Thursday, February 16, 2017

Women, Weight, Sports Performance and Body Image

Women are strong, power-houses and when it comes to truly endurance events, they have shown at many occasions that they are capable to come close to men's performances.

How does scale weight, fat percentage, body image and diet tie into such incredible performances?

Women tend to be somehow more image-conscious than men. Their concerns could come from coaches pressure, peer pressure, athletic body stereotypes, modern society standards or just marketing, social media and advertisement.

Here, I will not be the first nor the last to touch upon such a multi-angled topic and heavily discussed issue. I will talk briefly about weight and sports performance rather than weight and athletic image. These are two completely different things. If you are a female athlete and you are exercising to lose weight, this article is not for you at this point. If you are a female athlete and you are exercising for performance, hold on tight and read on.




First and foremost, performance takes into account the duration/frequency/intensity of the competition and associated training, it differentiates the scale weight from the fat percentage, and it takes into account the individuality of the athlete. All these parameters are hard to put into numbers and precise percentages. For women in triathlons for example, there is a vast variability of the duration of events and there is also a big range among body fat percentages and scale weight-to-height ratios of top performers. There is not one fixed athletic body stereotype that performs better than others.  When you take a look at the professional sprint, olympic, half or full triathlon distances, some elite women (on the same event) tend to be short or tall, lean or a bit more muscular. The reason behind this could be genetics, different training schedules and habits, different diets or some combination of the above.

From my personal experience, I have never followed a strict diet plan throughout my 5 years of training and competing at the elite amateur triathlon level. I have always followed general healthy guidelines like eating regularly fruit and vegetables, eating meat, fish, bread, butter, ice cream and wine in moderation. Mainly, I have allowed my training load to make the necessary body adaptations and I have stayed consistent and loyal to my plans - even during injuries and setbacks. In simple words, I eat whatever makes me happy and not heavy ~ whatever does not compromise my training and I stay put to my regime. I know the foods that work best for me in terms of digestion and I also know the foods that make me happy and full of energy - and I keep those latter in my A list! And although my diet has not changed much over the years, my training has changed a lot. I am  now putting more hours a week and with more intensity compared to 2012 when I started, and surprisingly, my body has acclimated to bear the load.

2012: lean but not strong
2012:my body went through
a series of adaptations
My first year in 2012, when I started biking, running and swimming regularly, my body went through a shock. I started losing weight dramatically. I was trying to stuff myself up with food and extra fatty treats but my body was refusing to absorb anything. My body image looked lean and muscular but I was not feeling strong, I was not having the endurance or the speed that I wanted. I was concerned but I let it be! Over the following years, as my body and muscles were changing (and it was a slow, gradual change!), I developed a better musculoskeletal system and a stronger physique. My body can now absorb more hours of training, I feel more energetic every day, a whole lot stronger and with a much bigger aerobic engine.

The bottom line is that
WOMEN: do not abuse your bodies. Let your bodies adapt to the training load gradually. Give it time ~ adaptations happen in the long run (metaphorically and literally!). Changes will happen ~ Do not rush anything! You may lose fat, you may gain scale weight and muscle mass but since every one of us is unique, just let it be and enjoy the process. It doesn't help worrying about being too lean or too big or too muscular or too short or too tall. Just look around you and you will see world and olympic champions in different lengths and widths!

2016: more muscles, more strength and endurance, faster times
If you are training towards an endurance event and you are trying to lose weight through diet because you believe it will elevate your performance, either you need different coaching advise or you are concerned too much about some stereotypes or you are not training long enough to let your body adapt to the distance. Just stick to the foods that work for you and make you happy and train appropriately for the distance you are aiming to race and perform!

Stay healthy, stay happy and stay true to yourselves!

See you out there ~

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What's up for 2017

My goals for 2017 summarized in two sentences: I am racing my first marathon and I am aiming for a top place at the 2017 ITU long-course World Championships!

After sitting down and assessing the 2016 season, Dave asked me the magic question: what do you want to do in 2017? I said, I felt I had a good race at the 2016 ITU long-course World Championships, but for some reason, I have an unfinished business out there. I did well but I did not feel I raced the race. So, we looked at the data and he decided that I lacked running training...he actually said that my 19mi run at the Worlds was not as bad as I thought to be taking into account my 20-25 mi weekly averages during my preparation.

