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Form & Fitness Q & A
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Fitness questions and answers for April 11, 2005
The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel
Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com)
is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping
athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie
specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track
racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology
from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology
from John F. Kennedy University.
Dave Palese (www.davepalese.com)
is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16
years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities
from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl,
daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.
Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of
Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before
obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000.
Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows,
he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins,
CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural,
urgent care, inpatient and the like.
Fiona Lockhart (www.trainright.com)
is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting
(Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association
(Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy
for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports
Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in
the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10
years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.
Eddie Monnier (www.velo-fit.com)
is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds
undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy
from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.
Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track,
road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with
and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from
David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com)
is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included
World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes.
He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's
degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual
medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization
musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.
Since 1986 Steve Hogg (www.cyclefitcentre.com)
has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider
positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders
from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable
cycling problem.They include World and National champions at one end of
the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the
Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick
Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica
Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.
Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular
Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University
of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University
and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University
of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency
on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated
changes in menstrual function on bone health.
Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling
competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion.
Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.
Dario Fredrick (www.wholeathlete.com)
is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a
former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in
exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.
Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com)
has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and
has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years
of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.
Kendra Wenzel (www.wenzelcoaching.com)
is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching
experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.
Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com)
is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association
of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been
professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels
from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching
with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive
cyclist for 20 years
Andy Bloomer (www.cyclecoach.com)
is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training.
He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and
a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES).
In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports
Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered
training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past
4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.
Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com)
has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified
USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion,
and a Fitness Professional.
Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United
States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns
a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around
the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find
Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational
purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual
athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews,
you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before
beginning any exercise program.
Sore rear end question
More Upper Calf Pain...
Converting road bike fit to MTB fit
Position for Long TTs
Exercise Induced Asthma
Sore rear end question
I have been having a problem with the edge of the chamois in my shorts (Pearl
Izumi) cutting into my buttock where it contacts the saddle (Selle Italia Prolink
Genuine Gel). I enquired at the (reputable) bike store where I bought the shorts
and they said they had not heard of this before. Is it a problem you have encountered
previously, and if so do you have any suggestions how I could fix it? Many thanks
for any advice you can provide.
Scott Saifer Replies
I have not had that issue with Pearl Izumi shorts. From your description
of the problem, I judge that you need to get a different brand of shorts that
has a pad that extends farther over the edge of the saddle. The edge of the
chamois should be beyond the edge of the saddle so that your butt contacts
only smooth pad, not edge. I can't recommend a particular brand since I haven't
studied pad shapes. This is your chance to make yourself an expert on an esoteric
aspect of bike tech.
Are you certain that you are contacting the edge and not a seam or a fold
in the pad under the cover layer? Those could feel like being cut by and edge
More Upper Calf Pain...
My pelvis is tilted, functionally making my right leg shorter. If you stand
infront of me looking at me the right side of my pelvis is higher than my left.
I hope that clears things up. Thanks.
Steve Hogg Replies
From what you say, it is very likely that your rightleg is overextending.
In your original email you suggested that you are prepared to sort out the
structural problems you currently have which is far and away the best long
term solution. From what you have said previously, your right sacro iliac
joint is either restricted or jammed totally. This is likely to need more
than the Kit Laughlin book, some manipulation is almost certainly necessary
as well. The enlarged left spinal erector suggests that you drop the right
hip forward and down on every pedal stroke. In so doing, and because the restricted
right SIJ causes the right ilium to drop with the right downstroke, the left
spinal erector is loaded simply because it is trying to stay where it is.
Here is a suggested plan of action. Firstly, mount your bike on a trainer
and have someone observe you from behind to confirm that you drop the right
hip under load. Everything you have said earlier suggests that is the case
but it is wise to confirm or otherwise. Proceeding on the assumption that
you are, twist the nose of the seat to the right a little. This will bring
the right hip back so that it is more or less square with the left one. If
you point the seat nose too far, your body will not untwist with it, but rather
the right hip drop will become even more exaggerated. Once you have a satisfactory
level of seat twist, you may still need to build up the right rear of the
seat where you bear your weight. This is to limit how far the right hip can
drop. Properly done this will provide some level of benefit. However, no amount
of stuff like this is a substitute for a pelvis that functions symmetrically,
so the best of luck with your future improvement.
