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8 Ways To Minimize Alcohol’s Effects on Your Waistline This Holiday Season

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While I definitely don’t endorse binge drinking, the odd boozy night is inevitable, even for the most serious of athletes. (In fact, studies suggest that athletes are more likely than the general population to drink alcohol to excess). But, how can you enjoy a few drinks while minimizing the impact on your waistline?

Before I cover some damage limitation tips, let’s look at some of the reasons why drinking large amounts of alcohol can significantly increase the chance of gaining fat:

1. It alters your metabolism

When you consume alcohol, your digestive system prioritizes its metabolism since you cannot store it and it’s effectively toxic to your body. This preferential treatment slams the breaks on protein, carb and fat metabolism, meaning these nutrients (especially fats) are more likely to end up stored than used as fuel.

2. It affects your appetite and can lead to poor food choices

One of the better known side effects of alcohol consumption is a loss of inhibition. Combine that with the potential for alcohol to increase appetite, and the likely proximity to high-calorie, very palatable food (pizza and nachos anyone?), and you have a recipe for disaster for any health-conscious drinker!

It’s not just the decision to indulge in the first place that’s affected, but the amount of food we end up eating too. And that preferential metabolism of alcohol in your system means those calories from late night feeds are more likely to end up stored as fat.

3. It causes hangovers

Large alcohol intakesimpair sleep quality and the associated reduced sleep hours (because you’re often partying until the early hours) results in a reduction in lower body power output the morning after a drinking session. In other words, it leaves you feeling pretty rough the next day, which can cause your activity levels and energy expenditure to plummet.

Heavy episodic alcohol use also promotes dehydration (due to alcohol’s diuretic effect).

Combine this with a tendency to combat hangovers with lots of junk food and you can expand the fattening effects of a night out to the following day.

How to minimize the effects of drinking on weight gain

Here are a few tactics to employ to minimise the effects of your next big night out:

Minimize fat intake

Of the three macronutrients (proteins, carbs and fats), dietary fats are most likely to be stored as new fat tissue when you drink alcohol. Therefore, reducing your fat intake on the day of a night out can lessen alcohol’s fat storing propensity.

Fill up on meals made up of lean protein and veggies

As well as being low in fat, meals high in lean protein and vegetables tend to be inherently low in calories and are great at making us feel full (and thus less likely to graze on unhealthy foods when drinking). This means your calorie intake prior to boozing will be relatively low.

Since your body doesn’t tend to store a great deal of fat unless you consume more calories than you burn, managing your calorie intake through purposefully constructed meals can further limit alcohol-associated fat gain.

Leave a prepared snack or go straight to bed

If you’re the type of person who finds it hard to turn down junk food at the end of the night—either from a fast-food joint or your own fridge—before heading out, try leaving yourself some tasty but healthy food to snack on when you get home.

This would ideally be low in calories, high in protein and veg-based, perhaps some leftovers from your earlier meal. Having this option might make you less likely to opt for junk food when those late cravings kick in.

Alternatively, try getting into the routine of heading straight for bed rather than the kitchen at the end of the night. Though alcohol worsens sleep quality, it does help you fall asleep quicker. So, once you hit the hay you’ll soon be asleep, hunger gone and you’ll wake up with a few less calories in you (albeit likely with a killer headache).

Pick your poison wisely

No form of alcohol is healthy when consumed in excess. However, as alluded to earlier, less than 5 percent of the calories from alcohol actually end up stored as fat. The rest is urgently burned off and eliminated due to its toxicity.

With this in mind, opting for drinks like spirits and dry wines, which contain mostly alcohol and very little else makes sense on paper. Other drinks like beers, ciders, “alcopops,” sweet wines and cocktails all contain additional (non-alcoholic) calories, mostly from carbohydrates.

An average pint of lager, for example, contains 10g to 15g of carbohydrates. Ciders can have up to four times that amount and the sky’s the limit when it comes to some cocktails.

With that said, a case can be made for drinks other than spirits and dry wines. This all depends on how you tolerate certain drinks.

For some, the strength of spirits means that hitting the hard stuff thinking it might be “healthier,” comes with a strong risk of getting really drunk and drinking way more than usual. Not to mention not giving a second thought to a large kebab with cheesy chips.

Know what works best for you and stick with that.

To find out more about the calorie and nutritional contents of different drinks, check out www.drinkaware.co.uk or www.getdrunknotfat.com.

Avoid high-sugar mixers

This is a simple one. Avoid regular soft drinks and fruit juices if you’re having mixers with spirits. Over the course of a night these can add a huge amount of extra calories (especially sugar), which you could really do without.

