Monthly Archives

February 2015

Running on Empty

By | Coaching, Fitness, Fuel, Triathlon | No Comments

Have you ever felt like your fuel gauge has dipped below “E” in the middle of a long, intense workout or race?  Have your friends frightened you with horror stories about “hitting the wall” or “bonking”?  Let’s investigate the true sources and symptoms of these endurance athlete issues.

Hitting the Wall

If you, like myself, have ever assumed that a single 300-calorie bagel and 24-oz bottle of water would be sufficient to fuel you through a 4+ hour bike ride, complete with sprints and grueling climbs, then you know what it means to “hit the wall”.  You end up dragging yourself home, convinced that the air you are riding through is made of concrete (i.e. “the wall”), and dreaming Gatorade-filled fountains, counter tops covered in deep-dish pizzas, and lots of fluffy pillows everywhere…

This “wall” does indeed exists!  The culprit is not concrete, but depleted muscle glycogen.  The 1,400 (for males) carbohydrate calories stored in your muscles as glycogen, are used during exercise (Clark, 2013).  As these stores may last for many hours, complete depletion is more likely to occur during longer-distance training sessions and endurance events such as marathons and full-distance triathlons.  Yet, failing to refuel muscles after multiple training sessions on end can leave muscle glycogen stores low–not a great way to start your next 5-hour workout!  Your body relies on fuel consumption pre- and during- exercise to keep up with energy needs.



Maybe you haven’t quite hit the wall of depleted muscle glycogen, because every time you attempt your 3-hour bike-run workout, you start getting dizzy and unable to focus after 2-hours of cycling and running.  You aren’t hitting your prescribed power and speed zones, but still feel burnt out, like you could faint, and are forced to cut the workout short.  Perhaps you still have juice left in your muscles, but your brain function is suffering...

In addition to fueling active muscles, pre- and during- exercise fueling is necessary to keep blood sugar levels stable.   Your liver also releases stored glycogen into the blood, but liver glycogen stores are limited to about 320 kcal of carbohydrate (for males) (Clark, 2013).  Once liver stores are exhausted, and if fuel consumption is inadequate to restore blood sugar, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) occurs.  Without adequate sugars in the blood, the brain cannot be fueled.  This lack of fuel to the brain can lead to decreased coordination and concentration, most certainly hindering performance.

I (maybe) know what you’re thinking…

“I am well-trained and have lots of glycogen stored in my muscles, so I should’t really need to eat during my 3-hour rides”.  Have you considered that your brain needs fuel, too?  You can “Bonk” even when you haven’t yet “Hit the Wall”.  If you deplete your liver glycogen by not consuming enough fuel before/during exercise, despite having sufficient muscle glycogen to fuel muscles, your blood cannot supply your brain sufficient energy from glucose.  To get the most out of your training, fuel your brain!


“I want to burn extra fat, so I shouldn’t eat much before/during long workouts.  That way, my body will burn fats instead of carbohydrate for fuel.”  In fact, if you restrict carbohydrates before/during workouts when your body needs fuel, you may burn a higher percentage of calories from fat but will actually burn fewer overall calories.  This is because your body’s preferred energy source is carbohydrate, and while you can use fat for energy during exercise, your performance will likely be hindered.  It is better to train your body to perform (and be fitter) by supplying it with the energy that it prefers for activity!

The Bottom Line:

Exercise + Low Muscle Glycogen + Insufficient Carbohydrate Intake = Low Muscle Fuel (THE WALL!)

Exercise + Low Liver Glycogen + Insufficient Carbohydrate Intake = Low Brain Fuel (THE BONK!)

Fueling pre- and during- long and/or intense workouts and events is necessary for optimal muscular and cognitive function!

How to avoid the Wall and the Bonk:

Fuel pre-exercise (especially before morning workouts, after a night of fasting) with about 2 kcal (or 0.5 g) carbohydrate per pound of body weight (Clark, 2013).  Aim to consume this pre-workout snack within the 60-minutes leading up to your workout.  For example, a 150-lb distance runner would aim to consume about 300 kcal (75g) of carbohydrate between 6 and 7 a.m. for a long run beginning at 7 a.m.  An example of a 300(ish) kcal snack would be 1 c. cooked oatmeal with 1 T brown sugar, plus a banana.

