Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

Now that the race season is practically over, I’m feeling somewhat at a loss.

For the past seven years I have competed in several triathlons, running races and long distance bike challenges.  This year with the cancellation of my planned Iron-distance event (click HERE), I didn’t compete at all…like, at all.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I competed one 30k running race…and I totally sucked out (click HERE).

Needless to say, it hasn’t exactly been my finest year fitness-wise.

I mean, I’ve had a great summer – don’t get me wrong!  I helped run 10 kids triathlon all over Ontario and British Columbia with the SunRype Tri-KiDS series and I completed another 10k Swim for Strong Kids…even though that wasn’t my finest hour either.  What I have done well enough though is drink lots of beer and consume stupid amounts of BBQ…like a champ!

Now as I’m beginning to get squared away mentally for the pending 2017 challenges which – *knock on wood* – will mark my triumphant return to both triathlon and a healthy lifestyle, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how I actually ended up going down this road in the first place.

How did I get here?

What can I learn from this?

I guess I’m preparing to go all Rocky IV here by going back to basics, beginning with my diet.

This post then is the culmination of about three weeks worth of reflecting on how I did end up at this juncture in my life as well as what I’ve learned, as a means of using that to motivate me to do the right things again for the next 11 months leading up to July 2nd, 2017…my (hopeful) return to Ironman.


 

It should first be known that I don’t have anything particularly against cheeseburgers.  I still have them from time to time and I still list ‘finding the perfect cheeseburger’ on the Interests portion of my professional resume.

It’s just that I don’t eat them for breakfast anymore.

You see, I am a fat person much in the same way that ‘once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic’ and cheeseburgers were once an acceptable meal anytime of the day.  Salad was what you put on the cheeseburger, but things have changed drastically since those days.  There was no such thing as ‘Healthy Options’ on restaurant menus, nor did we have ‘Blue Menu’s’ at the local superstore.

It’s doubtful that I would’ve cared less even if there had been.

I’ve been sensitive about my weight ever since high school.  In grade school I was skinny – ‘athletic’ almost.  Back then, I even managed to win the  “Male Athlete of the Year” award in Grade Six upon graduating Maplecrest Public School; not necessarily because of any athletic prowess per se, but because I simply participated in absolutely everything – albeit poorly.  Volleyball, basketball, cross-country, soccer, etc. – I sucked at it all equally.  Of course, it was more of a ‘Sportsmanship’ award than anything else as I can’t ever remember winning anything particularly important or even placing in anything above dead last in any sporting meet or event, but Lord knows I tried hard.

Outside of school I enjoyed recreational swimming, baseball and badminton, all of which I fared pretty well, especially badminton, but never to any significant degree.  But then I got my first job as a pre-teenager, a paper route and, with it, a means of instant income and a rather compulsive addiction to chocolate bars so that by the time high school came around I had the inflated physique (and likely the blood sugar level) of the Michelin Man.  From that point forward it was ‘So long sports!  Hello Snickers bars!’  I still played badminton with a certain amount of skill, but my only other ‘athletic’ endeavor in high school was participating on the curling team, mostly because there was a lot of sitting in between ends.  So while everyone else was out making touchdowns, hitting dingers and sinking buckets…I was sweeping rocks and sitting on benches.  Not exactly the stuff that true jocks are made of.

Eating junk food was where I really shined.

Likewise, I wish I could tell you that I have fond memories of spending lots of quality time with my mother and grandmother in the kitchen learning healthy family recipes but, in actuality, I was usually too preoccupied in the living room watching Loony Tunes.

Essentially, this was me every time dinner was called:

giphy1

I could do the basics I suppose; toast bread, pour cereal, spread peanut butter over crackers and, what have you – hardly anything that one might qualify as ‘fine cuisine’.  When I was old enough to use the stove I could boil water for hot dogs or Kraft Dinner; skills that would serve me well into my adult life.  We ate well enough as a family, despite not always having the ample budget to do so.  In fact, how my mother continuously fed our family of five as well as she did must have been akin to Jesus feeding the multitudes on five loaves of bread and two fish – it’s just that I didn’t play much of a part in the whole process as I did at turning my nose up at what was placed in front of me…unless it was dessert, of course.  It was the late 1970’s and my mom was in charge of the kitchen as were most mom’s of that particular generation, and Rule #1 was our getting lost to leave her to work which suited me fine given that, mostly, I was pretty lazy.

These poor eating habits continued on when I left home to attend university where, instead of following the recommended meal plans provided by the residence cafeterias (if residence meal plans could ever be considered as ‘healthy’ that is), I gravitated towards Taco Bell…every day.  I could consume my body weight in soft bean burritos.  I probably did more often that I’d like to admit.  Despite playing badminton recreationally once or twice a week (thank God for my wicked drop shop which spared me having to run on many an occasion), the quantities of crappy food and beer far outweighed whatever calories I was burning off on the courts.

More often than not, I could be found at any one of the university bars on campus indulging in a liquid lunch and, maybe, a plate of fries instead of engaging in anything healthy or active.  By the time I left university I was well on my way to a severe weight problem, not to mention a liver that probably looked like a discarded sponge.

I also started to smoke pot…a lot.

I like to refer to these years as “The Fattening”.

The next few years were similarly unkind on my body.  After I graduated university I moved away to London, U.K. to work in British-style pubs where my diet mainly existed solely on peanut butter and kebobs.  Lord knows, the English aren’t well known for their healthy cuisine.  At least they weren’t back then as this was still the pre-Jamie Oliver era.  My weekly paycheck (or what was left over after rent anyway) was primarily reserved for beer and cigarettes.  So fruit and vegetables were seldom ever factored in unless you consider ‘mushy peas’ or ‘chips’ a vegetable.  My daily meals were often compromised of whatever leftovers I could scrounge up in the kitchen after service.  This is no one’s fault but my own, and my managers were very nice and accommodating in allowing me to get away with this as it wasn’t really their obligation to feed me, but my priorities were all eschewed after years of poor lifestyle decisions.

By the time I returned home eight years later I had ballooned out to well over 275 lbs.

