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Training For Ultras – Sandra Brown

Category : Training

sandra brownI hope these notes will help others to benefit from what I have learned over the years, from wide reading and from practical experience of ultradistance training and racing. They are offered with all humility, not as gospel statements, but as thoughts which readers may take or leave, as they choose. It is important to find out what works for you. We are all different, with different tolerances of distance and speed. That in itself is an important lesson- not to assume, for example, that a particular schedule that seems good for one individual is necessarily transferable to another. But if you can shorten your learning process by profiting from others’ experience, just do it! I hope that my notes will give readers some useful hints and food for thought.

Train With Pride. And Be Yourself!
Each person’s training patterns and their performances need to be seen in the context of their lifestyle, opportunities and personal capacity to train and race. I have always worked, mostly behind a desk, even when my daughter (now 13) was a baby. I have never had the chance to over-train, something for which I’m very grateful, especially now I’m W50, still enjoying my sport immensely, and largely injury-free. Living for most of my working life in central London, and with many demands on my time, I have always had to adopt a flexible approach to training and to be content to cross-train. Now we live in a rural village in South West England. The village is surrounded by rural lanes where you can run/walk almost traffic-free, and where you get a hilly workout whichever way you go. But the same lifestyle constraints still apply. On days when there is no chance of hitting the road, I have to be content with a session on the exercise bike and/or some free weights/exercises at home (the latter usually performed in the kitchen while getting breakfast or supper!) There have been times, I’m sure, when I have envied other people their chance to run twice a day. Perhaps now I see the advantages of keeping fit through a varied programme which avoids excessive wear and tear on the joints, strained and overtrained muscles, and physical and mental tiredness.

A Glorious Addiction
Our sport is addictive. Don’t fight it! It brings friendship, fitness and fun. But be careful how you use this addictive substance called exercise if you want to continue to enjoy its pleasures and avoid injury and -time off.

Racing as Training
For me, during the season from March to October, racing and training become a continuous activity. I like to do 1-3 ultra races a month, depending on where and when they are held, and how they fit in with work and school commitments. I have got a bus card which makes long-distance coach journies in the UK and Europe very good value, and a family railcard which makes the train cheaper provided Vicky comes too! Looking back, my best years have been those when I have raced often. I do not agree with those who say that you can only do one ultra race a year, or two. Each race is training for the next, each one builds up your strength and fitness until, by mid-late season, you are at your racing best, ready to set records and achieve new personal bests.

Races provide an excellent training environment. They give you the opportunity and the motivation to train for longer hours and miles than you would normally manage to do, with food, drinks, shelter, loos all provided, and a measured, safe and usually well-lit circuit. Don’t try to treat each race as an eyeballs out, competitive affair. If you do too many like this, you will risk physical and mental burnout. One Spring, when we were preparing for the Paris-Colmar in June, we raced 24 hour/200kms walking events every 1-2 weeks in April and May. After a few weeks the tell-tale signs of sore throats appeared, and our performances tailed off. We had overdone it – pushed our luck a bit too far, and needed to back off for a couple of weeks to let our immune systems recover.

In 1999 I did 9 races of 100 miles or more between April and October, including three in May. I survived and thrived, by treating perhaps 5 of those races as real competitive efforts, and the others as hard but sociable training spins, some way back from the – edge – of more or less all-out physical and mental commitment. You don’t have to prove yourself or push to the limit in every race. Decide which races are likely to be the more important competitions – for example, the 100 miles Centurion racewalks if that is your speciality – and have some training fun in the others. In 1999 I entered a number of – go as you please – 24 hour races in which I walked, aiming for 100 miles, but without fussing about the time I took, and making sure I drank and ate well enough, so that I was not over tired, and was ready for work on Monday and to resume training after a couple of days.

S t r e t c h It Out
So jog or run if you like, but mix this with walking, and be diligent about stretching- a walker needs to keep his or her muscles and tendons supple and long, and running can shorten and tighten them progressively if you don’t take care with stretching. I always try to start and finish any training run with a 5-10 minutes of walking with a nice long stride, followed by stretching at the end. I have a routine of 3 or 4 basic leg stretches which I do before I come through the front door, otherwise I get caught up in the business of family breakfasts and conversations!

Gym – or Improvise
Running is one useful element of cross-training. Gym work is another. Our village is miles from the nearest gym or track, but you can achieve similar training effects with very basic equipment. Walkers need power and strength in the upper body, so some exercise for the chest, shoulders, back, front and arms can really help your style and speed. Be careful not to distort the balance between the two sides of the body, or between the back and front, or you may find inefficiency, aches and pains emerging – it is uncomfortable if back ache or shoulder pain occurs. I prefer to use small to medium sized free weights with quite rapid repetitions, rather than heavy weights – the walker’s aim is to develop strength and tone with speed, not to build bulk or slow responses. I have improvised weights with tins of beans in the past! When I have to travel for work away from home, I put into a corner of my bag a flexiband with which I can perform some exercises in my hotel room wherever I am! I don’t have a rowing machine but have enjoyed using them when I occasionally get the chance, for upper body strengthening.

Pedal Power
At home I have an old exercise bike – just a sturdy mechanical affair with no electrical gadgets – which I use as often as 3-4 times a week, especially if I can’t get on the road because of shortage of time or bad weather. I don’t pedal at high resistance, but work steadily for anything between 20 and 60 minutes. There is a big wire bookstand on the handlebars, piled with a mixture of work-related stuff and sports reading (like the NZUA and Centurion newsletters, and Runner’s World magazine.) As a family we enjoy real bike rides some weekends; they can be relaxing, and good training without being strenuous.

Speedwork Pays Off
Going to the track, especially with friends, is great for speed work sessions. Long distance specialists tend to become mileage junkies and shun intervals and any kind of variable speed work. One winter I went to the track with friends each Wednesday night in London. We did intervals, each working hard but letting each member of the group find their own pace. It isn’t surprising that the following summer season I achieved some of my best times at short distances as well as in longer races. I confess to being lazy about speedwork now.

It is vital to stretch well soon after any gym work, and the best time is while your muscles are still very warm and supple. If you can, it is a good idea then to have a walk, even just for a few minutes and not too hard.

Country Style
Any training regrets? Not really; it’s important to feel positive about what you do, and make the best of whatever routine fits into your life. I am a rotten swimmer, so it doesn’t bother me that the nearest pool is miles away! An activity we love and wish we had more time for is long distance cross country walking and running. In the UK we have a terrific organisation called the Long Distance Walkers’ Association (LDWA.) LDWA groups around the country put on events each weekend, mostly of 25-30 miles, occasionally 50 miles, 100kms, and annually 100 miles, almost entirely off road, through all kinds of terrain and conditions. Route descriptions are provided, and there is food and drink at checkpoints every few miles. They are not races, and the organisers specify a maximum time limit (eg 10 hours for 25 miles) and sometimes a minimum time (out of consideration for checkpoint marshalls.) You can fast-walk or jog if you like. For good fun, great views, and training value there is nothing like a day in the hills on one of these events.

Don’t Overtrain
There is so much you could do, if you have time. Just don’t overdo it. There is nothing smart about hitting the road or the gym so often that you have constant muscular niggles which threaten to hamper your training and racing, constant tiredness because you are pushing your body beyond sensible limits, or constant snuffles because your immune system is run down. In deciding where your limits are (and each person is different,) take account of all the demands in your life, including work and family responsibilities as well as your sport. I have known young (pre-vet) athletes run themselves down and then give up, because they tried too hard. And older athletes who looked forward to greater opportunities to train when they retired, but ran into injury time by increasing mileage too fast. If you want to build up your training volume, increase mileage by small amounts (not more than 10% per week is often suggested,) and remember the value of cross-training in avoiding overload on specific muscle groups. Balance heavy training and racing periods with sufficient rest to promote healing and recovery. And use nutritional strategies to help keep you fit and well.