If you are consuming your pre-workout meal/snack 2-hours prior to your workout, you can double the carbohydrate content of your meal (e.g. 600 kcal for the thlete mentioned above).  This might look more like two slices of whole grain toast, 2 T. berry preserves, a cup of fruity yogurt, and a large glass of orange juice.

Fuel during exercise, especially during especially long and/or intense workouts.  For workouts lasting between 1-2.5 hours, about 30-60g (120-240 kcal) of carbohydrate per hour is recommended (Clark, 2013).  Your fueling needs will depend on many factors, including how well-fueled you are going into the workout (blood sugar and glycogen storage statuses), how high of an intensity you are training at, gut tolerance (which can be trained!), etc.  Workouts exceeding 2.5 hours in duration may require up to 90 g (360 kcal) of carbohydrate per hour.  Common during-workout carbohydrate sources include sports drink, energy gels, energy bars, gummy candies, crackers, and other simple forms of carbohydrate.


Clark, N. (2013). Sports Nutrition Guidebook (5th ed.). Human Kinetics.

Meet the Athlete: PRO Edition

By | Fitness, Fuel, Meet the Athlete | No Comments

It’s an honor to highlight Canadian professional cyclist, Shoshauna Routley, on the blog this morning. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Shoshauna during her stay in Ventura this winter, and she kindly agreed to share some tidbits with us. Enjoy!

Hometown: I grew up in Texas, then moved to Canada when I was 6.
Ethnic Background: My mom’s Philippino and my dad’s Canadian. Now that’s multicultural.
Cycling Team: BMW p/b Happy Tooth
Specialty: Tactician/ sprinter

Favorite accomplishment in cycling: Signing with BMW p/b Happy Tooth

Favorite non-cycling accomplishment:

I’ve had over a dozen different jobs: service clerk at Safeway, modeling, selling Purdy’s chocolates, greens keeping at a golf club, landscaping, serving at restaurants, and working as an “educator” at Lululemon. Somewhere mixed in with work, I received a degree in Horticulture and I have currently been picking away at a Kenisiology degree. I also have many other interests. After high school, I auditioned for a band and was chosen as a singer. And a few years back, I started a little homemade jewelry business, which was put on consignment at a cute boutique shop. I am happy with all of the different perspectives I have gained. I have picked away at accomplishing this valuable thing called “life experience”.

Non-cycling related hobbies:

At the moment, cycling takes up most of my time. In the Fall I take a full-time course load at Uni (University), and over the past year and a half I planned a wedding, got married, bought an old farm and have been renoing (renovating) this old farm/house during every spare moment. This includes planting a crop, fixing the roof, kitchen, bathroom, floors and windows. As athletes and with parental supervision and help, we were able to do everything ourselves and in a very short time period.

What brings you (and hubby, Will Routley) to California this “winter”?

This will be our 4th winter in California, not consecutively. The first time we came to California was when he (Will) raced for Jelly Belly. We stayed in Santa Cruz California for 2 winter seasons and discovered the wonders of California! Sunshine, amazing riding, great food, and perpetual beach sunsets. This year is our first year spending some time in Southern California and it’s amazing here too. I could move here in a heartbeat. I love the weather, the riding and being so close to the beach. It doesn’t matter how tired I am, I wake up and see that beautiful clear blue sky and I’m rebooted mentally. Some would call that “solar powered”.

Do you have an athletic background in sports other than cycling?

I actually don’t have an endurance background. I was a competitive gymnast from ages 7 to 12. In high school, I played team sports: a bit of volleyball, basketball and softball. I loved everything about sports, but my parents weren’t as supportive, so I never pursued sport despite having the drive and the talent.

How long ago did you take up cycling?

I got into cycling as an adult. I started riding a borrowed road bike from an old high school crush-turned-best friend (Marsh). I would go out with him and his sister maybe 5 times a year and I enjoyed it. He always thought I could be a fast biker and maybe that subconsciously sparked my interest, because consciously, I had been trained to believe that normal people couldn’t be professional athletes.

When did you first dream of becoming a professional cyclist, and why?

