Monday, February 27, 2012

Good News, Bad News

So, what happened on Friday of Week 3 that has potentially killed me for the rest of the RDWC challenge?

After a week of taping my ankle to help with support, I’d had the tape off for about 2 days, giving it a chance to prove itself before derby on Sunday. My quadriceps were still pretty sore from the previous weekend, but I was still stubbornly believing that there was nothing to worry about, and that I’d be fine by Sunday. Then, on the way to watch the football with some friends at the pub, my ankle gave out. I landed heavily on my knee (thankfully not the dodgy one!), and all of my weight went back. Those crazy tight quads screamed, and so did I.

It took me almost 10 minutes to limp the 30m from where I fell to the pub. A skinned knee dripping blood down my leg was the least of my worries. My right leg couldn’t bear weight without feeling like I’d been stabbed in the thigh.  I was fairly convinced I had ripped the muscle from the bone. I spent 2 hours sitting on one bar-stool, my leg supported on another, with ice wrapped around my quad, before I felt like I could put any weight back on it. Thankfully, my favourite team was playing their pre-season game, so in between growling, yelping and crying, I got to see them play. After hobbling to the car, and then from car to boyfriend’s couch, I spent the rest of the night with ice on and off. The pain localized, and seemed to be focused on my vastus intermedius, the middle section of the quadriceps, the type of pain suggesting partial tear, rather than full snap. Despite being good friend’s with my physio, and knowing he was open the next morning, I decided to wait it out until my appointment Monday afternoon. I knew the drill: RICE. Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. Saturday, could weight-bear for short distances, but rested up as much as possible. Sunday, the first day of RDWC’s Week 4, I decided to test myself.


I couldn’t strap anything but my ankle, thanks to the amount of sweat that appears on a 38C day. I got 3 laps of the track at a teeth-clenching jog before having to pull out in pure agony. No luck with squats, even less with lunges. 50 wall push-ups and about the same of crutches later, and the uninjured Fresh Meat had finished their warm-up. Threw on the skates, made it halfway around the track before having to rip everything off. I was in tears, and not just because of the pain.

The following three hours were seriously depressing. I watched as my fellow Fresh Meat worked on their falls and slides, learnt the fine art of the slalom, and practiced their hops. I didn’t want to be sitting on the side-lines, I wanted to be out there, falling on my arse, laughing, learning. Instead, I watched, and I listened, and I tried to remember everything that was said, in the vain hope I’d be back the next week. Once the Fresh Meat had finished, I was the only one to stay behind for the level 2 and up training, like I do every week, even getting the opportunity to act as penalty timer for scrimmage. It was great, I learnt a lot, and our Fresh Meat coaches were fantastic, encouraging me to come along next week even if I was off skates, and telling me they’d run me through a one-on-one catch-up session when I was back on my wheels. That made me feel better (Thanks Ace and Fink!), but I still couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that in the space of one week, I had blown a year of physio and hard work. Home to more ice and an early night.

Today, I saw my physiotherapist.

“A Grade Strain”. After 15 minutes of explaining what happened, how it felt at the time of the injury and since, discussing my suspicions, and having a bit of a poke around (Ok, actually more technical than that, but you don’t want details of my screaming and crying), those three words were a sweet relief. A strain I can handle, as long as the muscle is intact. An intact muscle doesn’t need surgery, it just needs some gentle love and attention until it is healed.

The verdict? Minimum two weeks recovery. I have set exercises I have to do 3 or 4 times a day, and am restricted to walking, with a reassessment in one week. In the words of my physio “No running, no jumping, no hopping or skipping or lunges, and for gods sake, no skates!” Any core work involving my legs is out, so no planks, wall sits or push-ups (unless they’re one legged, against an upright surface, on my good leg). It’s boring, and it’s horrible, and I’m annoyed, but you know what? I’ll do it. I’ll take the weeks off skates until I’m approved again. I’ll research a million-and-one ways to work my core, back and upper body without engaging my quads. Because I want it. Because derby is worth fighting for. And because I’ll be damned if I’m letting my body get the better of me again.

Neysa xo

RDWC2012 - Week Two & Three Wrap Up

Ever feel like your life has just been picked up and thrown around a bit, to the extent you’ve lost a certain amount of control? That’s been me for about the last 2 weeks. I had best intentions of posting a weekly round-up for this challenge, but life had other ideas! So, how’s the challenge going?

