Category Archives: training

Can reducing ammonia production during exercise improve performance?

Ammonia may be a central player in fatigue and exhaustion.  Exercise releases of ammonia into the blood stream.  Once in the blood stream it travels to the brain where it can accumulate if the pace of entry is faster than the body’s ability to metabolize it.   Athletes in studies who had the hardest time completing an intense exercise task also had the highest ammonia levels.(Nybo 2005).

The brain gets rid of extra ammonia by combining it with glutamate to produce glutamine.  If the brain is using glutamate to get rid of ammonia it is possible that glutamate levels decrease.    Decreased brain glutamate can impair function and may contribute to some of the wonky feelings of exhaustion.  Glutamate is an important neurotransmitter.  It is an excitatory neurotransmitter.  Glutamate makes it easier for nerves to fire and transmit information.  Without glutamate brain function may slow.  This is a very simplified picture.  However, it may help explain a bit of what is going on with fatigue.  Brain uptake of ammonia has been demonstrated in a number of studies.  One thing that has been noted is that there may be a lot of variation in the amount of ammonia produced.  This was found in a study of highly trained endurance athletes.  Athletes were:

  • young men
  • very similar weight
  • similar height
  • similar VO2max
  • living in Denmark (Nybo 2005).

Is it possible that variability in ammonia levels helps some people go longer or harder than others?  Is it less ammonia production or better brain clearance?  What causes it: genetics, diet, differences in training?

Reducing Ammonia:  Is it possible? Would it help for competition or training? Would it hurt?

There have been several studies that have looked at reducing blood ammonia levels.  Much of this comes from research on people with liver disease.  People with liver disease tend to produce a lot of ammonia.  They may also suffer a lot of muscle loss and brain dysfunction.  Their situation though is quite different from that of an athlete.

Is there any research on reducing ammonia levels during exercise?

Yes. Apparently glucose does.  Subjects (Nybo 2005) who were given glucose supplement had only about a third of the ammonia level as did subjects who did not.  A 2008 paper found that giving professional football players 100 mg per kg of glutamine prior to training reduced ammonia in blood.  Lastly, walnuts.  A study of walnut extracts showed less ammonia in blood of mice after they were subjected to a forced swim test.  Mice receiving walnut extract were able to swim quite a bit longer than those who did not (see reference for details.)  One of the things that was particularly interesting is that mice were subjected to several tests over several weeks.  Performance improved in the Walnut-Extract Mice from week 1 to week 2 to week 3 and then tapered off.  They never dropped to the level of No-Walnut mice.  Here is a link to the graph: Link.  The researchers suggested that Walnuts may reduce ammonia and fatigue through their anti-oxidant properties.

Should I eat walnuts, glucose and glutamine during training?

There is no evidence that walnuts, glucose or gluamine will improve your performance over the long term.  In fact, trying to lessen your ammonia production during training may hurt.  In the Nybo study the athletes with the highest levels of  ammonia in plasma and brain were the athletes who did not get glucose AND had the lowest VO2 max.  VO2 max is a marker of aerobic conditioning.  It is possible that the body gets more efficient in dealing with ammonia produced during exercise.  If that is the case, minimizing ammonia production might also minimize your ability to deal with it.  Its too early to know.

What about walnuts, glucose and/or glutamine for competition?

Hard to say too.  But . . . an ability to reduce ammonia might reduce fatigue and let you go longer or faster.  It might give a competitive edge.  Keep in mind some people may simply be better at metabolizing ammonia.  It might be genetic.  Or it might be from hard training.  For an overview of amino acid metabolism:

 

Masters Crossfit training
One of the world’s top-ranked masters CrossFit athletes trains for the CrossFit games at The Black Box in Fort Worth

Qiu J, Tsien C, Thapalaya S, Narayanan A, Weihl CC, Ching JK, Eghtesad B, Singh K, Fu X, Dubyak G, McDonald C, Almasan A, Hazen SL, Naga Prasad SV, & Dasarathy S (2012). Hyperammonemia-mediated autophagy in skeletal muscle contributes to sarcopenia of cirrhosis. American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism, 303 (8) PMID: 22895779

Nybo L, Dalsgaard MK, Steensberg A, Møller K, & Secher NH (2005). Cerebral ammonia uptake and accumulation during prolonged exercise in humans. The Journal of physiology, 563 (Pt 1), 285-90 PMID: 15611036

Snow RJ, Carey MF, Stathis CG, Febbraio MA, & Hargreaves M (2000). Effect of carbohydrate ingestion on ammonia metabolism during exercise in humans. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 88 (5), 1576-80 PMID: 10797115

Bassini-Cameron, A., Monteiro, A., Gomes, A., Werneck-de-Castro, J., & Cameron, L. (2008). Glutamine protects against increases in blood ammonia in football players in an exercise intensity-dependent way British Journal of Sports Medicine, 42 (4), 260-266 DOI: 10.1136/bjsm.2007.040378

Dietary Fat Preserves Muscle?

