Why I’m Marinating My Meats

One of the many qualms with nutrition that I have wrote about on here before is the feeling that no matter how hard you try to eat healthfully it’s never good enough.  Sometimes it seems that no matter what you are doing, there is another step to be taken towards “perfect” health.  For instance, maybe you decide instead of going out and getting fried chicken, you’ll bake some at home yourself.  Good move towards better health! Now let’s say you choose the chicken breast labeled “natural” at the grocery store and you feel pretty good about that too. But is it organic?  Nope.  Well, is it locally raised? Nope.  Opps, could’ve done better! And did you know that when you cook that chicken, you could be creating harmful carcinogens? See what I mean?!  What started as a great step toward eating more healthfully (baked chicken instead of fried) is now not good enough.  Taken too far, an unhealthy obsession with eating healthfully is unofficially called “orthorexia”, and I see it all time working with eating disorders.

It is my personal belief that the ever changing face of nutrition, along with this “never good enough” or “I should eat more healthfully” mentality sets us up for failure when it comes to meeting our nutrition goals and feeling good about it.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed and develop a “why bother?” attitude, which is unfortunate because nutrition is important.  But it is hard to navigate the ever-changing “facts” about what optimal nutrition really looks like, and to determine what’s important enough to actually implement and what not to worry too much about.  We all draw the “ah screw it” line in different places, which is totally fine.  Life is too short to worry too much about the quest for perfect nutrition (see that blog), so we each have to determine individually how much we want to pay attention to our health and nutrition.  So is buying chicken at the store instead of getting fried restaurant chicken enough? Well, generally I’d say yes, as small steps are better than no steps, but it also depends on who you are and what your health goals are.  For the average American choosing to bake at home instead of going out to eat and ordering a fried chicken is a positive step toward better nutrition.  However, if you already do that consistently maybe you are ready to take the next step, such as marinating your meats.  That is where I find myself today.

So back to the carcinogen topic:  Carcinogens are compounds that can cause cancer.  There is data that says that marinating your meats before cooking can cut down on the level of carcinogens, particularly heterocyclic amines (HAs or HCAs), created during the cooking process (particularly in grilling and frying, but to a lesser extent in baking as well).  Researchers aren’t entirely sure why the marinades work, but the theory is that the marinade creates a barrier on the meat’s surface which prevents water-soluble molecules from moving to the surface where they would be turned into HCAs by the high temperature, reducing the HCAs created by as much as 99% in some cases.

This is one nutrition philosophy that I do feel is worthy of implementing.  Why? Well firstly because cancer scares the crap out of me, so if I can do something simple to reduce my risk I’m all for that. Second, marinating meats is pretty easy. It won’t cost a lot of money or take a lot of time.  All marinades help reduce HCAs.  Lastly, marinating meats is delicious!  Whether or not marinating meats falls below your “screw it” line or not is up to you, but if not below are some of the marinades I’ve used.  Feel free to recommend others, I’ve got a lot of marinating to do!

Salmon marinated in white wine and lemon, with an avocado/mango salsa

Salmon marinated in white wine and lemon, with an avocado/mango salsa

 

For steak/red meat: soy sauce and/or Worcestershire sauce; beer (yup, beer); red wine and rosemary

For chicken: orange juice and bbq sauce; apricot preserves; rosemary and olive oil

For salmon: honey with ginger and lime; white wine with lemon; soy sauce (w/ honey)

 

 

Super Foods: Super Healthy or Super Silly?

One of the first books I did a report on during my undergraduate nutrition program was “Super Foods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life” by Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews.  I think I liked the book at the time, but I honestly don’t remember what I said in the report, and unfortunately it’s on a floppy disk somewhere so I can’t access it anymore (yes, college was that long ago for me!).  The 14 “super foods” were beans, blueberries, broccoli, oats, oranges, pumpkin, salmon, soy, spinach, tea (green or black), tomatoes, turkey, walnuts, and yogurt.  You may be surprised by some of those, but bear in mind the book was written in 2004.  Since then many other foods have been labeled super foods. Remember Acai?  It got booted by Chia.  And these days you hear more about kale than spinach.  The ever changing list of super foods is, to me, proof that there really are no magical super foods.  Sure kale is good for you.  Spinach is good for you too. I’d say the most “super” one is the one you like the most, because if you enjoy what you are eating you’ll be more likely to keep it in your diet long term, and thus reap the health benefits.  Choking down a vegetable (or whatever the health food du jour is) that you find disgusting is not the best path to true health.  That’s why it is unlikely that I will never force myself to eat a mushroom (sorry mom).  Maybe I’ll miss out on a few nutrients, but I’m pretty sure I can get them in less vile forms.  That’s the thing about super foods-maybe they have more of a particular nutrient than other foods, but they aren’t they only food with that nutrient.  And by focusing too much on incorporating one holy grail of foods, you’ll likely end up leaving out many others or possibly even exceeding your energy needs by eating too much of the super food.  So let’s all stop worrying about incorporating a few key “super” foods.  What shall we focus on then?  Glad you asked. Below is my top list of nutrition rules for dummies (although not really dummies, it’s for everyone!)

