|Interview with IronMan Prof. Asker Jeukendrup|
Like last year we had the opportunity to get an interview with Aslker Jeukendrup after finishing the IronMan World Championships.
Asker Jeukendrup is one of the leading sports nutritionists, he is the Director of the Human Performance lab at the University of Birmingham and in charge of one of the most active sport and exercise research groups. At the age of 35 he became the youngest professor at the University of Birmingham and has received several awards for his academic achievements and contributions to sport and exercise sciences, including a chair at the University of Brussels.
Over the last few years Asker has worked with some of the best athletes in the world, including several Olympic and World Champions; he has also worked with the Rabobank professional cycling team, Chelsea FC, UKAthletics, Ethiopian marathon runners, and some of the best swimmers and triathletes. Besides that, Asker is a 16 time Ironman finisher, including 3 times the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, was National Champion duathlon in his age group, and won the San Francisco Golden Gate Headlands marathon amongst other sporting achievements.
His ventures have not gone unnoticed and Asker appeared in various TV programmes and featured in numerous newspaper articles and magazines.
I went to Hawaii 2 weeks before the race. I can still work even when I am not in the office but being in Hawaii allows me to focus a bit more on preparation for the race and to acclimate at the same time. I gave a talk at a sports medicine conference few days before the race, I participated in a PowerBar Sports Nutrition panel discussion at the expo, I even lectured from Hawaii to my students back in the UK through an online connection (despite an 11 hour time difference). So I was quite busy even the days leading up to the race. Even though this was my 4th Ironman Hawaii and I knew the course and the conditions well, I did not really know what to expect from my own body.
I started the swim a little nearer to the front than normal and had a good battle in the first 500meters of the swim. I was pleased to come out of the water faster than I had done in previous years. My transition was also a little faster and I felt better on the bike than I had done in previous years. I was at the turnaround point in Hawi almost 10 min faster than last year. However on the way back, even though I was feeling better than last year the strong winds were holding me back. Nevertheless I felt good on the bike and was significantly faster than previous years. It was extremely hot and humid, even hotter than last year. I started the run in good spirits. My plan was to start relatively slow and then pick up the pace a bit later if possible. However, already early on in the run I had some breathing problems a very tight chest almost like asthma. I had had this problem a couple of years ago in the hottest race I have ever done at Ironman Louisville in Kentucky. In that race I was reduced to walking and eventually I was taken in an ambulance and did not finish the race. I knew in Hawaii that I would finish the race but just had to give myself some time to recover and get my normal breathing back. I never panicked even though I had to go really slow till about halfway. Then I started to feel better and started to run a little faster. Towards the end (the last 6km) I was running normally and even finished on 7 min miles so I could finish under 11 hours. Without the tight chest I could have gone a lot faster so this just gives me even more reason to go back to try and have a really good race in Kona. It took Mark Allen a long time before he had a really good race, so I don't feel bad that I did not get it right even after my 4th attempt. Overall I am pleased with my result, especially considering the fact that I have to fit in my training around a 70 hour work week.
As I said I have had these problems before and they seem to happen especially in extremely hot and humid conditions. Although I never really got to the bottom of the problem I figured out a few things: it was not related to any heart issues or asthma.
I did take the next plane back to the UK, we did land after a 26 hour trip at 7AM in Birmingham and at 10AM I was lecturing at the University. I am recovered though, I had a couple of weeks off and now I am on my way to New York for the New York City Marathon. I am not expecting wonders but I got the opportunity to run and this is something I always wanted to do. (Editor: Asker finished the NYC Marathon in 3:38:40 h)
Your swim was really fast and so was your ride. Did you change something in your preparation compared to the years before?
I think the answer to this is fairly simple. My swim was probably faster for a number of reasons. First of all, I swam a little more than pervious years, I may have swam shorter sessions but more of them. In the weeks before I left to Hawaii I was swimming better times in the pool than I had done before. The other factors are a better position at the start of the swim and I attribute a lot of the effect to my TYR Sayanaro swim suit!
