It’s important to make some mistakes, that way you can learn from them. Those lessons are easier to remember.
Avoid high fiber foods before a race.
Save them for afterwards.
Be careful even afterwards!
I found that while high fiber foods are good on regular days, it’s asking a bit much of the body to split its energy between legs and heart at lactate threshold, and a gut trying to mow down the Amazon rain forest.
Following Maffetone’s methods, I don’t usually race until the end of March or early April, whenever the first XTERRA race shows up at Folsom Lake. I prefer to just build my base in the murky wintertime. Except this year in California, it’s not murky, not at all. No snow, but gorgeous sunshine every day. I decided to change it up and so I lubed my chain instead of waxing my skis, and jumped into my first ever duathlon, a little sprint at Folsom Lake. I rationalized it as being short enough that even if I was really slow, it would still only take me a little over an hour to finish, so recovery would not be an ordeal. Fueling during the race is irrelevant. And, I could use it to experiment a little and learn from some mistakes where my performance wasn’t super important. This race also uses the same course as other races later this year, so I can compare times, which is hard with off-road racing.
2 mile run, mix of singletrack and road, mostly flat
6.5 mile road bike, twisty, with short, punchy climbs and descents
2 mile run
The bike is one lap of the ICE Breaker Triathlon bike course later this spring, and the run is also about half. The easier half.
Beautiful weather. Tried using a little Tai Chi to get heart rate settled before the start, failed. Heart rate immediately spiked and stayed there for an hour, right between 175 and 180 BPM, so I’l continue to use 175 as my LT. Pace was embarrassing slow. I suppose I should get back to racing weight and train some? The bike course is super fun as it’s never flat for long and quite twisty, so you’re always shifting gears and tempo, in and out of the saddle, looking for a fast line. The second run hurt. I had never done a du before, but I’ve heard they’re painful because of that second run. I concur. But this one was short enough that recovery only takes a couple days.
Experiments Performed, Lessons Learned:
Here and over at the Training Table I’ve been experimenting with some high nutrient dense meals a la Dr. Fuhrman and the magic of beet juice. I also wanted to experiment with post race recipes to find the tastiest, most effective way to recover from a race and enjoy the day. I have been experimenting with making green juices and smoothies, thinking that this would be an ideal way to recover from a hard race, with the maximum nutrients possible in the fastest delivery method around, liquid. Well, I was a little too enthusiastic, and overloaded my gut with high nutrient, and therefore high fiber foods the day before. That led to more bathroom adventure than I wanted on race day. For a short race it was OK, but for my long races, I shudder to think about what I would be doing out in the woods!
The Day Before:
I ate normally, brown rice and veggies for lunch. For dinner, a salad with avocado, orange, radish, spinach, and arugula along with pasta tossed with arugula walnut pesto and grape tomatoes and zucchini. During the day I prepared my experimental post race lunch and recovery smoothie. I sampled some of the goods. See the problem yet? FIBER. WAY too much.
The usual pre-race breakfast, a baked sweet potato eaten on the drive. New was experimenting with beet juice. The research is based on 16 oz, which is more than I’ve had before. I got maybe 12 oz. I added in the usual carrot and celery, but also an orange, which was new. Tasted great! The night before. Not so much in the morning on the way to the race. I was choking it down the requisite 90-120 minutes prior until my tummy felt a little queasy. Then my colon went into full revolt. Emergency pit stop. I was sweating with a deranged look on my face, scaring people as I sought relief. ‘Nuff said.
Set up my transition, realizing I forgot my water bottle. DOH! It didn’t matter for this race because I wasn’t planning on drinking on the bike anyway, just water on the run course. But in a long race… Plus, my bottle had a serving of Brendan Brazier’s Vega Recovery drink, which I like. Oh well, today I had my Super Green Recovery Smoothie, AKA the Colon Destroyer!
Green juice: kale, cucumber, romaine, bok choy, lemon, ginger
Banana, date, 2 kiwis, blackberries, goji berries
Vega smoothie powder
A few alchemical snake oils I’m forgetting.
Tasted good after the race and did benefit recovery, which I could tell by my mental acuity.
My noodle salad was good, but all I did was carry it around, since I was packed up and gone by 10.30.
cooked rice noodles
baked marinated tofu
baby bok choy, shredded carrot, red cabbage, zucchini, cilantro, and Thai chili sauce.
