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Tempo Training

Tempo training referred to as stamina training is a common systematic approach taken in training one’s body to adapt to an increased intensity. Tempo training helps your body get used to a steady pace for a certain amount of time, a quality that can help during competitions. For instance, a long distance runner needs to maintain a consistent pace at different speeds for long distances to reach his peak performance level. For this level of consistent running, stamina is the key attribute.

Tempo training or work outs help in building stamina. A tempo run is basically a moderate duration steady state run done at a particular pace often referred to as tempo pace. Tempo pace is defined in many ways. It can mean running at lactate threshold which is the pace at which your body begins to produce lactate faster than it can be processed for energy or slower by 15 to 20 seconds than a person’s lactate threshold. If a person runs long distance at a pace that is equivalent to his lactate threshold, he would not be able to maintain a quality pace for a longer distance. What happens within your body is this: The lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate in muscles. Lactic acid is a by-product while the body’ breaks down glucose, which is the primary energy source for running. An accumulation of lactic acid causes increased levels of acidity in the muscle issue, which causes the fatigue and soreness that runners experience in races.

If a runner increases his or her lactate threshold through tempo runs, he or she will be able to reduce the accumulation of lactic acid and run at higher speeds without suffering muscle fatigue. Hence ideally the tempo pace should be at 15 to 30 seconds slower than one’s current race pace or the pace that pushes one’s limits while running without tiring(also referred to as balance pace). The distance of a tempo run can range from around 2 miles to 10 miles or more depending upon one’s target race and fitness level. These long, moderate paced efforts are crucial in training maintain a quality pace over long distances. In short, the key things to keep in mind while planning one’s tempo run would be one’s balance pace and mileage.

While planning a training routine for a long distance race, to get the maximum benefits of tempo training, it is to be used in combination with lactate threshold training, speed training and strength workouts. There are variations on tempo runs based on the interval, speed and duration. There are an unlimited number of specific tempo runs one could do. Every individual has a different lactate threshold pace, which increases over time as that individual trains more and more.

Tempo training definitely helps in maintaining a fast pace but it also helps in increasing concentration and self-confidence that is critical for any competitive runner. To make sure that tempo workouts are being done at the right pace for a runner, he should be able to add 30 to 40 seconds to his 5-K pace or maintain 85 to 90 percent of maximum heart rate.

Fartlek Training

Fartlek training focuses on giving an athlete an effective and efficient form of endurance conditioning. Fartlek was introduced by the Swedish coach, Gösta Holmer back in the 1930’s for runners. Over the years a lot of other endurance sports have adapted it as a part of their training. The main differentiator of this training is running varying distance at varying speed at varying intensity. The variations are unlimited. In most Fartlek training sessions, each work out session is kept relatively short and frequent. It is quite impossible to reproduce a previous training routine. This type of training affects both the aerobic and anaerobic energy levels.

Fartlek training includes some or all of the above aerobic endurance training techniques. Fartlek training helps players of field games such as football, soccer, rugby, hockey and lacrosse as it develops aerobic and aerobic capacities which are both used in sports such as these. A long slow run/cycle (at about 70% VO2max) forms the basis of the training routine and is combined with short bursts of higher intensity work. There is no set format for a Fartlek training routine. Over the years some standard routines have been developed by coaches over the years based on what has worked and not over the years. Fartlek training improvesVO2max, exercise economy and lactate threshold.

The most common mode of fartlek running includes varying pace throughout the run, alternating between fast and slow jogs. Fartlek intervals are unstructured. Work-rest intervals can be based on how the body feels. With fartlek training, one can experiment with pace and endurance, and to experience changes of pace. It is more flexible than and not as demanding as traditional interval training. It is not necessary that fartlek running has to be done on level hard ground. It can be done on all types of terrains- roads, trails or even on hills. A fast run is followed by a slower pace below normal running pace. By doing this breathing returns to normal. After this, a normal paced run follows. Later in the routine, slightly fast intervals runs follow. Fartlek training eventually leads to faster speeds and improved anaerobic threshold.

The main reason for the success of fartlek training is that it can be modified to the needs of the individual. This kind of training helps improve an individual’s endurance base. In simple words, this kind of training helps the body to be used to training at higher than normal levels. However, this kind of training doesn’t include high intensity exercise which is vital in increasing the anaerobic metabolism and maximizing the oxygen consumption and pace. There are discussions around the effectiveness of fartlek training due to its versatile nature. Some suggest that the training should be more structured with fixed repetitive intervals for the race pace and slow jogs in routine.