Even when I returned home, this poor eating style continued and was complimented by many, many other unhealthy choices as I continued working in the local bars and restaurants.  ‘Dinner’ had become whatever I managed to throw down my throat on my break and, maybe, something else later in the wee hours of the morning on the way home again (think: MacDonald’s, Burger King, or whatever else happened to still be open for Take-Out).  By now, this had all become learned behavior over the years; ‘cooking’ was about as alien to me as advanced nuclear physics.  Seriously, I’d have about as much luck in making a simple casserole as I would have of stumbling across the formula for cold water fusion; I was that hopeless at preparing my own meals.  If it hadn’t been either pre-prepared or pre-packaged I had absolutely no freakin’ idea what to do with it as, by that time, I had developed a full on love affair with high calorie, fatty food.  Fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet were almost unheard of and had taken on a near mythical status in my life, like unicorns, leprechauns and the Loch Ness Monster.

Later, I managed to quit the service industry altogether and bumped around from job to job until I ended up working in a call center, mostly because it was air-conditioned and I could sit for eight hours a day.  Besides, I had excellent communication skills so solving customer disputes and handling billing problems over the phone didn’t pose much thought or difficulty.  It was an ‘easy paycheck’ involving next to zero physical activity or exercise.

Part and parcel with this new employment, however, was my becoming used to living out of the cafeteria vending machines, of which, pre-packaged microwave cheeseburgers were my favorite; breakfast, lunch or dinner.

I loved those cellophane-wrapped heart attacks-to-go.

Fortunately by this point, I had managed to quit smoking but I had just turned 30 years old, weighed approximately 320 lbs. and would break out into a sweat simply by walking to the corner store for a loaf of bread or, as in the case on this particularly fateful day, from the car to the front door at work.  After years of living poorly and making unhealthy lifestyle decisions, I had turned myself into a gelatinous blob of fat with no muscle whatsoever.  My personal self-esteem was practically non-existent and I still smoked copious amounts of marijuana every day in order to maintain my sanity in the face of it all.

Dating?

Impossible.

I was entering into middle age and I felt awful most of the time and, ultimately, I grew very bitter and angry at myself, not to mention the rest of the world.  I had, quite literally, become the ‘Fat and the Furious’.

Eventually, I had a bit of an epiphany.

Well, not so much an epiphany as it was a “moment”.

I very real and ugly moment.

It came while looking at my reflection in the front window at my place of employment.  I was sweating profusely and out of breathe; I was enormous, unkempt, and very unhealthy looking and I had only walked a short distance from the car.  Instead of going in, I just stood there in shock taking in the miserable looking behemoth staring back at me.  I felt terrible.  I was overcome with a profound sense of shame and disappointment.  How had I let things get to this point?  When did I become so fat and out of shape?  I decided then and there to pack it in for the day and went home.  Judging by my reflection, I was justified in taking a sick day as I was most certainly not well; physically or mentally.  It was while sitting on the couch at home that afternoon, smoking pot and eating a candy bar while feeling sorry for myself, that the ultimate decision was made.

Things needed to change.

Fast.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had taken the first significant step to changing the path of self-destruction.

I had no idea how I was going to manage this change but, finally, the initiative had hit me that I was going to do something…anything.  So where most people sign up for Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, or whatever fad diet program that happens to be occupying the majority of prime time air slots on the boob tube, or run out to purchase the latest, convenient, fold away, body sculpting piece of shit being hawked by the latest celebrity has-been…I started walking and, heaven’s forbid, eating more salad.

I still wasn’t a whiz in the kitchen, but I bought some healthy eating cook books from the local secondhand bookstore and started to bookmark basic recipes that even a chimpanzee could muster up.  It was a start.

It was something.

At first I simply walked around the neighborhood for an hour or so and there are some very unflattering photographs of me from around this period.  It was amazing to me how little I really knew about the area I had lived in for the majority of my life.  Now I was discovering what lay at the end of certain side-streets, or laneways that I had never bothered to turn down before, and what pretty landscapes lay in hiding along remote walking trails and local parks.  Little by little, these neighborhood walks grew increasingly longer in both duration and distance and I completed them faithfully every night after getting home from work.  I enjoyed these ambles, in the beginning anyway, and they were every bit as challenging then as some of the crazy workouts I attempt nowadays, yet I still had no invocation of ever completing a triathlon.

That notion hadn’t even begun to formulate itself in my mind yet.

I started to plan out my meals with a little more consideration as to what I was actually putting into my body.  I began to make the connection that whatever I ate that day was directly related to the quality of the workout – however basic  – that I would take on later that day.

I also learned another, well, not so pleasant side effect of suddenly switching to a healthy lifestyle after nearly two decades of self-indulgence; real food makes you poop…a lot.

Who knew?

And I’m not talking about the usual evacuations I was accustomed to when eating all that high calorie, greasy food either, I’m talking about huge spires of earthly-colored crap that would make most circus elephants envious.  Every time I needed to go to the bathroom I practically had to clear my afternoon schedule.

Let it never be said that getting healthy is a beautiful thing.

I remember one particular evening when the toilet in my meager apartment had clogged up after a rather glorious passing.  I attacked the drain with a plunger like I was grappling with the control stick of a plummeting B-52 bomber, but to no avail.   After three or four unsuccessful attempts to unblock the offending obstruction, not to mention cleaning up the three or four inevitable overflows, I decided to call in for back-up to my landlord who also conveniently lived on the main floor downstairs.  Unfortunately, he was still at work for the evening so I left a message and settled down on the couch for a nap.

Hey, pooping is hard business don’t’ cha know?

Later that evening when he returned home he immediately came upstairs for a looksee and after a few more unsuccessful “plunge and mop ups”, he too threw in the towel – quit literally actually – and offered to call a plumber in the morning.  It was late and he was tired, so dealing with plugged toilets I’m sure wasn’t exactly what he wanted to be doing.

Who could blame him?

Defeated, he left to go downstairs and shortly thereafter I heard a scream followed by a very vocal “Oh, shit!”  As it later turned out, more accurate words could not have been chosen.