Dave said that the best way to put some volume on the run and let your body adapt to longer distances and that way be ready for speed work in spring/summer is to prepare for a marathon race.

So, we divided the season into four chunks:

1. Pre-marathon volume build: Run: increase the weekly volume slowly and steadily up to 60mi (~shy off 100 km). Bike: keep the volume low and at recovery pace. Swim: speed work at high intensity and high volume. Weights: 2-3 times a week with emphasis on low weight/high reps.

2. Marathon race (end of March): first race of the season with the aim to arrive at the race healthy!

3. Post-marathon volume and speed work: Volume and intensity increase for all three sports throughout summer. One 200+mi ride, One distance open water race, One half marathon race.

4. Tri summer season with taper for the World Championships (end of August): One Olympic and One half-iron prep races before the 2017 ITU long-course World Championships on August 27.

I can't wait to become a better, stronger, healthier runner and smash the 2017 ITU long-course Worlds!




(more about our periodization plan here:
http://loukialili.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-progressive-overload-as-part-of.html)

Be safe, stay healthy.

Loukia

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Why First Endurance is NOT just another nutrition company

If you are an endurance athlete and you have not tried the First Endurance products yet, let me clarify that what you will read below is a truthful opinion of my personal experience on collaborating with the company and on using their products. It is not biased  and it does not serve any kind of advertisement purposes.

If you are an endurance athlete and you have tried the First Endurance products, you know that these products are made of high-quality ingredients and they actually work.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I joined the First Endurance Research Board back in the early 2013 and since then, I have been loving every moment of scientific, non-scientific, athletic and non-athletic interaction with the company.


My role in First Endurance is to conduct research on various topics that span the nutritional science and deal with the dietary demands of the endurance athlete. I am part of a bigger team that consists of an interesting mixture of MDs and other scientists who are also endurance athletes. This team was created so that First Endurance can rely on external scientific consultants to contribute in their product research and development process (see more here: http://firstendurance.com/research/erb/)

I am truly privileged to be part of such a deeply research-oriented company. Throughout the past 4 years, I have had the chance to interact productively with other members of the Research Board, with sponsored professional athletes and with the owners of the company in order to deliver research literature results, write articles to educate the athletes and push the boundaries of quality and novelty in endurance sports nutrition.


First Endurance focuses on few products that are aligned with the endurance athlete demands. The company is extremely transparent on the quality and the integrity of research behind every single ingredient they are putting in their bottles. They do not need to produce fifteen different flavors and twenty different products. They do not need to produce clothes, accessories or print and mail monthly magazines for advertisement - because they focus only on nutrition.

They keep it simple and efficient.

This is why they are brilliant and why they differentiate from the mass.

Robert Kunz, one of the two founders of First Endurance, has been one of the most amazing and intelligent individuals I have ever met. Well-educated, friendly, articulate, with tremendous experience in the nutritional science and supplement production, and with a splash of witty humor, he is no-wonder a huge part of the success behind the business. He has been extremely supportive of my research work for First Endurance, supportive of my own, personal research work and supportive of my athletic endeavors.

Robert Kunz finishing the 2016 Houte Route "the toughest bike race in the world"

I love First Endurance. They listen to me. They support me. They support their athletes - They support you. They do not carry bells and whistles. They do not need flashy advertisement.

They are just simple, innovative, and efficient.

I can't wait to see more evolution in First Endurance.

Hold on tight...

There is always something new on the mix!

For more info, visit: http://firstendurance.com/



Thursday, November 24, 2016

Coach Dave Williams fires on: Why triathletes should kick more in the pool

For many triathletes who did not grow up swimming, swimming is often their weakest discipline. For that reason, most tend to spend too much time and money on private swim lessons, DVDs, YouTube instruction videos, internet searches and the rest, hoping to magically improve their swimming for the next season often with very little time in the water actually swimming. However, there is a simple truth that a lot of us either fail to understand or it takes us some time to realize.

If you did not grow up swimming, you have to understand that swimming improvement is a gradual process that takes time. Proper coaching with emphasis on the fundamentals will pay dividends that will speed up the process in both the short and the long term.

Learning proper technique is fundamental but understanding the theory of proper technique and actually applying it consistently in your swims is the key to success.

