Taking part in running research at Loughborough University! (part 2 of 2)
In my previous post, I explained how I’d agreed to participate in a research study at Loughborough University, looking into fuelling strategies for endurance runners. I discussed the pre-test routines I would need to adhere to and outlined the tests I went through in advance of the trial sessions. This week, I talk about the trial sessions themselves, all three!
Session 2 was going to be the first of the three research trials proper.
In each of these three sessions, I was going to be running on a treadmill for 100 minutes. In this session, I was going to run with only water being given to me, every 20 minutes.
You can see the video about it, including footage from the research lab here.
For this run and the future ones, I was going to have a cannula inserted into my arm so that blood samples could be taken at every 20 minute interval. I just tried to forget it was there!
Diet and discipline
In the four days leading up to each trial session, I had to avoid any foods with sugar in them or any foods with corn in them. See the image for the comprehensive list of what I had to avoid! It was only at this point that it really dawned on me the enormity of discipline required by professional athletes in terms of their diet. I really struggled and more than once got grumpy because I couldn’t just reach for something I wanted. I would encourage anyone to try being this disciplined with their eating, just to experience the feeling of constraint, frustration and discipline I felt! It is very difficult not to focus on the things you can’t have and instead be happy with what you can have!
I also had to keep a food diary and adhere to it before each trial session. You can see what I chose to eat in the image above. As you can tell, it wasn’t the most regular of mealtimes at all. This isn’t normal for me or representative of my usual eating habits. I was off from work for the summer holidays and so there wasn’t as much of a daily routine in terms of meal times. What I can tell you is that I do usually eat regularly. I find it difficult to go more than a couple of hours without eating something. The food diary was really interesting too! To find out more, check out my YouTube video about session 2 here.
Prior to each session, which I turned up for at 9:00am each time, I had to ensure I didn’t eat any breakfast and make sure I drank 500ml of water at least an hour before I arrived.
Running on the treadmill
For the running sessions, I think I was running at 12.6km/h for 100 minutes. For the last 4 minutes of every 20 minutes, I had to breathe in to a Douglas bag, as they needed to collect expired gas. By measuring the amount of 13C enrichment of the expired CO2, using stable isotope ratio analysis, the researchers could calculate the amount of carbohydrate being used. Sounds intelligent and clever doesn’t it?! I copied that description from the information I was given!
This was not a comfortable process at all! Initially, I kept getting jaw ache from holding the mouthpiece too tight in my mouth. During this time, and every ten minutes throughout the run, I was asked to score myself on a scale relating to a variety of different factors, including bloatedness, gastrointestinal discomfort, how easy/difficult I felt the running was, how much I needed to defecate(!), how much I wanted to have a drink, how dizzy I felt and more.
Having these questions asked every ten minutes gave me a marker to run for, as did the Douglas bag breathing times and the 20 minute markers for blood samples. I was glad of them, because as I have mentioned in a previous blog post, I find running on a treadmill exceptionally dull. Kelsie and Marianna (the research students) kept me entertained with their busyness around the different activities they needed to do at specific times. They were also great in providing me with some music to listen to, which massively helped me, distracting my mind from the constant thought of ‘are we nearly finished?’
The last ten minutes of the run felt like an extended home straight, a slow motion celebration of completing a race, wanting to run it faster but knowing I couldn’t because of the restrictions of the study. This is Science after all and needed to be done properly.
At the end of the 100 minutes, I was so relieved to have finished. Not just because of the boredom of treadmill running, but also because it meant I could eat again very soon! I can confirm I was very hungry at the end of each run!
This essentially was the benchmark trial. I was hydrating only with water. The next two sessions would involve me drinking a carbohydrate drink in place of water. The only variable changing now, would be the frequency at which liquid would be consumed. On each run, I would still be consuming a total of 1 litre of fluid.
In the session today, I’d be given a carbohydrate drink in place of water. The drink was a 10% solution of dextrose in water (so 100g of dextrose per litre). In comparison, commercially available sports drinks are 6% carbohydrate. The recommendation is to consume 60g of carbohydrate per hour when exercising for around 2 hours. The same rate was used in our study. I’d be consuming 20ml of a carbohydrate drink every 5 minutes throughout the trial. This proved to be really quite annoying! It wasn’t flavoured, just tasted sickly sweet. After about an hour, I really just wanted to drink water!
The drinks messed up any kind of rhythm or ‘zone’ I could get in to when running. With having to breathe into a Douglas bag for the last four minutes of every 20 minutes of running, responding to how I rated various factors according to how my body was feeling (every 10 minutes), having blood samples taken (every 20 minutes) and drinking 20ml of sugary drink (every 5 minutes), the run was constantly interrupted. My mind was all over the place and I had to concentrate hard to get through the run this time.
In the previous session, we had some old rock music playing. Today, I had the pleasure of listening to Green Day during the run! Ready for next week, I had to think about what music I was going to listen to for the final session!
To see how session 3 went, you can also check out my YouTube video that documents it here.
For the final session, I’d decided to request Stereophonics as the soundtrack. I figured that their more up tempo songs would be about right for my running speed. Knowing lots of the lyrics would also be helpful to keep me from thinking about running and counting down time!
In this session, the fuelling strategy for the dextrose drink was every 20 minutes. Each time therefore, I’d be drinking 200ml every 20 minutes. In one way, this made things more straightforward in that I’d have more time between each drink to get on with running. However, as I was required to drink it straight away and not have it in small amounts throughout the 20 minutes, I was more likely to feel a bit bloated initially following the drink.
Knowing it was the last session really helped, and I kept focusing on making sure I completed the run, so I could help the researchers with their work. You can watch footage of me from the final trial on YouTube here.
The run was probably the smoothest run of the trials because by now I’d got the hang of the mouthpiece I had to run with in my mouth every so often, and knew the routines of the feedback questions, ignoring the cannula in my arm and the monotony of the treadmill. The Stereophonics music really helped too, as nostalgic memories came flooding back from when I was a student at the University.
You can see the results of my efforts in the images in this blog post. I’m looking forward to hearing back from Marianna and Kelsie in the future once they’ve submitted their dissertations. I’m also interested in seeing how this research and other similar studies can help scientists to learn more about how fuelling strategies can be optimised for long distance athletes.
I was really impressed with being given my results almost as soon as I’d finished the final trial. Dr Mears went through the results in detail, explaining more about what the different measurements meant and how I could use these results to help me with my training.
It was interesting to see my sweat rate and body mass loss over the course of each different trial. I was surprised that I sweated more with the carbohydrate drink than with water alone and also that I lost more body mass when drinking the carbohydrate drinks too. I already knew that on long distance runs, you can lose a significant amount of body mass. What I didn’t know was that body mass losses of 2-4% may be OK, which is what is stated on page 2 of my results above.
Overall, I found the research fascinating and was really pleased to be able to give something back to Loughborough University in this way, and also, potentially, the running community at large. Who knows where future research into carbohydrate fuelling for endurance athletes will go next!
I’d also like to thank Dr Mears, Marianna and Kelsie for their support and professionalism in looking after me and walking me through the different processes. They made it as enjoyable as it could have been and I wish them well for their research and future careers.
If you have any questions about this research, please do get in touch!