elisariva

Seizing life's joys and challenges physically, mentally, and emotionally.


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Carbohydrates – The Simple and Complex Sides

Complex topics are difficult to write about and carbohydrates are very complex – even when they are simple. Athletic people are frequently told how important carbs are to fuel the body. Carbo loading before a big race will help fuel the body in the long, hard race – right? I am not a doctor nor a nutritionist. I am a regular person who leads an athletic life. My experience comes from trial and error. I have carbo loaded for races and I have eaten a balanced diet before races. I do know for me, carbo loading didn’t help at all. I do know that a consistent diet of 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat has helped me feel better than I ever have after long runs and hard rides. I am recovering faster and I have less muscle aches. My last post covered fat. Now I am taking on carbs.

The human body is a fascinating study. When carbohydrates are digested the body breaks them down to sugars. There are more complex terms, for this post I will keep as much simple as possible. I was once asked by another triathlete when it comes to nutrition how do I get sugar for energy? My answer is simple – my body makes enough sugar, I do not need to eat additional. Carbohydrates are basically found in two forms – simple and complex. Click the link to go to a very helpful article by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I used it quite a bit for this post. Simple carbs are also simple sugars. Natural forms are found in fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products. Note – this is why I stay away from skim milk products, take away the fat and it is a sugary drink like soda pop. These foods provide enough simple sugars that foods with added sugars I avoid. Added sugars are in many processed foods and drinks. Added sugar is also a byproduct of refining – white breads and pastas for example.

Complex carbs are found in two types – starch and fiber. Starchy carbs turn to sugars a bit faster than foods higher in fiber, so I limit them. Starchy foods include white potatoes, white pasta, beans, corn, and some cereals, breads and grains. Many beans are also high in fiber and protein -these I don’t limit as much. A rule of thumb on carbs is this – the only white carb to eat is cauliflower. I don’t count bananas since at first sight they are yellow. (Or green!) Complex carbs high in fiber are found in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. How much fiber? On average for adults 30 grams a day is the standard. The link above contains a chart that is more specific.

Okay – carbs are found in simple and complex forms, choose complex over simple and higher fiber complex carbs. The US Dietary Guidelines suggest 45% to 65% of calories come from carbohydrates. (See page 15) I follow the 40/30/30 plan that was made popular by the Zone Diet and Dr. Barry Sears. It is within 5% of the government suggestion and there are many tools to help count and calculate. My favorite is found at My Fitness Pal. What to eat? That is a difficult topic to recommend on a specific level. When it comes to complex carbs, I keep it simple – the less processing involved and the more whole the form is, the better. Personally, the vast majority of my carbs come from fruits, vegetables, beans, and sprouted grain breads and tortillas (my favorite brand is Ezekiel Bread). For fuel in training and racing I use energy bars and I have been making my own “Zone” bars. Yes, I turn to gels too – Honey Stinger and GU primarily. Training and racing nutrition is another post of information!

A final note- one eating plan I would have never chosen intentionally was forced upon me when I came down with the norovirus in February. For five weeks my diet consisted of white potatoes, saltines, eggs, chicken and chicken soup, bananas, Lorna Dune cookies, and Honey Stinger waffles. No vegetables, other than bananas – no fruit, and nothing complex at all. My stomach had a difficult time digesting anything, so I also did not take the vitamins I usually take. This diet weakened me – both my energy and my immune system. I am sure that the two terrible colds I have had were a result of my weakened immune system. This unfortunate “experiment” drove home to me the importance of diet along with exercise. I am back to eating my regular plan, this latest cold is just about completely gone, and I am slowly returning to my regular training plan.

The body needs carbohydrates to function, along with fat and protein. (Which is up next) What makes up those carbohydrates matter – not only for an athlete, but for everyone who does not like going to the doctor. Proper nutrition and exercise is the best way to stay healthy and away from the doctor’s office, giving us all the more time to seize the day.


