Cycling Center Dallas Blog
Cycling Center Dallas Blog
Here we talk about all things cycling - training, wattage, group rides, bike rallies, triathlons, weather, coaching, coaches, nutrition, ponderings, musings, and equipment! If you have a topic or a question, send us a note and we'll try to answer for you!
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Coach Wharton
09:47

Hydration Isn't Just About Better Performances - It's About Survival

It’s been a challenging summer, to say the least, as we’ve progressed in to a malaise where the days may or may not be getting hotter, but the nights are almost certainly not getting as cool. The issue of staying hydrated is becoming a full-time concern, and I’m almost to the point where I’m perpetually helping myself to scoops of NBS Nutrition, even while in the studio and office, to stay optimally hydrated.


In order to understand whether your body is properly hydrated or not, I’m a liberal user of, and proponent for, Pee Strips. Yup - strips that you pee on to determine your hydration status, among other things. Cycling Center Dallas and Online Bike Coach spend hours looking at extrinsic information, like Watts and KiloJoules, but too often, the intrinsic information is ignored. Reagent Pee Strips allow us to determine things, like a body’s PH levels, Leukocytes, Protein elements in urine,, and most importantly, Specific Gravity.


Specific Gravity is basically a way to see how much extra ‘stuff’ is coming out with your watered urine. It’s no longer enough to have a look in the bowl and determine whether ‘Clear and Copious’ or ‘Dark and Clouded’ is the best determination. Instead, when you pee on the pee strips, the chemicals are reacting to what’s in your urine, and the results are pretty revealing. Distilled water has a Specific Gravity of 1.000, and most healthy humans have SG’s in the 1.005 - 1.015, but basically, the further out you go from 1.000, the more dehydrated you are.


At the studio and online, we have been emphasizing the need for hydration as a critical element to training performance now for years. If you read back on this blog, you’ll remember that I suffered a serious heat stroke in late June of 2010, and later that year, met Dr. Stacy Sims at the Olympic Training Center, and she changed my world. Nowadays, we not only focus on hydration on an individual basis, we use it as part of the training strategy. Right now, at the studio, I have two clients who have incredibly high sweat rates, and they routinely post Specific Gravities that are in the 1.030 range and worse. They’re both triathletes, and they’re both concerned about the stigma associated with CamelBacks and drinking to a schedule. As a coach, I’m going to go out on a limb and make a bold claim;


If you TRUST YOUR COACH, then understand that you’ll be a STRONGER, FASTER, MORE EFFICIENT cyclist by drinking THE RIGHT MIX, ON A SCHEDULE THAT KEEPS YOUR SPECIFIC GRAVITY IN THE 1.005-1.01 RANGE, THAN ANY AERO, WEIGHT, OR SOCIAL PENALTY YOU MAY SUFFER FROM WEARING A CAMELBACK.


There - I said it. Now, I’m going to back it up with an event that happened this weekend, just to drive the point home.


My wife’s travels over the summer left me working the studio, and I was unable to ride as much as I have wanted, so upon her return, I was able to drive down to Fredericksburg, Texas, the second weekend of August, to ride with a friend who lives down there. He knows all the roads, is a past State Champion, and is making the most of small-town life. He’s a great guy, and lives humbly, so I thought this would be the best companion for a lot of LSD (Long, Slow, Distance) rides of 2-4 hours, out in the countryside. I got down a day early, and we planned on departing around 7am on Friday Morning, to ‘beat the heat’.


Well, we’re definitely human. We ended up talking and catching up all night, went to bed late, and slept in. We rolled out around 9:30, and, well, August 12th just happened to be - THE HOTTEST DAY OF THE YEAR IN TEXAS. So at our speeds and with our relative levels of fitness, HYDRATION… WELL-UNDERSTOOD AND COMPREHENSIVELY PREPARED-FOR HYDRATION, was FUNDAMENTAL TO OUR SURVIVAL on that day.


