When Careful Is Careless

December 6, 2009

I can think of many instances where I deliberated a choice for days, weeks or even months to make sure I was making the best choice.  People who tend to carefully make choices and seek out as much information as possible before settling on a decision are sometimes referred to as maximizers.  On the opposite spectrum are satisficers who pick the first good choice that meets their minimum standards.  You might think that the maximizer is much better off, but you would only be partially correct.  Both traits have their benefits, but both also have distinct costs.

Work by Simon in the 1950′s showed that people consistently vary in the type of strategy they use to make decisions.  The maximizer and satisficer difference represents the extreme on either of of people who try very hard to select the absolute best option or the option that best meets their needs, respectively.  Clearly the trait would be connected to the quality of choice made, but it also affects wellbeing.

The quality of choice and the quality of life are both the benefit and cost to both strategies of decision making.  Obviusly carefully considering your options results in better choices.  Individuals who are high in maximizing are going to work hard to pick the best meal on a menu, the best bike to buy, the cheapest cereal in the grocery store and even the absolute best job or romantic partner.  This strategy often results in the best meal, fastest bike, best value or whatever, but the cost is happiness.  It’s possibly the stress of deliberation or regret from post-decsion remorse, but being carefull may carelessly cost you your happiness.  The benefit of satificing on the first option that meets your needs is happiness and wellbeing.  Making careless decisions makes your chances of getting a good option a bit of a gamble, but the research suggests you’ll be happier for it.

Like most everything in life the best option is something in the middle.  It’s important to evaluate when it’s appropriate to deliberate and when it’s time to call the information gathering quits.  When you are in an eternal state of deciding your choice may actually be choosing to be less satisfied and less happy.  Next time you are faced with a choice of going to vacation in Hawaii or Europe, eating Thai or Pizza, or dating Jordan or Taylor think about when it’s time to settle on a choice.  Besides if your choices are two awesome places to vacation, eating two delicious foods or dating an amazing person your chances of making the wrong choice are much worse than your chances of sacrificing your happiness by over deliberating.

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Berry Cobbler

August 11, 2009

Summer is fruit season and in particular berries.  If you are lucky enough to live in the Willamette Valley of Oregon you know that berries grow like weeds.  Actually blackberries in Oregon are literally weeds.  Inevitably you will have so many berries you will not know what do with them all.  First, and most important you should not share them with birds or wildlife of any sort.  All animals will waste delicious berries and research shows they do not appreciate the complex, wonderful berry flavor like humans.  I stumbled across a reciple for berry cobbler while watching videos of my favorite cooking show, America’s Test Kitchen.

When you have more berries than you can eat, this is a great way to use up 6 cups of them to make some delicious cobbler.  I changed the America’s Test Kitchen recipe slightly to cut out saturated fat and to enhance the flavor and nutrition, but you should feel free to do what you like best.

David Kuhns’ Berry Cobbler

Berries: 6 C ripe berries like blueberries or blackberries + zest/rind of 1 medium sized lemon + juice from 1 medium sized lemon + 2T sugar + 2T all purpose flour

Topping:

Dry: 1 C all purpose flour + 1/4 C sugar + 2T whole Buckwheat flower + 2 tsp baking powder + 1/4 tsp baking soda + 1/4 tsp salt

Substitutions: you can also add 2T fine ground corn meal instead of buckwheat to give it a more toothy texture with a more neutral flavor; or you can leave both out, using only flour.

Wet: 1/3 C Buttermilk + 2 T expeller canola + 1tsp vanilla

Substitutions: Instead of buttermilk you could use any thick milk substitute, but be sure to add a small amount of vinegar (e.g., cider vinegar) or other acid.  The acid in the buttermilk reacts with the baking soda to give the biscuits extra left; think home volcano (i.e., red vinegar + baking soda).  Instead of canola you can use any liquid fat such as melted butter or other neutral flavored oil.

Directions: combine berry mixture and bake at 375 F for 25 minutes.  While baking combine dry ingredients together and let sit.  At the end of 25 minutes increase the temperature to 425 F, then combine flour mixture with buttermilk mixture until the dough just hangs together.  Divide the dough into half, half again, and half again to form 8 equal pieces.  Remove the berries from the oven and place the dough pieces firmly on the top.  Sprinkle a pinch of sugar on the top of each dough piece and return the entire cobbler to the oven for another 15 minutes or until the tops of the biscuits are golden brown.  Allow the completed cobbler to thoroughly cool 10 minutes to avoid burning your mouth with violently hot fruit.