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Starting With Fat

Nutrition – I have wanted to write on this topic for quite some time. I have touched on it before, but getting into the details can be overwhelming. There is so much I want to go into – I am sure it will take a few posts. As I write this I do not have a set outline as to where this will go. Looks like we are all in for a learning experience today.

I do know I want to begin with clearing up a very common misconception. A three letter word has caused a lot of debate and discussion. FAT. When a person is over weight or obese they are called fat. Many “diets” recommend low fat. I see countless people drinking skim milk and eating fat free products thinking it is “better.” Think again. Just about every time I have a conversation with someone about fat – from family members who rarely exercise to people I see daily at the gym – they say the same thing when I tell them at least 30% of the calories in my diet come from fat. “Yes, we’ll look how much you exercise.” Huh? What does a percentage calories in fat have to do with my level of activity? Nothing.

Fat is one of the easiest fuels for the body to burn. Unless you are reading this while exercising, even as you sit your body is burning fuel and most likely 50 to 60 percent of those calories are from fat. The remaining 50 to 40 percent comes from carbs. So if eating at least 30% of calories from fat, just how is that going to cause an inactive person to gain weight?? It isn’t. An excellent reference addressing this myth can be found here.

What matters is the amount of calories consumed AND the breakdown of those calories. There are many ways to determine how much to eat in calories. The most effective way is to take a test to determine your specific resting metabolic rate of burning calories. This test is specific to an individual’s metabolism. It is also an expensive test and not readily available to many. There are formulas for men and women which can be found here. A very basic rule of thumb also is to take your weight and multiply it by 10. I have done all three and my actual test result is 1554, the formula is 1379, and my weight times 10 is 1390. As you see, they are fairly close. Because I am so active I do have a higher metabolism so my fat calories consumed are higher, but the percentage is not. Thirty percent is thirty percent.

Now, I have explained how much to eat to maintain your weight without any activity. Additional activity adds calories, such as working and exercise. How much to add again depends on metabolism, but a helpful chart is found here. Add it all up and you have an idea of total calories. Want to lose weight? Either eat 500 fewer calories each day, increase activity by 500 calories, or a combination of both. There are 3,500 calories in a pound, seven days in a week – you lose a pound a week.

Okay, back to 30% fat. Where does that come from when they say a low fat diet is best? My question back is just who are they? Even the U.S. Government guidelines call for 20 to 35% percent of daily calories from fat. (See page 24 of the report). Saturated fats are bad, clog arteries, we know the drill. For the most part, my rule of thumb is fat from fruit is the healthiest fat to select. Nuts, avocados, olives, coconuts – examples of fruits that are good sources of fat. Limiting saturated fats (mostly found in fat from animals) to a third of total fats is wise. So go for 2% or even whole milk and yogurts, don’t shun bacon (and save the grease!), and if you like dark meat poultry (it tastes better anyway) – eat it. A helpful article on adding fat to a diet can be found here.

Fat is filling. I sometimes have difficulty eating the daily calories I need on lower activity days because I am not that hungry. Take the fat out and the sugar content goes up, satiated feeling goes down, and the munchies hit late in the day. Fat doesn’t make a person fat overweight. More calories eaten than burned makes a person overweight. Yes, overweight people have higher body fat percentages. Carbohydrates not burned, especially simple sugars, turn to fat. Fat eaten and not burned stores easily. But not eating fat will not lower your fat percentage. You have to burn it.

See how much there is to consider? I have barely touched on the topic of fat. The diet also includes protein and carbohydrates – which will be saved for future posts. This can be more exhausting than reading about my workouts! For now, I think we have plenty to chew on. Now for dinner… with bacon.