I rolled out with a 70oz Camelback, and two 24oz. Chilled water bottles. My friend rolled out with…. 2 24 oz water bottles with neoprene coozies wrapped around them. We rolled out just as the heat began to hit, and made it to a town called Comfort, after roughly two hours. Now, we did get water at a filling station, but the route back to Fredericksburg left us climbing, with maybe a slight headwind, and we ended up suffering as the heat of the day wore on. This road is also incredibly remote, so we were going through our fluid ounces at a higher rate. Eventually, I inadvertently separated myself from my friend, and climbed up to an overlook where there’s a small State Park that protects an abandoned tunnel, which has become a famous bat cave, home to about 19,000 bats.


I found a cool spot, drank up the rest of my Camelback, and downed another bottle, so I was at well over 100 oz. in just about 3 hours, and waited. It took about 10 minutes, and when he showed up, he looked just ragged. Fortunately, there is a Hole-In-The-Wall restaurant about 200 meters up the road from this lookout, and my friend knew the owners. We rolled over there ---- and spent the next two hours in the A/C, drinking lemon water and recovering. Even after that, in the 8 miles home, he STILL didn’t feel or ride well, and cramped on all but the slightest of efforts. We spent that afternoon and evening keeping him in a cool shower, and drinking to recover. A quick step on the scale showed that he’d lost about 6 lbs, which, for a skinny guy, is REALLY dangerous.


Me? I drank the other bottle, and then made a poor-man’s carb drink by mixing a flat Dr. Pepper with water, which I also drank on the 40 minute ride home. I then immediately drank a recovery drink, and took out a pee strip. The result? Well, it was a life-or-death issue. Here - take a look.


IMG_1740


And here it is compared to the baselines you get on a reagent strip container.

IMG_1741

So - after FIVE HOURS in the sun, in which temps hit a peak of 111 DEGREES… I was STILL HYDRATED at a SPECIFIC GRAVITY of 1.01. How much did I drink? 70+24+24+24 = 142oz, of which all but 24 of those ounces was NBS Hydration (remember the Dr. Pepper trick). Also - Look at the Leukocytes. I actually WAS burning fat, which was the mission for the weekend. Furthermore, look at the PH levels. That’s purely from the NBS. If I had decided to attempt some hard intervals, I would have been prepared for them internally, since intensity leads to lactic acid and increased Co2 output. Being slightly alkaline can help offset some of the challenges those efforts bring.


Here it is - Sunday morning, and my friend still hasn’t really recovered from the heat stress. It reminds me of that life-altering day in late June, 2010, when I drank the wrong drink, didn’t drink enough of it, and suffered a life-altering heatstroke that left me with impaired vision in one eye and a higher likelihood of migraines overall. I just hope this message gets across to others; you CAN exercise in the heat - you just have to be EXTREMELY prepared for it, and honestly, DRINK your way out of it.


PS - I honestly feel sorry for the Dallas Cowboys… They’re getting umpteen million dollars for a Gatorade Sports Science Institute in their new facilities in Frisco, and I can’t believe they’d be using almost 50-year old information and higher concentrations of sports drink, to their detriment. One can only hope that every sports franchise, in a warming world, will see just how powerful these new, scientifically based sports drinks, can change your cycling for the better.



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Coach Wharton
19:30

What Xert Sees That We Don't See - Just Yet...

The more I work with Xert, the more impressed I am. We're looking at a program that has the potential to shift the entire paradigm of training for cyclists, from basic recreational cyclists, to competitors, to top-level athletes. Here's just one example. 

Kurt Chacon is mentioned in this blog from previous years, when he helped riders understand that cycling is not just about legs and lungs, but is instead a Holistic sport that requires the entire body. Sure, certain muscles are emphasized, but that's at the expense of other muscles and parts of the skeletal system that can help reduce fatigue, reduce wasted effort, and transmit power to the pedals as well. 

When you look at Kurt, he doesn't look like a cyclist. He's larger, more muscular, and the impression is that he might be better served with a more short-distance sport, but here he is, a recreational cyclist, capable of a solid power output and endurance in the 3-5 hour range. That said, he loves his anaerobic intervals, and has studied the information that has come out of XertOnline.com. 