Note the fiber issue continuing? Good, also note the colon issue continuing. This was a lot of high fiber food, too much for race day and the previous day. Too many pit stops.
Taper off the fiber the day before. White rice for lunch and dinner, less vegetation for dinner. Make it flavorful with herbs? Maybe a rice noodle soup like pho? Worry about nutrient dense whole veggies earlier.
Dial in the beet juice dose. Part of the lingering gut issue was just from having too much beet juice. I am certainly not a pro racer, and apparently not a pro beet juice drinker either.
The green smoothie was good, but maybe I don’t need to throw in everything not bolted to the floor or wall.
Lunch was good, but was also a bit overkill for an early, short race
Pack the race bag the night before and triple check it. At least I got the cooler packed correctly.
There it is. Best to learn these things now and practice so I get it straight when I’m trying to qualify, or just beat Dave.
It’s that time of year again, sniffles, colds, maybe even a full blown flu that lasts a week or two. And with the holidays approaching, the assaults on your immune system are legion, and they’re on their way.
- Vitamin D- Some speculate that lower levels of sun exposure, and dropping levels of vitamin D may weaken the immune system.
- Indoors- Whatever microbes that attack you will linger around indoors instead of being blown away by the wind or fried by UV light.
- Other People- Being indoors a lot also means being around other people and their pathogenic microbes. Holiday gatherings intensify this.
- Test your levels and supplement if needed. Or, take a tropical vacation and get some winter sun!
- Keep your distance from other people, wash your hands a lot, and don’t touch your face. Hand sanitizer helps. Most cold and flu viruses enter via your face. Old news, for sure, but it works.
But Most Important is to Strengthen Your Immune System
I have a problem with the germ theory of disease. If it were purely about germs, we would all be sick all the time because we are always surrounded by germs. The most important part of all this is a healthy immune system. A healthy immune system should be able to handle the viruses and bacteria that surround us, since we all evolved together.
How do you maximize your immune system?
Skip the vitamin C, and read Dr. Fuhrman’s excellent book, Super Immunity.
This book is a fantastic exploration of how nutrition and diet can affect the immune system in two very important ways: cancer prevention, and communicable diseases. Tgose seem like very different subjects, but they are related becasue the immune system not only keeps away colds and flu, but also destroys cancer cells before they can develop into tumors and metastasize into something really scary.
How Diet Affects Immunity
Here Dr. Fuhrman explains:
Certainly, the exposure to the virus and its multiplication within our body is at the core of viral infections. However, though it is not generally recognized, the virus adapts itself to the host (our body) and becomes dangerous and multiplies as a result of the host’s disease promoting environment, created by nutritional inadequacy. ( Super Immunity, p. 29)
So a healthy diet creates a healthy immune system, and viruses will struggle and fail to get a grip within your body.
Dr. Fuhrman’s Anti-Virus Prescription:
A clever mnemonic:
- G- greens (spinach, chard, kale etc.)
- B- beans (legumes, peas and lentils)
- O- onions (all onion types and garlic)
- M- mushrooms (all types)
- B- berries
- S- seeds
The Super Immunity protocol is to incorporate as many of these ingredients in as many meals as possible. Occasionally, I’ve been able to put them all in one dish, but the berries are usually the tricky one to include. But we know that these nutrients are stored in the body, so if you got them all in over the course of a day, imagine what immune system power you’d have!
Work with it Wednesdays will be devoted to testing out some of the book’s recipes over at The Training Table. Check ‘em out.
An Edible Education
They say that for children, it may take 10 or even 20 trials with a certain food before one acquires a taste for it. I think this applies to adults as well. I suppose it depends on where you live what sorts of foods and tastes you become accustomed to. Thai and Indian children grow up liking curry, American kids, not so much. There are a number of different foods that took some time for me to finally appreciate. Some were foods that were just foreign to me because of how I grew up. A couple were all around me, but some reason it took years to finally understand what all the fuss was about.
Here Are My Top 5 Most Difficult Foods:
- Cooked Greens- Growing up, the only leafy green I ever ate was spinach, which was usually buried in a casserole. Otherwise, the only greens I ate were in salads. I suppose if I was from the South, I would understand cooked collards, but I never had those until much later. Because of the bitterness, it took some practice to like cooked kale, collards, or to even learn what chard is. Now, I love me some greens, even though I don’t (yet) wear a kale t-shirt.
