nutrition

what I eat, and why I eat it

Keto-Adaptation

Keto-adaptation is the process of shifting your metabolism from relying mostly on glucose for fuel to relying mostly on fat-based sources of fuel. Not only does that enhance fat oxidation, it also allows your body to start producing enough ketones that they can be used as a significant source of fuel.

This can be an important learning for any endurance athlete, and is one that I’ve used with great success. I’ve been keto-adapted for some months now, and am able to run long distances (30K and up) in a fasted state, fueling only with water, and with no energy depletion, no bonking, and no post-run hunger. It will be my fueling strategy for the Elk/Beaver 50 trail ultra that I’ll run on May 10.

In this video, Dr. Jeff Volek, associate professor at the University of Connecticut and co-author (with Dr. Steven Phinney) of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, offers one of the most comprehensive explanation of keto-adaptability I’ve come across. Highly recommended!

Low-Carb Treats

LCHF

Part of my ketogenic aka LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) journey is to look at new ways of fueling my runs and races. It’s a fascinating exploration, involving nutritional science, contrarian theories, and just plain good taste. I’ve made some interesting discoveries.

First, I’ve discovered that I don’t need to fuel at all for most of my runs. I now run fasted, that is, when I run in the morning, I don’t eat anything beforehand. Having eaten well the evening before (usually at about 6:30 PM), and having become used to burning fat instead glucose for fuel, I can happily run up to 32K without supplementary fueling. When I’m finished the run, I’ll have a nice big LCHF meal and be all set. I’ve also found that I don’t need an electrolyte supplement in my water bottle, even on very hot days (it’s occasionally been as high as 32C lately). I simply add the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of sea salt to a liter or so of water in my Nathan hydration vest.

I’ve also discovered four really good things I can use for fueling my long runs. I cooked two of them, my wife made one, and one is a commercial product.

First up, a really good low-carb trail mix. I bought all the ingredients at a local bulk food store, after carefully checking the ingredient labels to make sure they were sugar-free. It contains raw almonds, raw cashews, shredded unsweetened coconut, diced black mission figs, and raw hulled sunflower seeds. If I can figure out how to carry it easily and comfortably, it might be possible to carry some on an ultra.

Low-carb trail mix

Next, a “cake in a mug” that I made using coconut flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, an egg, baking powder, butter, and couple of tablespoons of kefir (a kind of yogurt). Since making my first first one, I’ve experimented with the ingredient mix, trying to get to a texture and consistency that will produce some thing dense enough to hold it together in a bag or pouch while I’m running. Not quite there yet, but it makes a marvelous cake!

Cake in a mug

One day recently, my wife made these low-carb, high fat mini egg, meat, and veg things. Don’t know quite what to call them, so I’ll just go with “egg cups” for now. She lined muffin cups with a slice of prosciutto, scrambled an egg, added some diced cooked onions and mushrooms, and baked the resulting mixture for about 30 minutes. (The lighter one was made without scrambling the egg.) You can vary the add-ins any way you want, with things like steamed broccoli, cheese, tomatoes, etc.

Egg cups

And lastly, some raw organic cocoa beans, which I bought at the Feast of Fields organic food and farmers market event yesterday. They’re fermented, sun-dried whole non-roasted cacao beans from Ecuador. They fit very nicely with my LCHF diet, as they’re low carb, high fat, with negligible fiber, and are perfect for carrying in a pocket or pouch. I think I’ve found a brand-new ultra fuel!

Cocoa beans

I’m having fun with this. All of the above recipes are easy and quick to make, and use ingredients that easy to find. Next up… a coconut flour banana bread. Stay tuned!

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil

A couple of weeks ago, I started adding coconut oil to my daily diet. Why?

