More than Skin Deep

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It’s true that beauty is more than skin deep. The health of our skin is not only dependent on what we put on it but what we put into as well. Recent evidence shows that probiotics can affect areas of the body beyond the gut’s microbiome including our skin. The relationship can be both positive or negative; meaning that if your gut’s microbiome is not properly “balanced,” or in a state of dysbiosis, this can result in unhealthy skin.

The mechanism by which dysbiosis can result in skin conditions such as acne and eczema is thought to be related to “leaky gut.” Leaky gut occurs when there is increased permeability of the intestinal lining that allows bad bacteria to enter into the blood stream triggering a cascade of inflammation. It is this inflammation that can disrupt organ systems beyond the gut.

Probiotics are felt to contribute to improvement in skin health by reducing leaky gut and in turn reduce levels of inflammation in the body. For example, a study showed that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus reduced the severity of adult acne by reducing levels of pro-inflammatory molecules. Another study demonstrated that a combination treatment of a probiotic mixture + antibiotic resulted in significantly fewer acne lesions than the antibiotic alone with less side effects as well. While the exact mechanism as to why probiotics help certain skin conditions remains unknown, dermatological practices are beginning to understand their benefit, recommending their use as sole treatment or as an adjunct for conditions like acne or eczema.

Finally, it is important to know if the probiotic supplement you are using contains the strains that have been studied. Equally as important for efficacy is the CFU count, are the probiotics alive?, and will they survive stomach’s acidity? Luckily, Sound Probiotics has done the research for you and we can assure these criteria have been met.

Those Gut Feelings

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Over the past few years a growing body of research has shown that the gut microbiome influences our mental health. This connection is due to a bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain (the gut-brain-axis). In 2016, a meta-analysis (a study of all the best studies) demonstrated that the use of probiotics reduced the risk of depression in non-depressed people as well as reduced the symptoms of depression in depressed individuals.

Since 2016 there have been several studies that have replicated these findings. So what is going on? How can microscopic organisms affect our mood so profoundly? It turns out that probiotics most likely mediate our mood through their anti-inflammatory effects. Depression is associated with increased inflammation in the body. The gut helps mediate this process by being a gate keeper for pro-inflammatory molecules that can pass from the gut into the blood stream. Probiotics help block these molecules from getting into the blood and triggering inflammation. The opposite holds true as well – negative alterations in the gut microbiome, or dysbiosis, has been linked to depression and anxiety.

Probiotics also influence neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which is involved in clinical depression and the hormone modulated by the most widely used anti-depressant drugs. The probiotic, Bifidobacterium infantis has been shown to increase levels of tryptophan, the serotonin precursor. Probiotics have also been shown to influence levels of GABA, catecholamine, dopamine, and acetylcholine.

A recent study examined the effects of the probiotics, Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum on mood. The study showed an improved mood in healthy participants by alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is important to note that studies such as this one indicate that the effects of probiotics are strain specific. Sound Mind utilizes the probiotic strains found to be most effective in the clinical research.

Catching up with Pro Cyclists Dani Arman & Kristen Legan

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Q&A with Dani Arman & Kristen Legan - Pro Cyclists with Team Bitchn Grit 

We caught up with pro cyclists Kristen Legan and Dani Arman fresh off their first race of the 2018 season - where both finished in the Top 10 at the Qiansen Trophy cyclocross race in China. The Bitchn Grit team will cross the globe in 2018: racing in China, Japan, Belgium, and throughout the United States. Below are some quick thoughts from the duo on training, nutrition, motivation and more - 

What excites you most heading into this racing season? What scares you?

Kristen: I’m really excited to race new venues and experience the personalities and excitement surrounding the UCI circuit this season. Each location and race has its own flavor so getting outside of Colorado and into some east coast mud or west coast speed will be exciting and challenging. 

All the nerves of doing something new and challenging yourself to be better than last season are definitely present. I don’t think these nerves ever go away though, so I’m working on just embracing it all and remembering that we’re out there for fun. You can be serious and respect the courses and competition while still enjoying the experience out there and I think that’s important to remember. 