There is a small chance that once you have resolved the asymmetry off the
bike, it will still occur on the bike. If this ends up being the case, get
back to me and I will point you at the right people.
Converting road bike fit to MTB fit
Thanks for leading an extremely useful discussion of bike fit in recent months.
After much tweaking, the moment when I made the final adjustment and felt my
midsection relax was inspirational!
A final question (apologies if you have addressed this already and I missed
it): if you have your road bike dialed, what modifications do you make to set
up a mountain bike? Thanks for your thoughts.
Denver, Colorado (where MTB season is upon us!)
Steve Hogg Replies
I'm happy that you feel you are getting somewhere with your road position.
I think that I covered this once before but I can't find it in the archives
so here goes. How an Mtb position compares is an interesting problem. Let's
assume that you are happy with your road position as you seem to be. With
an Mtb, you want the same pedalling dynamics but the seat position will be
measurably different to varying degrees because of
A. Suspension effect
B. Different pedal system and wider Q factor
C. Totally different bar set up
A. Suspension effect: The ideal is that when pedalling an Mtb, it should
feel the same as that road bike that you are already happy with. If the Mtb
has a rigid frame and fork and you are using the same seat and pedals as your
road bike then it is simple to set up the seat position the same as your roadie.
All you need is an indoor trainer to lock the bike up in, a 4 foot level to
help with seat set back [don't ever use plumb lines, it is too easy to make
a 10mm error!] and a measuring tape. Unfortunately it is unlikely that you
are using a rigid frame and fork. If you are using a hard tail, the act of
sitting on the bike will compress the front fork to varying degrees depending
on the fork and how hard you have the preload set. As the fork compresses
the seat will move forward and the nose of the seat will move down. Now the
problem is that you want the same seat position as the road bike but you can
only measure the Mtb when you are off the bike which of course negates the
suspension effect. Typically, to counter the forward seat movement when the
bike is weighted with rider caused by the sag of the front fork, the seat
should be somewhere between 0.5 and 1.0 degree of seat tube angle further
This means from 5-10 mm further back for a small frame and 7-14mm further
back for a large frame assuming an average seat height relative to frame size.
On a dual suspension bike the rear end will sag much more than the front end,
moving the seat further back than it measurably is when the rider dismounts
and hence unloads the suspension. There is wide range of suspension systems
and linkages out there for duallies and so the effect varies as it also does
depending on the rider's weight and how much preload is dialled in. As a rule
of thumb [not a phrase that I'm ever totally happy with] the difference can
vary from 1.0 degree, to sometimes up to 2.0 degrees of seat tube angle. In
mm this would mean a seat setback between 10 mm commonly, but up to 20mm further
forward as measured with rider off the bike for a small Mtb, and for a large
frame, 14mm commonly, and less commonly up to 28mm further forward with rider
off the bike to mimic the same position as that same person has on a road
With some of the dual suspension systems around, not only does the seat move
backwards when the rider mounts but it also drops down somewhat as well. Assuming
that you ride with your seat dead level [and you may not], on a hardtail you
would need the seat nose slightly nose up off the bike to have it level on
the bike. With a duallie the converse is true. All of this assumes that you
are using the same seat as on your road bike. If not, things get a bit tricky
as seats can vary up to 40mm in length and the design of different seats and
where they have their width means that many seats of similar length force
the rider to sit in different relative places fore or aft.
B. Pedal systems. The total height of your shoe sole and pedal and cleat
system may vary between your road bike and Mtb. Many of the more recent road
systems are very close or the same overall height as SPDs, but if using a
non-Keo Look pedal for example, you would have to drop your seat 6-10 mm depending
on what shoes you use, to get the same amount of leg extension when using
SPDs on your Mtb. Mtb cranks have much wider Q factor measurements than road
cranks. This forces the rider to a more heel in/toe out foot angle on the
pedals. The feet are further apart but the hips stay in the same place. This
in turn means that the ball of the foot moves forward as the heel is rotated
in. If duplicating a particular cleat placement on your Mtb as on your road
bike, always measure the cleat fore and aft position with the shoe in the
pedal at the angle you would actually pedal at. As I said this is likely to
differ somewhat on both types of bike. If using a Crank Bros Mtb pedal, the
Q factor will be even wider again. They position the foot further apart than
SPDs and their clones do.
