Cycling Over Sixty

Feeding Endurance

June 06, 2024 Tom Butler Season 2 Episode 45
Feeding Endurance
Cycling Over Sixty
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Cycling Over Sixty
Feeding Endurance
Jun 06, 2024 Season 2 Episode 45
Tom Butler

In this week’s episode, host Tom Butler reflects on his latest century ride – a journey with both triumphs and of a new challenge. The ride identified something for Tom to address before he takes on the STP this year.  He then welcomes sports nutrition specialist Alex Larson to the show. Alex dives deep into the nutritional needs of older cyclists looking to conquer those long distances and keep pedaling strong for years to come. Learn valuable tips and strategies to feed endurance rides and optimize your performance.

Thanks for Joining Me! Follow and comment on Cycling Over Sixty on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cyclingoversixty/

Consider becoming a member of the Cycling Over Sixty Strava Club! www.strava.com/clubs/CyclingOverSixty

Please send comments, questions and especially content suggestions to me at tom.butler@teleiomedia.com

Show music is "Come On Out" by Dan Lebowitz. Find him here : lebomusic.com

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this week’s episode, host Tom Butler reflects on his latest century ride – a journey with both triumphs and of a new challenge. The ride identified something for Tom to address before he takes on the STP this year.  He then welcomes sports nutrition specialist Alex Larson to the show. Alex dives deep into the nutritional needs of older cyclists looking to conquer those long distances and keep pedaling strong for years to come. Learn valuable tips and strategies to feed endurance rides and optimize your performance.

Thanks for Joining Me! Follow and comment on Cycling Over Sixty on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cyclingoversixty/

Consider becoming a member of the Cycling Over Sixty Strava Club! www.strava.com/clubs/CyclingOverSixty

Please send comments, questions and especially content suggestions to me at tom.butler@teleiomedia.com

Show music is "Come On Out" by Dan Lebowitz. Find him here : lebomusic.com

Tom Butler:

This is the Cycling Over 60 podcast, season two, episode 45, feeding Endurance, and I'm your host, tom Butler. Welcome back to the podcast, or just plain welcome. If you are listening for the first time, this is where I talk to people who I think can help me and others stay cycling later on in life. First, here's a brief update of what is happening with me. We finished up the Cycling Over 60 Senior Health and Fitness Challenge last weekend. If you weren't aware, we tracked the challenge on Strava, where you can find the Cycling Over 60 Club. As a group, we rode a combined 3,080.1 miles, so we missed our goal of 3,500 miles a little bit, but now we have something to shoot for in the future. The awesome thing for me is that we had 80% participation from the club members. For me is that we had 80% participation from the club members Last week. We did 115 activities as a group and Linda Thompson received the $50 REI gift card that was randomly drawn for participants. Congrats, linda. I'm currently looking for another excuse to have a group challenge, so stay tuned.

Tom Butler:

I did a 100 mile tune-up ride for the SDP last weekend. One of the things that century ride did was help me get in the top 10 on the Cycling Over 60 Strava Club list for the week. I need to do that more often. I was joined on the ride by some of the group that will be riding with me on the SDP. Two of them hadn't ridden a century before, so it was fun to be a part of that. There was one problem I ended up being out in front for almost the entire time. Now I would like you to think that is because I'm such a strong cyclist, but that is not the case. We had a couple of stronger cyclists with us, but they would get chatting and be inconsistent with the pace, so I spent almost all the ride out in front of my daughter McKenna drafting behind me. We will have to work a bit on our group riding technique, since for the STP it's not a good idea for me to be out in front the whole time. The good news is that I was able to set a decent pace. I should clarify it was a decent pace from my standards. There were a few things going on for this century that I liked. One is that I am no doubt stronger than the last time I did a century, which was last summer. I am also 20 pounds lighter. You know that has to be a benefit, but I'm guessing that the biggest difference was that I rode my specialized Roubaix instead of the hybrid bike I did the last time I rode a century. I know perception is a tricky thing, but I just felt so much faster on the Roubaix, and this was especially true during the last 20 miles.

Tom Butler:

It wasn't all good news. As I was riding, I felt like my legs were on the edge of cramping up for a good amount of time in the second half of the ride. I never got cramps, but it just felt like I was very close to it. And then in the middle of the night after we rode, cramps woke me up. It wasn't terrible, but it was enough to create a bad night's sleep. The main problem with that is that I need to get a good night's sleep on the STP. I can't afford to be cramping in the middle of the night. After the first day's 100 miles. Also, the next day my legs felt absolutely shredded. I need to do a couple of things. First, I need to review the podcast episode focused on cramping. It was on September 22nd and called Winning the Cramp Battle. Secondly, I'm going to have to find a way to experiment with strategies to reduce cramping. I won't be doing another 100 mile ride until the SDP, so I need to figure out what else I can do to check out if any changes I make will help me not cramp up on the STP. As always, I'll bring whatever I learn to the podcast.

Tom Butler:

I recently got connected to Alex Larson, who is a registered dietitian who focuses on sports nutrition. More specifically, she works with endurance athletes on what to eat for endurance events. You can find her at alexlarsonnutritioncom. She offered to come on and talk about feeding endurance when you're trying to stay cycling and do long events later on in life. I'm so happy to add her knowledge to the podcast. Here is our conversation about feeding endurance when you're trying to stay cycling and do long events later on in life. I'm so happy to add her knowledge to the podcast. Here is our conversation. I'm excited today to be talking about a subject that I think is really important and that's how to feed myself and how people can think about nutrition, and I am joined by Alex Larson today. I feel like I've got a fantastic person to talk to this about. Thank you, alex, for joining me.

Alex Larson:

Yeah, I'm so glad to be here.

Tom Butler:

Like I said, you know we're going to be talking about nutrition and I'd like you to talk a bit about your focus is on feeding, endurance helping athletes who want to feed themselves so they can participate in endurance events. Can you tell us how you got interested in studying how to fuel the body for performance?