Dani: I’m very excited about the team Kristen and I put together. To have a small family of partners, including a nonprofit (Bitchstix), who help us experience racing is incredible. Kristen and I are also good friends and to have that kind of support, allowing us to play around on cross bikes together is unreal!

What is one thing that you are most proud of in your athletic career - on or off the bike ?

Kristin: In 2012, I was part of a 6-woman team that rode the entire Tour de France one day ahead of the men’s pro peloton. We were out there promoting women’s equality in cycling and what better and more exciting way than to ride all the famous roads and iconic climbs in France. I’m proud to continue pushing for more equality in cycling through cyclocross and help build a team that will hopefully turn into a women’s development team to foster young riders into the UCI race circuit. 

Dani: I am proud of the work/life/race balance. Work has always helped my racing and vice versa and each is grounding in their own particular way. It’s consistently dynamic, never black and white. You meet a large range of personalities and learn from each one. Most importantly, it teaches me how to slow down when I need to and pay attention to my health and family needs. Never a dull moment, and I’m always learning. 

How has your training evolved over the last few years as you progress in the sport? 

Kristen: I’ve been lucky to work and learn from some amazing coaches throughout my triathlon and cycling careers. I raced triathlon professionally for about 5 years before turning to bike racing and developed a strong foundation of training and recovery that has helped me immensely through this transition. I’ve long been and will probably always be a “diesel rider” or someone that can just go for super long periods of time and a steady or strong pace. That’s why gravel riding has suited me so well. For cross, it’s all about explosive power and agility on and off the bike so my training has transitioned to focus on these areas. I do the full range of training from easy, base riding to max efforts and sprints throughout the year no matter if I’m racing gravel or cyclocross. But as we get toward cross season, the higher intensity and sprint efforts go up along with more technical training. 


Dani: The evolution can be summarized in through my ability to train deliberately. I wouldn’t even stop at training, as I’m learning to do what I need to do without that “fomo” feeling. I surround myself with my people,  get my work done, and have moments in my life where I change it up. Funny how the internet doesn’t really paint that picture. But I’m here to say that I’m not “epic”, but again, dynamic in my ability to adjust when I need a change. I have a solid circle of mentors to thank for this mindset, and they are there for me to hold up the mirror when I turn into a whack job ;-) 

Who do you look up to in this sport?

Kristen: I’ve been inspired by lots of athletes throughout the years. Everyone brings a different perspective along with different strengths and weaknesses so it’s more about how they approach races and deal with stress. Meredith Miller is a good friend and has been a huge help this season. She’s inspiring in both her athletic ability but also her calm demeanor and tactical approach to racing.

Dani: Ah this is a tough one. I’ve never have been one to think a single athlete “has it all”. We are all figuring it out in our own way. Getting caught up in the attributes, successes, and mythologies of a single person can be dangerous. Sort of like when you were younger and thought through.. “I’d have Colin Farrell’s head with Brad Pitt’s butt” type of thing. I’d compared that to the traits (maybe less vein and aesthetic) of the many athletes I follow. 

How focused are you on nutrition compared to power and watts? How has your nutrition changed since you began your racing career? 

Kristen: Nutrition is a huge component of racing and training and is something often overlooked or overcomplicated. I’ve been very lucky to have a strong stomach with very few issues but that doesn’t mean I’m not always striving for improvements in this area. I keep things pretty simple and focus on timing more than exactly what to eat all the time. I also love to cook, which is helpful in creating balanced meals and keeping things fresh and interesting. 

Dani: I was obsessively focused on nutrition when I first began bike racing in 2013. But I was more focused on the “should” verses the “need”.  It’s easy to get caught up in the recent diet trend, but I’ve learned that it’s not sustainable and I’m just straight up crabby!  I’ve learned to listen to my body and understand when it needs fat, carbs, and/or protein. Really focused on eating enough, especially before a race/workout and right after. Understand what hurts my stomach, and supplement when I need to recover properly. I work with Breeze Holicky, who is a certified dietitian (and coach-man’s wife!), and ask her questions to better understand what is going on in my body. Basically I’ve tossed out the self-help, diet-of-the-day philosophy, and leave it to the pros! There’s a reason she does this for a living, let’s trust that.  Through her I learned a valuable tip: cycle your meals! Eating the same things day after day would give me terrible stomach issues and sensitivities. Back to that dynamic thing, I’ve been preaching. 

