First of Four Part Series on Getting High: Nutrition Considerations at Altitude.

Anyone attempting to train at sea level and, also loves mountain running has probably experienced the challenges of  a high-elevation race. What is the challenge? Well, let me put it this way, my first attempt at climbing mountains in a race felt like being pregnant while also having a big pile of bricks on my chest.  In was difficult. But, as challenges are, also a great opportunity to learn.

Mountain running used to just be me going on a run in the mountains. That however, was when I lived IN the mountains adapted to elevation. Now a seasoned sea level dweller,  mountain running requires more attention to nutrition to feel good and have fun.

Why? Consider the dry climate, potentially abrupt temperature swings, and the exposed climbs.  In conditions like these, even the most fit and altitude adapted athletes suffer many of the same effects of altitude. There are four key nutrition considerations that I take into account to help me ascend new heights above tree line.

Here is the first consideration I will be applying at Broken Arrow in a few weeks and the Ed Anacker Bridger Ridge Run later this summer for the third time.

Hydration!

Start hydrated and stay hydrated. This was one of my mistakes the first time I ran Bridger Ridge Run. I didn’t account for how much more fluid I would need up there over that period of time (6 plus hours). I had the water and electrolyte drink,  I just didn’t drink enough of it. High altitude brings with it little “gifts” like increased urine production and reduced thirst!  High-altitude air also tends to be less humid, resulting in increased water losses with each breath – about twice the sea level rate.  Add intense exercise and sweating, and the needs add up quickly.

My approach is conscious hydration before the expedition, staying present to drinking every fifteen minutes during the run, and loading my hydration pack with electrolyte drink instead of water, opting for water at limited aid stations or carrying water in my hand-held bottle.

Also, in the days before, you will see me carrying around my hydration pack and sipping from it as if it is my “comfort lovey”!  I go about my regular activities of parenting, working, traveling, and whatnot all with my hydration pack close by. I also fill this pack with hydration drink that has some carbohydrate and electrolyte like CLIF Hydration I helped formulate for occasions just like these. For more details on hydration techniques check out this post.

Stay tuned for the next three important consideration for getting high in the mountains!

Adventure Nutrition for Mountain Projects

Last Saturday I co-hosted a Adventure Nutrition Workshop at The Mountain Project structured around giving mountain athletes nutrition tools to train and prepare for big days in the mountains. It was day of working out, learning and applying nutrition, and eating!

Too often what we eat (or don’t eat), when we eat, and how we eat limits our ability to meet new challenges and achieve goals. The group who joined us on this day was not only motivated by a broad spectrum of mountain projects (from day hikes to ultra-running races), they were also inspiring athletes committed to their quest, open to trying new things, and just plain fun people to spend a Saturday with!

We closed the day experimenting with nutritious ingredients in the kitchen to make four varieties of one-of-kind energy snacks! While each group made it their own, here was the basic premise of the recipe.

Base Layer Ingredients:
¼ cup chopped flaxseeds
1 cups dates or figs chopped
1 cup steel-cut oats (could substitute with rolled oats or quinoa)
1/4 cup whey protein powder
1 cup raw almond, peanut, or sunflower seed butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup raw honey or ½ cup date paste

Optional Additions for added flavor and nutrition ( get creative

1/8 cup unsalted shelled sunflower seeds
1/8 cup chopped almonds
1/8 cup dried tart cherries or roughly chopped dried apricots
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ milk or dark chocolate chips
1/8 cup chia seeds
Pinch of salt

Directions:
Line an 8″ square baking pan with plastic wrap. Coat the inside with cooking spray. In a food processor, combine base ingredients and blend. Then add optional inclusions and blend. Process ingredients for about 1 minute, or until pieces are well blended and the mixture starts to move around the blade in one mass. Press batter into the pan and press vigorously to compact, or roll into balls. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Cut into 16 bars. Leave refrigerated until ready to eat. Makes 16 bars.

