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

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.

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.

Coconut Water is Not a Real Snack

 I recently read a line in a famous fashion magazine from a certain waif-like starlet who claimed “I love to snack”. As a professional in the eating disorder field, this was so refreshing to hear! Except that she followed this comment by saying that she “is constantly reaching for coconut water and fruit”. * Sigh* Seriously? Coconut water and fruit?! That’s not a real snack!

It’s not that I have anything against coconut water. I actually find it a quite refreshing way to rehydrate after some of my longer runs. And obviously fruit has health benefits. It’s the message the statement sends that concerns me. I worry that women and girls who struggle with their body image will think that if they just have coconut water and fruit all day they will look like her, when in reality they will miss out on the real nutrition their bodies need, and potentially set themselves up for problems with disordered eating.

A small (11 oz) container of coconut juice has about 60 calories in it, roughly the same as a small piece of fruit. That’s not nearly as much as the average person needs for a snack and it’s certainly not going to keep anyone satisfied until the next meal or snack. No wonder she is “constantly” reaching for that snack! I for one would be hungry again in less than 5 minutes if that’s all I ate. Even for those trying to lose weight healthfully I wouldn’t recommend a 60 calorie snack. That being said, I am a fan of having snacks in between meals, but it’s important to snack effectively.

Here is what I recommend for snacks:

• Space meals and snacks out as evenly as possible throughout the day, typically every 2-4 hours. Don’t wait until you are starving for your next meal or snack, but don’t feel you have to eat a snack 2 hours after a meal if you are still full. Listen to your hunger and fullness cues.

• Be sure to include a source of protein at all snacks. This will help keep blood sugars and energy levels steady until your next meal or snack. It will also help ensure that you meet your protein needs for the day.

• Try to include fruits and veggies whenever possible. It’s not easy to get the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables in every day so if you rely solely on meals, you’re not gonna hit the quota. Try carrots or other cut up veggies with hummus, an apple or banana with peanut or almond butter, greek yogurt with fruit, or blend a smoothie with the milk of your choice (dairy, soy, almond), some frozen berries and a handful of spinach or kale. Add protein powder to make it a little more satisfying. Oh, and by the way, you are never too old for “ants on a log”- celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins.

• Plan ahead. If know you’ll be on the go, throw a protein bar or a bag of mixed nuts into your purse or bag so that you don’t have to rely of fast food or a vending machine.

Happy (and healthy) Snacking!

Holiday Eating

The holidays can be a stressful time, especially for those trying to lose weight and for those struggling with an eating disorder. Food and alcohol abounds and social engagements are almost constant, making it hard to stick to a meal plan or workout routine. The holidays can be a joyous time, however, with proper planning and perspective.

 

Here are my tips for successful holiday eating:

• Don’t skip meals to stockpile calories for later. This strategy almost always backfires as you will likely get so hungry that you end up eating more than planned. Eat regular meals as scheduled and have a small healthy snack before the event so that you don’t arrive ravenous.

• Scan the buffet. Check out the options and prioritize what you really want to try as opposed to going through the line and taking some of everything.

• Water frequently, especially if you are drinking. Try to have 1 glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you drink. Even if not imbibing, keeping a glass of water in your hand can prevent mindless munching.

• Enlist a buddy with similar goals. If you struggle with an eating disorder and may be tempted not to eat, bring a supportive friend who will help you stay on track. If you’re trying to lose weight and might be tempted to overeat, an understanding friend can help keep you in check.

• Have a game plan. As with regular meal planning, having a plan is important with holiday eating. The plan can be general if you’re not sure what foods will be available (i.e. “I’ll leave space for one dessert”) or specific if you do know (i.e. “I’ll indulge in one piece of chocolate cake”).

• Set boundaries. Don’t feel that you have to attend every engagement you are invited to. Know when to say no. Also plan to set boundaries if you know you may encounter pushy coworkers or family members. Some people won’t know how to react if you say you are watching your weight or struggling with an eating disorder, so only say as much as you feel comfortable with. Sometimes people will react better if you emphasize health and not diets or weight. Practice setting your boundaries if you need to so you are not peer pressured when put on the spot.

• As always, moderation is key. Don’t deny yourself the treats you really want as this often backfires and makes you want it more (and eat more of it when you finally do give in). Enjoy the foods you really want, but do so in moderation.

• Change your attitude. Sure, it seems like the holidays are about food, but really they should be about giving thanks and celebrating relationships. Shift your focus from the food and drinks to the family and friends. Sometimes just changing your attitude is helpful with meeting your nutrition goals!

• Most importantly, if you do overeat, don’t stress. Shaming yourself will only make you feel worse and may lead to emotional or stress eating. Remember, one meal will not make or break you or your health. Do your best to get back on track and don’t beat yourself up over it.

Happy Holidays!

The Goodness of Green Tea

I’ve been drinking a lot of green tea lately on account of fighting off a cold. Why do I do this every time? I’m not really sure! Does it really help or is it the placebo effect (and does that matter)? I know fluids are important when sick, and green tea can help with that, but mostly you hear about green tea as it relates to weight loss and cancer. So what’s the truth?

Legend has it that tea was discovered when some leaves blew in through an open window and landed in a pot of boiling water, or something like that. I’m not sure if the story is true, but I’m glad tea was discovered.  It’s a comforting beverage on a cold day and a refreshing one on a hot day, and it’s generally regarded as good for you. Here’s the scoop:

Health benefits– Green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (or EGCG) which is an antioxidant. It is thought to help prevent the spread of cancerous cells and possibly the development of cancer. Some studies have also found a link between green tea consumption and decreased risk of heart disease. There are some promising studies out there, and some not so promising, so it’s too soon to say for sure, but so far the results do look good.

Fat burning– Green tea gets a lot of publicity for its implications in speeding up the metabolism and potentially promoting weight loss. While studies have found a spike in metabolism after consumption, it is probably not enough for any significant weight loss. On average, drinking 3-4 cups of green tea was found to increase calorie burning by 80-179kcal/day. Although this could help augment a weight loss program, alone it’s not enough to result in any significant weight loss.  Also, if you’re adding sugar to the tea you’re pretty much negating the extra calories burned anyway.

Supplements-There are some green tea supplements out there, mostly marketed for weight loss. As always, it’s better to eat real food (and drink real drinks) than to take a supplement as there are complex interactions in whole foods that cannot be duplicated in supplements. Also, they could be dangerous. Most green tea supplements contain a fair amount of caffeine which may cause jitteriness and there have been cases of liver toxicity with green tea extract supplements. It’s also unlikely that a green tea supplement will do much for weight loss.

Bottom line-Green tea is generally regarded as safe and may provide health benefits so it’s worth incorporating into your diet (assuming you like it). Studies generally find that you need to drink 3-4 cups a day to reap the health benefits. Be careful about adding too much sugar to it since excess sugar comes with its own health concerns. Don’t expect the pounds to melt off though. Stick to healthy eating and exercise if you are trying to lose weight and think of green tea as a bonus, not a solution.