Fartlek training allows for flexibility which means one can prepare individually for each race according to its specific length, terrain, weather predictions and obstacles. . This in turn helps to run much more effectively with better success. How, where, duration or when does not govern this training Fartlek training is mostly used by long distance runners. Subjecting the body to running half and full marathons, lung capacity is greatly increased. Short spans of high-intensity training gradually increases an athlete’s average speed which in turn aids in covering distances quickly, and helps an athlete achieve better time in races.

Life Life Love | Volume Eleven

Hello Everyone,

The summer is upon us and, as such, it is time for another volume.

As expected, it has been an eventful few months for me. A lot of things are in the works. I am helping HAPPYneuron launch a new iteration of their brain fitness website. Plus, on the weekends I’m still assisting my father with our joint project. I am energized to keep up the hard work for another quarter and hopefully have some exciting news to report at summer’s end. Below you will find the usual Live Life Love quarterly deliverables.

Wellness: My wellness interview this quarter is with Gear Fisher. Gear is the Chief Operating Officer of Peaksware, which is a company that has provided coaches and athletes innovative tools to monitor, plan and analyze athletic performance for over a decade. Gear is an amazing guy and my interview with Gear about athletic performance metrics can be found here.

Entrepreneurship: This quarter’s business interview is with Ed Baker. Ed is the co-founder and CEO of Friend.ly, a site which makes it fun to discover and connect with new people on Facebook. He has been working on viral growth for the past 10 years and is one of the emerging thought leaders regarding viral marketing. My interview with Ed about the viral factor and viral loop can be found here.

Life Experience: This quarter’s life experience was literally “great”. My friend Nate married his long time sweetheart Mona Liza in Brisbane, Australia, which allowed me to sneak off and explore the Great Barrier Reef for a few days.

Contribution: With no friends in races this quarter, I was forced to get creative in my contribution. I caught wind that Public Enemy, one of my favorite bands as a teenager, is using viral and grassroots methodologies to get their next album released. Given the entrepreneurial theme of this quarter, and my admiration for the band and the influence they’ve had on my musical tastes growing up, I contributed to the cause through Sellaband.

As always, I appreciate you staying on as a participant in this journey. Herman Melville remarked, “We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads.” After eleven quarters, the cognitive dissonance between me and the person I’ve set out to become as a result of this project is slowly but surely shrinking. What we do, we gradually become. But I am also making sure I don’t get too caught up in the process. As Robert Browning observed, “Oh, make us happy and you make us good!” so I find it important to happily achieve as well.

This website is one of the rewards of the process, so I really appreciate those of you that take the time to read it each quarter.

Warm regards,
Michael

Interview With Ed Baker About Growth

Ed Baker is known for his expertise on growth. He is the former co-founder and CEO of Friend.ly, a site acquired by Facebook in 2011. Ed has been working on viral growth for the past fifteen years across multiple mediums, including email, SMS, IM, and Facebook. Since the 2007 launch of the Facebook platform, he has worked on several Facebook applications that have grown to tens of millions of users, including Compare People and Send Hotness. He has an A.B. in Chemistry & Physics from Harvard, and an MBA from Stanford. Ed is now the Head of Growth at Uber.

Interview With Edward Baker About Growth

Here are my 5 questions with Ed Baker about growth and my summary of his answers:

1) What is a comprehensive way to sum up the quantitative nature and entrepreneurial meaning of “viral factor” while outlining an actionable system to achieve it?

The term viral factor is the quantitative measure of a viral loop. Here is an example of a viral loop, solving for x*y*z:

The Viral Loop
The Viral Loop as explained by Ed Baker

If you have a viral factor greater than one, then you will see exponential growth without having to spend any money on user acquisition. In order to get your viral factor above one, you must multivariate test every step of your viral loop.

Step One

Maximizing Install Rate

  • Create a catchy call to action
  • Analyze click data
  • Multivariate test invites

Step Two

Maximizing Invite-Sending Rate

  • Create incentives to invite other friends
  • Multivariate test the messaging and the invitation

Step Three

Maximizing Average Invites

  • Create incentives for inviting more users
  • Optimize the number of required invites to receive the incentive

Viral growth can also be combined with paid user acquisition. As long as Average Revenue per User rate is greater than Customer Acquisition Cost, keep tweaking and spending; you’ve created a cash machine.

2) Regarding viral campaigns, where is the line between the organic nature of a viral campaign and the ability for savvy creatives to engineer something viral? In other words, how does a viral engineer bake in the necessary mojo needed for something to go viral when one of the major ingredients of becoming viral is candidness and being genuine?