Injurious Lessons
I have had four injuries in the last 15 years, and it’s quite instructive to explain how I got them (and could have avoided them!) The first was a badly sprained ankle caused by a slip and fall in a 100 mile cross country event in the Snowdonia mountains. The fall occurred running down off a mountain at about 30 miles into the race. I slipped on a wet rock (it was raining at the time) and crash! More haste less speed. Being an obstinate sort, I insisted on carrying on till the finish, another 70 miles. My ankle was like a balloon and very painful for a couple of days afterwards. At the time I knew nothing about icing, but rest and gentle exercises to maintain flexibility probably came naturally. There is scar tissue around the ankle, but thank goodness it doesn’t seem to bother me. My ankles and shins are probably stronger now, thanks to racewalking, than they were then.

The second was a tear in the quads. This occurred a couple of days after a 28 hours racewalk at Roubaix in France, during my -comeback- after Vicky’s birth when my muscles were still rather out of condition. I was squatting low down to get items out of a low cupboard, then stood up quickly – and felt the tear. I got straight on to the exercise bike for 20 minutes to help kick start the repair process, and repeated this several times in the next couple of days, together with gentle self-massage of the affected area, to promote healing and to help avoid the build-up and tightening of scar tissue. This hasn’t bothered me since then.

Finally, I have had tears in the hamstrings at the top of both legs. One was caused by doing unfamiliar gym work, then sitting on a 14 hour flight to Hong Kong, then going for a run, all within a couple of days. Something had to give, and it was a hamstring. In those days I was ignorant and careless about stretching, which could have avoided the problem. It was also a bad idea to accept an invitation to do an unfamiliar activity – gymwork – before a long journey when I would be bound to stiffen up.

The second tear (at least I have matching legs with old tears on both sides) was caused, to my great annoyance at the time, by an overenthusiastic physio who was supposed to be helping me to warm up gently before a 24 hour race and got carried away. I am now more wary of having physio at any time, and make sure that I stay in control, by saying at the outset what I want and don’t want to be done to me. Having never had a persistent injury (my varied training pattern means that any niggles have the chance to heal quickly, rather than get hammered and go critical,) I have never had regular physio or a steady relationship of trust with any physiotherapist who knew me and my needs. The closest I have come to this was receiving massage from Michael Gillan during the Nanango (Queensland) 1000 mile race in 1996. I had no hesitation in having a massage from Michael again at the end of the Melbourne 100 miles walk in 1999. Michael’s approach is very gentle at all times, and always works with the athlete and puts the athlete in control, thus minimising the risk of harm and maximising the benefit.

Very occasionally I will feel tightness in one or other hamstring, but I am lucky that neither tear has become a real problem. These days I stretch pretty diligently after exercise and am convinced of its value, and my cross-training approach plays a part, I am sure, in keeping me free of overuse injuries. More on stretching another time

Sandra Brown is an experienced ultradistance athlete and has competed internationally in both running and race walking and was the 1996 Ladies 1000 Mile World Record Holder and the 1999 Ladies 100 mile Race walking World Record Holder.

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Category : Site


The 100km Association will make every effort to ensure that all information given is true, accurate and complete. However, the 100km Association is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information.

Your use of 100km Association.org.uk is solely at your own risk. No advice or information, whether oral or written, obtained by you from the 100km Association or through 100km Association.org.uk shall create any warranty not expressly made in these terms of service or imposed by law.

Our website is made available for public use solely on the basis that the 100km Association  excludes to the extent lawfully permitted all liability whatsoever for any loss or damage arising out of use of our website or reliance upon its contents. The information contained on our website was correct at the time of writing.

Control of links to other sites

Our website contains links to other websites. Such links are provided for your convenience only. The 100km Association does not control such websites and is not responsible for their contents. The mere inclusion of such links does not imply any endorsement of the material on those websites or any association with their operators. We cannot guarantee that these links will work all the time and the 100km Association has no control over the availability of the linked pages.


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Data Protection

Category : Site

data-protectionData Protection…. are my details kept confidential?

All website users

Summary information is collected automatically by our system e.g. number of visitors to the site. This information is used to monitor use of the web site and will not contain information that can identify you as an individual. Apart from this information, the only other data we collect is from any forms on this site that you may choose to complete.

We undertake not to pass on any of your details collected from this website to any third party and will only use the information you supply to us for the purpose for which it was given to us.

100km Association members

All personal details supplied when you joined the Association (name, address, date of birth, gender, email address, telephone number, etc)  are visible ONLY to officers (Membership Secretary, Treasurer, etc) of the Association.

The Officers will only use your personal information for the purposes of club administration, such as reminding you when you need to renew your membership, to provide you with information about meetings of the club, events organised by the club and information that is relevant to you as a member of a walking club.
The 100km Association will NOT sell or give your information to any third party; nor will your details be available to other members of the club without your explicit permission.

You may, of course,  opt to share your contact details with other members of the club.

Third party sites

This web site contains links to other web sites. Please note that the 100km Association cannot be held responsible for the privacy practices of other web sites. We encourage all visitors to be aware and read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects personally identifiable information.

Be identity safe. Further information about being ID secure (external websites):

Home Office
Metropolitan Police


The 100km Association will make every effort to ensure that all information given is true, accurate and complete. However, the 100km Association is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information.

Your use of 100kmassociation.org.uk is solely at your own risk. No advice or information, whether oral or written, obtained by you from the 100km Association or through 100kmassociation.org.uk shall create any warranty not expressly made in these terms of service or imposed by law.

Our website is made available for public use solely on the basis that the 100km Association  excludes to the extent lawfully permitted all liability whatsoever for any loss or damage arising out of use of our website or reliance upon its contents. The information contained on our website was correct at the time of writing.

Control of links to other sites

Our website contains links to other websites. Such links are provided for your convenience only. the 100km Association does not control such websites and is not responsible for their contents. The mere inclusion of such links does not imply any endorsement of the material on those websites or any association with their operators. We cannot guarantee that these links will work all the time and the 100km Association has no control over the availability of the linked pages.

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ICE – In Case of Emergency

Category : Health

ICEICE – In Case of Emergency

Heaven forbid that anything should happen to anyone of us whilst out running….

But runners do tend to spend a great deal of time outdoors whether training or racing. Common sense dictates that we should take some form of ID with us. Ultra runners may be out running trails or road for a good many hours. If we have a mobile we should be carrying this as part of our emergency kit.

However, our mobile phones have numerous names and numbers stored in its memory. If we were to be involved in an accident or were taken ill, the people attending us would have our mobile phone but wouldn’t know who to call and most importantly – who is the contact person in case of an emergency?

Hence the ‘ICE’ (In Case of Emergency) Campaign.

The concept of ‘ICE’ is catching on quickly. It is a method of contact during emergency situations.

All you need to do is store the number of a contact person(s) who should be called during an emergency under the name ‘ICE’ ( In Case Of Emergency).

The idea was thought up by a paramedic who found that when he went to the scene of an accident there was always a mobile phone with the casualty/casualties but he didn’t know which number to call.

He therefore thought that it would be a good idea if there was a nationally recognised name for this purpose: In an emergency situation, Emergency Service personnel and hospital staff would be able to quickly contact the right person by simply dialling the number you have stored as ‘ICE’.

For more than one contact name simply enter ICE1, ICE2 and ICE3 etc.

This could  really save your life, or put a loved one’s mind at rest.

Get the app:



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Melanoma – What You Need To Know

Category : Health

Melanoma logo AAs ultra runners we tend to spend a great deal of time outdoors whether training or racing.

We need to be very much aware of what we can be susceptible to as we enjoy the freedom of running (or walking, hiking, strolling, etc) through the great outdoors.

100km Association member Harry Townsend has good (and very sad) cause to promote melanoma awareness.  Harry’s story first appeared in the Mercury (the 100km Association newsletter) in 2008:



Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer, which generally starts from a mole that is changing quite rapidly anywhere on the body. After all, Bob Marley died from a melanoma under the nail on the big toe of his right foot!