Final Remarks:

So far I’ve made this recipe several ways with both blueberries and blackberries.  While not all variations were great and both the blue and black berries were amazing.  The buckwheat flour adds a subltle nutty flavor to the buiscuits and I think it brings out the flavor of the vanilla too.  In addition, buckweat adds some satisfying protein and fiber.  The original recipe calls for a lot more sugar added to the fruit, which I found overwhelmed the complexity of the berries.  I tried less and ended up with flat tasting fruit.  Two tablespoons seems to be a nice balance between tasting too much sweetness and not enough berry with the opposite of having not enough sugar to bring out the natural flavor.

In 2005 the Spanish Gaurdia Civil exposed a very sophisticated network for facilitating and providing illegal performance enhancement to endurance athletes.  The so-called Operación Puerto resulted in the seizure of several dozen bags of blood intended to be transfused back to their donors or treated with performance enhancing drugs then transfused back to their donors with the intention of manipulating blood to enhance physiological performance.  The practice of autologous blood transfusions, until recently, has had no reliable test for detection.  Because no reliable test has existed until 2008 it has likely been a very popular method of cheating.  The blood lab was located and operated out of Spain.  The case implicated several athletes, many professional cyclists, and two Spanish teams.  However, little more than scandal and negative press resulted from the case because transfusing blood for performance gains is not prohibited by the Spanish government.  Despite the Spanish prosecution of the athletes involved going nowhere some professional cyclists implicated have been connected to Operación Puerto and their national sporting governments imposed bans.

One rider who has been directly connected to Operación Puerto is Alejandro Valverde.  In 2008 while participating in the Tour de France he had a short stay in Italy.  During that time Italian anti-doping authorities obtained blood and/or urine samples from which they compared Alejandro Valverde’s blood to blood samples shared by Spanish authorities.  Valverde’s DNA matched DNA of at least 1 bag of blood; proving he had at least the intention at one time to transfuse blood in order to cheat.

After the positive math with the Operación Puerto blood the Italian sporting government promptly imposed a two year ban.  Due to the jurisdiction of the case the ban is currently limited to only competition in Italy.  Any further sanctions would require the cooperation of the Spanish cyclign federation, who have not imposed any bans or pursued the issue further.

With the Tour de France soon approaching the case has gained traction in the media because the race briefly crosses the French/Italian border.  With a two-year ban from competing in Italy Valverde, who is a favorite to do well, will be excluded from arguably the biggest/most important race in the world.  The exclusion raises a larger issue of whether or not the Italian ban should be extended into a world-wide ban.

Very few of the riders associated with Operación Puerto have been handed any kind of sanctions for their alleged or proven participation.  A fact that is disappointing, but raises many issues of fairness.  One reason for the unequal treatment is the way in which sanctions are handed out.  Each rider’s respective cycling federation is responsible for pursuing santions for participating in illegal performance enhancement practices.  Many countries simply have not pursued the issue; Italy is one exception.

A recent poll on the website Velonews asking readers, “Should the Italian ban of Alejandro Valverde be extended globally?’ resulted in an ambivalent 47/53 yes/no, respectively.  The issue raises several questions a couple of which revolve around the fairness of punishments from Operación Puerto, but also the purpose of the two year bans.  One could say the ban is a punishment and deterent for the riders who cheat or are prone to cheating.  On the other hand it is also an issue of fair competition for individuals not pursuing banned methods to improve their performance.  In the former I would argue Valverde should be banned.  Very damning evidence from the DNA match associated him with the intention to cheat.  For the latter I would argue the DNA match is also suggestive of previous cheating and possible future cheating.  In the interest of fair competition he should be excluded.  Perhaps the first purpose of bans to act as deterents would prevent Sr. Valverde from pursuing blood transfusions as a way to improve performance in the future.

Cycling Saddle Sores

June 18, 2009

Recreational cycling has an ugly underside that is not often talked about,  saddle sores.  The proper term for a saddle sore is a boil.  There are many types of boils, each with a separate cause.  The most typical causes are from some sort of infection or foreign material that finds its way into your skin.  The result is a lump or lumps of red, inflamed skin that are very sensitive and often make for an extremely uncomfortable ride.  Saddle sores have some special cycling specific issues that are not often discussed.  The major concerns are prevention and treatment with my suggestions for both below.

