Tag Archives: Food

My cooking principles

This past weekend I experimented with an old childhood staple: Hamburger Helper. I cooked the Cheeseburger Macaroni blend, using a pound of ground beef and whole milk. I housed the whole thing and eating it felt equal parts good and disgusting. It was a great way to get a bunch of beef in me quickly, but I don’t think I’m going out of my way to do that again.

Part of that is I don’t eat as much processed food as I used to, let alone not nearly as much as most people. So my system doesn’t agree with a lot of it as much as the next gut.

On average I eat clean from food that’s whole and/or prepared at home at least 80% of the time. While I’m not opposed to delicious processed food like pizza, hamburgers, donuts, chips, etc, I mostly cook whole food from scratch, or eat food that’s lightly processed… like a can of sardines in oil or frozen meat in a bag (i.e. the food had to be cut and then processed into the can, but it’s basically in its native form rather than blended with 75 chemicals).

I have cleaned up my diet gradually over the last few years. Even now I can say there’s room for improvement, and if I want to move into that room I’ll give it a shot. I have a set of rules that I settled into following over the last few years: Whether or not I set out to follow them on day one, I found over time that they suited me well as habits, and so they became rules to live by.

I bake and boil everything that’s cooked. No frying.

Ask my parents: I LOVE fried food. It’s a blessing I haven’t had daily ready-access to it because I’d probably be 500 pounds or dead right now from addiction to it.

I still love it. I just don’t eat it that often. I’ll have it now and then as a treat, or when I’m back in Vegas visiting my family. And, most of all, I don’t fry anything at home.

This isn’t necessarily some health-kick rule that I elected to follow. I actually have two practical reasons why I don’t fry food at home.

  1. It’s messy. Fried oil splatters everywhere during cooking, even with a splatter screen. You leave yourself a mess of oil and other debris that you have to clean up. I don’t have time or patience for that.
  2. The only oils I cook with don’t fry well, and the only oils that do are bad oils I won’t eat. I’ll get into the oils I cook with in a bit, but neither of them have high flash points, meaning they can be dangerous to fry with. A lot of conventional cooking oils are bad for your health, and go figure all of them are recommended frying oils. No, thank you.

So, to cook food the way I like, I resort mainly to two methods. I bake and boil nearly all of my cooked food. Now and then I’ll simmer food in a saucepan or skillet, or heat it in the microwave. I also use a rice cooker for rice. But generally speaking my main cooking resources are hot water and the oven (and I guess the rice cooker is a form of boiling, if you think about it).

No fancy anything. Simple food cooked, in oil when applicable, with simple seasoning.

For someone who cooks a lot, I don’t have much of a personal cookbook. If I wrote one consisting of every useful recipe I knew, it would be a pamphlet that would be too offensively brief and basic to charge money for.

I bake food in oil until it’s palatably cooked. I boil food until it’s softened up enough to palatably eat. I season food to taste with garlic salt. The only garnish I put in a baking dish is oregano and garlic powder, maybe turmeric. The fanciest I ever get is a baked cut potato dish my mother taught me a couple years ago, and if in the mood I can garnish brown rice with some pretty good side items.

But I don’t get too crazy with cooking. It probably seems boring to an otuside eye, but I like the way I cook, and it keeps the food in a healthy, easy to quantify state.

That last point is important: I log every meal I eat, and knowing how much of what ingredient I used is important. Keeping cooking simple, or eating whole fruit, vegetables and other foods, makes tracking macros and calories easy.

It’s when you make some weirdo casserole with 20 ingredients, let alone going out to eat at a restaurant, that tracking your calories becomes difficult.

I only cook with expelled pressed coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil.

Most other cooking oils present a variety of long term health concerns, while to this day extra virgin olive oil remains an antioxidant-rich recommendation.

However, most olive oils are fake olive oil, mixed with canola and vegetable oil by manufacturers and even many boutique olive producers to save money. There is a thin but sizable list of brands that have been verified as actual honest-to-goodness olive oil. I’ll join a growing bandwagon and recommend California Olive Ranch, which is a bit pricey but I’ve definitely noticed the difference. You actually notice the olives in this oil, unlike other brands.

As for coconut oil, it not only contains various healthy lipids etc, but is also a known antifungal. People even use it as a body cream! People who suspect they have candida or other similar gut issues, as well as any fungal-related infections, would do themselves good to incorporate coconut oil into their diets.

The less processed, the better. The best form is expeller pressed (not refined) virgin coconut oil, and it can be found at most organic-focused stores including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Look at the bottom of any jar and make sure there’s no distinct yellow deposit at the bottom (this indicates it’s been contaminated) before you buy.

I’ve been cooking with expelled pressed virgin coconut oil for years, and it’s my go-to cooking oil for most dishes. Sometimes I’ll even do faux-bulletproof coffee, and pour a tablespoon into a cup of black coffee. Granted, this is a come-and-go habit, and depends on what I’m doing for work at the time. But it can be used similar to how cream and butter is used.

I cook enough for one meal and eat exactly that. No leftovers.

I don’t do leftovers. Don’t get me wrong: If I end up with leftovers, I’m happy to eat them later. What I mean is I don’t cook more than I end up eating.