So if you have a mole that’s ‘doing things’: enlarging, changing colour (especially black or mottled), thickening, ragged outlines etc., then go to the doctor. NOW. Not tomorrow: NOW, and you might just have saved your life.

It’s one of the diseases that particularly affects people with an outdoor lifestyle: runners, walkers, swimmers, gardeners etc. It affected 1 in 1,500 in the 1930s: now it affects 1 in 50, and unless diagnosed early there is a very high death rate, up to 25%.

It’s also the most common cancer amongst young people: sun beds and package holidays share much of the blame for this!

Lots of ultra runners might remember myself and my wife Myfanwy: we organised the 80 mile South Downs Way Run from it’s inception until it’s demise sixteen years later, and I also formed the TRA (Trail Runners Association) with John Foden, and became first Chairman.

Plants (I was Assistant Curator of Kew Gardens for fourteen years) and rugby (I coached and managed tours to New Zealand (four), South Africa (two), Australia, Fiji etc.) as well as low level marathon running shared my life with my family.


After Myfanwy died from melanoma in 1999, myself and our three sons formed a Charity in her name, the Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund www.melanoma-fund.co.uk to raise awareness, enable early diagnosis and fund research to find a cure.

I did lots of ‘Challenges’ to get publicity for what we were doing:

  1. Myself and son Cameron (who was in the US team in the World Duathlon championships in Italy) climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with brother in law Peter Clarke,

  2. then I ran the Death Valley Marathon,

  3. trekked non-stop across the Grand Canyon from rim to rim in 2002,

  4. walked the Pilgrim Trail to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain (500 miles, 38 days) and wrote a book about it, “The Slowest Pilgrim”;

  5. walked end to end of the north island of New Zealand (800 miles, 68 days) pushing my wheelbarrow and raised a Wheelbarrow Full of Money which was the catalyst for the formation of the Melanoma Foundation of New Zealand;

  6. and completed the 5 day 100km of the Sahara race to celebrate my 70th birthday (the ‘softies version’ of the Marathon des Sables);

  7. ‘rowed’ a marathon on a rowing machine;

  8. and so on.

Lots of people have come on board to help and organise fundraising events: you can read about this on the website under Donations. So many inspiring and yet often infinitely sad stories.

Leeds United are major supporters: one of their coaches, Bruce Craven, died from melanoma aged only  32, and they brought out our lime green wristbands with the wording MELANOMA AWARENESS www.melanoma-fund.co.uk obtainable from me harry@melanoma-fund.co.uk , like packets of seeds of sweet pea Myfanwy Townsend and the sunflower The Darker Side of the Sun. There is also available a nice white running T shirts with the logo and watchword The Darker Side of the Sun

We organise national Melanoma Awareness Week every year – do watch out for it – our supporters bombard the media at every level!

What have we achieved?

  1. we’ve set up and equipped a research laboratory,

  2. and funded the initial appointment of a specialist skin cancer nurse:

  3. this past year we raised more than £100,000, and we’re helping to fund a research project at the Royal Marsden and Cancer Research, as well as work on more effective sun screen creams.

  4. We’re producing a DVD covering the skin cancer element of the GCSE Science curriculum, which will soon be freely downloadable from our website:

  5. and we’ll launch our first Mobile Mole Awareness Unit  which will tour schools, beaches, shopping centres and festivals in the West Country and which will cost us an initial £45,000 or so. The local PCT will add a similar amount: and we hope that further such units will be launched elsewhere soon.

So we’ve done a lot so far: but there’s far more to do! That’s why we need more and more people on board to help: and if anybody reading this would like to be involved, on no matter how small a scale, I’d be delighted to hear from them.”

Harry Townsend

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Infections Linked To Running, Training And Competition By Frank Horwill

Category : Health

infections_linked_with_runningInfections linked to running, training and competition

by Frank Horwill

We possess a limited number of anti-stress factors. The word “stress” includes anything which reduces the body’s ability to function efficiently, eg stress fracture, colds, coughs and fevers. Let us suppose that we are all allocated 12 anti-stress factors. Travel to and from work, and work itself, may use up 4 anti-stress factors. Training daily may also use up 4 anti-stress factors. We may have a difficult partner which causes us to use up another 2 anti-stress factors. The battle to pay off bills could use up 2 more factors. We have used up all our resistance factors and providing things stay as they are we may say that we are in a state of equilibrium or coping with stress.

But, supposing we are given a more responsible and better paid task at work. What then? The stress syndrome follows a known pattern:-

1.    alarm
2.    resistance
3.    compensation

In running, the pattern is increased pulse-rate, resistance and better tolerance of running in due course (hopefully). Now, if the stress is too great, the body fails to compensate and gradually sinks into exhaustion. The tell-tale symptoms are:-

a    insomnia
b    swelling of glands in the throat, arm-pits and groin
c    frequent colds
d    increased skin trouble
e    steady weight loss
f    inexplicable aches and pains

However, the body’s ability to adapt to stress is very versatile provided the stress is increased gradually. For example, a person may have done no physical activity for 10 years and decides to train for and compete in the London Marathon. That individual may go out and run until exhausted and find that they can hardly walk next day But, if he or she decided to run for just one minute and stop, then the next day run for 2 minutes and kept on adding a minute a day, within 100 days they would be running 100 minutes and it would be managed with comparative ease.

All great running achievements have followed the pattern of starting small and aiming big. Roger Bannister’s breaking of the 4 minute mile barrier is a prime example. In October 1953, he did 10 x 440 yds in 66 seconds with 440 yds jog recovery in 2-3 minutes, three times a week. His plan was to reduce the times of the laps by 1 second a month. In April 1954, he was able to do all the repetitions in 56 seconds: he had, of course, to attend to his endurance, and for this, he ran 3 x 1½ miles on the track once a week, starting with 75 seconds per 400 metres and got down to 70 seconds per lap.

Similarly, Emil Zatopek, in 1947, was doing 5x200m, 10x400m, 5x200m daily with 200m jog recovery throughout. In 1949, he doubled this and in 1950, doubled it again! He was rewarded with three gold medals in the 1952 Olympics (5km, 10km and marathon).

It was his first ever marathon and broke the Olympic record (2:23:03.2).

Research tells us a lot about physical exertion and proneness to infection. For example, after a marathon the white cells (defence against infection) are greatly suppressed for 20 days. Marathoners frequently go down with bad infections a few days after the race. The answer to this in terms of prevention is to rest completely for five days and to take on board 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily, together with 40mg of zinc (after meals), for at least a month.

It is also known that glandular fever infects the super-fit athlete more than any other person. Coe and Ovett both got it when in peak form. Again, the answer is to pay particular attention to the intake of anti-infection vitamins and minerals, vitamins B6, B5, C, E, and folic acid and the essential fatty acids, plus iron, zinc and live yoghurt, when approaching peak condition.

Serious runners should take their pulse in bed first thing in the morning, then immediately on rising. A plateau difference will be established eg 15. When the difference is higher, eg 20, don’t train. When lower, train hard.

Frank Horwill

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Back Pain – Does That Mean I Can’t Exercise?

Category : Health

back_painBack Pain – does that mean I can’t exercise?

Back pain and more specifically low back pain is a common ailment that will effect the majority of people at some stage in their life. In most cases it can be treated easily by specific exercises or it may resolve by itself Unfortunately in some instances the pain is due to damage to spinal structures such as the disc, facet joint, nervous tissue or supporting ligaments and muscles. In these cases specific diagnosis and treatment is important to optimise recovery. As a general rule of thumb it is advised any acute severe low back pain should be assessed by your physiotherapist or doctor.

The spine is a complex system of 24 vertebrae which connect the skull to the sacrum. It houses and protects the nervous system, provides a bony framework for the rest of the body and muscular system. The bones or vertebrae are separated by discs and each vertebrae connects or articulates at three places with the vertebrae above and below. One joint is the intervertebral joint which includes the disc and this is supported by a small facet joint on each side. Ligaments and muscles bind each vertebrae together and give additional strength and help control movement of your spine.