Prevention

The first step in dealing with saddle sores is to prevent them from developing in the first place.  Because the risk of infection increases when skin is rubbed raw the first step of prevention is to eliminate chafing and rubbing.  The tripod of prevention rests on (1) saddle choice, (2) the chamois, and (3) hygiene and cleaning.

1. Saddle choice
Choosing a bike seat that compliments your anatomy goes a long way.  Each person has a slightly unique shape to their underside, which makes no one saddle the right saddle.  However, many people find Fizik saddles to be very comfortable.  Fizik has several models with different shapes and profiles to suit most people’s needs.  I like the flat, narrow Arione CX, but I have also ridden and enjoy the flexible, scouped shell and medium width Aliante.  Both saddles have a fairly flexible shell, but the former has firmer paddign while the latter is much thicker and softer.  Many riders like the Specialized Body Geometry saddles and Selle Italia Flite models.  A small, but faithful following, which includes Lance Armstrong, swear by Selle San Marco’s Concour.  A good saddle should not rub anywhere and focus pressure on the sit bones.  The process can of finding a good saddle can sometimes be difficult, but most local bike shops are willing to offer demo rides, accept returns, and work on an exchange processes to help find a saddle that meets your needs.

2. The Chamois
Once you find a good saddle the right chamois and chamois prep will add an extra layer of prevention.  All true bicycle shorts have a pad (i.e., chamois) sewn in to help cushion your ride.  These pads come in many different shapes, sizes and materials.  The main qualities I consider when selecting my own shorts are (a) thickness, (b) how soft or firm the pad is (i.e., density), material, and (c) construction type.  For me the most comfortable pads are thin, have a dense cushion, a 4-way stretch material, and welded seams that are free from threads or any rough edges.  Pads that are thicker tend to bunch and add pressure where it is not wanted.  Stretchy pad materials conform to the body and seat while the welded seams eliminate any rough spots that could potential rub skin raw.

The second part of optimal chamois utilization is chamois preparation.  For individuals who are very prone to chaffing and/or saddle sores preparing the pad and body for a long ride goes a long way in keeping the underside healthy.  The first layer of preparation is applying a cream to the chamois itself.  I have only ever used Assos brand, but there are many others available.  I like the Assos cream because it is water based and therefore washes out and does not stain.  Assos products also contain a mild anti-bacterial agent to help slow the growth of anything foreign that might try and grow in your chamois.  The second layer of preparation is on the skin itself.  I apply a small amount of Bag Balm to further keep the skin protected against chaffing.  Bag Balm is a thick, petroleum based balm that was originally intended to be used on dairy cows to keep their undersides healthy and free from chaffing and sores.  Bag Balm is a very old friend of the recreational cyclist and no cyclist should have a medicine cabinet without Balm Balm in it.

It is important to note that not all cyclists endorse the use of chamois creams.  The argument is that these creams add an element of moisture that may promote the growth of bacteria.  Although this is a reasonable concern it may not be a valid one.  On longer rides moisture will inevitably build up from sweating.  Choosing a cream that includes an anti-bacterial agent will do more to prevent unwanted organisms that attempting to keep the area dry.  In most cases the early addition of moisture will do more to prevent saddle sores than it will to promote bacteria growth.

3. Hygiene and Cleaning
The final leg of prevention centers around keeping your clothes and skin clean.  Bacteria thrive in warm, wet, and dark places.  Therefore it is important to keep your clothes and skin dry and rinsed to eliminate any unwanted organisms.  Worn shorts should be air dried, rinsed and dried, or best washed and dried after and between uses.  The most cautious route is to simply wash and air dry clothes between every use. I also use Assos’s active wear cleanser when cleaning my clothes.  The product claims it preserves the anti-bacterial treatments applied to active wear clothing, contains a mild anti-bacterial agent, and increases the lifespan of clothes.  Whether or not those claims are true is hard to say, but the detergent is not very expensive and certainly has the potential for some valuable benefits.