vegetables

Nutrition For Dummies:

  • Choose from a wide variety of foods. Different foods= different nutrients. Try not to eliminate any food group , unless you have a legitimate allergy or sensitivity to it.
  • Bright colors = lots of nutrients and antioxidants.  This is assuming that the bright colors are natural, like in fruits and vegetables, and not the result of added food dyes.
  • Choose foods that don’t come in a package more often than not.  Less processed foods tend to have more nutrients, so make sure the base of your diet is from whole foods.  The closer a food is to its natural form, the better.  The less ingredients, then better.
  • Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you are satisfied (not stuffed!).
  • Mind your portions. Don’t measure your food but just be aware of serving sizes.  Portions at restaurants these days are pretty out of control.  For example, a standard serving of meat is 3 oz, which is the size of the palm of your hand.
  • Hydrate.  Your body is mostly water so be sure to keep it supplied! Generally, aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces per day.
  • Balance and moderation.  Yup, I said it again.  Allow yourself moderate portions of less than healthy foods you enjoy.  Denial often leads to over eating down the road.

 

High Altitude Nutrition

Here’s a re-post from my old blog site about sports nutrition at altitude, a topic I am going to become quite familiar with this summer!  I’ve found my sports nutrition textbooks to be pretty devoid of this subject, but the critical piece seems to be hydration since you need more water at altitude.   Here’s what I had to say about it a couple of years ago:

 

High Altitude Nutrition100_1398

I haven’t been blogging much lately. A good part of that reason is because I’ve been spending much of my free time in the mountains hiking 14ers, which brings me to the topic of high altitude nutrition. If you’ve hiked a 14er, you know that they are no walk in the park. Steep slopes, altitude, temperature extremes, and rough terrain combine to make these mountains day long (worthwhile) adventures. Being in the great outdoors all day means planning ahead for proper nutrition. Although it’s easy to forget to eat when you are pushing for the summit, it’s of utmost importance if you hope to get back to your car feeling alright. Caloric requirements are increased at altitude, even though appetite and thirst are often suppressed, leaving those hiking the Colorado 14ers highly susceptible to dehydration and under-fueling.
Although consuming enough calories and carbohydrates is important at altitude, fluids should be your main priority. Whether you are hiking on a hot or cold day, you lose water not just from sweat but also from increased respiration at altitude. Studies have found that hard physical work in a cold, high altitude environment resulted in 2 L of water loss per hour! Don’t rely on thirst as an indicator of when to drink as by the time you start feeling thirsty, you may already be on your way to dehydration. Instead, aim to drink 6-12 ounces of fluids every 15-20 minutes (18-48 ounces per hour).  Recommendations for training or competition at altitude are 2-4 L of water per day (about 8-16 cups).  When hiking 14ers, having a Camelback or similar hydration system makes taking small sips frequently easy. Since you will most likely be out longer than a couple of hours (which means you will need fuel), a sports drink such as Gatorade or Powerade can work well in place of or in conjunction with water to help meet fluid and carb needs. The jury is still out on whether or not consuming protein in addition to carbs while exercising is beneficial but I have on occasion put protein powder in Gatorade when hiking and swear I felt even better than when drinking the Gatorade alone (could be the placebo effect). Don’t forget to keep up the drinking once you get back to your car!
Carbohydrates are always important during any endurance activity but at altitude your body burns a greater percentage of calories from carbohydrate than it would for the same intensity activity at sea level. The general recommendation for endurance activity is to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate every hour (specifically about 0.7 grams per kilogram of body weight) but this does not take into consideration altitude so you may need up to 1.0 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per hour. These can be from any carbohydrate source-sports drinks, energy bars, trail mix, fruit, sandwiches, chips, etc . Since your appetite may be diminished, bring plenty of carbohydrate sources that may sound appealing to you in the absence of hunger. I personally always crave Pringles when I hike so I make sure to always have them on hand.
Your last consideration, especially if you sweat a lot, is electrolytes and specifically sodium. Most sports drinks and sports gels contain some but having salty foods, such as the Pringles for example, on hand is a good idea as well.
Always bring more food and water then you think you will need. You never know when something will come up that will delay your progress and result in more time spent at altitude.
Happy Trails!