I hurriedly raced downstairs to see what all the commotion was and upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, I saw him standing in the doorway to his apartment – frozen – with a look of pure horror on his face.  It still wasn’t immediately clear what had happened at that point, so I carefully maneuvered around him in the narrow passageway to sneak a peek inside.  The grizzly spectacle I was greeted with would have been on par with any murder crime scene.

It was gruesome indeed!

Bucketful’s of dirty toilet water had poured out from the ceiling just underneath where my bathroom would have been; all over his leather furniture, his home entertainment center, his, well, everything really.  Everything in the apartment was completely saturated with dank, smelly sewage.

It seems that the pipes in my bathroom had completely burst under the floor and released with it an absolute torrential tsunami of shit.  What was revealed later when all was said and done was that, being an old house, the bathroom pipes had literally exploded under the force of my massive meaty turds over the past few monthly.

Oops.

But it’s the truth; I was squeezing out these new Tyrannosaurus-sized turds on a very regular basis, the likes of which I’d never experienced before.  Think about it:  making healthier choices including eating foods with high fiber and more cruciferous vegetables was ultimately wreaking havoc on the poor outdated plumbing in the apartment.  One hundred year old drainage pipes were no match for my reenergized bowel apparently.

Thankfully, my landlord had the proper home insurance to cover such disasters and all would be rectified thanks to nearly three months’ worth of detailed renovations during which time he had to sleep on his sailboat.

All thanks to my new healthy lifestyle.

After nearly a year of sticking with the plan, through good times and smelly, I wasn’t quite so repulsed with the reflection I saw in passing windows during my daily walks but, there was still a long way to go in my mind.  I even started dating – albeit never for very long.  This was a huge breakthrough in and of itself just to know that someone could actually find me attractive.  Most exciting of all was that I could once again see my penis in the shower without the aid of a box periscope.

What can I say?

I’m all about small victories.

The time was also approaching I decided, to ratchet up the plan to the next level and included my first foray into what I considered ‘No Man’s Land’; the local gym.

Soon there would be no looking back.

(to be con’d…)

Two weekends ago I raced my first long distance event of the season, the Around the Bay 30k (click HERE  for this years results) in Hamilton, Ontario, except that I’ve been pretty quiet on the whole subject…until now.  In short, it was a complete debacle of epic proportions which has ultimately left me very disappointed and discouraged given all the hard work I’ve put into my run training over the past two months.

Seeing as how I finished over 20 minutes off my best time from two years ago (2:31:20), well, let’s just agree that it was a total shit show ending with me walk-slash-trotting at an abysmal pace for the final few kilometers.  In fact, as far as I’m concerned, this event should now be officially renamed the “Painful Shuffle Around the Bay 30k’.

But as the new coach keeps telling me, every failure comes with a new opportunity to learn and improve, meaning, now I’m stuck with the burning question that I’ve been dwelling on for the past two weeks:

What the fuck went so wrong?

The plan was not necessarily to go out and set a new personal best.  No, it was ideally just an ideal “training day” to get a sense how my over all run training has been faring, especially in regards to the whole quicker cadence thing (click HERE).  We agreed then that I should go out sparingly at a comfortable pace of 5:30min/km  for the first 5k, then begin to up my pace gradually over the next 15k or so, before unleashing the big dogs altogether and go for broke over the last 10k to the finish.

Easy enough, right?

Well, the first part of the plan went great and despite the adrenaline and rush of competition, I held myself back just as planned arriving at the 5k mark at almost the exactly anticipated time of 27:30, meaning that I was pretty much bang on my 5:30min/km pace perfectly.  At this point, I was experiencing no issues and was rather enjoying myself.  Well, aside from the fact that I way over dressed for the occasion and sweating like a complete bastard that is*.

But I digress…

After the first 5k I increased my pace by focusing on my “quick feet” just I have been practicing and my pace accelerated to fluctuating anywhere between 5:10-5:20min/km, or thereabouts, depending on the terrain, wind, hot babe runner in tight-tights, etc..  It was still a slower pace than that of my PB pace two years ago, but if I could keep that pace going and then some for the remainder of the race that would put me on a pretty even keel to finishing around the same finishing time having covered more distance in the end…quicker.

“So far, so good”, I thought.

“Yay me!”, even.

Then around the 18k mark the fatigue began setting in, even a little more than you might expect.  Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that running 18k in and of itself is no small feat (well, for me anyway), but this was a different feeling.  My energy began to sap from my body rapidly and all at the exact moment when those stupid long-ass hills started up in earnest along the dreaded North Shore Blvd. portion of the race.  In fact, these hills are what the race is known for.

I knew I was in trouble.

From there is was vicious downward spiral where my quads began to feel like they were being torn apart, and I developed a hot spot in right foot making my keeping any decent pace comfortable.  I knew that my shoes were a bit long in the tooth going in but I figured that they had at least one more long run in them.

Apparently, I was wrong.

By the half marathon mark, I was in big trouble.  From there, well, let’s just say it was a complete and total dumpster fire.  Mentally I had checked out, physically I was broken.  It started by my walking through the aid stations in order to give the burning sensation in my right foot some temporary relief and then graduated to alternating sporadically between a walk and a painful limp for the final few kilometers to the finish.

Here’s the whole shit show broken down pace-wise:

ATB Data

Yeah.

Not pretty is it?

I didn’t even want to collect my race medal when it was all said and done and instead of allowing the volunteer to place it valiantly around my neck as is customary, I snatched it out of her hand and quickly stuffed it in my race bag along with the token post-race banana and package of flatbread.  You’d think that she had just handed me porn, or something.

Fuck that.

Anyway, back to the question (blown shoes aside) – what went wrong?

Piecing together the day, it all started off pretty much like it does on any other given race morning.  One bowl of whole oats with brown sugar upon wake up, a toasted bagel and cream cheese about an hour later with the usual cup of coffee, and then starting about an hour before the start of the event I started nursing my premixed bottle of E-Load performance drink.

