Kitchen Sink

August 20, 2007

People are just desperate. That’s all there is to it. I’m looking over grants, of course, but this even goes beyond our load this time. The appendix rules have changed as most of you know. No more inclusion of published stuff for the most part, just keep it to those accepted manuscripts that haven’t appeared on pre-press sites yet, that sort of thing. I can see that a number of people don’t trust this. Probably the same who used to innundate with their opus, even though most of it was easily available and people had read anyway. But also all kinds of “supportive” stuff that is of various use. The point is that applicants seem to be in a fever because they just don’t know anymore what makes the difference. The perfectly good and perfectly well-revised app is getting hammered. So they (and let’s face it, “we”) flail around a bit with the old kitchen sink approach. Two words.

Learned Helplessness.

Have you stopped swimming yet?

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The NYT had an article a month ago on the fact that in bike-speak “Fit” is not always equal to “Thin”, a fact which apparently confounds Wake-Forest “exercise physiologist” Michael Berry

But, Dr. Berry added, “I quickly learned that when I was riding with someone with a 36-inch waist, I could be looking at the back of their waist when they rode away from me.”

I gotta say runners crack me up. They have a pretty hard time getting cycling, mostly because it seems like a series of “cheats” compared to what they are used to. So when they blow out their knees, grind out their hips, get heel spurs, bang their big toes or whatever, they are forced to the OneTruePath of cycling for health reasons. This leads to much hilarity. To be fair though, I’ll point to two examples of cyclists-come-lately who didn’t have a running background to expand a bit on the NYT article.

First, check out the middle two pictures in the linked article, dude, this could be before/after on Bikemonkey! (Well, those legs are a little spindly for a real cyclist but focus on the equatorial regions if you will.) Suffice it to say I’m a good 40 pounds over racing weight. Most casual friends like spousal co-workers and neighbors kinda “heard” that I “used to ride” but see pretty much the “after” picture. And there is no doubt that my current job is pretty much limited to sitting in front of a computer writing papers and grants and running a lab.

Poor suckah number one was the guy who took up mountain biking to drop some weight in maybe his early thirties. He was a pretty obsessive type and was successful in dropping some weight, getting pretty good on the MTB and finally talked me into a ride. Of course we get back from the first ride and his mouth is pretty much on the ground, not from exertion but because he can’t believe this out of shape guy was putting the hurt on him like this. I am *not* braggin’ here, I peaked out as a sort-of competitive Sport MTB racer which is no great shakes. The point, however, is partially the one raised by the great Andy Hampsten in the NYT article that efficiency means a LOT in cycling. You have to learn to put down the power on a bike in an efficient manner, using as much of the non-physiologically-correct pedal circle as possible with as many muscle groups as possible. To achieve the most efficient pedaling cadence (crank rpm). Some people are going to be better than others, of course, but there is a massive training effect. Apparently this is one of the things that leaves you last and I can still pedal circles, good on me. Efficiency demands are trebled or quadrupled when you are talking off-road riding. Where to start? Everything requires efficiency because the more time you spend slowing down/speeding up because you don’t have the technical skill burns energy. Ditto bouncing up and down because you can’t read terrain. Etc. No, this guy’s full-suspendy bike didn’t help that much.

Second poor suckah was the neighbor, maybe 5-8 years older than me but rail thin, works for a living (i.e., ironworker; more on my formative years with similar working but real bike guys later) and came to cycling recently to keep fit with the rec-triath-wife. I think this episode was in the middle of one of my little motivational bursts where I actually dust off a bike and go for a ride or two. So we go for a nice little jaunt and he’s just killing me on the hills, up Mt. Soledad (the easy way, more on the infamous Via Capri in later posts no doubt) and up onto Torrey Pines Mesa (home of much bioscience for the nerds out there). Then we get up on the flats and crank out to the top of Torrey Pines (the park and popular intervals hill) and come back. The guy’s been killing me on the hills so, ok, I get out front in the big and cruise it a bit. After a while the guy’s dying and I’m getting the “How is this fat guy killing me?” look again. This is one of the points that runners miss, the NYT article overlooked and has a geeky component. Uphill riding is (mostly) about power to weight ratio which we’ve heard all about in Lance’s TdF conquests of the past decade or so. The NYT article talks about heavy people descending fast but this only brushes on the real point. Until the road is really going up, cycling is about power to frontal area because the cost of cutting through the air is so high. Naturally, the relationships of weight-to-power and frontal-area-to-power in cyclists are not directly related. It is no accident that real time trialists look like BigMig and Jan Ulrich (Ob: MDMA!) and guys like Pantani and Sastre have to “limit their losses”; in the TT it is all about raw power output. And fat guys who put on a big belly are probably actually improving their aerodynamics! Anyhoo, NYT missed this and it leads us to our next topic which mystifies me a bit, physiologically.

Power.