Living 100 Adventure Packed (and worthwhile) Years

Ever since I read the following quote I’ve pretty much considered it my philosophy on life:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely and in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow, what a ride!”

That being said, as adventure packed as I’d like my life to be, I still want it to be a long life, which is why I’m always interested in articles about people who live to over 100 years of age.  Most of these articles say the same thing: be active, eat lots of vegetables, have a good social circle, but recently I read one that was a little different.  It was called “Odd tricks people who lived past 100 swear by”, and some of the recommendations at first did seem a little odd compared to what you usually hear for longevity and health.  Among the “tricks” were: eating bacon daily, drinking port wine, eating 2 pounds of chocolate every week, participating in extreme sports, doing what you love, drinking scotch, and, my personal favorite, do what you want and eat what you want.  But after thinking about it, none of those sounded odd to me.  Sure bacon isn’t exactly a health food, but I’ve always said “all things in moderation” because a piece or two of bacon a day is unlikely to drastically alter your health.  It’s more about the big picture (i.e.  what are you eating the rest of the day?).  I think that particular centenarian might have been on to something else that promotes longevity: enjoyment.  Allowing yourself things that you enjoy can reduce stress and make life, well, more worth living for 100 years.  So next to each seemingly odd suggestion I wrote my interpretation of what actually helped the person live so long.  I came up with: enjoyment, indulgence, being social, movement, stress management, adventure, humor and laughter, doing what you love (that one speaks for itself), fun, happiness, having a “I don’t give a F$%# attitude, and keeping your mind sharp.  Yup, those are the keys to a long life.

But, how does one interpret the plethora of  nutrition studies about what is “good” for us to eat and also apply the quirky habits of those who have lived to over 100? Nutrition authorities (self included sometimes) are always saying “eat this, don’t eat this, eating this will increase your risk of this, eating this will decrease your risk of this” etc etc.  However, studies rarely “prove” anything.  They usually just show a link.  So while eating bacon daily might increase your risk of developing heart disease, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it. So how do you decide what to do?

Here is what I recommend:

  • Health is important, but so is enjoyment.  While I’d still recommend to base your diet on productive foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, I believe it’s okay to include not so healthy foods that you enjoy in moderation.  And moderation may even be on a daily basis.  A life of deprivation is, in my humble opinion, not worth living for 100 years. The occasional indulgence (chocolate and port anyone?) is okay.  I myself just might’ve had ice cream for dinner not that long ago.
  • Be active, but know when to slow down.  A common thread in this article (and all I’ve seen on living to 100) was being active on a daily basis, but it wasn’t logging long hours at the gym or 80+ mile weeks.  It was gardening, dancing, biking around town.  It doesn’t have to be hard core, just get out there and move your body. Find an activity you actually enjoy doing, because you’ll be more likely to stick with it and thus reap the long term health benefits. But also know how to listen to your body and give it rest when needed.
  • Have an awesome social circle.  Whether it be friends or family it’s important to surround yourself with people you enjoy.  Few who lived to 100 did it alone.

To end, I’ll leave you with another of my favorite quotes that fits the topic:

“Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.” – Edward Abbey

Post Race Recovery

When I turned 30 seven months ago, I declared this year “The Year of Jen”.   I didn’t have a firm idea of what that meant at the time, but basically I wanted to have a year of great adventures and epicness(yes I know that’s not a real word).  Although The Year of Jen is over halfway done, the Summer of Jen has just begun!  While The Year of Jen has unfortunately not been entirely epic (I did do my first destination race, the Tinkerbell Half Marathon in Disneyland, but I haven’t taken any international trips and I still don’t own a puppy), The Summer of Jen promises to be interesting to say the least as it features me subjecting myself to 2 hardcore races: the Mt Evans Ascent and the Pikes Peak Ascent.  I also have a couple of other fun, less intimidating, races on the calendar.  First up: the Greenland Trail Race 8 miler this weekend.  Which brings me to the topic of post race recovery.  Since I have more than usual on my racing calendar this summer it will be important that I properly recover from all of my races and training runs.  This means good post exercise nutrition, proper stretching (something I’m not always good about) and rest days (but not too many).