Preservation of lean muscle mass matters for long term health and function.  It is also important to those who want to gain muscle mass so they can look hot and/or awesome.   it is also important for strength and for athletic performance. Whatever your interests, here is a report of a recent study on dietary fats and muscle mass.

Sprinting and Jumping help you stay strong so you can beat up young people.
Dietary fat may help you stay strong so you can beat up young people.

Dietary Fat and Protein Turnover

Dietary fat may regulate protein turnover.  The thought is that dietary fats influence both inflammation and insulin.  This study was published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Nutrition.   Study subjects were 2,689 women who are part of a study of twins in the UK.  Data was collected on:

  • Percent of Calories obtained from Fat
  • Fatty acid profile
  • Fat -free mass in kilograms (an indicator of muscle mass)
  • Fat-free mass measured by X-Ray absorptiometry

Results of the Dietary Fat and Muscle Study

  • Women whose diets were higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids had higher fat-free mass (more muscle).
  • Women who got more of their calories from fat had less fat free mass (less muscle)
  • Women who ate more saturated fat had less fat free mass (less muscle)
  • Women who ate more unsaturated fatty acids had less fat free mass (less muscle)
  • Women who are more transfats had less fat free mass (less muscle)

Women who were in the top 20% for energy intake from polyunsaturated fatty acids had about a pound more muscle mass than women who were at the bottom 20% for polyunsaturated fatty acid.  This is about the same difference in muscle mass that would be seen in a 10 year aging period.  You could look at this and say that a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids saves 10 years of muscle aging.  And you might be right.  Polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce inflammation and seem to protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer as well.  We don’t know what drives age-related muscle loss.  It might be related to the same factors that drive cell-aging in general.  

The Simple Takeaway for Dietary Fat and Muscle Mass

ResearchBlogging.orgThis is the first study of its kind and more research is needed to figure out what is going on.  However, this study supports the idea that a diet higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids is protective against loss of muscle mass.  As many are sure to proclaim: correlation is not causation.  That claim does not end arguments, although it is often used that way.  It simply means that we need to know more.   This is an interesting study that should lead to further investigation.  Thanks to the team (Alisa Welch, Alex MacGregor, Anne-Marie Minihane, Jane Skinner, Anna Valdes, Tim Spector and Aedin Cassidy) for your hard work.

 

Welch AA, Macgregor AJ, Minihane AM, Skinner J, Valdes AA, Spector TD, & Cassidy A (2014). Dietary fat and Fatty Acid profile are associated with indices of skeletal muscle mass in women aged 18-79 years. The Journal of nutrition, 144 (3), 327-34 PMID: 24401817

Masters Athletes: Long-Term Impact of Strength Training on Muscle Strength

A Crossfit Masters Athlete shares his outlook with a young Crossfit trainer
A Crossfit Masters Athlete shares his outlook with a young Crossfit trainer at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX

We can expect to lose about 1% of our muscle strength each year after age 50. By age 65 that rate of loss increases. There are some interesting differences in the how and why of strength loss. When researchers look at strength they tend to look at static muscle strength and dynamic muscle strength. Basically static muscle strength refers to the ability to generate a force. Dynamic muscle strength basically refers to strength in which bones and tendons actually move. As people get older dynamic muscle strength suffers more than static muscle strength. Muscle power (the ability to do a strength movement quickly) also suffers. Muscle power declines faster than strict strength. This is one of the reasons why Masters Athletes, particularly Crossfit Masters Athletes, do not perform as well as younger athletes. You can tell a Masters Athlete over and over that he/she needs to move quickly in order “to get under the bar.” But, simply put, Masters Athletes are physiologically different than younger athletes. As stubborn and strong as they are, they may not be able to move their elbows any faster. At least not yet.

Don’t give up on Masters Athletes. Don’t give up in general.

