Why I’m Going Bananas for Bananas

bananaThe poor banana.  It gets so much bad press.  High carb! High sugar! Many diets shun the banana.  I get that it’s not the most exotic or exciting fruit.  It might even be considered a little boring, especially with all the pomegranate, acai, mangosteen madness the past few years.  I’ve always been against labeling foods as “super foods” so it’s no wonder that I don’t put bananas lower on the nutrition totem pole than any other fruit (does anyone really eat mangosteen anyway?!)   I admit I also tend to root for the underdog, but the banana really has a lot going for it. Sure it’s not a glamorous fruit, but there is still so much to love.

I have to admit that I too had forgotten about the banana.  I’m not even sure why, but I probably went several years without buying a single one!  It wasn’t on purpose, I was just distracted by other, more thrilling fruits I guess.  I came back to the banana this summer though.   I was trying to up my fruit and veggie intake and also on the lookout for new, easily digested foods to integrate into my pre-workout meals and snacks.  The banana was my perfect solution, and I’ve been buying them weekly ever since.  Below is why I like bananas, and hope you will too!

–          Bananas are portable and easy to eat. There are no messy seeds or juices and no utensils needed, making the banana a great on the go snack.  They are also easy to shove in a bike jersey pocket! (Tip: consider pre-peeling the banana if your bike handling skills aren’t impeccable).

–          Bananas are easily digested and a good source of carbohydrate, making them a great food to consume immediately before and during exercise.  They are a great alternative to gels, bars, and chews for athletes wanting to use real food instead of, or in addition to sport nutrition products. One medium banana provides about 30 grams of carbs, which is comparable to one gel.

–          Bananas are high in nutrition.  Bananas are commonly known for being high potassium, but they are also great sources of vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, and fiber!

–          Bananas are cost effective.  Typically costing less than $1/pound even for the organic kind, bananas aren’t gonna break the bank.  It’s also nice that you can buy just a few at a time so that you don’t have to worry about them going bad before you get around to eating them.

–          Bananas may help with weight management.  Bananas are high in resistant starch, a type of fiber that is not easily digested and is thought to promote feeling satiated and  improve glycemic control (aka stabilize blood sugars).  Some studies have linked diets high in resistant starch to lower body weight, but the jury is still out so don’t over do it with your banana intake.  Eat your bananas uncooked to get the full benefits of resistant starch.

–          Banana’s are super versatile and make an awesome addition to all sorts of meals and snacks:

  • Breakfast: slice up a banana and add it to your morning cereal or oatmeal
  • Snacks: add sliced bananas to Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, or top a slice of whole wheat toast with banana and your favorite nut butter (that is also one of my go to pre-race breakfasts!)
  • Lunch: make a wrap with 1 whole wheat wrap, peanut or almond butter, sliced banana, and a drizzle of honey for the perfect on the go lunch
  • Dinner: spice up a traditional Hawaiian pizza by adding sliced banana
  • Post workout: make a recovery smoothie by blending 8 oz low fat chocolate milk with 1 frozen banana.
  • Dessert: slice a banana and fill the inside with a tablespoon or two of chocolate chips or bits of dark chocolate. Pop in the oven until the chocolate melts. Bonus points if you have  a campfire to make this over!

So you see, really bananas are an athlete’s best friend.  Eat up!

Reaching My Goals

DSC03623Yup, I’m going to Disneyland! It all started with a bet of sorts at the beginning of the summer.  I told my boyfriend that if I met my time goals in my 3 big races of the summer (Mt Evan Ascent, Pikes Peak Ascent and Denver Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon) he had to go to Disneyland with me.  I then set what I figured would be achievable but tough time goals.  Since I had never raced Evans or Pikes before I had to guess at what would be a good time goal.  I chose sub 3 hours for Evans because that is the time women need to break to get a special trophy rock, which I really wanted!  For Pikes I chose sub 4 hours, since rumor is most people take about an hour longer in that race compared to Evans and because that time would qualify me for wave 1 next year (technically sub 4:15 would do that but I wanted wiggle room!).  I had more data to use for choosing my half marathon time goal, as I’d ran 5 in the past, although only trained seriously for 2 of them.  My PR was 1:48:40 last January at the Tinkerbell Half Marathon, but I really wanted to be able to average an 8 min/mile or below for the race, so I set my goal as sub 1:45.