Here is my plan for the first race of the season(note: this is based on science as well as personal experience).

Post race nutrition recommendations

-Within 30 minutes of finishing consume:

  • Carbs (1-1.5grams/kg body weight)
  •  Protein (10-20 grams)
  • Fluids(16-24 fl oz for every pound lost)
  • Electrolytes, particularly sodium (1 pound of sweat loss contains about 100 mg Potassium and 400-700 mg Sodium depending on if you are a salty sweater-which I think I am)

 

*My real world plan: since this is only an 8 mile race I’ll go with the lower end of the carbohydrate recommendation, for me that will be about 62 grams of carbohydrate. Since I won’t be weighing myself pre and post race to determine exactly how much water weight I lose (and I haven’t bothered to do training runs where I calculate my sweat rate), I’m going to have to estimate.  My plan is to drink 1 packet of Generation UCAN chocolate protein shake (33 grams carb, 13 grams protein, 140 mg Potassium, 240 mg Sodium) made with 12 oz soymilk (15 grams carb, 9 grams protein, 150 mg Sodium, 450 mg Potassium) as well as 20 fl oz of G2 (12 grams carb, 75mg Potassium, 270 mg Sodium).

Grand total: 60 grams carbohydrate, 22 grams protein, 660 mg Sodium, 665 mg Potassium, and 32 oz of fluid (but I’ll probably drink another  8 or so ounces of plain water as well).  A little high on the Potassium (who knew soymilk was such a good source?!) but otherwise pretty spot on.

Post Race Recovery

-Cool down: to burn as much lactate from your legs as possible (and lessen soreness) it’s recommended to go for a short slow jog or walk after the race.  I’m not hard core enough to go for a run after a run, but I will make an effort to walk around.  Any movement will help. Definitely don’t jump straight into a car or you’ll regret it later!

-Stretching: after cooling down to help keep muscles as loose as possible. I’m not always good about stretching, but my plan is to spend at least a few minutes stretching all of the muscles in my legs, butt, and hips. I won’t have my foam roller on me, but will use that later in the day as well.

-Rest days: I once heard an exercise physiology professor say that an athlete’s rest days are actually the most important training days.  They are the time when the body really heals and recovers, allowing it to work harder in the future and get stronger.  My plan is to go for a bike ride the day after my race to keep my legs loose, take the next day completely off, then resume with an easy run the day after that.  Then back on to full on training for Evans and Pikes!

So there’s my plan. Take what you find helpful, tweak it for yourself, and wish me luck with the Summer of Jen!

Why Bother Exercising

I’m still in the process of re-posting blogs from my old site.  Here’s an old one on exercise. I’m assuming most people reading this blog are already fairly into fitness but it never hurts to have a reminder as to why exercise is good for you!

iron horse

If you read the title of this blog and thought “Great, she’s going to tell me it’s not all that important” you couldn’t be more wrong. Making regular physical activity a part of your lifestyle is probably the best thing you can do for your mental and physical health. Nutrition advice can get confusing but exercise advice is pretty straight forward: it’s good for you and most people don’t do enough.   As more and more studies on physical activity are completed more health benefits are discovered. Sadly, over half of all US adults do not get the recommended amount of exercise and our health and waistlines are suffering because of that.

The health benefits of exercise are numerous:

  • Decreases risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, and breast cancer
  • Decreases stress, enhances mood and reduces depression
  • Improves body image
  • Helps maintain bone and joint health
  • Helps maintain or reach a healthy weight
  • Improved heart health, cardiovascular fitness, and muscle strength
  • Better sex drive!
  • And….it can be fun! Seriously, one of the main reasons I exercise is because I truly enjoy it.  The trick is to find the type of exercise that you find fun.  For instance, I love running, cycling hiking, skiing…but put me in a group fitness class and I’ll be hating life for the next 60 minutes.  If you enjoy the exercise, you’ll be more likely to stick with it than if you force yourself to do something you hate. That’s not building a good relationship with exercise!