Instead, go for soda water and lime or a slimline tonic. If you have to have soft drinks like coke or lemonade, opt for diet/zero varieties.

Do some exercise

As I mentioned before, your body only tends to store fat effectively when you’re in a calorie surplus, so increasing your calorie expenditure by training on the day of your night out can help minimize your booze-induced calorie surplus and the associated fat gain.

It’s important to note that large alcohol intakes have been shown to significantly impair recovery and adaptation processes, so don’t count on these sessions to provide any major performance gains!

Also, make sure you properly rehydrate after any exercise. Since alcohol can cause dehydration, it’s not a good idea to compound this by starting your night out dehydrated.

Drinking a stronger electrolyte drink can help you rehydrate quickly and also help you “preload” on sodium/fluids before you head to the pub, helping you stay hydrated for longer when the vino starts to flow.

Dance, Dance Dance!

Throwing some shapes will significantly add to your energy expenditure and tip the calories in/calories out scales a little more in your favor. An hour on the dance floor can easily equate to a few hundred calories burned!

Plan for the day after

As mentioned, bad habits the day after a boozy night can be a major contributor to the associated fat gain. These tips might not be particularly appealing the morning after the night before but your body will thank you in the long run:

Plan your nutrition, starting with a healthy breakfast. This can prevent excessive calorie intake by stopping you from binging on junk.
Drinkplenty of water and get an early night. This helps to remedy the poor sleep and dehydration caused by last night’s antics, meaning you can get back into your normal, more waistline-friendly routine ASAP. Mixing a stronger electrolyte supplement with a 16oz/500ml glass of water can also be beneficial to replenish any electrolytes lost the night before.
Go for a walk.There’s no strong evidence for this one, but common sense suggests that some light activity might help your hangover and it can prevent your energy expenditure nose-diving if you’d otherwise end up on the sofa all day.

Of course, it’s not just alcohol’s impact on your waistline that you might consider when deciding whether to let yourself go once in a while. You’ll probably want to consider whether this’ll have a negative impact on any gains made in training you’re doing in the days before your night out.

On that front, a recent study found that alcohol consumption reduces muscle protein synthesis following a bout of concurrent exercise. This occurred even though the protein was ingested with the alcohol. The researchers’ conclusion was that alcohol ingestion suppresses the anabolic response in your muscles and may therefore impair recovery and adaptation to training.

No big surprises there to be honest, but it does suggest that, if you’re looking to make big strides forward through your off-season training, you should keep the big nights out to a minimum.

What I would say is that these studies tend to assess the impact of “binge-drinking” which can involve an intake of 1 gram of alcohol per kg of body weight. That’s three and half pints of beer or about four glasses of medium white wine for someone weighing 80kg, which for many of us would constitute a reasonable night out. The effects of the odd bottle of beer or glass of wine with dinner are less clearcut and are likely to be negligible.

Have fun and be sensible(ish).


If you’re interested in digging into the references behind this advice, click here.

The post 8 Ways To Minimize Alcohol’s Effects on Your Waistline This Holiday Season appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

8 Tips for Better Winter Cycling

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It’s that time of year again. In many places around the country, it is getting cold; however, that doesn’t have to keep you off the bike. Follow these eight winter cycling tips for an enjoyable riding experience this season.

1. Dress properly.

To stay warm during a winter ride, think in terms of your head, hands, feet and torso. Most of your body heat escapes through your head, so using a balaclava under your helmet will help keep you warm. Wear either long fingered gloves or mittens to protect your hands, and thermal socks to keep your feet warm. If it’s really cold, consider wearing two pairs of socks and use thermal shoe covers to keep the wind off your feet. Wear layers to keep your torso warm, including a lightweight, breathable outer jacket that is both water and wind resistant. It also helps to use fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin. This will help keep you drier and warmer. As a general rule of thumb, use leg warmers to protect your knees when the temperature drops below 60° F.

2. Start warm.

Never start your ride with a chill. This is a recipe for a miserable outing because your extremities will get cold very quickly. Start your ride feeling warm, perhaps even a bit too warm. Have a hot drink in a warm room just before you step outside. This will allow you to warm-up on the bike more comfortably.

3. Be visible.

In many locales, drivers do not expect to see cyclists on the road during winter months. Wear brightly colored clothing, and use reflectors and lights, even if you won’t be riding after dark. It can be difficult to spot cyclists during twilight hours and a good set of bicycle lights (e.g., headlight, rear flasher) will significantly boost your visibility.

4. Plan your route in advance.

There can always be debris on the road, bike path and shoulder; however this is more common during winter months. Determine your route in advance and make sure it is relatively clear of debris and safe for cycling. In addition, shorten your route during the winter. Otherwise, you may run out of energy or just get too cold and find yourself far from home. Identify a circuit near your residence that allows you to cut the ride short if necessary.

