During the 2019 season, approaching the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, my good friend Dr. Greg Grosicki of Armstrong State University worked with my coaches and me to track improvements in my body composition. We decided to look at several parameters with the DEXA scanner due to concerns with my bone mineral density.
The primary risk of insufficient bone density was stress fracture which would result in a long rest period in the middle of my training heading into Western States. At all costs, we wanted to prevent any time off even if it resulted in slightly less aerobic fitness come race day. My coaches and I decided to improve my bone density by changing my diet, adding calcium/vitamin D supplements, and increasing the amount of strength training.
The first place we thought improvements could be made was my diet. One essential addition was Flora’s Calcium Magnesium Liquid supplement. In order to not interfere with iron absorption, I took the supplement once per day from February to June with my breakfast (e.g. oats with nut butter, fruit, chia seeds, etc.). To enhance my calcium absorption, I supplemented my smoothies with Omega Sport+ which contains vitamin D. In addition, I made sure to get plenty of sunshine each day.
My coaches developed a strength training program that would elicit improvements in bone density by appropriately stressing my body with weight. We performed strength training exercises with 20- to 40-pound weight vests to enhance both muscular development and bone strength. I also kept up my usual three days of core strength training per week to maintain abdominal, lower back, and glute strength. With all the additional strength training, we were able to improve muscular strength of the hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes while improving bone density in concerning areas like the hips and spine. The addition of appropriate stress with weight resulted in bone strength development via improved bone mineral density.
As shown in the graphs above, we were able to improve the bone density in both my hip and spine region by around 3% with focused supplement ingestion and strength training. With focused alterations, an athlete can make improvements in body composition and increase the likelihood of long-term bone health. Regular DEXA scans can assist athletes in assessing current biomarkers to reduce the likelihood of injury.
I stayed healthy leading into the HOKA ONE ONE Project Carbon X 100K, setting a personal best of 6:33.50 at 100K in May, followed by an 8th place finish at the 2019 Western States 100 in June. We’ll be tracking my bone density again as the 2020 Western States 100 approaches, utilizing the lessons learned along the way in 2019.
Patrick Reagan is a professional ultrarunner for HOKA ONE ONE and privately coaches post-collegiate runners at all levels. He lives in Savannah, GA with his partner, Adrienne, and their two dogs and one cat, Oy, Koda, and Squeaks.