I think that “creatively engineering something” can actually mean a couple of different things. One, using your example, means creating compelling content that appeals to a wide audience so that it gets shared amongst friends. Any company that creates content and fools the user into thinking that an event actually took place, when in fact the event was staged, produced, and/or engineered, runs the risk of suffering consumer backlash. Then the question is whether the cost of the backlash is worth the gain from exposure.

When I think of “viral engineering”, I tend to think of split-testing and tuning each step of the loop I discussed in your first question. There is just as much creativity involved in engineering the loop as there is in producing the content. Start with something organic in nature, such as user statistics or user input. By design this can’t be faked by you, it is user generated content. What you can influence is the viral factor of the loop by measuring the conversion rate of each step in the loop and making adjustments to improve conversion wherever possible. That is where I believe creative engineering can have the most significant impact.

3a) With the Pareto Principle in mind (the 80/20 rule), what are viral marketers caring about, or doing too much of, that in your opinion could be time better served (the 80)?

Copycatting. I suppose there is some benefit to improving upon something that is already working but these days copycatting is overly exploited and continually dilutes the effectiveness of viral campaigns. You see this all the time on Facebook.

3b) What should they be doing more, that they’re doing not enough of (the 20)?

Not copycatting. Facebook and other social platforms provide so much data and so many interesting and new ways to reach people. Facebook Connect is used by a few in really innovative ways. It would be great to see more of this.

3c) What are they not doing at all (but should be learning) because they haven’t heard of it yet and it is coming?

Mobile. If you get ahead of the curve regarding mobile (and the future of viral activity on mobile devices) you will really be one step ahead of the game.

4) Can there be a legitimate business purpose for novelty viral initiatives like the current, “I feel sad today please LIKE me to make me happy” Facebook campaigns other than disingenuous lead farming?

No, not one I can think of.

5a) What is your favorite viral effort that didn’t find an audience (i.e. failed)?

While at Demigo we created an iPhone application that audited your calls and texts to identify your “top friends”. The application worked with Facebook and would identify the people you communicated with the most, add them to your contact list, and pull in their Facebook data (which was not being done yet at the level it is being done today). It ultimately failed for a couple of reasons. One, the iPhone was still new so the application’s audience was not wide enough to support the critical mass needed to make it successful. Two, the application also required your ATT password and requiring this led to low user compliance. It was a great application though.

5b) What is your least favorite viral effort that amazingly did find a wide audience (i.e. succeeded)?

Facebook applications that use random number generators for content, for instance, “Your lucky number for the day is X.” Who cares? This is just random meaningless data. However, people use these types of applications all the time.

5c) What is a question people should be asking about viral marketing that isn’t being asked enough today?

Entrepreneurs need to start considering the tradeoff between short-term virality and long-term engagement. There is value in keeping users around. The question that they should be asking is, “how can we truly engage our users?” They should think less about getting User X to invite Y number of friends immediately. Instead, they should think about keeping User X around as long as possible in order to get him to invite many more friends over a longer period of time.

In order for this to work, entrepreneurs should think more about making things viral by creating a great product. It seems obvious, but if you are more focused on how to reach users than on how to make a great product you’re doomed. Dropbox is an example of a great product that also has great virality as a result. I want to tell you and my friends about it because it is a great product.

A lot of new ventures lose sight of these basic fundamentals in order to chase the next big, new, exciting trend. They should really be asking themselves, “how can I make a product that people will use and enjoy so much it will inspire them to willingly broadcast their experience to their network?”

Interview with Gear Fisher about Performance Metrics

Gear Fisher is the Chief Operating Officer of Peaksware, a company that has been evolving since the late 1990s to provide coaches and athletes innovative tools to monitor, plan and analyze athletic performance. Gear is responsible for managing all business processes and product development at Peaksware. He is also an recreational cyclist, who in is prime landed top ten honors in various cycling events while competing at the category II level.


Here are my 5 questions with Gear and his answers:

1) You have been building exercise technology for more than a decade now. In that time what do you think the biggest game changer has been regarding technology and fitness – an innovation that when observed for the first time made you realize the environment has now permanently changed?

The acceptance and understanding of downloadable training devices like heart-rate monitors, GPS, and power meters has changed how people train and their expectation of what to expect when buying these sorts of devices. From a high level, we’re seeing the formation of a “consumer health data warehouse” that previously only doctors, hospitals and maybe professional athletes might have had access to. We are seeing the landscape for an interconnected health management system affordable by the masses beginning to take shape. This will truly be the major game changer in the next 10 years as the world struggles with the changing health care system.

