Topics: Blood donation, RE: Base training, Hamstring, sit bone pain, Strength training, Sore/Numb right buttocks
Got a question for the fitness panel? Send it to email@example.com. Try and include as much relevant information as you can think of. The more details you can provide the better the panel can tailor their response to your question.
Emails may be edited for length or clarity, but we try to publish both questions and answers in their entirety.
To find advice that relates to you more easily:
Blood donation and racing performance
Could you please discuss the pros and cons of whole blood and plasma donation for racers?
NB: This is not a solicitation for covert performance enhancing advice - I'm a long term blood donor seeking to better understand the implications of donation in order to avoid unnecessarily hindering my training.
If I donate whole blood, how long will it take for my red blood cell levels to return to normal? Will they return to the old level, or higher? lower? and why?
If I donate plasma (and therefore don't lose any red blood cells) will this affect red blood cell production? If so, in what way? Will the other things that I lose with the plasma (i.e. white cells (?), antibodies) make me more prone to illness and infection in the short term? If so, how long until this passes?
Thanks for your help,
I am a 27-year-old male, beginning to train seriously for road cycling. I'm following the principles laid down in The Training Bible, and I've begun base training in preparation for local Cat V racing next year. How should I alter my training plan in the various training phases (base, build) after donating blood? Are there any health benefits to giving blood?
Falls Church, VA
Pam Hinton says:
Sure there are health benefits to donating blood—for the people who need your blood via transfusion. Accident victims, cancer patients, and people with blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, all require blood transfusions. Five million Americans receive blood transfusions every year and many of them would have a hard time living without your gift. That’s why they call it a gift of life, and you are to be commended for this unselfish act. But as an athlete, there are some issues to be mindful of with respect to blood donation.
I suspect that you’ve heard donating blood stimulates production of red blood cells. This is true, but you only replace the number of cells that were lost. There is no net increase in red blood cells, i.e., hematocrit. After donating blood, the kidneys detect a decrease in oxygen carrying capacity of the blood and increase production of erythropoietin (EPO). This hormone acts on the bone marrow to stimulate production of new red blood cells. It takes several weeks to replenish your red blood cell supply, so you may fatigue more rapidly during hard training rides after donating blood. Plasma donation does not impact red blood cell production.
If you are going to donate blood regularly there are several precautions to take so that it doesn’t negatively affect your training. Be sure to allow a minimum of 8 weeks between donations, so that your red blood cell count is back to normal before you donate again. Production of red blood cells depends on many vitamins and minerals, in addition to iron: zinc, copper, vitamins B6, B12, C, and folate. You can get enough of these nutrients by eating a high-quality diet that includes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and red meat.
Scott Saifer says:
I concur with Pam that when you donate blood, you are doing something far more important in the grander scheme of things than winning a bike race. How hard would you be willing to ride to save a life? I'd try at least as hard as I would in a race, if there were ever a chance to make that difference in that way.
At the same time, donating blood decreases your performance ability in one sense for a few weeks and in another sense for many months because it decreases your ability to deliver oxygen to your muscles during the few weeks after a donation. It lowers your VO2-max, your power at lactate threshold and your power at all heart rates. In other words, it does the opposite of what training is supposed to do.
Pam is right that a few weeks after a donation your blood levels will be back to normal and you'll be training normally again, but you will also have had 2-3 weeks of compromised training. Thus your approach to blood donation should depend on your goals in cycling. If you are enjoying riding your bike, maybe cruising at a relatively mellow pace with friends, donate as often as your donation center will have you. If your goals in cycling include high level racing, you want to be more judicious in parting with your blood. Training at lower power for 2-3 weeks out of every eight is not an ideal way to build up to being a competitive racer. People who are training seriously for racing should consider donating early in their annual rest period so that they won't need their blood at full strength during the post-donation period. That means a maximum of one or two donations per year.
I know that blood donation enthusiasts will be grumpy about this, but since only a few percent of people ever donate at all, donating once a year consistently actually moves you into the top 1% of donators after only the second year.
RE: Base training in the off-season
Scott Saifer wrote:
"Very briefly, you should do a few months of base and then start increasing intensity gradually with one month that includes long sub-lactic threshold intervals a couple of days per week, one month that includes shorter LT intervals a couple of days per week, and then one month that includes either club rides, races that you enter for training, or supra-threshold efforts, sprints, all-out hill repeats and the like one or two days per week."
