SPORT DRINKS (1/2): hydration and thermoregulation

Until 1923 with the research of AV Hill there was no information about the importance of fluid consumption during sports. He was the first who found that blood supply was important to keep muscles and heart at work during the exercise. His seminal work laid the ground for the cardiovascular model of thermoregulation, which explained the importance of good hydration during exercise practice.

Summarising, water loss, mainly through sweating, reduces the plasma volume in the body. The heart has to increase its output to maintain the blood flow to muscles and skin. If exercise continues without proper hydration there is a point in which heart is unable to maintain the stroke volume. The next step of protection from the body is to increase the vascular resistance, in other words, to contract blood vessels, and consequently the blood supply, to the skin. This would affect the thermoregulatory ability of the body to dissipate the heat, leading to an increase in the body temperature. When body temperature reaches 39°C there is a dramatic decrease in the physical performance, with also neurophysiological effects. Without treatment it would cause a heat stroke, fatal in many occasions.

It is still unclear which is the trigger limiting physical outcome, if dehydration or body overheating. In some studies the fastest athletes were the most dehydrated, maybe because they were able to keep dissipating heat during competition, and running economy was better (lowering of body weight), but it is impossible to know if their performances had been better if they had been properly hydrated.

It was generally advised that athletes should match fluid intake and fluid loss through sweating, as prevention for the negative effects of dehydration. Only in 2007 the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) started talking about a “tolerable dehydration”, where a fluid loss below 2% of body mass didn´t affect physical performance. In this regard is usual to have a deficit of 0.4-0.6L for every hour doing exercise, as liquid intake and nutrition are somehow more limited. For elite marathon runners competing in warm weather, an intake of 1L/h would be enough to keep dehydration at a 1.7%, still in the tolerable margin, while in cooler conditions a drinking rate of 0.5L/h could be enough. For more recreational runners, with marathon times around 4h, a rate of 0.5L/h would be insufficient to keep dehydration on bay (unless in a light runner of about 50kg weight). Fluid needs are variable among marathon runners, and affected by weather conditions, performance intensities and duration, and conditions in laboratory studies are never like those found in actual races.

It was only in 1970 that Costill studied the effect of water against a carbohydrate+electrolytes drink in a group of athletes, and although they found similar ability to keep body temperature constant, the group drinking the prepared beverage was able to keep electrolyte balance and carbohydrates metabolism.  It opened a new research topic, and therefore a new commercial field, that we will follow in our next entry.



Muscular Exercise, Lactic Acid, and the Supply and Utilization of Oxygen

AV Hill and H Lupton

QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, Volume 16, Issue 62, 1 January 1923, Pages 135-171


Fluid Ingestion During Distance Running

David L. Costill PhD, Walter F. Kammer MD & Ann Fisher MA

1970, Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal, 21:4, 520-525

THE BARKLEY MARATHONS: The race that eats its young (2014, 89min, A Iltis & TJ Kane)


Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell lights a cigarette to signal the start of the Barkley Marathons (Photo by Michael Hodge, used under a Creative Commons License)



“If you’re going to face a real challenge it has to be a real challenge. You can’t accomplish anything without the possibility of failure.”

Gary Catrell, ultra-runner and race director of the Barkley Marathon


This documentary chronicles the 2012 Barkley Marathon, a race I didn´t know about until I came across the film a couple of years ago in a streaming platform, and that I recently watched again.

The Barkley Marathon is an ultra-marathon race that takes place since 1986 in the Frozen Head State Park, in Tennessee, over a distance of 100 miles (although it is said to be closer to 130 miles, but no GPS are allowed), and a completion time limited to 60 hours. The course, that changes slightly every year, consists of 5 loops, each of them approximately 20 miles long, with 12000ft climb and descent through a dense forest, that start and end at a yellow gate.

Registration is 1.60$, a car licence plate from their town/country for first-timers, and another object (from a white shirt to a pair of socks, depending on race director necessities) for previous runners. The number of runners is limited to 40, with an obscure registration process involving some kind of motivation letter and a set of complicated rules.

Completing 3 loops achieves a “fun run”. The first 2 loops are done clockwise, and the next 2 counter-clockwise. For the 5th loop, if there is still any runner on the track, the first one can choose the direction to follow, with subsequent runners alternating directions. From more than 1000 starts over the years, the full distance have only been completed 18 times (by 15 different runners).