At the three hour mark of a long run I am always on the edge of cramping. Is cramping more fitness related, nutrition or hydration related?

 

The answer is that it could be both. Muscle cramps are general caused by tired muscles, which is inevitable in distance running. They can also be caused by a sodium imbalance and dehydration.

Staying hydrated is a tricky proposition because there are so many variables that impact how much fluid and sodium you sweat out during your run. Intensity, fitness, heat, humidity and altitude are some of the things that will impact how sweaty you get. How much any body sweats can vary between ten to eighty ounces per hour!

That is a high amount of variability. The concentration of sodium in that sweat also varies greatly with an average concentration of about one-thousand milligrams per thirty-two ounces. In other words if you lose two pounds of sweat you may have also lose around one-thousand milligrams of sodium that needs to be replaced by drinking and eating sodium!

Of course these numbers are highly variable with the environment and individuality. Determining your sweat rate can be a useful tool in bench-marking how much sodium and fluid you need in different conditions. Sweat rate is determined by measuring how many pounds of fluid you might lose in different types of environments. You do this by weighing yourself before your run and then again right when you get back. For every pound lost you would need to replace it with sixteen ounces of fluid (roughly). You could then use this number as a benchmark for how much fluid per hour you should be drinking to replace sweat. If you are a salty sweater you then match about one thousand milligrams of sodium per hour from electrolyte drinks, salt tablets, and salted CLIF BLOKS. Of course this is always going to be dependent on you, as an individual but, practicing different scenarios in different environments can help you learn your personal best strategy for fluid and electrolyte balance under different environmental and physical circumstances.

If you are like me and always feel like you are in state of dehydration, you can head it off before your run by drinking .068-.14 ounces of water with salt per pound body weight two to four hours before your run.

Performance Nutrition Behavior Number One: Eat!

Working along side some of the world’s most talented athletes and athletic adventurers I  see and hear a lot of interesting food-related behaviors. Not all are good.  Some folks seem to have a challenging relationship with food that gets in their way of helping them accomplish their goals. Whether those goals are to pick up running again after having a baby or to traverse the big ridge lines in the mountains, it isn’t just what you eat that is important but, also HOW you eat.

Through my work and my  own experimentation with food as fuel for my tara-sized adventures  have identified  three easily stated but, most difficult to accept practices around food. I refer to these behaviors as practices because like a yoga pose, there is always somewhere to realign or let go. Over the next three weeks I will share my food practices.

Eat! Yes, just eat. That is practice-pose number one. Eat in a way that helps you achieve what you have in mind for the day. For example, if you plan to do a lunchtime workout don’t wait to eat your first bite or drink your first drop until ten thirty in the morning. Pause for ten minutes to eat something healthy at the start of the day and, then again mid morning. The noon time workout should feel more energized and like an enjoyable step away from the sedentary office life most of us feel stuck in. If however,  we miss the opportunity to eat the necessary nutrients at the right time, that workout is in serious jeopardy of being any fun at all.

It is crazy to think that some people need permission to eat but, it is true. Restriction and deprivation are rampant. Permission has become my own reset button when I feel that crazy thought that I would be better of without eating. Eat to run I will tell myself. This sets the stage for eating in a way that energizes my body the best. That is to eat small (relative to what I am doing) and  often. This approach does several things for me. It helps spread important nutrients out throughout the day, provides a consistent energy source to my muscles and brain, and make me feel satisfied.

My energy  level is directly reflected in my training, working, parenting, and ability to take care of myself. Visualize your energy level as an arched-shaped horizon of straight-up feel good! If you skip a meal, it will dip.  What if that is the exact time you have planned for a run? The workout will be more of struggle and less satisfying overall. By keeping a steady stream of energy from carbohydrate and stored fat you have a better chance of being “up” when you need to turn it on. Spreading food out throughout the day  also helps my stomach feel more satisfied and keeps “hangry  Mama”at bay! 