C. Bar set up: Assuming the same seat is used as on your road bike and that
you are using an Mtb 'flat bar', the overall distance from seat nose to handlebar
is similar to what it would be on the road bike. On an Mtb the distance that
the bar is below the seat is often 50-75 mm less than on a road bike for best
control in a variety of terrain and conditions. In my view Mtb handlebars
are poorly designed. With the 'flat bars' in their normal position the elbows
are cocked and the shoulders carry unnecessary tension. Try rolling the bar
back in the stem clamp so that the sweep of the bar is back and slightly down
rather back and up. This is not a total solution but it makes a difference.
With riser bars this can be accomplished better because many of them droop
towards the outer edge. This means that as the bars are rolled back in the
stem a much more comfortable position can be gained providing of course that
you want the extra width of a riser bar. You are likely to have a few queries
after reading this so let me know and we'll go from there.
Position for Long TTs
I've been crazy enough to be roped into the 80km bike leg of a Run-Cycle-Paddle
event, and wondered whether setting up the bike for a TT (when you don't have
a dedicated TT bike) is as simple as bolting on the aero bars. In club TTs of
25-40km this is all I've ever done. I've also completed a 63km and 57km TT with
the same setup. I've done this more through ignorance of a better alternative
than anything else, but would like an expert opinion on whether any other elements
of the bike setup (eg, seat forward/backward, seat higher/lower) should be changed
when going onto aero bars and if this could benefit me.
Unfortunately I'm a bit short (165cm) so my ability to gain an aerodynamic
advantage through a more bum-up position is limited by the seat-to-handlebar
height relationship. Is it worth investing in a stem offering a lower position?
I have excellent flexibility in my hamstrings (take up yoga all you riders with
back pain!), so getting lower isn't a problem from that respect, but I also
understand that over 80km comfort might be more important than the benefits
of a better aero position.
Steve Hogg Replies
Firstly have a look at the post: http://www.cyclingnews.com/fitness/?id=2004/letters11-08#Bike.
Most of your question is answered there.
Next, don't worry too much about aerodynamics until you are convinced that
your position allows good leverage on the pedals, good control of movement
and the ability to breathe to the greatest capacity [a relaxed upper body
is the same thing].
Once this is achieved then you can prioritise aerodynamics. Your greatest
priority is to do a good time. An aerodynamic position is one of the means
rather than an end in itself.
If you have further queries after reading that post, let me know.
I'm a masters-age cyclist, reasonably fit, been at it fairly seriously for
seven years. I've been told I tend to hammer unevenly on the pedals - or make
them go round in squares as some would say. I've had some advice from the bunch
and tried a few things but my technique is still off the pace. I know this costs
me in terms of power and overall efficiency. Can your team suggest appropriate
exercises to make the right technique second nature? Many thanks
Michael Smartt Replies
Before you decide if your pedal stroke needs to be significantly changed,
let's look at some of the issues you have brought up. First of all, efficiency
refers to the ratio of external work going out of the body (in cycling, we
measure this as power output) to how much oxygen is being metabolized to perform
the work. Since a cyclist is attached to the bike at the feet, saddle and
hands, and movement (i.e.: pedaling) takes place in only one plane of motion,
simply pedaling a bike does not require any significant level of technical
skill (a good contrast would be swimming, where technique and physical capacity
are almost equally important in achieving top performance). As such, there
is little difference in efficiency between cyclists of varying levels, largely
because of these "confines" the bike puts on the cyclist. Several research
studies have demonstrated that over a large range of abilities, cyclists typically
have an efficiency rate of 22-24%.
Furthermore, the idea of losing power due to a presumably inefficient pedal
stroke is not supported either. Research comparing the abilities of state-class
and national-class cyclists (Coyle, 1991) showed that the national-class cyclists
had what is often incorrectly referred to as and "inefficient" pedal stroke.
