Category Archives: Favorite Foods

coffee-man1

Strategically Using Coffee to Enhance Cognitive and Endurance Performance

I love coffee. I love the taste, the smell, the effects, the intricacies of different regions/roasts, and the shops that serve it. If I had to give up either coffee or alcohol for the rest of my life…I would give up alcohol…hands down. There are multiple studies touting the benefits of coffee (check out this recent Ben Greenfield podcast titled 63 Cups of Coffee A Day & More: Five Simple Things You Can Do to Live a Longer, Healthier Life that makes the case for drinking a lot of it). Despite all of this…I’m trying to cut back. Here’s why:

Caffeine provides cognitive benefits (#duh) as well as endurance performance benefits. The kicker is that we actually need to be sensitized to caffeine to get the full effects. To get more technical, caffeine binds to adenosine receptors throughout the brain and nervous system.  Adenosine has been correlated with promoting sleep and relaxation and suppressing arousal.  When caffeine binds to adenosine receptors it blocks them from performing this function. However, our bodies are pretty adaptable and will create more adenosine receptors as a result of frequent and consistent caffeine consumption. Therefore, more and more caffeine is needed to create the same effect.

Sure sure…I could just drink even more coffee. However, too much caffeine can deplete the adrenals by constantly triggering the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol can break down the body, slow down recovery, and interfere with the production of other hormones (e.g., testosterone).  As someone trying to balance family, career, and triathlon training (and trying to be successful across all three), I definitely wouldn’t consider my life low stress. Therefore, I absolutely don’t want to needlessly trigger my body to release even more cortisol. After all, training sessions don’t make you fit…RECOVERING from training sessions makes you fit. And, as I’ve mentioned before, the body doesn’t physiologically differentiate between life stress and workout stress.

Don’t get me wrong…I will never give up coffee (for many of these hilarious reasons). I also wouldn’t consider myself an over consumer of coffee either. I currently average 2-4 cups a day. For me, coffee is more habitual than it is necessary. If I don’t have my coffee in the morning I’m not going to be a train wreck. My coffee cravings often occur when I need a break or want to relax. In those situations, getting that habitual flavor of coffee is all I’m really looking for. I’ve tried tea during those times but, let’s be honest, tea isn’t coffee.

In order to remain sensitized to caffeine without dramatically reducing my coffee intake I’m doing the following:

  • A smaller cup in the morning – Instead of my giant and delicious 16oz cup in the morning, I’m working myself down to a smaller and equally delicious 8oz. I still get my morning coffee ritual but with a smaller cup.
  • Satisfying habitual cravings with decaf – A pretty obvious strategy. I prefer decaf coffee that uses the non-chemical Swiss Water Method for decaffeination. However, I don’t get too hung up on that.
  • Switching to mushroom coffee – I’m really starting to get into this coffee-cordyceps-1_1024x1024instant coffee with mushroom extract from Four Sigmatic foods for a couple of reasons: 1) It has about half the caffeine of a normal cup of coffee; 2) the mushroom extract in the different varieties provides added health benefits like boosting the immune system (chaga mushrooms), supporting the adrenal glands (cordyceps mushrooms), and nootropic and cognitive boosting effects (lion’s mane mushrooms); 3) the initial taste is unique and earthier than coffee but I really like it.

I’ve been drinking mushroom coffee a couple of different ways by either adding heavy cream and stevia, using it for my fatty coffee w/ butter and coconut oil, or just adding the powder to a normal cup of decaf to amp it up a bit.

  • Decaf “cleanse” every 4-6 weeks – During my cleanse week I’ll switch to a really good bag of decaf coffee like Bulletproof or Counter Culture. I’ll get that habitual, delicious coffee flavor with minimal caffeine. I’m going to try to time the cleanse weeks before race events.

By using the above strategies I’m hoping I can more strategically use fully caffeinated coffee for the performance benefit when I really need to crush a task or a race. Research indicates that having 3-6 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight about an hour before an event will provide the most performance benefit. Granted…everyone metabolizes caffeine so I’ll need to experiment with that a bit.

In order to get the biggest bang out of coffee, I just want to make sure my body remains sensitive to caffeine and that means not overdoing the coffee…even though it tastes so good.

Fitzee Meals

Best Meal Service to Enhance Your Life, Health, and Prevent Hangriness

I enjoy cooking. I even enjoy grocery shopping and looking for the healthiest and most nutrient dense foods. I’ve optimized our grocery shopping by using CSAs (for both meat and vegetables) and Thrive Market so most of groceries are delivered to our doorstep. I’ve improved my prep skills and can dice and chop at a respectable rate. I also batch cook whenever possible to minimize setup and cleanup (why make 1 lb of meatballs when 6 lbs can be made with just a bit more time). But the thing is…meal planning and cooking still takes up a ton of time!

As much as I enjoy cooking, it takes away time from family, training, and career. Another major consideration for me is that the kitchen in our new house isn’t open to the living area so I’m completely isolated from the family when I’m cooking and cleaning up. As much as I want to have healthy meals on hand at all times, the reality is that making them isn’t my top priority.