Alex Larson:

Yeah, well, what's interesting is, when I started my career as a dietitian, sports nutrition wasn't really even on my radar, but during that time I was very much got hooked into the sport of triathlon. If anyone who's ever been in triathlon knows it's a little bit of a. You just catch the bug and it's kind of an addictive sport. It's got really great energy at their events. Right as I started my career, I also got into you know, endurance sports. As I started my career, I also got into endurance sports. And as I grew in my career, I also grew as an athlete as well. So I went from doggy paddling, local sprint triathlon to about let's see, that was 2009. And then in 2014, I did Ironman Wisconsin, and so it just set progression in the sport. And so it just set progression in the sport. And when I did, Ironman Wisconsin the last half of that marathon.

Alex Larson:

It's a bit of a war zone, is how I describe it. There's a lot going on with the athletes, you see. You know having issues with maybe cramping or GI issues or just exhaustion and defeat. And I mean I had a great race, you know, looking back on it, it was a great, it was a great day. But crossing the finish line I had this thought of like, oh my goodness, if I didn't know what I was doing with my nutrition, I don't know if I would have gotten to the finish line. I don't need don't know if I would have gotten to the finish line. I don't know if I would have been successful in this race.

Alex Larson:

And that was kind of where I felt my calling in.

Alex Larson:

I think I want to help other athletes do this.

Alex Larson:

And we were starting to see in the dietitian field more and more dietitians having their own practice and being able to connect with people online and do more of a virtual practice, and so at that point I was shifting away from endurance sport and starting a family, and so I wanted to switch up my career to be a little bit more flexible for being a mom, and that's where I just felt like I wanted to connect more with the endurance community and help them with feeling their very best inside and outside of their training and racing. So not just being able to have great, successful races, but also have success in finishing a long run or a long ride on the weekend and still having energy the rest of the day to play with their kids or be a functional adult and not feel like a zombie on the couch all day long. Those are the things that I really value as an athlete, and then being able to help other people do that is just an awesome thing for me to do in my career.

Tom Butler:

When you were growing up, was it a situation where you were exposed to good information about nutrition? Did you have that foundation or did you have to get away from how you ate? What food was looked at as a kid?

Alex Larson:

Well, I grew up in the nineties child of the nineties, so it was very like diet culture heavy. But I did grow up with parents that were very like food positive. I love food and I am the middle child and so being a middle child is very independent and so if there was something that I wanted to eat and my parents were busy and not able to make it for me, I would figure out how to make it myself, and so I learned how to cook and bake at a pretty young age and I loved. I love food. I love really good tasting food, and so I always grew up with a pretty positive relationship with food.

Alex Larson:

I was really fortunate in that aspect and I grew up with parents that are in the healthcare field too, so I am really terrible with blood and needles, so I knew I wasn't going to go into medicine or nursing. So my mom introduced me to a dietician that worked at the local hospital and I kind of learned what a dietitian does and because I love food and I was always kind of fascinated with what food can offer you, it just was a natural transition for me to go into being a dietitian. But connecting the two passions of like sports and nutrition is really where I had to be an athlete myself to really find like that passion and connection of how I could make that my job.

Tom Butler:

Growing up in a medical family, do you look at nutrition as like a big areas for health? It seems like so many things that can be prevented. So many visits to the doctor even can be prevented with good nutrition. Do you really?

Alex Larson:

see that as a true statement. I do. Yes, I wish that in the US here we had more of a preventative approach. I was just actually telling my husband this last night that women tend to live longer than men just because we tend to take better care of ourselves. And with men they usually don't start to eat better until they've had a health scare, and sometimes it might be too late at that point.

Alex Larson:

And he you can see the wheels kind of spinning in his head he's like, oh, and I'm like, and I, I didn't say this to him, I was like, yeah, so like that broccoli that I made the other night, you probably should have had some, because you know, like that nutrition really can play a difference in your health, in your energy levels, in many aspects of life. I find with our athletes that if we get them fueling better, they not only have better energy they'd have better performance on and off the bike but they sleep better. For women, they notice that their ovarian health is more consistent. There's different aspects of life that they didn't even realize had room for improvement. Or we're not even looking at like cholesterol levels, but their cholesterol levels when they go to the doctor improved, you know, because there's less stress on the body, because they're supplying their body with the necessary nutrition that it needs. So I do find that general health wise, that we can do a much better job of having that preventative health mindset.

Tom Butler:

Yeah, I agree Totally. You know cycling over 60 is focused on. You know it really came out of my journey to use cycling to get fit and stay fit. Later in life I like to think of myself as an athlete. Now, you know, I don't think I need to get the most value I can from the time on the bike.

Alex Larson:

Yeah Well, age is just a number when it comes to cycling. I've seen some really amazing cyclists in their 60s and 70s and that just makes me so excited, because you really can have longevity as an athlete.

Tom Butler:

Yeah, I get passed on hills by a lot of older cyclists.

Tom Butler:

So, yeah, and you know, it's one of the reasons why I focused on cycling, because I think it is something that I can do for a long time.

Tom Butler:

I see, when I'm talking to people my age or older on a bike, I see a couple different kinds of people. One is a person like me who's, you know, I was 59 at the time but saying, okay, I've got to do something different, I've got to get back into health, so I'm jumping on the bike, having been off of it for a long time, to try to get back in the shape. And so there's people like that, like me. And then there's people who have been cycling their entire life, who are over 60. And they've, you know, they're in great shape, they've challenged themselves in significant ways, they've done, you know, endurance events, like the ride around Mount Rainier, which is literally an endurance event. And then there's everywhere in between and I'm wondering is there a difference from a nutrition perspective, between someone who is older and just starting out versus somebody who's been challenging themselves for a long time when it comes to riding long rides?