Skin should also be thoroughly cleaned and dried following a long ride.  In cases where access to showers is not available alcohol wipes are a effective and painful way to clean up bacteria from your underside.  After a shower, thorough cleaning, and drying of the area individuals at high risk may also wan to apply acne cream, which contains benzoyl peroxide, to kill any bacteria that may have found their way under the skin.  However, be careful when using benzoyl peroxide because it will bleach clothing, chamois or anything else it comes in contact with.

Treatment
Saddles sores can most often be treated at home.  But, in some cases they can escalate to where you should seek out medical consultation.   If the sore(s) persist longer than 2 weeks or you develop a fever or chills you should see a medical professional.  In most cases saddle sores are not very serious, but dealing with infections carries some risk and should be accompanied with the appropriate amount of caution.  If a very large saddle sores develops the first step of treatment is getting off your bike.  No riding or sitting on a bicycle seat until the sores clear up.  Continued aggravation can lead to worse problems and may require the sores to be lanced and in some cases will also require stitches.   Lancing and stitches will obviously lead to a lot of time off the bike and a little voluntary time resting now is much better than a lot of forced rest later.

Sores should not be squeezed, scratched or poked.  Agitating the sore can push the infection deeper into the tissure or into surrounding skin making the situation worse, not better.  According to Web MD the recommended course of action is, “(a) washing and rinsing the area a couple times a day, (b) applying a hot compress will help bring the infection to the surface and drain and (c)  once the sore opens keep it covered with a bandage to prevent the infection from spreading to surrounding tissue.”  Ed Burke, author of Serious Cycling, has similar recommendations, but suggests using a drawing salve in place of a hot compress.  Although an Ichthammol drawing salve is hard to find, they are available on the internet (e.g., here or Amazon), relatively inexpensive, and do work and are often more convenient than holding a hot compress to your saddle perch region a couple times a day.

Following all the aforementioned precautions will go a long way, but some people are still extremely susceptible to developing saddle sores.  One reason for persistent saddle sores despite all the precautions may be poor bicycle fit.  Consulting with a fit specialist will help determine any issues with your bike fit that may be contributing to saddle sores.  You may also have special biomechanical issues that require special considerations and fitting expertise beyond what a typical local bike shop can offer.  In these cases a 3d bike fit or consultation with a physio-therapist, osteopath, chiropractor or other expert will be necessary.  Regardless of the cause once saddle sores develop the next step is treatment.  Hopefully the above suggestions and information will help avoid any unwanted saddle sores.  It is not a problem often talked about, but certainly getting a little information can go a long way.

As a fan of professional cycling I naturally enjoy watching races and follow the passing events in professional cycling.  As a scientist I am sometimes driven to question suspicious activity from a slightly more critical eye.  Finally, as a student I have been studying the history of illegal performance aids in professional cycling over the past 20 years.  The American cycling hero Lance Armstrong naturally comes to mind on all levels of my interest.  The history of using banned pharmaceuticals, drugs, and transfusions seemingly reached its peak in the 1990’s.  A review of champions from the Vuelta a España, Giro d’Italia, and Tour de France reveals many names that were caught during those races, during the same year as their victory while competing in other races, in previous years or had medical records released showing abnormal changes in biomarkers of blood transfusions or synthetic EPO use.  The single most controversial champion is arguably America’s own, Lance Armstrong.  Due to his cancer treatments Lance was absent during the 1990’s when cheating was so prevalent.  Lance’s absence immediately elevates him away from suspicion to a certain level, but many associations and events that would follow his 1999 return cast more doubt than they do eliminate it.

Reviewing the historical events of European bike racing surrounding Armstrong’s post-cancer return overwhelmingly sink him into a deep hole of doubt.  In 1999 Armstrong won the Tour de France.  The first runner-up Alex Züle was competing after being suspended for abnormally high blood values in 1998 after his team, Festina, was exposed for having an organized program of supervising and organizing illegal performance enhancing practices.  Armstrong’s second runner-up was Fernando Escartín, was competing with the Kelme team.  Kelme in 2006 was shown to also have a systematic program of blood transfusions and synthetic EPO use under the supervision of Eufemiano Fuentes.  The winner of the previous year’s Tour de France and Giro d’Italia was Marco Pantani.  In 1999 he nearly won the Giro d’Italia again before he was ejected for returning abnormal blood values in the penultimate stage.  The eventual 1999 Giro winner, Ivan Gotti, had his medical records subpoenaed when his doctor was being investigated for facilitating illegal performance enhancing.  Gotti’s blood values were shown to abnormally and dramatically change several times in his visits with Dr. Conconi.  A fact that is consistent with blood transfusions and/or synthetic EPO use.  In 1999 the only grand tour winner who was not exposed at some point for cheating was Lance Armstrong.