So there it is! My first big piece of advice for those seeking to energize athletic performance is EAT. Stay tuned for the next two

Come back Home After Long Holiday

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Memories from my time in West Coat

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About

Tara is an Adventure Nutrition Expert who believes that when we eat in a way that helps us (ambitious adventurers) accomplish what we set out to do each day, great things happen in both body and mind. Food is just one tool at out our disposal to make every summit attainable.

Tara writes from her knowledge and experience as a nutritionist (registered dietitian), mother, and athletic adventurer. Add children and family to any activity an it instantly becomes athletic and adventure that needs nourishment to keep up! She is an endurance junkie, mountain lover, and runner up for new challenges. She believes that everyone has the capacity to accomplish that thing they think they can not do once the begin living in the possibilities.

Take the Latest CLIF Adventure Quiz!

Atop of massively high peak or the depths of a wooded trail I feel small and free, and I smile. Being in the presence of nature’s grandness provides me faith that there is something bigger at work beyond my individual little world that can seem all-encompassing. This thought is gift to my efforts in living with  more grace and ease.  It is in the acceptance that humans are not at the center of the universe that makes everything “doable”. It does’t mean I am insignificant.  It does mean that those overwhelmingly difficult struggles are manageable no matter how unmanageable they may feel at times. Preserving the grandness of special places in nature that provide me with “smallness” is close to my heart.

Kevin Fedarko, author and speaker at the Conservation Alliance meeting inspired these thoughts with his request that we protect and honor one of the grandest natural places from becoming yet another amusement park. Preserving The Grand Canyon as National Monument protects it for future generations and ensures it remains one of those places where we can all connect with our smallness to thrive within the that which is larger than ourselves.

Here is a little more inspiration from my friends at Clif Bar & Company

How well do you know the National Parks in the United States? Take the CLIF Adventure Quiz to find out!

Take the Latest CLIF Adventure Quiz!

How well do you know the National Parks in the United States?


Inside Track

Dietary Guidelines Bore Me

A few weeks ago the United States Department of Agriculture published the eighth annual update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  I used to get very excited about the guidelines. I would read the advisory committee report line by line and anticipate the publication of the guidelines based on expert review of science.  Each year I would read the guidelines and feel a little more let down that “this was it” and think “we know all this already”. Now, the guidelines just bore me. It isn’t because the guidelines are bad or wrong. And it isn’t because I don’t love nutrition.  I think it is because after being a dietitian for eighteen years it always comes down to the same simple recommendations of eat more vegetables, eat more fruit, eat more beans, lentils, legumes. Basically, eat more plants and less of everything else. It is commons sense. I would feel bad having someone pay me to give them this advice. It’s just not that exciting anymore.

Every five years a committee of the brightest and most experienced nutrition and health professionals are selected to provide recommended updates to the USDA based on the latest advances in scientific understanding. It is a long and drawn out process and they do come up with few new things like finally acknowledging that fat isn’t the total bad guy and nuts, seeds, and oils should have never been cut out of the diet in the first place. There is also the acknowledgement that eggs were also good all along and that eating cholesterol in the yellow center has little influence on total cholesterol. Then there is sugar, the ingredient everyone I know and don’t know loves to hate.  Ten percent or less of your total calories should be from added sugar. For most people this will be about forty to fifty grams of added sugar per day. That is something to work with. It doesn’t mean we all have to search for “hidden sugar” in our food. Sugar is far from hidden. The grams are right there on every packaged food in plain sight. Read and weep if you must but, it is of little consequence to your body if that total is “added” or naturally occurring. So sugar zealots please do me a favor and not sweat this nuance until the rest of the population is eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables per day. 

DietaryGuidelines

In they end, the updated guidelines rarely offer any surprises to those who care to  pay attention to such things. They do however, get health professionals all talking the same talk, if not splitting hairs over fat-free versus low-fat.