Alex Larson:

I don't think there's a major difference nutritionally. I think the biggest difference I see between the two is with a newbie cyclist. We need to kind of gradually work on nutrition in a sense of like gut. Tolerability is a big factor there. So if you're someone that's new, the concept of taking in fuel while you're exercising is new. It's novel to you and it's it's new to your gut as well and your stomach. So starting to trial and practice taking in some fuel, maybe at a little bit lower rate than what the seasoned athletes would be, since they've been cycling for years and probably are pretty well-versed in taking in some fuel Hopefully they are, and so that would probably be. The biggest thing is just that that new aspect of figuring out what products or what type of fuel and what type of hydration we're going to need to be using on the bike to make sure that you're performing really well and feeling really great.

Tom Butler:

What you're saying there makes a lot of sense to me, and I also like you saying that, no, it's not a big difference because it wouldn't be good news. This is like, yeah, you've waited too long, you know, and really too late to start to start something new or start adding.

Alex Larson:

I mean you've waited too long, you know, and really too late to start to start something new or start adding. I mean I've had athletes who have been a very well seasoned you know, been cycling for many, many years and they finally come in at 60 to start working on nutrition. I'm like it's not, it's never too late, we can always start now and and improve and it's just going to help extend your career as a cyclist that you can continue to do it for as many years as you want.

Tom Butler:

That's such an awesome perspective and I would like everybody to really absorb that perspective right? It's never too late.

Alex Larson:

You can always be improving and I think there's no time like the present is what I tell a lot of our athletes. They're like well, should I start working on nutrition now? And I said, yes, let's start now, let's not wait.

Tom Butler:

There's no reason to wait, let's go. I love it. Is there a difference? You talk about endurance athletes and so maybe you could talk a little bit about that term endurance and is there when it comes to nutrition? Is there a different focus when you're looking at endurance events versus bulking up and trying to build muscle mass? Are those two things really interrelated? How would you talk about that?

Alex Larson:

Yeah. So when I look at a typical endurance athlete, they're usually training fairly frequently. Most days of the week they usually will have some shorter rides or workouts, maybe including some strength training in their routine, and then, possibly on the weekends or sometime during the week, they're doing longer endurance efforts, like maybe two, three, four plus hours. I even see some, depending on what they're training for. If they're training for like a multi-day event, they're putting in back-to-back big workouts and so with those types of situations, when they're in that high volume training period of the year, we are looking at making sure one that they're getting enough fuel to support that volume of training. They're getting enough carbs, because carbs are our body's preferred source of energy, not only like during those long rides. Getting enough carbs because carbs are our body's preferred source of energy, not only like during those long rides, getting enough carbs to support that workout, but then even outside of that too, to support recovery, getting plenty of protein to repair and rebuild those muscles that just put in a really long, hard effort during training. Looking at getting the micronutrients they need and really supporting that lifestyle that they're in in that moment.

Alex Larson:

Um versus, maybe in the off season we have a cyclist that's wanting to focus a little bit more on putting on some muscle, doing a little bit more heavy strength training, doing shorter, less frequent workouts, and in that aspect, we don't need as many carbohydrates to fuel, because they're just not putting in the training. And it's not a matter of like to fuel because they're just not putting in the training. And it's not a matter of like oh, I exercise more, I earned my carbs. I think of it as like uh, no, you need to put in this training, so we need to fuel you appropriately to support that. It's not a like earning, it's more of a no, this is what we just need, um, in order to for you to accomplish what you want.

Alex Larson:

I think of nutrition as like periodization, of like what's your goals, what are you, what are you up to, what are you needing to do? And then aligning that nutrition with that. So, yeah, if you're wanting to bulk up, we need to make sure that we're getting enough fuel, enough protein, some carbs in there. And then sometimes I see athletes that want to lose a little bit of weight too and also put on some muscle in there. We have to do a little bit of refining and sometimes it's more along the lines of nutrient timing, as well as being at a little bit of a calorie deficit to encourage that weight loss, but also making sure we're getting enough protein to maintain your muscle mass so that the weight loss that we do see is not muscle loss, and timing out your carbohydrates in the day so that you're still having really successful workouts and not seeing any dip in energy and performance there.

Tom Butler:

In my specific case, I like doing longer rides. You know, I like going out for a whole day and riding, and if I'm on a flat, I think I've gotten to the point where if I'm on a flat I'm doing okay, but if I hit a hill I feel super weak, and so there's a specific part of my training that is spent on hills trying to get stronger. Would you say that on those days where I'm specifically hitting a hill to try to get stronger up a hill, that I should kind of customize my nutritional intake to that activity?

Alex Larson:

Yes. So if you're doing hill repeats, for example, is that just part of your long ride or is that a very specific workout? That's where I would kind of look at that aspect of things. So when you're putting more power and effort into your workout, you have to think of the energy that's required to do that effort. And so when you're putting out more energy and power, you're burning more calories. You're burning more carbs. Our body stores carbohydrates as glycogen in our muscle and our liver, so it's going to be burning through that a lot faster. And so, looking at the duration of the workout, looking at how intense it's going to be, often I will say, okay, we need to make sure that you're getting plenty of carbs during this so that you have the power and effort to put into these hill repeats.

Alex Larson:

I don't like when athletes are trying to diet on the bike. That's not a good place to try and cut your calories for the day. So I really like to go in and optimize that nutrition on the bike so that you have those great workouts and you're triggering those physical adaptations that the body needs to make, because the workout itself is the stress and then it's the recovery, is where we see people get stronger, get leaner and see those performance gains. So fueling really well to accomplish the workout that you're needing to, as prescribed is really important, and then going into your recovery the rest of the day so that you recover really efficiently. Trigger those adaptations is where we tend to see the best, like improvements in strength on the bike how technical is it?

Tom Butler:

or how specific do you have to be when you're looking at, you know an event is coming up and both preparing for the event during the training and then during the event, you'll you want to think about your caloric consumption. How technical is that? How specific to the event, specific to the individual? Is there something you know? Do you see these things like? If you're 190 pounds, you should be consuming this many calories per hour, or something like that. Does it get pretty technical or is it not so technical?