Because it’s good, that’s why. Though coconut oil used to get a bad rap (except in traditional cultures, which have long espoused its benefits), it’s come back into the mainstream. It’s health-related benefits include the following:

  • Coconut oil is good for your heart. It contains about 50% lauric acid (more about this later in the post), which helps in preventing various heart problems including high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The saturated fats present in coconut oil aren’t harmful, as they are in other vegetable oils. It doesn’t lead to increases in LDL levels. It also reduces the incidence of injury in arteries and therefore helps in preventing atherosclerosis.
  • Coconut oil is helpful in managing one’s weight. Its short- and medium-chain fatty acids can help in taking off excessive weight. It’s easy to digest, and it helps in healthy functioning of the thyroid and enzymes systems. As if that weren’t enough, it increases the body’s metabolism by removing stress on pancreases, thereby burning more energy.
  • Coconut oil is good for the immune system, as it contains antimicrobial lipids, lauric acid, capric acid, and caprylic acid, which have antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria.
  • OK, that was the general stuff. Here are comments from a couple of sources I trust about the benefits of coconut oil…

    First, an excerpt from a Mark’s Daily Apple post:

    “Coconut oil has been found to help normalize blood lipids and protect against damage to the liver by alcohol and other toxins, can play a role in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases, and is associated with improved blood sugar and insulin control and therefore the prevention and management of diabetes. In addition, coconut oil has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. On a more superficial level, meanwhile, coconut oil is thought to help strengthen mineral absorption, which is important for healthy teeth and bones, and can also help improve the condition and appearance of the scalp, hair and skin when ingested or topically applied.”

    Next, from Dr. Steve Gangemi (aka the Sock Doc):

    “Coconut oil is one oil that everybody should have in their kitchen to use not just for cooking, but also for supplementation. It is much different than other saturated fats because the majority (over 60%) is composed of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), and the majority of that is a fat called lauric acid. There are numerous health benefits to lauric acid and the other MCTs, from acting as an antimicrobial to providing energy to helping one use fat as fuel.”

    And, finally, some info about the benefits of the afore-mentioned lauric acid.

    So how I am using this good stuff?

  • I include about 1 tbs. of coconut oil in my morning bowl of oatmeal, along with some raspberries.
  • I have a little coconut oil, along with some organic honey, on a slice of Ryvita, at lunchtime or late in the afternoon.
  • A couple of times each week, I slather some coconut oil on my head/hair and my beard, do my usual treadmill training run, and then wash the oil off in my post-run shower.
  • It tastes good, feels good, and, after the “man spa” stuff on my head and face, I smell like a coconut cookie.
  • Not bad, not bad at all. :)

    Review: Hammer Nutrition

    Every runner knows – or should know – that good fueling is a critical part of performing well. It’s not just about being faster, but also about recovering faster and about overall health. Accordingly, I’ve done a lot of research about how to fuel, what to fuel with, and how to incorporate proper fueling into whatever training or racing I’m doing. That’s led me all the way from (believe it or not) no fueling at all to making my own sports drinks and energy bars to trying a variety of commercial products, and eventually to Hammer Nutrition products. I’ve settled on Hammer as the best for my needs.

    In this post, I outline what Hammer products I use, what they do, and how they’ve helped my running. I hope the information will be useful to you.

    Note: I have no affiliation with Hammer Nutrition or Hammer Nutrition Canada, nor did either of them supply me with products to review. I’m just an ordinary – and happy – customer.

    Hammer HEED and Hammer Gels
    Hammer HEED

    I discovered Hammer HEED just before the Niagara 50K Ultra in 2009. Having learned that HEED would be supplied at the race’s aid stations, I tried it in my pre-race training runs. Before that, in my ultra-distance cycling days and when I got back to running after a 30-year absence, I’d used a host of other products. None of them quite worked, but HEED did. So I’ve stuck with it.

    A sports drink isn’t so much about hydration (though that’s part of it) as it is about supplying the body with depleted electrolytes and amino acids. HEED addresses the issue with an all-complex carbohydrate, chelated mineral and electrolyte profile, and L-carnosine and chromium polynicotinate help to buffer lactic acid and support stable blood glucose levels. Because HEED contains no citric acid, it won’t burn your throat or stomach, no matter how much of it you drink. HEED’s sweeteners are stevia and xylitol. Stevia’s a natural herbal sweetener, and xylitol actually promotes oral health (unlike sports drinks containing sugars or aspartame, which can damage teeth and gums).