Strength training can improve muscle strength and muscle power in Masters Athletes. This has been documented in short-term studies. But what about over the long haul? A recently published study sheds some light. A fairly large group of older adults (233) participated in a 1-year strength training program. Measurements were taken before and after. Researchers also evaluated the condition of 83 former participants some 7 years later. Strength and power improved in adults who completed the training. (This is hopefully no surprise). What is surprising and good news is that the adults who completed the training had better measures of strength, power and speed seven years after completing the program. Measures for everyone (trained and untrained) were lower than they had been though.

This study has its limits. It was not clear (or unknown) if subjects kept working out or not. Nor was it known how much more or less active subjects in the control group might have been. Still, it is nice to know that positive effects were seen seven years after an exercise program was completed.

Take away message:

So far research (and anecdotal evidence) indicate you should not stop working out. Trainers: keep encouraging your masters athletes.

Kennis E, Verschueren SM, Bogaerts A, Van Roie E, Boonen S, & Delecluse C (2013). Long-term impact of strength training on muscle strength characteristics in older adults. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 94 (11), 2054-60 PMID: 23831385

Timing of protein intake: 20 grams of protein within 2 hours of exercise builds muscle with max efficiency

Timing of Protein intake builds muscles after resistance training.

Timing of protein intake matters.
Timing of protein intake can matter. Before or shortly after exercise seems to work best.

Today’s topic is an overview of dietary protein and amino acids and how these help build muscle and prevent muscle loss.  First, just a tiny bit about proteins and amino acids.  Proteins are made of amino acids.  Proteins are (for the most part) broken down into amino acids during digestion.  Once that happens they can be reassembled into whatever proteins your body needs.  Amino acids are hugely important to physiology.  They are needed for enzymes, hormones, hair and other things.  For most people, the first thoughts of protein and amino acids are muscle.

There is good evidence that consuming protein directly before or after resistance training reduces muscle breakdown and increases muscle mass accumulation.  The fine points of how much, which amino acids and exactly when they should be taken are under investigation.  Here are a few highlights.  Bear in mind that these may change as research continues:

  • Timing of intake: so far it looks like protein has its best protective effect when taken just before or soon after resistance training.  Consuming protein as late as two hours after exercise doesn’t seem to work as well as consuming proteins within five minutes of an exercise session.  Keep in mind that this timing difference may not matter functionally.  Even without extra protein, muscles are in active building mode for about 48 hours after exercise.
  • Which amino acids: How different amino acids stack up against each other is unknown to date.  Studies conflict.  One study is not necessarily wrong.  Two studies can conflict and still provide valuable information.  Results that seem to contradict one another may be caused by differences in how the study was done.  How old were the subjects; were they all men, or men and women?  What was the timing?  What training protocol was followed?   How much protein was given?  What else were the subjects eating or doing in their real lives?
  • How much: 20 grams of amino acids (or protein in a meal) seems to induce maximal results for young adults.  Older adults and elderly people may need more to get the same benefit.  This is probably because they (we) aren’t as efficient as we used to be.  Bummer.  But there you go.  Elderly people taking 35 grams of amino acids after exercise have had better results than elderly people taking 20 grams of amino acids. Elderly people in one study needed 40 grams of protein to reach maximal rate of muscle protein synthesis.

Timing of Protein Intake and Amino Acids can help prevent muscle loss during dieting.

Protein intake is important body builders and hyper-jacked crossfit nuts.  But it is also important to people on weight loss programs.  Increasing protein while dieting can help preserve muscle mass.  Preserving muscle mass matters to many people for aesthetic reasons.  Muscle gives form and definition.  Having well-developed muscle may also help people keep weight off.  That is pretty well accepted.  Less attention is given to the importance of preserving muscle mass during aging.  People who are constantly dieting and losing muscle mass may end up with even less when they are older.  Loss of muscle with aging is a major cause of frailty and loss of independence.   People with no interest in sporting huge muscles should still pay attention to this aspect of health.

Protein after exercise

If you are a young adult you can get your 20 grams of protein by using a protein bar or shake.  Powerbar makes a bar containing 20 grams of protein at a cost of about $2.00.  You could also have a glass of milk and a whole wheat peanut butter sandwich at a cost of about $0.60.  The milk and peanut butter sandwich would have about 23 grams of protein.  You could save $1.40 each time.  Please consider donating that money to research.  Many of our Paleo Diet readers will consider milk, bread and peanuts as horrors of the dark.  Its OK to eat these things.  Especially if the alternative is refined snacks, processed food or junk food.