In early October, with my Evans and Pikes goals under my belt, I started freaking out about the half marathon.  Although the time goal had seemed possible when I set it, I’d spent most of the summer running up mountains and at altitude, running more like an 11 min/mile than an 8.  Some unidentified foot pain and a cold set my training back a bit, and although I’d managed to do a few good speed and hill workouts, I really wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to break 1:45.

The week before my race, I took my own blog advice and started focusing on Visualization and also worked on my Mental Toughness. I pictured myself on the course running a smooth and fast race, and told myself that this goal was possible but that to achieve it I needed to be willing to push myself to a place I have never been before.  Basically, I prepared to hurt!  I followed all of my usual sports nutrition strategies. I ate well and slightly upped my carbs for a few days.  I hydrated.  The morning of my race I had my typical pre-race breakfast: wheat toast with peanut butter, honey, and a banana (and coffee of course).  Forty-five minutes before the race I drank a Generation UCAN, as I didn’t want to mess with needing a gel during such a short race but knew I’d be pretty glycogen depleted by the end.

And then, I was off!  My heel started hurting right away, but I ignored it and it went away.  As the first few miles ticked by I realized that I was actually ahead of pace, running closer to a 7:30 min/mile.  I was slightly concerned that I was going too fast and might burn out, so I slowed down a tad but made sure to stay ahead of pace.  I grabbed a sip of water at the aid stations around miles 3 and 6.  I felt awesome when I was able to get a hole in one with my water cup at the mile 6 aid station!  Then, as I weaved around City Park, I got tired.  The middle miles are the worst for me. I’m not close enough to the end to even think about just pushing it to the finish line, but I’m not at the beginning and feeling fresh either.  Luckily, my mom jumped out with the “I’m Going to Disneyland!” sign around mile 7 and I got a surge of energy, reminding myself that I had goals to meet!  After slowing to get water at the mile 9 aid station, I had a hard time making my legs speed back up and realized it probably wasn’t a good idea to slow down and get water at any further aid stations, less I risk my legs failing me.  The last 4 miles my legs started to hurt more but I was still on pace and so I pushed through.  I sang some of my favorite running songs in my head.  I pictured my running inspirations.  I’d like to give a shout out to the woman in Cheeseman Park with the sign that read “Pain is temporary, but posting on Facebook is forever!”  as it totally helped me push through the little hills of Cheeseman.  I was in pain, but I really wanted to be able to post my success on Facebook. Lame? Maybe, but it got me through the last few miles!  After exiting Cheeseman I knew I only had a mile left, so I kept reminding myself how easy a mile is to run.  It’s just one mile! (You have to forget that you’ve just run 12 other miles when using this technique).  As I rounded the corner to the final sprint I almost got teary.  I was going to shatter my time goal!  I had been seriously concerned I was not going to break 1:45 and now I was doing it.  I crossed the finish line in 1:42:33.  It felt awesome.  Although I’d gone into the race saying I was going to retire from this flat fast running nonsense after this race, I left it wondering what else I could accomplish.  Sub 1:40?  Who knows what’s possible?!

Looking back I realized that my altitude training had actually helped me in the half.  I couldn’t believe how awesome my lungs felt the whole time, even when my legs were tiring.  There was a time when running continuous sub 8 min miles would’ve left me gasping for breath, but after running at 14,000 feet all summer, the Mile High City air felt like it was 100% oxygen.  I guess I stocked up on red blood cells over the summer!  I know it’s opposite of the “live high, train low” philosophy but it worked for me.

Besides recapping my race, I guess the message I wanted to convey with this blog is that we as humans are capable of so much more than we realize when it comes to athletics.  We are able to hit our limits physically and mentally, and to somehow keep going.  We are able to push ourselves to places we didn’t know we could go, but only if we are willing to challenge our minds and our bodies.  Some people might be thinking “yeah sure it’s possible, but what’s the point?”  To them I guess I would say you won’t know until you try!

Recipe: Sweet Potato Brussels Sprout Salad

photo(8)Think salads are boring? Think again with this nutrient packed, fall inspired salad!

