The Firecracker 100
July. 98 degrees. And I had hit the proverbial wall. With every tortuous pedal stroke, my resolve to finish the last 10 miles of the Firecracker 100 dwindled. The only thing that motivated me to press on was the dreaded humiliation of calling on the volunteers in the SAG wagon to transport me to my car.
The Firecracker 100 is a hundred-mile bicycle race, of sorts, through the countryside and cornfields of Western Illinois. There is no winner's podium. No prize for 1st place. Just a punch-type clock at the start and finish to document finish times for bragging rights. And after several months of training I was ready for the challenge... or so I thought.
At the starting line, I was in good shape, felt great, and had jersey pockets full of energy gels and bars. I drank water and sports drinks at every aid station. Yet at mile 90 I was in misery. My energy was depleted and I could barely turn the pedals.
Overheated and exhausted, I finally crossed the finish line after many of the volunteer staff had left.
A few weeks after the Firecracker 100, I began a quest to learn more about eating for long-term, sustained energy. Energy that doesn't quickly fade like that from gels and sports drinks. Energy that sustains me and makes me feel alive. I won't bore you with the volumes of scientific details, but if I could summarize all that I learned into one sentence, it would be:
Eat a variety of foods with the highest nutrient density.
Blue Green Algae
Along with other so-called superfoods like varieties of berries, nuts, avocados, and dark green veggies, I started including spirulina in my diet. Spirulina (blue-green algae) is packed with nutrients too numerous to "unpack" in this article, but you can read more about them here. The problem was the only spirulina available to me at the time was in powder form and needed to be mixed into other foods or drinks. The result was everything tasted like, well, algae, meaning my strawberry/banana smoothie looked and tasted like it had been made with pond water.
So I was intrigued when I discovered ENERGYbits®, small tablets made of 100% spirulina. The folks at ENERGYbits® sent a sample of their bits for me to try.
Being curious, and somewhat skeptical, I tried ENERGYbits® just before my most difficult workout - a 3.5-mile, fast-paced trail run through a heavily-wooded area replete with steep hills, rocks, roots, and creek crossings.
Admittedly, making an objective judgement about the realized benefits of any food or supplement is difficult after only one trial. But having taken spirulina for awhile now, and knowing the nutrition and energy benefits I've experienced, I can say that ENERGYbits® are a great way to get your spirulina!
The package recommends taking 30 bits before a workout. Thirty tablets seems like a lot, and it is. However, they are small enough to swallow easily and are a much better alternative to pond water smoothies. I recommend counting out 30 tablets, and taking a few at a time over the course of 5 minutes or so while you are donning your running gear.
As you swallow the tablets, you will taste the algae momentarily. However, my greatest concern was continuing to taste, and sorry, burp, pond water throughout my run. Gladly, I didn't! In fact, after about 5 minutes, I didn't taste the spirulina at all.
Again, it is difficult to be objective after a single trial. But I know from previous experience that nutrient dense foods always provide me with energy and a feeling of "being alive." So, not surprisingly, I had sustained energy throughout my run and finished with one of my better times. And at least one study conducted in 2010 confirms what I've experienced by supplementing with spirulina. This study, which observed 9 runners who ran at 75% VO2 Max for 2 hours followed by 95% VO2 Max to exhaustion, concluded that spirulina supplementation enabled runners to perform an average of 30% longer.
Energy gels and sports drinks certainly have their place in athletic performance, and I use them regularly. But after the Firecracker 100, I'm much more discerning of when and how much. And my focus has shifted from short-term, quick energy, to long-term, sustained energy.
I'm not a nutrition science researcher, but there is abundant evidence that spirulina is a great nutrient dense supplement. And ENERGYbits® are a great way to get it!
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