5. Pay attention to the wind.

Whenever possible, try to do the first half of your ride into a headwind and return with a tailwind. This allows you to tackle a headwind when you are fresh and gain the benefit of a tailwind on your way home. This is even more important during winter because it allows you to avoid an icy wind during the second half of your ride when you are sweaty and tired.

6. Ride with friends.

Misery loves company. Okay, winter riding doesn’t have to be miserable but there are tremendous benefits to riding in a group. It can be a more enjoyable experience, you can take turns shielding each other from a biting wind and sharing conversation makes the time go by faster. It’s also safer and more convenient if someone has a mechanical problem.

7. Take care of your bike.

Winter riding can wreak havoc on your bicycle so pay attention to its care and upkeep. Make sure you clean the bike, chain, gears, brakes and wheel rims on a regular basis. That means after every ride in wet conditions. It also means lubing the chain and gears on a more frequent basis. You may want to get a tune-up at your local bike shop at the beginning and end of winter to make sure it is in good repair.

8. Do some riding on an indoor trainer.

It can get too cold and miserable to ride outdoors. This is particularly true if you are a competitive cyclist. You are not going to get a very effective workout riding in really cold, windy, icy or wet conditions. Riding an indoor trainer provides a safer riding environment and allows you to achieve the same training effect in less time. It’s convenient for most cyclists and is very effective for high-intensity workouts. You can still ride outdoors but using a trainer allows you to be more selective about when you will expose yourself to the elements. It also provides you with a change of pace. Use your outdoor rides for low-to-moderate intensity efforts and the trainer for more intense sessions.

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3 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Train This Winter

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On the whole we endurance athletes are a pretty self-motivated bunch. But even endurance athletes are only human, and as a result we suffer from the same fluctuations in “get up and go” as everyone else from time to time. These dips in motivation can range from the nagging desire to skip training for a day or two to full on slumps where you lose your workout mojo altogether for extended periods of time.

And this time of year can be particularly challenging from a “mojo” point of view because, for the most part, the “A” races for the year have disappeared into the rear view mirror but next season is still a good way off over the horizon.

There are also dark mornings and evenings with often colder, wetter weather to contend with (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere at least). At this time of year it’s easier than ever to just skip training altogether.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in taking a decent end-of-year break if you’ve had a long, hard season. This is crucial for mental and physical recuperation. But, assuming that your planned downtime is coming to an end sometime in the near future, I thought it might be a good time to offer up a few tips gleaned from more than 20 years of tricking, cajoling and persuading myself to go out and train when frankly I’d much rather have hit the snooze button or spent more time working on the Homer Simpson-esque butt indentations in my sofa instead.

Set your next goal ASAP

Over the years I’ve learned that lining up your next significant goal is the best way to motivate you to train. It’s why I’ve tried to carry on doing a fairly big event each year even though I’m nowhere near as competitive as I used to be.

I simply find that without something fairly challenging in the diary in the not too distant future, I am far more likely to give in to the urge to skip a session when I just don’t feel like it. Without a significant goal on the horizon, I find that something of a downward spiral kicks in. Missed workouts lead to a significant drop in fitness levels followed by similar drop-offs in mood, self confidence and overall productivity in life.

In contrast, when I have a decent high-level goal in place the opposite tends to happen. Aiming for the goal has a positive “double-whammy” effect on my motivation and willingness to put the work in. It gives me something very positive to visualize and strive toward when I’m feeling motivated and up for training anyway, acting as a kind of multiplier of effort and enjoyment on those days.

And even more importantly, it does a great job of mildly scaring and pressuring me into making that crucial first step out of the door on those days where I’m feeling less than up for it. That’s largely because I’m fearful of the consequences of not doing so; namely falling short of the goal in some way.

I’m actually going through the process of choosing a couple of goals for 2018 at the moment. If you’ve not set your mind to what you want to be doing next year yet, I’d definitely recommend doing so soon.  

Plan to train with other people

Training with other people adds the pressure of not letting them down and this alone is a powerful motivator. Training with others can also be a lot of fun and it can help distract you a bit and give you another, more sociable reason to go training.

I’ve always found evening training to be the hardest to get motivated for. I’ve therefore taken to arranging to go training with other people on days where my work schedule dictates that I have to put sessions in after dinner rather than first thing in the morning (which I definitely prefer).

More often than not, the pressure of having to show up and not let someone else down is the deciding factor in getting me out and putting in the miles. And, somewhat unsurprisingly, I almost always find that I either enjoy the training once it’s underway or at the very least get a sense of satisfaction from it once it’s done.

