For the past several months I’ve been experiencing serious performance decrease in my sport, especially in cycling. Trying to find the root cause I stumbled on such an interesting term as RED-S. According to Wikipedia:
“… an athlete’s bone density may decrease, but may not yet have dropped below her age-matched normal range. These signs can be considered “occult,” as no one symptom may be severe enough to seek medical attention, leaving the Triad to go unnoticed or untreated…”
Sounds pretty serious. I needed to rule out the possibility of having a low bone density so I went ahead and booked an appointment for the DEXA scan. Why DEXA?
A dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan is a low-radiation x-ray that accurately measures how much of your body weight is made up of fat, muscle, and bone. It also measures the bone density. Tt tells you your total body fat, muscle, and bone, and breaks it down by body part. I cared less about the body fat and muscle – just tell me what’s my bone density.
I did my test at the place called Studio Athletica in Toronto. I would recommend this place for the several reasons:
Location – 5 Stars
Customer service – 5 Stars
Overall experience – 5 Stars
Pricing – 5 Stars
I did get the number I was looking for, however I also got a lot of other very interesting information about my machinery. Let’s dive in!
Below you see three pictures of me:
According to the readings, my lean mass is 138 lb (63 kg), while total weight is about 156 lb (70 kg). Lean mass is the sum of all the muscle and soft organ tissue (internal organs, ligaments, connective tissue, etc.). What makes the rest 20 lb? Not the poop – Fat. Fat mass includes all the fat found within the organs of the body as well as the subcutaneous fat found under the skin. 8.8% of Sasha is made out of fat. Below is a breakdown:
This is the off season and I gained about 2-3 kg of my typical weigh. Even considering that 8% seem to be on the edge of health/performance. Below is the picture of me one month before this DEXA. I was about 2 kg lighter then, therefore I would assume that my body fat was 1-2% lower. However, to give you an idea of what 6-8% body fat looks like:
Next screenshot shows the more precise body fat percentage as well as RELATIVE SKELETAL MUSCLE INDEX (RSMI). What that is? RSMI helps to determine your risk for sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia is a disease associated with the aging process. Loss of muscle mass and strength affects balance, gait, and the ability to perform daily living tasks.
It basically tell how old you are. Not too old yet, according to the readings. Also, with such a low body fat %, I might need to consider putting on some weight, as 8% is almost critical for my sport.
Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)
This is interesting, as it shows how much energy your body needs just to keep you alive. This energy is just enough to maintain your body temperature, heartbeat, and keep you breathing.
My machinery requires about 1,700 calories a day not to die. This makes me wonder, how would that look in terms of food?
1700 CALORIES worth of FOOD
Salmon Filet 1,9 KG
Sweet Potatoes 1,5 kg
Avocado 1 kg
Ok ok, I got distracted here… Basically, what I showed you is that to simply stay alive, mine and yours bodies require quite a bit of food. Try to eat almost 2 kilograms of salmon or 1,5 kg of sweet potatoes! Then multiply in by 7 to estimate the weekly intake. Also consider the thermic effect of proteins vs carbs and fats… I definitely underestimated the energy requirements of my body.
Muscle Balance in Body
This is a comparison of my body’s right to left muscle mass symmetry. Despite the fact that I am right-handed, left side of Sasha appears to be stronger. Abnormally big heart, bigger left arm, leg, runk… everything is bigger on the left side:
Bone Density is within good range. It’s not included in this report, however I got the results separately.
Resting Metabolic Rate is 1,700 calories/day, which is a lot of food.
I might consider putting on some weight, as 8% body fat is pretty low – almost critical for my sport.
To remind myself. So important to remind myself to slow down, look in the rear mirror and give yourself compassionate smile; to pat myself on a back and say “Good job partner!”; to shut down my mouth and open my eyes.
