Tips and Training with Dr. Jason Ross, D.C. ART C.S.C.S.

Dr. Jason Ross,  D.C.  ARTC.S.C.S.  is a Doctor of Chiropractic and Strength and Conditioning Coach. Dr. Ross runs Train Out Pain Chiropractic in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was the official chiropractor for the United States Bobsled team. In fact, he was himself a two-time member of the US Bobsled team as a push athlete. 

Dr. Ross trains and treats a variety of athletes from recreational to professional and we caught up with him to talk training, injury prevention and a whole lot more.

Two twists of fate landed Jason Ross as a chiropractor in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The first: He got a scholarship to play rugby, a sport he loved more than football. Two shoulder dislocations and a two grade 3 A/C join tears later, his second twist of fate arrived in rehab: his doctor said he’d make a great bobsled push athlete. 

Six months later, he performed well at the combines and made the U.S. National World Cup bobsled team – and graduated from chiropractic school. After competing for a few years, he retired and started practicing chiropractic medicine full-time. A year later, he was back on the team, but this time as its chiropractor and strength coach. He traveled with the team for four years. In 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, their teams won gold in the four-man, and the women won bronze. 

How has your approach to training changed over the years? 

I place less importance on the numbers. If you lift 30 more pounds on your squat it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re improving. I’ve also changed my stance on good/bad exercises and the cost/benefit. I ask myself, is this worth it for this athlete?  

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

A few misconceptions that are still around:

  • That strength training will make them bigger
  • That strength training will take away from their sport
  • Not lifting because you’re tired and sore 
  • Lifting during race week

Guess what? When done right, lifting will help your race! Athletes also realize that they feel better after lifting. Lifting should complement all phases of your sport, offseason, preseason, race prep and recovery. 

What is the easiest thing to correct? The hardest? 

The easiest thing to correct is lift technique. And even getting someone stronger. The hardest thing: convincing an athlete they don’t have to feel crushed or wore out or dripping in sweat to have accomplished some quality training.

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

The biggest injury prevention tip: sleep. More research is proving this. Quality nutrition also helps. If these two aren’t covered, you’re wasting your time and kidding yourself on improving or taking your sport seriously. 

What are the biggest challenges facing athletes in sport? 

At the amateur level, the biggest challenge is how to pursue your sport at the highest level and still balance family and work. Most mountain bikers, runners and triathletes aren’t fully sponsored athletes. What they do to balance all aspects of their lives is more impressive than a full-time professional. They’ll tell you how hard it was to get where they are. 

How important is the psychological/mental side of training?

The mental side of training is what separates the top 1 percent from the rest. There are some people who just don’t quit. They have GRIT. They don’t care they got four flats – it doesn’t derail them. They just keep competing. At the end of the day, everyone you see on a podium is mentally fit. The ones you don’t see on the podium may have more talent, but they pull back or lose focus. They can’t pull themselves out of a setback. 

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

Recovery is the cornerstone of training. Some recovery techniques: 

  • Sleep – it’s crucial and even quick naps on a consistent basis help
  • Foam rolling – try it for five minutes after workouts and before bed
  • Low level aerobic work (heart rate under 110) – a great movement practice after hard workouts 
  • And I’m biased, but I think everyone should see a chiropractor at least monthly for joint health checks

Do athletes come to you with an understanding of gut health? 

Gut health is becoming more prevalent. The elite level has known about the health benefits of good gut health for a while, but I think the everyday athlete is just starting to see it. People are realizing the importance of absorbing nutrients and producing neurotransmitters – and the affects it has on personality and the desire to train. 

Also, no one can train on an irritated bowel! Athletes are surprised when I tell them how much our guts impact the entire body. 

Everyone I work with who’s been taking Sound for a few months has commented that they have more energy, feel more robust, and had fewer viral infections. And those who’ve gotten a cold recover faster. 

How do you teach your athletes about gut health? 

I teach through example. I constantly talk about recovery and nutrition’s impact. But even great nutrition that isn’t absorbed isn’t great nutrition.  