If you are a masters athlete or older adult you may need to think about the extra calories you might get from two glasses of milk and two peanut butter sandwiches.  Timing meals with exercise may help.

Take away:

Twenty grams of protein within 2 hours of exercise helps build muscles with maximal efficiency.  Older adults may need 35 to 40 grams to get the same effect.

ResearchBlogging.org

Churchward-Venne TA, Murphy CH, Longland TM, & Phillips SM (2013). Role of protein and amino acids in promoting lean mass accretion with resistance exercise and attenuating lean mass loss during energy deficit in humans. Amino acids, 45 (2), 231-40 PMID: 23645387

Physiology of Fatigue: What are we fighting when we try to push through a challenging workout?

Why are workouts so hard?

Good Health Crossfit Shirt
This shirt may protect the wearer from injury, insult and poor health. You can get one from us or order from Amazon.

We are fighting a lot when we push ourselves through workouts that are challenging. There are times we may be fighting a bad attitude, discouragement, lack of confidence, drive or our own personalities, but we are, at times, also fighting a very complex regulatory system designed to protect us from severe self-induced damage.

Fatigue and Temperature

Fatigue can be defined as reaching a point where the body seeks to slow down or stop. Exhaustion is that point where a person (or animal) is unable to continue. The most important factor driving suppression of motor activity is believed to be brain temperature. In an untrained person, exhaustion may occur when core body temperature reaches 100 to 102F(~38 to 39C) while a highly trained person may not reach exhaustion until body temperature has reached 104F (~40C).

crossfit shirt rhino crossfit masters
Stiff, Inflexible, Invincible WODMasters shirt for the Masters CrossFit Athlete. And for other people who may also be stiff and inflexible.

Interestingly, it’s not only humans who are stopped at these temperatures. Internal temperatures of ~104 oF will stop other animals whether sprinters (Cheetahs) or the generally more placid and possibly endurance-oriented (Goats) (Taylor and Rowntree 1973). And yes, I’m sure you’re wondering: temperatures were measured rectally, and the animals ran on a treadmill while wearing masks so oxygen and carbon dioxide levels could be assessed. The research team also cranked the heat up. Cheetahs ran for shorter periods when the room was hot. The authors of this paper concluded that the duration of a Cheetah’s sprint is limited by core temperature, which is influenced by air temperature. Keep this in mind when you are working out in the summer with no air-conditioning. There are other factors that are also thought to play roles in regulation of intense physical output. Working muscles send feedback to the brain, and in most of us, they are not yelling “Go! Go! Go!” At first they are saying things like “we need more oxygen over here” and “pump the heart faster.” Unfortunately you maximum output can only go on for as long as you have the necessary materials to keep the system running. Your maximum obtainable heart rate will matter. That may be one you cannot make “just do it.” although you can improve your ability to pump blood with training.

Strong Woman Shirt with All-Seeing Kettlebell. Awesome Power and exceptional femininity for a crossfit shirt
Strong Woman Shirt with All-Seeing Kettlebell. Awesome Power and exceptional femininity

Blood concentrations of important factors or metabolites, and depletion of working materials, are also monitored by the brain. Changes in concentrations and availability of neurotransmitters, endorphins, cytokines, along with a build-up of ammonia in the brain, occur during continued intense exercise. Cerebral energy use increases requiring more oxygen, while blood flow will decrease by about 20% due to constriction of brain arterioles. Low oxygen, loss of neurotransmitters, and accumulation of waste products can cause a problem that is truly “all in your head” but a real problem none the less. An increased need for oxygen and fuel in the brain may be part of what causes someone to want to slow down or stop.

Another strong woman shirt for strong women.  Be fit and wear an awesome shirt.  For strong women who love art, irony and kettlebells
Another strong woman shirt for strong women. Be fit and wear an awesome shirt. For strong women who love art, irony and kettlebells

Practice improves physiology and performance.