Eventually, Marsh invited me for dinner to meet one of his teammates. Little did I know that it was actually close to 7 of his team mates, Will Routley being one of them. I was being set up with a different rider, but Will snuck in there and called me the next day to go for coffee. Two years later, he bought me a road bike and we toured around Australia for the winter. After putting in quite a few miles down under, I returned home and decided to give the racing thing a go. Like a moth to the flame, I couldn’t resist. For the first 2 years it was a hobby. I worked, raced, and had fun, but to get better I needed to commit. So, over the past 5 years, I went in whole hog and wound up here.

1267218_10201852095764819_1436238536_oShoshauna and husband, Will Routley

What are your goals for 2015?

I really hope to get some bigger results personally but I also hope to get a team result at every race. I think there will be a lot of different strengths between our team’s riders and if we work together, and race tactically, we will be the “little team that could”. You don’t have to have the strongest women on a team to win, but you do need them to be dedicated to the overall result, ego aside.

Other long-term aspirations?

When I finish racing, I will finish my degree in Kinesiology and either continue into a teaching program or start my own coaching business and work with youth in the sport.

Top 3 favorite things about being a professional athlete:

  1. The healthy lifestyle. I am so much more educated and interested in the food that I eat and the chemicals that I’m exposed to or trying to avoid.
  2. The traveling is such a thrill. I love seeing new places and getting to know an area. Riding your bike exposes an area and all of its quirks. It allows you to take in the area and relish in the moment. You’re free, and it’s beautiful.
  3. Making gains on the bike, and pushing your body a little more than you did the last time.

Least favorite things about being a professional athlete:

Rejection, not achieving a goal, and overcoming an injury. These three things happen a lot in this sport and they can be really stressful to deal with. At the end of the season, waiting to hear back from teams is a very stressful period for most roadies (road cyclists).

Favorite thing about being married to another professional cyclist:

We help motivate one another and are each others’ biggest fans and supporters. We both understand the challenges that come with cycling and are more apt at dealing and overcoming them together.

Favorite place(s) so far you’ve visited for training/racing, and why:

We have lived in Australia, Southern and Northern California, Carcassonne, France, Belgium and Girona, Spain. I enjoyed living in all of these places and they all offered something a little different from the next.

Southern France was beautiful; we lived outside of what we would consider a giant castle. In Spain there are these wonderful markets with some of the best produce. In Belgium, the chocolate was amazing and I probably had a bit too much of it while I was there. Europe is amazing because the culture is significantly different from North America. They just do things a little differently from country to country and it’s so great to experience those differences. Europe also has so much history which shapes it’s exterior; old buildings, small cobbled streets and traditions passed down from family to family.

I also love California– the whole state. It feels like home now. We’ve logged a lot of miles on our car coming back and forth to California. And we’ve covered virtually the entire state, either on our bikes or in our car. There are unique little pockets from the local farmers with a free bird feel in Sebatopol, to Santa Cruz where hippies rule the roost, and now to Ventura, a place abound with lemons and avocado farms and sun-worshiping surfers. So far, I seem to be in favor of the world.

What advice would you give to an aspiring professional athlete?

Nothing worthwhile comes easy. If you want to be successful at something, it takes time and patience. If you want to do something, and you believe you have the ability, don’t hold back. Don’t let your insecurities or other peoples’ worry detract from your effort. It’s so easy to fall into a negative headspace and come up with reasons as to why you can’t. I have to frequently remind myself of this.

Huge thanks to Shoshauna for the thoughtful responses. Wishing her a very enjoyable and fast season with team BMW p/b Happy Tooth!

Meet the Athlete: John (#2)

By | Coaching, Fitness, Fuel, Meet the Athlete, Triathlon | One Comment

Introducing: John #2, BrittFit athlete since 2014.

What’s with the name/number? John joined the Swimming for Triathletes class in Ventura, CA, he was given the nickname “#2” to avoid confusion with the other John (#1) in the class.

Current place of residence: Kamuela, HI
Favorite place you’ve lived thus far: Kamuela, HI
Day job: Family Physician
Current (2015) triathlon goal: IM Boulder, finish time 12:00
Best race leg: Run (usually)
Favorite pre-race fuel: Spaghetti and meatballs the night before
Favorite post-workout treat: Chocolate milk
Dream race: I’ll dream big and say IM Kailua Kona, World Championships
Race day mantra: Race smart!