I know exactly how much I can and should eat for a given meal, and that’s what I prepare for dinner. I’d probably be a terrible cook for two: I know how much I can eat, but how much would the other person eat? Will I end up making too much or too little?

I do prepare big meals… and I eat the whole thing. I don’t worry about plate sizes or portioning or anything, because I plan that ahead of time. If I don’t clean the plate, something’s wrong.

Anyone can do this, though it takes trial and error (or preparing enough for leftovers!) to figure out exactly how much food you can typically expect to put down in a meal.

Dishes must take no more than one hour to prepare.

I’ve got enough other stuff I want to do (like write this post!). I don’t want to spend hours fumbling at the kitchenette over a complicated recipe or assembly of food. I also don’t want to wait forever for a meal to be ready once I’ve decided to cook a meal.

From the moment I fire up the oven until the moment I put a plate full of prepared food on the table shouldn’t take longer than 60 minutes. No recipe I’ve attempted has survived without taking less than a hour to cook. Not to stand over and physically prepare, but to go from nothing to finished product. This includes oven time.

If nothing else, once I’ve decided I need to eat a full meal I need to get to eating as quickly as reasonably possible.

  • I often eat after workouts, and you have a limited window for maximum nutrient absorption.
  • Going too long between getting hungry and finally eating does mess with me physically in a variety of ways.
  • And again, I’ve got finite time to do various things, so I want to get to eating as efficiently as possible.

Thus nothing I prepare takes more than a hour. Most of my typical meals take about 50-60 minutes to cook.

Bonus Tip: Does your stovetop get hot when you use the oven? Do you plan to boil a dish along with your baked dish? Get a head start on boiling water by filling your pot with water and sitting it on the unlit stovetop after you’ve put your other dish in the oven. The heat from the oven will conduct into the water pot, giving you a bit of a head start on warming the water before you turn the stove on to boil.

Bonus Tip #2: If you’re going to boil water, fill the pot with HOT water rather than cold water. It saves time on heating the water to a boil. I find it amusing how often I see people pour cold or even chilled water into a pot for heating or boiling, given the objective.

I’m always washing dishes.

I have two plates, one set of flatware, one bowl and one of each pan. I don’t own a dishwasher (and after decades of hand-washing dishes I’m not sure I could ever handle living with one).

You’re either going to wash dishes after cooking or wash dishes before you need to cook again.

Bonus factoid: Did you know that you’re technically supposed to replace your dishwashing sponge once a week? That probably seems excessive to almost everybody. Even now I maybe swap mine out once a month. I haven’t died yet doing so, obviously, so that’s probably okay. I don’t mind using mass produced brands but I’m partial to Twist.


So that’s my approach to cooking. I may share dishes some time down the road, but again I’m not a particularly creative cook and chances are good you’d find my recipes boring compared to what you’re used to.

However, I feel like the principles above may be worth considering and giving a shot. Some of them may help you improve your diet and allow you to more consistently cook healthy, easy to prepare meals.

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Feeling tired? It’s probably one of these things

I can’t tell you how many years in Seattle I battled lethargy despite a busy schedule full of theatre commitments I was very into. I definitely became one of those guys who pounded coffee and energy drinks in the afternoon or evening, to try and keep the motor going for that night’s action.

Needless to say, I’ve since figured out how terri-bad that approach was for my health. I still indulge in the occasional afternoon cup of coffee (decaf if it’s around), or a caffeine-free vitamin/energy drink like FitAid (which they sell at Whole Foods in Chicago).

But generally the only stimulant you’ll see me take anymore is a morning cup of coffee.


Of course, the problem of lacking energy goes well beyond what stimulation you’re giving yourself. Pretty much everyone struggles with low energy and feeling tired, and I’m still to this day no exception.

The difference between the 2011 Me, who would pound a 5 Hour Energy before a show performance to keep from falling over, and the 2018 Me… is that 2018 Me knows the reason for feeling tired comes down to one of these four things:

Lack of sleep:

The most obvious one. If you’re not sleeping well in general, let alone haven’t slept well the night before, you’re probably going to flatline at some point in the day.

A good general rule is that, for every 1 hour of sleep, you get 2 hours of not wanting to fall asleep. If you get 8 hours of sleep, you should be able to get through the other 16 hours of the day reasonably alert before heading to bed.

But… if you only get 4 hours sleep, then you may be okay until about 8 hours after you awake. For example: If you stay up until 3 am, then wake up at 7 am… even if you seem okay to go to work that morning… things will probably feel manageable until about 3pm, at which point you should crash hard enough that no energy stimulant can really save you. Get home and get to bed ASAP.

I’ve noticed this is pretty much what happens to me after a night of short sleep, to the hour. And of course, even before that crash moment, a lack of sleep can leave you feeling worse for wear even after a cup of morning coffee.

Sleep is not overrated! It is in fact very underrated, especially as you get older.

Lack of nutrient-rich whole foods in your diet:

In the past, whenever I felt like garbage, I often looked back at what I had recently eaten and notice a lot of crappy processed food: Pizza, instant meals, fried foods, etc. I clean up and eat healthier for the next meal… and I feel better over the next few days. In some cases, I may even feel better as soon as the next nutritious meal.