Just how much physical activity does it take? The guidelines are as follows:

  • For general health: 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity most days (or about 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity/week)
  • For weight loss: 60-90 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day

Moderate intensity activities are those that elevate your heart rate and increase breathing rate but are still easy enough that you can talk (but not sing) while doing them. Examples include brisk walking, dancing, gardening/yard work, pedaling easily on a bike, and light weight lifting.

Vigorous activities are more intense. You should be breathing hard enough that you cannot carry on a normal conversation. Examples include running, bicycling, aerobics, basketball, and heavy weight lifting.

The intensity that you exercise at will be dictated by your health and goals. Do not start out too intensely or you risk injury. If you haven’t been exercising or have health complications begin at a low/moderate intensity. If you’ve already been exercising moderately for awhile you may see improvements by taking it up to a more vigorous level. It is important to continually change up your workouts (whether intensity, time, or type of exercise) to make sure that you are constantly challenging your body and to prevent burnout.  The human body is highly adaptable and after months of nothing but the same old 30 minutes of walking a day your body will adapt and you will hit a fitness plateau.

Be sure to include a mix of aerobic/cardiovascular (walking, jogging, biking), strength/resistance (lifting, or other weight bearing activities such as push-ups and squats), and balance/flexibility(stretching, yoga) exercises.

So why bother exercising? Because you will feel better physically and mentally, and live longer and have less health complications!

Remember, exercise doesn’t have to be some boring activity that takes place in a gym. Walk, hike, bike, dance, rollerblade, swim, kickbox, ski, rockclimb, row, play a team sport,…the key is moving your body. The human body was not meant to sit at a desk all day. Try new activities until you discover one that you find enjoyable. That way you will be much more likely to keep doing it. Don’t force yourself to participate in an activity that you can’t stand, that’s not the point and you won’t be able to keep it up forever. That picture on this blog….that’s me riding in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. I found cycling, now you go and find your passion!

Eating Protein and Fighting Aging

Protein gets way less bad press than fats or carbs.  Sometimes I think it gets too much good press actually, such as the super high protein diets that are promoted for weight loss. Truth is protein is very important since it supplies the building blocks for just about every tissue in your body.  It also helps with recovery after workouts and satiation after meals, helping you to stave off hunger until the next meal or snack.  However, loading up on excess amounts (beyond what your body actually needs that is) isn’t going to help out your health or fitness.  I think people forget that excess protein can be stored as fat, just like excess carbs or dietary fat.

So why am I writing about protein? Because of a quote I recently read in SCAN’s Pulse newsletter that caught me off guard.  The comment was regarding protein intake after exercise as it relates to muscle repair and it said “this could make a meaningful difference over the course of a year, particularly for athletes over 30 years old who slowly lose muscle as a normal part of the aging process”.  Well crap.  I feel I handled my 30th birthday last year relatively well, mostly by ignoring the fact that I have entered this decade in life.  I’ve always said age is just a number anyway.  But this comment bothered me.  Whether I tell myself I have the fitness of a 22 year old or not, the reality is my body is 30 and apparently that means I’m going to start losing muscle mass.  Another joy of aging!  So I’ll do my best to fight it.  Here’s my plan and how you can too: getting enough total daily protein, incorporating optimal amounts of protein post workout, and strength training regularly.

Post Workout Protein Recs:

According to the article (and many others on the same topic), eating optimal amounts of protein shortly following a workout can help speed recovery and prevent muscle loss, since post exercise not only do the muscles need protein but they are primed and ready to utilize it.  There isn’t a lot of good data that suggests that one protein type is significantly better than another (i.e. whey, casein, soy) so pick the one you like best.  If you like it, you’ll be more likely to be consistent with consuming it.  This particular article didn’t give specific post workout recommendations, but generally it’s recommended to consume 10-20 grams of protein in the recovery window (within 30-60 minutes post workout).

