Hilly 10 miler and some science of energy supplements

On Monday I went for a hilly 10 mile run (and surprise, surprise, it was pouring rain. Again).

I purposely changed my long running route because I’ve been reading more about how it is important to incorporate hills into training runs–especially those that are early in a training program or in base training. According to Runner’s World, hill training helps to increase running economy and overall strength. It can also make running on flat surfaces feel easier (and if we can be honest here, that is the main reason why I run on hills at all while I am training). It’s not exactly difficult to run on a hilly route in and around Charlottesville. In fact, I’d say it’s almost impossible not to.  Many of the hills here are somewhat short and very steep but there are some hills around town that are longer and more gradual. I’m trying to run on both to gain more strength. I had to walk a few times up the hills during my run because I’m not that strong but I finished feeling pretty good so I don’t mind that I had to walk a few times.

Quick note about form when running uphill. Take small, short strides and run on the forefoot

I only had one GU left in my dwindled stock pile (only ONE? I need to go shopping!). It was actually a Strawberry Clif Shot that I got for free from a race.

I usually take GU because it has less sugar and seems to be easier on my stomach and GI system while I run (I’ve mentioned before that different brands offer differing amounts of sugar and sodium in their supplements), but there are some Clif Shots I really like.  Let’s explore the basic science and benefits of energy supplementation a little more.

Sugar

Simple sugar (monosaccharides), like fructose and maltodextrin, have an important place in carbohydrate loading before–and replacement during–exercise.  The general rule of thumb is if you plan to run for longer than 90 minutes, you want to maximize the amount of glycogen stored in your muscles. This is because poorly fueled muscles are associated with fatigue. Glycogen in the muscles and liver is the easiest (and most efficient) fuel for the body to burn. Fat, on the other hand, burns more slowly than glycogen or carbohydrates. Well trained runners typically have enough stored muscle glycogen to sustain 2 hours or so of moderate intensity exercise. Taking energy supplements which are mostly sugar, like GU or Clif shots, or eating (some people like to eat candy or whole foods while running) can help to maintain and replenish glycogen stores in the muscles during longer runs. That said, it is almost impossible to keep your glycogen tank completely full during long runs. This is main the reason why runners can “hit the wall” around mile 20 of a marathon. One of my favorite quotations about the marathon touches on this point: “At some point in the marathon, the distance is greater than the human ability to physically transcend it.” –Amby Burfoot. The fact that the human body is only capable of maintaining glycogen for about 20 miles is a main reason for why the marathon is so dang hard (and great!). During a marathon, I usually end up taking about 4 GUs (or 3 GUs and some other form of sugar like a lollipop or candy).

I don’t know much about training the body to use glycogen more efficiently during runs, but I know that going out too fast in a race or training run can burn up glycogen very quickly and that long, slow runs train the body to burn both glycogen and fat more efficiently.

Sodium

Replenishing sodium during runs is important because runners obviously lose salt through sweat. The thing is, some people lose more sodium as they sweat than others i (for instance, Mitch loses a lot of salt in his sweat, which is why his face is always white after he runs for awhile; I don’t lose as much). Those that lose more sodium need to replenish more with energy drinks like gatorade. Sodium is important in that it assists with hydration in 2 ways: it increases the rate of fluid absorption from the stomach into the bloodstream and it helps maintain a higher blood volume (keeps body temperature and heart rate down during prolonged exercise…which is why if you are running in the heat you should always drink gatorade, a mistake I made during the Alexandria Half).

It is important to note that taking in extra salt (through salt tablets for instance) won’t provide any additional benefits and could actually do more harm than good. A major salt-related risk to the health of runners is hyponatremia, a potentially fatal condition. Hyponatremia results when the sodium concentration of the blood falls too low because of prolonged sweating and excessive fluid consumption. This is why runners shouldn’t drink too much while running (the primary cause of hyponatremia is not consuming too little salt, but rather drinking too much fluid.)

Caffeine

The effects of caffeine on endurance has been widely studied as of late. A recent article in The New York Times noted, “Exercise physiologists have studied caffeine’s effects in nearly every iteration: Does it help sprinters? Marathon runners? Cyclists? Rowers? Swimmers? Athletes whose sports involve stopping and starting like tennis players? The answers are yes and yes and yes and yes.” In short, there is a growing body of research that supports that caffeine boosts endurance (endurance, not short term, high intensity exercise). According to studies, caffeine increases the power output of muscles by releasing calcium that is stored in muscle (this can enable athletes to go longer or faster in the same length of time). Drinking coffee or tea is a common pre-race or pre-run routine. Some runners also like to take an energy supplement with caffeine, like GU, while running. I like to take GUs with caffeine while running and feel like they help me, but also acknowledge that it could just give me a mental boost, which also helps with endurance.

Do you like to train on hills? Is it hilly where you live?

Where do you stand on taking Gus/Gatorade/caffeine before or while running? 

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15 Responses to Hilly 10 miler and some science of energy supplements

  1. Dash says:

    Personally I dislike Gatorade, Powerade, Lucozade during a race, I find them too sticky, sweet and sickly – apart from water, I like a 50/50 ratio of OJ and water with a High5 electrolyte tab dissolved in the mix (the lemon/lime flavour is delish!)
    I quite like the Clif Shot Gels, although they are pretty thick so I have to take them with water. My favourite is the Clif Shot Bloks though – in strawberry flavour. Yum!

    • I agree! I actually can’t take Gatorade or other sports drinks AND a GU. It’s too much sugar for my stomach. During marathons I usually mix a little bit of gatorade in my water cup

      • Dash says:

        That’s a good idea! For some reason at 90% of the races I’ve done it always seems to be either water OR sports drink, never both together. Another reason to rely on my Camelbak I guess!

  2. I have some of those cliff shots in my cabinet but I haven’t used them on a run yet. I’m hesitant though because I have only used Gu’s!

  3. I used to run hills when I lived in Ann Arbor but after moving to Chicago the only “hills” I see are highway overpasses.

    I’ve never been a GU or cliff shots user. For my first three marathons I trained with cliff shot blocks because the liquid made me nauseous but recently I’ve switched over to using medjool dates or figs. I think the natural sugar is easier for my stomach to handle.

  4. Bah! I really need to make sure I put more hills in my routes. They stink, but I know they’re good for me. I just wish I could keep that same attitude while actually running them! And you know I love my GU (Jet Blackberry, get in my belly!).

  5. katiemoves says:

    ooo i love me some GU! Chocolate or PB tastes so good, i really wish those ones had caffeine in them tho!

  6. Hilly is a relative term when you live in the great plans, but I do like to train on the ‘hills’ that we do have! My newest fuel is Picky Bars that I order on line and coconut water. I haven’t used any gu or blocks since last year and I don’t miss them!

  7. jessiemck says:

    I train on hills too, especially because one of my fave local races is described as a “challenging, hilly course” on its website. I never do hill repeats though. That sounds like torture!

    Thanks for the 411 on energy supplements too. I am a heavy salt loser when I sweat. I have white salt crystal streaks on my face after long runs. I’ve never actually heard of anyone else with those salt streaks before…good to know I’m not a freak. I used to bring water only on long runs, but now I take some of the low-calorie Gatorade since I know I lose a lot of sodium through my sweat.

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