 

(Makes 2 servings)

1 medium sweet potato

2 cups brussels sprouts

4 cups spinach (or mixed greens of your choice)

2 oz goat cheese

4 TBSP pumpkin seeds

Balsamic vinaigrette or Fig balsamic vinegar (if you can find it)

Olive oil

 

Partially cook sweet potato in the microwave to save time, about 4 minutes, or until slightly soft.  Peel and cube sweet potato.  Toss in a bit of olive oil and roast at 400°F until cooked, about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, quarter the Brussels sprouts and sauté in olive oil until brown and crispy, about 5 minutes.  Divide the spinach amongst 2 plates and top with equal amounts of goat cheese and pumpkin seeds.  Divide cooked sweet potato and Brussels sprouts evenly between plates as well.  Drizzle balsamic on top.

Modify the salad as needed for your nutrient needs. If you need more protein, pick up a rotisserie chicken and add it to the mix. If you need more carbohydrate add either croutons or French bread on the side.

Reclaiming Your Motivation

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Motivation at its highest- at the end of a race!

In every athlete’s life there will be motivational ebbs and flows.  It’s hard to be 100% into your sport all the time, so it’s natural to go through time periods where you just can’t motivate yourself to get out the door.  Winter can be a particularly hard time of year to keep your motivation up, especially if you live in a colder climate and work full time like I do.   Not only that, but by wintertime most of the races you’ve been training for are probably over, giving your workouts a little less sense of purpose.  The shorter daylight is brutal.  It’s dark when you wake up, which makes opting for an extra hour of sleep in a warm bed sound much better than a chilly dark run or ride!  Things aren’t much better when you get off work, as the sun is already setting and the temps are dropping. You might decide to move your workout indoors, but then there are the crowds of the gym to hassle with-parking lots with no spots, treadmills with waiting lines. No wonder your motivation is down! It’s kinda depressing, really. But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom!

Here are my tips for reclaiming lost motivation:

  • It might sound counter-intuitive, but instead of fighting the loss of motivation, give in to it…but just a little.  If you fight it too hard you risk real burnout, so give your mind and body a break by scaling back for a week or two (or three).  Sadly, you can lose a fair amount of fitness in 2-3 weeks of couch surfing, so don’t stop working out completely, but cut your volume down significantly (cutting it in half is okay).   Focus on shorter, more intense workouts, as these will help you maintain your fitness best while scaling back.  It’s also a lot easier to motivate yourself for a shorter workout!
  • Buy some fancy new duds.  New shoes, a new shirt, even new socks can be motivating because you’ll want to try them out.
  • And update your playlist.  The only time I ever get excited to go to the gym is when I have new music on my iPod to listen to as I trudge along on the treadmill. So try down loading some new tunes, or ask a friend to create a new workout playlist for you.
  • Join a club. Most bike shops and running apparel stores have clubs that do weekly runs or rides.  Or if that’s too much of a commitment recruit a friend.  You don’t have to rely solely on your own motivation- you can rely on the motivation of others! I can’t tell you how many early morning runs I wouldn’t have gone on if I hadn’t known there was a friend waiting to meet me for it.
  • Buy a magazine or book.  I don’t think there is any other time I am more excited about all things outdoors then the day I crack open the new issue of Outside magazine. Immediately I am inspired and ready to plan my next great adventure.  So go pick up a magazine or book about your sport and get re-inspired.
  • Sign up for a winter race.  Just because your traditional racing season is over doesn’t mean you have to stop racing altogether.  Obviously you need some sort of an off season, but I find that my motivation to run or ride is way higher when I have a race to train for.  It gives the workout a sense of purpose. Even in (sometimes!)snowy Colorado there are plenty of winter races, so get an epic winter race on your calendar.  Then as you are training recite this Shalane Flanagan quote to yourself : “In the midst of an ordinary training day I try to remind myself that I am preparing for the extraordinary”!
  • Try a new sport.  Part of burnout is doing the same thing over and over again.  If you are a runner, try snowshoeing. If you are a cyclist, try skate skiing.  You might even end up being good enough to sign up for a race (see previous tip)!
  • Invest in the appropriate gear.  You’ll have fewer excuses to not get outside in the snow if you own the appropriate gear.  I found out last winter that when dressed appropriately 12 degree runs aren’t that bad!  Really! Neither is running in snow. It’s actually kind of fun, more like an adventure than a run!  Remind yourself that you’ll feel better after the workout! It’s so simple, but it helps.  The more you do it the more you will believe it!

Good luck out there! Feel free to share tips on how you keep your motivation up!!