Week Two
After the shaky start in Week 1, I was really happy with the progress made in Week 2. My body recovered well when I put my calorie intake back up and cut out some of the meat proteins. On the Sunday I had 2 hours of derby training and felt fantastic, bouncing straight back afterwards, with little soreness the next day. Every day that week, I rode my bike for at least 30 minutes, on one day for around 90 minutes. (House-hunting is fantastic for this!). I did push-ups and sit-ups every second day, giving my abdominals a chance to recover in between, since I know I have a history of over-working them. Due to some knee and ankle issues that have flared up, I didn’t do much leg work outside what my physio gave me, but at the end of the week, I was pretty happy with where I was. According to my food diary, I was still about 300 calories short a day, but I was probably operating a touch under my calculation values, so I wasn’t too stressed.

I didn’t have too many major challenges during Week 2. I didn’t want to push myself too hard after how my body had reacted in Week 1, but I was still happy with my increased activity levels and my food choices.

Week Three
Week 3 started quite well. Fresh Meat training on Sunday was great, though I started to get a niggle in my ankle while doing some stopping drills. Monday afternoon I had an appointment with my physio, who diagnosed acute tendonitis and some lower-leg muscle weakness. A quick refresher in support taping, and an adjustment to my exercise regime, and I was out the door again. More push-ups and crunches on the Tuesday, and I was feeling good! Then, Wednesday. I had a rather epic day of riding around to house inspections, only to get clipped by a car while on my bike on my way to the last house on my list. Thankfully, no major injuries were sustained, but I was rather shaken, sporting a few bruises, and had some doozey road rash. Took Thursday and Friday fairly easy, not wanting to do more damage to already bruised muscles.

On the Saturday, I was somewhat unexpectedly called to play a game of baseball, something I haven’t done in about 3 years. I played a season as an undergrad, then shifted clubs as a scorer, and eventually left the game behind, before taking up softball for a season in my final year of undergrad, and giving it away again when I started my research career. 4 hours of running around the outfield in sweltering heat made for a super-sore body that night. My quadriceps were a lot tighter than normal, but I attributed that to lack of use, and figured it would mend with some stretching. Sunday, I was still sore, but roller derby awaited! We spent a whole 2 hours working on our knee slides and falls (Ok, well maybe half an hour was spent learning sticky-skating). By the end of it, my quads were screaming at me, and I ached pretty much everywhere. Not to worry, nothing some stretching and ice wouldn’t fix. That night, at a BBQ (Meat and salad, yay! A ginger beer, oops. In my defense, still came in right on my calorie intake for the day!), one of my friend’s fell through a section of roof, and I ended up heading to hospital with him after holding a tourniquet on his arm until the medicos arrived. Thankfully, when I finally got to see him in the ER after getting checked out, he hadn’t done any serious damage. He had a bruised butt, a bit of a bump on the head, and a lovely deep laceration that laid the muscles on his arm bare, but thankfully hadn’t severed anything vital. Once he had settled in for the night, I met up with some friends at the pub, and being the good girl I am, didn’t have a drink. Didn’t do much else either, still being rather sore from all that sport. Still, nothing stretching, ice and rest wouldn’t fix, right?

Oh how wrong I was. When by Tuesday I still couldn’t move properly, I should have given my physio a call. My gut told me something was wrong, but I convinced myself that if I kept up with my normal recovery routine, I’d be fine. I shifted from ice to heat, stretched out my legs every chance I got. I cut out everything that wasn’t prescribed by my physio. I took a ridiculously long, hot bath and THEN stretched. Friday morning, I was starting to feel better, but was still tight. Needless to say, called the baseball girls and put in my apologies for the rest of the season, and eternity.

So what went wrong? Find out in Part 2!

Neysa xo

P.S. Friend is fine. After a nice 3 day hospital stay, he had surgery to reattach all his skin, and is now recovering at home. He's vowed never to climb on a roof again.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

RDWC2012 - The Week One Wrap-Up

First things First!

Straight off the bat, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone that read my last post, and for all of the positive feedback both here and on Facebook. 246 visitors in 24 hours is a new record for this blog! I love that I got to use my nerdy science powers for good rather than evil, and that it may have helped people to think about the way they approach a new diet plan. So big *MWAH* to you all!

So how did I go with Week 1 of the Roller Derby Workout Challenge?


