Learn to Love Your Food

Couldn’t agree more, Mr. Wilson

Matt Wilson Personal Training

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You can quit smoking.

You can quit pharmaceuticals.

You can quit drinking alcohol.

You can quit being a couch potato.

You can quit not running.

You can quit not exercising.

***

Wanna know what you can’t quit?

Eating.

You can’t quit food.

All of the unhealthful habits above, you can quit.  In fact, you can quit them cold turkey.  Sure, there will be withdrawals and aches and pains, but stay the course and you come out on the other side.

What happens if you quit eating?

You die.

This is one of the reasons so many people have a hard time with their weight.  Their addiction is not something that they can just quit, cold turkey or otherwise.  Unfortunately, through a chain of events that may or may not be of their own making, poor eating habits have developed and the physiology, chemistry and physical make up of their bodies…

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To Sit or Stand or Move….at your Desk?

Athletes love being athletes for a lot of reasons, not least of which is just how great it feels to MOVE. If you are like 83% of the country (I made that statistic up) and sit most of the day to work, then even if you are an athlete, and even if you do work out twice a day, then you still may well be sitting for 7+ hours at your desk, and that means trouble. One solution could be the stand-up desk (and can often be found at the Trimax office in the form of a stack of thick books piled under a laptop.) If that is not an option (though, I personally recommend it. Not only does it save yourself a pain in the neck/back/butt, but there’s nothing like reinventing the desk to make you feel like you’ve having a productive day) then there’s this advice from “The Power of Story” by Dr. Jim Loehr:

“We need to move at regular intervals. We’re built to move, not to sit. Movement makes the blood flow better. The more we move, the better we feel. The more mentally alert we are. The better we function cognitively. The less muscular tension and discomfort we experience. The more hormones get released, prolonging the salutary effects. Physical movement serves to enhance engagement by improving oxygen transport to cells. Lack of movement for extended periods of time (more than ninety minutes) makes it hard – impossible, actually – to be fully engaged. And the longer you don’t move, the harder it is to be engaged. Why are we wiped out after a long meeting or flight? No, it’s not all from the boring agenda items you’ve been reviewing on your laptop or the dry airplane air. It’s because we’ve been physically inactive for hours. Our blood hasn’t circulated but instead has pooled, along with oxygen, in our now swollen feet. (A bit of advice: Never make a big decision while your feet are swollen.) When sitting, you’re stifling blood flow to your largest muscle group, your behind. (And literally causing yourself – sorry – a pain in the ass.) Lack of movement = lack of energy….The more you move, conversely, the more energy we create, the better you perform. To perform better, you need to move more. You simply can’t not feel the positive effect of movement. (Better still is to move when outdoors: Sunlight elevates your serotonin level, further increasing your energy….As Chris Jordan, [Human Performance Institute’s] chief exercise physiologist and master exercise/movement storyteller, says week after week: Movement is the most powerful stimulant the body can experience. It needn’t even be extended or rigorous movement. Just movement, plain and simple, provides a surprisingly good bang for the buck, particularly when it’s breaking up extended periods of inactivity such as mid-afternoon meetings. For instance, standing up – nothing more, just standing up from a sitting position – doubles your metabolic rate! Go for even a short walk and you’ve doubled the burn rate again. To prevent the mental and emotional disengagement that inevitably follow when you don’t move, even small movements of the hands, feet, and arms should be made every thirty to forty-five minutes, and large movements such as walking, climbing stairs, or full-body stretching should be practiced every ninety minutes to two hours. The bigger the rate of motion, the better; flexing hand muscles won’t stimulate you as much as arm muscles, and so on…”

This is by far my favorite book excerpt to share with clients because it is so clear, and so simplistic: our bodies are meant to MOVE. So do that, whenever possible. Workouts are great – while you’re looking forward to your next one, get up and take a walk.

Back to Basics Tip – Goal Setting

As coaches, we constantly see people set goals like, “I’m going to run my first olympic tri/trail run/ultra this year” or even, “I want to finish my next race faster than my last.” All great goals, all from new and seasoned athletes alike. One way to use a goal like that is to bring it to mind every time you feel yourself wavering, wanting to pick up the doughnut instead of the green shake, or wanting to stay out late instead of getting sleep and hitting the trail early. Last week we talked about finding your baseline measurements, and once you find those, your next step is to come up with a goal based on that data to help you get where you’re going.