What I didn’t do however, was much fueling after that.  Once the race started I just got into my rhythm and blew through the aid stations as I hate jockeying around with 2000 other runners for a glass of whatever, so I tend to just move over to the right (or left) and carry on my way unencumbered.  And this was great for the first 15-18k, no issues.  I think the only thing I had to eat was a single dried honey date around the 7k and, maybe, the 13k mark.  By the time I had reached the hills, I was running on empty.

This was later explained to me by the coach:

“When you run out of glucose and glycogen in the muscles, your body switches from using fatty acids as fuel…to catabolizing muscle tissue for fuel.”

What this means is that when your body runs out of other sources of fuel, it will start to use its own muscle tissue for energy.  Isn’t that sexy?  This likely explains the “tearing” feeling I felt in my quads right around the two hour mark.  Obviously, this is not a normal condition, and your body will only start to use muscle tissue for energy under extreme conditions, such as if you are very sick (I was getting over the plaque I had contracted while in San Antonio two weeks before), severely malnourished or not consuming enough calories over an extended period of time to support normal body functions.

Terrific.

You see, every cell in your body needs energy to perform normal body functions such as moving, breathing, maintaining your heartbeat and healing damaged tissue.  And over the course of runner 30 kilometers, there’s lots of damaged tissue going on.  Normally, carbohydrates from your diet supply the types of sugar your body uses as its main source of energy.  To get enough sugar from your diet to supply your body with the energy it needs, approximately half of your daily calories need to come from proteins, fats and carbohydrates.  I likely had enough of these stored carbs from my early morning feedings and the previous evening’s meal.

During digestion, your body will break down those carbohydrates into simple sugars that are then converted to glucose, or blood sugar.  That resulting glucose travels in your blood to every cell in your body, where it is used to manufacture energy.  If you consume more sugar than your body needs for immediate energy (and Lord knows I enjoy my treats), some of the excess is converted into glycogen, a type of sugar that is stored in your muscle tissue.  If your body needs glucose, and no sugar is coming in from your diet, glycogen is released from your muscles and broken down to supply enough glucose for energy to last about half a day.

So when I failed to “stoke the fire”, per se, by replenishing those stores of glucose I had in my body before the race started by providing it with more regular quick burning stores of simple carbohydrates, my body more or less reverted to eating its own muscle tissue in an effort to get the necessary glycogen to keep me going.

So, yeah, great!

My body was basically cannibalizing itself for the last 10k.

Amazeballs.

So, what’s the learning opportunity?

EAT YOU STUPID BASTARD!

So going forward this is my new mission to figure out a proper fueling strategy for both before and  during my long workouts, especially now that I’m heading into my long bike training period as well.  During these training runs (and bikes, for that matter) I will need to begin experimenting more with what I am taking into my body, as well as how often, in order to be able to sustain the required energy level.

My issue with that though, is that I don’t necessarily want to spend the equivalent of the Gross National Product of a small underdeveloped country on gels and sporting supplements to do so.

But the dried honey dates just aren’t cutting it anymore.

Now, given that I “go long” at least twice a week (long, being over two hours), that’s a lot of expensive sporting gels.  Of course, I would definitely prefer real (cheaper) food.  But not only does that “real food” have to be the right type of quick burning fuel, but it also has to be easily portable to boot.  After all, to my knowledge, there is no catering service for long distance athletes that will agree to set up an elaborate fueling buffet station ever 5k or so along my predetermined workout route…is there?

Yeah.

Doubtful!

So let the learning commence…

*This is a long standing tradition I have with this event in my never being able – for whatever reason – to figure out how to dress appropriately for the occasion.

(WARNING: the following post is very opinionated, direct, controversial and I’ll likely take a lot of shit for it.  It was intended as an initial reaction to other opinions that recently appeared in my inbox.  I didn’t fire the first shot, I’m just responding with my own point of view.)

To gluten or not to gluten, that is the question.

Recently, there has been some scientific studies released that are creating some skepticism around the whole gluten intolerance thing in non-Celiac people.  Specifically, a surprising new study on the phenomenon of gluten intolerance has come down on the side of saying it just does not exist. In other words, if you’re not Celiac, you’re probably not gluten intolerant and are reaping zero benefits from maintaining a gluten free lifestyle.

The study, conducted by Peter Gibson, a gastroenterology professor at Monash University in Australia, reverses the results of his own previous study in 2011, which concluded non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a real condition.  Oh joy.  Anyway, this fact became known to me only recently when a string of “friends” on Facebook took it upon themselves to send me links to this new groundbreaking information as a way of saying (or so I took it anyway) “Ha! I told you so!”.

Well, isn’t that marvelous.  So I guess I can forget all about this gluten-free shenanigans then, right?

Here’s the thing: science can prove and disprove just about anything.  Look at the Greenhouse Effect for example, some scientists claim to have “proven” beyond a shadow of a doubt that the earth ozone is being depleted at an alarming rate due to the historically recent high levels of carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere and unless we can change our ways – soon – we’ll inevitably experience another global extinction the likes of which hasn’t been seen since dinosaurs roamed the earth, while other scientists claim it’s just all bunk and we have nothing to fear.  So if you listen to Al Gore we’re all doomed, where the brain trust that is Pat Sajak suggests we’re all just a bunch of “unpatriotic racists”.  It all depends on who you choose to listen to.  I see the debate on gluten no differently.

However, what really irks me is that these people have seemingly made up their mind based on something they inevitably read on the Huffington Post or Buzzfeed, or whatever intellectual online think tank they happen to subscribe to, not because they actually tried the gluten free lifestyle and came up with their own opinions based on actual experience.  Because they’ve read this “new study” somewhere, they’ve immediately concluded that gluten intolerance is a “fad”.  Hey, it’s easy to formulate opinions when you’re only base of reference is reading internet articles from behind a bowl of potato chips, right?  That really annoys me.

I assure you, this was not my thought process:

 

So allow me to try and respond to these naysayers.