In a 40k TT test, the national-class cyclists put more of their power into
their downstroke, while the slower, less powerful cyclists distributed more
of their power in all directions of the pedal stroke. Yep, the more powerful
cyclists mashed (at least more than the other cyclists) their way to 40k times
that were 10% faster. One way to potentially change the efficiency of your
stroke is by manipulating cadence. This is where it gets interesting, because
if you pedaled with the intent on being as efficient as possible, you would
ride around at a cadence that is much slower than the typically freely chosen
cadence of most cyclists (~90rpm). As cadence increases, so does the oxygen
demand for a given power output. I personally don't know any top cyclists
who pedal all day at 60rpm, so one has to wonder why having an efficient pedal
stroke is a desirable goal at all.
While many cyclists, and coaches, will talk about having an "efficient stroke",
that concept is really not supported when the variables of cycling efficiency
are directly studied. There still might be some good reasons for you to work
on your pedal stroke (e.g.: limiting the work done by the rest of your body),
and I've yet to find a better way than by using a good old set of rollers.
I am a 44 year old Cat 3 racer. I'm 6 feet tall and weigh about 155 lbs, bodyfat
~ 5%. I've been cycling for about 15 years now, but only racing for the last
four years (lots of miles, commuting, touring in the previous 10 years, but
no high intensity training/racing).
Presently I train about 12-15 hours/week, and lift weights three days per week
off-season, and two light days per week during the season (I am 'in-season'
now). I recently had a bone density test during an annual exam. The test consisted
of putting my foot in a device that put two probes up against my heel, and took
some readings. The results said I had low bone density (BMD = .359, Tscore =
-2.0, if those numbers mean anything to you). I have also had blood work done,
and found to have low testosterone levels (I don't know if these are related).
Can you tell me anything about low bone density, why it occurs, and what I
can do about increasing bone density? Thanks.
Pam Hinton Replies
First of all, here's a bit of information about measuring bone mineral density
(BMD) and the results of your test. Interpreting the results requires a brief
explanation of statistics, so bear with me. There are two general methods
available for measuring BMD: central bone density machines measure BMD of
the hip, spine, or whole body; peripheral machines measure BMD of the heel,
wrist, shin, finger or kneecap. The central BMD assessment provides more accurate
and complete information than the peripheral measure. For the peripheral method,
BMD of one site (e.g., heel) is used to estimate BMD of the whole body. Either
method gives you bone mineral content per bone area. This absolute BMD is
then compared to two standards: "young normal" (T-score) and "age-matched"
(Z-score). The T-score compares your BMD to the mean (average) BMD for 30-year
old males and is used to determine your fracture risk. The Z-score compares
your BMD to the mean BMD of males of your age and body size. Because BMD decreases
with age, the Z-score is not very useful in assessing fracture risk.
Everyone loses bone mass and increases their risk of bone fractures as they
age. Your fracture risk is determined by comparing your bone density to the
mean BMD of the young adult population. Your T-score is the variation between
your BMD and the mean of the young adult population, expressed in standard
deviations (each standard deviation [SD] is about a 10-12% reduction in BMD).
The World Health Organisation defines normal BMD as a T-score of ± 1 SD. Osteopenia,
or low BMD, is a T-score of -1 to -2.5 SD. Osteoporosis is a T-score of less
than -2.5 SD. For each SD below the mean, the risk of fracture increases 1.5
to 2.5 times. To put the significance of low BMD into perspective, the relationship
between low BMD and fracture risk is stronger than that between cholesterol
and heart attack.
So, at this point, you are probably realizing that your T-score of -2.0 puts
you in the "osteopenia" category with an increased fracture risk of 3 to 5
fold. Your low BMD may be a surprise to you because osteoporosis is typically
thought of as a disease that afflicts elderly women. You have probably been
asymptomatic as well, which is why osteoporosis is called a "silent disease".