Unfortunately, since I’m in charge of the household meal planning, when cooking doesn’t make the priority list we don’t have meals readily available. This causes one of two things to happen…and usually both 1) we succumb to takeout which can be expensive and usually isn’t healthy (especially when we give into those comfort food cravings when life is crazy) and 2) a hangry wife (NO BUENO!)

As a result, I’ve been trying to find a good meal solution service for the times when cooking won’t fit on the task list. Outsourcing low priority, but essential tasks, can be a great investment. When I factor in meal planning, grocery shopping, prep, cooking, and cleanup, the time element of making meals adds up quickly no matter how much I have optimized the process.

In true accounting/finance nerd fashion, I think about it like this:

If the meal solution service price < my food cost + value of my time – my enjoyment factor, it is worthwhile to outsource.

My time value and enjoyment factor can vary week-to-week depending on the size of the task list (and what comes in our CSA box) so I don’t always want out outsource our meals.

Armed with my equation, I’ve looked into a couple of different meal solution services but they have all had two main issues:

  1. They don’t live up to my food quality standards and I refuse to sacrifice quality for convenience.
  2. They require a subscription so I would be getting and paying meals even if the equation parameters haven’t been met.

However…

I’ve FINALLY found a solution…Fitzee Foods!

Fitzee

Fitzee Foods is the best solution I’ve found for the following reasons:

  1. Their meat quality is top notch (grass fed beef, free range chicken, nitrate and hormone free turkey)
  2. They have meals for all types of dietary preferences (paleo, gluten free, low carb, vegetarian, etc.) so I can easily find meals that have the ratio of protein, fat, and carbs I need depending on my training volume.
  3. There is no subscription so I can ensure I’m maximizing my value equation.
  4. The meals come in different sizes so we can easily eat different things if we can’t agree on what to have.. S/M sizes are great to bring to work for lunches and L/XL sizes are perfect for family dinner.
  5. The containers are oven and microwave safe so there is literally zero clean up time.
  6. Their customer service is outstanding.
  7. Not least of all…they are delicious!

I now keep a handful (or two or three) of Fitzee meals on hand at all times. Ever since I started using Fitzee Foods I have far less stress about meal planning, I have been able to spend more time with my less hangry wife, and I’ve been able to sneak in an extra training session or two during the week.

Fitzee Foods is based in San Diego which makes it extra convenient for me but they also ship nationwide. They are going to be a fridge & freezer staple for a long time to come!

fermented-foods

My Favorite Gut Friendly Foods to be a Good Bacteria Host

In my opinion, there are two primary things linked to gut health:

  1. Proper digestion
  2. Gut bacteria / microbiota

In my last post I covered how digestion is linked to gut health and what I have been doing to optimize my digestion. The other key component to a healthy gut is the trillion+ gut bacteria that we have a symbiotic relationship with. If you’ve been paying attention to health & wellness and/or food trends lately, you’ve probably heard something about probiotics and gut bacteria. If you need a refresher on why gut bacteria are important to gut health, make sure to go back and check out this post.

In addition to improving my digestion, the other thing I’ve been doing to improve my gut health is trying to be an ideal host to all my good bacteria friends. There are four different diet strategies I’ve been using to be a model bacteria host. Just like any good party host knows, you need to invite the right people, keep the guest list interesting, provide adequate food and drink for the guests, and make sure the cops don’t shut it down. #PartyPlanningBasics

Don’t know how to be a bacteria party host via your diet? Let me explain:

  • Invite a lot of the right people by eating plenty of fermented foods and/or taking a probiotic supplement. Fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha contain beneficial probiotic bacteria. Consuming these foods supplies the gut with more good bacteria (just like inviting good friends to a party). Keep in mind though, your gut has trillions of bacteria so this is like dumping a cup of water into a swimming pool so the key is consistency and eating a little every day with every meal. Some of my favorite fermented foods at the moment are:Fage Yogurt

Fage Total Greet Yogurt – Instead of ice cream for dessert, I’ll eat full fat plain greek yogurt with berries, chia seeds, and coconut flakes.

Farmhouse-Culture-KrautFarmhouse Culture kraut and kimchi – the key to kraut/kimchi is getting the refrigerated stuff that isn’t pasteurized (which kills the bacteria). I really like the different flavor varieties that Farmhouse Culture offers.Synergy Kombucha

GT’s Enlightened Kombucha – This is basically fermented tea and is becoming much trendier. There are lots of different brand options and places popping up that offer “Kombucha on tap”. I’m starting to substitute Kombucha for my afternoon coffee.

primal-probioticsPrimal Probiotics – If you don’t like fermented foods or can’t eat them frequently, probiotic supplementation is another good option. The tricky part is that quality and potency can be all over the board with these so beware of just buying whatever is on the shelf of mass retailers. Good supplements offer a diversity of bacteria strains with capsules that can make it through the stomach to decrease the amount of bacteria killed by stomach acid.