The film introduces us with some of the participants, as they arrive to base camp. The start is in a 12h window, from midnight to midday, and runners are only informed 1h in advance. We get the feeling of some runners and their preparations. They are not given any course map. Some books are distributed along the course, and each runner has to take the page number according with their race number in each of them, working as checking points. There is also animated and intercalated information about its origin and course, along the film, giving useful bits of information. We get also introduced to who could be defined as one of the central characters of the film, race director Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus Lake), whose funny quotes are for me one of the highlights of the film. He probably deserves most of the credit for this race happening. We are also introduced to some of the runners, although I will make a note of the subsequent 3 finishers:

  • Brett Maune, finisher and winner of the 2011 edition, that will revalidate his title and be the first runner ever to complete the Barkley twice, as he eventually does, establishing a still lasting record of 52.03.08 (and breaking the previous record by more than 3h).
  • Jared Campbell, who will also complete successfully the marathon in 56.00.16. Running with Brett from loops 2 to 4, and a last loop in opposite direction and hard competition with Maune, adds a welcome tension to keep the plot interest (later to become the first runner to complete 3 Barkleys).
  • John Fegyveresi, who will become the third finisher of the 2012 Barkley, finishing shy of the time limit, in the first Barkley with 3 finishers.

After witnessing the feat of finishing such a race, we are also given an insight with the end credits of 2013 and 2014 race results.

A funny film, where you can feel the tension, sweat, blood and every bit of effort involved. After watching the film you will only want to grab your shoes and go running crazy in the woods.

Score: 5 (out of 5)

Pros: fun and close look to the ultra-running world; the race director, a true character

Cons: that some of these races may be out of bounds for mortal runners


“It’s about being in the present moment on a run, connecting with your breath and your senses and enjoying movement not based on results, times or feelings. I focus on my breath and the rising and falling of my body and let thoughts, feelings and emotions arise, but I don’t try to get rid of them. I stay curious and practice being at ease with them. It’s as simple as that.”

Timothy Olson, ultra-runner, and winner of the 2012&2013 Western States 100 race

Mindfulness can be described as a psychological process, developed with meditation and mental training, aimed to focus the attention in the experiences of the present moment. The attitude is one of acceptance, without judgment.

The first use of mindfulness in sports goes back to the 1980s, but its increasing popularity led to two different approaches, consisting of a number of training sessions over several weeks:

  • MAC Mindfulness-Acceptance and Commitment: combination of mindfulness exercises and acceptance techniques, with a focus on values and commitment.
  • MSPE Mindfulness Sport Enhancement Program: similarly to the MAC it tries to develop mindfulness skills, and through them a degree of acceptance, but without focus on commitment levels.

Some studies showed positive effects of mindfulness interventions on performance, with varied physical and psychological benefits in various sport disciplines, especially in those requiring a focused concentration.

Considering that some of the mindfulness exercises can be done on your own, there is no reason not to try and see if you can obtain any of the reported benefit. Focusing on your body and environment will let you direct your attention purely to your performance.

Although you can find many exercises online, the following could be a good starting point:

  • Respiration. Keep control of your breath. As with relaxation and yoga, controlling your respiration will allow you to control your run.
  • Awareness. Control your body position, sense and listen to your body messages.
  • Observation. Notice your surroundings, enjoy them and anticipate any obstacle.
  • Newness. Try new goals, different paths and change your training. Forget routines and introduce unpredictability in your life.

As with any other skill, to get good in mindfulness may take some practice, so don´t desperate and keep trying. There are books, workshops and even apps that will help you to know your own self. Not only they can help you improve your running, but also to break down the barriers that stop you to become a more aware person.



Effects of Mindfulness Practice on Performance-Relevant Parameters and Performance Outcomes in Sports: A Meta-Analytical Review.

Bühlmayer L, Birrer D, Röthlin P, Faude O, Donath L.

Sports Med. 2017 Nov; 47(11):2309-2321.

Evaluation of Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE): A New Approach to Promote Flow in Athletes

Kaufman KA, Glass CR, Arnkoff DB

Journal of Clinical Sports Psychology, 2009, 4, 334-35 Science-of-Mindfulness-and-Running

MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (IV) – London 1908: JOHNNY HAYES (1886-1965) vs. DORANDO PIETRI (1885-1942)

Hayes in 1908
Pietri in 1908

This time around, although Hayes was the official winner of the Olympic marathon, I feel compelled to write also about Pietri, who could be regarded as the people winner, because his effort successfully captivated public hearts.