This apparently bad news really is good news--now you can take actions to
increase your BMD. If untreated, your osteopenia would have progressed to
There are three main factors (other than genetics) that affect BMD: nutrients,
hormones, and mechanical stress. Any one of these or all three may have caused
your low BMD. Many nutrients are needed for bone health, but calcium and vitamin
D are the key players. With inadequate dietary calcium, the body has to use
the calcium that is stored in the mineral matrix of the bones to keep blood
calcium levels stable. Over time, insufficient calcium in the diet can lead
to a significant loss of bone mineral, making the bones less dense and, thus,
more fragile. The recommended daily intake of calcium is 1000 mg. Dairy products
(~250-300 mg calcium per serving) are excellent sources of calcium.
Other foods, like breakfast cereals, orange juice, and soy milk are sometimes
supplemented with calcium, so check the food labels. Vitamin D is critical
for calcium absorption from the intestine. The body can make vitamin D from
cholesterol; the process requires skin exposure to ultraviolet (sun) light.
So individuals who live in northern latitudes are at greater risk for vitamin
D deficiency. Good food sources of vitamin D are milk and other dairy products,
fatty fish and liver. Your low testosterone levels probably contributed to
your low BMD, as growth and maintenance of BMD depend on normal hormone levels.
The sex steroids (estrogen and testosterone) and growth hormone stimulate
bone formation. For men, part of the normal aging process is a gradual reduction
in testosterone and growth hormone production, which may contribute to lower
bone mineral density. For both men and women, a chronic energy deficit causes
a reduction in the sex steroids. Athletes who severely restrict their energy
intake in order to lose weight or body fat may be in negative energy balance.
For women, the lower estrogen production may result in irregular or absent
menstrual cycles. Unfortunately, for guys, there are no overt signs of low
Mechanical stress on bone is critical to maintaining BMD. Body weight is
one source of mechanical stress on the skeleton. The significance of weight
on bones is illustrated by the dramatic loss of bone mass that occurs with
weightlessness (e.g., during space travel or bed rest). Low body weight is
a risk factor for osteoporosis; your relatively low weight for height may
have contributed to your low BMD. In general, physical activity increases
bone density because of the increased stress on the skeleton. Dynamic exercise
has a greater positive effect on bone mass than static exercise because it
provides a larger stimulus for bone growth. Fluid shifts within the bone cells
are the signals for bone deposition. High-impact activities like running and
jumping cause greater fluid shifts than low-impact activities (e.g., walking
or weight-training). Non-weight bearing activities (e.g., swimming, cycling)
do not increase bone density.
A recent study of master cyclists, who had been riding for at least 10 years,
found that the older cyclists had lower bone density of the spine and hip
than young adult cyclist and age-matched controls who were moderately active.
The cumulative effect of hours spent with the skeleton unloaded is the likely
cause of the lower bone mineral density in the masters, but not young adult,
cyclists. I have several suggestions for you. First of all, consider getting
a whole body BMD test, as it will provide a more accurate assessment of your
total BMD than the heel BMD test. Be sure that you consume adequate calcium
and vitamin D. Follow up with your physician regarding your low testosterone
levels, remembering that your testosterone will be low if you are not consuming
enough energy to meet your needs. Consider adding some dynamic, weight-bearing
activity to your training program. Running, jumping rope, and plyometric exercises,
would all be good options. Good luck.
Kelby Bethards Replies
Again, I agree with Pam. I would add that taking calcium with vitamin D at
1500 mg a day is actually considered a treatment of sorts for osteopenia/osteoporosis.
Also, in my experience, taking hip and lumbar BMD tests tend to be more accurate,
if (and only if) they are interpreted correctly.
I am a 38-year-old recreational cyclist (5'9" - 76kg). I have been cycling
on and off for over 26 years but apart from a criterium and a couple of TTs
in my teens I have not raced competitively. I am hoping that this year will
see me compete in my first road race. My question centres around the issue of
the effect of hard riding on the body's immune system.
I am still in the early stages of turning my body into a lean mean cycling
machine and I'm only averaging about 120km (75miles) a week. This is achieved
over five days of riding to and from work (20 km a day) with perhaps a club
ride on the weekend. I am pleased with the progress in my fitness level but
concerned that I regularly feel 'run-down'. I find it difficult to not ride
medium/hard and I regularly feel like my immune system is under pressure and
dealing with some mild cold or flu like symptoms. It doesn't stop me riding
to work but I just wish my body could remain clear and 'powerful' for a prolonged
period of time.