Three months to think, to reflect, to dig deep into myself. Physical pain is catalyst of many mental processes and quickly reminds you of main things in life. That Ironman race in Lake Placid could’ve been my last one… Looking back, it was a scary accident that could’ve put me into the coffin or at least make me disabled. It did not. It was a lesson, not the exam. A bad student was given a chance to try again. I like to think that I learned the lesson, however I also realize that the fact I allow myself to think so, proves me wrong.
It is comforting to think that the accident is over and I took the most of it and took good notes. I can turn the page now. Or I should rathe ask: Can I turn the page now?
“You can, but after you pass the exam.”
Two years ago I spent Thanksgiving with my friend in Austin, Texas. Jim signed us both for the annual Turkey Trot — fundraising event. Just starting my training/racing journey, I ran 8 kilometers in 41 minutes averaging 8 minute/mile. I ran it for fun, however competitive bug in me pushed me faster than I planned. It was a good run.
“Hey Sasha, we want you come join us for Thanksgiving this year. Will also run the Turkey Trot. The race we did two years ago, remember?”
— Jim called.
Of course I did remember and of course I would love to spend this family holiday among the people who care about me. “Hey Sasha, we want you come join us for Thanksgiving this year “ — Jim called. “Will also run the Turkey Trot. The race we did two years ago, remember?” Of course I did remember and of course I would love to spend this family holiday among the people who care about me.
“You NEED to make this race your “coming back race”. You HAVE to win your age group!!! You MUST push yourself as hard as only possible!”
— familiar voice popped up in my mind.
Hmm…. Sounds familiar. Heavy claws fell on my shoulders and immediately I recognized him… He’s back.
Sasha — the Ironman is now talking. That Sasha who almost killed me not that long ago on the course in September. I realized who was talking and the table turned. I was flashing the awareness light right into his face. Awareness gave me the right of choice. Remain a puppet of my Ego or take the captain’s post…
Yes, I will run! Of course, I will push myself hard! However, this time I will do it not because I HAVE TO or MUST, but because I CHOOSE TO. I choose to train and compete; I choose to enjoy every step I take. Now I know that every single race could be the last one and every experience is so unique and precious.
The ultimate failure in life is to achieve everything you wanted but still not find the happiness. No matter in what place you finish the race, you always lose if you did not enjoy it. It worth repeating:
No matter how well you perform, you are the ultimate loser if you did not enjoy it.
The ultimate failure in anything you do is to finish first and unhappy.
I learned to be careful setting the goals for myself. No hard numbers, no unrealistic expectations. Instead of making a statement and demanding a certain result from my body, I now ask. I ask my body: how fast can you do it, considering the circumstances? Bike accident, surgery, no training for 8–9 weeks…ups and downs. Considering all those facts, what my finishing time could be? What is the fittest you can get on a few weeks of training?
I’ve had three weeks to somewhat prepare for the run. Three weeks before the race, my surgeon allowed to resume light training and I immediately met with my coach to announce my 8 kilometers intention. Renee supported me, however warned to not set high expectations. I know, I know Renee… This is the lesson I needed to learn.
Only so few running workouts to get in shape. Each of them counts.
The work is done. I’m at the race venue. I feel so much energy. The fire within is searching for a way out. I am so grateful to be in this city, I am so grateful to be young, strong and healthy!!! I am so happy to be able to move my body, to see all this people around me, to smell the fresh morning air. So glad to be back at the start line and feel the competition.
Even the fact that I missed the start of my wave bounced off my mind and didn’t screw my mood in any way. I would run anyways, timed or not timed, rain or snow, hail or meteorite shower. I flew to the starting line, hoped over the fence and hit the start button on my watch.
I pushed it hard… and I pushed it hard again. I enjoyed every moment of the race. I loved the burning feeling in my legs and the heart pumping in my chest. Finished strong and hit the stop button.
Looked at the watch:
8.3 kilometers – 33 minutes 4 min/km 6 min/mi
Yes! Fuck yeah! So grateful, so grateful. I am back! I am alive! Mission complete…. Celebrate
It’s so important to remember all the lessons that life teaches you. It is so easy to fall back into the usual model of thinking and responding to the world.