First off, I’m a bozo.   I have no claims to being overly intelligent.  Even if I did read all the scientific research currently available on gluten I’d probably only understand maybe a very small fraction of it.  All I know is that when I decided to change my lifestyle nearly a decade ago, I tried everything under the stars…Paleo, vegetarianism, and most recently gluten free. It was all very trial and error based.  I simply adapted what worked and then dismissed what didn’t based on how I felt and how my body reacted over time.  In that time, largely thank to these ‘experiments’, my level of fitness is eons where it used to be back when I was in my “prime”.  I can do things now that I wouldn’t even have considered back then.  So when someone, particularly a person who probably does nothing better with their time than sitting in front of their computer trying to poke holes in my lifestyle philosophy by forwarding me links to “research” that disproves what I have found to work, yeah, I can get a bit defensive.  I admit.

Oh, and for the record, I am currently not gluten free.  I fell off the gluten free bandwagon around Christmas after four months of being sans gluten and haven’t managed to get back on board yet.  So I have experienced both sides of the gluten spectrum if you will; the before, during and after.  Based on that experience, I definitely noticed a huge difference in how I felt (then and now). Screw what the recent scientific studies say.

And make no mistake about it, I also understand the whole placebo effect thing too.  As food writer Michael Pollan suggests, the gluten free issue is a bit of a social contagion, where a “lot of people that hear from their friends, ‘I got off gluten and I sleep better, the sex is better, and I’m happier,’ and then they try it and they feel better, too. It’s the power of suggestion”.

Well, that’s all well and good but has Mike ever tried to swim 4k then ride his bike for 180k before dismounting and running another 42.2k?  Probably not.  As a budding endurance athlete, reducing the amount of inflammation I experience after a workout is paramount with success and I can say for sure, that while maintaining a gluten free diet that that recovery process was much quicker and effective (never mind that my ass turned into a veritable Krakatoa should gluten ever sneak its way into one of my meals).  Likewise, my weight dropped considerably where it had seemingly hit a plateau despite my considerable activity and healthy diet.  So if and when any of my “friends” (you know who you are) who took it upon themselves to forward me this ‘conclusive’ research can accomplish that feat, then MAYBE  I might pay a little more attention to you.  Deal?

What’ya say tough guy?

But as it is, links to research studies do little to sway my opinion on the whole gluten free topic.  I’m only interested in results.  Personally, I think everyone has some degree of intolerance to gluten.  There were simply too many noticeable differences to ignore when I first tried the gluten free lifestyle (which, truthfully, takes about two months to completely expunge your system of the gluten gunk and truly achieve a ‘gluten free’ footprint). However that level of sensitivity (or insensitivity) is unique to each person.  For some, the differences will be huge and immediately noticeable, particularly depending on how active their lifestyle is.  For others, it may be only slight to non-existent, particularly if they aren’t really active.  Someone who sits on the couch for hours on end may not experience any noticeable differences as opposed to someone who runs, bikes, swims, etc. It probably wouldn’t even register on their radar beyond an extra fart or two.   The point here is that you have to actually try it and see for yourself.  I’ve done that.

I’m not a fad follower.  Anyone who knows me knows that already.  So, please, don’t immediately assume that because I’m not a Celiac sufferer that I did not (and will not) benefit from maintaining my current lifestyle choice, especially as they pertain to gluten.  Reading ‘evidence’ on Huffington Post might be enough for some folks, but it means diddley-squat to me and I don’t appreciate the label.  I’ve made my choices and I respect yours as I hope you will respect mine.  Likewise, I have my opinions where you have yours.  I respect that too.

As for gluten free, despite the recent scientific findings I am still excited to get back on the gluten free train and look forward to doing so again soon.

Succulent Socca!

Posted: September 23, 2013 in Nutrition, Recipes
Tags: , ,

They say that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’  and to that I say:  FUCKIN’-A!

Some people will bitch and moan about not getting their morning coffee and, while I enjoy me my morning cuppa Joe as well, it’s totally meaningless until it’s also accompanied by something warm, hearty and delicious to start the day.  Usually, I fall back on my tried and true two egg omelet with onion, mushroom and cheese (or whatever else happens to need being used up in the refrigerator) which requires a mere 17 minutes to prepare.  Yes, I have it that well timed.  I could make that shit blindfolded.  Other times I like to go out, specifically on the weekends or after a long morning workout for your typical eggs, bacon, toast and pancake special at the local breakfast diner here in town but, now that we’ve switched to gluten free, that option is off the table…literally.  And while I can still prepare my morning omelet with little difficultly, lately I’ve been craving a little more variety.

Enter an amazing and simple recipe I found for Socca (also known as farinata and cecina), a savory flatbread make from chickpea four.  Socca is a traditional golden brown, ‘chewy’ dish from Nice, France (Oh yeah, lookee me being all French n’ shit) but is more commonly associated with Middle Eastern cuisine…go figure.   Joel Rubuchon, eat your heart out!  Anyway, Socca is made of only two main ingredients making it extremely easy to prepare: chick pea flour and water.  Nutritionally, it’s high in protein, has a low glycemic index, gluten free and, most importantly, freakin’ awesome.  You can probably find it pre-packaged at supermarkets easily enough (check the health food or ethnic section), bulk food stores or Indian grocers but with chick pea four being relatively inexpensive at the bulk food store, hey, why not make your own and enjoy the fruits of your own labor?  Doesn’t everything you make with love taste a little bit better anyway?

Socca is extremely versatile in that you can use it as an alternative to wheat or corn tortillas; as an hors d’oeuvre or snack with hummus; as a substitute for traditional crepes or pancakes; as a thin crust pizza base; or as a side for curries or soups.  Me?  I like to use it as a wrap for a hearty breakfast burrito.