Alex Larson:

Well, it can get technical if you want it to. For example, I was at a sports nutrition conference recently and the keynote speaker is the sports dietitian that really revamped team Visma, and you know he. For them they are like weighing out food there's a chef that prepares everything. They're, they're measuring every little bit of these athletes, these cyclists, training and workouts and what they're going to be accomplishing, you know, in their upcoming training. So that is very technical but that's not my jam.

Alex Larson:

I like to work with like the everyday athlete and I like to simplify nutrition as much as possible and make it very easy for you to fuel yourself really well. And what we've found in terms of like carbohydrate intake on the bike is it doesn't really matter in terms of like size and even in age and even like between male and female athletes. The biggest factor, I find, is, you know, your power output and your gut tolerability. So back in the day I'd say like five, 10 years ago, the research in endurance nutrition was saying, yeah, taking in 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate an hour during an endurance exercise is adequate. Now we have, gradually over the research, found that. Now we have, gradually over the research, found that for over two and a half hours of a workout, we're looking at 60 to 90 grams of carbon hour and now we're starting to even see cyclists go up to 120 grams of carbon hour. That's a lot of fuel and we're seeing really great performance, like we're seeing PRs and we're seeing like massive like records broken on, like Leadville and and and different events like that.

Alex Larson:

Because you can't pour from an empty cup. You got to put in the energy in order to put that power and and performance out. So that's where I I mean, yeah, if you've got a bigger athlete and they're putting out a lot of power and energy, I will have them fueling 90 to a hundred plus grams an hour for a cyclist. But I do have, like, some female athletes who are very petite and little and I had one that asked me she's like is it I'm, I'm feeling like a hundred grams of carbon hour. She goes, is that too much? I was like no, it's like if you're tolerating a while and you're feeling really great, I say go for it. She goes, okay, good Cause I feel amazing. And she won one of her races a couple months ago and was just ecstatic and so I I don't think of it as like looking at your weight and trying to court, like, make it complicated. I look at duration, I look at what you're needing to do and gut tolerability and then fueling people as best as possible.

Tom Butler:

It's amazing watching the professional cyclists, you know, and when they like, take off to try to win a stage on a climb, and the amount of power they're putting out. I mean it's just to me just shocking really.

Alex Larson:

Yes.

Tom Butler:

How do you fuel that kind of output?

Alex Larson:

it's just wild it's a, there's a. They eat a lot that yeah, for sure yeah, because when, uh, this dietician was talking about when he started working with them, he the first thing he did was they cut out all supplements and the guys freaked out because, you know know, they just that's what they rely on. And he's like no, we're just going to go bare bones, build a really nice foundation in nutrition and then build up from there. And I thought that was really smart.

Tom Butler:

That is really fascinating.

Alex Larson:

To go about that route and because it is kind of a shock to the system when you know these guys are just taking in all these supplements and relying on them and saying, no, we're just going to go with good old nutrition. And, as we know, team Visma is very, very, very successful and it's paying off.

Tom Butler:

So food is important to intake. I don't know, food is maybe not the right thing, but nutrition is important to intake and what I hear you saying is that you want to eat your nutrition and real food.

Alex Larson:

That's always the best route to go. Yes, first and foremost your food, and then, if you're not able to meet your needs through food alone, we can look at supplements. But it's what it is. It's a supplement. It's not supposed to replace a meal or a snack.

Tom Butler:

Something else that you intake, and I don't know that it's considered a nutrient, but it's very important, and that's water.

Alex Larson:

Yeah, well, that's a nutrient. Absolutely yeah, hydration.

Tom Butler:

Okay, and so what are some effective hydration strategies? And I'm thinking, you know again, for older cyclists, are there different things that happen, that are age-related, that relate to taking in water?

Alex Larson:

Yeah, I find that when, as we age, that our thirst mechanism can get a little muted, so sometimes where you think, oh, I'm not thirsty, I don't need to hydrate right now, and actually, yeah, it can be really easy to get dehydrated. Hydrate right now, and actually, yeah, it is can be really easy to get dehydrated. So right now, especially as we get into the hotter months of the year, I feel like I'm a broken record with our athletes and talking about hey, let's do some sweat testing, let's figure out what is your sweat rate so that we can figure out how much you need to be hydrating with to prevent you from getting too dehydrated. Because when you're in a race setting or a hot situation in a training, we're going to see some dehydration and a little bit of dehydration is okay. And when you're losing more than 2% of your body weight from fluid losses, then we're getting into impacting your performance negatively and you might see some. You're going to have to be working harder, Like your heart rate's going to have to work harder to pump blood. You're going to feel like you're having to work harder to do the same effort and pace that you'd like to be doing. So, yeah, I, I find that every individual person sweats at a different rate, loses electrolytes at a different rate, and so a lot of times you're going to have to collect that information upfront so that we can personalize that advice to them.

Alex Larson:

So on average I would say athletes lose around a liter of fluid an hour.

Alex Larson:

But obviously that can range greatly depending on, like the ambient conditions that you're in um heat, humidity elevation, ambient conditions that you're in, heat, humidity, elevation. So we want to get a good understanding of what's your sweat rate in a hot condition, what's it in a cooler condition, and being able to tailor that depending on what you're going into for your training or your race. So if you're on average, let's say, losing a liter of fluid an hour, maybe you're doing just a shorter workout then we could probably rehydrate you during that like 75%, and then once you finish that workout we would obviously try and get you back to like baseline. But if you're doing an all day race, then I would say we got to get closer to a hundred percent, because if you're just continuously dehydrating yourself hour after hour, eventually we're going to get to a point where it can get a little dangerous. Again, it's personalized, it's individualized. You have to really kind of understand what your needs are and being able to adjust based on the situation you're in.

Tom Butler:

It sounds like evaluating your sweat rate is a matter of weighing yourself.

