The Science Behind Stink: One Woman Asked Why?

The Science Behind Stink: One Woman Asked Why?

Welcome to summer! More specifically, Summer in Texas. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s downright miserable some days. With heat indexes reaching 110, it’s not hard to imagine the amount of sweat being produced in the Lone Star State. ::bleh:: Now add exercise, sports leagues, outdoor activities and it becomes a breeding ground for smelly clothes and gear. One of my goals this summer was to figure out how NOT to throw away my favorite pair of yoga pants, volleyball kneepads or gym bag due to lingering odors. What I discovered is that, like Bill Nye The Science Guy says, “It’s Science!” I learned about fabrics and their functions. I learned about sweat. I learned that not all odor treatments are created equal. Let’s dive in!

I started my journey with trying to understand just what makes certain items smell more than others. Why do my somewhat-new yoga pants smell more than my favorite 90’s band t-shirt? (Gavin Rossdale for life!) For this answer I dove into the world of textiles. The dictionary defines textiles as a type of cloth or woven fabric. My yoga pants, gym bag and volleyball kneepads are one textile, while my concert shirt is a different type. Athletic fabrics are typically a blend of polymer fibers, which are designed to pull sweat away from your body and evaporate from the material quickly. However, the only thing that evaporates out of the material is the H2O component of sweat. The rest of what makes up sweat, salts and urea, is left behind. Ick! How clean do you think your stuff is now?

Cotton is the opposite. Cotton is a natural fiber that has a hollow core called a lumen that draws in H2O through its tiny tubes like a straw. It’s called capillary action. And that’s the structure of cotton, now for the chemistry behind all of this.

- Bill Nye, The Science Guy

– Bill Nye, The Science Guy

Cotton fibers are 99 percent cellulose, which is a long chain of connected glucose molecules with a slightly negative charge. If you were paying attention in high school chemistry class, you’d remember that H2O has a positive charge. (Don’t worry, here is the bonus point question!) What happens when you get a negative charge near a positive charge? BOOM! Attraction! Water stays attached to the cotton fiber, weighing down your t-shirt and taking forever to dry. Ugh! Did you know that cotton can absorb up to 27 times its weight of water! That’s a lot of sweat to be weighing you down.

cotton fiber

The structure of cotton fiber.

So now that we know the absorption properties of different fabrics, what causes the smell? That question comes down to sweat. Sweat is composed “of 99 percent water and small bits of carbs, salt, protein and urea” provided by glands. Sweat itself does not smell. The odor comes from bacteria breaking down secretions from the apocrine glands which provide the salts, protein and urea. Bacteria feeds on the secretions in sweat and creates a by-product which is the cause of the smell or what is called body odor.

So I wonder – if I can’t stop from sweating (Thank you, biology!) and I can’t prevent my clothing and gear from absorbing sweat, what can I do? I can remove the feeding bacteria from the materials. Hello, laundry day! But not so fast…

I know you’ve wandered up and down the laundry aisle again and again sniffing “mountain breeze”, “island getaway” or even “fresh linen” and thinking “hmm, I’d prefer fresh linen over b.o. any day!” But you might be only adding to the odor problem if you are trying to tackle your stinky athletic apparel and gear with a common detergent or treatment. The majority of popular laundry detergents and fabric sprays only remove or mask the odor on a natural fiber, like cotton or linen.

But when it comes to polymer-based fabrics or materials you need a formula that will penetrate the fiber to release the salts, urea and carbs. This will remove the bacteria buffet and the odor with it! Specially formulated sports detergents break down the chemical bond in the fiber, allowing it to enter the fiber, attach to the nasty gunk, and exit the fiber with the stinky stuff; leaving behind a fresh, clean poly fiber to take on your next sweat sesh!

An extreme magnification of white individual fabric threads being penetrated by green bacteria on an isolated background

An extreme magnification of fabric threads releasing bacteria

I came across a great stink stopper at my local running store. How convenient! 2Toms® StinkFree Shoe & Gear Spray™ tackles my gym bag, kneepads, yoga mat and more. 2Toms® StinkFree® Sports Detergent is perfect for that load of athletic wear. My yoga pants have never been fresher and I even use it for my bath towels and bed linens. (Bet you didn’t know those were wicking too!) What’s better, is that StinkFree® is exactly that! It frees my sportswear and gear of stink, not masking it with “tropical getaway” fragrance. The only smell that I will be sporting this summer is the smell of awesome! Trust me, it smells better than last weeks’ hot yoga class.

Check out 2Toms® StinkFree® line here.