Socca Ingredients:

  • chickpea flour
  • water
  • oil (preferably with a high smoke point)
  • optional spices:
    • paprika (gives a reddish tint)
    • cumin
    • garam masala / curry powder
    • garlic, finely minced
    • coriander / cilantro, finely minced
    • cinnamon (great for dessert crêpes)

Instructions:

  1.  Evenly coat a frying pan (I prefer a cast iron skillet) with oil using a brush or paper towel. You’ll need a pan than can go in the oven/broiler (i.e. non-melting handle).
  2. Set the oven to broil and fully heat the frying pan/skillet.
  3. Measure out the flour and water in a 1:1 ratio and whisk together with your chosen spices to taste.
  4. Spoon some batter into the preheated pan/skillet and tilt to evenly coat the entire surface.  Aim for a thickness of a few millimeters, but feel free to experiment (e.g. thicker for pizza dough, or thinner for crepes).
  5. Broil with the oven door open – you know, to keep an eye on things.  Remove carefully with a spatula just as the edges begin to blacken.
Broiling socca

Broiling socca

Yummy, toasty goodness in a pan

Yummy, toasty goodness in a pan

From here, you can pretty much add whatever you like.  Me, I like to fry up a few mushrooms, onions, diced sweet potato and bell peppers but, really, you can put anything you like in there.

Oh yeah...

Oh yeah…

As a bonus, add whatever leftover proteins that might still be still lying around inside your fridge from last night’s dinner (which is often at my place).  In this case, I had some surplus chicken breast and ham.

Dahrool, dah-rool!

Dahrool, dah-rool!

Then I scramble up one egg and add some light cheese and salsa (lately, I’ve been digging a delicious Corn & Chili salsa from Trader Joe’s), maybe a little salad if you like and, voila!  Heaven on a plate!

Heaven on a plate!

Heaven on a plate!

Just one of these babies and an hour later, I have all the energy I need for a lengthy run or swim, or whatever.  Likewise, I can also use it as that perfect post-workout meal that I can easily make within that 30 minute optimal refueling window.  That’s a double ‘win’ right there.

It’s been drilled into our heads that we must hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  Hydrate like your life depends on it which, in a way, it does I guess.  But, regardless, it could be said that hydration is a unique discipline to triathlon all unto and in of itself, worthy of its own specific recognition and focus.  And I’m not talking about just any liquids here either like juice, coffee, tea, or whatever, I’m strictly talking about water, bitch, the free shit.  How hard should that be, right?  But then you throw in all the necessary electrolytes and all that other crap you also need and that simple equation becomes much more difficult.  And not speak for any others out there but, for me, it’s pretty freakin’ hard remembering to drink enough ‘good’ water throughout the day.  Sure, I hydrate during my workouts (refer to the linked article above), but drinking adequately throughout the rest of the day is extremely important too and this is where I often fall short.  Until now…

My problem is that basic, run-of-the-mill water tastes like, well, nothing really.  Flavor wise, it’s about as exciting as dust bunnies.  And given that I need to be consuming approximately 12-16 glasses a day, that’s a lot of dust bunnies to get excited about.  I find that hard to do, particularly when there are other more tasty options out there like juice, coffee, tea, or…*gasp*…beer.  Knowwhatimsayin?

Of course, unless you work at home like myself, or have access to a proper water cooler at your office place (which I don’t), most of us probably will rely on the easily procured bottled variety.  Still the same ‘ol boring shit, but now it even comes with a rather substantial price tag attached to it.  It never ceases to amaze me that WATER, a basic building block required for life is more costly than your average can of soda pop, or whatever carbonated sugary beverage you prefer.  It’s as insane as it is unfair.

But never fear the ‘Tightwad Triathlete’ has the perfect hydration strategy to address this concern that simply goes beyond keeping your water glass full with the Brita filter in the refrigerator, or stocking up on cases of bottled water.  The answer:

An important investment in your health.

An important investment in your health.

That’s right; you’re basic household Mason jar that you can find at any neighborhood garage sale or thrift shop for mere pennies.  Here’s the plan…

Each and every day, fill several Mason jars with not only water, but a selection of fruit and, sometimes, herbs.  After an hour or two, that water is automatically transformed into something healthy, delicious and instantly ready to be consumed.  You can then dump this water into your water bottle prior to your workouts, or simply into your water glass throughout the normal workday to ensure that you maintain your adequate hydration needs.  Afterwards, simply refill the Mason jar with another water-fruit concoction and place it back in the fridge for your next visit.  If you have to go to the office, just bring a few of those jars with you and then refill them when you get home for the next day.  Easy, right?

24 hours worth of hydration ready to go...

24 hours worth of hydration ready to go (minus the bottle of gin)…

The fun part is that you get to experiment with different fruits and herbs to create something that is both unique and tasty, while it is still practically guaranteed to be 100% healthy.  With a single trip to the market you can practically acquire enough ingredients to provide virtually an infinite number of possible water concoctions to consume throughout the regular day.  So far, I have experimented with mixing together strawberries, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, lychees, lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, kiwis, cucumber, mint, basil, and rosemary…and I’m nowhere near finished experimenting yet.

Just a couple of possible flavor combinations...

Just a couple of possible flavor combinations…

Besides getting your electrolytes, practically any of these partnered water flavors will also aid in your digestion and assist with internal cleansing; help you with your weight management by reducing your appetite (for those looking to shed a few pounds – like myself); and help you alleviate everything from heart burn, to bodily wrinkles, to bad breathe to indigestion or gas.  In some cases, particularly if you add a bit of honey to the mix, they will provide you with new levels of energy or even just an improvement in your overall ‘blah’ mood during the day. Hey, a bloated, dehydrated triathlete is not a happy triathlete, am I right?  The best part is, that this constant circulation of yummy water through your system will also aid in the movement through your body of all those great vitamins and minerals you are, hopefully, conscientious about consuming throughout the day.  Pretty awesome, huh?

Not bad for a few cheap Mason jars.  Peace, love, hydrate.

Tightwad Triathlete Tip #8

Posted: July 16, 2012 in Financial, Nutrition
Tags: ,

Lately, I’ve been struggling with the concept of fuel and nutrition, particularly during my long workouts.  In fact, my last few long runs have totally sucked.  The issue is that given the challenging heat and humidity in which I’m forced to train, I’m finding it hard to keep myself fueled adequately now that I’m pushing the two and a half hour barrier.  Hydration isn’t really an issue as I can carry up to a liter of water in my hydration belt, so as long as I’ve hydrated well throughout the day prior to going out I’m typically okay.  Problem is, is that I also need to be eating as well.

energy-wall1

“Will that be cash, cheque or first born…?”