The 1908 Olympics were to take place in Rome, but a volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 1906, that severely affected Naples, made the Italian government renounce to the Games, as they could be seen as an unnecessary expense. Therefore London took the chance of organizing the Olympics, building for that purpose a big stadium in White City.

The marathon distance was increased from 25 to 26 miles, so it could start in Windsor Castle, and later on increased again in an extra 385 yards, in order to have the finish line just in front of the Royal Box in the stadium. This distance of 26.2 miles would be established as the official distance for the marathon in 1921.

Pietri lived in Capri, stood 5ft 21/2 tall and worked in a confectionary shop. He started running in 1904, winning the qualifying marathon race for the Olympic Games held in Athens in 1906. By 1907 he was the Italian long distance undisputed leader (from the 5000m to the marathon), and was capable of running a preparatory 25 miles race in 2.38.

As for Hayes, he was born in New York from an immigrant Irish family. He wasn´t new to the marathon, as had finished 5th in the 1906 Boston Marathon, 3rd in 1907 (winning also the Yonkers Marathon), and 2nd in 1908, which qualified him for the Olympics, while improving his times from 2.55 to 2.30 and 2.26.

On 24 July 1908, with hot weather for British standards, started the marathon with 56 competitors. South African Charles Hefferon was a strong race leader. By mile 20 he was 4 minutes ahead of Pietri, which was running second, with Hayes on third position. His strong early pace would be his biggest mistake, as entering the last stages he started feeling badly. Pietri, which has paced himself more conservatively at early stages, reached him with only 2 miles to go. His pursuing effort would also cause him problems when entered the last mile suffering from fatigue and dehydration. Entering the stadium he got the wrong direction, and fell exhausted four times in his lap to the stadium, needing help to continue every time. He somehow manages to cross the finish line in 2.54.46, with 10 minutes spent to run the last 400 metres. A few seconds later, and with no much attention, Hayes crossed also the finish line in 2.55.18. The help from the umpires to Pietri meant his disqualification, therefore crowing Hayes as the official winner of the Olympic marathon.

Pietri´s efforts hadn´t gone unnoticed for the British public. The Queen presented him with a silver cup, similar to the one offered to the winner, as a symbolic reward. Arthur Conan Doyle, which was covering the race for the Daily Mail and wrote about it, launched a subscription campaign to raise money with the intention of helping Pietri open a bakery in his town, that finally reached £300.

Pietri became a celebrity, and run against Hayes in two more exhibition races held in the Madison Square Garden in New York, over 262 laps, that proved very popular (20 thousand spectators), winning both. He continued running professionally, doing a tour of American races where he was the main attraction, and winning in 17 out of 22. Back in his country in 1909 continued racing for 2 more years, achieving the victory and PB in his last marathon in 1910 in Buenos Aires (2.38.42). After three years competing professionally he had won a lot of money for the time, although his entrepreneurial efforts didn´t go as well, and after going bankrupt moved to San Remo to direct a car workshop.

Hayes also became popular, despite losing in every later confrontation with Pietri. He became the US coach of the marathon runners for the 1912 Olympic Games, and later coached the Columbia cross-country team. He settled in New York and started a successful career as food broker.

Pietri was the first loser winner. Without those last 400 yards he would have been the winner in his own right, but his place among the marathon legends was already there.

Sourced from:

Pictures in the public domain used under Creative Commons Licence

Pietri during the race
Hayes during the race
Pietri crossing the finish line
Pietri receiving medical assistance after finishing the marathon


(Based on the recommendations of the 2018 Expert Report from the World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research: “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective”, that updates previous recommendations issued in 1997 and 2007).

The report was published in May 2018 and although it has over 12 thousand pages, there is a summarised version of “only” 116 pages, being both available to download, if you want to get more detailed information. This blog entry will highlight the main cancer prevention suggestions reported in the report.