Age: It’s Just a Number Right?

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My goal is always to get to the top of the hill, not over it!

Today is my 31st birthday.  I’ve never been one to really freak out about birthdays and getting older.  There are moments when it sucks though.  Like when my dad told me last year “ya know, you’re getting to the age where you just don’t recover from your workouts as well”.  Thanks dad.  But I’ve always said that age is just a number, and luckily I have great examples of that in my life to keep me inspired as the years keep piling on.  My dad regularly kicks my ass on the road bike.  My mom can do 10 times more pull-ups than I can.  Literally.  I can barely muster 1 and she can bust out 10.  And my 80 year old grandma still hikes almost every day.  Maybe it’s good genes, maybe it’s hard work, or both, but it’s inspiring to have examples of people who don’t let age slow them down.  So on this day I decided to look up statistics on age and athletic endeavors that are inspiring and motivating.  I apologize if any of these stats are incorrect, as they are not well researched (just a quick Google search).  Even if they are, they are still pretty darn impressive!

  • Oldest person to climb Everest: Yuichiro Miura, who summited the highest peak in the world at age 80 this year.  He also climbed it at age 70 and 75.
  • Oldest marathon runner: Fauja Singh, who completed Toronto’s Waterfront Marathon in 2011 at the age of 100!  By the way, he STARTED running at age 89.
  • Oldest Ironman finisher:  Lew Hollander, who finished the Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii in 2011 at age 81.  If you think he was the only one in his age category, think again. He had competition in 81 year old France Cokan.
  • Oldest Olympian: Oscar Swahn, who competed in shooting in the 1920 Olympics at the age of 72.  He was good too, winning the gold medal in the 1912 Olympics (at age 64)!
  • Oldest Tour de France rider: Henri Paret, who was 50 years when he competed in 1904 (okay that one is not as inspiring as the others, but still pretty incredible for a race that tough!)
  • Oldest Pikes Peak Ascent finisher (male): Ivor L Welch, who completed the 1980 Ascent at age 85.
  • Oldest Pikes Peak Ascent finisher (female): Kay Martin, who completed the 2012 Ascent at age 75.

Age is not an excuse!

Recipe: Ginger lime salmon with mango avocado salsa

Now that I’ve talked up fish (see previous blog), here is a simple recipe for fish cooking novices (self included!).

4- 6oz wild salmon fillets, skinned

2/3 cup fresh lime juice (about 5 limes)

1/3 cup honey

½ teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger

1 mango

1 avocado

Combine lime juice, honey, and ginger in a small bowl.  Use just over half of mixture to marinade salmon.  Place salmon on a broiler pan with a bit of cooking spray and the marinade juice.  Broil about 4 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile, cube mango and avocado and toss together with remaining lime juice mixture.  When salmon is done top with avocado mango salsa.  Serve with your grain and veggie of choice. Serves 4.

*You may notice that unlike my first recipe on this website I have not included nutritional information.  I have decided that I will not provide nutrition information for my recipes because 1) it’s a pain for me to calculate, but more importantly 2) it does not line up with my anti calorie counting attitude.  So please, enjoy my recipes without worrying about calories.  The portions are appropriate and the nutrition is good!

Omega-3s and Fish

bear with fish 2I set out several days ago to write a blog about omega-3 fatty acids and fish that would be both interesting and informative, and of course written with my usual wit and personal anecdotes.  Turns out it’s not possible!  The topic has been written to death about and I have to admit that I couldn’t think of anything new or exciting to say about it.  But since I haven’t written about the topic on this blog before, and frankly got sick of staring at my computer screen trying to be witty, here goes nothing.

So you know by now that fish is good for you.   You might even know why: the omega-3 fatty acids.  But do you know why omega-3s are good for you?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids.  They are referred to as essential because they cannot be made in the body and must be obtained through the food you eat.  The omega-3s can further be divided into alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  These essential fatty acids are involved in the regulation of many processes in the body including blood pressure regulation, blood clot formation, blood lipids, the immune response and the inflammation response.  They are important for overall health as they are necessary for proper cell growth and functioning, especially in the brain.  They are also integral parts of cell membranes in the body.  They promote heart health and may reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.