- Beets- Another vegetable that I didn’t grow up on, except occasionally in canned form. Never quite sure what they were about. They have a funky, earthy, yet subtly sweet taste that is just plain confusing. Now I like them a lot, but I’m still not quite sure what to with them. I do know that juicing them makes me faster!
- Winter Squash- Like beets, this vegetable has a strange, not quite vegetable taste. They’re a little sweet, but not strongly so, and rather mushy when cooked. It took me awhile to like these, a little less for their counterpart, sweet potatoes and yams. Now, except for needing a battle axe to prep them I love them.
- Turnips and Rutabagas- These vegetables, espeically rutabagas, were a part of my childhood, as my mother loved them. Growing up in North Dakota, root vegetables were a big deal for her, but the bitter taste of these two put me off for a long time. It was only after I learned to like bitter greens that I realized these were good.
- Avocados- Growing up in California, I was surrounded by Mexican cuisine, and avocados were worshipped like they were their own food group. I didn’t get it for a long time. Where other tasted “creamy,” I tasted “greasy.” No thanks. Somehow, I finally got let into the club, and now like any true Californian, I adore avocados.
What I have realized is that just because something tastes weird at first, doesn’t mean it’s no good, or that I will never like it. So now I actively seek out new and strange tastes to see what else I can find. Variety of foods means a more complete profile of nutrients and phytochemicals. This is also good news for anyone trying to escape the toxic Standard American diet but just can’t used to taste of less processed, healthy food. Your tastes can change, you are not locked in for life, although it may require some patience.Since I stretched out and learned to appreciate leafy greens in order to get their health benefits, I can now try some newer, stranger things. Currently I’m excited about nopales cactus paddles and bitter melon.
What else is there to try?
What about you? What took time to appreciate? Anything that you still can’t handle, no matter what?
Found this on Yahoo while traversing the on-ramp to the information superhighway:
Diet Guru Failures
Of course my favorite punching bag, Atkins is there, but so are Jim Fixx and Nathan Pritikin. It makes sense that some of the real wacky fad diet folk didn’t have great health, what about those who really did show the benefits of a healthy lifestyle?
Fixx played a huge role in getting Americans off the couch and exercising. It was not long ago that doctors recommended against exercise, which seems ridiculous these days. Then again, doctors used to advocate cigarettes. Fixx himself was a poster child for lifestyle transformation going from an obese smoker to a marathoner, and then showed others how to do it for themselves. Unfortunately, Fixx thought smoking was the real demon, and that if he lost weight and gained fitness he was healthy. He never really changed his diet away from the Standard American Diet. As far as I know, he thought that if he had cardiovascular FITNESS he was HEALTHY. Unfortunately he found out the hard way that fit does not mean healthy. The converse is also true. You can also be quite healthy without being very fit. Unfortunately, the nay sayers went bananas with this and used it to justify their couch potato ways, unhealthy lifestyle, and leave it all to genetics, absconding all personal responsibility.
The Jim Fixx Lesson:
A healthy lifestyle requires some attention, and consists of more than one factor. You can’t out-exercise a poor diet.
Here is another example that confounds people. Nathan Pritikin was ahead of his time, just as Fixx was. He hacked his own health when he was diagnosed with heart disease. With the mind of an engineer, he researched heart disease, determined what caused it, created a solution, and tried it on himself. He cured his own heart disease, then began teaching other people at his health centers. Throughout the 1970s he demonstrated amazing health improvement for thousands of people. With that success, was he lauded? Of course not. Like Fixx he was ridiculed. His death likewise is used as criticism. While his heart disease was gone, as shown by his autopsy, his suicide from terminable leukemia is used by the critics as evidence that he was wrong.
The Nathan Pritikin Lesson:
Pritikin combined healthy diet and exercise to eliminate heart disease, so he was way ahead of Fixx. Unfortunately, not everything can be cured with lifestyle, and there may be some new things to learn. A good reminder to those of us to realize that our healthy lifestyle may not be a panacea.
Regardless of whatever the real cause of Atkins’ death was, the man was not healthy. He peddled weight loss books despite the fact that he was seriously overweight. It’s pretty clear he had heart disease, whether or not that killed him. Why people still revere him, or pursue any similar diet or lifestyle is beyond me.
It’s important to see what the people behind any advice look like. If they stand behind what they advocate, are the results good enough to copy? At the same time, we need to be realistic about what lifestyle can actually do. We have really good information, but the full story has yet to be told.
What do you think about diet and health gurus? Was somebody missing from the list? Do they walk their talk? Should they be judged?