Alex Larson:

Yes, yeah. Matter of weighing yourself yes, yeah, that's a, that's a. There's a simple at-home test that you can do in terms of you'll weigh yourself before your workout. After your workout, you'll drink a pre-measured amount of fluids. You won't pee during that workout. Others are going to have to measure your urine. We don't want to mess with that, and so then, doing a few different tests that way to get kind of an overall average idea of what your fluid losses are, we can really then tailor okay, how much do you need to be drinking every 15, 20 minutes to maintain a good hydration status? And people notice a really big difference in how they're feeling. They don't. Maybe, if you're someone that suffers from some cramping issues, maybe headaches the rest of the day after a long, hard workout, those are things that we can really help alleviate with a good hydration strategy.

Tom Butler:

Now it seems like electrolyte depletion would be a little bit harder to measure. How would you go about doing that?

Alex Larson:

Yeah, there's a few different ways we can go about that. There's some testing options out there. There's patch kits where you wear like a little patch on your body and go out for a workout and then you send the patch in to get evaluated and they'll give you an idea of what your electrolyte losses are. Precision Hydration has some testing that I actually had my sweat tested just last week and I was shockingly very salty in my sweat. So now I'm looking back at all the training and racing I'm done and I'm just like gosh darn it. I should have definitely taken in more electrolytes then, but you know hindsight's 20-20.

Alex Larson:

And then there's some wearable devices nowadays. There's Nix is one of them, though I haven't heard like great reviews on. There's been like, I think, that one just tells you what your electrolyte loss is in total and instead of uh it doesn't break out like potassium and sodium and maybe like all of the electrolytes. So you have to kind of guess what your actual sodium loss is, because that's the main. That's the main electrolyte that we lose and we're wanting to replenish. But there's h drop, I think, is the other one. I've heard some little bit better reviews about their second generation device that they're releasing. So there is some options. If someone finds that they're a really salty sweater, like they have a lot of like white salt coated on their clothing after that sweat dries, or if they've had historically a lot of issues with headaches or cramping issues, that's usually a sign that I'm like okay, let's do some testing or let's just start increasing your electrolytes and see if we can alleviate some of those issues.

Tom Butler:

I have heard a lot of information through the years about pre-event fueling and I have to say that I'm totally confused.

Alex Larson:

Are you talking about carb loading specifically?

Tom Butler:

Well, like, carb loading was one of those things that, like years ago, is like, yeah, you need to eat a huge spaghetti dinner the night before the night before and then I heard, in addition to that, you want to like limit your carbs, I don't know, two days before, and then you do the carbo loading and so then there's more that is held on to by the liver or you know, glycogen stores are built up because of that initial like denial of carbohydrates and then this loading of carbohydrates. So I I don't even know, like today, what. What is free event meal planning like and how individualized is that?

Alex Larson:

yeah. So the whole concept behind like decreasing your carb intake and having like a depletion and then reloading that's outdated advice. So we'll just like push that to the side and we won't even talk about it, cause I don't want to confuse people. What we'll talk about is for carb loading. The reason, first of all, why we carb load is because we want to load up those super load those muscles and the liver. That there is some glycogen storage in the liver, but most of it's going to be in our muscles. That there is some glycogen storage in the liver, but most of it's going to be in our muscles. And that glycogen will get used as energy during your race.

Alex Larson:

And carb loading doesn't make you faster, okay, so keep that in mind. It doesn't make you like superhuman speed, but what it will do is it will help delay fatigue. It will help you go longer, farther, before you start to fatigue and have to decrease your pace. And so it's not just a spaghetti pasta meal the night before. A proper carb load is usually an all-day event and I mean, if you're doing like a really short event, you could do just a high carb meal the night before. But for endurance sports, if you're looking at longer than two, three hours. We're going to need to have like at least a one day proper carb load in there. The main goal of the carb loading is to have a very higher than usual carb intake for the day coming from carbohydrates, which means that you're going to have a much lower fat and lower protein intake that day. Basically, what I tell my athletes is um, you're going to take any healthy eating recommendations you've ever heard in your life and you're going to check them out the window when you're doing a carb load. Sugary cereal yes. Gummy bears yes. Sugary beverages yes. Vegetables no. So if I see a garden salad at lunch on your carb load, I'm going to have some words for you and be like what are you doing? This has no carbs in it. We don't need to be eating this because a carb load can get really filling. It can be a lot of food if you're going to do it all from food itself. So, having that balance of high carb foods, so maybe some high carb beverages usually we're able to get to that higher carb rate Anywhere.

Alex Larson:

They say carb loading anywhere from like eight to 12 grams of carb per kilogram of body weight. So if you're doing the math and you're just like Holy smokes, that's a lot. It is, it's a lot of food and sometimes, if it's really challenging to get that much in, we'll do a little bit extended carb loads where we'll do a little bit lower carb rate but we'll just do it for more days. So, like for something like a Leadville or an Unbound, we're doing a two, three day carb load for sure to get all those carbs in. The other thing that's nice about carb loading is that for every gram of glycogen that you're storing in your muscles, you are also including three grams of water with that glycogen. So it really helps with hydration as well. So for something like Unbound, that's really usually warm and hot and humid and you're going to be sweating a lot. It's a really nice way to go into that race Well hydrated and delaying dehydration during the race.

Alex Larson:

That's where carb loading can really help benefit people. How I describe it, like with some of our marathon runners, I was like you know how the wheels fall off in that last 10 K of your marathon. They're not going to fall off as likely if you do a really proper carb load and that's what they usually finish and they're like oh my gosh, I have never had such strong legs in the last like five, 10, five, six miles of my marathon. I'm like, yeah, that's what that carb loading does for people is it just helps delay that fatigue. I also noticed that athletes recover a lot better too because they're just not completely trashed and depleted when they. When they finish that race, they feel pretty, pretty decent afterwards, which is nice. That's carb loading in a nutshell is it's a lot of carbs, it's very filling.