I first wrote a web-based .csv file reader for the PowerTap in 2001. At the time, it was pretty cutting edge, maybe too cutting edge. At one point, I was on the phone with Saris showing them what I had done and how you could view the data files on the web, they basically said, “nice, but nobody downloads, so, we’re not sure why you spent time doing it.” At the time, they had just been acquired and were rebuilding their newly acquired PowerTap technology from its original creator, so I think they might have underestimated the importance of post exercise data analysis and athletic performance metrics.

There were a few other companies with downloadable devices at the time (Polar, CompuTrainer, SRM, to name a few) but there are now so many excellent companies bringing downloadable training devices to market, consumers have come to expect the feature on any new device over $200. We’ve moved beyond a “geeky” feature into an expected and sought-after feature. Thanks to Garmin, Timex, Suunto, Saris, Polar, and SRM many others are preparing more downloadable devices. To bring this topic fully up to date, I have to mention the work that Dynastream has done to standardize the ANT+ protocol for enabling wireless sensors and devices in the “personal area network” space too. This has made the sensors easy to install and manage, as well as allowed consumers to easily get the data from their device to the cloud or to their personal computer.

2) A big movement in health and fitness innovation has been the ability to amass and store user metrics quickly and easily. For example, regarding health, the consumer start-up company ZEO was able to accumulate the largest known sleep study database in less than a year. This has given ZEO the ability to identify key factors that affect people’s sleep, which up until this point had been unavailable (even to the academic community). In theory, the ability to amass and identify trends from performance metrics should be beneficial in fitness applications in a similar way. Do you see this evolution in the ease and ability to store performance data enabling fitness professions to expand the breadth of their ability to foster athletic improvement? And, if yes, then how?

Without a doubt, yes. As I mentioned above, we’re seeing a changing health care system, one that is moving from a 3rd party managed system, to a self-managed, self-informed system. We look at what we’re doing at Peaksware as the top of the health care pyramid. Our customers have taken control of their health, are self motivated and looking for fitness and performance. This will trickle down to the masses as health insurance, doctors and hospitals begin to adopt a more wide-ranging care system beyond the walls of the doctor’s office and hospital. Let the people manage the data collection, provide easy access to it by professionals, then make decisions based on data and consultation with experts. Right now, we are performing this feedback loop in the performance realm, but it makes sense to translate this to general health as well. We often refer to it as the “monitor, analyze, and plan” cycle.

The data we’re collecting is going to inform the decisions and algorithms of tomorrow’s innovation. Power meters are a great example. Before power meters, the training “dose” was pretty much limited to duration and distance. Now, we have new metrics like the Training Stress Score that provide concise feedback and performance prediction, born out of data collected by people using power meters. Of course, we believe in giving the tools and technology to the people, and our software lets you “visualize your fitness and performance” and enables our customers to monitor their own data. This gives every individual the user interface for their own physiology so they can investigate and discover their own correlations and metrics by analyzing their data through TrainingPeaks.

Who knows, someday we may find a correlation to threshold power/heart rate and heart disease. I’m certain there are amazing discoveries just waiting to be found in the data.

3) Biofeedback capturing is a key element in the ability to provide practical output to users regarding exercise. Are there any innovations you see on the horizon that will accelerate this ability, or alternatively, you have a desire to see? For example, GPS units are getting smaller, heart rate monitors better, bike computers more savvy, and we can tell body fat through electrical impedance… what’s next?

I think there is a long way yet to go with data collection. The easier and faster we can get data to the cloud, the better, faster, more intelligent we can become with regard to making decisions on our training or on our general health. Lots of people recognize this and we’re seeing some great innovation in this area. I would love to see more integration with Wi-Fi and cell networks to enable easier data transfer from device to the cloud. The Withings Wifi Body Scale is the first Wi-Fi device I’ve seen that really works. You stand on the scale, it sends your weight and body composition data directly to the cloud instantly. Nothing to write down, no “work” to save and store, it just gets saved right in your TrainingPeaks account. I want to finish a bike ride, roll into my garage, have the bike computer recognize my wi-fi network and beam the ride’s data to my TrainingPeaks account. Garmin and Dynastream have done some great work in this area too.

There are several iPhone and Android phone apps that do this sort of data collection, even in real-time, but it has got a ways to go for enabling more data sensors like heart-rate and power. I’ve seen several ANT+ dongles like Digifit that plug into an iPhone and enable ANT+ sensors to beam their data to your phone during a workout. You then can send the data to your personal TrainingPeaks account, but it’s just now coming to market. The phone essentially brings a super-computer along with you on your ride, run, hike or walk. It’s a great point for doing data capture and transmission. There are some problems and challenges with it, but we will see incredible innovation in this space soon.