What trends in fitness / training are you paying attention to?

A few I’m watching now: 

  • What elite athletes are doing and their trickledown affect 
  • Melatonin – is it the new vitamin D?
  • Optimizing brain health, including techniques like HALO
  • Breath work, like CO2 use, breath hold and maximizing Anion gap 
  • Sauna for heat shock protein
  • Cold exposure for brown fat optimization 

And, according to your site you like espresso, playing with your dog and reading. What’s your favorite espresso? What kind of dog do you have? And what’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?

We’re spoiled In Grand Rapids. We have the great coffee and espresso. The best coffee is Rowster Coffee. My family has a French bulldog – my daughters love him, and he’s a solid part of our family. 

I love reading nine or 10 books at once. A few interesting books I’ve read lately: 

  • The Secret Life of Fat by Sylvia Tara – all about how fat can think 
  • What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney – a book about physiology, breathing and cold
  • The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown – a book about breathing and its effect on physiology and how we can maximize it for performance
  • The Hungry Brain by Stephan J. Guyenet – a book about how our brain is wire for food an eating and how to combat it 

Follow Jason on Twitter or on his blog

Composed and written by Erin Klegstad

6 Quick Questions with Pro Cyclist Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson is a pro cyclist with Team Direct Energie. He has been a part of the professional peloton since 2011. Ryan is a two-time road vice-champion of Canada. He made his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a Espana in 2016. We were able to catch up with him as he is preparing for the spring classics. 

What have been the biggest differences in your training as you have worked your way up from amateur to professional rider?

On the bike my training has not changed all that much in the last few years. I think a big difference is that my race load was at its peak last year, and with that base I feel I can push a little harder coming into this year. I also gain a little more experience year to year, and have recently been doing more off the bike strength work which seems to be helping.  

How do you balance proper nutrition with your ideal race weight?

I do my best to maintain a good weight that works for me all year. I just try to eat healthy and always try to make things from scratch when I have the time as I really enjoy cooking. I have also been trying to do a better job of planning ahead this year with meals when I am at the store. When I am at home in Canada I can go to the store whenever I want, but when I am living in France I find it's easier for me to plan ahead. 

How has focusing on gut health improved your performance?

So I have to say this year is the first time I have focused on gut health and I believe it has played a big part in keeping me healthy! Staying healthy has let me keep on track with my training and racing plans. So far this year I have traveled a lot including long haul flights from North America and I am constantly on short flights within Europe, so there has been no shortage of exposure to germs. But despite this, I have been healthy this whole winter which has been a first for me! I hope to keep this trend going for the rest of the year!

What tips do you have for bouncing back from illness? 

The biggest thing I have realized is to just take the time to get better when you're sick – rushing back to train is just a shortcut that you will eventually pay for!

What kind of things do you do to optimize recovery after a race or hard training block?

I just make sure to stay hydrated and eat well right after a race and also to stay on top of stretching and massage. All of the little things add up; I find once I let this stuff slip it's a slippery slope. 

What race are you most looking forward to this year and why?

Right now I have my sights set on the upcoming cobble classics season as it's about to hit full swing. So much can happen over one of these days; things are good one minute and bad the next. You never really know what's going to happen which makes for some good stories!

5 Questions with Pro Mountain Biker Todd Wells

Todd Wells has been winning bike races for a very long time. In 1996 he won two Cross Country Mountain Bike Collegiate titles and the success never stopped. Todd has won fourteen National Championship titles across four disciplines. He has racked up wins in both the Leadville 100 and La Ruta de Los Conquistadors. Todd has competed in the Olympic Games not once but three times. He currently races for Team Scott and provides professional coaching services in between podium appearances.

You have won the Leadville 100 three times. How has your approach to nutrition during the race changed over the years?

That’s a great question. The first year I did the race I thought it was going to be like a road race where we would take it easy through the feed zone, and I could eat a sandwich. It took me about four minutes to get down one bite of my nutella sandwich. Since then I’ve dialed in my nutrition where I’m eating mostly Clif Shot blocks and bars in the first half of the race and gels in the second half. The pace is too high and the air to dry to get down much solid food. 