Alex Larson:

Sometimes you gotta drink some carbs, which also can help with hydration too, getting some electrolytes and carbs in through your fluids. In the days beforehand I don't recommend people hydrating with just plain water, because they go a little crazy in those days before the race. They get nervous and like I'm gonna drink all this water, so I'm going really hydrated and just plain water is going to just trigger urine output and there's going to be peeing all the time and like, no, let's get some electrolytes, let's get some carbs in there and then you'll really get yourself hydrated up. But you also might notice and for the love of God, please don't weigh yourself during a carb load because you will see like a five, six pound weight gain during a carb load. But that's a good thing. You're fully loaded. You're fully loaded, you're hydrated. Well, you're going to go in and do that race feeling really good.

Tom Butler:

There's such interesting biochemistry in there. With all that you know it's the body is amazing for sure.

Alex Larson:

It is so amazing, it's so funny how, like these simple things that you can do with nutrition, hydration can make just a world of a difference in how you perform and how you feel in your events.

Tom Butler:

You talked a little bit about recovery. That sounds as important you know for somebody that you know, if you only have one event that you're going to do, you're never going to do another event again, that maybe recovery is not important. But if you're someone that wants to continue to do a longer events to do in your events, it seems like that recovery is is a very important period. I'm wondering about nutrient intake, about food intake, about, you know, feeding yourself. What are some of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to recovery?

Alex Larson:

I think timing is one. Sometimes, when you get done with a race, you don't have much of an appetite. That's pretty common. Exercise often will suppress our appetite. So even after training, if you're like, oh, I'm just not hungry, like we have to wait until, like I get my appetite back, I'm like we're going to be very intentional about our feeling. Even though you're not hungry, maybe let's do some sort of like liquid based nutrition whether it's a protein shake or a fruit smoothie to get some nutrition in you right away. Shake or a fruit smoothie to get some nutrition in you right away.

Alex Larson:

Because our body is so primed right away after we get done with a workout to reload glycogen stores, to start repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue. It's a great opportunity to kickstart that recovery process. Three things that I look for post-race or post-training is hydration, electrolytes and making sure we're rehydrating you really properly there. Carbohydrates are very important because your muscles are tired. They need to get fed. We need to start reloading glycogen levels, especially if you're going to start training soon after that race. It also will help with delaying like muscle soreness too.

Alex Larson:

And then protein would be the other one as well is your, their body needs to repair that, those muscle fibers and so those amino acids are really important to do that, and getting some nice quality protein is just the ticket, and then getting that protein consistently throughout the rest of the day, and then the day is leading afterwards to recovery isn't just a couple hours after our workout or a race, it's ongoing for days afterwards, and so you really have to be thoughtful of supporting your body to get it to bounce back faster. Um, cause that, that exercise it's a lot of stress on the body and so you're just exacerbating that stress If you're not supplying the nutrition it needs to recover. I mean, it's okay, you know, if you're done with a like a long, hard race and you had a great race and you want to celebrate with a beer, that's, that's fine. But make sure you're rehydrating, make sure you're making you know the smart choices, with fueling first before you really go out and celebrate.

Tom Butler:

I don't think my situation is atypical. I spent, you know, probably 30 years not stressing my muscles very much, and so you know, I think it's safe to say that my body was like, well, you're not using these, you don't need them, let's just get rid of them. And so when I jumped back on the bike, I just didn't have the muscle that I used to have, and, again, I don't think that's atypical for people my age. But I'm wondering is there a different way to look at protein intake? For, like my situation, where now I'm using my muscles more than I've used for 30 years and stressing them, and is that a different situation at my age than it might be for someone that's younger?

Alex Larson:

Yes, a couple of things that I would recommend would be definitely increasing your protein intake, but we've found there are some research studies that find with just just to make sure that you're absorbing and getting what you need. I'd also really strongly recommend athletes at any age to make sure they're including some strength training in their routine. There is just such benefit with strength training. It helps prevent injury. There is just such benefit with strength training it helps prevent injury. It helps you get stronger on the bike. It helps with body composition goals, cause I hear from athletes all the time they're like, oh, I want to lose weight but I want to gain some muscle and I'm like, okay, yeah, we got to make sure that we're.

Alex Larson:

when it comes to building muscle, we usually have to have some sort of strength training routine in there, because that just helps initiate, create, you know, building more muscle so much faster than it would from a cardio workout. So those, those are the two main things is for for cyclists that are over that 60 range is looking at that protein intake. Make sure we're getting a nice consistent supply and enough protein throughout the day, and then part of their training routine includes some strength.

Tom Butler:

In addition to muscle, and I don't think this is maybe as big of an issue as a man as it might be for a woman, but are there bone density considerations as an older athlete and, if so, are there ways that that can be addressed through nutrition?

Alex Larson:

Yeah, absolutely.

Alex Larson:

For a lot of athletes if they're concerned about bone health, we'll have them go either get like a bone density scan or a DEXA scan to get an idea of where their bone health is, especially if they're more of like a vegan based athlete and they're just not getting a ton of calcium from their diet.

Alex Larson:

We would look at maybe doing some supplementing, or vitamin D would be the other thing too, because in order to absorb calcium, we need vitamin D and a lot of us have deficiency in vitamin D levels.

Alex Larson:

So, looking at, are you getting enough calcium through your diet alone? Do we need to supplement? Are we supplementing with vitamin D, especially if you live in more of a Northern hemisphere where you're not seeing the sun yeah, I live in Northern Minnesota, so I see the sun like maybe five, six months out of the year, so you have to supplement all year round with vitamin D to just support that bone health, support those levels. But yeah, I think that bone health is especially important and for athletes who maybe have been under fueling for years, that's something too where we tend to see bone density has been decreased just because their body hasn't been able to put enough energy into supporting strong bones. So there's a term called REDS. You know relative energy deficiency in sport and for athletes who have under fueled and over trained, you really do put yourself at risk for having stress, fractures, frequent injuries, and we want to prevent that as much as possible.