What causes back pain?

Any of the structures mentioned above can be a source of pain. The cause can be acute such as injury, trauma or strain, poor postural habits and repeated micro-trauma (i.e. poor lifting technique) are a more common cause of low back pain. The other common cause is degenerative changes in the disc and facet joints.

How can you prevent it? Adopt Good Habits.

  1. Regular exercise: which includes specific exercise for the lumbar spine. People spend increasing amounts of time in sitting which often puts the lumbar spine in a flexed position. Taking the lumbar spine through the normal range of motion on a daily basis to keep It flexible.

  2. Posture: avoid poor postural positions in work and recreation activities. Most commonly avoid prolonged periods with the spine in a flexed position. This includes proper lifting techniques.

  3. Sleeping: your mattress should be firm and supportive.

  4. Weight Control: Extra weight puts increased strain on your spine

Generally it can be said that regular exercise will be beneficial to people who suffer from low back pain; basically if your pain increases with exercise, consult your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise leader. If you are unsure, you should seek advice rather than hoping it will ‘go away’.

Tim Erickson (terick@melbpc.org.au)

Secretary, Australian Centurions Club

Melbourne, Australia

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Vitamin B6 And Red-Blooded Athletes By Frank Horwill

Category : Nutrition

vitamin b6Vitamin B6 And Red-Blooded Athletes By Frank Horwill

Why all the fuss about vitamin B6, and what does it mean to athletes, anyway?

It’s a funny business, nutrition. Sports nutrition is even funnier. While a Government scientific committee has issued a warning that taking more than 10mg of B6 a day ‘may damage nerve endings’, the Colgan Institute of Sports Nutrition in San Diego, California, actually recommends taking 150mg daily to boost the oxygen-carrying powers of the blood. Notice the title of the American establishment; its sole purpose is to discover what is ‘optimum’ sports nutrition. So what do they have to say about the allegation of ‘nerve damage’?

Taken in large amounts (500mg to 5 grams) for months or years, vitamin B6 does cause severe damage to nerve endings. Some cases of nerve damage have been reported at an intake of only 117mg a day. Fortunately, most cases clear up spontaneously within six months of stopping supplementation.

That said, one wonders why the Institute still advocate 150mg of B6 a day for athletes 12 weeks before a major competition? To answer that, we must take a closer look at this vitamin. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is found in avocados, bananas, bran, brewer’s yeast, carrots, flour (wholewheat), hazelnuts, lentils, rice, salmon, shrimp, soyabeans, sunflower seeds, tuna and wheat germ.

The reasons for ensuring an adequate intake is that B6 contributes actively to many chemical reactions of proteins and amino acids. It also helps normal brain function. But for the athlete it plays a vital role: it promotes normal red-cell formation. Athletes need to maximize their red cell count. It regulates the excretion of water. Another key factor for athletes is that B6 is concerned with energy production and resistance to stress. One of the ways it does this is to make iron in the diet more available – more iron, more haemoglobin and more oxygen available for the working muscles. Another way it produces energy is to make carbohydrates more burnable for mitochondria (furnaces within cells).

A vast range of ‘magical powers’

Let’s now look at the unproved and speculative benefits of B6. It is said to treat or prevent depression when used with oral contraceptives, and also to alleviate pre-menstrual tension. It has been used for the latter for about 35 years at around 100mg a day. Other magical powers attributed to B6 include: helping arthritis, curing migraines, relieving nausea, treating diabetes, helping mental retardation, improving vision, aiding weight-reduction, helping infertility and curing carpal tunnel syndrome (a painful condition of the wrist often caused by repetitive strain injury). That’s quite a list! However, the vitamin does not work alone. It must have B2 (riboflavin) and magnesium alongside it in adequate amounts.

Now we come to some revealing research. Twelve male marathoners were asked to double their training load of eight miles a day for 20 days at a paltry 8½ minutes per mile. All of them showed large reductions in haemoglobin and haematocrit (the proportion of red blood cells). Over the period, their usual nutrition was unable to maintain the blood components essential for carrying oxygen to their tissues. The principal nutrients involved in making red blood cells are zinc, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and vitamin C.

In a double-blind crossover trial, the Colgan Institute fed athletes increased levels of these nutrients over a 12 week period, during which they increased their training levels. They were compared with a control group who were given 100 per cent of the RDAs for all nutrients. The athletes given additional nutrients maintained their red blood status, increased their VO2 max and improved their performance. One of my own athletes on the same regime for the same period competed in a half-marathon in France; en route she ran a personal best 10km time, a personal best 10-mile time, and won the race in a new record time! She subsequently gained her first New Zealand international vest.

Are we deficient in B6?

Now, one would think that with all the foods available that contain B6 (about 18 of them), the chances of a deficiency occurring would be remote. Not so. First of all, cooking food that contains B6 in large amounts of water reduces its nutritional value by 33 per cent. Freezing vegetables with good B6 content results in a 30-56 per cent reduction in value. And if you rely on canned food for your B6 supply, there is a whopping 57-77 per cent loss. What do surveys reveal? The Nationwide Food Consumption Survey in America found that B6 intake is deficient in 33 per cent of households. In a recent study at the Colgan Institute, 58 per cent and 73 per cent of two groups of athletes were B6-deficient.

So what’s the bottom line?

The Government may or may not lift its proposed limit on the free sale of B6 to 10mg daily (Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker was due to make his decision after PP went to press). The health-food industry, of course, has challenged the limit, because the sale of B6 to women is big business. Is the Government in danger of over-reacting? For every over-dosed B6 victim, there are an estimated 12 million people in the UK who have an inadequate intake (using the US survey as a yardstick). Have you ever met a person who said: ‘I’m suffering from B6 toxicity’? I’ve met many who have said: ‘I’m suffering from alcoholic poisoning’, yet the Government hasn’t ordered that a person cannot be served more than one pint of beer in any one pub!

What’s the best way to ensure a good intake of B6? Rely on uncooked sources. A banana chopped up with cereal for breakfast, a banana sandwich with mid-morning coffee, plus an avocado starter for dinner, will go a long way towards maintaining the status quo. If you want to try the Colgan Institute blood-boosting formula (quite legal), remember you’re only meant to continue it for 12 weeks and no longer. Here it is (per day):
2.4mg of folic acid
100mcg of vitamin B12
150mg of vitamin B6
500mg of vitamin C
48mg of iron
60mg of zinc
50mg of vitamin E

Don’t forget to train hard as well!

Frank Horwill

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Nutrition and Supplements for Athletes

Category : Nutrition

vegetablesNutrition and Supplements for Athletes
By Sandra Brown


 A good healthy diet will give you vitality, protect your immune system from infection and illness (avoiding time lost from training and racing), promote recovery from races, training and injury, and generally keep you in good shape for life and sport. It needn’t be costly to eat well for health – rich, expensive food, and alcohol are not your best bet!

Fruit and Vegetables

Eat 5-10 portions daily of fruit and vegetables, including a wide variety. Mix up the colours, as different coloured fruit and veg (eg, red, yellow, green, black) contain different vitamins and minerals, and make their own different contributions to your health. Broccoli and all types of cabbage, red, green and yellow peppers, and carrots and other root veg are all very good. Apples and oranges are traditional health favourites, and bananas are a particularly good source of potassium (to counteract the effect of sodium and help prevent high blood pressure.) Dark fruits, which are common in autumn, are thought to help to fortify  the immune system for winter. Dried fruits (dates, figs, prunes, apricots, raisins, bananas etc) are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre, and easy to carry around as snacks.


Ultra distance athletes need more protein than normally recommended amounts, for general well-being, muscle maintenance and repair, injury prevention and recovery. Fish of all kinds is excellent. Eat plenty of low fat yoghurt, fromage frais, cottage cheese, for their calcium content as well as protein. Enjoy a few mixed nuts each day. Lean meat is also fine. Eggs and cheese are very nutritious, and especially useful after races.