Acupuncture. Begin with x1 a week for 4 weeks. The session is typically 45 minutes long and the price is around CAD$100 for Toronto GTA area.
Nutritional Corrections & Recommendations
Increase daily caloric intake. Begin increasing the amount of food you eat on a daily basis by 200-300 calories a day. Pay attention to your weight and body image. If you notice a rapid weight gain, cut the increase to 100-200 calories. If there is no weight gain, increase caloric intake by another 100-200 calorie a day, totaling at about extra 400-500 calories a day.
Increase the frequency of the water consumption. Instead of drinking more water in total, make the emphasis on drinking it more frequent with little gulps. Drink the clear water, consistently and frequently throughout the day. Reduce water consumption 1-2 hours before bed.
Consume protein from clean animal sources. The list below is organised in order from most nutritiously rich foods to least:
Raw pork belly fat (30 grams a day)
Eggs & Plant based proteins
Chicken (The least nutritious. Nutritional value = 0)
If you’ve ever dreamed about touring through the mountains of France or spending a week biking the trails in Whistler, you probably thought about whether or not you can fly with a bike. The answer is yes! Use my step-by-step instructions on how to bullet proof your bike for traveling on a plane.
What you will need
Bike Case. I am using Thule RoundTrip Sport (link).
Use a pedal wrench or hex key to unscrew the pedals from the crank arms. Rightpedals loosen by turning counter-clockwise, left pedals loosen clockwise. Applybike grease to the new pedals and screw them in at an even 90 degree angle. Right pedals tighten by turning clockwise, left pedals tighten counter-clockwise.
2. Place chain onto the large chain ring at crank.
The closer I get to my first IRONMAN, the more race specific my training gets. On today’s agenda is the “BRICK”:
2 hour 15 minutes Endurance Bike Ride (180w) immediately followed by10 minutes run of the bike
2 cups of coffee
Essential Amino acids
Whole Grapefruit 360g (40 carbs)
Considering my previous Sweat Rate calculations: ~1500 mL/hour * Workout: 2 hr 15 min = 3000 mL of fluids (4xG2 bottles (2840 ml))
Today I experiment with hydration solution G2 from Gatorade. A bottle (710 mL) is a 5% solution with 330 mg of sodium. (240 cal/64 carbs)
It’s important to mention that the calories in hydration solution are not meant to deliver energy to the muscles, but to improve the fluid absorption.
The formula I use to calculate carbohydrate needs:
0.25 x 150 lbs = 38 g/hour
2.15 x 38 = 82 grams of carbs
2 Protein Bars + banana = 585 cal (86c/23f/15p)
Total Calorie Intake (hydration+fueling): 825 cal (150c/23f/15p) / 2.15 hours = 384 cal/hour
Had 3 bottles of G2, left one unopened. Found it difficult to drink this much. Couldn’t say the same about eating part. Sugars are always fun. So here is what I’ve got:
Pre-Weight: 68.4 kg
Post-Weight: 66.9 kg
Fluids Consumed: 2130 mL (710 mL less than suggested)
Total Fluid Loss: 3630 mL
Sweat Rate: 1613 mL/hour
Energy Expanded: 1630 calories / 2:30 hours = 652 calories/hour
Felt strong on the bike physically and mentally. Was able to hold ~180w for 2 hours straight. The ride ended up at 100 kilometers, averaging at 44.5 km/h. Running off the bike, my legs felt literally like jelly. Ran 2 kilometers at 4:56 /km pace.
Overall I am impressed by the power output on the bike and how good I felt.
Unlike professional athletes, a lot of people manage to balance full-time jobs, family commitments and relationships with training. Training and competing, tight deadlines at work, travel across time zones, misunderstandings with people you care about, illnesses, dealing with difficult kids – all accumulate and add to psychological and physiological stress. Add on top of problems at work one or two hard training sessions, sprinkle it with sleep deprivation and you are well on your way to burnout and injury.