Sometimes the Answer is Yes!
Recently I helped out with a charity bike ride that had a range of distances and a range of rider experience. There was a short course of 15 miles, a longer challenge of 48 miles, and a metric century of 65 miles. We catered to a range of abilities from racers to young kids. Everybody had a great time, and many challenged themselves with a nice long ride. Most riders were out there for over two hours, and this is where refueling becomes important. Previous posts (1, 2) examined how most daily workouts do not need extra calories before, during, or after, since the average person has at least 90 minutes of glycogen on board. But a day like this is the exception.
On a long weekend effort over two hours, like a charity bike ride, a half marathon, skiing, or even a long hike, fuel becomes important. If you train regularly at fat burning, aerobic intensities, your body should be good at using fat and preserving its stored carbohydrate. But that storage is limited, so when you know you’ll be out longer than two hours, you’ll need to refuel, and you should start early. If you wait until the two hour mark and you’re outta gas, you might not recover until the next day! Since it takes about 30 minutes or so for those food calories to become available to your muscles, you might not be able to catch up.
If you need to refuel, the important questions are WHEN, WHAT, and HOW. (much)
Starting sometime within thirty minutes. This depends on how much you ate in the hours prior. If you start early in the morning with no breakfast, start eating earlier. If you had some breakfast a couple hours prior, then it’s not so urgent.
Commercial gels, sports drinks, and bars can all work, but individuals respond differently to varying ingredients, brands, and even flavors. The research shows that it doesn’t really matter whether those calories come in liquid, solid, or gel form. Whatever works for you is fine. But I want to encourage everyone to try real food fueling, and save the commercial fuel for emergencies, or times where convenience is the top priority.
Reasons to Use Real Food:
- Real food tastes better: You can customize it.
- It’s healthier: You get a range of nutrients in the proper form.
- It’s cheaper: You can make it in bulk.
- Better for the environment: Save on packaging and manufacturing.
Following the lead of Allen Lim, I have found that rice works best. Previously I used liquid and gel fueling thinking that it was easier to digest. I have found that white rice is easier to digest, tasty, and inexpensive. As for hydration, I was worried that solid food would interfere with hydration, and that a liquid fuel would be the best of both worlds. However, the opposite can happen:
“These high-calorie solutions, however, can be extremely difficult to tolerate because they can actually slow the transport of fluid, inhibit the movement of fluid across the small intestine, and directly irritate and overwhelm your gut, especially when you are dehydrated, stressed, or hot.” (Feed Zone Portables, p. 23)
Instead, with white rice, which has a higher water content compared to a sports bar, the water passes around the food. Brilliant! The food forms a bolus in your stomach and digests while water flows past it and into the gut:
“The emptying rate for a liquid is distinct from the emptying rate of a bolus… Ultimately of all the factors that affect the gastric emptying rate, the three most important are all related to hydration. A low water volume entering the stomach, high calorie density, and a body that is dehydrated will all slow gastric emptying…” (ibid, p. 24-25)
Note the mention of caloric density. This is why concentrated liquid fuel or gels without sufficient water intake can cause such gut trauma, and why sports bars never worked for me. The calorie density was was too high. But rice cakes and rice balls are much less dense due to the water content. If you make a batch, and weigh them, you can compare the volume to commercial sports nutrition and see the difference.
Of course this will vary widely between individuals, but the answer is probably less than you think. Based On Lim’s calculations (ibd, p. 14-15) for century bike riding and marathon running, most people will need to consume between 150-250 calories an hour. Less if you’re small, more if you’re bigger. Less if the duration is short, more as the duration increases. I found this to be accurate. In the old days of commercial fuel, I used one gel and one bottle of sports drink per hour for a total of 200 calories. Consuming more than you need won’t make you faster, believe me, I know! But it can shut down your gut in a hurry. Consuming less won’t hurt you, unless you’re out for a really long time. For real food, that translates into 1-2 rice cakes or rice balls, depending on how big you make them. Or a couple pieces of fruit. Or a handful of potatoes. I still like to use a light sports drink on occasion like Hammer HEED or Skratch Labs, and that contributes to some calories. The only trick to using real food, as Lim reminds us above, is to drink plenty of water or dilute sports drink to keep the gut happy.
While commercial products can work, real food and plain water works. Rice cakes, potatoes, or fruit plus water all work as well. Just as well as, or better than commercial stuff. It tastes better, because you can customize it. It’s healthier, cheaper, and better for the environment. It just takes a little investment in time to find the best recipes. Which of course you can find here or at the vegan training table blog!