But what really ensures that you reach your goal? What gets you from point A to point B? Those listed above and others like it are what we call “outcome based goals.” Easy to tell if your goal falls into this category: is the goal based around an eventual result? On the other hand, we have “behavior based goals,” which you can probably tell are based around your behaviors and not the outcome you’re setting out for. Both are critical to progression and improvement, but a behavior based goal outlines the steps that you will take to reach your outcome. “I’m going to run 50 miles this week, with one workout being at least 13 miles long,” is an example of a behavior goal that will get you ready for your outcome goal of finishing your first olympic distance tri. Or, “I’m going to sleep 7 hours every night and won’t drink any alcohol for two weeks before my race” is another behavior based goal that might bring you to your outcome goal of finishing your next race faster than your last.

One other tip to keep in mind when setting your goals: make sure they’re specific and measurable. As in, “I’m going to bike 25 miles every Saturday for two months,” rather than “I’m going to bike more.” For an outcome based goal, try “I want to run my next marathon in less than 3 hours,” rather than “I want to run a faster marathon.” Not only will this give your subconscious something to grab onto and turn into a behavior pattern, but it will offer measurable data to track your progress and show you how far you’ve come.

What do your goals usually look like? If you work with a coach or a trainer, share your outcome based goals and get them to help you find the behavior based goals for you to work toward that outcome with.  Or, you can be your own fitness engineer – write down what you want to do and calculate what it will take to get there. If there’s one thing we know about triathletes, it’s that they’re stat junkies. Go, stat junkie, go!

A Reluctant Chef Figures it Out

For two days now I’ve had this nagging, lingering annoyance with…I’m about to say it…cooking. When this happens, I start grazing, which is never good. Hard boiled eggs, beef jerky, cans of tuna – my veggie intake goes way down and my training schedule (or anything schedule) gets super cramped as I’m always sort of half-digesting the last snack but still hungry for the next. A year and a half ago I never cooked. Breakfast cereal was a staple in my diet, a completely acceptable choice at any time of day and for any meal. A health crisis got me to start cooking and caring for my health, but how good I felt and how fun and creative and empowering I found it kept me going. I lived in New York City at the time, so even at those moments when I didn’t feel like cooking or didn’t have the “time” or ingredients I could easily – as all things are meant to be in New York – swing by Whole Foods or a health food store and visit their carefully labeled salad bar and find something to fit my dietary needs du jour.

As of two months ago, John and I left NYC and moved to a suburb in Southern California. Everything about this move has improved our health and happiness, as well as our opportunities for training, but it is missing one single thing that I know I got very used to after six years in New York: convenience. We’re not really walking distance from much, especially not an organic prepared salad bar, and I’m still getting used to driving again. What this really means, though, is that when I’m not in the mood to cook, there better be some leftovers in the fridge because, like it or not, ordering pizza stopped being an option awhile ago. I long for the days when a bowl of cereal was a viable meal, and as that sort of thinking takes over, I start to resent having to cook almost every meal, every day of my life. I start to blame the “diet” that I’m on – if only Paleo, or HFLC (high fat low carb) weren’t so “limiting” then I wouldn’t be having this problem. And I stare begrudgingly into our fridge full of fresh, cook-able meats and produce and lament that none of them look very appetizing raw.

Today, I walked into the kitchen after a short run, already pissed off since it was supposed to be a long run, and felt that same resentment starting to mount. Another moment where a friggen bowl of cereal would just be perfect, if only. Then I noticed a half-empty box of cherry tomatoes on the counter starting to shrivel slightly. Those are ready to be chopped up and thrown in a skillet, I thought. With some onions, and kale. And any protein would go with that. So that’s what I did, scrambling it all up with some eggs and throwing some avocado on top. Somehow, through that process of using tomatoes before they went bad, and pumping up the vegetable ratio of my meal, and making something that tasted delicious instead of resentfully gnawing on raw carrots, that resentment dissolved. I stopped waging war on reality, and on myself. It’s cooking, not filing taxes, and it’s a gift we give ourselves and our bodies every time we do it. Not only did I stop being ticked about the short run, but I remembered that breakfast cereal, while sugary and convenient, was just a way of ignoring myself and my health, and all of that is just not a part of the equation anymore.