I’m particularly excited to see these technologies move indoors as well. As odd as it sounds, we’ve captured more data out on the trails and roads than we have in health clubs and spinning rooms. There is so much potential for data collection within the walls of the health club, and the opportunity to further push the technology that has already been invented and adopted by athletes down to general consumers just trying to lose weight and maintain some healthy habits while in the gym.

I’ve also seen new athletic performance metrics being collected. Respiratory rate, body position, skin temperature, real-time VO2, water consumption… So many new sensors and things we can manage. My partner, and CEO, Donavon Guyot half-seriously joked 7 years ago about under-skin sensors that collect data. This year, Allan Lim had Lance Armstrong swallowing “pills” that measure core temperature during exercise. We simply don’t know how some of these data points affect performance, because we haven’t been able to collect the data in real-time during exercise outside of a lab. We’re getting there now. And that’s a critical component, outside the lab, under pressure of a race, in the heat and cold, while raining and at altitude. So many environmental factors go into performance, training and fitness.

4) How do you foresee fitness software progressing? Will it become more dynamic and adaptive? Currently, most online products sell static programs that promote authorship (and commerce) from fitness experts (i.e. training zones are established but then set for the duration of the program). However, this approach somewhat limits the potential of software to tailor itself to an individual’s specific adaptations over time. Do you think endurance software will advance to the point that programs literally optimize daily workouts based on biofeedback from the prior day/week?

Without a doubt, software will be able to do this, it’s already started. Remember that weather forecasting model I mentioned earlier? We need a physiology model to make optimized workouts and changes based on biofeedback. Several companies have, or have tried to build these tools, but I have yet to see a comprehensive system. It’s an enormous task to make it affordable and most of all, to make it actually work. As soon as a computer-generated system gets it wrong, you lose trust in it. It comes back to the data collection and analysis. We need a LOT more data to make this sort of model truly work. But, we’re getting there. The VirtualCoach within TrainingPeaks.com is based on Joe Friel’s “TrainingBible” methodology and was an early version of this sort of system. It’s a tool that embodies much of Joe’s periodization ideas into a down-to-earth, go workout today and do “xyz” system. However, even today, after many updates and tweaks, it continues to only serve a certain population, and it’s not comprehensive, but it’s very effective for that narrow band of user.

5) Lastly, where do you think the balance between a platform’s utility and ability to be user friendly lie? Dealing with the unfortunate reality that in the world of fitness that positive outcomes are for the most part reliant on user compliance, is it sometimes necessary to compromise sophistication for usability?

This is a fascinating topic for me. I live this balance every day and make decisions constantly that go one way or the other. Ultimately, and I’ve said this for years, it comes down to ‘reason for use’. It’s a term I’ve thrown around for a decade, and I believe it’s the ultimate driver of a user’s decision to buy or use a product. If the product provides enough reason for use, whether it be because a friend suggested it, a doctor told them to do it, or it provides a key feature or has a function that is not found elsewhere, it’s the ultimate decision maker. On top of reason for use though, comes ease of use. On top of ease of use, comes the age old cliche “form follows function”. So, if it does something cool, is intuitive and looks good, you’ve got the magic three ingredients… except there’s one more issue: everyone has a different opinion on what’s easy, pretty and useful. That’s both the frustration and the fun. We build stuff that we use, based on feedback from others and incorporate some very forward thinking into the recipe. The end result is our vision of an app. To be clear, I will say that again: we don’t think of ourselves as having a weblisite, we have an appcation.

Every software system that’s developed follows the same path: build it, start adding to it, eventually re-build it, add more stuff to it and repeat. We just went through this cycle ourselves. We chose to scrap 7 years of code and rebuilt our entire web application from the ground up much to the disdain of many users that were infuriated we’d do such a thing. Many people exclaimed that we’d “wake up” when our horrible decision hit us in the pocketbook. The end result: sales have doubled and we’re reaching new markets that would have never considered us before, largely because of the elegance and simplicity of the new interface. Some old customers wanted to strangle us, but over time, they’ve come to understand the new systems and how to get things done, and it’s been a big hit. New users have no “baggage” and we’re seeing that they get up to speed much faster with the revised tools.

As far as usability, if you can get the most critical things communicated to your user quickly, you’ve done a good job. From there, they can dig in to the deeper, more complicated features. The people that dig in are ultimately your best customers, and they quickly move past ease of use and just want features. Speed is the #1 feature, from there, it depends on what you identify as important for your audience. Carefully managed and supported features are the foundation to our approach.