Increasing oxygen intake may improve performance not necessarily by providing muscles with additional oxygen, but in providing the brain with what it needs to keep the system running. Depletion of brain glycogen and excessive use of lactate as an alternative brain fuel may also signal fatigue. This may happen faster in untrained athletes. Physical training is, after all, about much more than simple strength and endurance. It includes getting all systems, including subtler aspects of physiology like the ability to dissipate heat, produce lactate, carry oxygen and oxygenate the brain, to work as efficiently as possible. We can reach our limits, but our brains rarely stupid enough to allow us to go beyond them and recklessly run our bodies off the edge of a cliff. The brain also likes to know what’s going on and practice (going through the motions) and rehearsal are important to performance. Rehearsing movements before a WOD may be as important as traditional warming up. It preps your system for what it is about to do and lets it know what is coming. Even imagining movements may help improve strength output and performance (Jeukendrup et al. 1996).

CrossFit training, rational mental toughness.

Womens crossfit shirt by WODMASTERS with Mona Lisa and her Kettlebells
Mona Lisa and Her Kettlebells bring quiet dignity to the toughest workout.

We can improve performance intelligently rather than fight what we imagine to be a lack of mental toughness, or allow ourselves be discouraged. We can keep cool and well-hydrated. We can be patient enough to recognize that our physiological and biochemical systems are becoming more efficient as we train, even if our speed or strength has plateaued, and not give up on long-term goals. Finally, encouragement and cheers can help people achieve their maximal level of oxygen consumption (Nybo & Secher 2004) and maximum performance. This may be especially true if they are new to Crossfit and have type A personalities. New Crossfitters may be putting superhuman efforts into their workouts and should be congratulated and admired for these as much as our seasoned champions.

Taylor CR, & Rowntree VJ (1973). Temperature regulation and heat balance in running cheetahs: a strategy for sprinters? The American journal of physiology, 224 (4), 848-51 PMID: 4698801

JEUKENDRUP, A., SARIS, W., BROUNS, F., & KESTER, A. (1996). A new validated endurance performance test Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 28 (2), 266-270 DOI: 10.1097/00005768-199602000-00017

Nybo, L., & Secher, N. (2004). Cerebral perturbations provoked by prolonged exercise Progress in Neurobiology, 72 (4), 223-261 DOI: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2004.03.005

Taylor CR, & Rowntree VJ (1973). Temperature regulation and heat balance in running cheetahs: a strategy for sprinters? The American journal of physiology, 224 (4), 848-51 PMID: 4698801 Nybo, L., & Secher, N. (2004). Cerebral perturbations provoked by prolonged exercise Progress in Neurobiology, 72 (4), 223-261 DOI: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2004.03.005ResearchBlogging.org

Palm Cooling in the Heat Helps Resistance and Endurance Performance

Palm cooling is an effective way to keep cool during workouts.

It may also be a good way to keep cool in hot places in general. Core temperature is a key factor limiting ability to exercise in heat. Once your temperature hits a certain point your brain will tell you to slow down or stop. We have probably all heard the phrases:

  • “Pain is just weakness leaving the body”
  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (know where you are on this equation)
  • And etc.

But there is a time to slow down. And a time to stop. Overheating can be dangerous. And even deadly. Still, there are always some people (present company included) who hate it when logic doesn’t go our way. We have a plan and a program. And we made a commitment to ourselves or others.  You are not a loser. And you are not having a bad day. But you may be overheated. Stay hydrated (but not over-hydrated), workout in the early morning and don’t expect to be at your best in hot weather.
There is one more thing:

Palm cooling and training in the heat

Humans cool themselves by sweating. They also cool themselves by shunting blood away from the core and towards highly vascularized areas (lots of veins and capillaries). This is why your face gets red and your hands sweat. Your body is hoping that the outside temperature is not as hot as your core. Your body is also taking advantage of the cooling effect of evaporating sweat by passing blood close to the skin. Your palms are a great place to lose extra heat. As is your face. And probably your whole head. And some other more personal areas.

Palm cooling may be the easiest to do and attract the least attention in public. Researchers at Stanford University have shown that palm cooling before a workout lets endurance athletes train longer. They have also recently published a paper showing that palm cooling between weight lifting sets improves lifting performance. Three minutes of palm cooling between sets also allowed test subjects to make greater gains in strength and numbers of reps.  Its not that cold palms make you stronger.  Well.  Probably not.  Its probably that a cooler person can train better than an overheated one.

How to do Palm Cooling.

The system at Stanford used a fairly complicated device. The device is not available for commercial use anyway. But there are other ways to cool your palms. They haven’t been tested. Or validated. But you can try taking along a frozen hand towel. Or a frozen water bottle.

