Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Deaner is Ready! A Q&A with Dean Furbish

I always look forward to riding with Dean Furbish. He is one of the new guys in randonneuring, but he's taken to the sport lock, stock & barrel. His enthusiasm and energy are contagious.

Last time I talked to Dean, in the middle of NCBC's 60-mile Rainfest, he told me he was doing a century every weekend. We may have to box him up and ship him off to Dan Driscoll in Texas.

The first time I talked to Dean, he had yet to ride his first brevet, and he had a lot of questions. I met him for coffee at Third Place, just up the street, and we spent an agreeable hour or so talking about all things bikes. By the time the conversation was over, I realized I'd gotten the better end of the stick.

I mentioned I'd had problems with dehydration and an elevated heart rate on the very longest brevets. Dean teaches physiology when he’s not on the bike. (I had to look it up: physiology is the study of how living organisms function including such processes as nutrition and movement and reproduction.) In short, a physiologist is the guy you want to get food & water advice from. Maybe love advice, too, who knows? Dean gave me an invaluable tip about using electrolytes. Knock on wood, I hope dehydration is a thing of the past.

With the hot days of summer coming on, I asked him to share some pointers with the entire crew. He talks over my head (no trick there) so I may have to get him to clarify a few things. If you're like me, you'll want more nuts & bolts, so fire away with the questions.

In the year or so that we've been riding together, Dean has gotten noticeably faster. In this email Q&A, he also lets his training secrets out of the bag. Read on.

1. How long have you been cycling? I began cycling in October 2000 with the acquisition of a hybrid Schwinn Sierra 700. At the time, I viewed cycling as a great choice for low-impact aerobic exercise. I especially enjoyed leisurely rides viewing the countryside. The true measure of a ride was based on the wildlife spotted. It wasn’t until the summer of 2005 that I participated in my first organized ride. I recall having to push my bike up Lystra hill. I was hooked.

2. When did you start randonneuring? I joined RUSA in late January last year, but couldn’t wait for brevet season. So I rode the Kerr Lake Loop Permanent the very next month, my first-ever randonneuring event.

3. What got you interested in the sport? The allure was cyclotouring. In October, I rode a brevet around the second-largest lake in the US—Lake Okeechobee. As luck would have it, my riding companion was a geologist, and I learned a lot about Okeechobee ecology and economics. In August, my brother and I rode a permanent in the kettle moraine area of Wisconsin’s Ice-Age trail.

4. Your longest bike ride before your first brevet? 100 miles—I’d completed a few rides that distance on the coastal plain.

5. What do you like best about randonneuring? There are a number of things that appeal. In addition to exercise and touring, accomplishment, camaraderie, and the sheer joy of riding come to mind—although these elements are not always present in equal measure or at the same time. One of the most enjoyable rides last year was Blackbeard’s Permanent, an all-night,group ride that participants called magical. This ride had a good mix of the elements that draw me to randonneuring.

I’ve also come to appreciate and benefited from the selflessness of fellow randonneurs and randonneuses, who willingly give of their time sharing their knowledge and offering encouragement.

6. How many miles are you riding monthly? Since the first of the year, I’ve been averaging a little over 500 miles/month.

7. You’ve gotten noticeably faster in the past year. What steps have you taken to increase your speed/conditioning? My times at shorter distances have improved from last year. The greatest contributor has been riding with the Gyros of north Raleigh. These rides include more hills than I get riding solo. The second factor was something new as well—year-round riding. I can thank the R-12 program for that.

8. You’re a physiologist. How has that education helped you in cycling? A background in physiology is useful in several regards. It has helped me understand some of the physiological demands of ultracycling. It helps me appreciate the physiological changes cyclists seek in various training regimens as well as the rationale behind such regimens. An understanding of the different energy pathways taken by lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates helps in formulating appropriate cycling diets and assessing nutritional claims.

9. What key advice do you have for other cyclists regarding food and hydration?
Food and hydration are important topics for serious cyclists, since they directly affect performance. Some key advice I have for cyclists has to do with the importance of electrolytes as they relate to food and hydration.

Many cyclists have heard that electrolyte balance is important. What are electrolytes and why are they important? Known variously as ions, minerals, or salts, electrolytes are necessary for normal muscle and nervous activity. Electrolytes are not just limited to sodium and chloride but include the likes of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. At best, electrolyte imbalance can lead to reduced performance. Even worse, electrolyte imbalance can result in death when, for example, an athlete overhydrates without electrolyte replenishment (hyponatremia).