Mood swings, food cravings, inconsistency and unpredictability in athletic performance, lack of motivation, low energy levels are only the symptoms of system overload. You feel drained and totally destroyed. At 3 pm you fall asleep on the toilet at work, or worse, while driving back home. Total load is the term proposed by International Olympic Committee. In addition to your training and competing stress, it takes into account the daily life stressors.
Faster, better, stronger, harder! Sleep less, work more! Sleep for the weak! No pain – no gain! Chasing “gains” in our sports, we totally neglect psychological stressors and daily life hassles. We are so good at pushing ourselves, but so bad at recovering. Do you really think you can keep on abusing and pushing you body this way forever without any consequences? How long do you think you can last until it breaks? The question is not IF, the question is WHEN? Understanding the implications of total load and how to manage it – is critical to achieving your goals.
Modern technologies allow people to monitor so many body metrics: Heart rate during exercise; Resting heart rate (RHR); Sleep duration; Sleep stages; Caloric consumption and expenditure; Glucose and Ketone levels, you name it. We have access to data, that only a few decades ago was available to scientists in research labs. So many metrics at your hand and inability to make sense of it leads to information overload and analysis paralysis.
Information is gold. You will learn what the HRV is, and can it help you to improve your health, well-being and sports performance. I will teach you how to track and interpret your HRV data and show you real life examples of how daily life events and trainings impact your performance and recovery.
By default, Mother Nature has programmed your autonomic nervous system (ANS) with two operation systems: Sympathetic OS and Parasympathetic OS. They both work simultaneously, however performing totally different tasks.
Sympathetic Operation System
This is the system that has direct access to the “red button” which in situations threatening survival will prime your body for action.
Muscles contract, and begin to convert glycogen into glucose.
Heart rate ramps up.
Bronchial tubes dilate to facilitate better gas exchange.
Pupils dilate to enhance visual input, even in low light.
Hearing shuts down (auditory exclusion – loss of hearing).
You feel almost like rocket fuel has been poured into your system. Nitrous oxide is fueling your engine. You are READY TO EXPLODE at any second now. Flames are shooting down your exhaust pipes. Go get them!
This system saved your great-great-great-…-great father’s life, when saber-toothed tiger decided to have some homosapien for dinner. It is the reason why you are being alive. It was developed from necessity as a survival mechanism to prepare your body respond with everything it got in a matter of milliseconds. This system is awesome.
Parasympathetic Operation System
Unlike SO system, Parasympathetic OS is designed to slow you dow. This system is responsible to deploy the parachutes when the race is over. It maintains both mental and physical health by helping your body to calm down from stress reaction you’ve had and divert energy from other body processes to “rest and digest”. It’s a pit stop, where you get repaired, refueled and prepared for the next race.
Turns on digestion system, sending you to use the restroom
Makes you horny
Puts brakes on the heart rate and lowers the blood pressure after the sympathetic nervous system has activated the fight or flight response
Now that everything is behind, it’s time to chill and restore the energy you expanded.
HRV, What are you?
Heart Rate Variability – is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats.
Unlike the car’s engine, your heart doesn’t beat with exact same frequency each moment. The pauses between beats are not equal and can range from 0.85 and 1.35 seconds.
Note: The longest intervals between beats occur when you exhale, and the shortest intervals when you inhale.
HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat which is controlled by autonomic nervous system (ANS).
Is it Worth the Hype?
For the past 4 months, every single morning I measured my HRV using HRV4Training IOS app. It costed me $10 for the app which promised to provide data analytics on the relation between physiological parameters, training and performance. It does not require any extra sensors and use iPhones flashlight with camera to measure your heart rate (technique is called photoplethysmography). The process of measuring is really easy:
Place your fingertip exactly on the camera. Touch the camera gently
Try not to move for the duration of the whole test, and breathe freely, without forcing any unnatural breathing pattern
Stay still for 1 minute
After each measurement the app will output the HRV Score. Higher score (or greater variability between heart beats) usually means that the body has a strong ability to tolerate stress or is strongly recovering from prior accumulated stress. At rest, a high HRV is generally favorable and a low HRV is unfavorable.