Daily Protein Recs:

Another key point the article (which was based on a recent study) suggested was that the optimal amount of protein at meals for athletes is about 30 grams.  Beyond this amount there are no additional health benefits and you run the risk of storing the excess protein as fat.  Fall significantly short of this number and your muscles may not be getting as much protein as they need, which means you could lose muscle mass. The 30 grams per meal recommendation actually equates to a higher daily protein intake than what typical recommendations have called for, depending on body weight, which this study did not factor in.  According to traditional guidelines, the minimum amount of protein necessary to prevent deficiency is 0.8 grams/kg of body weight per day (0.36 grams/lb of body weight). That equals 49 grams for a 135 pound person.  However, that’s the minimum to prevent problems and if you are an athlete you definitely need more. The typical recommendation is for endurance athletes to consume 1.2-1.4 grams of protein/kg of body weight per day (0.54-0.64 grams/lb). So a 135 pound runner, for example, would need about 73-86 grams of protein a day, slightly less than 30 grams x 3 meals. Strength athletes need more, 1.4-1.7 grams/kg of body weight per day (0.64-.77 g/lb). Whether you go with the body weight recommendation or the 30 grams times 2 meals, these protein levels are not difficult to obtain if you are a meat eater. The key is to space your protein intake more evenly throughout the day, as it’s likely that your breakfast falls short.  An egg, for example, has 6 grams of protein while a 6 oz steak has about 42.  Vegetarians will have to work harder to make sure they meet their protein needs.  It’s okay to add a protein powder or bars as a supplement if you are not getting enough protein from food alone but aim to meet your needs from food first, supplements second.  Some good sources of protein are lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs, soy, dairy, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and beans.

Strength Training Recs

Well, the goal is 2-3 times per week.  I have to admit that I have a hard time with that.  There are just so many things I’d rather do besides strength training, particularly because I’d rather be outside than at a gym.  However, I also recently read in Matt Fitzgerald’s book “Racing Weight” that runners should do strength training 2-3 times per week, so now that 2 people have said it I’m going to try….to do 2 times/week.  According to Fitzgerald, body weight exercises are okay, so the second time won’t even be at the gym. It will be post run body weight stuff such as lunges, push-ups and core work.  Hey, it’s still an improvement from where I’m at.

So there it is, my plan to fight the aging process. Obviously it’s more complicated than this, but it’s a start. Wish me luck!

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To Beet, or not to Beet… that is the Question

You may have heard about the potential link between nitrate intake, specifically from beets, and improved sports performance. It goes like this: nitrate (NO3) is converted to nitrite (NO2) which is then converted to nitric oxide (NO) in the body, and nitric oxide is a powerful vasodilator (meaning your blood vessels dilate and blood can flow more freely, and quickly, to working muscles). Various studies on beets and beetroot juice have found performance benefits, including improved efficiency in oxygen usage, improved time trial times, improved power output, and prolonged time to exhaustion. What does this mean? Basically that beets (or beetroot juice which was used in most of the studies) may help you run, ride or climb harder, faster, and longer. It may also be of help at altitude, where oxygen availability is reduced. There are some studies that haven’t found any benefit, but overall the results look good. Another positive benefit of beets is that they can help lower blood pressure, so if you’re on blood pressure medication or already have very low blood pressure proceed with caution.

You may also have heard of potential concerns about nitrites, mostly found in processed meats in the form of sodium nitrite, which have been associated with an increased risk of some cancers and a condition called “methemoglobinemia”. These associations are still in question, however, but it’s best to limit intake of processed meats anyway as they tend to be high in saturated fat and focus on beets and beetroot juice if you want to increase your nitrate intake.

Bottom Line– Beets can be a great addition to your diet. Besides the potential sports performance benefits, beats are jam packed with nutrients and low in calories. In addition to beets, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and arugula are also good sources of nitrate. If you want to incorporate beets into your diet but hate the taste, try the refreshing smoothie recipe below, or vary it to your taste preferences. You can also try roasting beets in olive oil and tossing them in a salad or blending them up and adding them to a pasta sauce.
beets

Berry Beet Smoothie

1 cup frozen beets, cubed

1 cup spinach (optional for extra nutrients)

1 cup frozen mixed berries

½ – 1 cup 100% apple juice or other 100% real fruit juice (a sweet fruit juice such as apple will help mask the beet flavor)

1 scoop protein powder (optional but recommended after an intense workout for muscle repair)

Splash of honey or agave to taste (optional)

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Enjoy.

