Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rebecca Rusch: "The Queen of Pain"

An Inspiration to All Women Athletes

I was honored to spend time talking with Rebecca Rusch during Interbike. At 42 and known as the "Queen of Pain", Rebecca is a 2-time Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race winner and women's record holder; and a 3-time 24-hour solo mountain bike world champion. As she chases adrenaline, she continues to remain on top of the world! Let's take a look into her career:

MR: How did you get your start in mountain biking?

RR: I started out adventure racing with Eco-Challenge in 1997, when adventure racing faded, my sponsors suggested mountain bike racing. Ironically, I didn't like the bike portion of adventure racing. I had the fitness, I just had to learn the technical aspect of mountain biking

MR: You obviously learn quickly! Would you give us a glimpse of your training during race season and in the off-season?

RR: My race season is pretty much year-round, so my training primarily consists of biking. I train about 20 hours/week; about half on the road, which includes more difficult workouts such as intervals and easier workouts. I also do cyclo-cross and downhill racing as part of my training. However, most of the races around home, in Ketchum, ID, are for fun. My cross-training workouts in-season consist of functional strength training and yoga. In the off-season I enjoy swimming, cross-country and back-country skiing.

MR: This leads me into your nutritional “training”. Give us a little insight into what you do to stay fueled during a 100 mile mountain bike race and your multi-day races.

RR: As I have gotten older, I realize just how important nutrition is, not only for performance, but also for health. About a week before the race I’ll clean it up by limiting alcohol and caffeine. I take my aminos and a multivitamin/mineral supplement, and make sure I’m well hydrated.

I break my race nutrition into a couple time frames: less than 12 hour and over 12 hours:

· Leadville 100 (less than 12 hrs) – is a “short” race that starts early. I’m not getting up at 3a.m. to eat a full breakfast prior to the race start, so I may have a light smoothie for breakfast. I keep the majority of my nutrition for this race as liquid and gels. I need a fast start in this race, which is where my Red Bull shot kick starts the morning!

· Longer than 12 hours - I can eat solid food during these races, which I prefer. I will usually have eggs, toast, and fruit about 3 hours before the start. When I come through the aid stations my support team has turkey, avocado, and plain baked potatoes. I tend to crave salty, fatty foods during long races. And something that’s easy to eat!

MR: You definitely have it dialed in during the race, what about recovery nutrition?

RR: If you don’t give 100% in your recovery nutrition, you won’t get 100% out of your workouts. It took me years to figure this out, but now I take my recovery as seriously as my training. Hammer Nutrition’s Recoverite is my recovery drink of choice, immediately post-race and after every hard workout. Then I make sure I eat a regular meal within 1 hour.

MR: Are you as focused in the off-season with your nutrition or do you relax a bit?

RR: The past few years I’ve realized the importance of nutrition for general health. I focus on buying organic whenever possible, eating local and decreasing processed foods. And I’ve recently begun a supplement regime.

MR: Most athletes have a guilty pleasure, what is yours?

RR: Actually, I like strawberry Recoverite with hot chocolate, especially when it’s cold. I also make homemade pizza!

MR: That sounds great, I’ll have to give it a try! One last question that I’ve always wondered, when you make it to the pro level do you still get nervous prior to your race?

RR: Oh yes, I get nervous before every race, that really never goes away!

MR: I would like to thank you for your time and discussing your training: physical and nutritional! It’s been my pleasure!

[Interview conducted on September 23, 2010].

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Increase brown fat and lose weight!

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that if adults had more baby fat, we may be able to lose weight more easily. Adults have primarily white fat that stores energy from the food we eat. However, baby fat is comprised primarily of brown fat, which requires energy (calories) to generate heat, that's why babies have a high amount of this type of fat.

Researchers at Harvard found a protein that drives the production of brown fat and it may convert some white fat cells into brown fat. They are working on a drug to stimulate this process and we may have a new obesity drug in a few years! How are they doing this? Well, their goal is to find a chemical that prompts production of this protein but doesn't stimulate any other molecules in the body, therefore it can specifically treat obesity. Is this really good news? While I am not a pharmacist, I can't imagine a drug that doesn't affect any other function in the body, otherwise there wouldn't be side effects.

Other researchers believe that if we can tolerate cold better we may be able to promote brown fat production. Subjects are exposed to cold temperatures - about 40 degrees, 15 minutes, 7 days. After a week, infrared scans show that men's bodies produced more heat than they did a week earlier, which is believed to be due to an increase in the activation of brown fat. Researchers suggest that if people are able to control their environment by adjusting the thermostat, they may be able to tolerate a lower temperature; most likely due to their body's ability to generate heat. Hmm, not sure I would volunteer for that study!

Now I'm all for innovation, yet do we need another drug to combat obesity? As obesity rates continue to rise, it seems that's not the solution. Dr. Spiegelman of Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Center stated "We're not trying to replace diet and exercise, but frequently they're not enough or not effective." Wow, seriously? How can it NOT work? Take a look at Drs. Wing and Hill's work at the National Weight Control Registry (1) and read the success stories. Registry members have lost an average of 66 lbs and kept it off for 5.5 years. And they state that in order to achieve this they ate a balanced diet and increased physical activity!