I try to eat every half hour and I try to drink as much as I can comfortably get down. I also don’t consume as much caffeine as in the past. I try to eat more 25 mg caffeine gels then one big 100 mg, which seems to be easier on my stomach. 

How has focusing on gut health improved your performance?

I found Sound Probiotics after a few rounds of antibiotics this fall to get rid of a nasty respiratory bug. I was worried about my gut and after talking to some other endurance athletes I gave Sound Probiotics a try. Since using the product I have had less stomach issues on the bike and have felt much healthier overall. I just got back from a family vacation in Mexico where everyone got the stomach bug except me. I firmly believe the probiotics helped to keep me healthy. As an endurance athlete just staying healthy can be a huge advantage not only when I’m competing but when I’m building up to a race as well. 

What advice would you give to a new competitive cyclist about fueling for races?

My best advice would be to try it in training first. Nutrition is so individual that what works for one person could have a completely different effect on someone else. If you have access to hard group rides that is the best place to test nutrition because it’s the closest you’ll get to a real race. When I find something that works I stick to it and try to replicate it as closely as possible each time. If you’re traveling a lot internationally this isn’t always easy but here in the US it’s pretty simple. 

What part of your training have you found works for you, but might be different or unique from your teammates or other cyclists?

I find I do a much larger volume of training then a lot of my competitors. Because I do so much volume I also do less intensity. I find it easier to grow my engine and drop my weight with big volume. If I’m fresh enough to get that super high intensity I usually give some up in my overall motor size. 

Do you have a favorite cheat meal or bad-for-you food that you indulge in?

I love chocolate. Everything in moderation is fine but sometimes I just can’t stop myself once I get started. I also love Nutella so I’ve incorporated that into my prerace meal. I always look forward to race morning because I know I’m gonna have my fill of Nutella. 

An Interview with Jordan Mazur, MS, RD – Sports Dietitian

Being diagnosed at 18 with a rare illness gave Jordan Mazur a new perspective on life. He knew he wanted to help others be healthy, fit and, most importantly, happy. So he got his degree in nutritional sciences, and eventually his masters in exercise science.

“I was always fascinated about how the human body uses food as fuel, all the way down to the microscopic level,” he said.

Today, Jordan is a Sports Dietitian and the Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley. He believes being successful with nutrition begins with your mindset – and to make nutrition a priority to fuel your life. For athletes that means thinking differently about food. “They aren’t just eating to eat,” he said. “They’re high performing machines who require optimal fuel. All athletes need to think about food as their fuel.”

He recommends an 80/20 approach: 80 percent of the time, fuel with a purpose, while the other 20 percent of the time eat just to eat. “You have to allow yourself to eat the foods you enjoy because after all, food’s meant to be enjoyed!”

What are the biggest challenges facing sports dieticians today? What tools and/or resources do you use to address them?

The media and social media have an enormous impact on body image and food choices. I spend a lot of time debunking myths my clients ask about because they heard it from a doctor on TV or from an Instagram friend who once ate a salad and now gives nutrition advice. It’s important for registered dietitians (RDs) to advocate for themselves as experts. As RDs, we are the nutrition experts.

Does your approach vary based on an athlete’s given sport?

Every sport and individual have unique needs. Every sport has different energy demands, requiring different fueling strategies. Each athlete starts with a nutritional assessment to get a better picture of them and what they need to achieve their goals. The assessment includes five domains:

  1. Food/nutrition history

  2. Anthropometric measurements

  3. Biochemical data

  4. Nutrition-focused physical findings

  5. Client history

How has your approach to nutrition changed over the years?

It’s more individualized. Sports dietitians need to become nutrition coaches. It’s not enough to only speak on nutrition or lecture on carbs or hydration. It takes consistent reinforcement of that info to build habits. Sound nutrition doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with the nutrition assessment. Some athletes are ready for a complete diet overhaul; they can use a meal plan that breaks down their macronutrients. Sometimes it’s getting an athlete to drink more water or eat one less fast food meal per week. Little upgrades over time help create solid nutrition habits.

