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Two interesting questions lodged themselves in my pea brain after last night’s workout: 1.) Do certain foods make you stronger? and 2.) How hard should my heart really be beating when I’m busting my butt at the gym?

But, first, a little context. Several weeks ago, a couple of personal trainers walked by as I was laboring futilely on one of the resistance machines.

“Any questions?” one of them asked.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Why is this so hard?”

I was only partly looking for a laugh to ease my sweat-stained burden, but they didn’t take the bait. Instead, they explained how chowing down on some complex carbohydrates prior to my workout would power me to peak performance.

For some reason, I filed away that bit of information until yesterday afternoon, when I ordered up some creamy pasta dish for a late lunch. I’m not sure if I was really curious about the potential affect on my workout or if I just wanted the pasta, but I enjoyed the meal and about three hours later climbed on the treadmill (!!!!!) and started running (!!!!!).

Do complex carbohydrates go right to the brain? I hate the treadmill (vertigo), and I despise running (calf cramps), and yet I walked right out of the locker room, spied a vacant machine and climbed right on. After a five-minute walking warm-up, I started to jog and didn’t stop until I’d done a mile!!!!! It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t effortless, but it wasn’t that bad, either. My legs felt good, my heart rate soared into the mid-140s (more on that later), and I could almost imagine doing the whole routine again some time.

No, I didn’t stretch.

But I did dive into my strength-training routine with a weird sort of vigor. At each stop, I threw an extra 10 pounds above my normal load and pushed myself to the point of failure. On the chest press, in fact, I kept piling more and more weight on the machine — just to see where I landed — and found myself eventually doing a single five-rep set at 200 pounds!!!

So, later, I’m thinking: It must be the food.
And, sure enough, it turns out that experts, like the folks at Human Kinetics, preach the virtues of complex carbohydrates in the pre-workout meal. I probably should’ve known this, given that the whole “carbo-loading” cliche is so durable (the body turns carbs into the ATP needed to contract your muscles, yada yada yada), but I’ve never actually experienced it the way I did last night. Weird — but in a good way.

I think so, anyway. I was wearing my heart-rate monitor during this whole food-to-energy experiment and was wowed by how it shot up into the mid-140s during my run and stayed in the low-to-mid 130s during much of my lifting routine. This is WAY higher than what I’ve become accustomed to in the past several months, so I’m wondering: Am I going to have a coronary or something if this keeps up?

So, I checked in at WebMD to see what numbers I should be paying attention to, and found that maybe I was over-extending myself a bit. According to their heart-rate calculator, I should be hovering between 84 and 126 beats/minute during exercise and not exceeding 162.

This seems a little wimpy to me, but soaring heart rates aren’t really that productive, I’m told. So, I’ll try to slow down on the pasta in the future.

Thoughts to share?

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