Learn more about fabrics and “the science behind stink” at the links below.

http://www.outdoors.org/articles/amc-outdoors/why-does-cotton-absorb-so-much-water/

https://www.sweathelp.org/home/understanding-hyperhidrosis.html

http://www.antiperspirantsinfo.com/en/all-about-sweat/why-does-sweat-smell.aspx

 

6 Things the Happiest Runners Don’t Do

6 Things the Happiest Runners Don’t Do

Are you a happy runner?

Lately, I haven’t been. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my love for the run back.

I’ve read a lot of running books, thousands of blog posts about running, training books, and I’ve listened to hours of podcasts and I’ve seen all the running movies. After all of that, I’ve picked up on a few things that I do that runners who seem the happiest don’t do. Here they are:

1. Think Too Much

Happy runners just go on their run. They don’t think about what time it is in the morning. They don’t worry if they’ve created the right playlist. They don’t care if they match their outfit. They just go running.

 

2. Schedule Runs

The happiest runners go when they have the time. Running is their hobby. And who schedules hobbies? Sure, they may have a habit of running early in the morning or late at night, but it’s not written down on their calendar. They throw on their shoes and go when they feel like they just gotta go for a run. Have you ever noticed how when you schedule something, it becomes just another item on a to-do list? Should running be more like homework or a hobby?

 

3. Use Social Media Mileage Apps

The happiest runners don’t upload their milea

ge because they don’t need feedback on their run. They don’t need other people to tell them how badass they are because they got up at 4:30 a.m. and ran 20 miles on a Tuesday. Just doing it is enough.

 

4. Stare at their Watch

Happy runners don’t wear GPS watches.

 

Me (red skirt) and a group of running buddies during 2012's Virtual Run for Sherry.

Me (red skirt) and a group of running buddies

5. Race All the Time

A lot of runners race (even happy ones). And they have a ton of fun racing (myself included), but the happiest runners don’t need to race. They run for the love of running. They just run because it clears their mind. Or they want to be out in nature. Or it helps them think better.

 

 

 

6. Run for Fitness

This was the reason I started running and now that I’ve achieved my goal, I’m left feeling a little empty. For me, the point of running was to burn more calories. But that’s not the point. The happiest runners get out there because they love the feeling they get from running.

What do you think? What else don’t happy runners do?

A Workout Tip Coffee-Drinkers Will Love

A Workout Tip Coffee-Drinkers Will Love

Jillian Michaels said on her podcast recently that caffeine can help boost your athletic performance. Although, I should note that she doesn’t like the idea of getting your caffeine from coffee, but rather a supplement that also contains antioxidants and that helps slow the absorption of the caffeine in your system.

In the book, The Metabolic Effect Diet, the authors suggest that, for some people, a cup of coffee a half an hour before a workout can help improve workouts.

"Coffee" (c) 2005 by Timothy Boyd, under a CC Attributions: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

“Coffee” (c) 2005 by Timothy Boyd, under a CC Attributions: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

I will find any reason to have a cup of coffee during the day, so I wanted to know more.

But wait. Isn’t coffee dehydrating? That is a myth, according to Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., who wrote an article, “The Facts About Caffeine and Athletic Performance,” for Active.com. So that’s good. But how does it help improve a workout?

In her article, she says there have been a lot of good studies on this topic, and that most of them conclude that caffeine helps improve athletic performance, and even makes the effort seem easier.

“The average improvement in performance is about 12 percent,” she writes, “with more benefits noticed during endurance exercise than with shorter exercise (eight to 20 minutes) and a negligible amount for sprinters.”

She also said more benefits have been noticed in athletes that rarely drink coffee. Darn.

By the way, coffee and caffeine react differently for everyone. Definitely experiment with caffeine in training, not on race morning. And use common sense when it comes to caffeine consumption, advises Clark. More caffeine is not better. Remember: If you choose to get your caffeine from coffee, steer clear of specialty coffees (i.e. lattes).

So, how much caffeine should you take if you want to enhance your workout?

“A moderate caffeine intake is considered to be 250 mg/day. In research studies, the amount of caffeine that enhances performance ranges from 1.5 to 4 mg/pound body weight (3 to 9 mg/kg) taken one hour before exercise. For a 150-pound person, this comes to about 225 to 600 mg.” (There’s about 200 mg of caffeine in a 16-ounce cup of Starbucks coffee, for reference.)

Let me know if you use caffeine in your workout? How has it helped you?

The Most Important Thing about Marathon Training New Runners Forget

So you decided to run a marathon. Congratulations!

Although it isn’t known exactly how many people run marathons every year, the common assumption is that it is as low as 1%. Becoming a part of the marathon runner tribe is special and quite an accomplishment simply because not everyone runs a marathon. Not everyone can.

