Category Archives: Food

A Gluten Free Diet Is Actually Really Simple

abundance agriculture bananas batch

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You cannot possibly eat gluten without eating something that is processed, period. Every food that contains gluten had to be manufactured from gluten-grains and other ingredients into its final form.

I always tell people that it’s actually very simple to eat a gluten-free diet… if you only eat meat, fruit, vegetables and legumes.

You could even eat some grains, such as rice. While processed, rice in its purest possible form can’t possibly contain any gluten.

The only chance you have of accidentally eating gluten is if you eat anything processed.

This unfortunately includes most restauarant food. Most of it is made from processed ingredients, and you don’t have control over its preparation. Obviously, following the above advice isn’t so easy if you go to a restaurant. You have to make adjustments and do some planning.

But if preparing food at home, and you know how to cook, you don’t have much of an excuse.

Even price is not a concern: Processed food is more expensive per pound, per calorie, than whole food from the produce/meat aisles in their purest available form.

If you need to follow a gluten-free diet, and you’re struggling to maintain it, you may find adherence a lot easier if you go clean and stick to meat, fruit, vegetables, and legumes.

(And of course if you’re vegan, you won’t eat meat. But the other three categories should cover your nutrition needs well. If vegan, I would make sure to include rice.)

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Two simple reasons you’re not losing fat

Even after shedding 30 pounds over the years… I used to beat my head into the proverbial wall at times trying to figure out why I couldn’t lose weight, why it seemed like I was gaining weight.

Now, when the scale does tip one way or the other, most of the time I know exactly why weight peels off, why I suddenly gained a few pounds, why the scale’s not moving.

It certainly helps that nowadays I focus more on fueling and refueling workouts and recovery, and it’s not as important how much weight I do or don’t lose. My weight for now is okay, even if it could be better, and as long as I don’t put on a bunch for good I’m not as concerned about it as I am about maintaining my training and health.

Back to the point: When the scale tips, when pounds go off, when they peel off, I have a pretty good idea of why. It often comes down to two important factors aside from mere calories consumed vs calories burned.

If you’re trying to lose fat, and you find (despite your calorie counts making sense) the weight is not coming off or that you’re actually gaining weight, it may come down to two likely culprits.

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Eating a good diet at destination marathons

With Vancouver I was fortunate that the coastal city had a wealth of sushi options. Sushi rolls were an almost perfect combination of carbohydrates (from the rice) and protein (from the fish, seaweed and soy sauce). Sure, they also had markets with lots of produce, which also helped.

But produce is easy to get in most locales. Rich healthy whole food carb and protein sources… not as much.

When I ran the Chicago Marathon last October, this was easy because it was only a few miles down the street from where I lived. I could cook and eat as typically desired right up to and after the race.

But what if I run a marathon in a more remote locale, where there’s not a lot of stores and restaurants? Or even if the race is in a major market, what if pretty much every restaurant available served processed and otherwise unhealthy food that wasn’t going to help me stay ready to run?

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If you eat eggs, get yourself an egg cooker

 

I eat eggs all the time, and when I make them at home I almost always poach them using a Copper Chef egg cooker I bought at Target for about $20.

The key here is the egg cooker makes preparing a couple eggs super easy and quick. Conventionally, you have to oil up a pan, watch the cooking eggs over flame or a timer, and then dispose of the oil and clean the pan afterward. If you boil eggs, you have to boil water, still watch the time, and then deal with removing the shell while eating.

With an egg cooker, you merely grease the poaching tray by hand (I use olive oil), fill the boil tray with the right amount of water, set the eggs and wait for it to go off. The water evaporates, and the only cleanup is to quickly scrub out the egg tray after use. Cooking two eggs takes perhaps 10 minutes.

This saves time and effort on busy days, if you eat eggs. Consider getting an egg cooker.

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The Endurance Diet, and using it to plan a sustainable training diet

EnduranceMatt Fitzgerald’s book The Endurance Diet is probably the best book on basic nutrition for endurance athletes.