Soya is marvellous, as a source of protein and for its antioxidant and health – giving properties. Plain tofu is quick and versatile – no need to cook unless you want to. TVP is a useful soya product. Soya milk is nice but mostly water. Soya and other bean dishes are useful, tasty and health-boosting for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Vegetarians especially can help to ensure they get sufficient iron by eating iron-rich fruits and veg (including broccoli and green, leafy veg,) wholemeal bread and cereals, taking brewers yeast or a B complex vitamin supplement, and enjoying small amounts of Vegemite or other yeast extract spread.


Athletes need carbohydrates – including bread, cereals, potatoes, rice, pasta – for energy, to keep muscles fuelled, and to support muscle maintenance and repair, and to support the immune system especially after hard training and long races. If you don’t eat adequate carbs, the body will run down muscle, and the immune system will suffer. A word of warning; don’t assume you need very large amounts of carbs – the amount you need depends on your size and training volume. A good intake of fruits/veg and of protein are both more important to your health than carbs, and both will provide energy. Too many carbs can mean too little of important nutrients, and can lead to unwelcome weight gain if you eat too much for your training/racing energy needs. Too many refined carbs, sugary foods and foods with a high glaecemic value, can lead to energy peaks and troughs, and even contribute to borderline diabetes, so choose non-sugary and unrefined carbs, don’t eat too much at once, and combine carbs with protein, fruit and veg.


Be fairly sparing with fats, and be selective. Some fat in the diet is important to health and to the absorption of vitamins; choose monounsaturated fats like olive oil and peanut butter for preference. Try to avoid saturated and hydrogenated fats in food and cooking (visible meat fat, butter, margarine, cream and most fats sold for cooking.) Substitute vegetable oils (especially olive oil, as in the Mediterranean diet) and use them for all salad dressings and in baking. Just substitute olive oil for other fats in your baking, cakes, scones, etc –  it works! Don’t fry food, or dry fry with a minimum of oil. Instead of putting butter/margarine on bread, get used to the taste of bread on its own, or use a little honey, jam, vegemite, cottage cheese or quark instead.


Most people consume far too much salt, to the detriment of their health. Salt is a major contributory factor to raised blood pressure and hypertension. Don’t add it to food in cooking or at the table (you will soon adjust to a different and more subtle taste.) Avoid salty snacks, which are often also fatty. Training and racing will lower your resting pulse rate and blood pressure; for most people this is good news. Reducing salt intake will help in this. You don’t need to replace salt which is lost through sweating – little is lost in this way, in fact, and the body has ample reserves. If, after a long race, you feel a desire for savoury foods, especially if you have been taking in lots of sweet food and drink, then enjoy them, and take the chance to eat some protein, but don’t pile on the salt. Cravings like this are the body’s way of restoring and rebalancing its levels of energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals.


Drink plenty, much more than you probably think is needed! Drink a pint or so of water or very diluted juice/squash/energy drink before you go out training, and drink some more when you return. Get into the habit of drinking tea weak, and generally cut down on tea and coffee if you usually drink a lot – your system will feel cleaner and healthier for it. Substitute water, juice/squash preferably well diluted, and try herbal teas. Use skimmed milk, and drink as much as you like for its calcium and vitamins. Now for the boring bit! At parties, try to stick to juices and soft drinks mainly, and at dinners develop a taste for fizzy water. Red wine may be good for the immune system, but moderate exercise is even better, and for most athletes is their preferred route. If you like wine and it agrees with you, allow yourself one or two glasses occasionally. Avoid alcohol the night before a race. The night after a race, enjoy a beer if you want to. I personally find that exercise and alcohol don’t mix too well, and in general, I put exercise first

Race Food/Drink

During ultra races, you need to eat and drink. Find out what works for you. Some race organisers put out food that some experienced athletes would not eat, so don’t assume that if something is provided, it must be sensible and effective to eat it! You need carbs which will go down easily and not cause digestive problems, as well as some protein if the race lasts for 24 hours or longer. Not all athletes take protein during races of 24 hours. I find that some protein in the form of cheese, nuts, rice pudding, peanut butter sandwiches, results in my feeling stronger throughout a race, especially during the second half when many people begin to fade, and also leads to quicker recovery and a better, healthier feeling after the race is over. In any race beyond 24 hours, I would attach importance to an adequate, regular intake of protein as well as carbs.

What you can eat may depend on your pace. If you are pushing hard, you may be more restricted in what food you can tolerate than if you are going steadily. In general, be careful about pushing too hard in long races. It is easy to get carried away and go too fast in the early stages, then regret it when you feel tired and rough later on!

 With food and drink, it is a good idea to take a little and often, rather than to overload the system with larger, less frequent amounts. Some organisers provide real meals three times a day. In a multiday race, walking round the track slowly while you eat a meal, or even taking a break to eat, may provide a valuable rest and do you good. In a 24 hour race, however, it may be best to snack on small portions (eg a bit of potato and cheese, or pasta,) or to leave full meals to the supporters.

In a 24 hour race, start drinking early and keep drinking at sensible intervals until the end. Try to start eating small amounts regularly after the first hour or so; if you have not had a meal for some hours you will feel you need something. How often you eat is up to you, and may vary with the amount you take (eg a mouthful every 10-20 mins, or a sandwich every 30-40 mins) and with the size of the lap on a road course. On a lap of 5 miles, you may not get the chance to eat and drink often, so be ready to take something every time you pass the feeding station.

 During the first few hours of a 24 hour race, you may not feel you need to eat, and during the last 12 hours, you may not feel you can. In the early hours, try to make yourself eat a little regularly –  you will be glad later, and be at less risk of suffering the physical and mental lows which come from depleted energy reserves, and which can creep up on you. Time and again I have seen even experienced athletes on a high and going strong in the afternoon, forget to eat and hit a wall in the evening or the night, when coldness increases their sense of depletion. If you forget to eat, or cannot eat, and begin to feel low on energy, slow, shivery, and weak, take action quickly: get additional, warm clothes on, and have a warm, sweet drink, and some food which is tempting and digestible and will give you a boost, such as chocolate and cake. Keep moving to keep warm and to keep your circulation going, but slowly enough to digest the food and to rebuild your energy and confidence –  a steady walk for a few minutes may be ideal. Then eat some more, and make sure that you do not forget again! If you have a supporter, they should be on the lookout for the danger signs, such as refusal to eat when a snack is scheduled. If you see another athlete in trouble –  wandering on the track or road, looking pale or goose-pimpled –  tell their handler or the organisers.

 Learn from experience what you can tolerate, and what feeding strategy gives you the best results. If you have a bad race – for example with stomach problems, cramp or muscle pain, low energy, feeling cold or faint – analyse carefully afterwards what might have caused the problem. What did you eat and drink during the 1-2 days before the event, in the hours before the start, and during the race? Could something have upset you? Did you go into the race dehydrated, or get dehydrated during the race; if so, this is a sure recipe for any or all of the problems listed above! We are all different. I personally thrive on a mixture of easy carbs (eg sandwiches, malt loaf, mashed potato, rice pudding, porridge/cereal) and some protein (eg small cubes of cheese, nuts, peanut butter) in small quantities as needed, which may vary from every 30-60 mins, usually more frequently in the second half of a race. I don’t eat fresh fruit during 24 hour races – even bananas – however much I enjoy fruit in everyday life.

Sports drinks don’t suit everyone; don’t feel you should necessarily use them because others do, or that you are at a disadvantage if you don’t like them. Find out what does work well for you.

Just because something is called a sports drink and is provided at races, and even if it used successfully and endorsed by other athletes, don’t assume it must work for you, and don’t keep using a drink that causes you problems (I have seen athletes who do this.) The salty nature of some electrolytic drinks can cause stomach upsets and cramps; and even long-chain, complex carbohydrates (eg maltodextrins) can challenge the digestion and cause sickness. I know some runners who seem to tolerate quite concentrated mixtures of energy drinks and even protein drinks, especially if they are drinking water as well. Some people, me included, can use such preparations only if they are well diluted, and more dilute than the manufacturers’ recommendations.