    HEED comes in strawberry, melon, mandarin orange, lemon lime, and unflavored versions. I tried melon, mandarin orange, and lemon lime before settling (very quickly, I might add) on orange mandarin, and have used it ever since, on both training runs and races. I prefer to carry my own HEED when doing races, usually in one or two 10oz handheld bottles, depending on the race distance, rather than use aid stations. For one thing, I get what I want and what I’ve trained with. For another, I avoid the traffic jams and occasional mishaps that can happen at aid stations.

    Five stars out of five for Hammer HEED!

    Hammer Gel

    As mentioned above, I used to make my own energy bars. But I didn’t like them any more than I liked commercially-made energy bars. So I decided to try gels. I moved through a few of the more popular brands and flavours, but found them either nauseatingly sweet or hard to stomach. Since I liked HEED, I thought that Hammer Gels would work, and they did. In fact, the first Hammer Gel flavour I tried was vanilla, and I liked it so much I haven’t tried anything else.(It also comes in apple cinnamon, banana, chocolate, espresso, montana huckleberry, orange, raspberry, tropical, and plain – so you’re spoiled for choice on this one.)

    Hammer Gels are concentrated complex carbohydrates with four amino acids added. The idea is boost performance and prolong energy levels during intense training and competition. It’s a syrupy gel, and you can use it as is or dilute it, or use it to flavor other components. I use the single serving pouches (it also comes in 26-serving jugs), before during, and after races, and during long training runs. It really does make a difference. Being “an experiment of one,” I’ve done the same runs at the same intensities with and without Hammer Gel, and I always do better and feel better with it.

    Five stars out of five for Hammer Gels!

    Hammer Perpetuem

    Hammer Perpetuem

    Perpetuem is Hammer’s “multi-hour to multi-day” fueling product, i.e., a fuel aimed at endurance athletes. It comes in caffé latte, strawberry-vanilla, orange-vanilla, and plain flavours. (I use the orange-vanilla version.) It differs from HEED and Hammer Gels in that a calcium-enhanced soy protein isolate makes up nearly 10% of its caloric profile (the same percentage as is cannibalized during long slow endurance workouts). It also contains a de-oiled “super lecithin” fat that Hammer claims maximizes energy production from stored fatty acids.

    In the past, I’ve used Perpetuem on long (2.5+ hour) training runs and one marathon. Recently, I’ve been trying it on short, intense workouts (e.g., tempo and speed workouts on my treadmill) to see how it compares. The difference between using Perpetuem and using a combination of HEED and Gels, of course, is that with Perpetuem you’re trying to get both your caloric and hydration needs met with one source. With HEED and Gels, I can adjust my intake of each to meet the specific needs of a particular run or race. Also, Perpetuem doesn’t taste quite as good (to me) as HEED, and it doesn’t keep as long in hot weather. Nothing at all wrong with the product, it just doesn’t match my situation as well as HEED/Gels.

    Four stars out of five for Hammer Perpetuem!

    Hammer Recoverite

    Hammer Recoverite

    Ah, Recoverite! I’ve only just begun using Recoverite, and have to say that I don’t know why it took me so long. The stuff is simply amazing!

    Recoverite’s purpose is to provide rapid and enhanced recovery from hard workouts, so that your body is optimally prepared for the next one. It’s a mix of the nutritionally ideal 3:1 ratio of complex carbohydrates and whey protein isolate, glutamine (an amino acid that is depleted under extreme stress or hard exercise), l-carnosine (an anti-oxidant), and a full-spectrum electrolyte profile (to help replenish depleted essential minerals). It comes in single-serving pouches or 32-serving packets, and in chocolate, citrus, and strawberry flavours. (To date, I’ve only tried citrus, which I like very much.)