  • Keep your weight within the healthy range (BMI between 18.5 and 24.9) and avoid weight gain in adult life. Obesity is linked with many cancer types, and is becoming a global epidemic, especially in developed countries.
  • Be physically active as part of everyday life: walk more and sit less. Moderate and vigorous (yes: running would be included here) physical activity has been proved to reduce some types of cancer. Walking itself protects against weight gain, overweight and obesity. We should be doing at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, or 75 minutes vigorous a week.
  • Make wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, and legumes a major part of your usual diet. Eat at least 30g of fibre and five servings (at least 400g) of non-starchy vegetables and fruits everyday.
  • Lowering your intake of processed foods high in fat, refined starches and sugars, helps to control your calorie intake. Not all foods high in fat need to be avoided, as certain oils, nuts and seeds, are important sources of nutrients and they have not been linked with weight gain.
  • Eat moderate amounts of red meat (muscle meat from mammals) and little processed meat (ham, salami, bacon…). Poultry and fish are valuable substitutes for red meat, with eggs, dairy, cereals and legumes as alternative sources of protein and micronutrients.
  • Limit sugar sweetened drinks, a cause of weight gain. A can (330mL) of a typical sugary drink can have as much as 35g of sugar (equivalent to 7 teaspoons). Drink water, or alternatively tea or coffee without sugar. Juices can also contribute to weight gain because of high sugar levels.
  • Control your alcohol consumption, strongly related with some types of cancer. There is no difference on the drink type or quantity: even small quantities of alcoholic drinks increase the risk of several cancers.
  • Do not use dietary supplements for cancer prevention, as there is no strong evidence that they can reduce risks (besides calcium for colorectal cancer). High-dose beta-carotene supplements may increase lung cancer risk. Try meeting your nutritional needs uniquely through diet.
  • And finally an advice only for mothers: breastfeeding prevents against breast cancer and type 2 diabetes. There are also benefits for the baby: healthy growth (avoiding overweight) and a better immune system.

Some of the previous recommendations may seem obvious to people trying to follow a healthy lifestyle, but with increasingly sedentary manners, running may be your first step in the fight against cancer.




It is known that about 70% of the performance of long distance runners comes down to three key physiological factors: maximal oxygen uptake, lactate threshold and running economy. These factors are mostly determined by the genetic background and the physical training. Without the ability to alter our genes (unless using genetic doping), training would be our only modifiable factor.

For a long time most of the long distance athletes training methods were based in coaches advices and workloads that had previously worked on other runners, with no much use of any scientific approach.

Training can be defined as the stimulus leading to an enhanced functional capacity. Training frequency, duration and intensity configure the training load, with a threshold to surpass before getting any physical improvement. Most of the long distance training methods consider mainly the volume intensity (miles per week, for example), although the intensity has been suggested as the most important variable in the exercise. There have been many studies regarding the contribution of each of these factors and trying to determine volume/intensity zones (distinguishing between light, medium and hard sessions), but the percentage of training that should be prescribed in any of these zones is still under discussion.

This entry will show some of the approaches trying to improve the physiological determinants of physical performance.


1/Enhancing maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max)

VO2max is defined as the amount of oxygen used in a minute per kilogram of body weight.

Long distance training at a slow pace, typically favoured by trainers and athletes, has not shown any significant improvement of VO2max, even when increasing considerably training volumes.

As for training intensity, were found many variations among studies. It was usually reported an improvement in VO2max when training at near maximal (90-100%) or even higher levels of VO2max in athletes, proving the importance of high intensity interval training. Nevertheless there are also studies in long distance runners showing VO2max improvements at submaximal training intensities.

Exercising aerobically at high altitude has proved to increase VO2max, as well as generate many other physiological adaptations. As a relatively affordable alternative to these stays at high altitude there are in the market some new hypoxia inducing masks, although its effectivity is doubtful in trained athletes, although it could be more useful in sedentary subjects.


2/Enhancing lactate threshold

It is generally accepted than an increase in the lactate threshold corresponds with an improved physical performance. Some studies found an increase in the threshold with 4 months of training in women, although there was no further improvement if training continued for another 8 months. It looks as there is a plateau level, that once reached doesn´t go further, and that could explain why most of the studies involving athletes didn´t find any significant improvement, and the effects were seen only in untrained individuals. Going to higher intensities, around or over the lactate threshold in long distance runners has not clearly proved to get any improvement.


3/Enhancing running economy

With time every athlete adequate his running style to what is understood as the most economical (in energy levels) style. In other words, every runner has a style that suits him best. The most important factor seems to be the cumulative distance run over the years, and not only the training volume, although there is a negative association with age, which could be due to a reduction in the ability to store and release elastic energy. Again high intensity interval training has been shown to be also useful in improving running economy. Regarding force training, it could be better to run on hills or sand, over traditional strength sessions, as using weights could correlate with an enhanced body mass (because a muscle mass increase) that could negatively affect the running economy.