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Raise Your Glass – Or Sports Bottle

Proper hydration is essential in endurance sports. There also is no linear formula for the “right” amount. Each person is different and trial and error tends to be the best way to determine the “right” amount. What to drink is also a question – water only? Combination of water and sports drink? Only sports drink? And the biggie – which sports drink?
What works for me is something I stumbled upon to be honest.  Ever since I started in endurance sports fourteen years ago I never questioned sports drinks. The biggest change I made was moving toward a sports drink that included a little protein – 5 grams. For the most part most sports drinks are made up of 8% carbohydrates or 180 calories per 20 ounces of water. I have known many people who water down their sports drink, but in doing so they are also reducing the electrolyte content. Having a history of cramping in long workouts and races, I opt for full power sodium and potassium and on hot days supplementing with electrolyte caplets.
Last September I had a terrible time in a half iron triathlon with bloating and gas. It impacted my performance significantly. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what went wrong. I ultimately blamed it on the fiber in a whole wheat bagel I ate the morning of the race. Truth be told I was never fully satisfied with that answer. With all of the nutrition research I have been doing I have learned that the body adapts to a consistent diet and higher fiber shouldn’t impact me on race day. My regular diet has at least 30 grams of fiber and I rarely have GI stress during training.
Also  last year I started paying more attention to nutrition and managing my metabolism. That was when I came across Nuun. One tablet dissolves in water with only 8 calories but packs 360 milligrams of sodium and 100 milligrams of potassium.  I would use this for short workouts under an hour and a half and always in my water bottle when I swim. After my experience in the half iron triathlon I thought I would try Nuun more and make sure to consume gels and energy bars during long workouts. I even used it in the California International Marathon. A lot went wrong in that race, but my digestion was not an issue.
Earlier this year I was on a run and very hungry. I thought I should switch back to the higher calorie sports drink and see what happens. It helped a bit but I did notice I bloated more. Connection? (More on why I was hungry in my next post) About a month ago I went to my running store to pick up more Nuun and the owner also told me about Skratch. A bit higher in calories than Nuun, but half than that of most sports drinks at 90 calories and 4% carbohydrates but has 366 milligrams of sodium and 80 milligrams of potassium.  Also, it is all natural  with no preservatives. He mentioned the maker created it for professional cyclists in the Tour de France and it was called “the secret drink mix.” I bought a few packs and did a little research.  I entered “Nuun vs Skratch” in my web search and found this article.  (Click the link to read it.) I was intrigued because it was on Nuun’s web site but talked up the benefits of Skratch. The first two paragraphs caught my attention. Professional cyclists were complaining of gastric distress from drinking heavy carb sports drinks. I knew exactly what they were complaining about – I experienced it in that half iron triathlon.  This was a much more acceptable explanation for what I went through rather than blaming a bagel.
The article is very fair, it explains how the founders of Skratch came about their philosophy of separating calories for food and electrolytes for drink. Additionally the director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute weighs in with his view. I read it with the understanding that what works for one may not work for another. For me, separating my calories into solids – gels and energy bars – and electrolytes in fluid work. The article also suggests for intense or hot (or both) workouts to add electrolyte supplements to the drink – plop a Nuun in. Experimenting with favors is fun too. There are over laps for a consistent flavor – lemon lime for both. Or mix Skratch raspberries with lemon tea Nuun for raspberry ice tea (my favorite blend).
Several of my friends are tried and true sports drink users and have never had GI stress. If it works, there is no need to change. For me, I made the change and I have seen an improvement. Flexibility is key, but so is keeping an open mind. Enduring 70.3 miles in a half iron triathlon brings enough stress, I want to be able to raise a glass to toast my accomplishment without any added stress.


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Set Backs and Things To Come

Last I wrote I was under the weather with a terrible bout of allergies. Well, I am on the mend, but far from recovered. By last Wednesday I was back in the pool swimming, I ran on Thursday, and went to a spin class on Friday. After spin I swam, but was cut very short when my legs started cramping – a common side effect when I am taking medicine for my congestion. Saturday I rode my bike on my trainer, the weather was terrible and we even had snow that was almost a white out at one point. Fortunately it didn’t stick. By Sunday I thought I could handle a long run and I ran nine miles. It was hard – the last mile was more than I should have run. By this morning my activity had caught up with me and even after ten hours of sleep I was feeling out of it. As a result I am resting today and tomorrow – at least. I have also decided, along with the strong influence of my triathlon coach and running coach, that I will not run the half marathon I had planned on May 4th. The intensity of my training will be reduced a bit for a while. I do not like it, but I want to recover.  So I am giving my body a rest and taking it slow. My focus is to get healthy and prepare for the half iron triathlon I have scheduled at the end of June.