Our charity riders did quite well on fresh fruit and rice cakes. You can too!
(This is a Re-Post from The Vegan Training Table, during the Vegan Mofo marathon. The theme of vegan origins and influences fits in better here.)
My appetite and actual food consumption have not quite caught up with food production in the Plant Powered Performance Lab. So I mined the great list of writing prompts the Vegan Mofo HQ devised to help everyone get through the month and picked the most obvious one: My Origins.
Anyone who chooses a vegetarian or vegan diet or lifestyle has instantly begun to swim upstream. Unless you live as a hermit, you immediately face resistance. We are a naturally social critter, and despite the complexity of society, a big part of our psychology is bound up in being accepted by others. Challenge any of those beliefs, even minor ones, and you will feel the resistance from others. How do we make that choice? What changes us? What allows us to continue when we know it upsets others?
First comes the most basic, obvious question:
The usual answers are well known and sometimes understood, even by omnivores:
No surprise there. But this essay isn’t so much about why I believe those are sound enough reasons to swim upstream, but more about how I reached the conclusion to clean my plate of animal products. In my origin myth there are two themes that seem inseparable and somewhat obscured by the mists of hairspray from the Big Hair 1980s. They are John Robbins’ seminal work Diet For a New America and my interest in Eastern philosophy, which often includes a vegetarian lifestyle.
Those who have been around the veg world for any length of time certainly know of John Robbins and his many books, and those lucky enough to hear him speak know what a great ambassador he is. I first heard of John Robbins in a cover story interview in the Sep./Oct issue of Yoga Journal. His book came out a few months later and his name stayed as his message spread. I first read Diet for a New America in 1989. I was immediately changed. I knew that there was no way I could continue as an omnivore. It was one of those genie in the bottle moments. Just like you can’t put the genie back into the proverbial bottle, certain things cannot be unlearned once learned. The realities of an animal based diet were forever engraved in my brain from that one book by that one man. Even when I quit, the experience of that book haunted me. Those three veg themes were so clearly put forward in the book that I found it impossible to rationalize eating meat any longer. (Although I did in fact do that on occasion, always with guilt)
So with a couple of months to prepare myself, I chose New Year’s Day 1990 as the day to become vegetarian. Many would think, and I am sure that many did at the time, “just another New Year’s Resolution, dead by February.” Except that it didn’t die. It lasted 6 1/2 years until June 1996. Why it stopped is another story, and surely the more important one. Later.
For those long time vegetarians who can remember the 1980s, it was a different time back then. There were not as many resources available. There certainly was no internet and the vast sharing we can do now. Definitely no Vegan Mofo! There was the Moosewood Cookbook, which was my bible, Yoga Journal, which had some veg articles, and the now defunct East West magazine that had a macrobiotic perspective. Vegetarian Times was out there somewhere, but I don’t ever remember seeing it. There was no Whole Foods Market, and while not required, most of us shopped at least some of the time in funky little health food stores that had a distinct counter cultural vibe. But despite the paucity of information and isolation, John Robbins and THE BOOK as it came to be known by those who were spiritually minded or into alternative health care, was everywhere. As much as it was possible in such a small world, John Robbins was a celebrity. For me, he was a role model.
There was a serious benefit for me in the fact that this lifestyle was so minor and small. I had to learn to cook. Vegetables. Whole grains. Legumes. The healthy stuff. There wasn’t much processed vegan convenience food then. It was a real DIY mentality. But there was a drawback. I had never even heard the word “vegan”, and the thought of eliminating eggs or dairy never really occurred to me. That part of the message never came through to me reading Robbins’s book. I rationalized very easily that dairy and eggs were acceptable because the animal wasn’t killed. I wasn’t “eating death” as many yogis like to describe it. I did not realize at the time that egg laying hens and dairy cattle live just as brutal a life as any animal destined for slaughter. But just giving up meat seemed so radical at the time, I rationalized that eggs and dairy didn’t matter, especially for my health.
But while I can look back on the choices and rationalizations now with some regret, at the same time I am very proud of myself for even asking the questions. I am even more proud of myself for answering those questions in such a way that I could live with the difficulties and resistance such a lifestyle naturally engenders. The reason John Robbins seemed so radical was simply that very few people ever asked questions about where their food came from.