As a conclusion, there is no clear scientific evidence of what is the best approach to improve any of these variables. Additionally most of the studies have been done comparing the effect of different training loads on previously untrained individuals, and not so many in trained long distance runners. No less important is the fact that EVERY athlete have a different beneficial training load and going above it could only get detrimental effects.

What works for somebody doesn´t necessarily works for you: nobody knows you better than yourself.



Effects of Simulated Altitude on Maximal Oxygen Uptake and Inspiratory Fitness.

Biggs NCEngland BSTurcotte NJCook MRWilliams AL.

Int J Exerc Sci. 2017 Jan 1; 10(1):127-136.


Training to enhance the physiological determinants of long-distance running performance: can valid recommendations be given to runners and coaches based on current scientific knowledge?

Midgley AWMcNaughton LRJones AM.

Sports Med. 2007; 37(10):857-80.


      No Comments on HEAT EFFECTS ON RUNNING


When comparing results of elite athletes competing in IAAF World Championships between 1999 and 2011 it was found that in endurance events athletes performed worse in hot conditions, above 25°C (3% deterioration), while in short duration events there was an improvement (1%). In events as 100, 200 and even 400m, heat only have a positive effect on the outcome. Longer distances, from 800m to marathon, provided worse times, with a clearer effect as the distances increased. It was noted that the optimum temperature for competitive marathon appears to be between 12 and 15°C. Not only there was a more pronounced fluid loss and electrolyte imbalance in hot conditions, but also more renal damage, haemolysis, immune activation and oxidative stress.

As endurance events were compromised by hot weather a study evaluated the effect of short (7 days or less) and medium (8-14 days) term acclimation periods. It was found that longer acclimation periods gave better performance results, achieving also higher heart rates during exercise, and lower core temperatures. Therefore it looks worthwhile to try longer adaptation periods for endurance athletes, if time is available, although this acclimatization could be counterproductive in sprinters.

For heat adaptation there can be a combination of active acclimation, through training protocols, and passive acclimatisation, by living in hot conditions. It has even been reported in some studies that training in hot conditions could be also beneficial for competition at cooler temperatures. As for the training intensity it is better to forget about heart rates and times during the first days of acclimation, as they can offer misleading results, and use the perceived exertion as index of training intensity. Living normally in a similar environment to the one that is going to be experienced during competition would consequently be an advantage. Heat acclimated individuals have also a better ability to reabsorb electrolytes and salts. It has been reported a 40% lower concentration of salts in their sweat, regardless of transpiration levels.

There have been suggested three key strategies to successfully compete in hot weather conditions:

  1. Maintenance of a sustainable pace.
  2. Appropriate clothing, with tendency towards light colours, and socks + shoes already tested in hot conditions.
  3. Enough sport drinks to prevent dehydration and energy supply, keeping cardiac output and sweat production.

Finally, there can be a 8°C difference between sun and shade conditions, so, if possible, do your exercise on the shadow.



Impact of Hot Environment on Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance, Renal Damage, Hemolysis, and Immune Activation Postmarathon

Oliveira RA, Sierra APR, Benetti M, Ghorayeb N, Sierra CA, Kiss MAPDM, Cury-Boaventura MF.

Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017; 2017:9824192.


Adaptation to hot environmental conditions: an exploration of the performance basis, procedures and future directions to optimise opportunities for elite athletes

Guy JH, Deakin GB, Edwards AM, Miller CM, Pyne DB.

Sports Med. 2015 Mar; 45(3):303-11


Strategies for optimising marathon performance in the heat

Martin DE

Sports Med. 2007; 37(4-5):324-7




The concept of feeding using the so-called smart food as an alternative to the usual “fork and knife” food has been going on for some time already. Its loose origin may be tracked to the classic sci-fi film “Soylent Green”, from 1973. The plot introduces an overpopulated world with scarce resources and food shortages, where most population survives on processed food rations under the Soylent brand. Soylent Green becomes the latest addition to the menu, and although commercialised as “produced from plankton”, later in the film the actual ingredients come out.

Already in the real world, and based on this concept some companies have lately started developing commercially available food rations, capable of replacing food intake and provide all nutrients. As an interesting concept I decided to give it a go for one week, using the samples provided generously by Satislent, a Spanish brand already offering some varied preparations. Worth to mention that this food is not considered for dietetic purposes, but as a food replacement.