You are definitely what you eat, and I would suspect a lot of people who feel down and lethargic all the time, let alone get sick a lot, probably don’t eat good food in its whole natural form. They probably ate nothing but stuff out of packaging.

Lack of water:

It’s more than a song by The Why Store. It’s more than a detriment to exercise. It’s often a key reason people feel lethargic.

And it’s one of my basic initial tests, not to mention one of my quickest remedies, when I suddenly find myself low on energy. If I drink a few ounces of water and suddenly feel more alert and ready to go, I know my low energy was due to slight dehydration. I’m surprised at how often this is the cure to low energy.

People tend to fall into two polarized camps with water. There are the people who carry a water bottle and drink water religiously throughout the day. And there are people who don’t really think about water at all and only drink when it occurs to them.

Many of the latter probably drink a lot of processed drinks and even alcohol instead. I imagine they feel terrible a lot (except when they first get drunk).

Your blood viscosity increases when you’re dehydrated, and slower blood means slower energy production for your body. Of course you’re going to feel tired.

Water also helps flush waste byproducts from your body, as well as bacteria, viruses and whatever else. When your blood is thicker and dehydrated, those byproducts sit in your system and induce some degree of response from your body. And then you feel like crap, at best. Sometimes, you begin to feel sick. It’s possible you could exercise and sweat it out, but either way you could use some more water.

Of course, what kind of water you drink matters too. If your tap water quality is garbage, maybe use a good filter or even get distilled water. Vegas tap water was awful, and may have also caused my kidney stone in high school. I have my suspicions about the effects of Chicago tap water on the psychology of the locals, and thus I make sure to drink distilled water as much as possible.

But that’s icing on the cake of the main point: You probably could use more water. Drinking any water typically is better than drinking little to none.

Lack of outdoor activity:

Rampant depression in Seattle is often blamed on the weather. The fallacy goes that cloudy weather equals sadness.

As someone who enjoyed cloudy weather, I don’t get that at all. Or actually, now I do:

People in Seattle use the rainy weather as an excuse to not go out and do anything. They sit at home a lot like hermits, let it be a mental barrier to their engaging the world, and then wonder why they’re depressed.

Meanwhile, I went outside and did something every single day, rain or shine, whether or not I had to work that day. I never let the weather stop me from going outside.

Believe it or not, the clouds do not stop the Sun’s UV rays from reaching Earth. Clouds do filter some of it, but you still get Vitamin D from the sun if you walk outside during cloudy weather. People are depriving themselves of Vitamin D as well as fresh air and exercise… just because it’s not sunny.

(Also, given the weather is such a factor for them, I wonder why many of these people didn’t just move south, where cloudy weather isn’t as present)

Now, some depression has a deeper root cause, some of it more within our control than others, and we can get into that some other time.

But for many people who claim seasonal depression, they probably live their lives with a forced habitual inertia. And they’d probably be surprised at how much better they felt if they got outside and took a long walk every day, no matter what the weather was like.

If they’re up for more than a walk, they may also be surprised at what running, sports, etc., can do for their outlook and their general energy… not to mention their overall health.

There’s plenty of time to indulge in indoor hobbies and other activities. Make some time to get outside, especially if you feel tired and/or emotionally down, and you might find you have more energy than before.


Okay, that last bit got a bit preachy. I have heard the “I’m tired” song and dance a few too many times, from people that probably could have put the above ideas to use.

But seriously I find that whenever I feel tired, even over a long stretch, it often comes down to deficiencies in one or more of those four things.

  1. Sleep
  2. Food quality
  3. Water
  4. Outdoor activity

I’m not claiming any of this will cure cancer or anything like that (… though, if it does, drop me a line and let me know where to pick up my upcoming Nobel Prize).

But you might be surprised at what it does to your chronic fatigue syndrome, or to a lesser extent your overall low-energy.

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My favorite cooking supplies

I’ve always been a creature of habit. For the most part, I do many of the same things the same way every day, every week.

Related: Some people have cabinets full of cookware and flatware. While I also have cookware (thanks Mom!), I find I pretty much use the same few pieces of cookware. I currently have two plates, one spoon, one fork and one knife. This is in part due to living in a tiny apartment and not having much storage space. I deal with this mostly by washing my dishes every day. If any of them broke or disappeared I’d just go buy another. If my situation ever changed to where I needed more than that, I’d go buy what’s needed (plates and flatware aren’t at all expensive). But I don’t need more than that so that’s all I have.


Cooking supplies are a similar deal. I don’t own cookware unless I use it (because that’s why I bought it), or it was gifted to me. I find myself using the same handful of supplies on a regular basis.

Pyrex baking dishes. I used to bake in tin/metal dishes, lined with aluminim foil. But as I discovered research indicating that aluminum leeches into your food and deposits in your brain long-term, I decided to stop that and directly cook food on baking dishes that are easy to clean and don’t rust.

Enter Pyrex. I bought a simple 3-set of Pyrex dishes, all of which I use. The small dish can bake a fish fillet or a pair of chicken thighs. The medium dish can bake 3 chicken thighs (which I tend to prepare most often). The large dish can handle the baked potatoes dish that I often make. All are easy to clean afterward following a soak. No leeching metals into my food!