I currently train in a similar fashion to this. However the one piece that I struggle with is how much of the previous phase should I carry into the new phase for maintenance. Or in other words, when the Sub-LT phase is finished (or when LT starts) how much Sub-LT work do I need to keep, if any for maintenance while improving LT.
And then when moving to MAX efforts how much sub-LT and LT work do I need, if any.
I try to keep at least 1 day for sub-LT when moving to LT and 1 day of sub-LT and LT combined in one workout when adding MAX efforts (sprints and hills). But time and other commitments don't always allow the time.
I find that 3 days hard training is about what I can stand (from a daily life point of view) with easy rides and core work in between.
I know it is not simple and don't expect you to answer for me specifically with information provided. Just curious if there are any "guidelines" as to how much carryover of phases is recommended. Based on your example if a person kept the previous training into the next there would be 6 days of hard training. I know this is not your suggestion but curious for information on what one would do with the previous phase when beginning a new phase.
Scott Saifer says:
Good question! Thank you. It helps to think of training in terms of the energy systems involved. It turns out that endurance training and sub-LT work are very similar physiologically, so while sub-LT work is important in preparation for harder work, endurance training is enough to maintain the benefits of the sub-LT work. Thus when you add in your two days of LT work, you can entirely stop doing sub-LT work. Just do your LT work and endurance rides.
Sprint and other short, near maximal work does challenge different physiological systems than either endurance or LT work, so you do need to maintain both of those as you enter the supra-threshold training phase. That's why I recommend using club rides or races for your supra-threshold work for most riders. You'll unavoidably get training of every intensity of which you are capable, plus the motivation to maintain your efforts probably longer than you could when riding alone. If you don't have access to club rides and races in the supra-threshold period, I'd suggest doing one day of sprint-type workouts and one or two days of threshold work depending on your ability to recover. If you can do good quality work on one sprint day and two threshold days and still get in 2-3 days of endurance work, do two threshold days.
Hamstring, Sit Bone Pain
I am a fit 41 yr old cyclist. I have raced off and on for the last 25 years, currently a cat 1 mountain biker. For the last year I have been battling a pain in my right sit bone area. As far as I can tell, it is the soft tissue and not the bone itself. The pain typically starts about an hour into a ride and becomes very uncomfortable after 3-4 hours. Taking the weight off my seat by standing makes the pain subside until I sit back down again. I believe this all started about a year ago while riding 10 hrs at the Shenandoah 100 race on a hard tail MTB. Until the pain gets really bad, it does not seem to affect my performance on the bike. In general, my bike positioning has not changed and yes, I have tried 5-6 saddles to find one that hurts the least while riding (WTB Rocket V). I do use chamois creme which seems to help a bit.
The PT mentioned Ischial Tuberosity or Piriformis as a possible causes and it does appear that I have a tight hamstring. His advice was to try to strengthen all the muscles associated with my hip and prescribed a series of lunges and other exercises. Currently I ride 2-3 times a week for 6-8 hours (total). I rarely ride two days in a row because the pain gets better with time off the bike. I am willing to take some extended time off the bike if that is what is needed, but I would prefer to wait until cross if over if possible.
Is sit bone pain common among competitive cyclist? Does the diagnosis of Ischial Tubrosity fit the pain I describe? What can I do to help? This has been a real pain in my ass.
Steve Hogg says:
Issues like yours are reasonably common. I suppose it is possible that you have bruised the bone but the more likely reason is that you have hamstring origin tendinitis caused by over extension on the right side. Often this only becomes obvious to the rider on harder than normal efforts and I suspect your 10 hour race falls into that category.
The question is why the right side and not the left side?
The more common possible answers are below and include links to info that expands on some of them:
2. Tight right side hip flexors inhibiting right side glutes which in turn often causes the hamstrings to be loaded more heavily while cycling. If the right side psoas and iliacus are significantly tighter than the same muscles on the left side, one common correlation is dairy intake. Eliminating dairy food can be a positive for this in some people.
3. Not sitting squarely on the seat and hanging or twisting forward to the left. If this happens, the right leg has to reach further to the pedal. If this is the case, one of the more common reasons is too high a seat height. When the seat is too high, next to no one sits squarely on the seat and equally overextends each leg. Always they will hang one way and overextend one leg more than the other. More often than not, the 'protected side' is the right and the 'sacrificed' side is the left. You may be an example of the opposite as there are plenty out there.