John Robbins opened my eyes to the realities of our food choices long before Food Inc., Super Size Me, Forks Over Knives, or Michael Pollan. Even before Dr. Dean Ornish published proof that a veg diet can reverse heart disease, John Robbins showed eating animal foods has serious detriments to our personal, physical health. I’ve always been interested in health and fitness, even though I was not a successful athlete. But I wanted to enjoy my physical self, so Robbins spoke to me. My favorite sports have always been outdoor sports, and at the time surfing was my passion. Surfing brings you into very close contact with the environment, and often, nasty human made pollution. Robbins spoke to me about how our food choices affect the natural world that I love to play in. I grew up always having pets of some kind. Loving animals of certain species while blithely ignoring the suffering of other species no longer made sense because Robbins spoke to me.
But mostly John Robbins showed a beautiful interconnectedness and symmetry where health exists on many planes that all intimately connect to each other. Years later I would encounter this thought again from the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh who created a neologism to express this, interbeing. We are all in the act of being, and we be in a way inter-connected to each other, to other animals, and the larger web of life on earth. Our personal physical, emotional, and spiritual health depends on all those other beings. The health of all those other beings depends on our personal health. John Robbins showed this to me in 1989.
Thank you, John.
The last post explored why the answer to the title question is usually NO. For most people, most of the time, workouts do not need any special snacking or sports products before, during, or after the event. In a society where the vast majority of people who exercise do so to lose or maintain weight, more calories simply aren’t needed, or are even counterproductive. Most people have probably seen news reports of research studies that conclude the exercise does not help weight loss. A lot of exercisers, athletes, and personal trainers were upset with this, but I think a lot people felt their frustrating personal experience validated.
What Is Going On Here?
First, most people overestimate the calories they burn during exercise. Our bodies are quite efficient. Evolving in an environment of food scarcity has ensured that. Based on Allen Lim’s research, I estimate no more than 500 calories an hour for most people. Obviously, there’s a range, where an experienced fit athlete may burn less due to better technique and efficiency compared to a beginner with poor technique. The unfortunate and simple truth is exercise does not burn nearly as many calories as people think.
Second, most people underestimate the amount of calories they consume. Research studies show that people underestimate calories by 30-50%, even professionals! But you don’t need research do determine this. Just look around. Well over 70% of people are not at their ideal weight. Yet these people (most of us) consistently eat more calories than they need, even when they don’t want to!
So Why Do We Get It Wrong?
We let our conscious mind and executive function try to solve problems that our autonomic nervous system already handled. Translation: We OVERTHINK it.
DON’T OVERTHINK IT!
But that’s exactly what the fitness articles encourage us to do: Drink before you’re thirsty, eat before you’re hungry, eat a pre workout snack, drink a sports drink while you exercise, be sure to consume calories within 30 minutes of finishing. The assumption here is that exercise is so tricky, your survival instincts are not up to the challenge and that your conscious mind has to step in and “figure it all out” so you won’t collapse.
Think about that for a moment: Do you honestly think we could have survived as a species struggling to gather enough food to eat if we had to think through every calorie? Did our ancestors count their calories with sticks in the sand? Did they count up how many glasses of water they drank that day to know if they were hydrated? Of course not! So why do we think we need to now?
Consider the fabulous precision of the autonomic nervous system: You do not have to consciously think about your heart rate, breathing, or digestion. It is all orchestrated perfectly without any effort on your part. Why should eating and drinking be any different? It isn’t. Our thirst and hunger operate in the same way as our need for oxygen. While we can consciously influence these mechanisms, there is really no need.
So Why Doesn’t Exercise Cause Weight Loss?
Folks have suggested that people simply overcompensate by eating more calories so that they don’t lose, and maybe even gain. It could happen consciously, as in a reward system, like, “I worked out today, so I deserve a treat.” Remember the small number of calories exercise burns. That treat negates the workout.
But I think the unconscious action of the brain is more important. Your brain has already accounted for the calories burned, and simply increases your appetite without any conscious thought. When you sit down to eat, you eat more. If you added in snacks, you could easily create a surplus. I believe that this happens as seamlessly as responding to decreased oxygen availability at high altitude. If you travel from sea level to the mountains, your brain recognizes that oxygen is harder to come by. You might become consciously aware of this if you try to exercise, or you might not. But the brain immediately speeds up the breathing rate and heart rate to compensate. Not dramatically, you won’t be puffing with a racing heart, but it is measurable. I believe our thirst and appetite operate the same way.