Plan tomorrow, tonight.

Having the discipline to spend two minutes at the end of each day thinking about what training you’re going to do the next day can be hugely beneficial.

When you’re working to a set training plan this mental checklist is nothing more than a brief chance to think through what your program has in store; to make sure you feel like you’re up to it and to check you have everything you need ready (kit/equipment laid out or packed, alarm set for the right time, any foods and drinks prepared etc).

This reduces the chances of anything small or silly preventing you from getting the job done the next day and it allows you to adapt your plan if you feel you need to.

When you’re not working to a long-term structured plan (as can be the case at this more relaxed time of year), taking a couple of minutes to plan out what you intend to do tomorrow, and when you intend to do it, is even more important. It dramatically increases your chances of actually knuckling down and doing some productive training.

I’ve done a fair bit of reading on this subject (as well as thinking about my own tendencies) and I think this is largely because we have 3 different “selves”: our Past Selves, Present Selves and Future Selves. The implications of this theory go way beyond training, but here’s my extremely basic interpretation of how it applies to athletes:

Your Present Self almost always wants to do something that’s easy and rewarding right now e.g. hit snooze and stay in the warm bed, or stay parked in front of the TV. However, what your Future Self would actually benefit from most of all is doing something harder right now, i.e. getting your kit on and going training, as this will result in your Future Self being fitter in the long run.

In other words, your Future Self needs your Present Self to take some pain now for gain later on, whereas Present Self is far more interested in avoiding the pain in the immediate term. It’s as if you’re actually two different people with two different sets of goals.

So, when you sit down the night before the following day to mentally commit to what training you’ve got planned, what you’re actually doing is proactively putting your Future Self’s best interests to the fore whilst you’re not feeling the strong pull of Present Self’s desires.

When the alarm goes off the following morning, you wake up having effectively made a pact with your Past Self to get up and go to give your Future Self the best shot at hitting their goals. This makes it quite a bit harder for Present Self to take the reigns and simply turn off the alarm and roll over.

The psychology of human motivation is clearly more complicated than this simplification, but I do know from my own experience that thinking about things in this way (and pre-agreeing the following day’s training the night before with myself) is a very helpful tool for getting me up and out of the door.

Success with endurance training is largely a product of the consistency with which you can grind it out over many months, so I hope that these tips help you get out of the door just a little more regularly in the coming weeks and contribute to you starting 2018 with the best possible chance of having a great season.

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Using WKO4 to Analyze the Struggle in a Run Workout

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An athlete recently contacted me after a run workout to report how he felt during the prescribed efforts. The workout was a long run of 23.6 miles with 2×25 minutes at ~92 to 94 percent of FTP, with five minutes of easy running between the intervals. It was certainly a challenging workout (the runner is targeting a marathon PR).

“The first 25 minutes was totally fine,” the athlete told me. “The second one was mildly rugged for the last 12 minutes or so.” Then he said, “For what it’s worth, it was definitely my legs crapping out that made the last couple of miles tougher. Breathing/aerobic stuff was totally fine.”

His comments made me curious to find out what may have happened. Temperature changes or hydration/fueling status changes could have caused the struggle of course, but in both of those cases, one might expect some tell-tale regression of power or other fatigue barometers. The same would be expected if the run and associated efforts simply fatigued the runner into decline.

The first data I looked at was the athlete’s power for the entire run (see the chart below). Was there any obvious visual evidence of a tailing off?

Answer: No.

I then looked at the second tempo effort by itself. Was there obvious visual evidence of a tailing off there?

Answer: No.

I decided to dig a little deeper into that second tempo effort, using some specialty reports and charts I’ve custom built in WKO4. First, I loaded a report that calculates the percentage difference of various metrics between the first and second halves of an effort.

In the second half of the second 25-minute tempo effort, the runner’s power was up 4.6percent, his speed up 10 percent, and his RE (Running Effectiveness) up 6.1 percent. Pretty good! Further, his horizontal power ratio was up 1.3 percent and his leg spring stiffness (LSS) was up 0.8 percent, while his ground contact time (GCT) and vertical oscillation both decreased. His flight phase, cadence, and stride length all increased. The power:GCT ratio (a good marker of fatigue) actually improved by 5.8 percent. In other words, the metrics suggested that despite the runner’s struggling, the production was still there and improving.

Just to confirm the report, I took a look at the recordings for various fatigue indicators over the course of the second tempo effort.

No suggestion of failing was evident.