What do you eat in a typical day?

It always begins with coffee. And I never skip breakfast. It usually consists of vegetables, protein, carbs and some healthy fats. That can be a veggie omelet with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt. Or it’s avocado toast with two hard boiled eggs and a green smoothie with chia seeds. A pre-workout snack – usually an energy bar (KIZE is my favorite) – follows breakfast. Post-workout is always a protein shake and a carb source. Lunch is my biggest meal – veggies, protein and some type of carb (today was salmon, mashed sweet potatoes and broccoli). My afternoon snack is usually Greek yogurt and almonds or trail mix. Dinner is lean protein like chicken, turkey, fish or lean beef with a lot of veggies. And I always get some protein before bed. This helps rebuild and repair muscles overnight.

What are your thoughts on the USDA food pyramid?

The food pyramid has changed as science has evolved. It’s now called MyPlate. I use a variation of this with my athletes called Performance Plates. These contains parts of MyPlate (grains, veggies, protein, fruits and hydration), but reflect more how an athlete’s plate should be. These also vary depending on their training phase. For example, a plate for an easy training day looks different than a plate for a hard training day. It all goes back to individual nutrition. We’re all different with different nutritional needs. Our fueling must reflect that.

Do your athletes have any misconceptions about nutrition when you start working together? Do their views change after working with you?

Almost always! This is where nutrition coaching is important. Building relationships and being present with athletes goes a long way. Athletes then learn to trust you and ask questions. I’ve heard them all, too – from detoxes to alkaline diets.

One of the biggest misconceptions is how much they need to eat and how often they should eat. Most nutrition info in the media is geared for weight loss. Most athletes don’t need to worry about this. Their fueling strategies are a lot different than someone who’s sedentary and has a weight loss goal. Once they start to fuel like an athlete and see and feel performance benefits, then there’s buy-in.

What’s the easiest thing to correct nutrition-wise?

Two things for athletes:

  1. Hydrate. It impacts performance almost immediately. Hydrate early and often throughout the day. It’s key to functioning right.

  2. Eat more veggies. Eat the rainbow – aim for a variety of colors and get a serving at every meal.

What are the five best foods to incorporate into your diet?

  1. Oatmeal. It’s a great source of carb energy for athletes. It’s also high in fiber, which keeps you full longer and helps maintain glucose levels.

  2. Olive oil. Its monounsaturated fats have anti-inflammatory benefits. And it’s easy to cook with or drizzle on salads or veggies.

  3. Salmon. It’s packed with protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, which can help you recover faster.

  4. Nuts and (natural) nut butters. They’re a natural combo of protein and healthy fats.

  5. Berries. They contain antioxidants, which help protect against oxidative stress and free radicals that form in the body during strenuous physical activity.

What’s one change an athlete can make to their nutrition plan that will get the best results?

Eating protein at every meal. Research shows that 20-35 grams of protein initiates protein synthesis in most athletes, depending on their size. Our bodies are in constant flux of protein breakdown and synthesis, so if we can give our body amino acids – the building blocks of protein – during the day, we can maximize our protein balance.

How do you teach your athletes about gut health?

I speak to athletes about the importance of gut health for performance and well-being. I always recommend a food product or supplement to make sure they’re giving their gut good bacteria and getting its benefits. I also show them how overtraining and exercise can break down and cause “leaky gut,” making them more susceptible to illness.

What nutrition trends are you paying attention to?

  1. A low carb/high fat diet for endurance athletes to improve fat metabolism

  2. Super foods like kale, açai berries, chia seeds, matcha and kefir

  3. DHA and brain health, particularly for post-concussion recovery

  4. Supplements, including phosphatidic acid as a potential supplement for strength gains

  5. Regulation of supplement safety

Follow Jordan on twitter.

Athletes and Inflammation – when is it too much?

The gut is an often overlooked part of the body that regulates inflammation. Athletes training with heavy loads are at an increased risk for infection, which requires them to pay greater attention to nutritional strategies used to mediate inflammation. This recovery should include probiotics, which have demonstrated to be a promising nutritional intervention to control and alleviate inflammation.  