There are alternatives: I have had good races using coke (regular, not -diet- nor defizzed – the fizz can help sort out the stomach,) Lucozade (original, not the sports variety which I find too concentrated and salty,) and ordinary orange squash, well diluted.

 Dehydration is dangerous: be alert for any feelings of dehydration, and if they occur, drink more frequently. Don’t wait until you are thirsty: drink at regular intervals, depending on your pace and the weather conditions. Judge carefully how much to drink to keep yourself in balance. When the temperature cools down at night, or if your pace slackens, consider reducing the liquid intake (eg to 2 rather than 3 drinks an hour, or taking smaller amounts.) Watch out for signs of overdrinking – needing to urinate too often (it wastes time!), bloating and sometimes sickness. But never deny thirst: if you need it, drink!

 After a long training session or race, especially an ultra, it is vital to take in carbohydrates and protein, to replace energy, support the immune system (which is vulnerable to infection and chills at this time,) and to kick-start the repair and build up of muscle. Try to have some carbs and some protein (eg cereal with banana, milk and yoghurt; sandwiches with peanut butter, cheese, egg or other protein) within 15-20 minutes of finishing a race or training session. Organisers do not always provide for such nutritious snacks at the finish of a race. I usually try to have something in my bag that I know will travel well and will suit me, such as a sliced malt loaf or sandwich, some cheese or a hard-boiled egg, an apple or dried fruit, and a bottle of water in case organisers’ supplies dry up.

After a long race, your muscles will have suffered a lot of damage, and your system will be flushed with debris resulting from muscle and tissue breakdown. You need additional protein for several days to help the repair and building process. You also need plenty to drink, again for several days after a long race, to help the body to flush out debris and waste, and to carry nutrients to areas needing repair. Good sleep at night promotes repair. You are like a building site, and need to assist the flow of materials and the speed of construction! The quicker the repairs are carried out, the sooner you can train effectively and compete safely and successfully again.


Even if you maintain good general nutrition, consider taking the following daily also:
Multi vitamin and multi mineral (one a day type, fairly high strength, but no need to buy special ones, eg marketed for athletes, busy people, or women); vitamin C 500 or 1000 mg; cod liver oil or other fish oil; evening primrose oil 500 or 1000 mg; lecithin 1000/1200mg; vitamin E; brewers yeast; odourless garlic; calcium / magnesium combination providing 1000 mg calcium (some contain zinc and/or boron and/or vitamin D also.)

For times when you feel under pressure with signs of infection or when the immune system is depressed, eg for a day or so after a long race , have the following available to use as needed: echinacea (herbal); aconite (homeopathic); selenium (mineral); zinc (mineral). All are powerful reinforcers of the immune system. Do not take them continuously; keep for when needed. Good natural sources of zinc which can be enjoyed anytime include grapes, some nuts and dried fruit.

There are homeopathic remedies for all kinds of conditions; look at the charts in a chemist or health food shop.

The other great booster of the immune system is vitamin X – exercise, most effective in boosting the immune system at moderate intensity for around 30 minutes daily. Most ultradistance athletes will want to exercise for longer than this; this is fine if you are conditioned to it and provided you stay well. If you are not used to it, build up gradually and carefully. Listen to your body. If you feel tired and/or unwell, back off. If you are just tired, walk or run easily for up to 30 mins, but be ready to ease off or stop if you feel you should. Otherwise, just go for a pleasant walk or rest; don’t strain. Be kind to yourself whenever you are off colour, and your body will appreciate it. There is always another day, and it is daft to prolong illness or injury by training when you shouldn’t; don’t feel guilty. When you are feeling better, try a gentle bike ride on the road or exercycle, a walk, or other moderate exercises at home to get you back into the swing.

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Does Vit C supplementation improve physical performance

Category : Nutrition

fruitDoes Vitamin C supplementation improve physical performance?

by Frank Horwill

The answer to the question is – Yes and No. A Swiss researcher asked twelve distance runners of equal quality to run at 10 mph/16km on a treadmill until they could not longer maintain the speed. For the seven days before this test, six were given a placebo and the rest were given a 1000 mg vitamin C capsule daily. All the vitamin C group were able to maintain the required speed longer than the non vitamin group. A blood analysis revealed that the vitamin C group had produced extra hormonal levels which basically had the following effects:

  1. Reduced blood pressure

  2. Made them feel good

  3. Pushed back the pain barrier.

Unfortunately this bit of research, which was published in a running magazine in 1991, failed to give the name of the researcher and the exact location of the trial, it must therefore be treated with suspicion. But the bit about hormonal levels being altered in the way described has been substantiated since that report. In fact, vitamin C is a pretty powerful agent for altering the status quo in our bodies.

For instance females on the low oestrogen contraceptive pill who take over 500mg of vitamin C daily for a month will notice that they will experience the same effects as if on the high dose pill, thus possibly enhancing the adverse effects. Also, long term-use of vitamin C at 1000mg daily will reduce the availability of certain trace minerals, such as copper and zinc, as well as the amino acids lysine and cysteine.

The first will result in anaemia, among other things, and the second will undermine the immune system. A lack of lysine usually results in recurrent cold sores and herpes infections, while the degradation of cysteine will lead to further bronchial congestion with those already afflicted with chest infection. And, finally, the excretion of oxalic acid, as well as uric acid, common causes of kidney stones, is increased in certain individuals consuming high doses of the vitamin. A personal or family history of kidney stones is a warning that high doses should be limited to not more than a month at a time.

The great debunker of vitamin C as an aid to physical performance was M.H. Williams in 1984, who in ten valid studies that he reviewed decided that Vitamin C was not an ergogenic aid. That said, going into competition with reduced blood pressure, feeling good and a greater resistance to pain as described earlier after taking 1000 mg daily for seven days, is not a bad thing!

What is beyond dispute is that inadequate amounts of vitamin C daily will affect performance in sports people. While the RDA in most countries is fixed at 60mg a day, which is easily met by consuming a medium-sized orange or three medium sized potatoes. Is that enough for a person who, after a day’s work, does some strenuous training for one to three hours on five days a week?

To answer that question we have to look at another essential food constituent – Iron. According to the Colgan Institute of Sports Nutrition, a serious sports woman requires 41mg of iron daily, and the sportsman needs 36mg. Both figures are more than treble the RDA figures. Now, for one part of iron to be properly absorbed five parts of Vitamin C are required. That puts the vitamin C requirement for a sportswoman at 205mg daily, and for the sportsman at 180mg, and that’s just to ensure that iron is fully accommodated by the body. Now those figures are interesting, because Ludwig Prokiop, former nutritional adviser to the old East German Olympic teams, advises an intake of 200-240mg daily for all serious sports people. The East Germans didn’t believe in half measures, their athletes appear in the Top Ten World all time Lists in athletics from 100 – 800 metres, men and women, and in all the field-events, and they all passed frequent drug tests!

So, what exactly does vitamin C do? Well, contrary to what is frequently written, some vitamin C is stored in small amounts in the body, a storehouse has been located in the adrenal medulla (which secretes noradrenaline and adrenaline, required for all physical activity) and in the eyes. It is water soluble, and easily destroyed by heat and exposure to light. It has a number of important roles, some of which are of major concern to the serious sports person. They are:

  1. Maintenance of healthy connective tissue and bones. It has an affinity for the cartilage of the knee. A chronic knee injury sufferer reported to an athletics magazine that he had received all the orthodox medical treatments for his knee trouble over the course of two years without avail. He visited a naturopath (one who treats most conditions by diet manipulation) who advised him to take 10,000mg of vitamin daily. Equivalent to consuming 142 oranges for a week. He was cured. The taking of such an enormous amount was described by the magazine’s medical officer in reply, as “lunacy”. However, the athlete was cured and the curative powers of vitamin C have been greatly under estimated. In this particular case it would have been better if the massive dose had been intravenously injected, and in any case it would have been necessary for such an amount to be taken orally at the rate of 1000mg per hour and stopped as soon as “the trots” became apparent.