Large stainless steel cooking pot. This was a gift (thanks Mom!), and as I discovered I preferred boiling dishes like pasta and cut potatoes I found myself using it far more often. I pretty much just use it to boil stuff, but I find myself boiling stuff frequently. Since I almost always boil in water, cleaning it is very easy.

Stainless steel colander. Since I boil stuff a lot, I usually need to drain it. I put this in the sink and dump my boiled food in, since I prefer my side dishes to not be watery. Easy to use, easy to keep clean, and can strain a variety of boiled side dishes without too much trouble.

 

Aroma automated rice cooker. I bought this years ago and it’s one of the best cooking appliance purchases I’ve ever made.

What makes this cooker super useful is how I can set the delay timer to cook rice for the following day, or in the morning for dinner later than evening. Rice is ready when I plan to eat it, with no hassle. It also has different settings for brown rice vs white rice, and both types come out exactly the way you’d like. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes to eat rice on the regular. It can also sautee, steam vegetables, and slow cool various foods (though I don’t use those features).


I also have frying pans, a saucepan and skillets, but I use those much less frequently since I don’t fry food at home (I bake and boil everything). I also have a garlic crusher which I used a lot when I was on more of a garlic kick, but now it’s in the cabinet as a “there when I need it” kind of thing.

At some point I’ll talk about the kinds of food I eat most often, as well as desired seasonings. Until then….

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My keys to a successful running diet

I’ve gotten pretty good at consistently eating a solid diet that successfully augments my training, and I’d like to share some of my keys to success with you.

The standard disclaimers:

This is based on my experience, a truckload of trial and error over years and years, on habits that have consistently produced positive results for me.

Who am I to say any of this works? Well, I am an experienced distance runner…

  • who wasn’t an experienced runner 4 years ago
  • who has lost 30 lbs in those 4 years to achieve an average healthy weight (5’10”, 164 lbs and falling)
  • who (while no Adonis or Achilles) is in decent shape and good health at what is soon to be age 40
  • who runs 30-50 miles a week during training
  • who pretty much doesn’t get injured or burn out anymore
  • who runs basically every day, with my typical run being about 4-6 miles.

Your mileage may vary:

The more experienced you are, and the more volume of training that you do than I do, the more fruitfully you can dismiss and blow off any of this advice.

The less experienced you are and the less you work out, the more likely this advice (however imperfect) can help you.

Take or dismiss it at your own leisure or risk. I am fairly sure none of this general advice will hurt you if you generally follow it… any more than anyone else’s general advice.

Blah blah blah see a doctor before beginning any training program or making any changes blah blah blah. We’re adults.

My keys to a successful running diet:

Aim to eat a maintenance amount of calories during training.

Even if you could afford to lose a few pounds, you’re better off trying to finish even (calories eaten close to or equal to calories burned) than to run a calorie deficit during a training cycle.

Unlike most sedentary people or strength trainers, you actually need those calories. You burn way more calories on a run than people do in the gym. You actually do have a use for carbohydrates, not to mention fat, as your body utilizes that energy on runs. And with all that work, you need all the protein you can get afterward to help rebuild your damaged muscles.

It’s okay to fall short on calories some days, especially if you’re trying to cut fat. If you’re not training for a race, you’re free to run a healthy deficit (500-1000 calories max below your burn per day). But ALWAYS get enough protein. Always make sure you get your needed vitamins and nutrients. Everything else can fall short.

It’s okay to eat at a surplus some days. If possible, try to do so before or during long and intense workout days.

Eat more protein than you think you need.

Eat protein like an entry level bodybuilder: Consume each day at least 1 gram of protein for every 1 lb of total lean body mass (2.2g per kilogram), when actively training.

If not training for an events, a good benchmark is 1 gram of protein for every pound (or 2.2g/kg) equal to 75% of your bodyweight.

There are conflicting opinions on the recommended amount, but 1 gram per pound of lean body mass falls in the middle of most modern recommendations, and makes sense for an endurance athlete who obviously isn’t trying to get swole (extra muscle mass slows you down!), but does need to maintain muscle tissue during training. This is the level at which I’ve found the most consistent, sustainable satisfaction and results.

It’s definitely okay to go over that protein benchmark during and after intense training. The myth that excess protein damages your kidneys has long since been proven false.

Try to get all of your protein from whole food (e.g. meat, legumes). Avoid leaning on protein shakes, unless you find it very hard to prepare or port protein-rich meals during a typical day… or you are vegetarian/vegan. Even then, stick to a max of one protein shake per day. One item that is not a myth is that protein shakes not only lack various key nutrients present in protein rich whole foods…. but excess protein shakes can cause gas and other intestinal problems.

Eat more carbohydrates when needed. Otherwise take it easy on them.

Carbs are best ingested en masse before hard workouts, and immediately after the hardest workouts. Having them in your bloodstream helps you during workouts, and the glycogen lost from hard workouts can be more quickly replenished during meals eaten within 2 hours of a workout.