Do You Really Need To Eat That?
I believe the answer is most often NO.
Your brain is unconsciously on it, and will make sure you get the fluids and calories you need. If you let your conscious brain try to step in, it ends up solving the problem twice. Trust your body to know what it needs, and its ability to get it.
DON’T OVERTHINK IT!
There are times to eat during and immediately after exercise, and the conscious mind can help with the planning and logistics, but it shouldn’t take charge. Next time…
Allen Lim wrote very succinctly at the beginning of his cookbook for athletes:
“First Ask This> Do You Really Need To Eat That?
If you’ve ever run out of fuel while exercising and ‘bonked’ or ‘hit the wall,’ then you know how important eating early or often is to performance. . . However, once we take a look at the numbers I think you’ll agree that in many situations we are better served not eating anything when we’re exercising.” (Feed Zone Portables, p. 4)
Pre and Post workout nutrition is way overstated.
As an endurance athlete who does not eat animal foods I get asked a lot:
- What should I eat before I work out?
- What should I eat while I work out?
- What should I eat after I work out?
The answers I used years ago came from the sports nutrition and supplement industry:
- a gel or half a bottle of sports drink
- 1-2 gels plus sports drink per hour
- a post workout recovery drink
Then I wised up a little and decided that such engineered food wasn’t all that nutritious. So I changed my answer:
- a recovery smoothie in the blender with fruit, some spinach and protein powder
A slight improvement, but I still wasn’t at racing weight, and I was going through canisters of powders and potions like they were going out of style, all while searching for this elusive “recovery” that would allow me to train myself into the ground and bounce right back.
So I wised up a little more and realized real food worked better than the engineered stuff and my answer changed again:
- whatever the last meal was, breakfast or lunch, ideally 2-3 hours prior
- maybe a sport drink, maybe some dates, maybe a rice ball/cake
- maybe a recovery smoothie, or some fruit and a meal an hour later
Then I wised up even more and began to question the whole process, with a new answer:
- the previous meal
- the next meal, whenever that was
Everything went just fine and I learned that:
The Problem of Pre/Post and During Workout Nutrition is an ILLUSION!
You don’t need to expend any special effort to fuel up before a workout. You do not need to guzzle down 250 calories an hour during exercise, nor do you need some magic concoction after a workout.
Folks, we are a nation that is 70% overweight or obese. We do not need to look for new places and times to take in calories. Yet all the magazines drill into our heads that as soon as we start exercising, suddenly fueling becomes a tricky problem that requires diligent effort to overcome.
Most people, most of the time, who are exercising for an hour or so, do not need to eat anything. That’s right: NOTHING! If you are eating a healthy diet of adequate calories, you do not need to suddenly increase that. Your regular meals can suffice. What I see is a weird practice of people trying to limit their portions and calories at meals, then add all those calories back in the form of workout fuel and pre/post workout snacks. Madness! Just eat your regular meals and exercise. Your appetite will balance out whatever additional energy expenditure you engage in. Your brain is pretty smart like that, just trust it.
So why don’t people just trust their brain and eat normally?
Because some people do have to make a special effort. These are special people. We want to be like them. They are professional athletes, and they are not like the rest of us.
Professional athletes train multiple times a day for hours at a time. Their energy demands are very high. And it is crucial that they recover from the first workout of the day in time to put in a quality effort for the second (or third) workout. But that does not reflect the reality of a normal person, with a normal schedule, who exercises for an hour or so.
An average exerciser can store 1000 calories or so of carbohydrate in their muscles. And many thousands of calories of fat. An average exerciser burns no more than 500 calories an hour for aerobic exercise. See the numbers? Until your exercise session goes well over two hours, fueling is not necessary. Post workout fueling would be important if you trained right after waking, but that’s OK, it’s called “breakfast.”
Thanks to the sports nutrition industry and our own insecurity, we think we need far more fuel than we do. For special events, like really long weekend efforts, or races at high intensity, some more fuel is needed. But regular people, on regular days, doing regular exercise, only need regular meals.
Eat, Sleep, Train, Live
Don’t Overthink It
It seems that in endurance training right now there are two competing training methodologies: low heart rate aerobic training as espoused by Dr. Maffetone, and high intensity interval training, perhaps best exemplified by Crossfit. They both appear to be effective, but mutually exclusive, and that confuses people.