Though Matt has written other books on fueling races and workouts, and maintaining an ideal weight for running, his field research of elite athletes around the world finally put together all the pieces of his knowledge into a system to help you assemble a sustainable, repeatable training diet that will effectively fuel your workout while maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle.

The book goes into more useful detail on what these are about, but Fitzgerald says all elite athletes eat successfully around key core habits: To eat a healthy variety of foods, provided they are high quality, to eat a lot of carbs, get enough to eat, and to eat “individually”, aka eat the diet that works for you rather than eat someone else’s prescribed diet.

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Losing Fat Without Losing Sleep

An irony of New Year’s Resolutions driving people to diet and hit the gym in January is that winter is probably not the best time to try and burn fat in colder climates.

You have a more difficult time sleeping when hungry, especially if it’s cool or cold. Your body will kick into a sort of overdrive to burn body fat, which revs your circulation up enough to keep you in a state too awake to get to sleep. In fact, if you have issues getting to sleep, you may want to make sure you’re better fed shortly before bed.

But most of you want to lose weight and this is the time to do it because blah blah bathing suit season etc. You don’t want to punt the golden opportunity, and you certainly don’t want to gain weight during the winter when you want or need to lose fat in the long run. Fair enough.

There’s actually a middle ground, and it works especially well if you prefer to train later in the day. The key is intermittent fasting, i.e. not eating for most of the day, then eating all of your food in a limited time window like 6-8 hours.

Now, a myth with intermittent fasting is that it causes you to lose weight in itself. That isn’t necessarily true. You could still overeat for the day in the 6-8 hours you can eat. It’s very easy to pound a frozen pizza, and then a hamburger or something 4-6 hours later, let alone snack on anything in-between, and end up over the line. Even with 16-18 hours of not eating, you could still end up storing extra fat overall.

Given that, it’s still entirely possible to diet effectively and lose weight, while still going to bed each night feeling satiated after a ridiculously sized meal.

The key is to flip the conventional “breakfast like a king, dinner like a pauper” wisdom on its head. This is actually for most a counter-productive way of eating that has been sustained largely out of forced cultural habit. It makes sense to many people (even alleged experts) because that’s always how they’ve eaten.

Basically, even if your last meal of the day isn’t your largest, you want your last meal to be a large meal, one where by the time you go to bed you’re not in any way hungry. You may even want to top it off with a hearty snack right before bed.

Also, as this infers, you probably don’t want to start your limited feeding window at dawn and then eat your last meal around noon or 1pm, going to bed several hours after that meal. You will almost certainly be hungry at bedtime.

You will want to follow a more conventional intermittent fasting window, where you skip breakfast, eat your first meal at lunch, and then eat regularly until before bed. This allows you to fill your stomach close to full before bed and avoid insomnia-producing hunger.

Now, that doesn’t mean your first meal of the day should be the smallest. You can break your intermittent fast at lunch with a large meal as well. Just make sure any meal or snack you eat between lunch and dinner is not too large.

You probably do want to make sure you eat something a few hours after lunch to avoid any hormonal crashes or temptation to binge-eat any garbage at dinner… unless you have a specific reason you’d want to do so (like a special family dinner). Just make sure it’s around the 400-600 calorie range, bigger than a little snack but not quite a full meal.

Just because you can still gain weight intermittent fasting doesn’t mean your body isn’t burning fat during the fasting period. Moderating your diet just makes sure you aren’t piling on more fat than you burn. The fasting period does its job burning fat without food in your stomach. This process revs up your circulation, which you want during the day when you’re awake but mostly sedentary.

By back loading your food intake later in the day, your body can utilize this nutrition for post-workout and overnight recovery, and allow you to relax and sleep.

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Vital foods for serious vegan athletes

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For a variety of lifestyle and educated reasons I won’t get into, I personally consume meat and other animal products and don’t foreseeably intend to stop. And conversely I have no problem with people choosing to eat vegan, or otherwise vegetarian.

Running is probably one of the easiest forms of fitness to maintain on a vegan diet. Weightlifters and other power-based athletes face substantially greater challenges going vegan. But runners don’t have their strength and power needs. Plus, vegan diets are very carbohydrate rich, which plays right into the needs of endurance athletes.