As for sports performance, omega-3 s may have some benefits.  They are anti-inflammatory, so can help combat the inflammation that occurs with strenuous exercise .  They decrease blood clot formation and increase blood flow, meaning blood gets to working muscles more easily.  There is some research that suggests that the anti-inflammatory and vasodilation properties of omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial to athletic performance so it is important that athletes get the proper amount in their diet.

The recommendations for omega-3s are 1.6 g/day for men and 1.1 g/day for women.  If you eat 2-3 servings of fish per week you can meet these recs.  If you prefer not to eat fish, flaxseed oil and walnuts are some of the best vegetarian sources of omega-3, but not the same ones as fish.  Fish contains EPA and DHA whereas flaxseeds and walnuts contain only ALA.  Most of the health benefits seen are from EPA and DHA, and even though the body can convert some ALA to DHA and EPA, it doesn’t do so very efficiently.   So if you’re willing to eat fish that’s your best bet for meeting your omega-3 needs. If not, you might want to consider a supplement (fish oil or even flaxseed oil). I’m not one for taking supplements, but one of the few I do take fairly consistently is fish oil.  As always (or so it seems with nutrition), studies on the benefits of fish oil supplements are mixed. Some studies have found reduced triglyceride levels with fish oil supplementation, but most have not found a decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.  Since I have a hard time working fish into my diet twice a week (if only sushi wasn’t so expensive…) I use the supplement a few times per week. Remember- food first, supplements second.

Other considerations for fish: mercury content and mislabeling.  Certain types of fish are higher in mercury content that others. Steer clear of: swordfish, Chilean sea bass, grouper, mackerel, orange roughy, and shark as they tend to have the highest mercury content.  As for mislabeling, fish is one of the top mislabeled foods at the grocery store and in restaurants.  Recent figures have estimated that 1 in 3 fish sold is mislabeled! Some of it’s not intentional, fish often passes through multiple hands from the sea to the market, and I guess certain species look the same even to fish mongers.  Most common offenders are red snapper, halibut, grouper, cod, mahi mahi, sole, and wild salmon (sorry, it’s from a farm!)

Omega-3 Content of Select Foods

Food (4 oz fish) Grams of omega-3
Pacific herring 2.4
Mackerel 2.1
Atlantic salmon 2.1
Canned pink salmon 1.9
Trout 1.1
Canned white tuna 0.8
Canned light tuna 0.3
Canned sardines 0.7
Shrimp 0.4
Flaxseed oil (14 g) 8.4
Fish oil capsule (2) 7.2

Recipe: Fall Chili

Introducing another new feature to my blog: recipes!

First up is one of my favorites, my fall chili.  As the temps cool there is no better time for a warm bowl of chili, and this unique sweet and savory version features a fall staple- the sweet potato!  Jam packed with protein and fiber, this recipe is also fairly low fat, depending on what kind of ground turkey you use.  Since so much goes into the chili, you can get away with using  a 97% lean turkey if you prefer.

Fall Chilisweet potato

1 package (about 1.5 pounds) lean ground turkey (I typically use 93%)

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 large sweet potato or 2 medium, cubed

1-2 cups chicken broth (1 if you are going to add a pumpkin beer, 2 if not)

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 can crushed tomatoes

1 TBSP brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ginger

¼ tsp nutmeg

1 pumpkin beer (optional)

Sweet Potato Chips- I highly recommend Garden of Eatin brand- optional

1 TBSP oil, for cooking

Pre-cook the sweet potato in the microwave for 2-4 minutes(until halfway cooked), peel, then cube. Sauté the onion in a pan with 1 TBSP oil. Add ground turkey and sauté until cooked. Add turkey/onion mixture and all other ingredients except for the beer to a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Add beer if desired. Simmer for approximately 25 minutes. Top each bowl with 1 oz crushed sweet potato chips if desired.

Makes about 4-6 servings (depending on how hungry you are!)

Nutrition Info (for 1/6 of recipe, including chips but excluding beer)

280 calories

26 gram carbohydrate

18 gram protein

10.5 grams fat

Product Review: Generation UCAN

I’ve decided to add a new feature to my blog: product reviews!