Ultimately, deciding form over function depends largely on what you’re trying to accomplish, it depends more on your business model, target audience, corporate goals and direction. For instance, Nike+ is a huge hit, but they focus on a single sport: running. It’s a drastic simplification that they can afford to do. They also pour millions of dollars into it in order to engage customers with their brand, instead of charging a fee to buy it. That’s a fine business model if you like making people pay for shoes but not software. Selling software is tough, and constantly evolving, it’s hard to get people to pull out their wallets and actually make them pay for what you’ve produced. A couple years ago, we were told by many that we couldn’t charge for software and that we’d need to pay for it through advertising. No thanks, not the business we’re interested in. Same thing in 2000 when we started, it was only about eyeballs. Instead, we charged for our product from day 1. We focus on providing value to our customers, and we’re not afraid to make people pay for it. If we do a good job, we believe we’ll be rewarded by paying customers, and so far, that’s worked out very well for us.

Mitochondrion

Mitochondria are the power generators of cells. They generate energy through aerobic processes. The do this by breaking down glucose metabolites, fatty acids, and certain amino acids aerobically or in the presence of oxygen, to release energy. Aerobic energy release is a critical driver of athletic performance especially in endurance sports. Mitochondrial energy production supports activities such as marathons and triathlons. When it comes to short duration bursts of activity as seen with sprints that need fast twitch muscle fibers, additional anaerobic processes are employed by the body.

Mitochondria are infinitesimally small and roughly the size of bacteria. They are seen in the cytoplasm of cells. They have a double layered wall and the inner layer has multiple folds that are called cristae. These folds increase the surface area of the inner layer which is where energy production takes place. Energy is produced in the form of ATP. ATP is adenosine triphosphate and this is a molecule that functions like a rechargeable battery. Energy released from any metabolic process gets stored in this molecule and when the body requires energy, ATP is broken down to release energy.

There is a hypothesis that these organelle (mitochondria) were originally bacteria themselves that found a place to live inside eukaryotic cells. This idea is strengthened by the fact that there is genetic material (DNA) inside the mitochondria that is independent of the DNA in the chromosomes of the cell nucleus. Mitochondria and the DNA within it are inherited from the mother which means endurance capacity is inherited maternally!

Mitochondrial enzyme production is triggered by endurance exercise. Mitochondrial density goes up with training. Optimal density of mitochondria in skeletal muscles is required for athletes to perform at their peak potential. Mitochondrial density increases in response to two stimuli in general 1) When calcium ion levels inside skeletal muscle cells go up – this happens during each muscle contraction and 2) When there is deficiency of ATP molecules in the muscle cells – which happens when more ATP are being used up than are being synthesized as happens during intense exercise.

Research on endurance exercise and its impact on mitochondrial enzymes has shown that enzyme concentrations do not increase significantly with sustained exercise beyond 60 minutes. High intensity exercises that are close to or over the athletes VO2 Max performed in interval training mode for a cumulative period not exceeding 30 minutes a day can increase mitochondrial enzyme concentration to similar levels as lower intensity exercises performed over longer durations.

In order to develop mitochondrial density, it thus benefits to engage in endurance exercise at or above the athlete’s VO2 Max for short periods/ intervals during each training session. These short periods at or above VO2 Max should be prolonged as long as possible for any given intensity.

Theanine and Caffeine

A cup of coffee or tea, though both have caffeine give different levels of stimulation. The reason being, tea contains the relaxant, theanine. Theanine (chemical name: r-glutamylethylamide) is an amino acid derivative commonly found in tea. Theanine acts as a non-sedating relaxant to help increase the brain’s production of alpha-waves by the brain. This makes theanine useful in reducing tension, stress, and anxiety-without inducing drowsiness. Theanine also increases levels of dopamine, which is a brain chemical with mood-enhancing effects. Theanine doesn’t come with side effects like drowsiness as opposed to other relaxants available in the market. Studies are being conducted on the usage of theanine to determine its effects on preventing dementia, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol and PMS.

A 2007 study funded by Unilever found that theanine and caffeine given together could boost the activity of brain neurons. This study was conducted by Dr. John J. Foxe and his colleagues, Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, NY. The attention span and the ability to ignore distraction of the participants were monitored over four days ingesting water, theanine, caffeine and a combination of caffeine and theanine. Additionally brain activity was also tested. The subjects’ concentration levels varied little between days when they got water alone or with only either caffeine or theanine. On the day, the subjects got theanine and caffeine combination, the attention span lasted throughout the test. Brain activity, measured throughout each test, showed that theanine induced strong alpha waves in neurons, suggesting restfulness. There was an improvement in alpha brain wave activity in the subjects taking theanine with caffeine. “We have seen that just 20 minutes after consuming theanine, the blood concentrations increase and the brain’s alpha waves are impacted. It lasts about three to four hours, which we have speculated may be why people tend to drink a cup of tea every three-to-four hours during the day,” says Dr. Foxe.