Grahn DA, Cao VH, Nguyen CM, Liu MT, & Heller HC (2012). Work volume and strength training responses to resistive exercise improve with periodic heat extraction from the palm. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 26 (9), 2558-69 PMID: 22076097

What causes fatigue? Why is it different in CrossFit?

What causes fatigue? And why is it sometimes so hard to push through it?

Few people enjoy the sensations of fatigue and pain that accompany intense exercise.  While endurance athletes may get a “runners’ high” that feeling of elation is not common during a CrossFit WOD or in other forms of intense physical output.  The runners high is thought to be caused by feel-good chemicals produced by the brain that blunt pain and allow people (and animals) to run for long distances.  You can read up on these chemicals (endocannabinoids) here.  Without them you will feel very differently.  There are several thoughts on what causes fatigue.  Possibilities are:

Kelly and Squared
CrossFit WOD Open Competition Athlete and Judge

 

  • Build-up of metabolic by-products
  • Signals produced by the brain that try to tell you “that’s enough”
  • Production of inflammatory cytokines
  • Signals from the body that enter the brain to tell it “stop.”

Is buildup of Ammonia a factor in Fatigue?

It may be.  Ammonia builds up in blood just a little during moderate intensity exercise.  But it increases rapidly when levels of effort are heavily ramped up.  And it increases during prolonged (over an hour) sub-maximal efforts.  The buildup of ammonia may be caused by the breakdown of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s).  When ammonia builds up in the blood it can enter the brain and cause problems.  Including stupor.  Maybe this is part of what happens to marathon runners.

Caffeine, Amino Acids and Escaping Fatigue

Caffeine has been shown to reduce fatigue and improve athletic performance.  Caffeine also changes the manner in which amino acids (and BCAA’s) are metabolized during exercise.  Perhaps one of the ways caffeine helps workouts is by reducing the amount of ammonia build up.   Meanwhile, it seems that supplementation with glutamine suppresses fatigue and ammonia build-up.  Glutamin is considered a non-essential amino acid, but there is growing evidence that it might be particularly important under intense exercise.  Good sources of glutamine include beef, chicken etc. as well as wheat.  This is not the same thing as MSG (mono-sodium glutamate) which can trigger nasty headaches in many people.  Supplementation with branched-chain amino acids may also suppress build-up of ammonia as well.  We’ll see what comes up in the next few years.

 

Bassini A, Magalhães-Neto AM, Sweet E, Bottino A, Veiga C, Tozzi MB, Pickard MB, & Cameron LC (2013). Caffeine Decreases Systemic Urea in Elite Soccer Players during Intermittent Exercise. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 45 (4), 683-690 PMID: 23135367
Wilkinson DJ, Smeeton NJ, & Watt PW (2010). Ammonia metabolism, the brain and fatigue; revisiting the link. Progress in neurobiology, 91 (3), 200-19 PMID: 20138956

Bassini-Cameron, A., Monteiro, A., Gomes, A., Werneck-de-Castro, J., & Cameron, L. (2008). Glutamine protects against increases in blood ammonia in football players in an exercise intensity-dependent way British Journal of Sports Medicine, 42 (4), 260-266 DOI: 10.1136/bjsm.2007.040378

The importance of moderate intensity aerobic exercise.

Crossfit aerobic training and running.  You have probably heard that exercise improves mood, memory and brain function.  And that it may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.  Former runners who have turned to CrossFit may remember their runner’s high.  It was that wonderful feeling of peace and well-being.  CrossFit is a great fitness program.  For many people it has become a way of life.  But it does not seem to produce the “high” that many people get from running.  Combining CrossFit running is something to think about.

 

Running.  The moderate stuff matters.

The “runner’s high” is thought to be caused by chemicals called endocannabinoids.  These chemicals are produced in the brain (and possibly in other areas).  They reduce feelings of pain and increase feelings of well-being.  Endocannabinoids are also involved in appetite suppression and synaptic plasticity. Synaptic plasticity refers to the ability of neurons to adapt and change.  An area where Synaptic plasticity is important is in learning and memory formation.   New research (April 2013) on endocannabinoids shows that moderate aerobic exercise increases production.  Low intensity exercise (like walking) does not.  High intensity exercise does not seem to increase endocannabinoids either.  CrossFit is very high intensity exercise.  Including moderate intensity running with CrossFit (CrossFit running) is probably a good idea. If you are interested in preserving cognitive function.  Or if you are interested in improving cognitive function.  Some of us are just trying to keep from losing ground.  CrossFit is fun.  And great for full-body fitness.  But it may be that a relaxing run, bike or swim is just as important.  If not more.

