Supplements for sports performance

For some time I've been supplementing my diet with a post-workout whey protein recovery formula that includes both fast- and slow-digesting carbohydrates and protein isolytes high in the amino acid leucine. Check the results:

                                                                   62" Tuck Jump

A few months ago I walked into the local GNC (Cumberland Parkway in Mechanicsburg) to price protein powder and to do some field study for a writing time such as this.

"How can I help you today sir?" 

"Can (may) I get a price on a 2.2 lb container of whey protein powder?"

"Well, we carry...[ya-ta-ta-razzledazzle-yadayadayada]." 

"No thanks man, just straight protein." 

Mr. Push then offered me a host of vitamins and oils that support whey protein and proceeded to ask what I'm training for.

"Oh, you mean like, my training goals?"

At that point I decided to humor him. Kind of. I told him that I'd just like to gain weight, and also to lose weight. Without pause he turned to walk toward a corner of the store where they display five types of fat burners next to male enhancement formulas. He handed me a red and yellow labeled fat burner and some low caloric effervescent creatine.

I glossed over the fine print on a few of the labels. He stood there. I looked up and allowed for awkward silence. THAT was far too much to bear for either of us. So I jumped in and said something like this:

"I'm not so sure. What I really need is something that will just make me better at life."

He paused and smirked. He was FINALLY getting it. I think.

Back to the video, which hopefully serves as more than a showcase for showboating.

A 5'2" tuck jump? Yeah. That just happened.

It happened with no supplements outside of a sporadic scoop of whey protein powder that probably does very little other than make me think I'm "consuming" something good for me. Oh, yeah, and caffeine.

The GNC guy didn't ask if I've set specific training goals and what I may be doing in my work or other life that's pushing me toward or away from them. He didn't care about any physical impairments or my training history. There was no mention of exactly how I'm exercising, much less recovering. He didn't ask if I ate anything for breakfast. I once came across that idea and loved it:

What supplements should you be taking? Well, what did you eat for breakfast today? If you have no time to eat a decent breakfast, then you have no business asking about supplements. 

And this is honestly the best site for supplements EVER. It's evidence-based with nearly 20,000 citations and 0 marketing hype. The search format makes it super user friendly. And right here is a huge Debbie Downer where I go ahead and tell you that outside of caffeine/taurine and creatine, they ALL have a minimal effect. 

Seriously check this out:  http://examine.com/blog/weve-solved-supplement-confusion/

Sorry GNC guy.

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Treating shin splints - you can do better

Shin splints are miserable. They attack one of the boniest, most splintery places in the entire anatomy.

This writing is for those who have already tried the typical ice, soft tissue massage, electric stimulation, activity modification, and anti-inflammatory drugs, only to find the splints remaining firmly in place when they resume the provocative activity, which is almost always running and jumping.

At that point, you probably tried to rectify the problem with something like this:

Dear Shin Splints, ...

Contrary to common belief, shin splints are not due to splintering of bone, but from the tendons of the lower leg muscles being repeatedly pulled from their insertion point on the tibia (the thicker lower leg bone). Shin splints are an inflammatory over-use condition due excessive tensile strain along the lower leg muscles. There's simply too much force, too often, for too long, or some combination of the these.

"Two weeks off" is common first-line medical advice. But you can't afford to waste that two weeks droning away on a stationary bike or [YAWN] elliptical trainer. Running through this problem without treating the root cause can easily progress to a tibial stress fracture. And let me tell you that no matter how badass your lower legs appear in their elaborate kinesiotape patterns, you're going to need more than two weeks to recover from a stress fracture.

Here are some suggestions on how to spend your two weeks off.

1. Be evaluated by a physical therapist who's trained in this area. Seriously. A detailed look at the strength and mobility of the trunk, hip, knee, ankle, and foot, isolated as well as how they work in combination, will usually reveal something contributing to the excessive strain on the lower leg. Analysis of running and jumping technique is invaluable.

 Even if your personal trainer or athletic trainer has the knowledge to identify a portion of these, he or she probably doesn't have the time to assess much less correct the issues.

2. Along those lines, get strong in corrective exercises that target any identified poor movement patterns or other impairments.  Most resistance exercise demands very little impact. A handful of low intensity foot/ankle mobility drills and light resistance work can be performed multiple times per day in order to increase the resiliency of the tissue for when you return to high intensity activities.

3.  Give attention to your shoes. If you train regularly and intensely in shoes that were on sale at Kohls for $34.99, well, you get what you pay for. Serious athletes should not be training in random shoes made with materials fit for driving the kids to soccer practice. There's no substitute for quality shoes correctly fitted and suited for your foot type.

4. Orthotics (off-the-shelf or custom), braces, and taping techniques all hold great potential for decreasing the tensile strain demands of the involved muscles. It's difficult to say which of these may be best for any given individual, but we usually start with the least invasive and costly means and work from there as needed.

5. Return Gradually. Once your two weeks of "rest" are up, do not try to accomplish too much too quickly. That's likely a large portion of what got you into shin splints in the first place.

Keep careful tabs on distance, duration, and repetitions (that's foot contacts for jumpers etc.). Especially watch out for running on hard and graded surfaces. It's the down hill that kills, as well as the plod plod plodding, pounding along when the legs fatigue. This occurs relatively quickly for those who are generally deconditioned, especially if they are above ideal body mass.

I often advise clients to begin with some modified up-hill sprints, in grass if possible. Hill sprints are a semi-specific way to prepare the body for normal running, jumping, and cutting, with plenty of conditioning effect but far less impact.


Miracle Pill

"The real value of running is that it is not work but play," concludes Mark Rowlands in this essay
that attempts to answer the question of why people run. The author goes on to ask if you would still run if you could take a pill that would provide all the health, fitness, aesthetic, and feel-good benefits.

...and you feel happier when you're awesome ; )
The idea of doing something for its intrinsic worth rather than toward another end can be applied to many things in life. I still have a chip on my shoulder about running and other general long-drawn-out cardio exercise. The people who run even though they hate it. The people who love running and just know that running is THE panacea of all fitness. The coaches who overly push distance running onto their athletes to achieve ends that are inconsistent with their goals or the demands of their sport.

But those are not the points of this writing. Running because you like it as play and not work -  certainly no arguments there!

Would I still lift weights and do sprints/plyos and basketball and mountain biking if there were a pill that provided all of the same benefits? That idea seems delusional to me. It smells bad. Dysfunctional. Like sitting down hungry to a nice meal and spitting out every bite.

Pills cannot capture the process of challenging, pushing, building, and growing the entire system. It is literally the mechanical compression and tensile strain that stimulates the body to signal the brain to release an entire army of various hormones, endorphins being among them. The body and mind and spirit benefit most from squaring up to discomfort (in its many forms - definitely not just exercise or physical discomfort). The mental gymnastics, physiological toil, and some sort of objective outcome or aim are all irreducibly connected. Health and vitality and joy come by saying "not today" as you swallow the bitter pill of discomfort.

So yes, when it comes to exercising our bodies, what we call "work outs" can and probably should be considered play. But may we also consider this a process of applying structured, controlled dosages of discomfort that forms and reforms our mind and body and spirit into something it previously was not. This we call "exercise."

This is not true suffering (well, at least it shouldn't be). This is not to say that "zoning out" to the point of hardly noticing the discomfort isn't a valuable experience. But discomfort in this context may be the closest thing we have to a miracle pill.