In my opinion, another obesity drug will not solve America's problem; it's just not that easy. It doesn't matter if you only have 10 lbs to lose or 100 lbs. Making the decision to lose weight takes a complete change of your current mindset and lifestyle; along with some planning and of course, TIME and PATIENCE! We all can't lose 100 lbs in 7 weeks as they do on the Biggest Loser, most of us have lives outside of the "ranch". Consistent, small changes will get results!

1. National Weight Control Registry:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Genetics & obesity - we can't blame our parents anymore!

There was a recent article that discussed the genetic link to obesity. Research states you have a 2.5x greater risk of being obese if you have 2 copies of the best known gene for overweight and obesity. Hmm, so if Mom & Dad both give me copies of this gene, I'm doomed to be fat? Or worse yet, "obese"? NO!

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition(1) found that obesity can be affected by dietary intake and leisure-time activity. Let me summarize:

  • The study followed over 4800 people from a diet & cancer study for which dietary data and genetic information was available.

  • Results indicated that those subjects who consumed a higher fat and lower carbohydrate diet had a higher body mass index (BMI) compared to those who consumed a lower fat diet.

  • Those with an increased BMI also reported less physical activity.

  • The authors concluded that high-fat diets & low activity may accentuate the susceptibility to obesity by this specific gene variant.

Well...sounds like nothing new. We all knew that high fat intake (not to mention, high sugar) combined with little exercise leads to obesity. However, the key to this study is that you're not destined to be obese simply because you have 2 copies of this gene! Genetics can be changed with lifestyle modification! That is GREAT news (in my opinion, anyway!)

Keep in mind some study limitations:

  • it's a cross-sectional study, which just looks at a subset of people at a given time. This limits the ability to investigate actual cause (seems like a big limitation)!

  • This is also only a "snap-shot" of 1 week of a subjects self-reported food intake, not a view of his whole life

  • Some of the associations made between diet, exercise & obesity may be lessened due to a dietary recall method relying on a subjects ability to accurately report intake and activity.

Bottom line: despite all the limitations of this study, it still provides us with information that you're not destined to a life of obesity predicted by your genes! Make healthy choices most of the time, be active daily and you can positively change your genetic predisposition!


1. Sonestedt E. et al. Fat and carbohydrate intake modify the association between genetic variation in the FTO genotype and obesity.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

calorie restriction - best way to prolong life & prevent disease?

A recent study completed at the University of WI-Madison found that rhesus monkeys lived longer when calories were restricted by 30% (80% of the calorie restricted monkeys were alive after 20yrs vs. 50% of free eating monkeys). Furthermore, their incidence of cancer and cardiovascular was significantly reduced; and no animal in the calorie restricted group developed diabetes or impaired glucose regulation.

The lead researcher states “we observed that caloric restriction reduced the risk of developing age-related disease by a factor of 3 and increased survival. Our data indicate that adult-onset moderate caloric restriction delays the onset of age-associated pathologies and promotes survival in a primate species” (emphasis mine). Wow, this is great news for rhesus monkeys! The authors go on to discuss the “given parallels” between rhesus monkeys and humans, therefore these beneficial effects of calorie restriction may also occur in humans. Albeit, there may be “parallels” between humans and monkeys, we are still quite different! It is difficult to apply this research to humans and expect the same outcome, let alone compliance!

There is an ongoing study called CALERIE ( which puts normal weight individuals on 25% fewer calories than their baseline requirements (other groups cut calories by as much as 40%). Baseline requirements vary by individual & this may result in a diet of about 1200-1500 calories/day for some people – which is quite low. Keep in mind; you can decrease calories simply by choosing healthier foods and using healthier cooking methods. It’s much more difficult to consume a high calorie diet when you choose whole, unprocessed food!

I don’t feel restricting calories by 25% is necessarily the answer to achieving long-term health. Sure there are studies out that show you can increase longevity & decrease onset of disease but if I’m going to be “on edge” everyday because my calories are restricted, let alone trying to keep up my workout routine…no thank you!

Look at all the failed attempts by many who tried to lose weight by cutting calories (a.k.a. starvation); and when you gain the weight back…I’m sorry to say, it’s not muscle! You can achieve the same results other ways - my suggestion is to avoid (yes, I mean AVOID) processed, refined white flour, white sugar foods, choose lean protein, healthy fats (omega-3), and plenty of colorful vegetables (limit starchy carbs to about 40% of your total intake). And participate in an exercise program that will continually challenge you. If that means hiring a personal trainer, then do it. By making these simple changes you can easily indulge in a treat here and there without losing sight of your goals!

Source: R.J. Colman, R.M. Anderson, S.C. Johnson, E.K. Kastman, K.J. Kosmatka, T.M. Beasley, D.B. Allison, C. Cruzen, H.A. Simmons, J.W. Kemnitz, R. Weindruch. "Caloric Restriction Delays Disease Onset and Mortality in Rhesus Monkeys" Science. 10 July 2009, Volume 325, Pages 201-204