First up: Generation UCAN.   I first tried Generation UCAN last summer, back when I still believed my stomach couldn’t handle much carbohydrate during exercise.  Turned out it was the type of carbohydrate drink I was using that was the problem, not the carbs themselves, but I’ve still stuck with UCAN for many of my longer workouts.  Generation UCAN is different from other sports drinks on the market in a lot of ways.  It’s made from a “superstarch”, which is a complex carbohydrate derived from non-GMO corn according to the website.  The theory is that this superstarch helps stabilize blood sugar during exercise without causing a spike in insulin or gastric distress.  The gist is that the superstarch moves quickly out of the stomach but is slowly broken down in your small intestine, which minimizes GI distress and also provides a slow and steady carbohydrate source that allows your body to more efficiently rely on its own fat stores for fuel during exercise.  This means you don’t have to worry as much about taking in carbohydrate during your workout.  Utilizing your own fat stores also in theory helps improve overall body composition.

photo(5)Generation UCAN has 2 products, a “sports drink mix” and a “protein-enhanced sports drink mix”.  The sports drink mix comes in 4 flavors: lemonade, cranberry raspberry, blueberry pomegranate, and plain, and is meant to be used as a pre-workout drink and can also be used during really long workouts (supposedly you only need 1 packet for every 2-3 hours of activity).  The protein enhanced version comes in chocolate and vanilla and is meant mainly to be a post workout recovery beverage.

Price: Prices have gone up since I first started using Generation UCAN.  I’m too much of a commitment phobe to get the tub, so I buy the individual packages which are now $19.50 for 6 packets ($3.25 per pouch) of the sports drink .  The tubs are $60 for 30 servings ($2 per serving, however  a serving is defined as 25 grams where as the single serving pouches are 37-38 grams). So if we go gram for gram the pouches are  $0.087/gram and the tubs are 0.080/gram- basically the same.  The protein-enhanced flavors are $25.50 for 6 single serving pouches ($4.25 per 51-56 gram pouch- $0.083/gram) or $60 for a 25 serving tub (interestingly listed as 30 gram servings-$0.080/gram). So again, you don’t really save much by getting more at once. The good news is that if you order online they will occasionally send you discount codes.  Still, the price is higher than many other sports drinks on the market.

Nutrition breakdown: Generation UCAN sports drinks contain about 32 grams of carbohydrate (it varies slightly by flavor) per pouch.  Typical sports nutrition recommendations are for 30-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour, so if you only use 1 packet for 2-3 hours of activity you are getting way less than the recommendation-but that’s kind of the point.  The protein-enhanced sports drink has about 13 grams of protein per pouch, which is right in line with post workout recovery recommendations for protein. Nutrition labels for selected flavors listed below.

Pomegranate blueberry

UCAN nutrition info pom blue

Vanilla

nutrn-vannila-big

Taste review: I started by ordering a sample package that included 1 of each flavor.  The plain sounded too unappealing to me and ended up getting handed off to a willing boyfriend/taste tester who no longer remembers what he thought of the product.  No help there!  The lemonade I honestly didn’t care for. The flavor was too mild and not as lemonade-y as I’d hoped.  Sorta like foamy lemon water. The cranberry raspberry and blueberry pomegranate I enjoyed the taste of.  The vanilla and chocolate I really enjoyed the taste of (especially when mixed with milk instead of water).  I have to admit that the texture is a little odd and may take a bit of getting used to.  The superstarch is a very fine powder, that when shaken up, creates a sort of foamy protein shake texture (even the non protein-enhanced flavors do this).  The texture is not bad per se, just different than any other sports drink I’ve tried.  It could be a turn off to some, especially when used during exercise, which I have not yet tried.

Does it work:  Well, there is a fairly convincing scientific study referenced on the website,  but not a ton of details about the study provided.  Did I personally notice a difference? Well sort of, but I am also a big believer in the placebo effect and I, of course, knew when I was drinking it before a run and when I was not.  There is starting to be more anecdotal evidence about metabolic efficiency and training and eating a certain way in order to improve your fat burning during exercise, and Generation UCAN falls nicely in line with this.  It’s an intriguing concept for sure. We (the nutrition world) are still waiting on more actual studies about metabolic efficiency as it’s a fairly new concept, but there are athletes and RDs using it with great success.

I’ve never had any GI distress with the product, and I did feel like I had more sustained energy last summer as I was upping my miles.  Overall, I think it does work, just maybe not quite as amazingly as the website may have you believing! (Seriously, watching the videos about it on the website the other day got me all excited to use it on my next run-excellent marketing!).