  2. Vitamin C is required for the normal metabolism of cholesterol and the production of cortisol by the adrenal gland. Professor Linus Pauling claimed that an intake of 3,000mg in one dose dislodged cholesterol from partially blocked arterial walls. Linus Pauling was awarded the 1954 Nobel prize for chemistry and the 1962 Nobel prize for peace.

  3. It is biochemically active in the production of collagen (found both in skin and bones). Without this “cement” between the injured tissue, not only will the injury take longer to mend, but when seemingly repaired the injury site will rupture again. All sports injuries should be internally treated with 1000mg of vitamin C daily for the first week with a reduction of 250mg per day for subsequent weeks to a level of 500mg per day. Gradjean reported in 1954 that pigs (which have a similar tissue to man) which had induced muscle tissue damage from pincers, under an anaesthetic, healed three times faster on a high vitamin C diet, compared to pigs on a normal diet.

  4. It is active in the metabolism of various brain chemicals and hormones as mentioned, which has powerful effects upon pulse rate and blood pressure. It is a powerful anti-oxidant and detoxifies the harmful effects of heavy metal poisoning and alcohol.

  5. Vitamin C encourages the formation of lymphocytes (white blood cells) which fight infections. The author has had spectacular results with athletes who have had severe colds and who were given 1000 mg of vitamin C every hour for 10 hours, resulting in a major reduction in the unpleasant aspects of the infection on the following day.

One of the criticisms of using megadoses of the vitamin is that the most of it is passed out in the urine, commonly summed up as “an expensive way to pass urine”. However it is the writer’s view that the body quickly detects when it is had enough of the vitamin when urgent visits to the WC are made! But in the cases of the aforementioned athletes with severe colds this did not occur because the vitamin was being extensively burned up in its fight against the infection.

The Colgan Institute of Sports medicine in California has also reported that various individuals have a vitamin C idiosyncrasy. This was discovered when they routinely measured excretion of vitamin C and its metabolities in athlete’s urine. They found that some sports people could take 5000mg of the vitamin and show only a little increase in excretion, in other works, their bodies needed it. On the other hand some showed a large increase in excretion of vitamin C after taking only 1000mg – their bodies didn’t need it. They found the biochemical individuality in use of vitamin C is at least 10 fold.

There is an old coaching axiom in sport – keeping an athlete free of injury and sickness is the main challenge. For this, vitamin C should be used wisely and therapeutically. It is known that the vitamin boosts recovery after tough workouts. 24 young physical education students (16 males and 8 females) were randomly divided into three groups. For 21 days, one group ingested 400mg of vitamin C per day, while a second group ingested 400mg of vitamin E and a third group consumed a placebo. Taking extra C raised subject’s blood levels of the vitamin by about 50 per cent ; adding extra E increased blood E concentrations by 18 per cent. Both C and E are classified as “anti-oxidants” which may protect muscle integrity during exercise. After the duration of supplementation all subjects completed a soreness-producing bout of exercise which consisted of stepping up and down from a box for 60 minutes with a frequency of 24 steps per minute. In each case the box height was adjusted to the level of the subject’s kneecaps.

For a week after their pain-producing exertion, the students continued their supplementation while the Birmingham University, England, scientists evaluated their leg muscle strength and fatigue. Intake of extra vitamin C produced two beneficial effects:

  1. Post exercise recovery of muscle strength was much greater in the C Group. Twenty four hours after the gruelling box stepping. C group members recovered 85 per cent of their original muscle strength, while the E and placebo group subjects regained only 75 per cent.

  2. Muscle fatigue was lower for C takers during the 24 hours after exercise. It was thought that vitamin C de-activates “free radicals”, chemicals which can harm muscle membranes and internal structures after hard work outs. The vitamin may also stabilise an athlete’s intrinsic stores of vitamin E, further protecting muscle fibres against stress.

Sources of Vitamin C

The hoary question of natural versus synthetic vitamin C is one that requires taking in a lot of often overlooked facts. Prokop claims to have proved that vitamin C in the natural form (for example, in fruit juices) is clearly superior to synthetic ascorbic acid. Using standardised stresses his tests showed a decrease in oxygen debt and lowering of pulse and blood pressure.

The reason for this increased effectiveness of natural vitamin C in fruit juices was because of the presence of vitamin P which stabilised the vitamin C. Vitamin P-complex (rutin, cirtin, hesperidin), is used in relatively large amounts by the body and has a certain direct influence on performance because of its productive effect of vitamin C – as well as possible other water soluble vitamins. It is often referred to as one of the bioflavonoids and protects both vitamin C and adrenaline.

When assessing the vitamin C content of vegetables it is wise to remember that if they are placed in cold water in a saucepan and then brought to boil, about two thirds of the vitamin’s strength will be destroyed. If placed in boiling water from the outset and the water is later used for soup, about two-thirds of the strength will be maintained. The contents of the following vegetables is in milligrams:

  1. Brussels sprouts 135 (1 cup)

  2. Cabbage 48 (1 cup)

  3. Potatoes 22 (1 medium sized boiled)

  4. Lettuce 18 (4 inch diameter)

  5. Carrot/Onions 9 (1 cup)

  6. Broccoli 162 (1 stalk)

The vitamin C content of other foods is:

  1. Blackcurrants 1 cup (270)

  2. Tomatoes – 3 inch diameter (42)

  3. Oranges – 3 inch diameter (60)

  4. Apples (3)

  5. Pears (7)

  6. Bananas (12)

  7. Grapefruit – 4 inch diameter (44)

  8. Grapefruit juice – 1 cup (92)

  9. Pineapple – cup diced (24)

It will be seen that a glass of one of the pure fruit juices before each meal and immediately after a work-out will account for around 500mg of vitamin C daily, while vitamin C from other sources may well bring the total to 600mg.

The Colgan Institute of Sports Nutrition state. “There are no natural vitamins”. By that they mean many supplement makers use the word “natural” in their advertising and product labels. They assert that all vitamins on sale today are predominantly synthetic. That is, they are pure chemicals created out of a food base. Most vitamin C, for example, is made from corn. First, the corn is chemically converted to sugar (d-glucose) and crystallised then it is chemically converted to pure, synthetic L-ascorbic acid. There is not an atom of the natural corn left.

Another ruse by manufacturers is because rose hips in their natural state contain huge amounts of vitamin C, it is put on the label. But look carefully. If it isn’t a come-on, it will state “with rose hips” or “with acerola vitamin C”. The top rose hip powder contains only a few milligrams of vitamin C per ounce. A 1,000mg rose hip vitamin C tablet has to be 99 per cent synthetic ascorbic acid, because a 1,000mg pill made of pure rose hip vitamin C would be the size of a cricket ball. The same argument applies to the use of acerola powder.

The Colgan Institue of Sports Nutrition are pro-supplements of the right kind because of the “tampering” involved in its preparation from growth on non organic fields, sprayed with numerous chemicals and devoid of much of its true nutritional value.

It took 400 years to realise that scurvy in sailors was a vitamin C deficiency caused by lack of fruit on long sea voyages. We are entering the age of optimal nutrition in sport and those who advocated twenty-five years ago that a sports person just needed to eat the RDA for all foods for success have been shown to be lacking in foresight.

Frank Horwill

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Coffee: are there grounds for it’s reputation in competition? By Frank Horwill

Category : Nutrition

coffeeWhen the noted physiologist, David Costill, announced in 1978 that a cup of strong black coffee taken before running a marathon could improve performance by as much as 10 minutes, it was common to see runners just before they embarked on their 42 km spin, drinking, not just one cup of strong black coffee, but several.