Sunday to Wednesday I had stuck pretty close to the meal plan. I spent most of the first week (Monday-Thursday) feeling pretty flat. I was lethargic, I tired very quickly, I was cranky, I had headaches, I couldn’t concentrate on work. I did do a long session of physio, followed by stair-runs, jumping jacks and planks, but I was knackered after only two sets of each. I tried to run one afternoon, and felt very faint even before the end of the first kilometer.  Basically, I’d get home from uni, try to exercise, and face a body that literally could not handle it. Enter the nutritional analysis.

After fixing my calorie intake, dropping the sodium, and upping the vegies, my body responded really well. I played kick-to-kick and tennis with my boyfriend, spent a half-hour swimming at the beach (actually swimming out the back of the breakers, not frolicking in the surf!), went for a run on the sand. And it felt GOOD! Ok, I didn’t stick strictly to the workout plan, but I was getting my heart-rate up, which I’m happy with.

This week has already started out much better, but I’ll fill you in on that in another post.

Tracking Progress
At the moment, I’m using Fleetly to track my exercise progress, and Myfitnesspal to track my food intake. I’ve found the Roller Derby Challenge groups on both websites, which I’m sure will be really helpful! I’ll probably start tracking my exercise through myfitnesspal too, so I have all my info in one spot, but I like the points set up in fleetly, it appeals to my competitive nature! I’ll also start logging my dietary intake once a week on Foodworks, just to keep an eye on my overall nutritional picture, but for now, I’m happy with a general idea of my intake, rather than a detailed one.

Hope you’re all having a good crack at it this week, look forward to seeing everyone’s progress!

Neysa xo

Friday, February 3, 2012

Nutritional analysis of the RDWC2012 Meal Plan (or, Why I’m Ditching the Meal Plan)

Roller Derby Workout Challenge

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to take part in the Roller Derby Workout Challenge 2012 (RDWC2012), an 8 week training program designed specifically for roller derby. The organisers repeatedly told us that it was not a weight-loss program, that is was designed to gain strength. This was perfect for me. I have no desire to lose weight, my only goal being to build fitness for derby, and strength to prevent yet another injury. Sounded too good to be true.

Turns out, it may well be.

After a few days following the meal plan as closely as allergies and availability allowed, I was getting sick of feeling hungry within half an hour of eating. As well as that, I felt flat, was having trouble concentrating, and just generally feeling like crap. A quick look at the group told me that several other girls were experiencing hunger pangs too. What concerned me, however, was that it was just being brushed off as ‘sugar/carb withdrawal’. Ok, that might fly for some people. Sugar is a hard thing to come off of. It makes you crave, it makes you cranky. But I didn’t have a high sugar intake to start off with, and my refined carb intake (White flours, pastas, rice, etc.) is usually pretty low (I think my two weeks in Italy in December could be forgiven!). For me, I didn’t feel like sugar withdrawal was the answer to what I was experiencing.

What’s a molecular nutritionist to do?
I work in a molecular nutrition laboratory. We routinely do trials that involve analyzing food diaries, designing nutritional interventions, and creating meal plans designed to combat a multitude of problems. So, naturally, I decided to run the meal plan through our typical protocol, and see what turned up.

We run a program in our lab called “Foodworks”, a software package developed by Xyris. It allows us to enter data from meal plans, food diaries, etc, utilizing a large database of items, just about any food you can think of, which can be modified as products change, or new data becomes available. It gives a full nutrition profile of kilojoules (or Calories), carbs, proteins, vitamins, minerals, breakdowns of fatty acid types. You name it, it probably looks at it. We are then able to compare this profile to recommended daily intake (RDI) guidelines, which we can tailor to reflect age, weight, gender, fitness and activity levels, whether you’re pregnant, or depending on your specific goals.

The Profile
I tailored the protocol to give me Australian RDIs for, well, me. 24, female, 65kg, 165cm, with a light activity load. This means I sit at a desk for most of my week, skate a few hours, and walk most places. I then transferred the meal plans (Week 1 & Week 2). Wherever possible, I have matched like for like. Where there has been a low salt option listed, I have selected that instead of the standard. Any salad was automatically assumed to contain lettuce/spinach, cucumber, capsicum and snowpeas (because they are representative, and correlate well to most substitutions), and was not dressed unless explicitly stated. If an amount was not specified, I went with the generally accepted serving size. The only two changes I made were the addition of 2L (8 glasses) of tap water per day, and string cheese, which due to lack of data I substituted for 2 slices of Colby cheese. How did the first two weeks of the diet stack up?

