This is a team Masters Event. Each team will consist of two men and two women.
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:
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
CrossFit Games, CrossFit Games HQ
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Regional Crossfit Games Competitions
There are alternatives. There are a number of other outfits organizing masters Crossfit competitions. An interesting points were recently put forth by Ray Garcia of Shoreline CrossFit:
- First, people want to be acknowledged.
- Second, they seem to want to be acknowledged within the CrossFit community.
- Third, there are a lot of “masters” but we need to be segmented by age because clearly the biological evidence is we degrade with age.
- Fourth, Crossfit proclaims meritocracy … survival of the “fittest” literally. So, how about a privately organized competition by region playing off the already existing larger masters competitions. For example, TJ’s runs a masters event on the west coast games style and so do Shoreline and CFNE. There are other large scale masters events. So, how about if those events feed “Winners” to a few centralized events, and to an eventual “National competition” and age bracket winners.
Having sent a young athlete to a CrossFit Regionals Competition and having served as a volunteer behind the scenes I can attest to the excitement and fun of Regional CrossFit games. I hope CrossFit HQ will include Masters in Regionals CrossFit competitions. Its probably a matter of time. Oh. And Money. Let’s not forget that either.
The Pain of CrossFit WODs
The agony of a CrossFit WOD may be worse than the agony of any other sport. There are many little voices to that big voice telling you to slow down. Let’s not dwell on that voice. Let’s dissect it a little. Two things pushing you to ring the quit bell are core temperature and insufficient oxygen. Read this article for more information. Another thing is pain. Some research has been done on the discomfort side of exercise. Researchers measure “perceived level of exertion.” Research on intake of Vitamin C and “perceived level of exertion” indicates taking vitamin C supplements (500 mg/day) results in a lower rating of how hard the workout was. Taking vitamin C once a day also lowered heart rates compared to people who took a placebo during a 4 week exercise program. That is interesting.
Should I take Vitamin C before a CrossFit WOD?
It might be worth trying during CrossFit WOD competitions. Low vitamin C intake is associated with higher levels of fatigue. Taking a supplement if your vitamin C intake from diet is good might not help. It hasn’t been studied yet. Vitamin C has a history of being touted as a cure-all. Cure-alls are things we should be suspicious of. Along with writers who don’t know that a preposition is not something one ends a sentence with. There is also some evidence that taking vitamin C before a challenging workout can block the body’s production of its own anti-oxidants, which might not be good.
In the meantime Vitamin C may be helpful for CrossFit WOD competitors for whom every rep counts. It should not be taken before every workout. Exercise causes the body to produce its own anti-oxidants. And these may be very important in the falling dominos of our physiology. Tweaking one thing may tweak that which is better left untweaked. As an example, taking vitamin C may result in your body synthesizing less of its own anti-oxidants. Best to eat a good diet with lots of vegetables and fruit.
Huck CJ, Johnston CS, Beezhold BL, & Swan PD (2013). Vitamin C status and perception of effort during exercise in obese adults adhering to a calorie-reduced diet. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 29 (1), 42-5 PMID: 22677357
Why are workouts so hard?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.2004.03.005
NorCal CrossFit is gearing up for the 2014 NorCal CrossFit Masters Competition and Expo. Registration will open between November 15 and December 1, 2013. This news comes from Alison Belger of TJs Gym CrossFit in California. Alison is author of the book CrossFit and the Power of Community. You can get that one on Amazon. Alison reports that registration will open some time between November 15 and December 1, 2013. They will be offering priority registration for CrossFit Masters athletes who competed in the 2013 NorCal Masters Competition. The competition will be held at the Craneway Pavillion in Richmond, CA. Richmond, CA is in the San Francisco area. The Craneway Pavillion itself is an awesome venue. Here it is, in most of its own words:
The Craneway Pavilion is a re-purposed 45,000 sq ft sustainably designed event, concert and production facility centrally located in one of the planet’s most iconic destinations. The Craneway Pavillion is as state-of-the-art as it is historic. The facility is an award-winning, architecturally significant Ford Assembly Plant building dating back to 1931, with an adjoining 20,000 square-foot open-air patio, seamlessly blending indoor and outdoor spaces. Additional conference space with break out rooms are available. It is set on 25 waterfront acres, Craneway Pavilion delivers an awe-inspiring panorama of the Bay, the San Francisco skyline and the surrounding environs.
Suffer and sweat with other Crossfit Masters
Last year’s competition had separate division for athletes 40-44, 45 to 49, 50 – 54, 55-59 and a special class for 60 and over. Hopefully this year will see some more classes for those over 60. You really can’t celebrate older athletes enough. Bring your families and friends. There is plenty to do in the San Francisco area. Its well worth the trip. If you have college bound teens consider checking out some of California’s excellent Universities. Stanford University is just a short hop from San Francisco. I hear there are some other colleges around there too . . .