This all being said, watts/power can be great tools for training, or reference points. But fast is fast and speed will prevail. The better rider is the smarter rider, not necessarily the most powerful. 

If you were to put a slogan, quote or saying in big font on your race kit, what would it be?

Kristen: Smile. I know it’s cheesy but smiling makes a huge difference for me. Even if I’m not feeling good on a given day or if I’m feeling nervous, faking a smile can change my whole attitude. 

Dani: “your control” You do want you can do, and I am constantly reminding myself of that. We get caught up in expectations of others, people defining you by a single result or season, or maybe a first impression. Why do we worry about that? Who cares? You do whatchya gotta do. 

Do you have any self-talk or mantras or something you say to yourself during the toughest part of a race (or training session) to help push you? 

Kristen: One mantra I often use is "Smooth is fast.” I try and remind myself of this during races as a way to relax and stay calm even when complications arise throughout the race. It’s easy to get flustered and start pushing yourself to try and go faster through technical sections but it always works best for me to stay as smooth as possible. 

Dani:"Look ahead” This set’s me up for what’s next in the race, and points my body to where it needs to go. Keeps me in it, looking at the next obtainable goal which will contribute to the big picture.

To learn more about Bitchn Grit and their epic racing season, visit: www.bitchngrit.com 

An interview with Scott Umberger

An interview with Scott Umberger, personal trainer & physical preparation coach

Talk to Scott Umberger for a minute and one thing is clear: He’s passionate about what he does. The personal trainer and physical preparation coach has learned from the best and shares it with the athletes who train at his gym in Pittsburgh

And it’s not just any type of training. Work with Scott and you’re gonna work. It may tougher than you’ve ever worked – train optimally, not maximally – but it’s data-driven and personalized for you. His goal: To make you a better athlete, inside and out.

“Everything changes with me,” Scott says.  

Tell us about your background and your approach to training. 

Without a doubt, my approach to training is my desire to get better. In the early 1990s, the internet wasn’t the vast array of useless performance information that it is today. Even today, only the most elite coaches are “in the know.” In the U.S., we’re finally using technology that’s been used in football and rugby for more than a decade. 

And thanks to Facebook and social media, I’ve learned and been “in the know,” connecting with some of the best and brightest in the field. Their willingness to share information has turbocharged my knowledge. I can honestly say that the elite human performance world’s a small one.

Buddy Morris of the Arizona Cardinals has been one of my biggest influences. His willingness to share what he’s done and currently doing is what brought Westside Barbell and Charlie Francis into my life. That knowledge was a game changer. 

James Smith was pivotal, completely changing my coaching philosophy. He opened my mind to the real Soviet sports science and to other elite scientists and coaches, including Carl Valle who was also a Charlie Francis guy. At this time, I was trying to confirm my training. He helped me analyze the data. I was also using heart rate variability (HRV) with Ithlete to uncover my programming and how it was affecting my athletes’ daily trainedness. 

Carl also introduced me to many great coaches and minds, including Henk Kraaijenhof, Dan Pfaff, Ralph Mann, Hakan Andersson, and Randy Huntington. These guys have consistent success in a validatable sport, like track, over periods of time with various athletes. 

How has your approach to training/nutrition changed over the years?

My education is in large part from outside the U.S. – Australia and Europe, and from AFL, rugby and soccer. Some techniques include IFT and yoyo tests. 

  • An IFT is for a baseline of aerobic capacity so I have numbers to train on. 
  • Yoyo tests involve 20-meter back-and-forth sprints with a rest period that stays the same. The time from start to 20 meters varies, getting shorter and shorter so you must run faster and faster. 

I’ve studied a lot of track athletes and coaches because what they do can be validated. It’s harder with team sports because there are so many variables. The more I learn, the simpler and more specific I get with training. Train optimally, not maximally. 

Do the athletes you work with have any misconceptions about training when you start working with them? Do their views change after working with you? If so, how?