When/how did you start triathlon? I started triathlon in 2012 at the Lifetime Fitness Chicago Triathlon. It was always something I wanted to do and so I started big; I did the Olympic distance and have been addicted to triathlons ever since.

Hardest race or workout you’ve ever completed: Kamuela, HI, 54 mile ride from Kamuela to Waipi ‘o Valley, for a total of 6,000 ft of elevation gain. It was also the most gorgeous ride I’ve ever done.

Most memorable race moment: Malibu Triathlon 2014, bike course going southbound on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) as you descend on Leo Carillo, it was a sight of pure beauty: the sun shining down on the ocean and sand, gentle waves crashing into the shore with a gentle breeze, all to the sweet sound of bicycles on the highway.

Words of wisdom to someone considering training for their first triathlon: Be patient. So many people want the quick fix and fast results but the key to getting better at anything, especially triathlon, is patience and consistency. So if you’re doing triathlons to lose weight, or to become the fastest in your age group or to qualify for World Championships, be patient with yourself, keep with it, train SMART and watch all of your times get faster and your weight drop GRADUALLY. If you’re patient, you’ll have the success you’re after and you will have fun in the process.

Something you’ve learned about yourself from triathlon: I can do ANYTHING as long as I have the right (smart) plan.

Pick one:
Long ride or long run? Long ride
Ocean or pool swim? Ocean
Chocolate or cheese? Definitely CHOCOLATE
Watch on your left wrist or right? Left
Morning or evening workout? Morning
T1 or T2? T2
Hat or visor? Neither (for now)
Speedo or jammers? Jammers
Swim cap or no cap? Swim cap

Want to see yourself featured in a future edition of M.T.A.? All BrittFit Athletes are eligible. You could be next!

Scientific Training

By | Coaching, Fitness, Triathlon | No Comments

In early 2013, I wrote a blog post series on the lactate-based training that my coach, Gareth Thomas, implements from his Los Angeles sports science facility: Trio. The first post includes a blurb on how I met Coach Gareth, while the second goes into depth on the scientific basis of his lactate-based approach to endurance training.

Lactate Blog Post #1
Lactate Blog Post #2

Now that nearly 2 years have gone by, I’d like to report some exciting results in the TRIO lab. First, a bit of my training background:

2004-2006: High School Cross Country + Club Swimming
2006-2007: D-1 Womens’ Swim Team Walk-on + Completed 1st Marathon run (with terrible training, and at least one injury)
2007-2008: Dabbled in Collegiate Club Triathlon + Talked myself into buying a road bike
2008-2010: College Triathlon “glory days” (best triathlon shape of my life), coached & mentored by Coach Gareth
2010-2011: Took a break from training, taught swimming lessons in New Zealand, decided to do a couple more triathlons, got humbled by Wildflower & Long Course Worlds (first DNF ever)
2012: Trained on my own, finished a few more triathlons, got humbled some more (almost DNF’d again)
2013: Return to Coach Gareth for HELP! Made some solid improvements, then took a couple of months off to re-evaluate and recharge mentally
2014-2015: Got married, and decided to really get into this whole triathlon thing again, this time with a brand new last name

Now, for the good stuff. Since I came back under Coach Gareth’s wing in early 2013, I have seen a general trend of improvement in my training and racing performance, which is paralleled in my lactate testing results. As I have had a bit of inconsistency (2-month break after 2013 season), and since training fluctuates to accommodate periods of resting and racing, some tests have shown that my fitness has taken a minor “step back”. Yet, the big steps forward, and overall gains, are my reason to trust in this scientific training philosophy.

I have plotted out lactate test data from 2013-2015. Run test data includes my average running speed (mph) at each of my assigned training “zones” (based on blood lactate profile observed in the lab). Cycling test data includes my average power output (W) at each zone.


image (1)

Note the general speed and power improvements within each training zone from 2013-2015. Also note the substantial dip in fitness during my break at the end of 2013. It’s been 2 steps forward, 1 step back, 3 steps forward, and…TBD. Seeing my progress plotted graphically is a very tangible way for Gareth and I to gauge the effects of each training period–to see what is working best for me, what needs to be adjusted, and where we need to focus moving forward.

I am super grateful for Gareth’s support throughout the years, and excited to put in the work this season to continue improving. I will keep you updated.

Train smart!