Before reading this blog, check out Immunity and Worldwide Competition because it explains how probiotics strengthen immunity and gut health, which will help you understand this blog’s discussion of probiotics and inflammation. 

In this blog, we will explain: 
The process of inflammation

The association between exercise and inflammation

How probiotics regulate inflammation

Probiotics and their effect on exercise-induced airway inflammation and infection

Inflammation

Inflammation is a protective reaction by the body in response to an injury or infection. It results in increased blood flow to the problematic area (redness), increased body temperature (heat), fluid accumulation and pain (caused by the release of chemicals from damaged cells). 

For athletes, exercise-induced muscle damage accompanied with inflammation may first come to mind when thinking about inflammation in general. This acute muscle inflammation from intense or prolonged training occurs when muscles undergo small micro-tears (i.e., small injuries) that cause an acute inflammatory response. Acute inflammation is not a serious problem, and the body repairs this following a workout. It is actually thought to be a part of the normal adaptation to exercise. 

It is the underemphasized chronic inflammation in the gut that may disrupt normal body functions and impair adaptations to exercise. Chronic inflammation results from stressors (e.g., heavy training, poor quality sleep, alcohol, unhealthful diet, etc.) and poor recovery from intensive training – in turn, overtraining. Poor gut health can lead to inflammation in the body, and probiotics are a recovery tool that may mitigate the negative effects of chronic inflammation and reduce the risk of overtraining. 

Exercise & Inflammation

Endurance exercise impacts inflammation throughout the body. Intense training causes acute inflammation, which is comparable to what results in patients with sepsis (i.e., inflammation throughout the body when the body releases chemicals to fight an infection) and trauma. Strenuous exercise increases the amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as TNF-alpha, IL-1, IL-6, TNF receptors and anti-inflammatory modulators such as IL-10 and IL-8. 

Endurance exercise reduces the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the gut, increases the permeability of the gut wall and lowers the thickness of the gut mucosal layer, which results in an inflammatory immune response – “leaky gut.” This is why the mucosal immune system has an important function – to control responses to antigens, which will control inflammation. 

The inflammatory responses generated from intense exercise are fought by gut microbiota and their short-chain fatty acids (see below) that reduce gut permeability and stop the release of inflammatory cytokines. It is suggested that the anti-inflammatory effects of gut microbiota may help delay fatigue during endurance exercise. 

Exercise-Induced Airway Inflammation

One of the consequences of prolonged inflammation is impairment of the immune system. Upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) (e.g., the common cold and inflammation of the trachea and larynx) are common among highly trained and elite athletes because they are more susceptible to weakened immune systems. The causes of URTIs are considered unclear, but most are caused by viral infections and inhaled allergens. Airway inflammation has been reported not only after intense exercise, but also during resting among endurance athletes, swimmers and cross-country skiers.

Some studies were not able to identify pathogens causing a URTI. The unidentified URTIs were reported as being shorter in duration and lower in severity compared to infectious URTIs. As a result of the high amount of assessments that had an ‘unidentified’ cause, this led to the exploration of inflammation not associated with infection among athletes. 

Similar symptoms (e.g., sore throat, fatigue, headache, runny nose, etc.) of URTIs can also be the result of inflammation caused by inhaling cold, dry or polluted air (i.e., climate conditions), stress on the airways or dehydration, which occur because of the decrease in the integrity of the respiratory cell membranes. 

Numerous studies have reported aeroallergen sensitivity in 20-40% of athletes, which resulted in allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (i.e., a condition with nasal congestion, runny nose, post-nasal drip, sneezing, red eyes and/or itchy nose/eyes). Other studies found a 40-50% prevalence of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis among Olympic athletes.