Eating a bunch of carbs the day or two before a monster workout or a marathon can be helpful for topping off your glycogen stores, but the classic pasta binge before a marathon is a bit overrated. If you’ve tapered your training and been eating a solid diet leading up to the race, you’re probably fine: The decreased exercise combined with your normal diet has probably topped off your glycogen tank for you.

How much? I generally don’t try too hard to count, but adding enough to get within 500 calories of your daily burn has been a fine general benchmark.

Meanwhile, on rest days you should eat far fewer carbs and more natural fat. If I wasn’t training for a marathon I might even do a keto or primal style low-carb diet. Granted, that’s extreme, and just sticking to green vegetables and fruit for carbs on such a day is probably fine.

Eat Clean fat:

I’m talking about fat naturally occurring in whole foods (meat, avocados, some nuts). I only cook with virgin coconut oil or pure olive oil.

Fat is necessary for effective organ function. Also, providing fat for your body during busy days discourages your body from storing fat or converting carbohydrates to fat. Recommendation: Whatever fat comes with your daily whole-food-based protein is probably enough. That’s probably more than the RDA, but it’s not something crazy like 200g either. Typically I’ll finish a 3000 calorie day having consumed about 90-120g of fat.

Eat a minimum of processed food.

This has been preached to death. But I even add in “healthy” processed food like protein bars, or anything in a box really. The extra sodium and other additives lead to water retention, making your heavier and slowing you down.

I’m not opposed to some pizza or a bag of chips here and there. But it’s always bookended by clean, whole food.

Drink water, 100% juice, and milk.

Coffee and tea are fine (but if you add sugar you better be planning to run that day).

Don’t even touch a sports drink unless you’re actively in a long run or a speedwork session.

Gatorade is specifically engineered for use during exercise. You’re not supposed to drink it otherwise. It literally is sugar and salt water.

Eat potassium rich foods and make sure you get enough potassium almost every day.

Your heart and your muscles need potassium to function. Yet most people don’t get close to enough (typically 4000-4500 mg per day). A lack of potassium undermines intense activity, and can be dangerous in some situations.

Bananas. Avocados. Potatoes. Natural cuts of meat. Fruit and vegetables. 4500mg is the RDA benchmark for a reason. Most people fall well short of this.

Don’t supplement: Seek to eat foods that provide it. MUCH better this way, plus you get other needed nutrients.

Take a suitable multivitamin.

You can get all your needed vitamins with a perfect diet, but your best effort will probably come nowhere close to getting them all. Take a multivitamin. Even if you piss a lot of it out, your body will utilize much of it and cover whatever gaps your diet has left.

Recommended: Get a reliable brand that recommends taking 3 pills a day, and just take one with a meal. This way on a tough day you can take 2-3, but you minimize the risk of overdose.

My mother was a mark for Source of Life, a brand specializing in whole food based multivitamins. They’re fine but they’re pricey. Don’t sink to getting a flaky mainstream brand like Centrum, but I’ve found 365’s multis at Whole Foods to be reliable and affordable.

That said, there are some key vitamins a multi tends not to provide that you should supplement separately.

Take a Calcium Magnesium citrate combo supplement, as well as the MK 7 form of Vitamin K2.

Magnesium helps you sleep (which itself is super important for training) and regulates various hormone functions. Most people don’t get enough magnesium. A lack of it can facilitate burnout. Most multivitamins don’t include magnesium in their blends. Take it after dinner.

Calcium is more well known for fortifying bones, and while milk/cheese can be a reliable source of calcium, I don’t consume a ton of either so I make sure to supplement. Since calcium and magnesium go well together they are often sold as a combo vitamin. Calcium citrate is better absorbed than the more common calcium carbonate, and magnesium citrate is better absorbed than magnesium oxide. So a Cal-Mag Citrate supplement is the way to go.

But! Calcium can be harmfully absorbed by the arteries instead of your bones… without the presence of Vitamin K. Most multis provide it but don’t readily supply in an absorbent form. So if available I’d recommend taking a Vitamin K2 supplement in the MK 7 form.

Take a Fish oil supplement, if you aren’t eating wild caught salmon.

Omega 3’s in fish oil reduces overall inflammation and promotes good heart health. If you eat farmed salmon it won’t have as much omega 3 as wild caught salmon.

Salmon is pricey and I find it easier to just take a supplement. Whole Foods sometimes has salmon oil, which I prefer to take. But honestly you can take just about any fish oil supplement and as long as it doesn’t contain soy products you’re probably good.

Most brands ask you take 3-6 pills a day. Just take one after dinner.

If you’re frequently under stress and it’s not easily within your control, take ashwagandha or SAMe.

Ashwagandha is an herb that has all sorts of alleged health benefits, but the one known benefit I’ve experienced is that it helps buffer you against stress. I find a bit of the edge comes off the day when I’m taking it.

My mother was big on SAMe, a supplement originally used to help treat joint pain and similar issues but was later found to have positive effects on depression and stress. You cna call it a super version of ashwagandha if you’d like, as I’ve found it does have even stronger stress-relieving effects on my mental state than ashwagandha. And it also does have a positive effect on joint health and relieving inflammation. SAMe however is a lot more expensive than ashwagandha.

