We hear it time and time again. Most adults do not get enough sleep, and being short on sleep has a negative impact on overall health and well being. For athletes, sleep is especially important. The stress we impose on our bodies -- muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, fascia -- only converts into an increase in strength and capacity during sleep. The pain we feel after a workout is the signal that repairs are required. The body's system of repair teams only spring into action while we are asleep. Without sufficient sleep, no amount of hard work will improve strength. Very likely we will just end up feeling tired and run down.
Another claim we encounter often is that we do not eat a balanced diet. Here I see two distinct camps. One says we probably do not eat a balanced diet and should take vitamins to fill in the gaps. The other camp says that vitamins are a waste of money, that all we need is a healthy diet. I have been following the second group for years and am healthy. Or am I?
If I am to take this Ironman 70.3 thing seriously I had better do all can can to make it a success, right? Why spend a pile of money on equipment, transportation and lodging, and spend a gazillion hours training, and not do the best I can with simple things like sleep and diet?
For roughly a year now I have noticed a gradual increase in fatigue and decline in overall health. Nothing so sever as a bad case of the flu. Little things, like chronic nasal congestion, dry eyes, and an occasional sore throat. The most prominent change has been my tendency to fall asleep after dinner while watching TV or reading. At my age it is easy to blame it on old age, but I don't think that is the culprit.
After taking a hard look at what I have been doing I have reached two conclusions. First, I need to change my sleep habits in order to achieve eight solid hours every night. Since I get up at 5:00, that mens hitting the sack at 9:00. No more Tonight Show. Shucks, no more late news! That sounds totally weird, but I am going to give it a try for at least a month.
The other thing I have been looking at is nutrition. I log everything I eat on MyFitnessPal. Not only does it do a good job logging what you eat, it also syncs to my Garmin Connect and TrainingPeaks accounts, which display summary data like calories and macro-nutrients. MyFitnessPal pulls exercise data from Garmin Connect and uses it automatically to adjust my daily calorie quota. What more? My Tanita scale uploads weight and body composition to Garmin Connect via my semi-retired FR610, and the weight data ends up at MyFitnessPal. (Garmin has stopped supporting Ant+ scales, so if you want to do something similar you should look at Withings.)
According to MyFitnessPal I hit or exceed my calorie quota almost every day. Probably why I still weight more than I want as a marathon runner. At the same time I am often short on vitamins. Take this week Tuesday as an example. Nothing special, an ordinary day. Here are a few examples:
Item - Total - Goal
Protein - 105 - 131g
Sodium - 2011 - 2300mg
Potassium - 448 - 3500mg
Vitamin A - 26%
Vitamin C - 36%
Calcium - 45%
Iron - 41%
This is where things get complicated. MyFitnessPal uses a simple formula to estimate daily calorie needs. A baseline daily amount plus the calories expended in exercise. As far as I know they do not adjust vitamin and mineral values. Those are probably based on the well known minimum daily value. Some nutritionists claim that athletes, endurance athletes in particular, need a lot more than the daily allowance to stay healthy. In some cases the compound is consumed directly during activity, and in others it is flushed out due to the increase in fluid consumption. I suppose there could even be absorption issues. I know that to be the case with protein; as we age past 50 our body is less efficient at processing the protein we eat, so we need to eat more to make up the difference.
I started taking Hammer Whey protein power to offset that protein shortfall. One or two scoops a day, 17g per scoop. Tuesday was a two scooper and I still came up short.
It was while surfing the Hammer site I came across a product I have decided is worth trying. It has the awkward sounding name Premium Insurance Caps. By "caps" they mean capsules -- this stuff comes in pill form rather than a powder. What seems strange to me is that you end up eating it almost like food. Sort of like the way some people eat Jelly Beans, a handful at a time. Hammer breaks it down into three levels -- days with no exercise, workouts under two hours, and workouts over two hours, with the number of pills to take ranging from four to fourteen. So I ordered a bottle to try. If my pee doesn't turn green I will consider buying more.
If I were a real scientist I would not change two variables at the same time. But I am not. I am a reasonable guy with reason to believe that my sleep and nutrition need improvement. Sometime in the future I might be interested to know which produced the most improvement. Assuming there will be any.