Still, you need to be wary of your muscles’ and organs’ protein and other nutrient needs. A lot of vegan-common health problems manifest multifold in runners once those runners kick up the volume and intensity. Just because you don’t lift heavy weights doesn’t mean your muscle density isn’t important to your life, let alone your running.

The RDA and other listed mainstream protein requirements are frankly far too low. There’s a variety of political and economic reasons for that, none of which are particularly good for your health. You need more protein than that to live and age well, and most vegans need far more protein than they’re eating.

I set the minimum bar at 0.75 grams per pound of body weight. And if you look at most plant and grain based food, you’ll find reaching that bar is rather difficult.

There are certain foods that are very important to the health of serious vegan athletes.

Beans and legumes. These plant based foods provide the most protein, and a variety of other nutrients. Whether or not you’re a believer in combining proteins (e.g. eating beans with rice), beans in themselves contain a ton of potassium and protein. Just make sure to soak them properly to minimize digestive gas.

Some people swear by lentils, but not everyone digests them well. I’ve always had trouble digesting lentils. Barring that, they too are a great protein source.

Avocados, potatoes and bananas, aka the potassium monsters. Most people vegan or not don’t get enough potassium. The benchmark is 3000-4500 mg per day, depending on who you talk to, and the typical processed food rich Western diet won’t get you close.

Meat it turns out has a good share of potassium, but surprisingly many plant-based foods don’t provide much more than a similar serving of meat.

Avocados and bananas are convenient, useful potassium bombs. One avocado provides 800-1000 mg. Each banana gives you about 400 mg. But potatoes are the motherlode. A small potato can give you 600-700 mg. Cut up and eat three of them, and that’s around 2000 mg right there.

It’s little wonder so many people swear by potatoes. Famous magician Penn Jillette lost over 100 lbs subsisting largely on potatoes, which provided virtually all the nutrients his shrinking body needed. They are a calorie-dense wonder starch.

People love sweet potatoes and they’re totally fine, but they’re a bit harder to find. Conventional potatoes do the trick just fine.

If you can eat gluten, bagels. Most breads are not worth anyone’s time. But bagels are as dense and protein-rich a form of bread as you will find.

Yes, obviously for vegans there is concern that some bagels are made with egg or honey products, which are of course not vegan. If you want to try bagels and aren’t acutely aware of the source, read your labels and make sure no animal products are involved. To my knowledge, most bagels should be clear on that front. But definitely double check.

Provided they work for you… compact and calorie rich, one or two bagels on their own will provide enough energy for your longest workouts… let alone if you tack on any toppings (I’m guessing as vegans that cream cheese or butter isn’t among them). I’m a sucker for crunchy peanut butter and fruit preserves (… if there’s no corn syrup or other additives! Whole Foods has varieties of both that are free of most typical additives, that are worth the extra cost).

Bonus: Ugali. The great Kenyan runners live on two food staples. One is not vegan: Milk infused tea. They drink it after every run. The other, however, is very vegan. Ugali is nothing more than finely ground flour (often cornmeal) and water mixed over boiling heat to create a thick mashed-potato-like porridge. The Kenyans eat a ton of ugali. And their runners crush almost every other elite distance runner in the world at major long distance events.

Ugali is cooked like the love child of rice and oatmeal. You add 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of flour. You boil it, mash out any lumps as it cooks, and then thicken or thin it using more water or flour as desired before serving. Cooking it takes about 10-15 minutes. The nutritional profile is similar to rice, except with a little bit more potassium.

If you train a lot, this is one of the quickest deliveries of large quantities of glycogen-producing carbohydrate you can ingest. This is a great dish to eat before or after tough training days. The Kenyans are not kidding.

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Yeah, I’m not vegan, and I’m in no hurry to adopt the lifestyle.

Still, it can be done without sentencing to death your muscle tone and (for men) your testosterone levels. There are foods that will allow you to take full advantage of your training. Eat them.

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