Monday, 11 March 2013

Lab Rat

Experiment #1

Last Tuesday morning I headed down to Waterford to offer my body to science. I was taking part  in a study to analyse the impact of running in "minimalist" shoes as opposed to "traditional" running shoes on VO2 Max, Oyxgen consumption etc - all part of a final year project for one of the students doing a Sports Science Degree.

First my shoes were weighed – My old pair of Gel Hyperspeeds weighed in at 225g each compared to the 142g for the Vibram Seeyas. Then I was weighed at 84,500g or about 13st 4lbs in old money – no wonder I’m finding it difficult to move around these days. On the plus side my height at 184 cm (6’) had not changed since I last checked.

Next I was fitted with a heart rate monitor and headgear supporting breathing apparatus so that the oxygen and carbon dioxide in my breadth could be measured. A nose clip ensured that all my air was passing through the one orifice. My performance was also recorded on video (side on only) to monitor changes in my gait between both sets of footwear.

Each “Sub-Maximal” test consisted of 3 minutes warmup at 7 km/hr followed by 3 minutes at 10km/hr and the final 3 minutes at 12 km/hr separated by about 10 minutes of rest in between. The switch between paces was instantaneous, which was a bit disconcerting. So all reasonably comfortable, with no running to exhaustion. Apparently you can determine VO2 Max without the traditional treadmill test to destruction.

Once the results of the "experiment" have been complied, collated and interpreted they will be e-mailed to me (about 2 weeks). I'm not expecting anything revolutionary but i'd be interested to see if any nuggets of wisdom come my way.

Experiment #2
On Thursday Ani, my 13 year old Daughter, was conducting an experiment of her own by taking part in a school organised 24-hour Lenten fast for Trócaire (Charity). In order to support her I decided to also forgo the luxury of eating for 24 hours and while she could have the odd cup of soup (only right for a growing girl - 13 is a bit young for fasting if truth be told) I confined myself to water or tea from Wednesday night until Friday morning. With my ample stores of fuel I should have no problem in supplying the necessary energy to survive one day without filling the tank. 

It's not the first time I have fasted and having seen a TV programme on the long term health benefits of intermittent fasting last year it got me interested in how regular fasting might impact on running, particularly as recovery from hard sessions is all about refuelling within the 30 minute window after stopping, to aid muscle repair. Then again running in a fasted (glycogen depleted) state in training should increase my efficiency in metabolising fat as a fuel source leading to more efficient fuel burning when racing in a glycogen rich state. There's plenty of articles out there in the googlesphere on the pro's and con's of intermittent fasting - how it only leads to muscle wastage - yet it's very popular with bodybuilders apparently - how it regulates insulin levels, high levels of which suppress fat breakdown in fat cells and inhibit the release of fat into the bloodstream to supply energy to the body. There's only one way to find out.....................

As it is a traditional time for sacrifice in Ireland - I am already off wheat, sugar and processed foods for lent (what's left you may well ask) - I decided to have a go at a bit more deprivation (motivated somewhat by my less than ideal racing weight - I have obviously compensated for the lack of wheat and sugar) and conduct and experiment of one by trying out the very simple "Fast-5 Diet" which involves limiting eating to a 5-hour window every day (5 to 10 p.m.) and fasting for the remaining 19 hours. There are no rules about what or how much you eat but obviously the healthier the better. Sounds simple, but the transition is likely to be "interesting". I'm 3-days in and while the temptation to binge was there for the first day or two to store food for the following day (and there's nothing wrong with it), it has abated somewhat as sleeping on a full belly is not the most comfortable. I may just have to bring my 5-hour window forward an hour or 2 - although the recommendation is to commence the fasting period with an overnight sleep. It doesn't seem that crazy when you consider that we all generally fast for 12 hours every day without noticing it (and I've never woken in the middle of the night feeling hungry) I've certainly learnt that short-term hunger is not in the least bit physical and gets no worse as the day progresses - but it's early days. Let's see how it goes.

The man who deliberates fully before taking one step will spend his entire life on one leg.


  1. Will be interesting to get the VO2max results. I never heard of the sub-maximal test before, though I'm slightly sceptical about the true impact of VO2max on a runner's performance.

    I did a day of intermittent fasting last year and found it very hard to sleep the following night, for which I blame the late dinner; I'd definitely bring the 5-hours window forward.

    Btw, that kind of stuff will just make you look weird in your wife's eyes again.

    1. To be quite honest Thomas I don't see huge value in getting VO2max results and am doubtful in any event that the sub- maximal test is reliable. The only ture way to test my running fitness is to enter a race.

      This kind of stuff is expected of me as I am already "out there" as far as Abina's concerned.

  2. Prior to my *stellar* running career I used to limit food intake during the day regularly as a way of maintaining my amazing good looks (this comment box doesn't seem to do sarcastic italics). It is very easy to get used to and you learn that most eating takes place because of habit and insulin lows as opposed to a real need to for energy. I used to eat a bowl of porridge in the morning and would eliminate wheat (bread/biscuits/baked goods), sugars, booze (esp. beer) and refined foods during the day. You do tend to binge in the evenings but I found my craving for protein went up and I was not too worried about carbs.

    That said, lots of running is, for the average joe, not fuelled by fresh air and water.

  3. Glad to hear that you managed to keep of the booze during the day Richard and kept the binges until after work ;-)

    Protein intake appears to be more important during intermittent fasting alright, which is probably needed to prevent muscle loss - carbs would only create a short-term spike in glucose/glycogen that would only fuel the body for a few hours, after which it would be forced to metabolise fat for fuel.

  4. Knowing VO2max will be interesting. I take it one is pretty much born with a value which only goes up and down with body weight. I'm also interested in the efficiency of the different shoes.
    I'm 74,500 grams (and taller), but was a skinny 70,000 grams when younger and running my best. I think the elite age-grouper Nolan Shaheed (sp?) only eats every second day - so another variation on fasting.

    1. I am a bit "big boned" alright Ewen ;-)