Typically, it is recommended that long distance runners are to consume approximately 60-90g of carbohydrates per hour.  Most endurance athletes I know take in this precious life force in the way of performance gels which offer about 23g  (90 calories) of carbohydrates per packet.  So, breaking it down, that equates to about a gel every twenty minutes or so and at the cost of nearly $3.00  a pop, that’s nearly $10.00  for every hour of working out.  Extrapolate that to approximately 6 hours of running a week (never mind on the bike or elsewhere) and we’re talking about some pretty big bucks here.  Sure, there are other options available at running stores aside from gels (in fact, I really don’t even care for gels), but most other products are still comparable in price.  Seriously, who can afford that?

Of course, my ultimate tightwad-ness has kicking into overdrive in trying to come up with a more natural, effective and, of course, less costly alternative to gels.  Let’s be straight, I don’t mind dropping some bucks for good nutrition on race day but, Lord knows, with nearly 10 weeks left to Ironman, if I were to pay out $10.00  for each hour I hit the pavement I’d be up to my eyeballs in debt by the time the starting gun sounded to start the race since we’d be talking about nearly $600  in gels alone.  The fuck!

So, after talking with some peers and doing some investigation, I think I have found a viable solution:  dried honey dates, readably available from any Bulk Barn or grocery store at the cost of $5.65/lb.  That’s only $1.25  per 100g  (210 calories), or the ideal amount that I need each hour of training.  Okay, so that’s a bit better.  But how do they measure up nutritionally?

First, it must be noted that the dried variety of date provides a more concentrated source of nutrients than the fresh kind.  Sure they kind of look like little mummified roaches but, then again, lest I remind you what I look like when I run:

Yeah, not pretty!

Besides, I’d eat fresh road kill by most points in my long run if only they got me that much closer to home quicker.  I’m not much of a stickler when it comes to the aesthetics of my fuel sources anyway, given that most gel varieties look like toxic waste.  Needless to say, it doesn’t have to be pretty or inviting…just effective and cheap.

Dates contain a myriad of nutrients (both macro and micro) in addition to being an excellent source of easily digested carbohydrate (while still being virtually fat-free), prompting scientists who’ve studied them to label them “an almost ideal food”; a distinction not shared with GU gels I’m sure.  They’re like the perfect energy food!  Research has also revealed that dates are also good sources of antioxidant compounds including anthocyanins, carotenoids and phenolics.  According to “The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods,” date extract was found to prevent free radical damage to fats and proteins, with the more concentrated extracts exerting the most protective effect.  I don’t know what that means exactly, but it sure sounds good to me.

Here’s the real deal-sealer though:

In certain tradition it’s believed that dates, fresh or dried, help improve your physical stamina as well as libido. Dates are rich in minerals and contain several phytonutrients which are responsible for providing higher strength and stamina in the body.

dates2How awesome is that?  And given that these things have been around for nearly 4000 years, possibly being the first cultivated plant in history, are you going to dispute a track record like that?  Hell, Phidippides himself was probably munching on these little suckers during his original 280 mile jaunt to Sparta and back to beg for military assistance.  Imagine how much that would have cost him had he been using gels?

Oh, and as matter of convenience, dried dates have a particularly long shelf-life.  If refrigerated in an airtight container they stay fresh for up to one year, and if in the freezer can last up to five years.  I don’t know what the shelf life is for your average gel packet, but I’m not confident that it’s wise to hang onto them for too long.  Just saying…

So going forward, I’m going to try loading up on these little babies to carry with me on my fuel belt to snack on during my log runs (and rides).  Oh.  How do they actually taste?  Well, they’re delicious as a matter of fact.  Certainly better than the last $3.00 packet of gooey Montana Huckleberry that I scarfed down last week.  Really, what the hell is a Montana Huckleberry anyway?

  • Long (Easy) Run (click to see stats)
  • 11.25k (1:00:01)
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 147 bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 154 bpm
  • Avg. Pace = 5:20 min/km
  • Best Pace = 4:30 min/km
  • Calories = 1069
  • Temp = 11º
  • SOTD: ‘Gold on the Ceiling’ by The Black Keys

It’s the Easter weekend, and you know what that means:  C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E. 

Yes, Easter, the Jan Brady of holidays; that confusing mass consumer-based holiday whose true religious significance has evolved into something so banal that its very ridiculousness can knock you over the head with all the weight of a four-ton Cadbury’s Cream Egg.  I mean, seriously, how bunnies and chocolate eggs became associated with the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is beyond me and entirely worthy of a completely separate blog post.  As a matter of fact, if you’re interested, you can click HERE  for more info.

What this specific weekend represents for me, however, is just another training day with one additional twist:  the tempting lure of that heavenly milk-chocolately goodness afterwards.  At approximately .023k  into my long run, or about the 3 second mark of my 11.25k  easy run (recovery week), the craving sets in and it’s all I think about with each strive and passing kilometer.  Total workout killer!  Hey, I like my chocolate bunnies as much as the next guy – maybe even more – and if I don’t do all this triathlon shit for the odd guilt-free indulgence then what the hell am I doing it for?

But, this begs the ultimate question then, ARE there any plausible excuses to indulge – even if just a little – in some chocolately Easter goodness.  I wonder if there are any health benefits for chocolate.  In an effort then to explain and rationalize those ample chocolate stains around my lips and the protruding belly poking out from under my running shorts after I pass out on the couch from a self-induced sugar high once my girlfriend gets home from work, I figured I’d Google it and see what justifications I could find as possible defense.

As it turns out, there is!  But first let’s come clean on one thing:  we’re really discussing the pros of chocolate in its purest form – as close to the bean as you can get. If you want me to tell you a Milky Way bar is good for you, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.  Nor can I ever expect to completely justify inhaling copious amounts of Cadbury’s mini eggs by the bucketful; no one would ever buy it.  That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t any chocolate bars that are good for you. The key is to find a bar with high cocoa content. The higher the cocoa content, the less room there is for cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin, vanilla, milk, and all the other tasty stuff that makes chocolate less of a vegetable and more of a candy.  Dark chocolate might require a little getting used to in the beginning, but with some research and dedicated sampling, there are some pretty delectable options out there even you might pay a bit more for them.  But, hey, it’s chocolate we’re talking about here, bitch, and good things in life are seldom cheap.