    My good friend Daniel B. turned me on to Recoverite, and I’ll be eternally grateful to him for that. I use it after hard workouts and after long runs. It works so very well that, as Daniel has said, “it sort of feels like cheating.” There’s less muscle soreness immediately after a workout, less late-onset soreness, and much faster recovery, so I’m quickly set up for next time. I used to follow my workouts/runs with a protein shake made of almond milk, kefir (a kind of yogurt), and hemp powder. That added needed protein after a run, but it didn’t offer the same ideal combo of good stuff that Recoverite does. So I’m a Recoverite man from now on.

    Five starts out of five for Recoverite! (And that’s only because I can’t give it six out of five.)

    Hammer REM Caps

    Hammer REM Caps

    REM Caps aren’t technically speaking, an athletic performance supplement. They’re a sleep aid. However, it’s a fact that, if you’re not getting enough sleep – on an ongoing basis – you’re not going to perform well. More importantly, sleeping well is a health and longevity issue, as well as an aid in weight management.

    As a result of the radiation treatments I’ve had for my prostate cancer (in 2006 and again in 2010), my sleep patterns have been compromised. To make a long story short (and to spare you the indelicate details), my prostate glad is no longer as “elastic” (my oncologist’s term) as it was before the treatments. Because the prostate gland encircles the urethra, that means urinary flow isn’t what it should be. I take medication daily to “soften” my prostate, but that means that, for the past five years, I’ve had to get up between three and five times a night to pee. Which in turn means that I’ve only been sleeping 1.5 to 2 hours at a stretch. The result? I was tired a lot. I decided to try REM Caps on the theory that they would deepen my sleep just enough that I could go past the triggers that made me wake every hour or so. They worked. Now I only get up to pee once a night, which means I sleep three to five hours at a stretch. I wake up rested, I’m not tired, and I’m a much nicer person to be with.

    REM Caps aren’t magic. They’re simply a combination of trued and true natural ingredients that enhance sleep. They contain valerian (a widely-used herb in the treatment of nervousness, stress, anxiety and insomnia), melatonin (a naturally-produced hormone that’s responsible for regulating human biological rhythms, and is an effective aid to alleviate insomnia), 5-HTP (a natural precursor of the hormone serotonin that helps to prevent insomnia, and also enhances the release of growth hormone during sleep), and magnesium (which helps the muscles to relax).

    If I want to run well (I do), remain healthy (ditto), and be a pleasant human being (for my own sake, as well as for the sake of others), I need to sleep well. Hammer REM Caps allow me to do that.

    Five starts out of five for RE Caps!

    Conclusions

    As you can tell, I like Hammer Nutrition products. They’re natural (i.e., they’re based on natural ingredients, not chemicals). They’re consistently good. They’re taste good. And, most importantly, they work! (They’re also vegan and kosher. Neither of those matter to me, but they might to you.)

    In the past, I’ve bought whatever Hammer products I could find at local running, cycling, and bodybuilding shops. Now I do all my ordering online, via Hammer Nutrition Canada. Their prices are good, and their delivery (via Canada Post) is fast and reliable. You can also, of course, order Hammer stuff from Hammer Nutrition, the U.S. parent company.

    Nutrition Tweaking

    As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a bit of a nutrition freak. It’s always made sense to me to pay attention to what I eat, but I’m probably more attentive to that than many people. And for good reasons – I run long distances, I’m a vegetarian, and I’m a cancer survivor. Plus, I’m 62 years old, and I want to deal creatively with the inevitable consequences of aging.

    Until now, my nutrition program has been a matter of trial and error. My fancy name for that is “an experiment of one.” It hasn’t been the most effective or efficient way of fine-tuning the way I live, though, so I’m now doing it with some help.