CrossFit and Running
A couple discusses crossfit running during a tender moment post wod.

 

Raichlen DA, Foster AD, Seillier A, Giuffrida A, & Gerdeman GL (2013). Exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling is modulated by intensity. European journal of applied physiology, 113 (4), 869-75 PMID: 22990628

 

Putting a positive view on physical challenges ramps up natural opiods.

CrossFit and mental toughness. Its a cultural thing. If you do CrossFit you are supposed to be stronger than the pain you are feeling. Sometimes this gets a little nutty. You should stop or slow down if you are going to hurt yourself. You should go lighter on weights sometimes. For some of us, that some times may be all the time. It is dangerous to sacrifice form for heroics. That can be hard to keep in mind when pushing yourself is fun. And rewarding.  And you are addicted.

Fitness and getting the right attitude..

New research indicates that a positive mental attitude towards pain can make you feel awesome.  Or at least awesomer than you would feel with a negative attitude.  The paper, “Pain as a reward: Changing the meaning of pain from negative to positive co-activates opioid and cannabinoid systems” was published this month.  You can see the reference at the bottom of this post.  Two groups of people were either told “this is going to hurt.”  Or: this will make your muscles stronger.  The people who thought the pain would make them stronger were able to endure more pain.  That may surprise few readers.  Here is what is surprising and very interesting:The ability to tolerate pain could be blocked by blocking the chemicals that produce the runner’s high.

Its more than attitude: implications for CrossFit Athletes.

The research mentioned above is especially interesting because the researchers were able to turn off the increased ability to withstand pain by blocking the opiods and cannabinoids.   Part of the “runner’s high” is caused by natural opiods and cannabinoids that are produced in the brain.  These can be addictive.  And lead to people getting addicted to their workouts.  Maybe it is attitude that makes some people love working out.  And makes other people feel that working out just sucks.  Being able to train harder will make you better at CrossFit WOD s.  And knowing that you will get better at your workouts will make you better able to handle them.  Just don’t try it with an opiod blocker.

 

Benedetti F, Thoen W, Blanchard C, Vighetti S, & Arduino C (2013). Pain as a reward: Changing the meaning of pain from negative to positive co-activates opioid and cannabinoid systems. Pain, 154 (3), 361-7 PMID: 23265686

CrossFit Games Competition: Recovery between WODs

CrossFit Games Competition and New Research.

There have been several new papers out on recovery from repeated sets of resistance exercise.  These may be important for people headed to the CrossFit Games Regional Competitions.  For those who don’t know, the CrossFit Games regional competitions last for several days and involve multiple WODs per day.  (note: WOD stands for WorkOut of the Day and is the term used for CrossFit workouts.)The same is true for the big CrossFit Games.  In CrossFit every “rep” counts.  Recovery between WODs and recovery between days may determine who moves from regional competition to The CrossFit Games 2013.  This is very different from the CrossFit Open Competition where CrossFit Games competitors may have up to a week before the next WOD.

Ice Between CrossFit WODs

Apply ice to stressed muscles between WODs when possible.  A lot of people will apply ice if they have injured themselves during a competition.  Or if they feel pain.  Applying ice to uninjured muscles during rests may also let an athlete do more sets.  A study published last May (2012) examined the effects of icing on trained rock climbers.  Those who iced their arms and shoulders were able to more pull-ups on the second and third sets than those who rested without ice.  Some things to note: The pull-ups were open hand, which is important to rock climbers.   Closed hand holds are pretty uncommon on rock.

 

Should muscles be iced after the CrossFit Open WODs?

Maybe.  If you find that you are still in pain three days after a WOD you may benefit from applying ice the next go around.  Its uncertain how this works.  It might work by slowing production of enzymes that are involved in producing molecules that cause pain and inflammation.  The pain, tenderness and inflammation  show up about 24 hours after an intense workout is known as delayed onset muscle soreness.  Cold slows down enzyme rates and may slow the onset of pain.  Or may reduce its intensity.

Bacon NT, Wingo JE, Richardson MT, Ryan GA, Pangallo TC, & Bishop PA (2012). Effect of two recovery methods on repeated closed-handed and open-handed weight-assisted pull-ups. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 26 (5), 1348-52 PMID: 22516908