What a great effort! Yes, RPE was going up, and it was hurting more to maintain power and speed, but the work was executed, and quite well as a matter of fact! It was perfect marathon training. After all, somewhere in that last 10K of a marathon, we want to be able to dig deep but still produce power and speed.


Running with a Stryd power meter certainly helps runners to execute a workout at prescribed power, and a robust analysis of the data (such as with the user-customizable WKO4 software) allows both coach and athlete to objectively determine if and how the workout was executed. In this case, instead of finding a failing, we found an impressive performance.

Learn more about how WKO4 can help you dig deeper into your workout analysis for better performance with a free 14-day trial.

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4 Tips for Improving Athlete Retention

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When the fine folks at TrainingPeaks asked me to write an article on athlete retention, I had to first ask myself, “What characterizes athlete retention?” I came to the conclusion that to keep it simple, we could boil it down to two main aspects.

One aspect is longevity of revenue from a given athlete. The other aspect is longevity of “coach engagement” with a given athlete. I would characterize “coach-athlete engagement” as subjective criteria, consisting of good communication, good workout compliancy, and the athlete generally being active and involved in the coach-athlete relationship, not a passive receiver of a training plan.

In the ideal world, “coach-athlete engagement” coexists with continued payment to a coach, but the reality is that is not always the case. Many coaches have stories of the athlete they’ve been working with for three years, that they feel like they are not providing a service to, because the athlete is not actively engaged in the coaching process. I establish this distinction, because I want to focus this article on how to build long lasting “coach-athlete engagement.” In my experience, if the athlete is actively engaged in the coaching process, the continuity of revenue follows.

What follows this verbose blurb is a list of processes that I have found successful in establishing longevity of “coach-athlete engagement.” The caveat emptor I must preface this list with is that at the end of the day every athlete is unique, and different processes are going to be successful in keeping him or her engaged.

Coaches can develop a model of what they believe works, but at the end of the day what is going to dictate their success, is their ability to adapt this model to different athletes.

I put the sentiment of catering to the individual as being key to creating an environment of athlete retention above anything else. That said, here are some things that have been key for me:

1. Keep it fresh for the athlete.

The effect of novel stimuli, both physical and mental, is massive. It is often said that overtraining in the clinical sense is extremely rare, and an “overtraining diagnosis” is often a product of mental stagnation.

Athletes are more likely to stay engaged over time if they feel they are part of an evolving process, not a program that is stagnant. Are there technique elements in which the athlete could use improvement? Is there a different style of training that could be incorporated? Are there mental barriers to an athlete’s performance that outweigh physical barriers?

These are all critical components of training that by varying and progressing with time can keep the athlete mentally engaged and guard against the athlete tuning out and passively going through the motions.

2. Involve the client in the coaching process.

OK, that is super broad, and I’ve already said it a few times. In action, the key to me is the athlete understanding that their subjective feedback on their training is just as important as any quantitative data coming in.

I like to admit, right off the bat, that the way I coach relies on a certain element of trial and error, and that only with the athlete’s feedback and involvement, can we foster any hope of getting close to the ideal model.

Having athlete buy-in to the concept that with time, and their involvement, together a coach and athlete can get closer toward the grail of ideal preparation for events, creates longevity right away.

3. Set short term and long-term goals.

The scenario is an athlete that signs on to a coach in November, citing a goal the following June. The coach does a great job, athlete smashes goal, feels they have accomplished what they set out to do, and ends the coaching relationship.

Not a bad thing, and sometimes this may be all the athlete is really looking for. However, I think a key in translating these short-term successes into long-term athlete retention, are in the planning process.

It is really easy to become focused on relentlessly pursuing the short-term that any idea of long-term gets thrown out the window. That is good for many reasons, but there is also a lot to be said for long-term progress.

I believe that true progress only occurs on a multi-year scale, anything else is just eliciting an optimal performance with what the athlete already came to the table with. Work toward the short term goals, but always be assessing and pushing the big objectives in the background.

4. Annually assess the season with the athlete.

Seek out criticism and input, and plan for the following year. An ever-evolving training process is the key to sustainability. Sustainability is the key to progress, because progress takes time.

It is a wordy list, and perhaps vague. Ultimately, everything circles back to involving the athlete in the coaching process. An athlete and coach can only hope to reach the model of ideal preparation—for an individual athlete—if they are incorporating not just quantitative data, but an athlete’s subjective feedback on what they perceive to be driving success, driving mental enthusiasm, and what hesitations they have about how they have been training. Create an environment where athlete’s have ownership of their coaching relationship, and coaches will have created an environment of athlete retention.

Ready to improve your own coaching business in 2018? Check out the many educational resources available to our TrainingPeaks Coach Edition users here.

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