Bottom line:  I overall like this product.  It’s probably best utilized by endurance athletes, and particularly ultra endurance athletes who really have to focus on their nutrition strategy.  It’s definitely helpful for those who struggle with carb intake and GI distress during exercise.  Other than price I see no downside to the product, unless you can’t handle the texture. Whether it really does what it claims or not, if you feel better when using it I say go for it. I for one plan on continuing to incorporate it into my long workouts.

For more information visit http://generationucan.com/home.html

*I have no affiliations with Generation UCAN.  Products tested were purchased with my own hard earned bucks.

Racing Weight and Healthy Weight Loss

food scale

Don’t try this at home. Actually, don’t weigh your food anywhere. Ever.

It’s a diet obsessed world out there.  It’s sad, really, how much our society focuses on looks and thinness.  Working in the eating disorder field I’ve grown to hate the “D” word.  But this is not a blog about the pitfalls of our society.  No, this is a blog about finding the balance between managing ones weight for sports performance and not sacrificing ones mental and physical health in the process.  There are many athletes with unhealthy and disordered eating habits and athletes are thought to be at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder.  This is not surprising seeing as the reality is that weight does, to some extent, affect endurance sports performance.  Some runner’s talk about their racing weight as if it was a holy grail that they would do anything to obtain.  You hear stats like “your mile time improves by 10 seconds for every pound lost”, or some crap like that.  Cyclists talk about how every pound lost improves power output by so much.  I don’t remember the specific statistic because I don’t care.  I mostly ride my bike because it’s fun.  It’s important not to lose sight of that in the process of trying to lose weight.  You probably started running or riding because it was fun too.  Sure there is a correlation between weight and performance-to some extent– but I challenge any athlete to cut off their hand (that weighs about a pound right?) and suddenly drop 10 seconds from their mile time! Okay, I kid, but seriously, the point is that the mere act of losing weight will not necessarily guarantee that your performance improves.  Lose too much weight or lose weight too quickly and your performance will suffer.  And you might lose your love for the sport in the process.

If you want to lose weight solely because you feel you don’t look like the stereotypical runner/cyclist/fill in the blank kind of athlete then stop right there.  Athletes come in all shapes and sizes and I am a firm believer of not modifying ones diet and exercise in order to change how one looks.  If your only motivation for weight loss is because you think you “have” to or because you want to look better in your underwear then this is probably not the blog for you.  Trust me it’s not worth risking falling into disordered eating or even a full blown eating disorder.  I’ll even admit to my eating disorder patients: sure you can modify your nutrition and exercise to manipulate your body to look however you want, but at what cost? What kind of life would that be? How about working on body acceptance instead of weight loss?

Losing weight for health or sports performance is different, but even those motivations can be taken too far.  It’s not always easy to know when an innocent desire to drop a few pounds to become a better athlete starts to become an unhealthy obsession with weight. As an athlete AND an eating disorder professional, I am acutely aware of the issue and believe that I have developed a pretty healthy and moderate approach to the subject.  I truly believe that if you focus on training right and eating well your weight and body composition will take care of themselves over time.  However, if you feel that some weight loss is truly justified and want to get a jump start read on to learn how to do it as healthfully (for your mind and body) as possible.  I could probably write a book on this topic (maybe I will someday…..) but below are some of my top tips.

