Wise, Dumb, and Lite

I was at the Walnut Brewery in Boulder, Colorado, sitting alone, drinking a Devil's Thumb Stout, when I spotted a review by Anna Maria Basquez of a book called "Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled and Knuckle-headed Quest for the Rocky Mountain High" by Mark Obmascik. It recounts how he went from middle-aged couch potato to climber of all 54 of Colorado's mountains over 14,000 feet high. He said something very wise:

"I overcame the fear that my body was just in decline. I overcame the fear that I can't do certain things, physically, mentally, emotionally. Once you hit that time in your life when your body's best days are behind, you start to doubt yourself. It's hard because you remember what you used to be able to do. My mindset and first instinct was, 'I can't do that, that's new. I'm not up for it.' Now I start to look at things as possibilities. One of the biggest things I learned was that one of the keys to getting older is to keep doing new things because then you can't remember how good you were at the old things. If you're trying everything for the first time, you've got no benchmark. It changes the way you look at yourself and at your life."

Look at things as possibilities...a great insight for all TOJs!

Then there was this inane filler disguised as a tip in November's Runner's World: "When you're establishing a performance goal not tied to times, make sure it's measurable, so you can tell if you've met it..."

What if your goal is to be done with measures and just enjoy running?

And here's another real gem from the same issue: "Running is a free-form activity; we alone determine how fast, how far, and how long we run. The empowerment of running is open to anyone, at any speed. Your definition of "slow" may change as you grow more fit, and will change again as you grow older."

Yeah, well, you may be empowered to change the definition of slow, but you better not look at your stopwatch.

Enough heavy thinking. Time to lighten up. In the past couple of blogs this TOJ has talked about squeezing out the empty carbs in your diet to become a lean, mean, eating machine. So what am I doing having a carb-rich stout right in the first paragraph?  Actually, just as often these days I have a lite beer found on this useful list of "The 25 Least Fattening Beers," which originally appeared in the Daily Beast.

Here's lookin' at you, kid!

Becoming a Lean, Mean Eating Machine - Part 3

Last blog we explored how to take the first step towards eating foods that help keep us strong, lean, and resilient by substituting heavily processed foods made with poor ingredients with more carefully processed foods containing more nutritious ingredients. Remember the goal is to recondition our taste buds and end up craving healthier food choices.

What we eat is life or death (our choice) by a thousand cuts. It's not so much the one time a month that we might eat a sugar rich desert or prime rib marbled with saturated fat that undermine our fitness, but the day in day out food ingested over and over again.

The next step is to substitute individual foods that are high in bad fats or simple carbs with foods rich in good fats and complex carbs. Try to substitute something new every week. Time goes by fast. In a matter of weeks, you'll start to see and feel changes.

Start with some of these substitutions (from >> to):

Whole dairy products >> low or no fat dairy products
Red meat >> fish, grilled skinless chicken or turkey
Tuna packed in oil >> tuna packed in water
Boxed cereals >> oatmeal (rolled or steel cut)
White rice >> brown rice
Desert with sugar >> fruit
Potato chips/tortilla chips >> raw carrots or celery, or a handful of almonds
Ice cream with sugar >> plain yogurt with fruit
White potato >> sweet potato or yam

You'll notice some common themes hinted at in this list. The first is a move away from protein sources that are high in saturated fats, especially corn fed red meat. The other is that the carbs of choice are vegetables and fruit, not carbs heavy in high fructose corn syrup and white sugar.

A couple of good references to look at with more ideas is Tom Venuto's (he's a body builder, but don't be put off by that -- knows his stuff) ebook "Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle" or Paul Goldberg and Matt Fitzgerald's "The Lean Look."

Another good way to adopt the substitution strategy is just to watch the space on your plate. More and more of the space should be taken up by vegetables and fruit. It's that simple.

What's your reward? Speed, endurance, clear thinking, strength, energy. A TOJ's pot at the end of the rainbow.

Spicy Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries

3 to 4 Sweet Potatoes
3 TBs melted coconut oil
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. Chipotle Chili Powder or cayenne
salt to taste

To prepare the sweet potatoes wash and scrub them thoroughly. Cut in half and then into strips. For thinner fries cut those strips into halves again. Toss in melted coconut oil and sprinkle on chili power and salt.