The Joy of Pumpkins

 pumpkinIt isn’t very difficult to get me to try just about any pumpkin themed food or drink.  In fact, from the months of September to November I’m pretty much obsessed with all things pumpkin!  Fall is coming to an end, but it’s not too late to enjoy this favorite fall food. Not only is pumpkin festive and delicious, but it’s a great source of multiple nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and beta-carotene, which is responsible for the bright orange color.  Beta-carotene is a carotenoid, a type of phytonutrient (i.e. a nonvitamin, nonmineral compound in food that provides health benefits) which acts as an antioxidant in the body.  Carotenoids are believed to promote health and fight disease, and have been linked to a decreased risk of some types of cancers.  Not a pumpkin fan?  Butternut squash, acorn squash, and sweet potatoes are also a good source of these nutrients.  Pumpkin seeds are also nutritious, packed with minerals such as magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc, so don’t throw them away when carving pumpkins!  Instead, try roasting the seeds at 350°F for 20 minutes and lightly salt.  They can be eaten plain, tossed on top of a salad or for a unique snack try mixing them with other assorted nuts, dried fruit, and/or dark chocolate bits to create your own trail mix.  You don’t have to cook your own pumpkin to get the health benefits either.  Canned pumpkin puree (not to be confused with pumpkin pie mix which has added sugar) is just as healthy and easy to incorporate into baked goods, soups, and oatmeal.  Try the recipe below for a healthy and hearty breakfast or snack.

 

Pumpkin Oatmeal

1 cup cooked oatmeal

½ cup milk (I prefer vanilla soy for a little sweetness but dairy, almond, or coconut will all work fine)

½ cup canned pumpkin

Dash of cinnamon and brown sugar (to taste)

Cook the oatmeal according to package directions. Be sure not to make it too watery since you’ll be adding milk to it. Add cooked oatmeal and all other ingredients to a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes. Enjoy.

 

Bonus recipe! It doesn’t technically have pumpkin in it but is still great on cool fall or winter days.

Fall Chili

1 package (about 1.5 pounds) lean ground turkey

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 large sweet potato, cubed

2 cups chicken broth

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

Pre-cook sweet potato in the microwave for 3-5 minutes, peel, then cube. Sauté the onion in a pan with 1 TBSP olive 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 with crushed sweet potato chips if desired.

Alcohol and Exercise

I have to admit there is something quite refreshing about a cold beer after a hard mountain bike ride or a long day of hiking. This is particularly true if you are an athlete or outdoor enthusiast in Colorado, where new microbreweries seem to be popping up every week. Every now and then you’ll even hear about studies that find health benefits with moderate drinking and free beers are often included at post race festivities. But do you ever wonder if that post workout brew is hindering your sports performance? While a beer (which is equivalent to a 5 oz glass of wine or 1 oz of hard alcohol) here and there won’t hurt your workouts, if you’re doing it regularly and excessively, there are some potential negative effects.

Here are some things to consider:

Alcohol provides empty calories
At 7 calories per gram of alcohol it’s easy for the calories from alcoholic beverages to add up. A typical beer has anywhere from 100-150 calories per 12 oz, while some mixed drinks (sorry margarita lovers) can clock in close to 500 calories! These are empty calories too, as they provide virtually no nutrients.

Alcohol is a diuretic
It’s no coincidence that you have to use the bathroom more when imbibing. Alcohol is a strong diuretic, meaning your body loses water. Dehydration will definitely affect your sports performance so be sure to drink water when drinking alcohol to help cut your losses.

Alcohol suppresses fat use as a fuel during exercise
If you’re an endurance athlete you need to be able to use fat efficiently, so not being able to tap into those stores effectively could affect performance.

Alcohol disrupts your sleep
Sleep is an important part of an athlete’s training as a lot of muscle repair occurs during this time. Most athletes need more sleep than the average person, and alcohol can interrupt your deep sleep cycles making recovery more difficult.

Alcohol increases the release of cortisol and decreases release of testosterone
This may affect protein synthesis and muscle repair.

Bottom Line– I’m a big believer in balance and moderation. Sure a beer isn’t the most effective post workout beverage, but life is short so if you like beer it’s okay to enjoy in moderation. So if you just finished a hard race on a hot day, and there is a free beer coupon hanging from your race bib(and your favorite beer just happens to be on tap), I say go for it! Just make sure to drink plenty of water and properly refuel (read: eat carbs and protein) before indulging. Besides potential negative effects on performance, it goes without saying that drinking the night before a hard workout or during intense training cycles is going to make the workouts feel awful and could potentially affect your pereformance. Don’t forget the general alcohol consumption recommendations- no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.