  • Don’t count calories.  Just because you meet your body’s caloric needs doesn’t mean you are eating right or getting the nutrients your body needs.  You could meet your daily caloric needs with ice cream for Heaven’s sake!  Calorie counting can easily become compulsive, as it puts so much emphasis on hitting numbers and looking at nutrition labels.  Instead of counting calories, count servings from the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, proteins, and fats.   All the rest, desserts and alcohol for example, would fall into the category of extras and you wouldn’t have a target for those, you would just aim to not have too many of them! (Not sure how many of each group you need? Consult an RD!)
  • Keep a food journal.  But not all the time, especially if you know this tends to become a compulsive “diet” activity for you.  Keeping a food journal for a few days will give you a picture of how much you are getting from all of the food groups mentioned above.  Once you know your baseline, you can work on eating more from some of the food groups, and possibly less from others.  Keeping a food journal can also help you keep tabs on mindless eating and boredom eating, which are common problems.  A handful of food here and there might not seem like a lot in your head, but it can add up quickly, and having it on paper helps put it in perspective.
  • Keep an eye on portions.  Most people have no concept of portions, and it’s not surprising given the ridiculous amount of food we are served at some restaurants.  Note: a giant plate of pasta does not count as one serving.  One grain’s worth of pasta is actually only ½ cup- the size of ½ of a baseball.
  • Focus on what you want to eat more of, not less.  The answer will probably be vegetables and fruits, as most Americans don’t meet the minimum recommendations of 5-9 servings/day.  I think that it’s mentally more helpful to focus on what you want to eat more of, instead of what you want to eat less of, since telling yourself you can’t have something will likely make you want it more (blame human nature). Plus, I find that when I’m able to up my vegetable intake I naturally do not have room for, or crave, the less than healthy foods I typically like (desserts and wine mmm!).
  • Choose foods that don’t come in a package more often than not.  You’ve also probably heard that it’s best to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. That’s because that is where most of the whole foods are, like fruits, veggies, meats, dairy, and to some extent whole grains.   There are plenty of healthful foods that come in packages though, so don’t avoid the inner aisles completely.  When buying packaged products aim for ones with very few ingredients (i.e. if you are buying brown rice the ingredient list should look like this- ingredients: brown rice).
  • Don’t make food rules.  Then you fall into the good food, bad food trap and feel like a bad person when you eat a “bad” food.  Take the judgment out of eating. There are no “good” foods and “bad” foods.  Just foods. Some foods you should eat more often and some foods should be occasional treats.
  • Don’t skip breakfast.  I truly believe it’s the most important meal of the day and studies have consistently shown that breakfast eaters tend to weigh less than breakfast skippers.  This could be because skipping breakfast makes you hungrier and more likely to overeat later in the day.
  • Listen to your body.  Try to check in with your hunger.  If you are hungry eat.  If not, wait until you start to feel some hunger.  Don’t wait until you are starving to start eating, as you will be more likely to reach for high sugar/more processed foods and to over eat.  Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed.
  • Plan ahead.  Think about what you want to make for your meals during the week and make sure you have the food on hand.  I know that if I leave work hungry and with no dinner plan I’m not going to have the patience to go to the store and cook something healthy. I’m doing take out.  Same with snacks. Bring your own snacks to work so that you don’t have to rely on the office donuts for a mid afternoon pick me up.
  • Drink up.  Water that is.  Thirst is often mistaken for hunger.  Make sure you are meeting your fluid needs.  Not sure if you are? Hint: your urine should be a very pale yellow.
  • Know when to use sports nutrition products.  Sports drinks, energy gels, and protein shakes are all great when used appropriately.  But if you are drinking Gatorade throughout the day or eating gels on 45 minute runs you are taking in more sugar and calories than you need to be.
  • Be safe.  DO NOT use diet pills, laxatives, diuretics, or any other weight loss aid. Period.
  • Monitor your body fat too, not just weight.  Your body fat percentage tells you a lot more than a number on the scale. Healthy ranges are:
Males Females Rating
5-10 8-15 Athletic
11-14 16-23 Good
15-20 24-30 Acceptable
21-24 31-36 Overweight
>24 >37 Obese

(from Sport Nutrition, 2nd Edition, by Asker Jeukendrup, PhD, and Michael Gleeson, PhD, on the Human Kinetics publishing website)

  • Don’t weigh yourself more than once a day.  Don’t even weigh every day if you can help it. Your weight will fluctuate naturally from day to day and seeing those fluctuations may just psych you out. It’s more important to look at overall trends, taken into consideration with body fat percentage, than daily numbers.
  • Be realistic. Set small and slow weight loss goals.  If you lose too much weight or lose it too quickly you will sacrifice your performance. You shouldn’t lose more than 1-2 pounds/week.  You might not lose any weight one week, and that’s okay too-it doesn’t mean you need to lose more the next.
  • Monitor your sports performance as you lose.  You may not need to lose as much as you think to hit those time goals.  You may also need to accept that your body may be built a certain way, and to change that may involve extreme deprivation or excessive exercise.  If you find that you have to cut your intake to the point of starving to drop weight your body is telling you something. Listen to it.
  • Train right.  As I mentioned above, to some extent your body will adapt and change naturally in response to your training. Be patient with this process.  Try to focus more on your training then your weight.
  • Don’t try to lose weight during the middle of your racing season.  Your performance will likely suffer if you do so.  The off season and pre-season are actually the best time to tackle weight loss goals.