When my body is good I go hard. This often seems to result in me succumbing
to another bout of feeling 'run-down'. It's like a cycle which keeps recurring.
Can you recommend anything to boost my immune system; is my situation common
and does the immune system become proportionally stronger as one becomes fitter?
I am aware of the impact of sleep, diet, alcohol and daily stress on the immune
system. I look forward to your response
Perth, Western Australia
Pam Hinton Replies
Let me reassure you that what you are experiencing is not uncommon, but unfortunately
that won't make your flu-like symptoms go away. In fact, your sluggish immune
system is part of the body's normal, adaptive response to exercise training.
Exercise, particularly high intensity or exhaustive exercise, causes the brain
to signal the adrenal gland to make glucocorticoid hormones. Cortisol release
during exercise is beneficial because it stimulates glycogen breakdown and
synthesis of glucose in the liver, making more carbohydrate available to the
muscle. Cortisol is also a potent modulator of the immune response, which
is both good and bad. Cortisol-induced immuno-suppression is beneficial in
preventing excessive degradation and inflammation of skeletal muscle after
The downside of the immunosuppressive effects of cortisol is that it increases
susceptibility to viral upper respiratory infections (URTIs) by shutting down
cell-mediated immunity (see February 21, 2005 Fitness Forum for further discussion
of the immune system). The increased susceptibility to infection in the 3-72
hours post exercise is the price that must be paid to reduce post-exercise
muscle damage and soreness.
As you become a lean, mean cycling machine, you may find that your struggles
with chronic infections diminish somewhat. Exercise training not only improves
cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength and endurance, but it strengthens
the immune system as well. Immune cells in the blood of exercised-trained
individuals are less sensitive to the immunosuppressive effects of cortisol
than the immune cells of sedentary individuals. As a result, the immune cells
of fit people are less likely to be shut down by cortisol, increasing their
resistance to infection. However, even the pros battle with URTIs after a
sudden increase in training volume or following a stage race.
As you noted, adequate rest and a healthful diet are also key to staying
healthy. If you were to make one change to your diet, consuming adequate carbohydrate
during and after exercise, would be the one to make. Carbohydrate is the single
dietary intervention that has been shown to reduce cortisol and catecholamine
secretion in response to exercise and to maintain immune function after exercise.
Vitamins A and C are needed to optimize immune function, so be sure to eat
4 servings of fruit (2 cups) and 5 servings of vegetables (2.5 cups) every
day. Vitamin D is also needed for a healthy immune system and recent survey
data suggests that many Americans have vitamin D insufficiency. We have two
available sources of vitamin D; food and synthesis in the skin with exposure
to UV light.
So, if you live above 40° N or S or if you religiously use sunscreen, you
will have to rely more on food sources. Fatty fish, liver, and fortified dairy
products are good sources of vitamin D. Of the minerals, zinc is needed for
normal immune function. If you eat a normal mixed diet, including red meat,
your zinc intake is probably adequate. However, if you follow a vegetarian
or vegan diet, you may need to take a supplement. Remember, when it comes
to vitamin and mineral supplements, more is not better. Stick with a multivitamin
and mineral supplement that provides no more than 100% of the RDA. Staying
well hydrated will keep your first line of defense against bacterial and viral
invaders - the mucus membranes of your nasal passages, sinuses, and lungs
Another strategy is to reduce your exposure to the disease-causing bugs.
Use a saline nasal spray to keep your sinuses open and flushed clean of allergens.
These sprays are available over-the-counter or may be mixed at home using
pickling salt and water. Don't forget the tried and true way to reduce your
exposure to germs--frequent hand washing. Take care.
Kelby Bethards Replies
I agree with Pam completely - the other thing I have seen, anecdotally, is
success with echinacea and zinc when coming down with the URI's...and NEVER
underestimate the importance of REST in a training program...not that you
are overtraining, but when athletes overtrain, they become sick easier and
even have mental health changes. So rest well, we don't want you to be a lean
mean, whimpering mentally unstable racer.