Not everyone should.

Why So Many Runners Don’t Get to Run their Marathon

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a new mom. She was overweight and had a terrible case of the blahs. She also had developed a back problem…and she was only 31!

One day, her chiropractor gave her some advice for her back. “Maybe you just need to lose some weight,” he said.

Perhaps that doesn’t sound very nice. But it was the truth, and she’d never heard it put so bluntly before.

So she started running. And then she met other runners. And, after a few weeks, she decided she wanted to run a marathon. She chose a half marathon training plan and checked that race off the list after three months of running.

Then she cut back on her running for a couple months. It was the holiday season and there was just too much to do to devote much time to running. She hung in there running, probably, 9 or 10 miles per week.

In the new year, she chose a marathon training plan and jumped into it. A marathon, after all, was the ultimate goal!

She stuck to her plan like a good little runner. In fact, she even hired a babysitter one night when her husband had to work late, so she could knock off 7 miles that were scheduled on a Wednesday!

Marathon training does take dedication. But she didn’t get to run her marathon.

Nope. She didn’t run the marathon because she didn’t know one of the most important things about marathon training.

Before you decide to run a marathon, you must already have built up a base. You must already be running, at least, 15-20 miles per week BEFORE you chose your plan. You must have a running base BEFORE you begin training to run 26.2 miles.

You simply cannot jump from running 5-10 miles per week to the 20+ miles per week that most marathon training plans begin with and not get hurt.

You might be thinking this won’t happen to you. You might be thinking about how healthy you are and how much money you spent on running shoes so that this won’t happen to you.

Unfortunately, the reality is, nearly 70% of runners get injured every year. And, as a new or low-mileage runner, if you do too much too soon, you drastically increase your odds of injury. And an injury usually means NOT running a marathon. That’s what happened to me as you probably guessed from the story above. And I played sports all my life and had never been injured.

The Simple Math that Will Help You Become a Marathoner

If you want to successfully join that 1% and become a marathon runner, here’s what you should do before you choose and begin following a training plan:

  • Figure out how many miles per week you are running right now.
  • Figure out how long it will take you to get a running base.
    • Take your current number of miles per week and multiply it by 10%. That is the number of miles you should increase each week until you get up to, at the very least, 15 miles per week. Twenty is better. Every 2 to 4 weeks during this period, you need to drop one of your weeks back down for a lower-mileage recovery week.
    • Figure out how many weeks it will take you to get to 15-20 miles per week. Ideally, you should be running about 6 months before you start training for a marathon. At least a few of these weeks should be in the 15-20 miles per week range. This is your running base.
    • Now find a training plan. You can search online, hire a running coach or buy a book on marathon training. There are tons to choose from.
    • Add your base training to the beginning of the plan. Take your marathon training plan and add the weeks you figured it will take you to get a good running base to the beginning of the plan. Don’t start the actual plan until you’ve completed your running base and you should be okay.

Of course, there’s no guarantee you won’t get injured when statistics show 70% of runners do each year, but the odds of staying healthy will be in your favor. You can reduce your risk even further by adding strength, cross training and plenty of rest to your repertoire.

Marathon training is no joke, but you can do it because you will be smart about your training and you are dedicated to putting in the work it takes to prepare your body to run 26.2 miles. Good luck with your race!

If you know someone who wants to train for their first marathon, do them a favor and send them this post, okay? Help a runner out.

Good luck and happy running!

Training for Hikers – Where to Start

Fall is just around the corner and is a beautiful time for hiking!

But remember, just like training for a marathon or a triathlon, or any physical endeavor really, new hikers–like me–need to start slow and build.

Training for a hike, whether it’s 5 miles or 50, involves increasing both cardio and strength endurance over time. Proper training will ensure you have more fun on your hike! Plus, training for a hike will help reduce soreness and decrease your chances of getting injured!

Read more about common hiking injuries and prevention at the 2Toms Knowledge Base.

Cardiovascular Training for Hikers

In the article, “Make Hiking More Fun,” at Prevention.com, the authors suggest at least 3-4 weeks to train for a 5-mile hike, and longer (6-8 weeks) if you don’t already exercise regularly.

Prevention.com’s fitness advisor Wayne L. Westcott, PhD, suggests walking 30-45 minutes at least 3 days per week (to train for a 5-mile hike). “On a fourth day, do a longer walk, preferably outside on hilly terrain,” advises Westcott. “Each week, increase the long walk until you’re doing at least two-thirds of the distance of your first hike (about 31/2 miles if you’ll be hiking 5 miles).

