The Outside Blog

Athletes : Science

Poison Yourself—It's Good for You

By now, it’s become a given: your multivitamin is useless and the right amount of stress, even in our recovery obsessed world, is good. So what, if anything, do we gain by clinging to our antioxidant supplements?

Very little, according to an accumulating body of research. We don't need massive doses of antioxidants, we need stress to compel our own bodies to create antioxidants. 

“Everybody thinks oxidation is bad, and that antioxidants are good,” says Dr. Philip Hooper, an endocrinologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “That’s bogus. A little bit of poison is good.”

That poison can actually come from plants, especially those that have survived harsh conditions. 

In this Nietzschean diet principle know as xenohormesis, foods that have survived harsh conditions make us stronger by stressing our bodies, not because they’re rich in antioxidants.

As the science quarterly Nautilus explains, plants have developed an arsenal of chemicals to help them ward off insects and grazers. These “antifeedants,” when ingested by humans, trigger the body to release proteins and activate genes that “produce antioxidants, enzymes to metabolize toxins, proteins to flush out heavy metals, and factors that enhance tumor suppression.

Plants prepare your body to handle toxins much as exercise prepares you to race—by stressing your body. And supplements, says Dr. Hooper, interrupt this pay-it-forward biological sequence.

“These antioxidant supplements are like a Trojan horse,” continues Dr. Hooper. They say, I’m a good guy. You guys go to sleep and while the defense is asleep the antioxidants get rid of any oxidation. It puts the defense-system’s army to sleep.” 

Just as wearing a testosterone patch lowers the body's production of the hormone, relying on supplements reduces the body's natural production of antioxidants.

While Dr. Hooper acknowledges the benefits of vitamin E for muscle cramps and macular degeneration, he scoffs at the idea—as have many others lately—that it improves one’s physical performance.

“We’ve thrown so many millions of dollars at this,” he says. “It’s a misconception and it’s naïve.”And he suggests that athletes in intense contact sports such as soccer and football benefit from trauma. “Players have to be hit with pads on Tuesdays and Thursdays in order to compete on Sundays—they need that actual trauma,” he says.

“Everything in our society is geared toward, 'How can we reduce stress?'” adds Dr. Hooper. “When it should be just the opposite. We need stress. Stress is good.”

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When Ski Resorts Melt

It's a sad fact: winter is shrinking. The Rutgers University Global Snow Lab reports that the Northern Hemisphere has lost more than a million square miles of snow since 1970. That's why the hottest trend in the winter-sports industry is warm-weather activities. In April, the U.S. Forest Service implemented a new system that makes it significantly easier for resorts to get permits for things like canopy tours and ropes courses. Here are four of the best excuses to get back on the lift—this time in shorts and a T-shirt.

Walk the Razor's Edge

Fernie, British Columbia
Fernie has long been overshadowed by provincial brethren like Whistler and Revelstoke, which is fine by locals—the serious alpine terrain is largely empty. Try the ridge traverse across the breathtaking Lizards Range crest. Start at the top of the Timber chairlift and take a 20-minute stroll through open meadows past Lost Boys Pass and, if you want the added security, along a short fixed rope to 7,010-foot Polar Peak, where the views span from southern Alberta to Montana. From there the three-mile loop winds down through wildflower meadows to the Lost Boys Café, where you can down a well-earned Kokanee. $22 lift ticket.

Bikes and Bikram

Snowmass and Aspen, Colorado
The two signature resorts in Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley, Snowmass and Aspen, deliver summer's yin and yang. Snowmass has the adrenaline rush: it already boasts the only lift-served 4,000-foot mountain-bike descent in the U.S., starting above the treeline and ending in the high desert. And this year the resort is teaming up with the renowned trail builders at Gravity Logic to add a full-size beginner park and pump track. Upvalley at Aspen, it's a bit mellower. Take the Silver Queen gondola to the 11,212-foot Sundeck for thrice-weekly yoga sessions with views of the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak. Bonus: the Sundeck hosts bluegrass shows every Sunday throughout the summer.