I'm a 30 year old male - 5'6 and 140 pounds, I train 2-3 times a week for 2-4
hours at a time.
I am a heavy sweater and I often experience sever cramp when racing. I have
been using Horleys Carbo drink powder as it contains 221mg of sodium and 196mg
of potassium and this has helped to some extent.
Is there something I should be doing before the race besides stretching and
drinking (and how much should I be drinking before a big race)
Does diet have an effect on cramp and can my position on the bike also have
an effect (I usually cramp while sitting). Nine times out of ten I only cramp
in my thighs, usually after about 1 1/2 to 2 hours into a hard ride/race. Could
this be a seat height problem, and if so what's the best way to determine the
correct height? Thanks!
Kelby Bethards Replies
In my humble opinion, quadriceps cramps will arise from a couple of possible
positional problems…all making the seat height virtually too low. But, the
most common would be just plain ol' having the seat too low. There are various
websites/etc that have seat height "calculators" etc. The one I have used
and seems to be the one for me, is on Leonard Zinn's website. Zinncycles.com…they
have a bike fit calculator on there.
The other two problems that I have seen give quad cramps is a seat too far
forward, tilted down too much in the front and cleats positioned on the shoes
so that the ball of the foot is behind the pedal axle.
Exercise Induced Asthma
I am a 61 year old male who has been riding and racing for many years. Some
time ago I found it difficult to breathe during extreme exercise. This manifested
itself in my inability to ride hard either on hills or (my version of) fast
for prolonged periods. My nickname became "Puffing Billy".
On investigation, I was diagnosed with Exercise Induced Asthma. This was determined
after an exercise ECG to exhaustion breathing through a mouthpiece. Oxis, Vicron
and Tilade were prescribed. The Oxis and Vicron are taken (two puffs each) 30
minutes before exercise and two puffs of Tilade immediately before.
Whilst this has provided some relief, it has never been 100% and recently it
has seemed to be less effective. My riding is mainly fun-rides in summer and
short handicap and massed-starts in winter. I liken the effect to the end of
a kilo or a pursuit.
I have varied my warm up techniques. Last week I did a short turbo session
at home before going out to race. These have helped in TTs but not otherwise.
Of course, it could simply be lack of fitness. With the fun rides and TTs that
I have ridden recently, I don't think that is it. In the TTs and fun rides,
one can back off before the heart rate gets too high but that is not an option
I understand that this condition is quite prevalent in the pro peloton and
hopefully your panel may have some helpful comments
Auckland, New Zealand
Kelby Bethards Replies
I have treated quite a few exercise induced asthmatics…and there is quite
a bit of variation in the results. I had to look up the meds you are on, as
they have different names in the USA. There is one other thing I think that
could worth trying if it is available to you. Trade name: Singulair (generic:
montelukast) Also, I couldn't find Vicron, so I am not certain what that is…
There are many "pathways" involved in reactive airways disease (asthma).
Histamine receptors, beta receptors and leukotriene receptors. Singulair is
a leukotriene inhibitor. The way I have used it is to have the athletes use
it in the evenings (10 mg pill) for about three days prior to a big effort
(hard ride, race, etc.) For easy rides they don't use it if they don't need
to. It can be used with the beta-agonist and antihistamines. It just helps
to block one more of the pathways responsible for bronchospasm.
I have one cyclist that I have treated that has been able to use just the
Singulair - the beta agonist didn't give him as good a peak flow and made
his legs feel heavy. We increased his peak flow by 30%, which helped him significantly
There is another thing to consider - it sounds like your testing was extensive,
so EIA is likely to be the diagnosis, but if the breathing problem seems to
be in your throat, and give you a choking sensation,.acid reflux from all
the increased abdominal/intrathoracic pressure is a possible complicating
If the reflux is significant enough it can cause laryngospasm and the sensation
of shortness of breath and choking…. The way to stop that is with a medication
called a proton pump inhibitor.(Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid, etc in the USA).
Hope this helps - I apologise for not knowing the medication names in New
Zealand, but your doctor may know the names there and if the Singulair is
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