Fencing Tournament Follow-up

Note: this is a follow-up to this post: http://jeffammons.net/2011/04/fencing-tournament-physical-and-nutritional-preparation/

Alright, so I survived two tournaments since posting last. The first one on May 1st was a much tougher crowd as it was a regional qualifier, meaning I was fencing pretty much strictly highly rated fencers. I knew that going in though, and I think I got some useful learning out of it. I finished 33/36, so not dead last which I suppose I can be happy about. I also lost my direct elimination to a B, but only 8-15 or something like that. The second one, on May 7th was a D and under tournament, which meant that only unrated and lower rated (as it turned out, about  7-8 E’s and the rest unrated). I did better in this one, but felt more frustrated as I lost my first direct elimination to a very closely matched fencer whom I could have beat.

Ok, so on to the diet and preparation. Let’s start with the first tournament. Training-wise, I felt like I was in pretty good condition. Most of my sore spots were healed and I felt good to go. My energy levels remained high the whole time (the 2 hours or so that it took). I ate eggs and bacon for breakfast about 1 1/2 hours before starting to fence. I had a glass of cold green tea about 45 minutes before starting to fence to try to wake myself up. I didn’t sleep well the night before. I felt like my blood sugars were good throughout, so I didn’t feel the need to eat much of what I’d brought. I did have a few strawberries every 15-20 minutes or so just in case though. All in all, I would say that the low-carb/high fat approach leading up with some carb consumption day of seemed to work well.

The second tournament was a bit harder on me, primarily because I didn’t take it quite as seriously. Also, I had pretty badly strained my thumb the Sunday previous. I tried to make a good effort to keep it iced and immobile during the week, then taped it pretty heavily for the tournament. It hurt a bit, but seemed strong enough to handle most everything. I did have to avoid a few parrying movements which hurt, but they’re not common ones, so it wasn’t a huge detriment. For this tournament, I tried the same strategy for nutrition. I ate eggs for breakfast (I ran out of bacon). Unfortunately, the tournament didn’t start until 1:30, and it was a 2 1/2 hour drive away, and I hadn’t planned a lunch, so I had to rely on a stick of pemmican to keep energized. I also had a few glasses of green tea — I had trouble sleeping again (this may have been related to things other than fencing nerves though). I also brought along the remaining strawberries, but wished that I’d brought the banana as well as I ended up feeling hypoglycemic towards the end of my direct elimination bout. I had felt it coming too and finished off all of the strawberries to try to avoid it, but it didn’t seem like enough and I got sluggish (this could also have been hydration to a large degree).

Lessons learned: plan ahead and bring more than I need. I will continue this approach to fueling my fencing though, as it seemed to keep my functioning throughout the day and I didn’t feel foggy-headed or sluggish except in the end of the second tournament. We’ll see how it holds up in a tournament situation where I manage to get out of the first round of the direct elims though.

Fencing Tournament Physical and Nutritional Preparation

I signed up last week to compete in a fencing tournament on May 1st. Since then I’ve been contemplating how to approach the tournament. I haven’t done any fencing competitions for 2+ years. I’ve gained a lot of sophistication and knowledge in regards to physical training and nutrition in those last 2 years, so I figured I would try to use that knowledge to help improve my game at the tournament. I’m going to need all the help I can get.

Physical Training:

A week isn’t really enough time to have much of an effect on my physical conditioning. It is, however, a great amount of time to heal up. I’ve been going pretty hard the last few weeks and have some sore spots: my wrist hurts, my right index finger hurts, my foot has some hot-spots on it, my ankle is sore, and my back is sore. Nothing too extreme, but all things which could affect my ability to perform at the tournament. I fenced for a few hours today, but that was probably the last real strenuous activity I’ll do before the tournament.

I plan on doing some mobilization and stretching Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week in replacement of my usual lifting schedule and going to fencing class on Thursday to run some drills and fence a few bouts, but not to fatigue myself too heavily. I’ll also be keeping up with my usual frequent icing of my back throughout the week. The day before the tournament I’ll probably run some blade-work drills at home and just get in the mood for fencing.

Hopefully if I can lock all that down, I’ll be in pretty top shape physically for the tournament on Sunday.


The nutrition side of this is a bit more of an experiment for me. Last time I fenced a tournament, I had a completely different dietary approach (high-carb, low-fat then vs. paleo now). Thinking about the demands of fencing, I think I have a pretty good idea of what I need to eat. Either way, I’m going to try it and modify next time as needed.

A fencing tournament consists of a round-robin style pool (usually 6-8 fencers depending on the number of fencers present). I will get to fence each of these competitors to 5 points or time runs out after 3 minutes. Between each bout I’ll have a few minutes to recover. After this, the fencers are ranked and placed into a direct elimination ladder. These matches are to 15 points and have longer time limits, with a break in the middle (I can’t remember the exact times for this are, somewhere in the 3-5 minute range followed by a 1 minute break, followed by another period of fencing). These periods of fencing require elevated aerobic activity over the entire period of the bout, which short bursts of high intensity, phosphagen and glycolytic pathway work.