More details for the CrossFit Masters NorCal Competition to follow:
Last year’s event had three paleo-friendly food trucks parked outside. The Craneway also has healthy food for sale. I think bringing your own food is frowned upon. Parking is free and plentiful. Doors opened last year at 7:00 am and closed between 5:00pm and 6:00 pm. Keep an eye out for future announcements.
CrossFit Games Competitions are almost here. Athletes should arrive well rested and hopefully injury free. CrossFit Games competitions are very intense. Athletes will have to complete several WODs a day, possible for three days in a row. There will not be time for complete recovery between WODs. The athletes at the CrossFit Competitions will have access to ice water baths and massage therapists. There have been a number of articles on the effectiveness of ice baths and massage. Some have said they work. Other have said they don’t help. What should an athlete do between WODs? A new study (January 2013) looked at massage and cold-water baths on performance and perceptions of fatigue. The research subjects were basketball players: 8 men and 8 women. There is not much research on CrossFit athletes yet. The study athletes got either massage, cold water immersion or nothing after competition. 24 hours later they were tested for counter movement jumping and sprinting and were asked about sensations of fatigue.
Study Results: 24 Hours Later.
- Athletes felt better if they had a massage or ice water bath than if they had nothing done.
- Women especially felt less tired after ice water baths than after massages
- Men and women felt less tired if they had an ice bath or a massage than if they didn’t
- Jumping performance was better after ice baths
- No differences in sprinting ability were seen
- Final conclusion: Ice baths were more effective than massage. Getting a massage still helps athletes feel less tired.
For CrossFit Geeks: Here is a link to the Study
Delextrat A, Calleja-González J, Hippocrate A, & Clarke ND (2013). Effects of sports massage and intermittent cold-water immersion on recovery from matches by basketball players. Journal of sports sciences, 31 (1), 11-9 PMID: 22935028
Caffeine Coffee Tea (Coke?). First we’ll start off talking about the importance of time of day in athletic performance.
Compete, if possible, in the afternoon over the morning.
Athletes perform better in the afternoon and early evening than in the morning.This is the case for weightlifting as well as for endurance exercise like running, swimming and cycling. Even penmanship is less precise in the morning. Possibly it’s a warm up issue. But it looks like a circadian rhythm issue too. The circadian rhythm is an internal clock that regulates what you do during a day. It regulates sleeping patterns. Also body temperature, hormones and fluid regulation. Muscle response to stimulation is stronger in late afternoon. A 2012 study (Mora-Rodriguez et al.) looked at electrically-induced response in weight lifters. And they looked at voluntary contraction too, comparing morning and afternoon response. All weightlifters were men. All were described as highly trained elite weightlifters. The weightlifters lived in a research facility and were denied caffeine for 4 days before testing. (That must have been tough.) The study also compared voluntary and electrically induced response in the morning with and without caffeine. If you are wondering “what is caffeine” get some coffee. Lifters were given caffeine on a body weight basis. Caffeine was taken 60 minutes before performance testing.
Study Details: Caffeine, Weightlifting and Performance.
- Test times were at 10:00 am and 6:00 PM. Caffeine intake was 3mg per kg. (if you weigh 80kg. that’s about 240 mg or about one 12 ounce cup of extremely strong starbucks style coffee.) Caffeine was taken 45 minutes before lifting.
- Morning performance vs. evening performance
- Morning performance with Caffeine supplement vs. Placebo.
Strength and power output with placebo was better in the evening by 3% to 7.5% over morning strength and power output. Caffeine in the morning increased strength and power output by 4.6% to 5.7% for squats when compared to no morning caffeine. Electrically invoked response increased by 14.6% and nerve activation jumped 96.8%. Squats seemed to be more caffeine dependent than bench press. Maybe mornings are just meant to be spent drinking coffee.
If you are doing Crossfit Open competitions:
This site started as a site for Crossfit Masters Athletes, so here is the info for Crossfit readers: For people trying to qualify for regionals or the CrossFit Games 2013 this could be important. Do your Open CrossFit WOD’s in the afternoon. If you can. Caffeine in the morning will get your muscles up to the level they’d be if you did your workout in the afternoon. So when you are competing during a morning WOD, have some coffee 45 minutes before the event. And don’t forget the four days of abstinence before hand.Last note: caffeine peaks in your blood stream 30-60 minutes after its taken.
- Abstain from coffee for 4 days before your event
- Drink Coffee 30-45 minutes before you start
- Do your event in the afternoon if possible
Note: Tablet or pure caffeine Coffee may not give the same results:
You can read more about the effects of coffee vs caffeine here.
Mora-Rodríguez R, García Pallarés J, López-Samanes Á, Ortega JF, & Fernández-Elías VE (2012). Caffeine ingestion reverses the circadian rhythm effects on neuromuscular performance in highly resistance-trained men. PloS one, 7 (4) PMID: 22496767