By no means are these facts proof, but the shadow of doubt becomes much darker when cast in the light of the historical context.  In addition to the Kelme team, Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes was also the team doctor for Active Bay Sports Management.  Active Bay was the team that operated under the trade name Oncé, Liberty Seguros, and finally Astana.  While run by Manolo Saiz with Dr. Fuentes employed by Active Bay known users of performance enhancing aids include Alex Züle, Abraham Olano, and Roberto Heras.   After the Operacíon Puerto scandal in 2006 Saíz stepped down as manager and subsequent riders, Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrei Kasheshkin would return non-negative blood values and be sentenced two-year bans.

Although the surreptitious activities of Active Bay provide a suspicious context in which Armstrong is placed the suspicious connection comes from the fact that Armstrong’s long-time director, Johan Bruyneel, was a member of the Active Bay team.  In 2008 with the collapse of the last iteration of the Active Bay team, Astana, following the second major violation after Operacíon Puerto Bruyneel was the director to take over.  Bruyneel brought with him former Active Bay member and Fuentes patient, Alberto Contador. Bruyneel and Active Bay have a much stronger connection than one might realize.
The strongest suspicious connection is with Armstrong’s former doctor, Michele Ferrari.  Dr. Ferrari was a mentor of Dr. Conconi who was found guilty of facilitating illegal practices in several professional cyclists.  Dr. Ferrari himself has the patients, Floyd Landis (positive for testosterone in 2006), Abraham Olano (positive for EPO 2009), Filippo Simeoni (admitted to and implicated Ferrari in doping), Patrik Sinkewitz (positive out-of-competition test 2007), and Alexandre Vinokourov (positive for blood doping 2007).

And finally, the most direct evidence comes from the positive test for a banned corticoids, which were part of a prescription drug and the positive test for EPO from 1999 urine samples.  While the former was excused because of a prescription the practice of using banned substances establishes a pattern of behavior consistent with more egregious offenses.  The latter was eventually thrown out because the test was conducted much later and in a manner not compliant with the practices and standards set forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency.  A question that remains regarding the positive EPO test is whether or not the testing procedures invalidate the test or if they simply did not follow the practices.

In summary, Armstrong has never been caught violating a doping regulation.  However, many of his closest competitors at one point were found guilty and many of Armstrong’s closest colleagues were caught or involved in very suspicious activities.  Physiological tests of Armstrong following his cancer treatment revealed unusually improvements in aerobic and metabolic efficiency.  Improvements that are not suspicious or consistent with illegal aids, but certainly abnormal.  I would like to believe Lance Armstrong is the greatest American cyclist, but the context of his win along with many of his associations are very dubious.

Improving Memory

June 9, 2009

Every once in a while I browse the Yahoo Answer section for interesting questions to answer.  In my last visit I encountered a question about memory.  Below is my answer to the question, “how can I improve my memory.”  The inquirer is going to college next fall and would like some strategies for better test performance.

Improving memory is much easier when you understand how memory works. Memory is not a unitary ability. Rather, it is made up of multiple memory systems that work together to manage sensory information.  The different components are (1) a very short storage of raw sensory information (e.g., vision), (2) temporary storage (i.e., short-term memory) and (3) long-term memory. The key to a good memory is both creating a strong memory and effective retrieval of existing memories.

Memory is an associative system. This means that a memory is stored as a combination of content that is all related to other content. An example of this is remembering what you ate for lunch today. That event of lunch came after other events, before subsequent events and at the same time as a variety of other images, sounds, and other events. When you create a memory of your lunch it is embedded within that context and connected to all of the other content (i.e., it is associated).  Now that we know a little about memory we can exploit this knowledge to create strong memories and employ some strategies to improve our ability to retrieve facts.