Now having said that, just what are the amazing health benefits of chocolate? Most notably, chocolate is a champion antioxidant.  Antioxidants help rid the body of free radicals, nasty little molecules running amok in your body which cause aging, disease and just about everything else that might hinder you from excelling in long distance endurance.  Antioxidants bond to free radicals and whisk them from your body via digestion and other means; they are your body’s Swiffer  in that regard.  In essence, antioxidants stop us going rusty inside. Quick. Think of the best antioxidants you’ve ever heard of. Red wine? Green tea? Pomegranate? Blueberries? Dark chocolate leaves them all in the veritable dust. The USDA published a chart of antioxidant foods measured in ORACs (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Units). For every 100 grams, dark chocolate has 13,120  ORACs, and blueberries have only 2,400.

Antioxidant-rich diets have been linked to a lowered risk of heart attacks, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s and more, thanks to something known as ‘polyphenols’.  What’s more, the particular polyphenols present in chocolate are of the super-protective variety known as ‘procyanidin flavonoids’.  While some of these flavonoids contain just one unit and are classed as monomers, the most protective are those containing two, three or more units, known as ‘oligomers’.  And, yes, you’ve guessed it, chocolate is especially rich in the larger oligomers that can prevent that harmful LDL-cholesterol from becoming oxidized and taken up into artery walls.

Furthermore, simply put: eating chocolate makes you feel good. It increases brain levels of several chemicals, including mood-altering PEA (‘phenylethylamine’,  related to ‘amphetamine’), which produces a mild, confidence-instilling buzz…or ‘chocolate high’.  Chocolate also contains ‘tryptophan  (that same stuff that gives you that snuggly, warm, euphoric feeling after your Thanksgiving turkey dinner) – a chemical converted to serotonin in the brain to lift mood and increase feelings of pleasure – and ‘theobromine’,  a stimulant that peps you up. Chocolate is also virtually unique in that it melts in the mouth at body temperature, producing a silky, luscious sensation that adds to its appeal and, according to psychologists, is one of the main reasons why chocolate proves so addictive.  But, seriously, do we really need Google to figure that out?

Additionally, chocolate contains mild doses of caffeine.  The amount of caffeine contained in chocolate is around 10 times less than that in the average serving of tea, cola drinks, and even my normal cup of pre-race ‘poop juice’ (coffee).  In fact, low intakes of caffeine can be beneficial, as they improve fat metabolism, exercise endurance, increase alertness and decrease the perception of effort and fatigue.  Shit, that’s right up my alley!  Hell, maybe had I scarfed down a bunny before my long run this morning I might have even succeeded in establishing a new PB for the half marathon distance.

Now, of course it’s not all a Willy Wonka-esque fantasyland, as chocolate also carries some pretty significant drawbacks.  Besides being extremely calorific, not to mention being high in glucose (sugar) lending itself to producing glucose swings which, as well as encouraging you to eat more, it’s being increasingly linked with the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Fuck.  Then there’s the whole acne and tooth decay thing to boot.  So you’re hardly an easy Snickers bar away from perfect health, a six pack and a winning smile.

But here’s another interesting tidbit.  You know already that lead is bad for you, right? This is why we have such a thing as “unleaded” gasoline, and in general don’t allow lead near anything we’re about to breathe or eat.  So what does this have to do with chocolate you ask?  Well, it just so happens that the shells of cocoa beans, the chief ingredient in chocolate, have an almost supernatural ability to absorb lead from the air. Of course, this is only a big deal if there’s a lot of lead in the air, right?  Sure, which is why it’s unfortunate that Nigeria, where a shitload of our cocoa comes from, still has lead in their gasoline. That’s why a Hershey bar tastes so damn good: The secret ingredient is African exhaust.  It’s true, the average candy bar ranks fourth for highest lead content in a food.  But don’t panic yet; lead occurs naturally in everything, even wholesome vegetables and grains, and while there is no amount of lead that isn’t harmful to the human body, a little bit of the stuff in our bloodstream is more or less unavoidable and probably won’t do anything bad enough that we’ll ever notice.  Fingers crossed.

However, given this weekend for what it is, it stands to reason that if chocolate is so chocked full of antioxidants and polyphenols, while providing us a bit of a boost, it’s actually good for you.  I realize that this might be a bit of a far stretch, but I’m tired and my legs hurt and I’m really craving the sweet stuff so I’m choosing to go with it.  So how do I incorporate chocolate successfully into my diet, even if just for the weekend?

All in all, it seems that, as part of a balanced diet, we might all benefit from eating – minimally – 100g of chocolate per day – but make sure it is dark, not to mention expensive!  Likewise, instead of gorging yourself, try and consume small amounts after a meal while you are already full.  That way, hopefully, you will be less likely to over-indulge in the long run and ultimately only add on all those calories that you burned during your workout earlier in the day.  However, if you really want to stay on the straight-and-true path, I have a solution: try carob chips instead.

Carob chips are made out of carob powder. They are similar in appearance and texture to chocolate chips, although the taste is distinctly different from that of chocolate. Carob is a naturally sweet substance, so there is generally no sugar added to the chips during manufacture, and they also lack the stimulants caffeine and ‘theobromine’  found in chocolate.  Because carob needs less sugar than chocolate to make it sweet, carob chips have long been used as a health-food substitution. Plain carob has about one-third of the calories of chocolate and is low in fat. Furthermore, there is also some evidence that you can use carob to help ease diarrhea.  Typically, I satisfy my periodic chocolate cravings by adding a few carob chips to my fruit salad or yogurt at lunchtime or for dessert.

Today, however, I’m putting my healthy lifestyle on temporary hold and sitting down with a chocolate Easter bunny the size of the Empire State Building, and mowing down on that bad boy like my life depended on it.  And if anyone has a problem with that, they can go suck a chocolate egg for all I care…this triathlete wants his holiday reward.

And another one bites the dust…