Tom Butler:

So this is, you know, maybe a little bit of an off topic discussion, but I hear every once in a while that people will talk about that fruits and vegetables that we have today do not have the nutritional density that they had in the past, that the way that they're grown has has affected how nutritional value valuable fruits and vegetables are. You know a lot of times that's from a supplement manufacturer that's saying that, but do you have some thought on that, do you? Is that something that is talked about?

Alex Larson:

I don't talk about it necessarily with my athletes, because generally I just want them to eat fruits and vegetables and make sure that we're getting good balance of nutrition. I have seen some talk in the media about that, where they're saying that the fruits and veggies don't have as many vitamins and minerals in them, and I feel like there's probably a variety of different things that might be contributing to it. It could be that, you know, we're just growing different varieties of fruits and vegetables because we transport produce so heavily across the US and because food's just so much more available and accessible than what it was back in the day. You know my mom likes to comment all the time she goes. When I was a kid, avocados didn't even exist to me, you know, and now they're available because they come up from Mexico and so those fruits and vegetables need to be hearty enough to be able to handle transporting. You know, sometimes people are like have a garden. They're like, oh my gosh, my strawberries taste so much better than the store-bought and I'm like, yeah, it's a different variety, because those strawberries that you pick they last about maybe 12 hours, you know, in your fridge before they start to like disintegrate, Whereas the ones in the grocery store stay, you know, in good shape for a few days, you know, because that's just the type of strawberry that they grew is able to handle that transportation.

Alex Larson:

And so, you know, people talk about soil health, and I do. I mean, in my one of my previous career jobs I did work in agriculture and you know, I feel like the farmers are doing a really good job with preserving soil health, because it's their livelihood. They have to have good quality soil in order to produce crops and so I mean the soil health may be different from what it was, but I do feel like farmers are doing a great job in their practices and that it's incredibly science-based. The agronomists and the degrees that these farmers get in order to produce food for us is actually quite impressive in my experience in that previous role of mine. So, yeah, I mean I'm not an expert on that, but I mean it is something that I've seen in the media. But it's still important for us to still eat fruits and vegetables, regardless of if the nutritional value has changed over the years.

Tom Butler:

When I started getting back in shape, part of it was because I was beginning to take medications for disease conditions and I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to have the disease conditions and I probably you know there was enough indication 10, at least 10 years before that I should have been doing something more aggressive. But there's, you know, people my age who decide to start getting in shape, that are on medications that, and some of those medications I think can interfere with nutritional uptake.

Tom Butler:

I don't know if that's the right way to say it but what thoughts would you share as far as taking into account medications when meal planning?

Alex Larson:

Yeah, well, it's going to depend on the medication, right? So you know, if you're on a statin for high cholesterol levels, you would also want to pair that with more of a heart healthy diet. If you're on like a blood thinner, for example, you'd have to be very cognizant of like vitamin K foods. If you're on a blood pressure medication, you definitely would want to work with your doctor just about sodium intake that you're needing to consume to replenish electrolyte losses in your sweat during workouts, but also honoring like your blood pressure concerns and sometimes with you know, those health things.

Alex Larson:

It's just genetic. You know like you can eat as best as possible, but you're still kind of needing to have a medication. So yeah, it's hard for me to answer because there's so many different medications that people could be on and we'd have to look at like is there any nutritional deficiencies that they could cause or is there any like food interactions with that medication specifically that we need to be able to modify. And that's where it's important to talk with your doctor, work with a registered dietitian and say these are the medications that we're on and so we can kind of tailor your nutrition to meeting those needs. But generally for in my experience with athletes who are on some medication. It's very doable to be able to still have a successful athlete lifestyle and be on some medications.

Tom Butler:

Do you think that there's a way to kind of describe to your physician? For one thing, my experience has literally been telling a physician that I was going to start getting healthy and seeing in that physician like yeah, everybody says that they're a little skeptical these days they're a little skeptical these days they're a little cynical about, or or what I see is athletes.

Alex Larson:

will I have athletes who are training honestly, like 12 to 15 hours a week, like they're training a lot, and then they'll go to their doctor and the doctor just does not. Is like you, you're still a little heavy, you, you need to exercise more, and and it's like, really like they. I don't think they really understand, like the volume that these athletes are doing. So, yeah, I, if doctors are listening to this, like please, listen to your patients, please. Like, maybe work with a dietitian, a sports dietitian, and like learn a little bit more about what I mean. We. We have physicians that actually come into our one-on-one nutrition coaching, work with a dietitian, a sports dietitian, and like learn a little bit more about what I mean. We. We have physicians that actually come into our one-on-one nutrition coaching program and then learn how to fuel their own athlete lifestyle, because they get like one nutrition class in med school and that's about it. Yeah, I, and it's not all about weight either. You know what I mean. Like if someone's got a lot of muscle mass on them, they might be in the BMI chart like overweight.

Alex Larson:

So don't get me started on doctors. Like we've heard some some pretty ridiculous recommendations from them and it's it's maddening. It's it's maddening Like, or like iron levels. If we have an athlete like check their ferritin levels, their their iron stores, and it'll be very low, and the doctor's like, oh yeah, it's fine, it's fine, just maybe take a multivitamin. And multivitamins often don't even have iron in them and I'm like this is terrible advice. Like please take this more seriously because they're like, they're energy, like these people feel so poorly. I've had a low ferritin level before and you feel terrible.

Alex Larson:

Like there are things that we can do through nutrition, through supplementation, to get people feeling better and just overall being healthy, because when you have low iron levels, like you get sick and you're sick longer and you don't heal well, like there's impacts a lot of your life. So so, yeah, I feel like I went on a soapbox there about doctors, but they're, they're great. My best friend is a doctor and she's, you know, amazing. But there are some that really need to to be a little bit more thoughtful of like asking questions, more questions about what their patient is really doing in terms of activity and supporting with that, like being saying oh, that's great that you're, you're doing this cycling and like make their patient feel good about the work that they're doing and not blowing them off yeah, and, and at the same time, I do feel for doctors.