(1) Filter ability/Limited capacity – It is important that a fact is placed in a context that facilitates later retrieval. Simply paying attention to your reading and focusing on the lecturer will control what enters into your temporary memory stores and in what context a fact is placed.  This is important because your temporary store has a limited capacity that can easily fill up with junk if you don’t pay attention.  In addition, the more so-called target material and less distracting material you bring into your temporary memory the better that memory will be. This is the same as the needle in a haystack cliché. The less hay you have the easier the needle is to find. The exact same principle applies to memory. While attempting to learn do not read or watch television, text, browse the internet, or do anything other than focus on what you want to learn.

(2) Elaborative Processing – connecting a fact to an elaborate context associates that fact with lots of other memories. You can think of these associations like fishing hooks. The more hooks you place into that fact the easier it will be to fish it out later. You can connect a fact to other information by elaborating about the meaning, relating it to a personal situation, and placing the information in a new context.  Processing information on a sensory level only does not place as many or as strong of hooks into whatever you are learning.

(3) Frequent testing – make studying harder and test yourself frequently. Research shows that studying only information you do not know and testing yourself on all material dramatically improves later memory retrieval. For example, if you were working with Spanish vocab you would create flash cards. Study only vocab words you do not know, test yourself every once in a while and once a word is learned quit studying that word, but continue testing yourself on all vocab words.

(4) State-dependent retrieval – the least practical suggestions is duplicating the learning environment with the retrieval environment. An interesting study showed that when individuals learned material while high on marijuana they had better subsequent retrieval when they were also tested high.  However, individuals who were sober during learning and testing were dramatically better than any of the marijuana groups. When you study you should create an environment that is most similar to the one where you will be tested. This includes, but is not limited to music, caffeine, time of day, chewing gum, etc…

(5) Sleep – the most practical is to sleep. Not during class, but each night get a thorough nights sleep. Sleep deprivation has a terrible detriment on both cementing memories from the previous day and for later retrieval of information the next day.  A full nights sleep will help create lasting memories from what you learned the day before and help you any information later the next day.

(6) Diet and exercise are also important. A diet rich omega-3 fats (e.g., salmon, canola oil) and at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity a day will help keep the mind functioning properly and also improve memory ability.  In older adults aerobic capacity was shown to predict memory ability.  If you or your grandpa reads all day tell you or he should get out and go for a walk, because change in aerobic capacity from exercise also predicts memory ability, memory ability improvement, and brain density.  The take home message, exercise is really good for your brain; it’s good for your heart too.

By following these 6 steps you will be on your way to great success.

Following a healthy diet obviously requires eating good foods.  However, commercial marketing and celebrity misinformation often obfuscate which foods are good choices and which foods should be left on the shelf. It is important to know what is fact about the nutrition facts and where you can go to get the full information.  Healthy choices are easy to come by once you know where to look and when to be skeptical.

The nutrition facts on the packages of prepared food only tells only the part of the story required by the US Food and Drug Administration.  One of the most deceptive practices in food labeling is the reporting of trans-fats content.  As you may know food companies are only required to report trans-fat content when there is more than .5g per serving.  By manipulating serving size a food company can legally label food as “0 trans-fat”.  However, one package may contain two cookies each of which contains .45g of trans-fat… Another fun trick from food science is to chemcially change the trans-fat molecule to no longer be a trans-fat.  These so-called interestified fats have all the same fun heart harming effects of trans-fats, but the molecular structure is no longer the same.  Although food labels do not need to contain interestification information the ingredients list must contain the fats.  You can look for anything that is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.  Any fat that has undergone this process  is bad for your heart.

Good for your heart, but sometimes bad for your waist are low fat foods.  The low-fat fad is still going strong.  Talk shows, celebrities and food manufacturers are doing their best to perpetuate the myth of low-fat equating to good health.  The problem with low-fat is that it is only a predictor of healthy food and not a quality in and of itself. For example, in 2008  Oprah and Bob Green promoted the Skinny Cow brand of low-fat frozen deserts as a smart and healthy treat.  Although removing the dairy fat removes the unhealthy saturated fat it also raises the glycemic index of the food.  The glycemic index is a measure of how much or how fast the blood sugar response is to a given food.  The higher the glycemic index the faster and higher the blood sugar response will be.  Nutrients like fiber, protein and FAT all work to lower the glycemic index of foods.  This is important because the higher the blood sugar response the faster insulin is released leading to the sensation of hunger.  Eat a low-fat, low-calorie  Skinny Cow brand frozen dairy treat now and crave another 5 minutes.  It may come as a surprise, but regular ice cream has a moderate glycemic index and a lower glycemic index than low-fat ice cream; remove the fat and raise the glycemic index.