The intervals we built for the class, based on this Xert protocol this month, are HARD. REALLLY HARD. They're in the 200 to 300% of FTP range, and they're anywhere from 15 seconds to 2 minutes. People that have been coming to the studio for years are now commenting that they're actually SORE from the workouts, and they're having better rides outside. So we plugged in Kurt's information from a ride to see what's actually happening per the MPA model. 
Kurt Chacon MPA Map Xert Online
In the image above, BLUE is Kurt's MPA, while RED is his wattage output. The intervals began at 200% for 15 seconds, and went up by 20% in reps of 5. There was a 45-second recovery that I specifically placed at ZERO watts, so that the cyclists could pedal or coast/rest in order to recover; it was their choice. 

If you look carefully, you'll see that Kurt's MPA dropped substantially as the intervals increased in intensity, and for the entire duration of the effort, MPA never returned to full capacity. However, let me zoom in on something that I am fascinated by - the 4th and 5th intervals of each set. 
Zoom In on Interval 4
On interval 4 of the first set, and almost every set thereafter, MPA actually dipped BELOW the interval's Peak Power, but it did it JUST AFTER the interval ended. 

You can see it even more clearly on the 5th Interval. Here is a close-up.

Fifth Interval Close-Up Xert
Here, you can see that while Kurt was able to complete the interval, his MPA and wattage actually touched, though there was no breakthrough, but he continued to suffer as his power backed off, and the MPA dropped further. 

Now scroll back up and look at he first image. Intervals 4 and 5 for most of the sets revealed an MPA that dipped BELOW the intensity of the interval, but did not INTERCEPT the effort. In my opinion, this was probably one of the BEST workouts he, or any client, could have performed. He accomplished the task, finished each progressively harder interval, but saw a dip in his MPA, from which he basically never really recovered. So for this athlete, this was probably the most COMPLETE workout in recent history. The breakthrough will come, probably next week, when we attempt 1 minute intervals at 160% of Threshold. 

Performing intervals that are STRAINFUL, yet REPEATABLE, allows for greater adaptation and confidence. Up until Xert, however, we only had the W' model to predict what the 'penalty' was for an effort, and even the developers of that protocol admitted that shorter, harder, more repetitive intervals didn't work with the model. MPA does, and I continue to be amazed at how uncannily accurate the Xert model is, for EVERY athlete. 

We'll see how his testing goes next week and again in a traditional effort in September. Until then, grab a registration on Xert and see for yourself. It's pretty fascinating. 




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Coach Wharton
10:02

What's on my Garmin? THIS SCREEN is Pretty Much All You Need.

Okay - I'm finding that I'm using this XertOnline stuff more and more, so here's my usual screen. If you care about wattage, about physiology, and about getting MORE out of every ride, this is a simple way to set things up.

Garmin 1000 Screen Xert

It's got my MPA and Power on the first 3rd of the screen, my Fat and Carb use in grams in the middle, and Xert's "Focus" and "Strain" on the bottom.

Obviously, I'll use MPA and rolling 3-sec power most, because it'll tell me, based on color schemes (Green, Blue, Black, Yellow, Red) what general 'Zone' I'm in, and basically how much Power I have left in the tank. I've described some of the details of this on a video I posted months ago, and it's also up on my YouTube page, so hopefully that explanation will help. Here are the links: https://youtu.be/7tbfbe_0D0Y and https://youtu.be/P1u3oLroef4.

Basically, if your power is Green, you can go forever. Blue is Tempo-ish, Black is Threshold-ish, Yellow is Vo2Max-ish, and means you've got less than 3 minutes of MPA left, and Red is Anaerobic, and it means you've got less than 30 seconds of MPA left. If it's Purple, congrats! You've had a fitness breakthrough!