Another problem for cyclists-come-lately is that it seems to take something like 3 years of serious riding for a cyclist to start to asymptote. Now, this is complete seat-of-pants anecdote but comes from watching people “get serious about cycling” over the years. I’m sure the timecourse is modified by actual training regimen, some of this is tied up with development and there are exceptions. Whatever. There is, however, I think some thing physiological going on with leg musculature and the ability to really crank out the power on a bike. It doesn’t transfer for really fit/dedicated runners. I think the long timeline (years, not months) is really confusing to people who come from other sports, they just don’t think that it might be a 3 year process. So when after a summer of “getting serious about cycling” the fat, old, out-o-shape guy is still waxing them, well, I start getting that “look” again 🙂

Dave Munger at Cognitive Daily comments briefly on a recent NY Times on the positive effects of exercise on brain function. [Update 8/22/07: Jake at Pure Pedantry waxes pedantic about the Morris Water Maze and data interpretation thereof, jeez.]  The Times starts off with the findings from Rusty Gage’s lab at the Salk Institute which focus mostly on evidence of improved neurogenesis, decreased cell death and improved cognition in spatial memory tasks in mice and rats. The pubs started with van Praag et al. 1999 , got a particularly big splash with a finding of improved learning in aged mice (van Praag et al. 2005) and the most recent is van Praag et al. 2007 showing beneficial effects of a plant-derived flavinol in combination with exercise.

[As a sidebar for regular readers of DM, I should point out that San Diego is not only cycling paradise but biomedical research paradise as well. We’re home to the University of California, San Diego, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, The Scripps Research Institute, The Burnham Institute, The La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology, San Diego State University (not only perennial Playboy top party school but the “top small research institute”), and bunch of smaller or less-well-known institutes. Of course, you knew that already… BM Disclosure: Yes, I work for one of these places. It is no accident that DM and I talk science on occasion.]

Getting back to the exercise-hippocampal neurogenesis-spatial learning stuff, the new finding is a report (Pereira et al, 2007) using MRI to evaluate how much blood was rushing (Cerebral Blood Volume; CBV) through the hippocampi of humans before and after a 3 mo aerobic exercise regimen. Findings were that CBV was increased in dentate gyrus after exercise, the increase was correlated with individual changes in VO2max (a good proxy for the physiological benefit of the exercise program; measured on cycling ergometer, heh!) and, importantly

a correlation between CBV and VO2max was not observed for any other hippocampal subregion, including the entorhinal cortex Fig. 4b), confirming that exercise has a selective effect on dentate
gyrus CBV.

better yet:

we found that changes in VO2max correlated exclusively with postexercise trial 1 learning… Additional analyses showed that the orrelatcion between changes in VO2max and cognition was selective to trial 1 learning (Fig. 4b), thereby confirming that, despite apparent increases in other cognitive measures (i.e., delayed recognition, as shown in Fig. 4a), this particular measure was selectively influenced by exercise.

The rest of the paper is laden with similar and more-invasive mouse findings similar to the Gage studies, in fact Gage is a co-author on this study.

Pretty cool. It starts to put to rest the suspicions of old-time Experimental Psychologists that rodents studies were confounded by the old “impoverished/enriched environment” deal. Basically, the complaint is that normal lab housed rats are not likely to be getting a normal amount of sensory stimulation and thus the “control” group is the abnormal one. Not a huge deal until you want to apply it to humans since there may be ceiling effects. This study tends to confirm the effects in a relatively normal human sample.

BikeMonkey has a question though:

Eleven subjects (mean age, 33 ranging from 21–45 years; 2
males and 9 females) who fulfilled the American Heart Association
criteria for below-average aerobic fitness (VO2max, <43 for men
and <37 for women) were recruited (51). The 11 enrolled subjects
engaged in an exercise training protocol for 12 weeks at Columbia
University Fitness Center at a frequency of four times a week. Each
exercise session lasted ~1hr: 5 min of low-intensity warm-up on a
treadmill or stationary bicycle, 5 min of stretching, 40 min of aerobic
training, and 10 min for cool down and stretching. During the 40
min of aerobic activity, subjects were permitted to select from
cycling on a stationary ergometer, running on a treadmill, climbing
on a StairMaster, or using an elliptical trainer.

So how many chose the bike and who got the best V02max improvement???!!!!

Howdy Folks!

DrugMonkey, foolishly inspired by a couple of posts on bike riding over at Chad’s Uncertain Principles lair, and a reminiscence of the glory days of Usenet news groups by Chad’s guestbloggerNathan, not to mention some TdF idiocy over at Dr. Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge where DM engaged in old fashioned flamewar action with some fool named Hopper30111443627272 (approx.), ditto the complete and utter cock-up that has been the TdF and pro-cycling in general in the past couple of years (ohh, we’ll get to those links, oh yes we will) and, I suspect, heatstroke, suggested “Hey, why don’t you blog on Drugs and Cycling over on Drugmonkey?” (get it? Drugs, Cycling, man, brilliant this guy!).

So BikeMonkey was born.

I’ll take the suggestion on nom de blog. I’ll be talking about cycling mostly but sure, we can rant about these dumbasses blood doping and taking drugs to ride faster. Cycling science? Waaal, I’m no expert but when did that ever stop an old rec.bicycles.* Usenet newsgroup hand, eh? So we might have to BS a bit on exercise physiology, cycling physiology and the like. Emphasis on the BS but, what the heck, we can talk peer reviewed science once in a while.

“About BikeMonkey…” for the curious:

  •  He lives in cycling paradise, San Diego CA. So posts may be sprinkled with rides and locations local to SD, try not to get too jealous!
  • He is old, fat, out-of-shape and has a RealLife. Some posts may trend towards those dreary old articles in Bicycling “How My Bike Saved My Life” and such crap.
  • Ex-racer. Road, MTB, track. Purely amateur, no great shakes, not braggin’. This is not, however, going to be about cycle touring, old guys with beards on recumbants or the like.