The way to avoid the low-fat-high-GI trap is to realize what nutrients raise the glycemic index, which nutrients lower the glycemic index and what is a heart healthy choice.  All types sugars, including those found in milk, will raise the glycemic index of a food.  Fiber and protein are both heart healthy nutrients that  will lower the blood sugar response of a food.  Fat will always lower the glycemic index, but as should be obvious fat is not always healthy.  Saturated, interestified, and trans-fats are all examples of the so-called bad fats.  Mono and polyunsaturated fats are both good fats.  Olive, canola, flax, avocado, and walnut oils are all examples of moderate or good sources of the so-called healthy fats.  Cold or expeller-pressed canola is a terrific option for baking because of its high omega-3 content and neutral flavor.

Hopefully you will take it upon yourself to know what is nutrition fact and what is nutrition deception on food labels.  By understanding the glycemic index, being aware of FDA labeling requirements, and reading ingredient lists you can easily critically evaluate the often confusing or misleading information.

Guinea Pig

March 6, 2009

I am currently a participant in a study of heat acclimation and performance.  It is quite demanding and involves lots of probes, tubes, and other scientific equipment.  So far I have learned that exercising in heat is much more difficult than cool weather.  What I, and the researchers, hope to learn is if this performance cost is mitigated through acclimatization to heat.  A possible added benefit may be improved performance in cool weather as well as reduced cost in hot weather.  However, both the mitigation of cost and benefit have yet to be seen.

Here’s what I’ve done from my perspective:

Day 1: lactate threshold and Vo2 max tests.  Doing both in the same day is a pretty good workout.  Not a large volume, but it worked the legs pretty well.

Day2: I had permeable filaments threaded in my arm and laid on a table for a few hours.

Day 3: I heated my core temperature by 1 degree Celsius (a little more than 2 degrees F), then did a lactate threshold and Vo2 max tests.  Way, way harder in the heat.  I was instantly very tired.  My test results were much lower than the tests completed in cool temperature (55F vs. 95F)

Day 4: 40k time trial.  This involved an intravenous (IV) catheter attached to my arm.  The first attempt failed because it likely pushed through my vein.  The result was no blood flow through the catheter and a moderate amount of pain in my arm.  The time trial itself was also crappy.  I started too hard and faded quickly.  The test bike ended up shutting down 18k into the test and the day ended early.  I was so tired from the tests earlier in the week I ended up riding 30 minutes total for the day.

Day5: a very equipment heavy day.  I did leg extensions with a temperature probe attached, respirator mask on, IV catheter in my arm, ultrasound on my leg, and blood saturation sensor on my forehead.  Not very strenuous, but so far one of the more invasive days.

Up next: another 40k TT in 95 degrees.  This will be a scortcher.  I will use my lessons regarding starting too hard and hopefully provide some good data for the researchers.

All in all nothing is too hard to tolerate.  The experiment is a large time investment which is keeping me busy with work and classes.  I hope to be caught up with work and training after the weekend.

Sports Drink Mix Review

February 19, 2009

One of the most useful arrows in the endurance athlete’s nutritional quiver is the drink mix.  Unfortunately not all drinks are created equal and often they can only be purchased in large multiple serving containers.  I have been stuck finishing off a few drink mixes that either leave something to be desired or are just plain awful.  I have tried several brands and in some cases several flavors of each brand.

Cytomax Performance Drink mix

Highly recommended.  All flavors have a pleasant texture, dissolve easily, and don’t have any strange aftertastes such as bitterness or anything else.  My favorite flavor is Cool Citrus, but Fruit Punch is also tasty.  Go Grape has an acceptable taste, but lacks the pleasant artificial grape flavor of other well known sports drinks or Kool Aid.  The purple coloring comes from cabbage and quickly oxidizes to turn a putrid brown color.  Regardless, the taste is fine for a bottle or two, but certainly a 4.5lb container is too much.  Avoid at all costs Cranberry-Grapefruit which has a strange, unpleasant flavor.  I would drink it if it were given to me, but I would never seek out Cranberry-Grapefruit.