This is why a great coach can teach you and allow you to focus on one thing at a time and for a long period of time. Blending some technique work with volume and frequency will get you good results in time. 

The first thing we started working with coach Dave Williams - and still do - is head and body position followed by KICKING.

WHY?

"Proper positioning in the water is necessary to reduce drag and increase speed and efficiency so that you are not killing yourself to keep up with the faster swimmers.


Proper kicking technique is necessary to drive the body forward. Practically speaking however, the kick only provides about 10-15% propulsion. It is for this reason that most triathletes overlook it especially when considering that both the bike and the run are still to come. But a poor kick can increase drag, throw your body out of alignment, and work against your forward momentum. Stand alone kick sets are also beneficial in increasing blood flow and removing lactic acid from the muscles thereby reducing recovery time between sessions.

Finally, it is imperative to spend lots of time in the water developing the muscle memory and training the energy systems required for faster swim times and smoother transitions. This is especially important for older athletes as there is little to no impact trauma associated with swim training. A 60 minute session 4 to 5 days per week or a 90 minute session 3 to 4 days per week will pay dividends that will also benefit the bike and the run." ~ coach Dave Williams.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Suunto Ambit3Peak - Pros and Cons


Suunto comes from the Nothern European country of Finland. It was born more than 75 years ago when Tuomas Vohlonen came up with a massive production method of the liquid-filled compass.

I personally knew Suunto because of their awesome dive watches. However, Suunto has made its way to all sorts of adventure sports including triathlon. Nearly one year ago, I was given the Ambit3 Peak (sapphire) to test the heck out of it and talk openly about its pros and cons. This review does not intend to cover in depth the functions of the watch. It is more like a take-home-message after intensive daily training and racing usage. Enjoy and don't hesitate to chip in your opinion:

Pros
  • Amazing battery life! ~ 30 whole hours with 5sec GPS accuracy
  • Heart rate during swimming - hurray!
  • More Features than you'd ever need: compass, altitude, weather info, tens of pre-set sports
  • Unscratchable surface (the sapphire version - totally worth it)
  • Simple and clean easy-to-read display
  • Baby-soft wrist strap
  • Bike power support! (bluetooth smart)
  • Running, Cycling, Swimming advanced analytics: cadence, VO2max, stroke rate/count and all the other jazz...
  • Super easy to use
  • Has the lightest and softest heart-rate strap on the market!
  • Phenomenal GPS accuracy, especially during the open water swims
  • Nearly undestructable ~ just kidding! But it is indeed an awesome strong watch
  • Syncs with Strava, TrainingPeaks - including synchronization of swim data


Cons
  • A little heavy and bulky
  • Only three data lines per page - old fashioned display
  • The heart rate strap deteriorates fast with daily usage in the chlorinated pool
  • The sync/power cable sucks - had to get a new one after 8 months
  • If you use a bike pod, the watch picks up the pod data not the GPS, so that, if for some reason the battery of the pod dies, you can't record the ride
  • Changes in the menu, preferences, etc can only happen while you have your watch plugged into the computer. No real-time changes



Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ενας δρομος υπερβασης πολλαπλων δυσκολιων, συνεχους προσπαθειας, αντοχης, ανοχης, υπομονης και επιμονης στα ονειρα και στις αξιες.

Η αγωνιστικη μου σεζον τελειωσε πριν δυο βδομαδες με ευχαριστο τονο. Τερματισα 12η στο Παγκοσμιο Πρωταθλημα της ITU μεγαλης αποστασης (απο 35 γυναικες που προκριθηκαν στην κατηγορια μου).

Δεν ειμαι απολυτα ικανοποιημενη. Ωστοσο, κανοντας μια μικρη αναδρομη στο παρελθον και αναπολωντας τις δυσκολιες που καταφερα να ξεπερασω για να φτασω στο στημειο που βρισκομαι σημερα, μπορω να πω οτι ειμαι ευτυχισμενη και πανετοιμη για την καινουρια χρονια.

Ας σας διηγηθω μια μικρη ιστορια για να σας δωσω να καταλαβετε απο που προερχομαι και που εχω φτασει σημερα.