Armor Up

Mammoth Mountain, California
Southern California's largest resort has a long affiliation with downhill mountain biking. Last year, Mammoth brought back the Kamikaze Bike Games, the precursor to the Mountain Bike World Championships, which included the sport's first lift-served downhill race in 1986. The revamped games now feature gravity, cross-country, and cyclocross races over four days in September. If you can't make it then, check out the updated bike park—where attendance has grown 22 percent in the past two years—and its new pump track, beginner loop, and skills park (think small drops, berms, and bridges). $49 day pass, $359 season pass.

Take to the Trees

Stowe, Vermont
This year, Stowe—already one of Vermont's busiest summer hubs—debuts two fresh options. The first is a zip line near the top of 4,395-foot Mount Mansfield that sends visitors whizzing down 2,150 vertical feet over roughly two miles. The second is a high ropes course on Spruce Peak that will feature six routes for kids and adults alike, with challenges suspended up to 30 feet above the ground. If you prefer to remain on terra firma, there's always the 150-year-old, unpaved Auto Toll Road, which leads to Mansfield's summit ridge, where a 1.3-mile hike puts you atop Vermont's highest peak.

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Maximize Your Vacation Happiness

You’ve likely got a vacation coming up soon. Whether you’re headed abroad for a week or simply to a cabin in the woods over Labor Day, start planning now. That's the number-one piece of advice from the folks over at Happify, who worked with scientists to determine the best tips and strategies for a happier vacation. 

Here’s what else you need to know:

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/happify_vacation.jpg","size":"large"}%}

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Discover the Outdoors in America's Most Secret Town

Earlier this week, the tiny town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, won Liveability’s “Best Small Town” contest for its diversity, education, population growth, health, and civic engagement. Although we agree that the Atomic City scores well in these areas, it’s the area’s outdoor scene that really blows us away (no pun intended). In fact, Los Alamos scored a whopping 84 on Outside’s Best Towns index (see below for judging criteria), on par, per capita, with places such as Missoula and Anchorage.

Here’s what you need to know about America’s most secret town.

Thirty-five miles northwest of Santa Fe, Los Alamos straddles a series of canyons that feed into the Rio Grande Valley below. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains loom on the eastern horizon, and the rugged Jemez range towers immediately to the west. This landscape is particularly gorgeous at the beginning or end of the day, when the sun is rising or setting above one range and reflecting off the other.

It was on this high desert plateau that the atomic bomb was developed during World War II. The crowning achievement of Robert Oppenheimer, the bomb solidified the town’s place in history, and—as the Manhattan Project morphed into the famous Los Alamos National Laboratory—ensured that Los Alamos would remain shrouded in mystery. Today, it remains a town of secret nuclear experiments and over-the-top security, where plutonium is (falsely) rumored to seep into the drinking water and the local science museum boasts full-scale replicas of Fat Man and Little Boy.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/lanl_fe.jpg","width":"800","height":"450","caption":"The Los Alamos National Laboratory, where discoveries are made."}%}

Eleven thousand of the world’s best scientists living together in the mountains makes for a very intelligent and diverse (not to mention socially awkward) community. But this culture and brilliance are exactly what set Los Alamos apart from anywhere else in New Mexico—and the world. Well, that and the fact that its location offers unparalleled opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. You don’t have to be a scientist to appreciate the 37 percent grade of Pajarito Mountain or the volcanic-rock singletrack that is oh-so-good for mountain biking. 

Here are six Atomic City events to check out:

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/jemez_runs_shirt_fe.jpg","width":"800","height":"450","caption":"JMTR participants receive race shirts and pottery from the nearby Jemez Pueblo."}%}

Jemez Mountain Trail Runs

Held every Memorial Day weekend, the Jemez races—a half marathon, 50K, and 50-miler, now in their ninth year—are considered among the toughest in the country. Technical trails, substantial elevation changes, steep climbs, torturous descents, scree fields, stream crossings, and more—all at altitude—make for a tough but scenic race. Anton Krupicka, who won the 2014 50-miler, called the stretch between miles 45 and 50 “spectacular. A carpety trail traversed along the gently descending ridge for miles and miles at a grade perfectly suited for running downhill fast. Seriously, it is one of the more quality descents I’ve experienced in the sport.”