4. Poor cleat position triggering asymmetric compensatory patterns.
5. Less than ideal foot correction on one or both sides also triggering compensatory patterns. This link covers the most important aspect of foot correction though there is more on the site as well
Once you've read that, either something will strike a chord or it won't. If nothing does, find a quality structural health professional and ask them for a global structural assessment with the focus on finding why you are functioning as asymmetrically as you do on the bike.
I really enjoy reading the Fitness Q&A, keep up the good work.
You may be a bit sick of questions like the one I have for you but here goes. I’m a 30 year old competitive mountain biker in the masters category and have been racing and training for around 5/6 years. My question is one of strength training. In previous winters I have included some general conditioning work 2/3 times a week like bodyweight exercises, core work and light weights/high reps to try and be an all-round athlete.
My core was also a big weakness a couple of years ago and I wanted to address this. I’ve read and own a variety of training books for cycling training and they all recommend strength training in the winter. I’m 6’4, 79kg and pretty good on long gradual climbs but seem to struggle when it’s short and steep. I thought that a properly implemented strength training program would help with this weakness and also help me to generate more power in general to ride faster (the goal of every competitive cyclist). I just wondered what your thoughts were on strength training for already trained cyclists.
Scott Saifer says:
Strength training is good for cyclists unless they are overweight with muscle already or have some injury that could be worsened by strength training. You are pretty light for your height and you haven't mentioned injuries, so I'd suggest you include some strength training in your training plans.
Strength training is not going to help with sustained speed, but it will help with bursts of high speed up to several minutes duration, and with the short, super hard efforts that are needed in technical climbing, or sprinting around another rider. Core and upper body strength training will give you the strength foundation on which to build your technical descending ability.
Sore/numb right buttocks
I just moved from Chicago to LA, and I’ve started riding my road bike after a winter on my indoor cycling bike (Cycleops PT300). But my right buttocks gets sore / numb after about an hour of riding. I’ve had my position on my road bike checked in Chicago, and the fitter noticed that I drop my right hip when I pedal. We played with seat height / fore-aft placement, and weren’t able to eliminate the hip drop.
My current saddle is a Selle Italia Flight Gel Flow, which replaces the Selle Italia SLR. The Flight is more comfortable than the SLR – I can ride about an extra 15 - 30 minutes before the problem happens. I’ve tried both the Fizik Arione and the Antares, and both exacerbated the problem, and were uncomfortable after about 20 minutes.
Fit wise, I’m on the smaller size 5’ 9”, 150lbs. But I have a very long torso for my height: Saddle Top to BB is 68.5cm, while Saddle Tip to Handle Bar 54.3.
I’ve also noticed that I’m very asymmetric strength wise: my right quad is stronger than my left, but my left hamstring is stronger than my right. Also, I had knee problems in the past (soccer injury from when I was 11), that were corrected with orthoscopic surgery.
Shoes are Side Genius
Pedals are Time Iclic
Cranks are 170mm
Do you have any suggestions / recommendations on what I can try to eliminate the soreness / numbness? Or fitters in the Los Angeles area that you would recommend I go see?
Steve Hogg says:
Your self-description of asymmetric strength (development?) suggests that something fairly basic is awry. It could be a leg length difference, it could be a pelvic asymetry or it could be a host of other things including issues with your position.
There are two broad categories as to why people drop one hip. The first is Positional Challenges. For instance, if the seat is too high it is a rare rider who will sit squarely on the seat and overextend both legs equally. The vast majority will drop one hip (more often than not the right). Another example is bars that are too far away or too low. This can cause people to also asymmetrically compensate by bringing one hip and shoulder further forward than the other. If either of these or similar things happen for long enough, hard enough, pain on the dropping side can be one type of fallout. These links will give you more background;
The other category is Structural Challenges. Basically we need to be as functionally symmetrical on a bike as possible to interact with a positionally symmetrical bicycle for best performance and lowest chance of developing overuse injuries. Your description of left / right differences in flexibility may have been caused by your bike position. More likely, that riding a bike exacerbates existing asymmetries. You may even have a shorter leg. Self knowledge is the key to a solution. Find a really good physio, chiropractor, functional trainer or similar and have yourself globally assessed for functional and measurable asymmetries including leg length difference.
With the knowledge you gain from that process, you can determine whether your bike position is the problem, whether your current state of structural fitness is the problem or whether it is a combination of the two.
Let me know what you find.