So what to write about? There are a few things I have been wanting to share and this little break and slow down is a good opportunity. The next few posts I will be writing about nutrition. I have been experimenting with different things, some I have sought out, some I have stumbled upon, and some have happened to me as a result of the colds and bugs I have had this year. The underlying thread is that nutrition is an integral part of fitness. Fueling our bodies to perform is important and what and when we eat matters. Yes, I will also make an effort to tie a motivational aspect into the post. (as well as increase my frequency a bit too…)

To say my continuing cold is frustrating would be an understatement. But – it is what it is. Rest is also important along with nutrition and fitness. So I will rest and recover. Sharing what I have learned on nutrition is a way for me to also stay positive. This will pass. It may take longer than I would prefer, but it will pass. I am not going to wallow in my sorrows – it won’t help and crying is the last thing my sinuses need right now! Rather, I will raise a glass to things to come – first up would be what to drink in that glass. Stay tuned.


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Motivation and Purpose

Finding motivation is not always easy. After the tragedy at the Boston Marathon yesterday, it is hard to say be positive, but it is not difficult to find motivation. I haven’t written in a while mostly because I have struggled quite a bit with sharing what I am going through each day. I will touch on that in a moment. Back to Boston. Countless stories have been reported about how people banned together to help each other on Boylston Street. This location is meant for joy. For a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Not for terror, injury, and death. So many runners I know that are very capable to qualify are planning on running in Boston next year. Several others are planning their training now to get fast enough to qualify. Want motivation? Look in the eyes of a determined runner. We may have our doubts when it comes to our individual situations, but we are a confident group that can not be held down.

I have been to Boston and stood on the finish line – as a tourist. Having shared my struggles to consistently break a 10:00 minute mile, it will be a while before I am able (or if I am able) to qualify to run the Boston Marathon. That is what makes it so special – these runners have accomplished much, worked hard, earned the privilege to run in Boston and cross the famous finish line on Boylston Street. My heart goes out to everyone involved. The injured, the families who lost loved ones, the runners who were deprived of finishing after the bombs went off, all who feared for their lives, those who selflessly were there to save lives. Yes, this too shall pass, but it will never be forgotten. There is more motivation to go on.

As for me – boy has this spring been frustrating. I do not want to dwell on my issues, yesterday had really put things into perspective. Briefly – yet again I am sick. Since mid February I have had no more than seven days without a stomach virus, sinus cold, or now a terrible onset from allergies. Last night I had a strep culture done because my throat has been so sore for six days, my nose runs faster than my feet, and I have lost my voice. It was negative and allergies are most likely the culprit. I have not worked out in four days, therefore I have little to share other than my frustration. Tomorrow I hope to swim a bit. It will be good to be in the water and to be with my friends. I’d like to say I have turned a corner and am feeling better, but I am not one to lie. Today really stunk. Hopefully it is the worse before it gets better thing.

I will always remember where I was when I learned of the tragedy in Boston, many will. I will also remember that it hurt my throat so much to cry at the sadness, but I did anyway. More than anything, I will remember the determination, the motivation to go on, and the refusal to let fear win over every runner and supporter out there. Each step has purpose. Never forget.

 


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Leap

This past week has been an eye opener for me in my training. All of my mantras and hard training are finally getting through to my thoughts and beliefs. In swimming I have seen my pace improve to the level that when I am swimming 100 meter repeats at race pace or better I expect to see my times under 2:00. When swimming endurance workouts, my goal is 2:05 per 100 meters and it feels as if I am using half the effort. The confidence has set in my mind and I expect paces much faster than last year.