There is a link between training volume and risk of respiratory illness. Training at a high intensity and/or high volume increases susceptibility to infection because of changes in immunity, which include a decrease in salivary IgA and an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Salivary IgA concentration or excretion rate is used to evaluate the effect of exercise on mucosal protection and associations with URTIs. An increased risk for URTIs for elite athletes is associated with low levels of salivary IgA and/or excretion rates, low pre-season salivary IgA levels and decreasing levels over training. It is suggested that probiotics help increase saliva IgA levels.

URTIs are prevalent among athletes and regardless of what is causing the URTI, their recurrence among athletes can cause fatigue that negatively impacts training and performance. As we will discuss further, probiotics – because of their ability to strengthen immunity and regulate inflammation – are a practical nutritional intervention to prevent or lower the chance of getting a URTI. 

In summary, athletes experience inflammation from: 

1) intense training that disrupts the gut barrier function

2) stressors (e.g., poor sleep, poor diet, alcohol, intense training, etc) that negatively alter the healthy balance of gut microbiota

3) non-infectious causes that impact the respiratory system.

Managing inflammation is critical to optimal recovery and in turn performance. Now let's see how probiotics play a role in this management. 

Probiotics Regulate Inflammation

First and foremost, a balanced gut microbiota is highly important because good gut bacteria can strengthen immunity. A decrease in the prevalence of this good microbiota can lead to the growth of bad bacteria that activate immune cells and suppress important regulatory factors (e.g., decreased synthesis of immunoglobulin A (IgA) and lower levels of important anti-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-10 and TGF-ß). This dysbiosis can lead to chronic inflammation. The science suggests that probiotic supplementation may reverse dysbiosis, return the gut to a healthy gut and bring inflammation under control. 

Probiotics regulate inflammation by:

Maintaining the gut barrier. A weak gut barrier occurs when there are gaps between the cells that line the intestinal wall. These gaps are a critical factor in the initiation of chronic inflammation. Certain molecules that shouldn’t cross the gut barrier (e.g., metabolic waste and undigested food) and bad bacteria (which can release the endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS) from their cell wall) can enter the blood because of increased gut wall permeability. This is referred to as “leaky gut” and causes endotoxemia, which is pro-inflammatory. The continual release of LPS in the blood leads to low-grade inflammation. Treatment of low-level endotoxemia focuses on repairing the permeability of the gut barrier (i.e., strengthening it). Certain probiotic strains can enhance the integrity and function of the gut barrier by:

  • Strengthening the physical barrier. Some probiotic strains can reduce the pro-inflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), which causes a leaky gut.
  • Increasing mucin production. The mucosal immune system functions as a barrier and it protects the mucosal layer of the GI, urogenital and respiratory tracts. Probiotics can impact the development and maintenance of the mucosal layer.
  • Producing antimicrobial peptides. These small peptides are a primary defense on mucosal surfaces, especially for alleviating acute inflammation. Certain probiotics are considered powerful activators for producing and regulating antimicrobial peptides.
  • Alleviating the effects of bad bacteria. Probiotics can outcompete the bad bacteria to help maintain the gut barrier.

Increasing the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Bacteria produce SCFAs when they digest non-digestible carbohydrate (i.e., certain types of fiber). Of the SCFAs, butyrate is important in regulating inflammation because of its anti-inflammatory effects. Butyrate behaves as a:

  • Signaling molecule by blocking pathways that release pro-inflammatory cytokines
  • Regulator for the production of certain cytokines by affecting their ability to travel to sites of inflammation
  • Main source of energy for gut cells, which helps maintain the gut barrier
  • Attaching to immune system receptors to stimulate pathways that release cytokines associated with inflammation.

Not all probiotic strains have the same effects on different signaling pathways, but some can attach to immune system receptors and help certain pathways involved in maintaining the balance in the mucosal layer between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses. This influences inflammation by enhancing the production of suppressive and regulatory cytokines.  

Don’t let chronic inflammation hold you back from training and competing. Optimal recovery begins with preparation through probiotic supplementation that will shut down stressors on the gut, which contribute to chronic inflammation and impede performance. 

by Katie Mark, MS

Katie Mark is currently a Master of Public Health candidate at Tufts University School of Medicine. She is a road cyclist working toward becoming a registered dietitian.

References