Στις αρχες του '90 και οταν ημουνα στις τελευταιες ταξεις του δημοτικου, η νεο-σχηματισμενη ομαδα αθλητισμου και τρεξιματος στην πολη, διοργανωνε ενα διημερο ασκησεων-τεστ αντοχης και δυναμης προκειμενου να επιλεξει τους καλυτερους νεους αθλητες. Ημουνα παντα ενα δραστηριο παιδακι με πολυ ενεργεια και παθος και ηθελα με ολη μου την καρδια να γινω και γω μελος αυτης της ομαδας. Εβαλα τα δυνατα μου και προσπαθησα με ολη μου την ψυχη για μια καλη επιδοση στα τεστ. Ομως δεν τα καταφερα και δεν επιλεχθηκα. Μου ειπαν οτι δεν ημουνα αρκετα καλη για την ομαδα.

Οταν μετεπειτα πηγα στο γυμνασειο και στο λυκειο, ημουνα μια πολυ καλη μαθητρια αλλα οχι αρκετα καλη για τις δυσκολες σχολες της αρχιτεκτονικης, ιατρικης, κτλπ. Μαλιστα, οι γονεις μου, πιστευαν οτι στο μονο πραγμα που ημουνα πραγματικα καλη ητανε το ποδηλατο. Και παρολο που πετυχα στη σχολη μαθηματικων, οι γονεις μου μου ειπαν οτι δεν θα καταφερω να την τελειωσω.

Παραλληλα με τις σπουδες μου, αρχισα να κανω πιο συστηματικα ποδηλατο. Μπηκα σε εναν τοπικο συλλογο οπου οι προπονητες μου με θεωρουσαν καλη, αλλα οχι αρκετα καλη ωστε να γινω μελος της Εθνικης ομαδας. Ειχα ασθμα και ημουν ανεμικη.

Δεν ξερω τι θα πει "ταλεντο" ή "αρκετα καλη", ομως ειμαι σιγουρη για ενα πραγμα: 
ποτε δε σταματησα να προσπαθω!

Αποφοιτησα απο το τμημα μαθηματικων με τον τριτο καλυτερο μεσο ορο βαθμολογιας εκεινης της χρονιας. Πετυχα διπλη υποτροφια (διδακτρα και μισθο) απο το πανεπιστημιο του Bath της Αγγλιας (3ο σε καταταξη σε ολη την Αγγλια) για να ολοκληρωσω το μαστερ μου με διατριβη (MPhil). Στη συνεχεια, πετυχα επισης διπλη υποτροφια (διδακτρα και μισθο) απο το πανεπιστημιο του Georgia Tech των ΗΠΑ (5ο σε καταταση στις ΗΠΑ και 8ο σε ολο τον κοσμο) για να ολοκληρωσω το διδακτορικο μου στην Υπολογιστικη Βιολογια. Ως νυν επιστημονας ερευνας στην Ιατρικη σχολη του Emory, εχω συνταξει δεκα αρθρα σε υψηλα επιστημονικα περιοδικα και εχω μια πατεντα στο ονομα μου.

Στο τριαθλο, απο το 2012 που ξεκινησα, εκτος απο παμπολες νικες σε τοπικους αγωνες τριαθλου, διαθλου, ποδηλασιας (δρομου και mtb), κολυμβησης ανοιχτης θαλασσης και τρεξιματος, κατεκτησα την 4η θεση στους Παναμερικανικους Κολλεγιακους αγωνες με το γρηγοροτερο τρεξιμο (37:51 για το 10αρι) το 2012, αναδειχθηκα τοπικη πρωταθλητρια Διαθλου για το 2014 και 2015, τοπικη πρωταθλητρια Xterra τριαθλου για το 2015 και τερματισα 12η στο Παγκοσμιο πρωταθλημα ITU μακρινης αποστασης το 2016.