Where I made the biggest leap this week was in my run. Tuesday began track season and even though snow flakes were in the forecast, a group of us jogged two miles from the gym to a local high school at 6 in the morning. The benefit of morning track workouts while it is still dark is that we had the track to ourselves. I ran the workout my coach had given me and my friends did a different workout. Just  having others there helped keep the workout going. My pace on the track is much faster than on the treadmill. I was running my quarter mile repeats between 2:00 and 2:10. On a treadmill I wouldn’t think to set it that fast. Something clicked too – I really am able to see my ability to run faster. On Thursday I ran an interval set of six minutes at my desired half marathon race pace, which should be 10:15 per mile pace. I ran in a neighborhood by my home that has a circular main boulevard that is .55 of a mile around and relatively flat. By my second repeat I had to slow myself down – I was running 8:50 pace according to my GPS. I did a total of 5 intervals and averaged around 9:46 per mile pace. Today I put myself to the test and ran a five mile race on the towpath. I am happy to say I set a personal best and was able to stay under 10 minute per mile pace for the first three miles. A hill slowed me a little, but I finished in 50:02 with a pace of 10:00 on the nose. I also developed a new racing mantra when I am running hard and feeling it in my lungs – “This Won’t Kill Me, Push On.” I also had my inhaler with me… just in case.

See is believing. Believing makes all possible. And then there is a combination of both. I had to believe in myself before I could attempt to tackling the training I have. Seeing what I really am capable increased my faith in myself. Putting it to the test in a race only increased my confidence all the more. Like Indiana Jones did in the last crusade, I had to take the leap of faith first. And now I want to keep leaping to new levels.


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No Fooling

Yesterday morning I got my eight mile long run in before Easter festivities. I ran a bit faster than I usually do for my easy long runs, but I made sure I felt like it was a “working easy” pace. My course was the familiar hills in my neighborhood. After the run, I felt very good. Usually by seven to eight miles in my hamstrings start to burn a bit – not at all. My legs didn’t feel fatigued either. As the day went on I still felt good. Oh – and my pace was the fastest it has been for a long run all year.

Today I felt just as good, my legs did not feel the usual fatigue I have the day after a long run and going down the stairs this morning felt like any other day. I had to wonder what has changed that I feel so fresh. I know I am improving in my speed from my training and also believing I can go faster. This doesn’t change how my body burns energy. The biggest change I have made over the past two weeks has been in my diet. Since I fully recovered from that awful stomach virus, I have implemented a diet inspired by the Paleo diet but I also incorporate dairy, beans, and whole grains. What I have eliminated is processed foods, sugars, and most starchy carbs. The only breads I have eaten are Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted whole grain bread and also the tortillas. That said, it is a small part of what I eat. At most three meals within a week. Bonus for me is that it is frozen. Saturday I tried a new dinner out, usually I would eat pasta the night before a long run – that is a runner’s staple food right? Instead of spaghetti I had a spaghetti squash. The entire squash! At most it has 130 calories. It was very flavorful and  I tossed it with salmon, garlic, onions, mushrooms, and olive oil.

The balance of my diet is close to 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. Yes, at least 30% fat. The fats are primarily mono-unsaturated fats (MUFAS). These come from nuts, nut butters, olives, olive oil, and avocados. I don’t hold back on dairy either – I am eating full fat plain greek yogurt and 4% fat cottage cheese. Yep, skim milk is more fattening that whole milk. In fact recent studies showed it is the third most fattening food after french fries and potato chips. Take the fat out of milk and all than is left is sugar. Whole milk is more satiating. As for fuel, fat is the best source of fuel to burn when exercising, especially endurance sports. I have shared this before in posts about metabolic training.

With today being April 1st, I can honestly say this is not a prank, I am not fooling! I have also learned once more that flexibility is important beyond physical ability. High carbs, low fat diets have been common practice for runners and endurance athletes. That doesn’t mean it is the most efficient. I do know I don’t want to be fooled to believe the way it has always been is the way it is going to be. With a little flexibility and willingness to change, new heights just may be reached – sometimes it just takes a different fuel.