    I’ve started working with Vanessa Rodriguez, a soon-to-be-certified holistic nutrition counselor, to tweak my nutrition program. (Vanessa recently guest posted on this blog about natural sports nutrition.) Vanessa and I are working with the following goals in mind:

  • counter the effects of the radiation treatments I’ve had over the past four years
  • optimize my physical energy levels
  • enhance my psychological and emotional levels
  • minimize the consequences of Asperger’s Syndrome (I’ll expand on this in a later post.)
  • What Vanessa and I are doing now is looking at how I’m doing in a number of body systems, and then having Vanessa suggest tweaks that will improve or enhance functioning in those systems. My role in this partnership is to track what I eat, to report on my energy levels and psychological states, and to implement Vanessa’s recommendations. It’s a holistic process, that is, it will look at all my nutrition choices and how those choices work (or don’t work) for me. It’s going to be quite an adventure!

    More news in later posts. I’ll keep you updated.

    Natural Sports Nutrition: Part 3

    Vanessa Rodriguez is currently studying to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and blogs daily at Vanessa Runs. She is currently training to run her first ultra marathon this spring, and enjoys experimenting with natural sports nutrition.

    Vegetarian Athletes

    Is it possible to perform well athletically on a strictly vegetarian diet? In a word, yes.

    It may be a challenge and depending on the circumstances, may require supplementation. But provided you are getting the nutrients your body requires, there are tremendous health benefits in a vegetarian diet. These include a lower likelihood of suffering from illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diet-related diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

    Although vegetarian and non-vegetarian athletes can compete side by side, a vegetarian diet in itself will not do much to improve athletic performance as far as aerobic capacity or muscle glycogen concentration. That said, eating more healthfully (a common side effect of a vegetarian diet) can go a long way to improve performance.

    Good protein sources for vegetarians include beans, lentils, peas, whole wheat grains, nuts and seeds, and fermented soy products. Special consideration should be given to minerals like iron and zinc, both commonly consumed in animal products. Good sources of iron for vegetarians include wholegrain cereals, wholewheat bread, nuts, fortified cereals, seeds, and green vegetables such as broccoli, watercress, and spinach. Vegetarians who don’t eat fish may need to supplement Omega 3s. Vegetarian omega 3 sources include pumpkin seeds and flaxseed oil.

    Personalized Sports Nutrition

    It’s important to remember that every athlete is different. We all have different needs, challenges, and potential deficiencies. For more information on a personalized nutritional assessment to fit your current exercise goals, feel free to contact me at vanessaruns@gmail.com.

    Natural Sports Nutrition: Part 2

    Vanessa Rodriguez is currently studying to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and blogs daily at Vanessa Runs. She is currently training to run her first ultra marathon this spring, and enjoys experimenting with natural sports nutrition.

    Vitamin C

    This vitamin is important for the formation of connective tissue and certain hormones like adrenaline, which are produced during exercise. It also plays a role in the formation of red blood cells, which enhances iron absorption. It is an antioxidant, protecting against exercise-related cellular damage. A vitamin C supplement may be useful for prolonged, high-intensity training for reducing muscle soreness and promoting quick recovery.

    Most people only think of citrus fruits as vitamin C sources, but many vegetables are also an amazing source of this nutrient. For example, a red, raw bell pepper has more vitamin C than an orange. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kale are also high in vitamin C.

    Calcium

    Calcium is an important mineral for bone formation, muscle growth, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission. Again, most people think of dairy such as cow’s milk for calcium sources, but other healthy sources include sardines, sesame seeds, spinach, collard greens, and turnip greens. Weight bearing exercises such as running and weight training help increase bone mass and calcium absorption. Extra calcium is usually recommended for female athletes with low estrogen levels.

    Iron

    For athletes, this is a crucial mineral because of its major function in the formation of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin transports oxygen in the blood and myoglobin transports oxygen in the muscle cells, fueling our exercise. Energy metabolism depends on iron, and athletes have higher requirements than sedentary individuals. Iron losses are common during exercises that involve the pounding of feet, such as running. Female athletes in particular tend to be deficient in iron.

    Foods rich in iron include red meats, offal poultry (dark part of the meat), fish, whole grains, dark leafy vegetables, eggs, and fortified foods. Iron is more efficiently absorbed through animal sources, but absorption is improved if plant sources are accompanied by vitamin C-rich fruits or vegetables.

    Next: Nutrition for Vegetarians