But it’s okay to train on a treadmill, if that’s all you can do. Click the link for Arizona personal trainer James Fisher’s 4-week treadmill training plan to get you ready for a long hike on Shape.com.

Strength Training for Hikers

Strength training will help you avoid injury and decrease post-hike soreness.

Work on strengthening muscles around the core (back, abs, glutes), and the muscles that surround your ankles and knees. Try to make strength a priority 2-3 days per week.

Prevention.com’s Westcott offers a detailed strength routine that includes one-legged squats, step-ups/step-downs, shrugs and back extensions. Click this link for descriptions of each exercise.

Check out another sample strength training routine from the Washington Trails Association.

Rest & Recovery

Like any exercise routine, make sure you get a day or two of complete rest. Muscles need time to recover and build so you can get stronger!

Stretch after training walks or hikes, and after strength training. Remember: Use dynamic stretches (active stretching, such as walking, lunges, squats, etc.) to warm up, and cool down with some slow walking and a static stretching (stretching each body part and holding it for a given period of time).

Learn more about how to ease sore muscles or DOMS.

Hiking with Dogs

Want to bring your dog on your hike? Include the dog in your training. Just like humans, dogs need to start slow and build their strength and endurance. Check out this link for some tips from a long-distance hiker and Ruffwear ambassador Whitney “ALLGOOD” LaRuffa.

Do Compression Socks Work?

“How’s Shalane doing?” I asked my husband from the kitchen. He was watching the women’s 10,000 meters at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow with me.

“I think she’s in the front still.”

I came over closer to the TV and instantly knew he was wrong. “No she’s not,” I said. “None of those women are wearing compressions socks. Shalane always wears compression socks.” (She finished 8th in the race.)

Some runners, like elite distance runners Shalane Flanagan and Meb Keflezighi, wear compression socks during races. Some athletes wear them after races for recovery reasons.

What is it about these socks? Should all runners be wearing compression on their legs? Do compression socks work?

Compression socks were originally created to help diabetics improve circulation. Now, many compression sock manufacturers—such as CEP, Zensah, PRO Compression, The Recovery Sock and others–say that their product(s) can help runners, cyclists, triathletes and other athletes race and recover better with benefits like increased oxygen delivery to muscles, decreased muscle fatigue and lactic acid, and cramp prevention.

Unfortunately, there is not any solid research to back up these claims even though many runners and cyclists swear by these socks. In fact, you can find compression gear for almost any part of the body these days—tights, shorts, sleeves, shirts.

“Very little evidence exists (ie. two to three studies out of 15-plus) from a sport and exercise perspective that compression garments improve performance when worn during exercise,” said Rob Duffield, a professor at the School of Movement Studies at Charles Sturt University, in a Competitor Running article last year.

In the article, the author points out that studies have not been able to find any difference in “running times, VO2 max, oxygen consumption or heart rates” between athletes wearing compression socks and those not wearing them.

Sports physiology professor Elmarie Terblanche, from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, said that most studies are done in a lab. So how reliable can those studies be? She decided to test compression socks in the real world and she found that athletes who wore compression socks “had significantly less muscle damage and were able to recover more quickly.”

Oh yeah, and they also ran 12 minutes faster on average.

Of course, Terblanche’s findings were, technically inconclusive. But, like Flanagan, some athletes swear by these tight-fitting socks. Boston Globe writer Shira Springer says that Flanagan “started wearing the knee-high tight-fitting socks to keep her calves warm as she dealt with an Achilles’ problem.”

Now, compression socks are practically the 2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist’s trademark.  “It’s very natural for me,” said Flanagan in the Boston Globe article. “I feel like I’m preventing injuries by wearing them and staying warm.”

Don’t mistake compression socks with knee-high socks. Compression-specific gear is very tight—the socks can even be difficult to get on! A pair of compression socks can cost anywhere from about $20 to $80 (or more).

I’m not a world-class athlete, obviously, but I did wear a pair of CEP compression socks during long training runs and during my first marathon. I won’t say I felt energized afterward, but my calves and shins felt pretty decent post-race. In fact, I had to sprint across a stadium parking lot to catch my friend before she left with my keys.

 

I wore The Recovery Sock during a tough, muddy 7-mile trail race earlier this year. Even if I don’t always wear them during a long run, I definitely wear them after. Maybe they don’t really work, but they feel like they do…and that’s all that matters to me.

So, if you’re on the fence about compression socks, it definitely can’t hurt to try them out…and they may just help you run and recover faster.

We’d love to hear from you.  Do compression socks work for you? Let us know in the comments!