Εαν ολα αυτα δεν με κανουν "αρκετα καλη" τοτε τι;

Ο δρομος για να φτασω εδω δεν ηταν ομαλος. Καταφερα να παλεψω με τη γονικη απορριψη τοσο ακαδημαικα οσο και αθλητικα.  Ξεπερασα τις κακες σχεσεις και συνεχεις απορριψεις διαφορων καθηγητων και προπονητων, που το μονο που σκεφτοντουσαν ηταν η προσωπικη τους επιτυχια. Επιβιωσα πολλαπλα πολιτικα και διπλωματικα παιχνιδια του ακαδημαικου κυκλου. Δοκιμασα την υπομονη και την επιμονη μου με ολα τα ειδη των αθλητικων τραυματισμων συμπεριλαβανομενου και μιας χρόνιας μυοσκελετικης ανωμαλιας, η οποια μου προκαλουσε πονο στους κοιλιακους μυς και η οποια μου πηρε σχεδον δύο χρονια για να βρω την αιτια της και περιπου δεκα μηνες για να την ξεπερασω!

Υστερα απο ολα αυτα, πιστευω οτι δεν οδευω προς το τελος του μυθηστορηματος μου. Στην πραγματικοτητα, οι περιπετειες μου βρισκονται μονο στην αρχη!

Το σιγουρο ειναι οτι ποτε δεν θα σταματησω να προσπαθω, ποτε δε θα προδωσω τα ονειρα μου!

Και ποτε δε θα εφισυχασθω στο να ειμαι "αρκετα καλη" για οτιδηποτε!

Ας μην απορριπτουμε λοιπον οσους δεν ειναι "αρκετα καλοι" και ας μην εφισυχασθουμε ποτε στο να ειμαστε απλα "αρκετα καλοι"! 

Ευχαριστω θερμα ολους τους συνοδοιπορους μου σε αυτο τον ανωμαλο δρομο των ονειρων μου!

Σας φιλω,

Λουκια



Friday, September 30, 2016

A road of relentless effort and perseverance. A road of overcoming rejection and adversity on multiple levels.

My racing season has come to an end on a high note. I finished 12th (out of 35 qualified women in my category) at the 2016 ITU long course World Championships in Oklahoma City.

I am not completely satisfied but reflecting back over the years, and seeing all the difficulties I had to overcome in order to get where I am at, I can say I am happy to close up the season and plan for the future. 

Let me tell you a little story to give you a perspective.

When I was in elementary school, back in the early '90s in Greece, there was a two-day camp to select "talented" kids for the newly formed track and field team of the city. I was very keen and active at the time and I wanted with all of my heart to be in that team. I did my very best and tried with all the power of my soul to perform in the tests. But, I did not make the cut-offs and I did not get selected. I was told I was not good enough. 

When I moved on to high-school, I was a very good student, but I was not good enough. My parents believed that all I was good at was riding my bike and nothing else. They believed I was not exceptional in sciences, I was not good at maths.

When I entered the University and tried to major in Maths, my parents believed I wouldn't finish the program. I was not good enough. 
While in college, I joined a cycling club and started training more systematically. I raced all National and some International events (road and track) for four years. My coaches thought I was ok but not good enough to make the National team. I had asthma, I was anemic. I do not know what "talent" and what "good enough" really means. 


But I can tell you this: I never stopped trying.


I graduated with a degree in Maths finishing 3rd in my class with honors. I got a dual scholarship from the University of Bath in England (the 3rd best UK school in engineering at the time) to get my MPhil in Applied Maths. I got a dual scholarship from Georgia Tech (5th best school in the US and top8 in the world) to get my PhD in Biology. Since then, and after only three years, I have completed ten publications in peer-reviewed journals and I have one patent. In triathlons, I finished 4th overall in the open category of the USAT collegiate Nationals in 2012, I won the 2014 and 2015 Regional Duathlon Championships, and the 2015 Regional Xterra Championships. I finished 12th at the 2016 ITU long course World Championships (my first ever attempt on a long distance).


If this is not good enough then what is?

The road was not smooth. I had to battle with family rejection both academically and in sports. I had to overcome bad relationships with mentors, coaches and professors that were solely thinking of their own success. I had to survive academic political games. I had to fight with injuries. I had to overcome a chronic, debilitating running pain in my abdominal muscles that took me nearly two years to find out what it was and almost 10 months to get it finally resolved.

And I believe I am not done yet. In fact I am just in the beginning.

And I will never stop trying. I will never give up on my dreams. 

And I will never adopt the attitude of "good enough" for any of my efforts.


Thank you so much for being there to support me on this bumpy road of dreams!

Let's just never reject anyone who is not "good enough"!

Let's just never settle on anything that is just "good enough"!

See you out there trying!