Creative Ways to Use Your Flex Savings Account for Fitness

I am on my third of year of working my first Big Girl Job but it was only this past year that I learned about a health savings account.
In short, a Flex Savings Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) works like this: pre-tax money is taken out of each paycheck and put into a separate account. Money from that account can be used to pay for qualified health expenses. The upside to this is that it reduces the amount of your taxable income. If you have family or a chronic health condition, this could mean thousands of dollars. Let’s say for example, if I make $50,000 a year and I sign up to put away $3,000 this year in a health savings account (HSA). I can use the money from that account to pay for health related expenses, and my taxable income is then $47,000.
The downside is that you have to predict at the beginning of the year how much you want taken out, and if you don’t use it all up by the end of the year, you lose it.
In December 2012, I signed up for a Flex Savings Account and told them how much I wanted for the year. This was my first time using  amount was calculated based on how much I thought I’d spend on copays and the fact that my birth control cost $30/month. Then in January 2013, my health insurance decided to make my birth control free. Great news. However, this mean I had a lot of extra money to use up in my FSA.
Other than the usual co-pays and prescription costs, these are the things I successfully used my health funds on last year:
  • first aid kids or supplies – band-aids, neosporin, etc
  • contacts solution – not exactly fitness related, but my most frequent purchase
  • chiropractor and physical therapy – the copays that my insurance doesn’t cover 
  • compression sleeves & socks – Surprisingly, sports compression socks are covered. Shipping fees for any eligible medical needs is also a covered expense, so I was reimbursed for the compression socks and the shipping fees. I bought compression socks on Groupon and that was reimbursable too. 
  • feet stuff – orthotic inserts, bunion and blister treatments, callous removers
  • sunscreen and sunburn products
  • my big purchase: Garmin GPS with heart rate monitor!
These are some expenses that I have not tried but might be helpful to fitness nuts or people needing to lose weight:
  • acupuncture
  • crutches if you get injured
  • electrolyte replacements – the description says “Examples include: Pedialyte”; I’m not sure how this would apply to a sport-related electrolyte drink like Nuun or Gatorade.
  • Fitness programs, weight loss programs, gym memberships – My spending acccount states: “Fees paid for a fitness program may be an eligible expense if prescribed by a physician and substantiated by his or her statement that treatment is necessary to alleviate a medical problem.” I wonder if you are overweight or obese and your doctor writes you a prescription that you need to lose weight, your gym fees would qualify as a health expense. 
  • weight loss surgery such as bariatric, gastric bypass, or lap band

So there ya go. Now you know what else you can buy if you are in danger of not using up all of your health funds.If you haven’t signed up for an FSA/HSA, remember to do it during open season! If you are lucky to not have any chronic health issues, you can still use it like I did for general fitness stuff. 



That time I almost fainted at the hotel gym

So, I almost fainted on a treadmill this morning.
I’ve been battling a cold ever since I got on the plane. And since its the holiday and I’m on vacation, I haven’t had much time to rest so that my sickness can clear up. From Boise to the country town, back to Boise, and now in Vegas. I have bags under my eyes; I’ve been exhausted and cranky like the while time.

Yesterday I kind I fell to pieces and was dead asleep by 8:00. Who does that in Las Vegas?

This morning I was awake by 6am. I was annoyed that hadn’t run at all this trip so I decided to try the hotel gym. By the way, the Aria gym is the nicest gym I’ve ever been to. Not just the nicest hotel gym; the nicest. This was the lobby area:

I should have just hung out there. There were actually a lot of people there even though it was only 7am so I didn’t want to creep on them by taking more pictures.

Getting back to my story – I was chugging along at a very slow pace (marathon pace) but feeling good. I even said to myself “I can definitely make it 3 miles.” At exactly 1.5 miles, my towel slid onto the floor. I wanted to pick it up, so I hit the stop button. As the belt stopped, I suddenly was out of breath and coughing to catch my breath. I was really confused about that since I didn’t even feel out of breath while I was running. Maybe 10 seconds had passed since I stopped, then my hearing became muffled and everything was blurry. I was really scared and just stood there gripping the rails and thinking pleeeease don’t pass out in front of all these people. Looking back,
I probably should have sat down right there.

I was aware enough to grab my things and stumble a few steps to the stretching area and just laid flat on the floor for about 10 minutes. I tried to pass it off like “yeah i just had a hard workout so I need to rest.” Then I got up, drank a cup of water, took an ice cold wet towel (how luxurious and handy) and laid down again. Eventually I was fine enough to go back to my room and now I’m fine, just a little shell shocked.

I always read that its ok to run when you have a head cold but be careful of some of the other factors. I have never felt that sensation before and in that moment I panicked. I suspect that it was my normally low blood pressure + dehydration from flying and being sick + your blood pressure drops when you stop exercising which all came together at once. Also, I live at sea level, Vegas is 2100 feet and the hotel is a a bunch of stories up. Is that enough of an elevation change to make a difference? Hopefully this magical combo does not happen ever again and especially not during the marathon.

I don’t need to eat during a marathon

I don’t need to eat during a marathon?! That is what one expert told me! Gasp.

After reading the Feed Zone Portables cookbook, I e-mailed them this question:

In Table 5 of the introduction describing Running a Marathon: Estimating Carbohydrate Deficits, it shows that a person running a 5:30 marathon needs to eat -88 calories of carbs. Is the conclusion then, that the athlete in the scenario running a 5:30 or 6:30 hr marathon does not need any carbs?

This is the response I received:

That is correct. Someone running at 14:53 min/mile pace (walking) does not need to eat. Their metabolism at that speed is fueled by stored body fat and they don’t need supplemental carbs. Same with the 5:30 finish time runner. Counter intuitively, you’ll note that a very fast runner needs to eat less than a moderate speed runner because they are running for less time and burning less energy.

Wow. My jaw is on the floor. This is the first time I’ve heard this suggested, and I will be looking into it more.

It might not be that crazy, especially knowing my own body. I’ve already stressed over the fact that with PCOS, my body is sensitive to carbs and insulin. Eating fewer carbs is better for my body – based on my own experience and based on PCOS research. I’ve already been stressing over the fact that this way of eating is not compatible with the routine nutrition and fueling standards for distance running. General knowledge also tells us that fat energy lasts much longer than carb-based energy; and I’m still chubby so I have a lot of body fat to spare! I need to do some more digging. On the other hand, I don’t know if I should try and mess with my metabolism with two months before my marathon.

Should I run when I’m sick?

Shoot. I officially have the first sickness of the season. Everyone around me at work is sick too. I am scheduled to run 11 mi this weekend – my last long run before the half marathon race. I was actually still planning in trying to do as much as I could tomorrow even if it meant walking/crawling the whole thing. Then I did some googling and found this and many other articles that said the same thing: if you are experiencing below-the-neck symptoms you should not do it. I’ve got head symptoms (sore throat, ear pressure, stuffy nose) but also achy joints & muscles. My cutoff was going to be fever: if I had a fever then I wouldn’t run. But now the experts are saying no no.

I’m worried about what’s going to happen to my training. I don’t know when I’d find the time to do 11 miles during the week. Should I do the 11 miles next Saturday, one week before the actual marathon? I don’t know enough about physiology to know if I would recover enough.