Runners can enjoy well-stocked aid stations along the way but should carry their own water—the only cups in this race are handmade pots from nearby Jemez Pueblo that runners can claim at the end. “The finish was a perfect example of the intimate, community feel to this event, which was a big reason I wanted to run it,” Krupicka wrote. “Selfless volunteers, tables and tables of very good Southwestern food, and general mirth defined the atmosphere.”

Out of town on Memorial Day? Save the date for Pajarito Trail Fest, held on the ski hill in October. Run 15 mile or 10K under golden aspen and, more often than not, snow.

Refuel: The deli at the Los Alamos Cooperative Market is full of fresh, local, organic options that range from breakfast burritos to green chile enchiladas. Be sure to check out the baked goods, which include tasty treats for vegan and gluten-free customers.

Co-op baked goods and coffee are also available at Fusion Multisport, the only bike and running shop in town.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/michelle_pederson_PMSA_fe.jpg","width":"800","height":"450","caption":"Michelle Pederson flies down Pajarito Mountain."}%}

EnduroFest

If going downhill fast is your idea of a good time, the inaugural three-day Los Alamos Rock 'n Roll EnduroFest in early August is not to be missed. Start at the top of 10,440-foot Pajarito Mountain and zip down 7.5 miles and 3,900 vertical feet of free-ride and XC trails until you hit smooth singletrack. Then, catch the shuttle and do it all again, or just hang out on the ski hill and enjoy live music and local beer from Marble, Santa Fe Brewing, and La Cumbre Brewery.

Sponsored in part by the Los Alamos Tuffriders (the local IMBA chapter), the weekend also features clinics, guided rides, barbecue, and a kids’ race.

Road bikes more your thing? Don’t miss the Tour of Los Alamos, the oldest bicycle race in the Southwest. 

Refuel: On the ski hill, order a burger from the Pajarito Mountain Cafe and sit on the lodge deck to watch cyclists scream down the slopes. Back in town, stop by Pajarito Brewpub and Grill for a bison burger and one (or more) of the 30 beers on tap.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/LA_triathlon_fe.jpg","width":"800","height":"450","caption":"The Los Alamos Triathlon is the oldest continually run triathlon in the country."}%}

Los Alamos Triathlon

Like a lot of things in the Secret City, the mid-August Los Alamos Triathon is just a little off: It starts with the bike. But no one seems to mind—now in its 40th year, the race is the oldest continuously run triathlon in the country. Riders start at 7,400 feet at the Walkup Aquatic Center and charge hard to “the back gate,” as locals call the end of lab property on the west side of town. Once back in the transition area, the swim is 400 meters in the highest-altitude Olympic-sized pool in the country, and the run is a mostly flat out-and-back 5K with stunning views of the Jemez on the out.  

Sound too watered down for you? Opt instead for the Atomic Man Duathlon, hosted by local multisport club the Triatomics, with two course options named Fat Man and Little Boy. (To geek out even more on World War II history, afterward visit the Bradbury Science Museum, which offers more than 40 interactive exhibits about the Manhattan Project and the lab’s role in national security.)

Refuel: Ruby K’s Bagel Cafe is just a half-mile walk from the race finish and offers plenty of homemade bagels, soups, and salads. Get the full Los Alamos experience: Order the “Up & Atom,” eggs and sausage topped with salsa and melted cheddar on a green chile bagel.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/pajarito-snow_fe.jpg","width":"800","height":"450","caption":"Pajarito mountain on the morning of Pajarito Trail Fest."}%}

If shredding powder instead of singletrack is more your style, keep Pajarito in mind during ski season. The snow has not been great lately, but on a good year the mountain has about 300 acres of skiable terrain, including tree, bump, and Nordic skiing. At the top of the mountain, take a rest in the giant blue chair. You’ll have a clear view of the Sangres to the east and the lab below—but that doesn’t mean you'll know what’s going on down there.

Los Alamos by the Numbers

(judging criteria for Outside’s Best Towns index)

  • Population: 18,191
  • Income: $124,335
  • House price: $296,597
  • Unemployment: 3.9%
  • Acres of greenspace within city limits: 84
  • Number of farmer’s markets and how many hours each are open: 1; 5.5 hours/week
  • Miles of trails in the city limits (paved an unpaved): 63
  • Number of breweries, yoga studios, and bike shops: 11
  • Miles of bike lanes within the city: 12.3

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