Now, for the Fat and Carbs area on the screen, this is an interesting way to look at how we USE STORED AND INTERNAL ENERGY to GENERATE POWER, which in turn, helps us GET FIT. It also tells the cyclist just how freaking hard it is to actually BURN FAT. Remember, 1 gram of FAT yields 9 Calories, while 1 gram of Carbs yield 4 Calories. Our bodies prefer burning the Carbs, so this teaches you how to ride slower and in a zone that will burn more fat, thus preserving the carbs and teach the body how to better use that stored fat. Finally, I actually use it to help stave off bonks and also to try and stay on top of my hydration. If you know how many grams of food and sugar are in your pockets and bottles, you can come up with ways to mentally stay on top of your stamina through an eating and hydration schedule. The Carbs area turns red when you're mostly burning Carbs, or red when you're mostly burning Fat, and it's tied in to the information Xert puts in to your Garmin Express Code, so it's unique to every individual. Finally, if you're in to Polarized training, then THIS APP IS FOR YOU. I'll tie it in to the 3rd app next.

Now for the last 1/3 of the screen, I include "Focus" and "Strain". I don't want to get into debates about specificity, but readers, I have to tell you - this is a pretty darned cool app. If you've signed up for your free account with Xert, it'll ask you things like "What type of athlete are you?" And you look at a power-duration curve and basically think about where your strengths and weaknesses are, and make a selection. In this image, I selected "Breakaway Specialist", which in Xert's world means the focus will be on optimizing 5-minute power.

Xert Power Profile


Now, when I go for a ride, as soon as the app gets enough data, it starts telling me where my "Focus" is, in terms of minutes and seconds. Ironically, it doesn't take much to get that "Focus" in to the lower numbers, from 1-4 minutes, and it's MUCH HARDER to get the Focus in to the numbers that are higher. Now, where the tie-in comes is this: Let's say, like me, you dabble (and I do mean dabble) in the Ultra-Marathon Cycling World, and you're looking to train for great power over 2-6 hours at a time. Well, here's your truth-teller, right here. You'll be pedaling and generating so little power that you'll be S L O W, and your "FAT" grams ID in the middle will be RED, RED, RED, while your 3-second wattage in the UPPER screen will be GREEN, GREEN, GREEN. It's boring, it's embarrassing, it's risky when it's hot, you hate yourself, you hate everyone else that's passing you and probably having more fun, and you hate your coach for forcing you to do these "Old School" rides. But that FOCUS will help. Furthermore, if you're really wanting to hit your FOCUS goal, you can literally ride as hard or soft as you like, knowing that this is really a good way to "Focus" on specificity. We all waste our time on rides; that's actually kind of the point of riding - it's dynamic. But this FOCUS can really help you hit your goals, or truly see how hard a group ride is, let's say, in your current condition, so you can then "Focus" your workouts using Xert's workout generator.

Finally, you've got "Strain", on the bottom. Like KiloJoules, Strain only goes UP. Now, it's NOT KiloJoules, but it's KiloJoule-esque, and if you put yourself through low-strain rides, it'll creep up, but if you put yourself through high-strain workouts, it'll jump up. Call it a new way to measure volume. Some of my indoor 60-minute workouts are in the 175 range (with a FOCUS down in the 2:30 range), and some of my longer, 3-5 hour rides with clients, at their speeds, are in the maybe 300-350 range.

SO - to sum things up on this screen....

  • MPA is there to tell me what I can do RIGHT NOW, THIS INSTANT.
  • Rolling 3-sec Power is there to give me an idea of zones as well as output. 
  • Fat Grams tells me what I've burned, and if it's red, it's my primary source of energy. 
  • Carb Grams tell me what I've burned, and if it's red, it's my primary source of energy. 
  • Focus is there to help me understand what I'm getting out of a ride,
  • Strain is there to tell me how much volume I've accomplished or not.
If you own a Garmin 520, 820, 920, or 1000, then I urge you to open a subscription at Xertonline.com, and go through the process of establishing your fitness profile and training goals. We've been working with Baron BioSystems, the creators, on this technology for months now, and have been implementing it with several clients who have seen incredible results. In my opinion, it's the most convenient way to best determine just what you're accomplishing on a ride, and how solid your fitness or fatigue is as well. With the cost of power meters dropping to around $400, an entire setup can be had for less than $800, and you'll be able to take your fitness and knowledge from your indoor training at Cycling Center Dallas, to the outdoors, where it counts most. 

Enjoy the ride!

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