How can you gear up for a fitness/endurance event or marathon?
Dr. Jeff Wheeler shares tips on what to eat, workouts and more in this interview
Running a marathon, cycling in a charity event or engaging in any fitness event can be exhilarating and life changing. But it doesn’t just happen on the day of the race. There are steps you can—and should—take well ahead of time to perform at your best. And who knows better about that than Dr. Jeff Wheeler? He’s an avid cyclist/runner, fitness enthusiast and successful plastic surgeon turned Cenegenics physician.
CPost: Talk to us about preparation, where do we start?
Well, take the 2012 AIDS LifeCycle race. Riding 545 miles over 7 days can be daunting to many people who’ve never ridden more than a mile or two. There’s a lot entailed in multiple-day rides. Training is a very important part of any long ride like this—or any fitness event for that matter.
For the June 3, 2012 AIDS race, I actually started training back in November 2011 and early January 2012. I put together a training schedule, starting about 22 weeks out, so I had at least 5 months.
The weather wasn’t that cooperative during the winter months here in Denver, so I did much of my training indoors on a bicycle trainer, doing 15-20 miles per day for about 5-6 days per week. I was averaging 100 miles a week.
As the months progressed, I increased the intensity. Whenever the weather improved, I spent more time cycling outdoors on the weekends—but also did my 15-20 miles on the bicycle trainer. So on the weekends, I’d do 20 miles, then 40 miles, 50, 60.
In the last few weeks before the event, I worked up to a 60-to-70-mile bike ride because the race is about 80 miles a day.
CPost: The key then is gearing up to the actual time, length of the actual event.
Yes. And for cyclists, that means spending time in the saddle. You’ve got to spend a lot of time getting used to being on a bicycle for an extended period of time, riding for multiple days. It’s different from riding once a week. So if you don’t train, you’ll not only get sore, but also not accustomed to the duration.
My advice is to give yourself enough time—several months—to plan and follow a training schedule. The AIDS LifeCycle site offers a number of online resources (training, safety, nutrition, hydration, choosing a bike, etc.) to help; various locations even have team leaders who set up training rides.
CPost: How does nutrition factor in?
Low-glycemic nutrition is my core diet. However, as I expend more energy in my training, I need more calories. I’ve learned the importance of that through previous marathons and events I’ve trained for.
It’s easy to consume more calories, but we must be very, very careful and selective of the type of calories we choose.
- Quality protein. I eat every 2 to 3 hours about 15-20 grams of protein per meal. I’ve switched over to a vegetable protein vs. whey protein. It’s better on my digestive system—and actually a preference for many athletes.
- Higher caloric intake. That means more fruits and vegetables as well as more grains. The added grains (complex carbohydrates) during training help build up glycogen stores in my muscles and liver, which is done by gradually increasing this type of carb. So when I’m out biking 6 hours a day, I’ll be expending an extra several thousand calories that day alone. That’s a considerable amount of calories, which is why I have to be sure my caloric intake is up.
CPost: Of course, hydration is always an issue.
Based on my history running marathons, I’ve learned we really need to be drinking several ounces every 15 minutes. Keep in mind that weather, wind conditions, etc. can cause you to lose a lot more fluid in the form of sweat.
People tend to forget to drink, getting caught up in the moment of the event or training. So be sure to drink at every rest stop as well. Fortunately, most bicycles have receptacles for water bottles.
Point is this: If you’re thirsty—you’re already slightly dehydrated.
CPost: Any special message to the “resilient” 20-to-30 somethings?
They tend to think their bodies are ageless. But like all of us, they will grow older. How they age is the issue.
I’d like them to know that many prospective patients (often in their 50s) were also athletic and in good shape in their 20s and 30s, then slowly in their 40s their activity level dropped and weight came on. Now they have issues with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, prediabetes, and their activity levels have decreased.
These people know/can feel the difference because they were athletes in their younger days. I tell these prospective patients, as a 50-something myself, it is possible to stay in shape and find time to exercise, despite working long hours. I’ve maintained the same healthy weight over the last 20 years.
Likewise, other Cenegenics physicians practice what they preach, hoping to inspire patients to take control of their health: “If he can do it, so can I.” That can be very motivating.
CPost: Last words?
There are so many walks, marathons, rides out there that we can all get involved in. But we have to do it sensibly. We have to first be sure we’re medically fit—medically cleared—then train properly so we’re prepared for the event.
Get inspired . . . read Dr. Wheeler’s story: Jeff Wheeler, Physician, Fitness Advocate and Cyclist for the 2012 AIDS LifeCycle Race.