Costill found that the caffeine in coffee stimulated the sympathetic nervous system to burn fatty acids for fuel preferentially. This would save valuable glycogen until needed later in the race around the 22 mile (35km) mark. Without coffee, only 19 per cent of fatty acids were burnt, but this was doubled after swigging a cup of strong black coffee. Fatty acids may be classed as “the commercial fuel” for the human machine, while glycogen can be considered a high octane premium fuel which is preferentially oxidised for energy.

As with all alleged ergogenic aids, there are plenty of people around who tried it and because they didn’t become champions over night, were quick to criticise Costill’s findings. Some even said that caffeine was a banned substance in sport. It is not. The permitted amount is 12 microgrammes per millilitre in urine. To reach this level, requires a dose of about 1,200mg of pure caffeine and such an amount will cause violent stomach pain.

So, what went wrong? Well, the first thing is that the user must be well-trained. Caffeine will not transform a poorly prepared athlete into a better one. Two-thirds of the studies with trained athletes showed significant benefits of caffeine on performance or physiological responses or both. This was not the case when sedentary subjects were coerced into exercise. The next thing was pretty obvious to the physiologists and not to the majority of runners: if a person is a three to six cups of coffee a day individual, the effect of just one or two cups of strong coffee will be minimal. For any benefit to show it would be necessary to abstain totally from the beverage for at least 14 days before competition and this applies equally to the consumption of tea. In fact, any caffeine-containing drug or herb, such as guarana, should be avoided in the run up to the race.

How much and when?

The next two important considerations are:

1.      What amount to take?

2.      What time before the competition?

A safe allocation is half the legal limit, which will be 600mg of pure caffeine. However, this should be tried out first in training with runs in excess of one hour’s duration, and noting whether there is increased anxiety, irritability, delirium and hallucinations! With regard to the second question, the oft-quoted time to take it is one hour before competition. This may be effective for some, but studies which concentrated on the fat-burning response to caffeine suggest that this process does not start until 3-4 hours after ingestion. This would suggest that an athlete aiming to run 4 hours for the marathon would need to take it three hours before hand, while one whose target is 2.5 hours would take it around four hours prior to the race.

But, we are not out of the woods yet! Most marathoners greatly decrease their training for a week up to the race and also increase their carbohydrate intake for the final three days. Normal carbohydrate intake for a strenuous trainer is weight in pounds x 4 = grammes of carbohydrate. So an athlete weighing 100lbs (45kg) would ideally ingest 400 grammes a day. That may seem a lot, but if two hours of running are done daily – it isn’t. Carbohydrate boosting may involve 800 grammes a day being consumed, albeit mostly in the form of a carbo-loader (polymer). If this is done, caffeine ingestion will not make the slightest difference! This is because the muscles being primed with glycogen beyond their normal levels the body will always take the easy alternative, the glycogen boosted one.

What does it do?

For the long-distance runner, caffeine has two allegedly detrimental faces to it. The first is that it is a diuretic (makes you lose water) and if the temperature is over 70oF (210C) that suggests possible dehydration. The second is that it is thermogenic (raises metabolic rate and body temperature). The two together appear to make caffeine a non-starter in warm conditions. But recent research by Dr. Baraket Falk et al at McMaster University, Ontario, throws doubt on these well-aired criticisms.

Runners were given 7.5mg/kg of caffeine to bodyweight (560mg for a 75kg man). The does did not cause water loss, nor did it raise temperature any higher than without it, while running on a treadmill to exhaustion at 70-75 per cent of VO2 max, about 80-85 per cent maximum pulse rate. It appears that caffeine on the run does not have the same detrimental effects as when taken at rest.

Who benefits?

Experience, so far, tells us that the novice marathoner responds more spectacularly than the experienced athlete. We can class sub 3-hour marathoners as experienced, and the remainder in the not so experienced class, depending on age. However, an improvement of just two minutes by an elite runner may make the difference between winning and losing, gold instead of silver.

But endurance events are not the only activity that have shown improvements with the use of caffeine. Sprint performance and, in particular, the 1,500 metres have responded well to caffeine ingestion. In fact, the evidence suggests that it can bolster explosive performances by up to 7 per cent. Researchers in Montpellier, France asked seven highly trained swimmers who trained at least five times a week, to swim 100 metres freestyle at highest possible speed, rest for 20 minutes and then repeat the maximal 100 metre effort. On one occasion the athletes ingested 250mg of caffeine – about the amount found in three cups of brewed coffee – one hour before the first maximal swim; in another instance, they took a placebo. Compared to the placebo, caffeine boosted swim velocity during the 100 metre bursts by about 3 per cent. When a placebo was ingested, swimming speed fell dramatically during the second 100 metre sprint, but caffeine prevented this drop in velocity. Caffeine also heightened blood lactate levels by 10 to 15 per cent after the first and second 100 metre swims, indicating that more energy was produced anaerobically when caffeine was utilised. But caffeine only benefited well trained swimmers. When a second group of untrained swimmers also tried the 100 metre swims with and without caffeine, caffeine boosted blood-lactate levels but didn’t heighten swimming speed. The researchers speculated that the non-trained swimmers weren’t able to buffer (reduce) the increases in muscle acidity produced by the excess lactic acid.

In a different study carried out by the same French team, caffeine enhanced maximal anaerobic power during cycling by about 7 per cent. Previous research had avoided looking at caffeine’s effects during very intense exercise because it was felt that it had a glycogen-sparing effect which would actually hinder anaerobic performance. Based on the Montpelier investigations, it now appears that 250mg of caffeine can produce dramatic improvements in high-intensity exercise. Since it has been shown to help both swimmers and cyclists, it can probably lift sprint speeds in runners too.

At the University of Calgary in Canada, 11 swimmers (seven men and four women) consumed either caffeine or a placebo about 2.5 hours before a 1,500m time trial. The total quantity ingested was 6 milligrammes per kilogramme of body weight, or 300-400 total milligrammes, about the amount in three to four cups of strong coffee. Athletes were unaware of whether they were taking caffeine or a placebo, and two separate trials were conducted so that each swimmer’s performance could be evaluated with and without caffeine. With no caffeine, the Canadian swimmers averaged 21:22 for their 1,500m trials; with caffeine, their clockings dropped significantly to 20:58, a 2 per cent improvement. The researchers speculated that caffeine may actually increase the rate at which carbohydrate is broken down for energy inside muscles or may improve the way in which muscle cells handle potassium, an important mineral involved in muscle contraction. As mentioned earlier, when the body has a choice of two nutritional aids it will dump one in favour of the other. And, this is the case if creatine phosphate supplement is being taken.

High levels of this substance increase muscles’ capacity for work in three ways:

1.      providing an instant source of energy

2.      mopping up some of the fatigue-causing acid that builds up during high-intensity exercise

3.      directly stimulating muscle proteins to contract

There is evidence that it is more efficient in the presence of a high-carbohydrate diet. This is because carbohydrate stimulates insulin release, which in turn encourages the uptake of creatine into cells.

There is evidence that it is more efficient in the presence of a high-carbohydrate diet. This is because carbohydrate stimulates insulin release, which in turn encourages the uptake of creatine into cells.

A team of Belgian researchers recently investigated the effect of taking creatine supplements with caffeine. They expected it to boost creatine’s effect, since caffeine is known to boost the activity of the transport system that shuttles creatine from the bloodstream across in to the muscle cells. They were surprised and disappointed to find the opposite – caffeine actually counteracted creatine’s positive effects!

The last word

In conclusion, the taking of caffeine as an ergogenic aid requires considerable thought. The considerations are:

1.      The distance of the event

2.      Where fat-burning preferentially is the aim, taking it just before the start of the race will be non productive

3.      For explosive events it should be consumed at least one hour prior to the occasion

4.      The type and amount of caffeine to be consumed

5.      Pre-competition experiment in training

6.      Abstinence of all caffeine consumption for at least two weeks before use.

There will always be those who will consider the use of caffeine as being morally wrong. The answer to that is, if it’s all right to do carbohydrate boosting before an endurance event and to consume high-powered athletic drinks during competition, it is all right to drink extra coffee.

Frank Horwill