I also been journaling my emotional conditions, energy levels and training performances during that time period. I collected a lot of data to see if there are any patterns or corrections between HRV and my athletic performances , as well as overall feeling.
Traveling & Racing
Ukraine, Euro-tour, Marathon, Half-Marathon
From December 29th to January 19th I put A LOT of stress on my body and mind. I flew to Kiev, Ukraine from Toronto changing 8 time zones. I visited 5 countries during the road trip through the Europe. I drove over 5,000 km. I ran a marathon on January 5th in Paris and a half-marathon week later. Below is the data I got from the app during that crazy trip:
Left picture shows the recovery points and the right one shows the heart rate. To my surprise, app measurements show that cross-continental flight to another part of the world didn’t harm my body too much, neither the marathon did. Almost throughout the entire time of travel, training and competing my recovery points stayed nice and high, even higher then when I was back home. Same story with heart rate. It stayed low during the entire time, showing the positive trend even after the marathon.
Looking at this graphs it seems that my body handled travel, training and racing very well. In fact the scores are better than I had, while back home in Canada.
This is where it gets really interesting! Immediately right after returning back home, everything went down. My recovery pointsfell straight down, continuing this negative trend for 7 days! We can also see direct correlation to heart rate readings. For a week it continued to creep up indicating that my body is having a really hard time.
My theory is that during the time spent traveling and in Ukraine, my body was under some sort of adrenaline or in defense mode to absorb the stress. Shortly after I returned back home and touched my bed, my body switched off the defense mode and literally fell apart.
Not to mention that despite downward trends Ifelt good mentally and emotionally.
Can HRV predict good and bad performances?
Let’s put travel and stress associated to the side and evaluate the data during regular training under normal conditions. Consistent journaling allows me to go back and see when I felt particularly good or bad, strength or weakness. I used my post-workout comments to compare them with HVR scores on that particular day.
Below Average / Bad Performances
In contrast to low HRV scores, let’s review some more recent data with higher scores. Did I feel and perform better with high HRV scores?
Great performances / Breakthroughs
“Information is only useful if it’s actionable“
Now that we reviewed the data, lets bring the elephant into the room and answer the main question:
Does HRV4Training provide data analytics on the relation between physiological parameters, training and performance?
In my case it DOES NOT.
During the 4 months of recording and comparing HRV data to my overall feeling I did not find direct relationship between HRV scores and athletic performances. It addition HRV score does not reflect mental or emotional state, neither it was promised by developers it would.
I am sure there are people who found this tool useful and will disagree with me. However everyone is different and what works for one, does not work for another. $10 for this particular app will not break your budget and I encourage you to give it a shot and see if you benefit from it. I am opened for discussion on the topic and I might change my mind, but for now I will stop measuring my morning HRV using the app for the reasons I stated above. Instead I will work to recognize the signs my body tell me, when something’s not quite right. I will also listen more to my emotional state to access my condition and predict the readiness to perform on a given day.
Soligard, T., Martin Schwellnus, J. A., Bahr, R., Clarsen, B., Dijkstra, P., Gabbett, T., . . . Engebretsen, L. (2016, September 01). How much is too much? (Part 1) International Olympic Committee consensus statement on load in sport and risk of injury. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/50/17/1030
Schwellnus M, Soligard T, Alonso J, et al(2016, September 01). How much is too much? (Part 2) International Olympic Committee consensus statement on load in sport and risk of illness. Br J Sports Med2016;50:1043-1052. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/50/17/1043
What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)? And how it can enhance your training. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://www.myithlete.com/what-is-hrv/