Bake in preheated oven at 450 degrees. Turn with a spatula after 20 minutes and bake until crispy, about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the thickness of the potatoes.

Now we'll take a look at how to

The Centers for Disease Control just announced an alarming study that, if current trends continue, by 2050 as many as 1 of 3 Americans will have diabetes.

Becoming a Lean, Mean Eating Machine - Part 2

In my last blog I introduced the idea of taking the first steps on a journey away from foods that are not very healthy to those that are healthier, then to those that are healthiest.

Because our taste buds are so habituated to fat, sugar and salt (maybe even addicted if Dr. Mark Hyman is right), changing what we eat can be challenging. However, if you are patient and methodical, you can make food substitutions that better for you and retrain your taste buds to actually crave better foods. I can speak from experience - 30 years ago I religiously ate two Twinkies before cross-country ski races, but today that would make me feel sick and tired.

The first step is to begin the elimination of heavily processed, industrial foods that are riddled with bad fats (saturated and trans fats), sugar (sugar and fructose corn syrup), and unrefined carbohydrates, not to mention all the strange chemicals that are mixed in for color, taste, or to bind ingredients together or add shelf life. Most fast foods and food in mixes, though quick and convenient, are also degraded by cooking processes that destroy enzymes and key nutrients. Many claim to be "fortified" - that's because chemical nutrients need to be added back in because they have been destroyed during the manufacturing process.

Many people will find it easiest to begin the journey to better food by substituting processed foods with poor ingredients (especially high glycemic refined carbohydrates, starches and sugars) with those with that are more carefully processed and contain low glycemic, complex carbohydrates and minimal sugar or sugar substitutes.  

A book by Jorge Cruise, entitled "The Belly Fat Cure," offers a great approach of how to take this first step because it describes tasty substitutes (he calls them "do-overs") for many of the most popular fast food and chain restaurant menu items, which are making millions of people fatter every day and spreading the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. What's cool is his substitutes taste as good as the originals, but are healthier. Most of their healthy ingredients are available in supermarkets and not much more expensive. Cruise has had tremendous success helping people lose weight.

His food substitutions don't worry about fats and protein. The focus is on eliminating unrefined carbohydrates and sugar. Physically active people need plenty of carbs because it provides the glucose needed to fuel muscle cells. Truth be told, almost any carb in any form can fuel a workout or race. But much more important are the type of carbs you consume day after day because they will have a much bigger impact on maintaining your overall health, without which you won't be working out or racing, especially TOJs.

I did a variation on one of Cruise's pizza recipes. I love pizza, but most of the big chain pizza has a crust made of white, unrefined flour (which spikes your insulin just like sugar), and there is even more sugar in the tomato paste. Cruise's recipes substitute whole wheat pita bread and  commercially available pasta sauces made of natural ingredients, but no sugar. I used Santini Sundried Tomato Pesto. 

Carb substitution is not just about reducing calories, which good thing too. Sugars and unrefined carbs (which behave just like sugar once digested) cause an insulin spike because insulin is required to carry the glucose in the carbs to the cells to act as fuel. The excess insulin also triggers the liver to create and a release triglycerides (fat in the blood) which is delivered to and stored in fat cells. 

Next blog we'll talk about more food substitutions. They work. You can have your cake and eat it too. Better yet, you get healthier with each bite.

Becoming a Lean, Mean Eating Machine - Part 1

On the road to fitness, food becomes as important as exercise. Maybe you want to haul less pounds on your runs, recover faster from resistance training, or just feel better.

Changing eating patterns can be a challenge because the older you are when you start the changes, the harder they can be to make because what you eat is the result of habit, convenience and social pressure. Through the years, you have conditioned taste buds to crave a certain mix of sugar, fat and salt. Your family has traditions like deep  fried chicken and fat laden gravy over mashed potatoes. Or your best buddy likes to eat fast food. Maybe (like me) you love the taste of a carb loaded, cold stout.

But once you realize that whatever you put in your mouth affects your exercise and your overall health, you naturally start trying to figure out how to change. A sure way to succeed eating better is to start gradually. Many diets fail because they demand too many changes, too fast.