Recommendation: Whichever one you decide to take, just take one pill per day max. And cycle your usage: 8 weeks on max, then 4 weeks off.

A good time to take it is during the latter stages of training for a goal race, and then to stop using it for a while once the race is done. This controls cortisol, helps manage mood, and like magnesium helps you sleep better.

If you’re going to eat junk food, eat protein rich junk food.

I’m not against pizza or hamburgers or any of that.

Surround those meals with super clean meals or intermittent fasting, plus plenty of water. Definitely work out those days, and/or the following day, to ensure you burn those junk calories ASAP.

The Andy Morgan Night Out Rule For Drinking:

Andy Morgan is this guy. He’s a bodybuilder who has perfected a combination of training, intermittent fasting, and proper nutrition into an approach he calls Ripped Body.

The rule: If you’re going to go out and have a night of drinking alcohol, get in all your needed protein for the day BEFORE you head out for the night.

Consider anything good you eat during the night to be a bonus, though if you do eat during a night out you’re probably going to eat junk.

Yes, you’ll probably overeat for the day. This is not a big deal. Make a point to go for a run and eat perfectly clean the next day if it bothers you.

Also (this is not his rule, but mine): Before you go to bed that night, drink 16 oz of water. And you should be drinking water throughout the night of drinking as well.

Should you let yourself go after a race?

The only races after which it’s okay to let your good eating habits completely go for a little while are marathons or longer, where you plan to take some time off. But get back on the wagon no later than a week later. Any race that’s shorter, and you really should just treat it as a hard workout: Keep eating well, keep training.

In conclusion:

This approach has worked very well for me, and I think it can work well for others. I realize the advice scratches the surface, and I invite you the reader to do research on any of this if you so desire.

But I follow this approach 80-99% of the time (sure, I deviate and go off the wagon like anyone… but these are also strong habits that make it easy to go back to and stick to them). It has helped me maintain a high volume of running and to stay healthy, without the use of any sort of artificially performance enhancing substances.

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My Fitbit Daily Tracking Benchmarks

Thanks to my mother, I’ve owned a Fitbit Blaze since Christmas of 2016. Previously I had already been tracking data like my runs, my meals and other exercise on a Google Doc. So getting a tracker that easily kept track of all that and more was a huge deal.

I still map my runs manually (for accuracy, as the GPS utilization isn’t accurate in Chicago), while using the timer, step counter and heart rate monitor to track those items.

Along with those items, I have set a series of daily activity and diet goals based on my activity, training and weight loss that I feel has gotten me to where I need to be.

My Fitbit Physical Benchmarks:

16,000 steps

As someone who lives in a big city and does a lot of traveling on foot, I’ve always found that 10,000 is a bit too easy for me to reach (rare is the day where I don’t log at least 10K-12K steps), while 20,000 requires quite a bit of work (if I go on a fairly long run I can get there).

The bar that requires just enough effort in a day to reach has been 16,000. That’s around 7 miles of walking or running.

10 floors

This is the standard Fitbit benchmark, and that works just fine for me. On an easy day, I may get to sunset well short and need to take a hike up the stairs at my apartment building. Often, the elevation changes in my running are more than enough to account for well over 10 floors.

Right now I’m working at an assignment that requires some stair climbing between the train stations and the building itself. I often sit down at work having already climbed 6-8 floors.

That’s probably all I’m looking for with that.

90 minutes of activity

The standard benchmark was 60 minutes, but again I commute on foot, and I found this a bit too easy to reach most days. Asking 90 minutes usually requires a lot of walking or some sort of serious workout, whether a run or a lot of time in the gym or similar.

On some lazier days I may get to sunset with less than 15-30 minutes, but usually I hit 90 minutes almost by accident, often in the middle of a run.

3000 calories burned

Given my diet, I find 3000 calories to be the sweet spot for a required daily burn. And sure enough, given my daily activity it seems to be a consistent benchmark. On lazier days I can finish at 2200-2500 calories, but often with a workout and any amount of extended activity I can get to 3000 without a problem.

My record calorie burn in a day right now is 5400, which of course was on the last day I attempted to log a 20 miler (after which I logged a recovery run in the evening, making it a Bulls**t 20).

6.0 miles

I barely track this, since if I hit the other benchmarks I almost certainly traveled six miles between walking, running and anything else I was doing during the day.

But it’s a fine barometer later in the day if I find myself short on most goals. If I’m short X miles, then traveling the needed miles to get to 6 will likely get me to the other goals.

Afternoon activity: 250 steps every hour 3pm-8pm

I find Fitbit’s forced tracking of hourly 250 step goals annoying, but also in some way helpful. I set it to a tolerable minimum: 5 hours during the afternoon and early evening.

At least here it asks me to find 250 steps during a time when energy and attention span tends to flag. Getting up and walking a bit to meet the silly machine-demanded goal can help clear my head and keep me moving.