  • Keep the guest list interesting and diverse by switching up the types/brands of fermented foods you eat and supplements you take. The best hosts bring together different people, that otherwise may not mingle, to create great new relationships. Therefore, I make it a point to change-up the probiotic supplements I take and the types of fermented foods I eat. This also helps prevent flavor fatigue.
  • Eat plenty of prebiotic fiber so your bacteria friends always have enough food. Great parties never seem to run out of food or drinks so you gotta make sure you keep your bacteria guests fed. Bacteria eat prebiotics, which is essentially fiber (carbohydrates that can’t be digested by our body) that is abundant in vegetables. My favorites are:Leafy Greens

Lots of green vegetables (especially leafy greens) – I probably eat 1-2 of the large plastic containers of organic leafy greens each week. I put a few giant handfuls in my morning green smoothie, saute them with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, and add them to scrambled eggs. I love my leafy greens.

Garden of Life Greens Formula

Garden of Life Perfect Food Super Green Formula – This is a super concentrated dose of leafy green vegetables that I’ll add to my morning green smoothie. It even has probiotics!

 

  • Never let the cops break up a good party so avoid taking “just-in-case” broad spectrum antibiotics. Antibiotics kill bacteria. There continues to be more and more evidence about how important gut bacteria are to our health. Broad spectrum antibiotics don’t discriminate amongst bacteria and will kill even the good ones. This reminds me of a classic high school movie party scene. So…I avoid taking broad spectrum antibiotics unless ABSOLUTELY necessary.

little-girl-running-from-police

One caveat…I’m far from a medical professional and some of the things I mention above may actually be counterproductive depending on individual issues. The severity of gut issues may dramatically change the things necessary to bring everything back into balance.

 

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My Favorite Food(s) of the Moment: Green Smoothie

One question that I occasionally get asked is what I’m eating these days. Well…it is usually more like “What IS that?!?!” When it comes to food, my philosophy is to try and maximize the amount of nutrients I get from each calorie I eat. I also like to experiment and try new foods, recipes, and concoctions all the time so I figured I’ll start sharing what my new favorite foods of the moment are.

My favorite food of the moment is my morning green smoothie. Smoothies are a great way to pack in a ton of nutrients but they can also be loaded with sugar if you aren’t careful. Fruit smoothies can end up being just massive sugar bombs. My fruit-free green smoothie has evolved quite a bit over the past few months and currently consists of the following:

  • ½ can Coconut Milk – I switched to canned vs. the carton because canned coconut milk has about three ingredients compared to the laundry list that is on most carton varieties (many of which include carrageenan…not good).
  •  ~1/2 to 1 tsp Maca Powder – Maca is a Peruvian root vegetable that tastes a bit like butterscotch. It is rich in vitamins and may help improve energy, stamina, and endurance. It is also an adaptogen with the potential to help balance hormones.
  • ~1 tsp of Matcha Powder – Matcha is ground up green tea leaves so you get more antioxidants, fiber, and nutrition than just drinking steeped green tea.
  • 1 scoop Greens Powder – Leafy greens are one of the healthiest things you can possibly eat and green food supplementation is a way to get a ton of leafy greens into your diet. The brand I use also has probiotics.
  • ½ Avocado – Excellent source of healthy fat
  • ~1 Tbsp Almond Butter – Even more healthy fat
  • 1 scoop Protein Powder – Make sure to check for added sugar or nasty artificial sweeteners.
  • 1 scoop Collagen Peptides – Similar to gelatin but dissolves instantly into hot or cold liquids. Gelatin is the same protein found in cartilage, joints, bones, skin, hair (not that I have any left to support), and nails. This pretty much runs the gamut on all things anti-aging.
  • 2-3 giant handfuls of fresh Organic Spinach – More leafy greens…no brainer
  • Juice from 1 Lemon – There are two reasons I add lemon juice 1) lemon helps support digestive hydrochloric acid in the stomach to aid digestion and 2) it helps prevent oxidation of all the goodness I noted above when you pummel everything in the blender.

All of the above items go into my blender and I use the pulse setting to blend just enough to get everything combined. You don’t want to pulverize and damage your food…it’s sensitive. I also like my smoothie super thick to the point that I eat it with a spoon. If I need more blending liquid I use a bit of coconut water.

After I’ve blended everything and poured it into my giant travel mug. I mix in two more items for additional texture and even more added nutrition:

  • 2-3 Tbsp Cacao Nibs – Raw chocolate that adds a nice crunch. Cacao nibs are also packed with antioxidants and are a good source of magnesium. Magnesium is essential for energy production (pretty important for endurance athletes) and tends to be insufficient in many U.S. diets.
  • ~3 chopped Brazil Nuts – More crunchy texture with a dose of selenium. Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium, which works as an antioxidant.

Since I like my smoothie super thick and with the added texture from the cacao nibs and Brazil nuts, it requires a little chewing, which also helps activate the digestive enzymes in saliva.

I try and make this smoothie for breakfast almost every morning during the week. Not only is it delicious, packed with nutrition, and filling but it is also portable so I can bring it to work and eat it later since I usually don’t get hungry until mid-morning.

Enjoy! …just make sure you don’t have any greens stuck your teeth when you’re done.