Setting aside the fact that electrolytes are essential for normal muscle and nervous activity, electrolytes play important roles in food and water absorption as well. Let’s see how this is the case and what a cyclist can do to take advantage of this understanding.

Electrolytes and Water Absorption. In spite of the fact that water is vital to life, our body has no direct way of absorbing the water we drink. The body absorbs water only indirectly. It does this by pumping electrolytes from one cellular compartment to another. Water passively follows this electrolyte movement across cell membranes by a process known as osmosis. This is how absorption occurs in the small intestine, where most water is absorbed.

Interestingly, water absorption is enhanced by eating. Physiologists note that more water absorption occurs while eating than when drinking without eating. Perhaps it is because of the minerals normally contained in food. Advice: While most cyclists know to drink small amounts of fluid periodically to avoid dehydration, it may be a better strategy to ingest small amounts of food periodically and wash it down with water. Not only does this allow for faster water absorption but it helps maintain energy levels as well.

When athletic events are limited to an hour in duration, rehydration can be achieved by drinking just water. This is because sweat is mostly water and contains very little salt. For longer events, however, electrolyte replenishment—in addition to water replenishment—is crucial, since electrolyte loss is additive.

Electrolytes and Food Absorption. First of all, a word about the difference between ingestion and absorption. Ingestion is not the same as absorption. Food is ingested and lands in the stomach before moving very slowly into the small intestine where it is absorbed into the body. For the ensuing discussion on food absorption, food is taken to mean digested carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars.

As is the case with water, food absorption is also electrolyte dependent. Interestingly, the process for absorbing a simple sugar requires a sodium ion. Both the electrolyte and the sugar are absorbed—or better, co-absorbed—at the same time by the act of the same transporter molecule. If either sodium or sugar is missing, the absorptive process for both ceases. An abundance of one in the absence of the other halts the absorption of both.

In what seems superficially, at least, like a circular argument, food and water absorption are both enhanced by electrolytes, while food enhances both water and electrolyte absorption. Cyclists shouldn’t worry themselves well into a long brevet with this apparent conundrum, which I’ve attempted to explain above. All that cyclists need to worry about is: “eat, drink, [ride] and be merry.”

10. What goals do you have in your randonneuring future? I’m still finding my way. Hopefully, I’ll continue to improve and become a stronger rider. Goal setting for me has always tracked my perceived abilities. For now, I’d like to continue improving at the shorter randonneuring distances. One of the payoffs of increased conditioning this year is that I don’t feel as “beat-up” after a ride. I’d also like to improve to the point of being able to ride greater distances in the company of stronger riders. In the meantime, I hope to be able to continue to enjoy the ride.


bullcitybiker said...

Interesting stuff, Mike & Dean. (Hey- didn't y'all record that song 'Dead Man's Curve'?)
So I shouldn't be drinking straight water on a long ride- everything should have a little sports drink mixed in? Thanks guys- Branson

Anonymous said...

Dean, what specific advice would you give on using electrolytes in hot weather? How many & how often?

Thanks, Mike

Anonymous said...

Regarding electrolytes, I've been a fan of Eduralytes by Hammer Nutrition for their balance of several ions and minerals. At first I was taking their recommended dosage of 3 per hour or so but have found that I can get by on a lot less - like one every couple hours+. Given your arguement regarding food/water/electrolyte combo for best absorbtion, seems like I would want to bump that up a bit for best overall energy and performance. (If I were biking that is!)
Rich B

hspatz said...

I told my doctor of problems I was having in the heat and he said not to ride so much in the heat (not a helpful answer.) I put my symptom set into Google and it was a perfect match to hyponatremia and I informed my doctor of such. He copied off 7 pages about hyponatremia from a Dr. Burton Rose that said that exercise induced hyponatremia comes from excess water consumption and the proof came from a Boston Marathon where many hyponatremic runners had weight gain from water, as opposed to a New Zealand marathon with fewer water stations where there was no hyponatremia. Dr. Rose's advice was to drink only when thirsty and to avoid weight gain by drinking less. From my experience, the advise should be to increase electrolytes and not worry about drinking too much. If the electrolytes are OK the athlete will urinate excess fluids instead of holding on to them. It seems to me that Dr. Rose's advice will lead to dehydration and not fix the hyponatremia. What do you think?