Other notes:

  • If my resting heart rate goes up by more than 1 bpm over 24 hours, or goes up on consecutive days, I usually take preventative action: Get to bed earlier, drink more water, eat more protein, relax, or change up training in light of recent activity. Often I’m well aware of likely causes for this (short sleep the night prior, tough workout the day before, etc).
  • I try to avoid consecutive days with a calorie surplus, unless I’m about to go on a massive workout or race, like a 20 miler, a hardcore interval session, or a marathon.
  • If I gain weight day over day, I often look to either run a calorie deficit, intermittent fast for the next day, or both (which is fairly easy). If planning to do more than a recovery run, I will definitely avoid going short on calories and instead just intermittent fast during the morning.
  • I make sure to consume no less than 130g protein, and aim for at least 140g. Busy as I am, I need the protein to re-build muscle and other key tissue etc. If I miss both benchmarks I at least get as close as I can with protein intake, and aim to exceed both the following day.
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My observed pros and cons of different kinds of running fuel on long runs

In many of my long training runs I have not only experimented with fueling during runs (as training for doing so in races), but have also done so because given the scope of the run I needed to. I have tried a wide range of fueling options, as recommended by various sources, and have found that all have their particular advantages and disadvantages.

Ultimately, in a long distance race I prefer to utilize Gatorade if they have it on course. Barring that (e.g. if they use a no-calorie sports drink like Nuun), I’ll bring Clif Shot Bloks. For anything shorter than 10 miles I’ll often just tough it out and drink water… maybe whatever sports drink they have if I feel like it.

But again, for workouts I’ve tried a variety of different fueling sources, and here’s my observed advantages and disadvantages for each:

Bringing small snacks (e.g.a protein bar or granola bar)

Advantages: Something like a protein or granola bar feels a lot more satisfying than other fuel sources while running. It’s usually closer to actual food! They often contain protein and fat, which are more satiating.

Disadvantages: Small snacks can make a mess, or worse yet fall out of my hands on the ground more easily. Because they must be eaten, they can pose a choking risk, or to lesser extent make it hard to breathe when I try to eat them while running. De-packaging them can be more of a pain than the quicker consumption afforded by drinks and gels.

Verdict: While I’m never against bringing a snack with me, it’s something I won’t go out of my way to do. I definitely won’t turn down a protein bar for the road before a run, however.

Syrups

I have experimented with different kinds of syrups, such as honey and raw agave, mostly going with raw agave due to its viscosity making it easier to pour from a gel flask. I would consume these intermittently throughout the run.

Advantages: They are a dense form of quickly digested sugar carbohydrate, which provides much-needed glycogen during a long run. A single ounce can contain about 100 calories (25g) of pure sugar. This buys muscles time and distance before exhausting  glycogen stores.

Disadvantages: These sugars are simple and the body may only use this fuel to maintain bodily functions rather than fuel your lower body muscles. Both are sticky and can create a mess even if you do not spill. Honey in particular is very viscous and may flow too slowly from a container during a run to be useful. Practically, you need a container to dispense these syrups such as a gel flask, and these typically only hold 5-6 oz. For very long runs, this might not be enough fuel.

Verdict: I did raw agave for a while, but I’m probably done with using it as a long run fuel source. Thankfully I’ve built up the endurance to finish 15-20 milers without fuel, so it’s no longer necessary like before.

Gels

The most commonly used form of fuel in long distance races. These are typically sold in single use disposable 100 calorie packs.

Advantages: Unlike syrups and other sugars, gels are specifically engineered to quickly provide glycogen for your muscles rather than just general function. Gels typically come in single use packets and are more easily portable.

Disadvantages: Gels taste nasty (don’t @ me about the flavors having gotten better, runners. A better tasting version of motor oil still tastes like motor oil). Though portable, the gels are still messy, possibly more so than syrups. They’re even more viscous, making it harder to extract and consume. I typically need to wash it down with a lot of water. You also have to find a way to dispose of the used packets. In races runners tend to do the worst: Dropping used packets on the ground behind them, for other runners to slip on. This alone turns me off of them, but the other stuff doesn’t help either.

Verdict: Hell no. As I say to people when Papa John’s pizza arrives, how the hell do you people eat this crap?

Gatorade

The classic sugar and electrolyte solution in a bottle or mixed in a container of varying size. You drink it while working out and it replenishes you.

Advantages: Drinking Gatorade kills two birds with one stone, hydrating you with an electrolyte-packed drink that also provides glycogen-rich calories. When running races, most provide it free of charge just as they do water. It’s also a lot more widely available at stores, and usually at a cheap price. If you’re lucky they sell bottles out of a refrigerated case, making it doubly refreshing!

Disadvantages: It’s liquid, meaning it has more weight and takes up more volume than other fueling options. A typical bottle of Gatorade can weigh anywhere from 1-2 pounds, which slows me down during running until I drink it and it’s in me.

Also, it can only carry so many calories: A 32 oz bottle only has about 240ish calories, and if you need 500+ calories in fuel for something like a marathon, that’s not going to cut it. You simply can’t carry that much Gatorade.

If it’s mixed in person instead of bought factory-made (Hint: The Gatorade served at races is often mixed on-site), there’s a chance it may not be mixed correctly, and you may not get the full caloric benefit… defeating a key purpose of drinking it. Also, if it’s hot outside, liquid warms… and Gatorade tastes like a nasty sugar soup when it’s warm.