Accelerade Powder

Recommended.  This mix contains whey protein which Accelerade and some research to suggest protein in a 1:4 ratio improves endurance.  There is also some research that suggests dairy milk proteins should be avoided entirely, but the flavor and consistency of the drink is good.  The whey does make the consistency slightly thicker than other drinks, but it does dissolve well leaving a smooth texture.  The whey also makes the mix foam heavily which can make it difficult to fill a bottle when any powder is already inside.  The protein powder will also clump if not placed directly into water.  I have only tried the Orange and Lemonade flavors.  The Orange is absolutely delicious.  It is intensely orange flavored and has a slight tang reminiscent of the drink of the same name.  Lemonade on the other hand leaves something to be desired.  A 2lb container is tolerable, but by no means good.

Hammer Nutrition, Heed

Mandarin Orange flavor highly recommended.  The consistency, which is indistinguishable form water, is terrifically light and barely noticeable.  Other drinks, especially Accelerade, tend to be slightly thicker than water.  I have tried the Mandarin Orange and Lemon-Lime.  Mandarin Orange is delicious.  It has a creamy orange and vanilla taste that reminds me of a orange creamsicle.  The flavor is not strong, but just enough to whet your thirst without overpowering the taste buds.  The Mandarin Orange is most certainly recommended.  The Lemon-Lime on the other hand should be avoided at all costs.  It has a down-right unpleasant taste.  Lemon-Lime will never again enter my bottle, not even if it is being handed out for free.

Gatorade

Not recommended.  A classic and every flavor is a winner.  Although it is hard to beat the original, many Gatorade products are laced with undesirable ingredients like partially hydrogenated oils or high-fructose corn syrup.  Despite the great taste I would advise against Gatorade in favor of something else that does not have bad ingredients that should be consumed in limited quantities, but preferably not at all.

Gu Gu2O

On test… I’ve never tried it, but some Tango Mango is on its way.  If the drink is as good as the gel, then I should have no reason but to be optimistic.  Gu brand hands down makes the best gel; if you’re shopping for gel, Gu is the way to go.  We’ll see about their drink mix.

Eulogy for Bike Parts

February 13, 2009

I purchased my first racing bike in August 2005, a Bianchi 928 Carbon/Veloce.  That bike was unfortunately crashed and ruined in the Spring of 2006, but the Campagnolo Veloce parts lived on… they lived on my new-to-me Bianchi San Lorenzo.  Since 2005 I average 9,000-11,000 miles of riding a year.  All of those miles in the past 3 years have been on those Veloce parts and mostly on the Campagnolo Vento wheels that came on that 2005 Bianchi.  As the miles on those parts and wheels approached and  surpassed 30,000 miles their performance has flagged.  The last few parts to survive have been the rear derailleur, 12-25 cassette, and Vento wheels.  Today, I celebrate the life of my trusty Vento wheels that are now laid to rest.

In the last few months the spokes on my Vento wheels have slowly started to completely fall apart.  Each week the weakening spokes on the front wheels have been de-tensioning.  They often get so bad that the whole wheel will wobble furiously when any weight is placed on it.  The rims have a significant concave.  The freewheel creaks and skips.  All of these failing components have gotten so bad I finally decided to lay the wheels to rest.  Their memory will live on.  My trusty Vento wheels served me well over the 10’s of thousands of miles I rode them.

This morning I mounted my new Fulcrum R7 wheels.  At a scant 1900 grams they are lighter than the old 2000+ gram Vento wheels.  The new wheels feel stiff and responsive.  Qualities I have not felt in almost two years on my old Vento wheels.  The Fulcrum wheels are ligher, shinier, more responsive, have fully tensioned spokes, and no wobbles.  I will remember my old Vento wheels fondly for all the thousands of miles over all the great roads they took me.  From Oregon to Montana and dozens of places imbetween I look back fondly.

I look forward to the thousands of miles my new Fulcrum R7 wheels will take me.  So far they feel amazing.  I haven’t ridden anything that feels as stiff and responsive since early September when I used my Campagnolo Eurus wheels.  The sprightly feel of the new training wheels has me excited to dust off the racing wheels.  If 1900g training wheels with heavy 25mm training tires feel this good, then my 1400g racing wheels with racing 23mm racing tires will feel amazing.