Because I typically eat a fairly low-carb, high-fat diet, I’m confident that I can sustain the aerobic portion of my fencing bouts and energy levels throughout the day by converting dietary and body fat into energy. I’ve been playing around the last few weeks with eating more carbs to see what happens, but in order to be certain that I can utilize fat sources effectively on Sunday, I’m going to go back to low-carb eating for the remainder of my time before the tournament. I’ll still be eating some carbs, just not pushing them like I had been the past few weeks. Breakfast on tournament day will be bacon and eggs (like usual), and I’ll bring some pemmican if I need some additional fat during the day (pemmican, in case you don’t know is basically beef-fat and jerky melded together).

The wild card then is the need for bursts of power. I’m going to need glucose to fuel those actions. I should have a reasonable amount of muscular and liver glycogen stores built up via the carbs I’ve eaten plus gluconeogenesis, but they’ll get depleted as things progress. Consuming glucose seems to be the way to go (as opposed to fructose — sucrose appears to be about the same as glucose) to restore muscular glycogen stores (see this study). Glucose also replenishes glycogen much quicker in the first hour following exercise which means I will be consuming it throughout the day between bouts, probably a banana and some berries as they have decent glucose to fructose ratios. I’ll have to go easy on the banana though so I don’t spike my blood-sugar. I’m pretty sugar sensitive since I don’t eat much normally.

Water will also be incredibly important. Wearing 3 layers of clothing and a mask tends to make one sweat a lot. To counteract the fluid and mineral loss, I’ll be prepping this week by taking a calcium/magnesium supplement and putting extra salt on my food. I’ll also probably bring along some coconut water to get some electrolytes as the day goes on. Electrolytes are critical to keep muscles and nerves functioning properly, so the last thing I need is to become deficient and lose precision or accuracy.

This is certainly all just guesses, but it should give me a good baseline to start off of and improve as I attend more tournaments.

WTF does “Pasteurized” mean?

So I was looking at a carton of milk in the fridge the other day, (like you do…) and inadvertently reading the word that I’ve seen probably a million times (ok maybe not that many) “Pasteurized.” It occurred to me: what does that even mean? I think we assume that it’s a good and natural part of how we get our milk, but why? I figured I’d try to do some research and figure that out.

Pasturization is a process developed by Louis Pasteur which uses heat to destroy human pathogens. According to the International Dairy Food Association, “‘pasteurized’ and similar terms shall mean the process of heating every particle of milk or milk product, in properly designed and operated equipment, to one (1) of the temperatures” specified by a supplied chart. There are 3 different types of pasteurization: 1) Vat Pasteurization (145F for 30 minutes), 2) High Temperature, Short Time (HTST)  (161F for 15 seconds), 3) Higher Heat, Shorter Time (HHST) which can be a range of times and temperatures from 191F for 1 second up to 212F for 0.01 seconds and, finally, 4) Ultra-Pasteurized (280F for 2 seconds). Fascinating, no?

There also exists one final form, UHT or Ultra-High Temperature which involves heating and packaging the milk in a sterile environment, so it doesn’t require refrigeration. I remember seeing this in Thailand and a few places in Europe. It always weirds me out to see milk that doesn’t require refrigeration.

Now let’s look at the other side of the story: Raw Milk. The term “raw” is actually a bit misleading in my opinion. It seems to imply that milk is somehow normally served “cooked.” Raw milk is simply milk straight out of the cow, minus the pasteurizing. Despite this being it’s natural state, it’s illegal to sell raw milk across state lines and to sell at all in a number of states. Check this map for details. Sounds sinister doesn’t it? Well in doing some research, it’s actually more complicated than that. In fact, what did we do before Louis invented it? Seems unlikely that we just suffered with the occasional death from drinking milk.

There are certainly some marked bad effects of raw milk, the CDC reported 1,007 illnesses, 104 hospitalizations, and two deaths from 45 outbreaks between 1998 to 2005. Yet, compare that to these numbers from the CDC: foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Suddenly the effects of raw milk are not so impressive. However, they’re not negligible. It does appear from doing some research here and here that it’s likely that these problems with raw milk are likely due to corn feeding the dairy cows. This is known to cause abnormal pH levels in the cow’s internals, creating an environment which breeds pathogens. This explains the need for pasteurization in most of our milk. It also explains what we did pre-pasteurization: we didn’t feed our cows crap. Here’s a neat write-up of that history.