Verdict: I find Gatorade terrific and if it was healthy to do so I’d drink a ton of it after workouts (Hint: you’re supposed to drink it while working out, not after; it’s literally sugar water). If carrying it wasn’t too much of a burden I’d carry a bottle with me on every long or intense workout. But if I want it for a long run I’ll have to find a way to get some during the run, then house it before continuing. Or pay someone to carry it behind me while riding a bike. (Hint: I’m currently NOT accepting applications for this role)

Chews

Clif Shot Bloks. Honey Stingers. These are gummy like things you chew before or during a workout to provide the same sort of sugar-loaded energy as gels or Gatorade. A typical small pack will contain 150-200 calories, and some versions contain caffeine.

Advantages: Like gels and Gatorade, chews are engineered to digest quickly for use as muscular glycogen, and are a perfect fuel for races and key runs. A typical package provides 150-200 calories of workout-friendly sugars in an easily chewable pack. The packs are esaily portable, and in my experience they do charge up your workout quickly once ingested… even the non-caffeinated versions.

Disadvantages: Compared to other fuel options these are not cheap: a typical pack of 6 chews can cost $2.50-3.00. Like with other food, eating it during a run can make it hard to breathe.

Also, if I need more than one 200 calorie pack (which I certainly do in marathons and other similar long runs), they take up considerable space once you’re carrying more than 2-3 of them. When I attempted Vancouver I had to wear two fanny packs, with one holding just my Bloks for the race.

Also, because they’re a solid (albeit soft) food, they can be a choking hazard if you consume while running. They don’t always go down easy and I sometimes need to chase some with water. I abhor stopping a race completely just to eat them.

Eating a small meal ahead of time

Whenever I have time, on the morning of a race or a long run I try to have a quick breakfast sandwich with a shot of espresso before heading to the race site.

Advantages: This not only sates me but effectively pre-loads my bloodstream with some ready-to-use fat and glycogen, boosting my capabilities, saving the glycogen in my muscles to some extent. A bonk becomes quite unlikely when I eat right before a run.

Disadvantages: I don’t always have the time, space or means to prepare/eat a small meal before a run. In some cases, I may need to take a crap shortly after a meal… not ideal during a run! There’s some prep (that I won’t get into) the day prior I can do to avoid the possibility of this, but it’s still an unwelcome possibility.

Verdict: I always, always try to eat a meal a couple hours before a race. On occasion if there’s time and space I’ll try and eat breakfast before a morning long run. I’ll definitely make sure to eat 3ish hours beforehand if a hard/long workout takes place in the afternoon. But I just did my last 18+ miler early in the morning with no food in me and none taken during the run. So outside of races it’s certainly not necessary.

Breaking the run in half and then eating at halftime

I’ve done this more recently. Basically, I go on a long run, but at some point past the halfway mark I stop for a bit to eat and something to drink, chill out a bit, then resume shortly after finishing the meal.

Advantages: This can help ease the hard work of a long run, by breaking the run into two shorter runs. The fuel from a meal definitely feels welcome after several miles, and comes in handy for those last miles. It can help get a head start on recovery from the initial part of the run. Also, I get to take a rest.

Disadvantages: As mentioned before, my bowels may act up with food in the tank, especially if I resume running right after eating. It’s also possible that I cool down to the point where I need to once again warm up or ease into the 2nd half of the run. I’ve typically felt better after stopping (I tend to handle working out right after eating fairly well), but sometimes I do come out of the meal creaky.

Verdict: If I’m training for a longer race, especially if I’m late in the training cycle… breaking up the long run might compromise the value of that long run. I mitigate this by only stopping after having run for 2.0-2.5 hours, which is the back wall recommended for most long runs anyway. Extending the run after that isn’t a problem with a break. Otherwise, I have no problem breaking up a long run with a halftime meal.

In fact, I did so twice over the last few months! My first crack at 20 miles (which sadly only went 19.45 due to a miscalc) had a halftime where I stopped in Edgewater for food and drink at Whole Foods. And last month I stopped at a hot dog stand near Navy Pier during the back end a 17 miler, treating myself to a hot dog and some Powerade. Hit the spot.

Not eating at all

This is what I do most often! This is what most people do for most runs. You don’t worry about fuel, and just do the damn run. For most runs this is totally fine. Even for most longer runs this is totally fine. To do the longest runs this way can be challenging, and can also be rewarding training depending on goals for the run (e.g. running to deplete your glycogen stores to practice running in that state).

Advantages: Not worrying about fuel makes long workouts a lot simpler. I won’t have to worry about timing fuel intake or other distractions. I also train my body to handle glycogen depletion on longer runs, which better prepares me to handle key late points in races such as the marathon.

Disadvantages: If I’m training for a marathon, practicing fueling is valuable and this could be a lost opportunity to either practice or experiment with fueling in-race. Based on the length of the run, I could bonk during the run, perhaps increase the likelihood of injury, illness or some other setback. Not fueling could also compromise performance on some longer runs (maybe I want to practice some tempo segments), which depending on my goals could be an issue.

Verdict: If it’s not a race or a dangerously long distance, running without fuel is the way to go. If it’s very long or I need to practice marathon fueling, then I really should bring some fuel.

In Conclusion….

I’m hungry.

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