I am not going to debate, compare/contrast, pros and cons etc. I choose the Maffetone Method. For those who are curious and want to learn more, I am assembling here a guide to resources about this training method.
- Aerobic Training Trumps Everything
- Anaerobic training is risky
- Aerobic/Anaerobic Threshold is determined by fat utilization
- Aerobic fitness is best developed at a lower intensity than you might think
- Aerobic fitness seems to have no ceiling
The Training Method:
- Find your heart rate range using the 180 formula (Maximum Aerobic Function=MAF)
- Always wear your heart rate monitor
- Start with 10-15 minute warm-up to gradually bring up heart rate into training zone
- NEVER go above MAF! If heart rate goes over, slow down
- Walking is ideal for warming up/cooling down
Annotated Resources to Learn More:
The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing
This is the one book to get if endurance sports are your interest, whether or not you race. It is a compilation that was born in response to many athlete questions over the years. I personally disagree with the nutritional advice, as I prefer to follow the Whole Foods Plant Based diet as espoused by Dr. McDougall and Dr. Esselstyn. But the training information, much of the self-care, and the holistic approach is very thought provoking. Most of what I have applied has worked well.
The Big Book of Health and Fitness
This book is not much different than the other one, except in focus. There are more general health topics, and less about what affects competition. It has one important topic that is a regrettable omission from his other book which is an explanation of how to incorporate strength training with his aerobic training philosophy.
The Maffetone Method
Dr. Maffetone has said that his previous books are out of date, and that The Big Book(s)… represent his best advice. But this old one is short and gives a good, general explanation. I like it.
Both Dr. Maffetone and Mark Allen have great articles on their respective websites covering many related topics.
Here is Mark Allen explaining how to build a great aerobic base. This is the method he used during his “patience phase” to build the fitness needed to win Ironman Kona multiple times.
“Training Your Heart”
Here is the Man Himself Explaining:
“Want Speed? Slow Down!”
I first learned of The Maffetone Method in a magazine article by Mark Allen. It didn’t mention Maffettone by name, and the article did not make sense to me at the time. But when I heard the man explain it himself, it all came together. Here are some great podcast interviews where Dr. Maffetone explains the principles and responds to questions.
The First One I Heard:
The podcaster recently changed his nutrition and training for Ironman to be more in line with Maffetone.
Trail Runner Nation
Mark Allen credited Maffetone with much of his success, and Maffetone uses Mark Allen as the best example of what his brand of aerobic training can achieve.
The “Ask the Ultrarunner” and “Ask the Coaches” podcasts at enduranceplanet.com are good resources as questions about Maffetone style training are often answered. They recently interviewed Maffetone twice/;
While there are many effective ways to train, I think most people will gain more enjoyment from using this aerobic based approach and saving the anaerobic efforts for race day, or brief build periods. I know I have.
I once read somewhere that the Japanese try for a minimum number of plants every day in their diet for best health. The number was quite high, thirty I think. But last night as sleep was approaching, I wondered how many different plants I ate that day. The question and answer came after the fact, I did not plan to try to maximize variety, but it sorta happened anyway.
What I Counted:
Every different fruit, vegetable, herb, spice, grain, and legume.
What I Didn’t Count:
Blends, like the Vegan protein powder I add to my oats, curry powder, kimchi, and lemon juice.
- Goji berries
- Chia seeds
- Wheat (tortilla)
- Purple potato
- Purple cabbage
- Purple onions
- Mayacoba beans
- Red lentils
There you go. Minimum 25 different plants. I wasn’t really trying, but I did create a new recipe, the lunch burrito, and I was trying to clean out the refrigerator. Some lunch plants reappeared at dinner, but overall, the variety was there.
So how important is variety?
Many of us, myself included subscribe to the “more is better” mentality. If a few plants are good, more is better, right? All those plants have a different blend of nutrients, right? More is better, right?
Maybe, maybe not
Globally, many long lived, healthy cultures ate relatively few foods. The Tarahumara got 90% of their calories from two foods: Corn and beans. The Okinawans got 70+% of their calories from sweet potatoes. Ditto for Papua New Guinea. But that’s calories. Many vegetables, herbs and spices are very low in calories but could contribute a lot of nutrients.
The Final Call?
Variety can be valuable, but we probably don’t have to obsess over it. Instead, like Dr. Joel Fuhrman says, we should feel grateful to be blessed with a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, herbs and spices, never before witnessed. If it’s a culinary plant, it’s got value, so eat what you enjoy.