By always training and racing with SRM you get a very good idea of the power outputs you can sustain. In races is it sometimes easy to get too excited in the first part of the race and therefore I do look at my power meter to make sure I am not pushing power outputs that are impossible to sustain. So I guess I do use it for pacing especially at the beginning of a race. In training I have a number of courses that I ride and I record the average power outputs for those courses. I also have a number of climbs that I record from top to bottom. These benchmarks help me to monitor my progress. Of course a stopwatch would give a similar answer but SRM just adds a lot more accuracy and your measurement now is a lot less dependent on wind and other environmental factors. The ratio between heart rate and power output is another parameter I use to monitor progress. My heart rates seemed to be lower at a given power output in the weeks leading up to Hawaii. In the race itself I was also able to maintain a higher heart rate throughout meaning that the power output was significantly higher. There is so much more I would like to do with my SRM but the number of training session I can do on the bike are limited (usually to 2 a week) and this also limits my training options and my chances to play with my SRM.
I had less problems this year maintaining hydration on the bike and I drank on average just under a liter per hour. I was also able to eat something I had not done in previous years. I had no gastro-intestinal problems on the bike. I think mostly because I was better trained on the bike. I had more problems later on the run, I had a very severe stitch and I did actually get quite dehydrated towards the end and weighed in more than 4 kg lighter at the finish.
There is a developing theory that training with low glycogen in your muscles can help your training adaptation. We also conducted studies where we had people train twice a day. In between they would not eat much carbohydrate and therefore they would not replenish their energy stores the second training of the day would therefore be performed in a glycogen depleted state. The athletes who trained with this regimen showed better adaptations in their muscles. We took muscle biopsies and found that various enzymes, in particular those involved in fat metabolism increased in comparison to a group of athletes who did similar training but always in a glycogen loaded state. When we measured performance in these athletes we did not see much but the training program was only short and it is not unthinkable that training like this for a longer period of time would also result in significant performance improvements. I therefore incorporated one of these sessions with low glycogen into my training week.
You wrote about two students, Becca and Adrian, who joined you in Hawaii. Can you tell us a little about the study they are working on?
Yeah those poor students had to go all the way to Hawaii for a research project.... Becca and Adrian recruited triathletes of all levels and ages in Kona and asked them to complete two questionnaires: one before the race and one after. The purpose of the study is twofold: First we want to get an idea of what athletes take on board during their race. We have published certain recommendations but we actually have little knowledge of what athletes actually do. Secondly we want to get a good record of gastro-intestinal problems. Many athletes develop these problem but we have little understanding of the factors that cause it. We hope to find out a little bit more about who is more prone to develop the problems and which factors are likely to worsen the problems or increase the risks. We have targeted several other events as well such as the Tour of Spain, Ironman Frankfurt, Ironman 70.3 Wiesbaden, marathons etc etc. It will take a little while before all data is analyzed but it should help us to answer the two important questions I mentioned.
In 2010 a new edition of your textbook "Sport Nutrition" and a new book called "Sports Nutrition: from lab to kitchen" will be published. Can you tell us a little bit about both of them? "Sport Nutrition" set a benchmark on the textbooks concerning nutrition in sport. What changes, adds and news will be found in the 2nd edition?
The new Sport Nutrition book will come out in January 2010. The book will not only look better, it is updated in all chapters and there are new chapters on weight management and training adaptations. It discusses the science behind current recommendations and helps the reader understand why certain recommendations would help. The second book Sports Nutrition from lab to kitchen will come out in May 2010 and the goal of this book is to translate the latest science on key issues in sports nutrition and translate this science into practical application. It is an attempt to bridge the gap that often exists between science and practice. There are contributions in this book from world experts in various areas. Cutting edge information on methods to improve training adaptations, protein metabolism and muscle growth, new energy sources, special carbohydrate mixtures etc is provided in both books
Thank you very much Asker for taking your time giving us this really interesting interview.