I got 3 family packs, with 7 rations each, 2 of them “normal” type in coconut and coffee flavours, and a third one, “sport” variety, in vanilla flavour. The family packs are cheaper than the individual pouches, and price goes from 2 to 3.5€ per ration (depending on the quantity and format of rations purchased). The main ingredients, in decreasing proportion, are: oats, gofio (a Canary Islands roasted maize flour), soy flour, olive oil and pea protein, among others. As for the nutritional profile, it doesn´t differ much among them, with around 1/3 of the energy requirements provided by each ration (for a daily expenditure of 2000-2100kcal), plus vitamins and minerals (you can find a detailed full description in labels). The sport type offer a slightly higher proportion of proteins than the normal type, with values as follow:

Sport     737kcal                11% fat / 54% carbohydrates / 23% protein

Normal 670kcal               13% fat / 58% carbohydrates / 16% protein

Preparation is easy: 4 spoons (approximately 160g), or 4 ½ spoons (175g) for the sports variety, diluted in cold water or milk. Only add the powder, mix well and drink. Easy! Your lunch in less than 2 minutes. For my 1-week plan, I get coffee for breakfast, vanilla sport for lunch, and coconut for dinner. Doing so I would be getting around 2100kcal. Considering that I will be doing my usual level of training (plus a short competition on the weekend) my energy expenditure will be surely over 2500kcal/day, so I will allow myself an afternoon snack (fruit or yoghurt) and some fruit around midday.

For the preparation I try to dilute it in water. Some protein milkshakes I have used previously, by diluting the powder provided, had only a good taste if diluting in milk. It is a bit difficult to manage complete dilution of the powder, even using the metal ball provided with the shaker, although lumps can be dissolved adding more water. Taste is good with water, although there is no much difference between flavours provided, prevailing the slightly roasted gofio taste, even when using cold water as recommended. Not a big deal as I like its taste. Positively I feel full and satiated between takes, with no gastric problems during the whole week. I found myself thirstier than usual, probably because of the preparation dry nature. Normal food is usually rich in liquids, and although the powder is dissolved in water I found that I need to drink extra during the day. After 2-3 days I am used to the routine, and I feel with energy enough to carry on with my normal training and work levels. At the end of the week, I still have some powder left in every bag, being able to get an extra ration from each.

This smart food concept may be designed to replace your whole food intake, although it would get undoubtedly boring. Nevertheless I found it an interesting choice:

  • It can be a useful tool if trying to precisely control your calorie intake.
  • If short of time, it offers a healthier option than a sandwich and a pack of snacks.
  • If travelling, and you are unsure about food hygiene conditions, it can help to avoid gastric problems, or facilitate transport and preparation if facilities are unavailable.

Surely it will be part of my food routine in occasions, and I am still to taste the lemon and strawberry flavours.

Score: 4 (out of 5)

Pros: vegan, lactose-free and natural Spanish ingredients; non-genetically modified organisms; time saver; satiety sensation.

Cons: no much difference among flavours, although pleasant taste; a bit difficult to get full dilution.

Nutritional info
Coffee-Vanilla-Coconut and pure Gofio (powder aspect)


      No Comments on AROUCA GEOPARK

Arouca is a small town and municipality located less than 40 miles from Porto. The surrounding area forms the Arouca Geopark, a UNESCO protected region that promotes the conservation of geological heritage, and makes for a nice short trip. There are plenty of hiking routes, that can be downloaded from the park website. I would recommend your own car to move freely, as there is no much public transport available. Being part of an organised group is a choice, although you may miss some freedom to wander around.

Arouca itself would do for an ideal accommodation point, as there are many facilities and restaurants, and the tourist information point (with limited opening times, especially on the weekends), and it is the place we chose for our 2 nights stay. Among the most popular sights in the Geopark are the “Pasadiços do Paiva”. Under this name there is an 8.7km route following the river Paiva, using a recently built wood walkway, that got some renovation works because of the summer 2017 fires. You can decide to start the route in Espiunca or Areinho, or go for the full round trip. It is an easy to follow linear route, that can become demanding in hot weather conditions. Getting your entrance ticket in advance directly in their webpage will cost you 1€ (or 2€ if buying onsite).