Most of them have never really “trained.” They may have done some strength training, but not specific to them as an individual. They’re survival experts used to surviving at sub-max intensities for way too long and way too often. They’re continually crushed by coaches and can’t perform maximally. After 4-6 weeks of training with me, things start to come together. And then they’re 100 percent. 

Most people also don’t understand that they don’t eat enough. Eating 4,000+ calories a day for most athletes blows their minds – especially after logging what they eat for a few days. That’s a huge wake-up call. And they start eating more. Then a “miracle” happens: They start to lean out while gaining some muscle mass. 

Sleep is another issue. Convincing athletes of sleep’s importance and recovery is a slow process. Drinking alcohol effects quality sleep, too. 

Many athletes also struggle with being aware of their weekly and monthly schedules. This is a must – especially in the summer when they’re juggling training, work and a social life. Missing a training session on Monday destroys their week if they’re going out of town and miss Friday’s session. 

To summarize, everything changes with me. My biggest concern is the other 22 hours of their day – the time they don’t spend with me. And athletes work their butts off when they’re with me.

What’s the easiest thing to correct?  What’s the hardest thing to correct?

Only a few of the athletes I’ve worked with aren’t quad dominant. Between sitting all day and never learning how to move, most are “knee benders.” I can help athletes balance out, but it’s a tough issue to overcome. 

The bigger issue is the lack of foot and ankle health, or lack of dorsiflexion. Thanks to some slow-motion video, I captured some startling dorsiflexion issues during the gate of a few athletes.  

Valgus is a strength and motor control issue that varies between athletes. It’s not a big deal if I can work with the athlete a few times a week for a few months. Once they understand that their knees collapse when they jump or decelerate, I can show them what they should be doing. The changes are initially mechanical, but become more natural as they progress. 

How important is the psychological/mental side of training? 

It’s everything. You have to give each individual what they need without crossing over too much. I’m a big believer in mental imagery. And in tricking your mind. For example, a D1 hockey player who shows up on time and works his ass off. That’s what you’re supposed to do, but is he ready for all scenarios? 

Grit has been a hot topic. We have an entire generation of softies – we’re less mentally tough and strong. Good training and putting yourself in uncomfortable positions allows you be grittier. For example, learning how to deal with lactate. Learning about that discomfort helps you learn how to push through it. Through good training and coaching, you can learn how to deal with that – and when to back off what you need to.

What are one or two main things athletes can do to help prevent injuries? 

Take care of yourself. Don’t burn the candle at both ends. You’ll be at a higher risk for injury if you’re working 100 hours a week and stressed. 

Track your nutrients. I’m a big fan of InsideTracker and Sound Probiotics. 

Eat well and get enough sleep. What’s going to happen if you go to bed at 11:30 p.m. and have to train at 6 a.m.?  

On your website you mention the importance of the need for training outside a sport. Why is that important? How does that help prevent injury? 

Proper preparation for a sport should be all encompassing. The best lessons are learned on the practice field and while preparing for the competition. I’ve worked with all sorts of “non-traditional” sports, including motocross, figure skating and equestrian. Because our education in exercise science, biomechanics, kinesiology is so lacking in the U.S., even those who have degrees don’t truly understand performance. The academic focus is on repairing an injury or imbalance to baseline. 

At best, the coach has expertise in that specific sport. Their experience in preparation for that sport consists of what they learned from other coaches without any form of human performance background. It’s the “that’s what we did” form of education. 

Rather than using my knowledge to teach an athlete who’s seeking more outside what they’re getting in gym class or with their team, I teach them fundamental athletic movement. Over 15 years of working with athletes, only a handful didn’t have terrible running mechanics. Even gifted runners need tweaks to make them faster. 

My point: I fill in the blanks with each athlete. And it’s different for each athlete and each sport. Our current system lacks development and education of our youth. That has nothing to do with athletes.

How important is recovery for an athlete? Do you have any good at-home strategies to help athletes recover faster and better? 

Put down the cell phone. When you’re attached to it, you can’t unplug and get away. It’s a constant stream of information in your face. So put it down before bed. Create a space where you’re going to sleep better – and that could include going back to an alarm clock (vs. using your cell phone).  