Back to Basics Tip – Benchmark It

This post is dedicated to the beginners out there, whether you’ve just signed up for your first triathlon, you’re trying a longer distance for the first time, or maybe (even more importantly) if you’re a seasoned athlete that’s just getting back in the saddle after an injury or sabbatical. This is the first in what will become a weekly Back to Basics Tip series that we’ll run regularly to make sure that no one misses a chance at the finish line.

First, a word about starting something new, or getting back into the swing:  it can be hard. It can be uncomfortable, awkward, and frustrating. And it’s very easy to get into the downward shame spiral of thinking of how good we were before that injury, or how fit we were 10 years ago, or how every other athlete in this race looks so fit and fast and strong. Endurance sports are not for the faint of heart, but most athletes have at least one moment of self-doubt once in awhile – and that’s the point. There isn’t one racer out there who hasn’t fought at least one battle to get to that place. So the battle, the uncomfortable, frustrating, and awkward part, is also the fun part. Or, rather, it will become the fun part, if you let yourself get there. So, on to the battle…

Our Back to Basics Tip of the week is: Benchmark It. New athletes, seasoned athletes, recently rehabbed athletes all could use a log of their current baseline fitness test, depending on the goal. If this is your first tri ever, test each event individually, as soon as possible, to gauge your current fitness level. Once you’ve done a trial run of each distance, hopefully similar in terrain to which you’ll be competing on, write down your times. If you think you can or want to improve on any of them, set yourself a goal – don’t you love those? – and keep training. Then see where you land in a month or six weeks time with another trial run of the same distance, on the same course. The beauty of the multisport event is that you have moments to shine, and moments to challenge yourself. If you’re a killer runner but almost drown on the swim, then you know where you can lean on your strengths and where you can work on your weaknesses.

For the recently-rehabbed athletes, the same goes for you: find that benchmark and start working from there. Maybe the goal is running, biking, or swimming without pain, which alone is an incredible achievement after an injury. The benchmark is the baseline from which to measure and celebrate your improvements, not the standard to which you think you “should” be better. When you’re starting out, you’ve got to start somewhere.

What’s your reason for getting out there?

Sporting fever is in the air. It’s the time when there are great stories to read every morning about athletes your know and, sometimes even better, athletes you’ve never heard of. The Olympics in Sochi are not the only carrier of that virus; another event has Trimax’s temperature all hot as well: a really great bike race, Italy’s Tirreno-Adriatico. What has always caught my attention, even more than the wins and losses and medals and bouquets, have been the athletes’ stories behind the competition. There is magic in those stories. It’s like hearing an actor’s acceptance speech after winning an Oscar – you get to meet the human behind the character that you’ve watched onscreen.

This year is no different, but there’s one story that’s become more of a saga: Taylor Phinney, a young American cyclist and legacy of his cycling-legend parents, Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter, competed in Tirreno-Adriatico’s stage race last year and came in dead last. Jason Gay at the WSJ wrote a great piece about it, which I am referencing in this tale of athlete-adoration (athloration?) and inspiration. He wrote about Phinney’s endurance, physically, mentally, and spiritually speaking, that got him to finish the stage when lots of other riders dropped off with 80 miles and lots of rain and hills to go. Phinney’s reason for staying the course was his father, Davis, who has suffered from Parkinson’s disease for more than a decade and can’t ride the way he used to. Taylor just kept thinking about Dad, and how he’d probably take Taylor’s place on the bike in a heartbeat if he still could. That is what kept Taylor Phinney going that day, and today this story resurfaces because this year, Taylor Phinney won that race.