A much better approach that is guaranteed to work is to start slow and easy and gradually substitute poor food choices with a better ones. You don't do it all at once, but a little at a time. As you do, you learn about food and how it makes you feel and perform. No matter how old or out of shape you may be, you will discover that better food choices steadily improve your strength and endurance, help you think more clearly, and feel more energetic, whether to exercise or work.

The truth is that our bodies are amazingly resilient, and we can live on almost anything that provides enough protein, fats and carbs. Fast food and heavily processed industrial foods (canned, boxed, some frozen) will keep you going, but not over the long haul. But poor food will totally undermine your efforts to get fit. Similarly, good food will get you fit faster.

Over the next couple of weeks this TOJ, speaking from first hand experience, will discuss how to make those food substitutions, starting with how to begin the journey away from heavily processed foods. Here's a warning: once you become a fitness fanatic, you'll become a food fanatic.

Below is a great recipe sent to me by my daughter. She made these, ate a few, then went to her CrossFit and dead lifted 235 lbs., over twice her body weight.

Easy Coconut Pancakes

1/4 c coconut flour
1/4 c coconut milk
4 eggs
1/2 T agave nectar (or to taste)
1/4 t vanilla extract
dash cinnamon
dash nutmeg

Mix all ingredients with whisk. Let sit for 5 min. while melting butter or coconut oil in pan on med. heat. Cook until light brown on each side.

Three Good Ones

The October issue of Trail Runner magazine had three articles that caught my eye. Although the magazine focuses on ultra-trail running racing (distances 50K plus), often the articles are germane to all endurance sports.

Ibuprofen (aka Nurofen, Advil, Motrin)
The first is called "Pill Popping" by Elinor Fish. It tells the cautionary tale of a 27 year old man who won the 100K National Trail Championship in Eugene, Oregon, then almost died of kidney failure a few days. Doctors suspect the cause was ibuprofen, a class of over the counter drugs called NSAID, an acronym for non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug. Ibuprofen is frequently used for symptomatic relief of fevers and minor muscle aches due to colds and flu.

It is so commonly used in the running community that it's called Vitamin I, and taken both before and during races to relieve the muscle pain that occur in tiring muscles during races. The idea is that if you can put off the pain, you can run faster. However, some recent research has shown that actually ibuprofen does nothing at all to relieve the inflammation which occurs during exercise.  In the case of this ultra-runner, it actually clogged the kidneys.

The moral of the story? Don't use it to reduce the normal pain that happens during exercise.

Barefoot Running
There's a good article on the advantages of barefoot running by Michael Sandler, a guy who used it to recover from a serious accident after which he was told he'd never run again. He's definitely got the religion, i.e., wrote a book about it and runs a company to teach it. He says it's easier on the hips and knees than running shoes (he cites research to prove it) and will also help you run faster on trails -- your stride length shortens but your stride is faster.

I haven't bought a pair, so I can't speak much about this. As I've said in earlier blogs, I can't imagine them providing adequate protection on the rocks where I run. My hunch is they are a fad fueled by the popularity of Born to Run. But I could easily be wrong. I thought Crocs would flop. Now I own two pair.

Pre-Race Eating
The last page of the issue is a light-hearted piece by Bernie Boettcher, a very accomplished 49 year old ultra-distance runner. He faithfully follows a healthy food regimen of stuff like oatmeal, raisins, walnuts, chicken, spinach, black berries - you get the picture - the day before a race to optimize his performance, Recently he came in fourth to a guy he saw stuffing his face with pizza the day before the race.

He's a smart guy and obviously knows that what you eat the day before any kind of physical challenge will not have a big impact on your performance. However, it does have a big influence on your ability to train hard day-in-day out and stay healthy. Hard exercise has an inflammatory effect on your body. A good diet provides plenty of phytonutrients and anti-oxidants to help the body heal quickly and support your immune system.

The more likely reason Boettcher lost to the pizza eater was that the winner was younger. A TOJ understands why he might blame his loss on food. It's a lot easier to find a Domino's Pizza than the Fountain of Youth.