Other good recovery strategies:

  • Float tanks
  • Relaxing music 
  • Mediation
  • Sleep with earplugs and a mask
  • Blackout blinds in your bedroom
  • Eat well – meal prep on Sundays to set yourself up for success, and have good food around

Do athletes come to you with an understanding of gut health? How do you teach your players about gut health?

In general, our country knows nothing about diet and nutrition. Learn how to us MyFitnessPal. Use it for a couple weeks to get your nutrition numbers and where you’re at. And get in tune with your body. I strive for balance and recommend a diet of 30-35 percent carbs and 150 grams of protein. And remember to hydrate – being dehydrated is bad for your body. 

We’re also pretty ignorant to gut health and have no idea how many times a day we should be going to the bathroom. The more you’re aware of food prep, the better your gut health is going to be. And it’s better when you take a probiotic. Your body’s a machine, and the better it works, the better you’ll feel. Would you put cheap fuel in your Ferrari? No – and you shouldn’t put cheap fuel in your body. 

Connect with Scott on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and his website

The Protocols

As with any athletic intervention or training regimen it is helpful to have a protocol by which to help guide its execution. Nutrition and supplementation should follow such protocols. Taking a capsule supplement daily is one such protocol. However, we frequently get asked about any necessary changes for taking Sound Probiotics based upon different circumstances that face athletes: What if I’m traveling? What about before competition or a big training block? What if I’m starting to get sick?

These are honest and important questions that need to be answered for athletes and their coaches. Unfortunately, the research has not provided us with many definitive answers. But it has provided some guidance and along with our numerous conversations with professional athletes and coaches we feel confident in putting forth protocols to help address these questions and to better utilize the benefits of Sound Probiotics. While we erred on the side of a formula with a CFU count beyond what was usually used in the studies, individual needs can differ. It is possible then, that some athletes will need a higher dose especially during particularly intense and stressful events or travel.

You feel like you are getting sick:

Our first encounter with taking additional doses to stave off illness came from a veteran professional triathlete. He told us that at the first sign of any cold symptoms he would triple the dose (3 capsules) for 48hrs. The triathlete said that he had successfully warded off a cold twice by increasing the dose. Of course, I was skeptical…until I tried it successfully myself. My own experience got me thinking about a possible mechanism by which acutely increasing the dose of the probiotic would be of benefit. 

One of the mechanisms by which probiotics exert their beneficial effects on immune function is through direct stimulation of the immune system. Probiotic strains are capable of affecting an acute immune response by:

  • enhancing immune cell activity
  • increasing antibody production 
  • stimulating the important protective mechanisms of proteins called interferons
  • These effects may occur more quickly than the other ways by which probiotics affect the immune system. It is possible then that an increased dose of probiotics could lead to an enhanced acute immune response – enough to ward off an impending cold; a therapeutic effect, not just a prophylactic one.

Since the first athlete to report these findings to us, and my own experience, we have had other athletes discover this solution as well. While we would like to see a study performed on the acute, therapeutic effects of probiotics on relieving cold symptoms the anecdotal evidence from our product and the known physiological mechanisms of probiotics is a strong argument for this use. 

Acute Illness Protocol: At the first sign of cold symptoms (i.e., cough, congestion, nasal drainage, sore throat, etc) increase the dose to 3 capsules daily for 48 hours. If you are feeling better after 48 hours you can return to your regular daily dose. If you continue to feel sick the increased dose may shorten the duration of the illness, therefore continue to take 3 capsules for a total of 5 days. 

Traveling, prior to competition, and/or a large training block:

Traveling, competition, and increased training intensity all impact immune function. I’m sure you have experienced getting sick shortly after one of these events. The rational for this occurrence is known as the ‘Open Window’ theory whereby immune function is impaired for approximately 3–72 hours after strenuous exercise. 

We have athletes using Sound Probiotics, who despite a total reduction in sick days during competition, still fall ill after particularly strenuous events or international travel. For these athletes we devised the following protocol based off of the evidence from the acute illness protocol as well as taking into account the other mechanisms by which probiotics exert their beneficial affects on immune function, namely intestinal barrier protection.

Increased Stress Protocol: increase dose to two capsules a week prior to international travel and/or a large training block/competition. Continue to take the increased dose during the event and for 3 days after the event or returning home.