Caffeine and theanine when used in combination appear to complement each other. Caffeine stimulates the brain and makes one hyper. However, caffeine comes with side effects like increased anxiety and blood pressure. These side affects of caffeine are kept at bay when theanine is taken along with caffeine. The ability of theanine to block caffeine’s stimulation is much greater than caffeine’s ability to stimulate. Theanine increases brain levels of gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), a calming neurotransmitter, while caffeine decreases it. Theanine when ingested along with caffeine diminishes caffeine-related sleep problems and lowers blood pressure levels in spite of the caffeine. The increased level of GABA doesn’t just provide relaxation; it also creates a sense of wellness.

VO2 Max

VO2 max is an indicator of an athlete’s endurance. It is denoted in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight per minute. It is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen that can be utilized by the body in a minute. Scientifically, VO2 max marks the upper limit of energy production using the body’s aerobic energy system. Elite athletes, because of their endurance training, tend to have a high VO2 max. VO2 max is more a measure of a person’s aerobic potential and cardiovascular fitness than a predictor of success.

The amount of oxygen utilized during an activity increases linearly with the intensity of the activity until it reaches the VO2 max level at which it plateaus off. The higher the level of utilization of oxygen, the higher the energy produced by the athlete also. VO2 max is usually measured in sports performance labs using strict protocols. The volume and concentration of oxygen in inhaled and exhaled air is measured at different levels of exercise intensity to derive this. There are easier ways to estimate the approximate VO2 max such as the Bruce Treadmill Test, but the results will not be very accurate.

The highest VO2 max is usually recorded around the age of 20. By the age of 65, it usually falls by about 35%. With increase in altitude, because of the lesser oxygen availability, VO2 max falls by about 5% for each additional 5000 ft climb. For a person with a sedentary lifestyle, a VO2 max of about 35ml/ Kg/ min should be expected. For elite athletes, this will be in the range of 70ml/ Kg/ min. The highest recorded VO2 max is 90ml/ Kg/ min, in a cross country skier. Lance Armstrong, the ace bicyclist, has a VO2 max of 85ml/ Kg/ min.

VO2 max can be increased through physical training. However, 25 – 50% of the variability in VO2 max between individuals has been linked to heredity.

There are two drivers of VO2 max that are often discussed and these are 1) the amount of oxygen that is transported to the muscle cells and 2) the ability of muscle cells to use this oxygen to generate energy. The first of these is directly related to the ability of the heart to pump blood since oxygen is carried to cells by hemoglobin in the blood. The ability of the heart to pump blood is in turn the function of the stroke volume (the volume of blood pumped by the heart during each beat) and the heart rate (the number of times the heart beats in a minute). Both these fall with age beyond the age of 40 or so. The stroke volume decreases when the heart muscle loses its compliance. Even with normal heart muscle, the volume of blood reaching the cells during each beat falls when the blood vessels narrow due to deposition of cholesterol plaques with age (atherosclerosis). Similarly, the maximum heart rate possible also falls with age beyond 40 yrs as is clear from the oft used formula, Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) = 220 – Age. When age goes up, the MHR comes down. The second driver of VO2 max, the ability of muscle cells to utilize oxygen to generate energy, is dependent on the level of oxidative enzymes available in the mitochondria of muscle cells. Mitochondria are the power generators of the cells. The influence of oxidative enzymes in the mitochondria on VO2 max has not been studied extensively as of now.

Lactate Threshold

Lactate threshold (LT) is the point at which lactate production and release into blood by the muscles exceeds lactate clearance from the bloodstream. Resting blood lactate levels are about 1 milli mol per liter.

Other terminology used to describe LT include Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA), Lactate Inflection Point (LIP), Maximum Lactate Steady State etc.

The onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) starts between 2 and 4 milli mols per liter of lactate in the blood.

A person’s lactate threshold indicates the extent of his/ her VO2 max or aerobic potential that is being utilized. With equal VO2 max, an athlete with a higher lactate threshold is likely to perform better in a continuous endurance event. Lactate is a byproduct of anerobic energy production. Anerobic metabolism is initiated to support short bursts of intense activity such as lifting weights or sprinting. Such activities that last less than 2 minutes are supported purely by anerobic energy production processes. If the activity lasts longer, there will be a mix of aerobic and anerobic energy production involved.