READ ME FIRST: Before starting any new diet plan, always consult your doctor or nutritionist. The data presented is tailored for my situation only, and should not be taken as nutritional advice, but rather as “food for thought”.

The Results
Fig 1. Based on average daily intake calculated form Weeks 1&2 of RDWC2012.
Your EERM, or estimated energy requirement for maintenance is “the dietary energy intake that is predicted to maintain energy balance… in healthy individuals or groups of individuals at current levels of body size and level of physical activity” (Source). Basically, that means for me to stay at the same level as I am now, I need to consume this amount of calories. 

If I follow the meal plan to the letter, I will only obtain about 61% of the energy I require to maintain my current level, and that means one of two things: a) If I continue at the same activity level, my body will take the energy from elsewhere, i.e. start eating itself, or b) in order to maintain my current body composition, I’d have to reduce my activity level. Neither of these are things that are conducive building fitness and muscle. The fact that it is a 39% deficit concerns me even more though. That is not just cutting back a little bit. That is a hardcore, shed-your-pounds, starvation-style diet.

No wonder I was so hungry!

The protein content is more than double the RDI, but as the aim is to improve muscle, this would normally be highly desirable. You have to eat protein to make protein! The only issue at the moment is that rather than going to building muscle, it is more likely being diverted toward creating energy to keep you running. Excess dietary protein can also exacerbate hypertension, and lead to renal damage. This is just one recent study that appeared in my inbox a few months ago, there are many more out there!

The big killer though, the one thing that would have put me off this diet within moments, whether or not I was looking for a quick weight-loss fix, was the sodium content. Basically, salt. 

Fig 2. Based on average daily intake calculated form Weeks 1&2 of RDWC2012.
29% extra ON TOP of the daily recommended MAXIMUM. That is 448% of what is called the ‘adequate’ intake, or what the average human will be able to consume and remain healthy. When that result came off, I actually went back and triple checked it was correct. The list of issues associated with a high-sodium diet is long and varied, and include increased blood pressure, heart disease, kidney problems, hormonal imbalance and insulin resistance to name a few, and that this diet is so high in sodium is cause for serious concern.

We all know that calcium is important for healthy bones, with low calcium levels increasing the risk of osteoporosis, or brittle bones, later in life. And I think we can all agree, brittle bones are the enemy of roller derby girls. However, rather than maximising calcium intake, this diet only provides 63% of the RDI (Fig 1). Iron, another nutrient that young women are often deficient in, was also only at 62% RDI (Fig 1). Iron deficiency limits oxygen delivery to cells due to anemia, resulting in fatigue, poor performance, and decreased immunity. Certainly not conducive to good derby!

Most of the B-group vitamins are well represented (with the exception of Folate, 79%RDI) as is Vitamin C and total Vitamin A (Fig 1). They fall below the suggested target for prevention of chronic disease, but that is another post for another time. There are also several issues with other micronutrients, but to write about any but the main ones would take a much longer blog than this, and I felt it important to outline the major issues, such as energy, calcium and iron.

Summing Up
I want to finish by saying that I *do* respect what the girls at the Roller Derby Workout are trying to do. The exercise regime is brilliant, the community they’re building is beautiful, and they are trying to encourage people to live healthier, fitter, derbylicious lives. However, their meal plan cannot be pushed as a “one-size-fits-all” dietary solution, and should only be used as a guideline, adapted to each individual's requirements. My mantra when it comes to changes in diet is “when in doubt, check it out”. Participants in any dietary plan, regardless of weight-loss goals, should always do their research, and if in doubt, consult a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or nutritionist. There are plenty of good, free food-tracking/calorie counting programs and websites online, which will give you a rough idea of how your diet is stacking up against your RDIs. For me personally, to achieve my desired results, I will have to increase my calories by almost double the meal plan in order to accommodate the extra exercise, cut the salt, and get my calcium and iron consumption back up to normal levels.

I hope this won’t discourage people from completing the challenge, but also hope that it will help some people who may be confused about why they are feeling less than stellar about the food side of things. As always, I’m happy to answer any questions, cop any criticism, and take any suggestions.

Neysa xo