This could be a topic for a future post, but in doing this research it seems to me that grass-fed raw milk may, in fact, be quite healthy.  My local Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods don’t carry any raw milk however, so I guess I’ll be left just wondering about it. If any of you know where I can get some grass-fed whole milk in LA, let me know.

So the short version: pasteurization is a very effective work-around process for dealing with the screw-up of feeding corn and other unnatural food to our cows.

My 30 Day Diet Recommendation

Diet is a Greek word for ‘way of life,’ and that is the sense in which I use the word. It’s been commandeered in recent years to mean weight loss program, and often when I tell people that I’m on a diet, they respond with something like: “but you’re so healthy, why are you dieting?” I’m dieting because we have to eat something, and I want what I eat to make me stronger, smarter, and happier. Seems like kind of a tall order, but it’s a work in progress. I pick up and drop things as I learn more and discover new things about my body. One can spend thier entire life refining their diet. One should spend their life refining their diet. It’s your fuel source and the building blocks for every part of your body: your brain, your lungs, your heart. Between diet and sleep, there are few things that can greater affect your wellbeing.

One of the most important things to realize about dieting is that everyone’s body is different. That said though, we’re more similar than different, so even if you can eat shit and not get fat, that doesn’t mean you’re dodging heart disease or diabetes. Be smart about realizing where you’re different and where you’re in denial because you love ice cream. So if we’re all different, what can I recommend to a general audience? Some general guidelines to start with and a way to measure improvement in future experimentation.

Guidelines: I recommend starting with worrying about food quality. Focus on eating real foods which would have been available to our paleolithic (caveman/woman) ancestors. We spent hundreds of thousands of years evolving to eat a diet of wild game and foraged roots and berries, only to discover agriculture some 10,000 years ago and completely change our diets. Since that change, we’ve gotten shorter, developed teeth problems, and problems like obesity and heart disease (and other so called diseases of civilization). As a side note, I’m not arguing that agriculture was a bad thing, it’s allowed humans to develop past small nomadic societies and into it’s state today, what I am saying is that it’s wasn’t good for our diets.

As such, my general recommendation is to eat vegetables and meat as your primary energy sources. Avoid all grains, dairy, and refined foods. If you can’t look at your food and see what animal or plant it came from, you really should think twice about eating it. Also be careful with potatoes, legumes (like peanuts and beans), and fruit. Potatoes and legumes because they contain anti-nutrients which end up doing more harm than good. Fruit can be a problem because many people will substitute the sugar they cut out of their diet with very sugary fruit (one note on this is that we have bred a lot of our fruits to be much sweeter than they ever were before agriculture. See this picture of a wild banana.) Fruit obviously has a lot of good vitamins and nutrients in it, but don’t overdo it, one or two pieces a day is pushing it. During your first 30 days, I’d say avoid it pretty much all together.

Measuring Improvement: Try it for 30 days and see if you feel better at the end of the 30 days. Some things to watch for are general energy levels, periods of sleepiness throughout the day, how you feel when you wake up, feeling hungry throughout the day. You have to commit to a minimum of 30 days though. The first two weeks you will likely feel worse because (if you’re like most people, and chances are you are) your body will have to make the adjustment between burning carbs as a primary energy source to burning fat. The good news is, after this changeover has occurred, you’ll reap a lot of benefits. To name a few that I’ve experienced on this diet: I don’t feel tired mid-afternoon anymore, I don’t get mood swings based on my blood sugar modulation between meals, and I’ve leaned out a little bit (I’m pretty lean already, my friend lost 30+ pounds). This same trial period works great for any dietary modifications you want to make, try it for 30 days, check back at the end and see if you look and feel better. If so, keep it, if not, get rid of it. No amount of scientific evidence can be as convincing as simply trying it for yourself. Worst case scenario, you’ve wasted 30 days, but in reality it hasn’t been wasted anyways because you’ve learned something about your body and your diet.

One important thing to remember on all this though is that the end goal is improving your quality of life. If for any reason, sticking to your diet is causing you more grief than benefits, you need to sit down and take a long look at what to do about it. On common situation this can come up with is alcohol consumption. Alcohol is detrimental to your bodily health. I think we can all agree on that. However, drinking can be an important part of socializing and general enjoyment of life, so maybe having a few drinks isn’t ideal from a diet standpoint, but if it’s going to make you happier, maybe you should let loose from time to time. To paraphrase Robb Wolf: Drink as much as it takes to optimize your sex life, without too much detriment your performance.

For more reading/watching/listening on this subject, check out:
Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
Robb Wolf’s Website
The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain
The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain
Fat Head a documentary by Tom Naughton
or just do a google search for some research on anything I’ve mentioned above. I recommend finding multiple sources though, and be very careful about shoddy research, there’s a lot out there in the area of nutrition.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments, I’ll try to get to them. Or even better, post results of your dietary experimentations.