In the body, there are 2 types of muscle fibers – fast twitching and slow twitching. Fast twitching fibers are employed during activities that occur in short bursts. This is when anerobic energy production is triggered leading to lactic acid production.

Anerobic energy production kicks in after the upper limit of energy production from the aerobic pathway has been reached which corresponds to VO2 max. Lactate threshold is expressed as a percentage of VO2 max. So, if an athlete has a VO2 max of 70ml/ Kg/ min, and reaches the lactate threshold when VO2 is 35ml/ Kg/ min, then this athlete is said to have a lactate threshold of 50% VO2 max.

Lactate threshold can be increased through training. Even if the VO2 max stays the same, an increase in lactate threshold will improve performance. Increases in lactate threshold have been found to be because of increases in lactate clearance from the blood than decreases in lactate production.

In order to utilize a high lactate threshold, the athlete has to have sufficient glycogen stored in the body. If not, the body will start producing energy from fat which is suboptimal.

Lactate threshold may be determined using a graded exercise test conducted in a lab setting. A normal person usually has a lactate threshold of about 60% of VO2 max. With regular training in athletes, this goes up to about 80% of VO2 max. Elite athletes have lactate thresholds as high as 85% – 90% of VO2 max.

Caffeine Addiction

Caffeine addiction is an addiction to the ingredient in coffee, tea, soda and other consumables that energizes us. Caffeine is a legal drug that is great for giving us a needed pick-me-up but is also something we get addicted to. These products give us energy because caffeine is a stimulant. In some cases, caffeine also helps us concentrate. It gives us a boost of energy, but this boost doesn’t always translate into better productivity. For instance, we are better off sleeping than staying up on caffeine to cram for an exam because most of the stuff we attempt to learn during an all night study session will not get stored in our long-term memory without some REM sleep.

Caffeine Addict

Caffeine it not without its benefits when ingested in moderation. Coffee and tea both have antioxidant effects. They both stimulate the mind and improve performance to some degree in low concentrations. What dosage is the right amount for any given individual is something being debated.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a 12 ounce can of soda should not contain more than 71 mg of caffeine, but energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar have a much higher concentration of this compound. These drinks fall beyond the purview of the FDA because of their classification as nutritional supplements. Regular brewed coffee has about 85 mg of caffeine per 8 ounce serving. The same quantity of instant coffee has about 60 mg of caffeine. Tea’s caffeine content (when brewed) is about 47 mg for an 8 ounce serving.

These days, people ingest much more caffeine than ever before without giving it much thought. Each time we consume a can of Coke or Pepsi, about 30 mg of it is getting into our circulation. When we are at Starbucks enjoying our daily brew, we are ingesting even more caffeine. If the same day we have a can of Red Bull as well, our caffeine intake becomes quite high for the given day. This kind of routine is not uncommon anymore. Most health experts concur that more than 600 mg of caffeine each day is unhealthy (this is according to the Food and Drug Administration’s Caffeine and Your Body white paper).

The issue with heavy caffeine use is there is a psychological and physical dependency that develops with use over time. We build a  tolerance to this stimulant if used in excess, meaning we want to ingest more and more of the stuff to get the same energy boost.

If we stop taking caffeine, we are likely to get withdrawal symptoms like with most stimulant drugs. Common withdrawal symptoms from caffeine are headache, lethargy, irritability, anxiety, insomnia and sleepiness.

We can also overdose on caffeine which leaves us excitable, anxious, nervous and tense. There are documented cases of people even dieing from too much caffeine. In very general terms, anything more than 300 mg of caffeine a day is considered unhealthy. Caffeine has cardiovascular effects that include an increase in heart rate, constriction of blood vessels and an increase in blood pressure. These are effects that can precipitate a heart attack in susceptible people. The constrictive effect on blood vessels can also lead to temporary impotence. Caffeine is also a diuretic which can lead to dehydration and an overactive bladder.

Do you need caffeine to get going in the morning? You may have a mild caffeine addiction already. The way to break out of this is by slowly reducing your caffeine intake each day by satiating the need for caffeine with drinks containing less caffeine (like tea) and then slowly trying to eliminate the stimulant completely. Be fair to yourself and don’t try to quit cold turkey. If you aren’t prudent the withdrawal symptoms might compel you to go back to your normal routine. You will have to exercise your mental strength along with a slow reduction in caffeine intake to achieve your goal of kicking the habit! If you have any questions about caffeine of caffeine addiction, please provide them in the comment box below.