Tom Butler:

I mean there is focus of the, you know, in America there's in the US, there is a focus on the healthcare system that isn't preventative, you know, and doctors are within that system. And then also there's us. How many times has a doctor given good advice to someone to be active and it's just been ignored? Or to cut out this or that, and it's just been ignored? I mean I do yeah.

Alex Larson:

Yeah, I feel them. I do. It's tough. It's complicated too, in the sense of like. It's not just simple as like eating healthy and exercising. You know there's so much more to it. There's mental health thing, there's a relationship with food and people's body, and there's just people's work schedule and the stress in their life. It's not just, oh, eat more vegetables or exercise more. It's got to be a multifaceted aspect of things, which is kind of how I approach how we work with our athletes. It's like we're looking at their whole life as a whole and figuring out how can they improve their nutrition but yet have it still work with their lifestyle. So this is something that they can maintain long term. It's very sustainable for them.

Tom Butler:

Someone who is participating in endurance events. A lot of times there's travel involved with that and I'm wondering if you work with people who need to adapt their nutrition intake to traveling and kind of what are some things that you've learned that helps with that.

Alex Larson:

With traveling. It's going to depend how you're traveling, you know. Are you going by car, Are you going by plane? What's going to be available to you where you're at? I like to look at those situations as what do you have available to you and how can we make the best of that situation? You know, I'm not going to say like we can strive for you to eat exactly how you do at home, Like I had a call with an athlete today who's going to a conference in San Francisco. He's flying there, and so I said, hey, let's scope out where you're at in San Francisco. Is there a grocery store nearby or a market that you can maybe go pick up some things to have on hand between those meals at your conference?

Alex Larson:

Or if you're going on vacation, okay, yeah, let's go on vacation, let's have a great time, let's enjoy your vacation but at the same time, not like be completely unaware of how you're eating and drinking, so that when you do come back that you're not like feeling like absolute trash.

Alex Larson:

Cause sometimes people will do that They'll just let loose on vacation and they come back and they feel terrible and it takes them almost a week to recover from eating so poorly. So I'm like let's have some balance. Let's still enjoy your vacation but also still be mindful of, you know, maybe starting your day off with a really good breakfast and making sure that you're having lunch while you're, you know, having a busy, like active day and or just being cognizant of hydration. You know, if you're walking through Disneyland with your kids all day long, like, stay hydrated, you know, just like some really baseline basic things to supporting yourself. So then when you return back, we jump right back into that routine that we've been working and building on. You're going to come out of that much, much better than would be. You know, if you're not focusing during vacation, then your takes forever for you to get back into your routine. When you get home, like then you're just behind, so much more.

Tom Butler:

I'm going to make this guess, but you are definitely not in the cycling over 60 age group. I'm not.

Alex Larson:

I am in the trenches of motherhood with young kids in my mid thirties at this stage right now, but we work with a lot of athletes in their 50s, 60s and beyond.

Tom Butler:

I'm betting that you want to be cycling, or cycling, swimming and running or whatever after 60.

Alex Larson:

At retirement is to go on like bike, like adventures through because I love vicariously through some of my athletes where they're going on like a 10-day trek across France or Italy and I'm like that is my dream right there, like one of my before kids, my one of my favorite rides, my top two rides are one is, uh, the tour de blue around Lake Tahoe, loved, loved that ride. And then my husband and I did a gravel mountain tour through the forest outside Oslo, norway, also fabulous. That's my dream someday when my kids are out of the house is to go cycle around the world.

Tom Butler:

I was just watching the tour of Norway and, wow, that was beautiful, so that would be on my list. How do people stay connected to you, to the work you're doing, to things like that? What's available for people to check into?

Alex Larson:

You can head to my website, alexlarsenutritioncom. I've got a really good library of blog posts on there, lots of resources as well. You can learn more about my services. And then on social media, I'd say Instagram is probably my number one, but a lot of that's on Facebook as well, and then I do have some resources on. Youtube is where you can check out if you're more of a video watcher and head to YouTube as well.

Tom Butler:

Fantastic, alex. Thank you again so much. Your perspective has been huge. I've just enjoyed this conversation so much and just the work that you do and everything. I think that provides a really valuable perspective. So thanks for taking the time to join me.

Alex Larson:

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Tom Butler:

Take care now. Alex talked about something that I need to take to some other advisors. What sports dietitians like her are seeing is that endurance events require more sugar intake than they previously expected, and by significantly upping the sugar intake, athletes are performing better and feeling better. Of course, with my insulin resistance, upping sugar seems like the last thing I should do, but I think it is clear that the body requires significant energy when pushed during all-day events. There is one study of ultra-endurance mountain marathon runners who showed better results with 120 grams per hour of carbohydrate intake. If you look around at foods, you see that 120 grams per hour just seems like a massive amount to take in. The thing that struck me most about the study was that it was specifically looking at exercise-induced muscle damage. Of course, I am not an ultra marathon runner, but given that it still seems like it could relate to my cramping issue, so off I go to find a metabolic dysfunction dietitian who can help me dial in how much carbohydrate I should be consuming on rides.

Tom Butler:

It seems like here in North America we are hitting the organized event season. I would love to hear what events you have planned to take on this year and why you chose them. Please send me an email or Instagram message. You can find both those links in the show notes, and the best way to interact is for you to become a member of the Cycling Over 60 Strava Club. Whether you are training for a big cycling trip or a challenging event, or just out with a ride with friends, I hope all your time on the bike brings you fulfillment, and remember, age is just a gear change.

Weekly Update
Nutrition as Prevention
Endurance Focus
Customized Nutritional Intake
Hydration
Pre-event Meals
Feeding Recovery
Medication and Nutrition
Wrap Up