain in place from the foot length measurement. The fitter will then slide this tool to the center of the ball of your foot. Note that we are looking for the joint itself, and not necessarily where the pad of the foot is. Perform for both feet.

More often than not, we have longer arches than we do physical foot lengths. I'm a shining example of it: size 11.5 length foot, size 13.5 arch. Basically, to put it bluntly, I have short toes versus the length of my foot. Whether that's genetics, or mechanics of the foot at play, I'm not quite certain. But I can tell you the appropriate shoe size from this.

So, what do you do? There are two rules here, depending on the amount of gap between the two numbers generated:
  • If the arch length and foot length are within one-half size of each other, simply choose the larger of the two numbers. This is your running shoe size for length. However:
  • If the arch length and foot length have a greater discrepancy than a half-size, take the two numbers and average them; this is your running shoe size for length.
Part III: Width of the Foot
Now that we know the correct length, we can correctly size for width. After all, width changes proportionally to the length of the shoe being purchased. Take the appropriate length from above, and use the bottom slider from the picture above to touch the foot; it will then give a corresponding width based on length.

That's it! With those numbers in hand, you should be able to find something that will feel a bit better on foot. Of course, visiting your favorite specialty running store will be advantageous in making sure that you also get the right type of shoe on foot.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Time Flies...

I was sitting in the office at work yesterday during packet-pickup, looking at the large calendar that details when vacations are coming up and when large store events will happen. Just for fun, I started counting forward until Quassy and came to a stunning conclusion.

It's 17 weeks till we're racing.


Well, I shouldn't be as worried as I am; there's been a lot of work that has gone into my training so far. But there's still some fears in the back of my head that won't be placated till, say, April, when you simply have to trust the training that you've done.

This off-season has been great from a strength and awareness standpoint. Doug and I have done a lot of work trying to keep me stronger to prevent form breakdowns. It's also helped out a bit in the water, although there's still some issues there (more on that in the moment). Running is simply easy right now; it's been easy to find speed that last year, I'd spend too much energy trying to get over that hump and would wind up blowing up.

Cycling has been a blast this winter, simply due to The Sustainable Athlete's purchase of new CompuTrainers. Love training on them for workouts in the winter, simply because it feels so much better compared to anything else indoors. I'd like to get on a set of rollers sometime soon, too, just to see how I handle that. Preferably with a large set of couch cushions on all sides to ensure when I fall (not if, but when), we don't hurt myself or (more importantly) my bike.

One of the other great parts about their purchase of the CompuTrainers is that they've created a friendly race series called Friday Night Fights. It sounds just like it is: waves of folks going off onto a CompuTrainer course, showing you how far behind a rider you are, the current grade, etc. Just like racing outdoors, except without any traffic to worry about nor headwinds. It's hellacious. There's no recovery on hills; there's no taking the foot of the gas. It is twelve to thirty minutes (depending on the course) of mashing the throttle and hoping to God that you have enough in the tank.

I've been paired up with a good local, Bootstrap Bob Turner, for the last two series. We matched off in a hill climb two weeks ago where I put out a massive effort (303 watts for my three mile hill) to get him. I felt ready to suffer, and just mentally pushed and pushed till I could push no more. And then dug a bit deeper into the Pain Cave. Victory hurt so good.

So this week BT and I engaged in some pretty friendly banter back and forth via Twitter. Started warming up and felt good, despite having had a late night on Thursday (went to Boston to watch the Bruins get spanked by Carolina) and not eating great. We got into the room, started going, and I just Couldn't get things going. Alright, I said, maybe you'll come around, just start off a bit on the conservative side and then start reaching into the well with about 15 minutes to go.

Failure. Just didn't have it in me. Bob knocked me out, Tyson style. He earned it, and no excuses on my part, either. There's reasons why I feel I underperformed, but at the same time, for all I know he could've had the same issues. He won. I didn't. Motivation for next time to suffer again. And to learn from the mistakes of the last one, and execute better.

I wish I could say the same thing for my swimming, but alas, been dealing with a fair bit of shoulder trouble on my left side. What we've discovered is that the left lat has been shut off, and instead taking the brunt of things was the upper part of the shoulder. Oops. We've been doing a lot of self-massage to work out the knotting in my neck, shoulder, and lat, along with more neuromuscular strength. Made it through 2100 yards last week without an issue, so we're going to fire off some swims here soon to see how things play out.

As this season approaches, my goal with swimming is to swim around 33 minutes comfortably. I don't care if I could swim 30, unless I can do it in a way that lets me get on the bike feeling great. If it means I have to swim a little more conservatively to ensure that my bike and run are as well executed as they need to be, so be it. It's a constant push-pull in your brain: get to the finish line faster! Well, to do so, you may need to be slower at one piece of this in order to make up that time and more later down the road.

But the only way to discover the true game plan is to get to work. Time to start buildin' some hurtin' bombs.