A few hundred miles north of Italy, in Norway, Olympians-in-training abound in the small region of Trøndelag. Another great article from the Wall Street Journal describes the extraordinary amount of Olympic Gold Medals that this region brings home relative to the rest of the country, and how their lifestyle and culture is a good indication of how that happens. In particular, the article mentions the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv, which refers to “enjoying the outdoor life” and is widely studied in books and universities. How cool is that – they have a whole WORD for what most of us only experience, often on long runs or rides or open water swims? It’s what many think inspires the Norwegians’ great athleticism, and what continues to bring home Olympic Gold. If you don’t enjoy being out there, chances are you won’t have anything to carry you through the slog and the mud and the pain. And, unfortunately, that means nothing to get you to the joy and exhilaration of the finish line, whatever that line means for you.

What’s your reason for getting out there? Are you like Taylor Phinney, with a loved one in your life that wishes they could be on the course, but can’t, so you race for them? Like me, with a health challenge that is greatly alleviated by daily intensive exercise? Or like the Norwegians, with a great, inherent love for the outdoor life that just keeps you coming back, whenever you can? Whatever your reason, the finish line is waiting.

More on high fat-low carb eating

How many avocados can I eat in a day?  How much red meat?  How many uses for coconut oil do I have in my kitchen (and do I get bonus points for putting it in my coffee?)? These are all questions from the mind of a Paleo eater. I say “eater” and not “dieter”, because we all hate the word “diet” by now as well as everything it implies: restriction…perfection…control. And I use the word “Paleo” because it has become the mainstream label for the high fat, low carbohydrate way of eating that has taken hold in many corners of the world, not least of which is the endurance sport world/Tim Noakes fan club (see yesterday’s post about Prof. Noakes and his discoveries.)

The question at the very core of every athlete’s search for the right way to eat is: what will make me perform at the top of my ability, and feel good doing it? I heard today on a favorite podcast of ours, Paleorunner.com, an interview with trainer Debbie Potts that when she used to compete in triathlons following a carbo-load session, she would often vomit off the side of her bike and think to herself, well, I guess I just didn’t need those calories. Honestly, not such a misguided thought, especially while competing in such a mentally and physically taxing sport. But upon further thought, a body in motion should not have to vomit out unneeded fuel to stay in motion. So – and this is for those of us who are finding out one way or another that carbohydrates are not tolerated well or perhaps aren’t the best fuel source for endurance exercise – maybe the answer is FAT. It’s called Metabolic Efficiency and it refers to improving your body’s ability to use fat as fuel. Yes, it is possible, and it might even be the most optimal way for your body to operate under stress (i.e. exercise). And once that warm, satisfied feeling of self-discovery has washed over your body, you might feel another question arise: …so where do I get all the FAT?

But pasta is just so easy! And bagels!! And cookies!!! Does this mean I need to grill a burger every time I want a snack? And only ever have Slim Jim’s to take with me in my bag/purse/car? Well, only if you want to.  One of the exciting things about high fat-low carb eating is the change in hunger signals. Fat and protein increase satiety, to begin with. Second, the blood sugar swings. Let’s avoid those at all costs. So, eating this high fat diet might actually change your relationship with food – ever wake up in the middle of the night, during a high volume training season, famished and sleepily in need of a bowl of breakfast cereal? Our bodies have a lot more fat stored on them than carbohydrates (specifically 80,000 of fat to 1,500 of carbs, give or take), so you’re hard-working, calorie-torching body will be able to make it through the night without running out of fuel to keep your organs working while you sleep. If you shift your macronutrient load from carbohydrates to fats,  you’d do well to note how often your body gets hungry, the intensity of that hunger, and the timing.

A sample Trimax meal plan (an alternative to the Ironman eating plan, which – no offense to the great Ironman – seemed a little grain heavy at breakfast):

Breakfast: 3 eggs with sliced 1/2 avocado (in a rush? Hardboiled eggs and any portable veggies: carrot sticks, grape tomatoes, 1/2 cucumber)

Snack: Celery with almond butter (don’t go too crazy with the nut butters – keep it to 2 tbsp)

Lunch: Green salad with tons of veggies and seeds (sunflower! hemp! pumpkin!), plus protein of choice (i.e. grilled chicken, turkey, salmon, hardboiled eggs, etc)

Snack: Handful (or two) of berries

Dinner: Grass-fed beef or bison with steamed kale and mashed cauliflower (use coconut oil or grass-fed butter in your faux-tatoes!)