We decided to get an early start, being at 9am in the Areinho parking lot, almost empty at this hour, as the forecast predicts temperatures over 30°C by midday. This is the most demanding part of the route, and the recommended starting point, to get the most difficult part done while the energy levels are full. Advisable also to carry your own food and water, as there is only a small canteen in the middle of the hike, besides the ones at either side. Besides don´t forget a hat and solar protection. The route offers beautiful landscapes, waterfalls and water rapids, as you follow the riverside crossing some fluvial beaches (unfortunately unappropriated for bathing on those days). The views are nice, and doing the hike at an enjoyable pace, it takes over 3h to get to Espiunca. After a light lunch in the tree covered resting area, and having the choice of going back walking or getting a taxi to Areinho, the latest seems as the best choice. A 14€ ride gets us to the parked car and a whole evening to visit some other places in the Serra da Freita.

We decide to go for one of the printed routes, although unfortunately we get lost. The map is not detailed enough, and we miss the check points. Nevertheless, there is time to do a visit to the “Pedras Parideiras” (translatable as “giving birth stones”) and its nearby small museum, the characteristic “Pedras Broas” and the Frecha da Mirazela waterfall.

With enough walking done it is time to go back to Arouca and enjoy one of the traditional dishes from the area: beef of Arouquesa cow, a typical breed only located here that enjoy its life roaming in the green pastures.

Next day is time to do an early visit to the Arouca Museum of Sacred Art, in the big monastery of Santa Mafalda Queen. Only available as a guided tour it offers an interesting view of the traditional life in its grounds, hosting an extensive art collection. Finally, only time to do some shopping, and buy one of the traditional sweets, the wet Pao de Lo, available in every pastry shop in town, before heading back home.

THYROID (2/2): health and sports

A gland so important because of its effects on metabolism has not been extensively studied in its relationship with athletics performance.  Within normal range an increased thyroid activity correlates with a greater effectiveness of exercising muscles. As the exercise intensifies, TSH levels increase, for an initial and transient increase of T3 levels that leads to a latter increase of T4 levels. For situations of hypothyroidism, when the ability of the thyroid to increase T4 levels is compromised, athletes complained of decreases in athletic performance or exercise capacity (not excluding other symptoms already described).

Seen as the thyroid gland can adjust metabolism, synthetic thyroxine has been used (or more properly “abused”) by bodybuilders and athletes, as an activator, a procedure that could lead to adverse effects, typical of hyperthyroidism, and even myocardial infarction.

It is also worth commenting on the effects that anabolic steroids may have on the thyroid profile, because of its increasing use in athletics, and with aesthetics interests. There have been studies where steroids use resulted in the reduction of T3 and T4 levels. Therefore, some of the improving effects that a cheater athlete could be trying to achieve, would be however countered because of the side effects affecting the thyroid.

About thyroid hormones levels studied after a marathon it was found an increase in the TSH just after finishing the race. This increase was temporary, with normal levels one hour later, and a decrease one day after. As for the free T4 levels, they were significantly increased, for every time recorder, after the race.

Some elite athletes have been diagnosed with thyroid problems, mainly hypothyroidism, with the shadow of suspicion on their performances as they could be using an enhancement in their thyroid profile to achieve better results. Regarding genre, women are four times more likely to suffer hypothyroidism than men, although the reasons for this prevalence is unknown. Among the best-known women in athletics, Paula Radcliffe, was herself diagnosed, not with hypothyroidism, but with an overactive thyroid gland. It has also been said that very intense training over long periods of time could be down-regulating the thyroid, but it is unclear.

As pointed out early in the entry, the link between athletics performance and thyroid profile is not fully understood, and more studies would be welcome to clarify this interesting topic.

If you feel for a long time without energy, your training plans become harder to follow, and your achievements can´t get where they used to be, maybe it´s time to get a blood test and check for your thyroid hormones. Even at a subclinical level, could be explaining a performance decay, and although it doesn´t usually need treatment in these mild states, it would be appropriate to do a blood test annually to prevent any further decays.

A good guide for a hypothyroid athlete would be:

  • adjust the training levels
  • get enough rest and sleep
  • follow a healthy diet
  • avoid unnecessary stress

Listening to your body may go a long way, and even if your best times are gone, there are plenty of goals to look for and enjoy running.


Thyroid Disorders in Athletes

Duhig TJ, McKeag D.

Current Sports Medicine Reports 2009 Jan-Feb; 8(1):16-9

Influence of marathon running on thyroid hormones

Sander M, Röcker L.

Int J Sports Med. 1988 Apr; 9(2):123-6