Category Archives: Nutrition

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Ironman 70.3 Superfrog Training, Gear and Nutrition

Today is my first half Ironman in over 10 years. Even though my training has been more about improving my health than my fitness, I’m excited to have built back up to long course triathlon and I’m looking forward to many more to come. The following is an overview of my training, gear, and race nutrition plan.

Training:

I’ve been exclusively following the Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) Method of training in an effort to build my aerobic system while minimizing stress on my body so I can simultaneously improve my health. Normally I would “build” up to my primary race with periods of high intensity training. However, I decided to scratch that this year to prioritize health over fitness. Accordingly, all my workouts are done with a focus on keeping my heart rate below MAF (180 minus my age). After my marathon training, I have been balancing my triathlon training more equally between biking and running with a little swimming thrown into the mix. A good week of training for me would look like:

  • 2 x Fasted Morning Run Sessions of 5-7 miles
  • 2 x Fasted Morning Bike Sessions on the trainer of 40-60min
  • 1 x Long run session of 10-14 miles
  • 1 x Long bike session of 40-60 miles (sometimes followed with a 4-8 mile run)
  • 2-3 x swim session of 20-30 minutes

My swim sessions were mostly in the evenings after work when I was feeling good and had the time. Since I am a former competitive high school swimmer, I’m not as concerned about my ability to complete the 1.2 mile distance so my swim sessions were more about maintaining my form and “feel” for the water. Swimming is like a golf swing – you need to do it consistently. Occasionally I would do a longer ocean swim with the Triathlon Club of San Diego to get more experience with open water ocean swimming.

In addition to the above, I also try to stay active when I’m in the office.

Gear:

Honestly, sometimes I’m a little embarrassed about my lack of gear know
ledge. I am definitely not a gear-head triathlete that knows about the latest tech. My philosophy is I’m going to make far more performance gains by focusing time/money on my diet, health and fitness rather than the latest tech. Therefore, my gear bag is pretty basic:

gear

General

Transition Bag – Race morning usually requires a little walk/bike to get to the transition area so an easy way to carry everything in the wee hours of the morning is essential. Transition bags are designed to hold wetsuits, multiple pairs of shoes, bike helmets, bike pumps, etc. Mine is a basic version from TYR. I’ll pack it up a day or two before to minimize stress on race morning. I just need to grab my bag and go.

Tri Short/Top – Clothes that can go from start to finish in a triathlon are essential and comfort is critical for long course races. I’m currently a fan of 2XU. It dries quickly and the shorts have the right padding for the bike without feeling like a diaper on the run.

Sunglasses – I had enough eye problems as a kid that I don’t want to muck with contacts and putting stuff in my eye. Therefore, I need prescription sunglasses that allow for a fairly strong prescription. Rudy Project sunglasses have prescription inserts that do just that. The outer, non-prescription lens on the pair I have changes based on the brightness so I can also use them like straight-up glasses in low light.

Swim

Wetsuit – Besides making an athlete faster, warmer and safer, a wetsuit isn’t required for a triathlon. I have a TYR Hurricane Cat 1 that I have come to love (after learning how to get it on correctly over this lanky 6’5″ frame). For a full sleeve wetsuit it provides ample shoulder mobility so my swim stroke isn’t constricted.

Goggles – Because I don’t wear contacts and I need to see the buoys on the swim course, I use a pair a prescription goggles. This is a great article on prescription goggles. I use AquaSphere Eagles that have interchangeable lenses.

Bike

Freshly Tuned Bike – My 2004 Felt S25 will always have a special place in my heart. This bikeis the bike I rode in my 2005 Coeur d’Alene Ironman. I don’t think I will ever be able to part with this bike even when I eventually replace it. Before this race I put on a new pair
of tires because my other ones were getting thin and I’ve been plagued by fat tires recently. I also added a rear mount dual water bottle holder for extra hydration for the SoCal heat.

Bike Shoes – I wear Bontrager Hilos that are tri-specific bike shoes. Easy to put on with a single strap and mesh venting for quick drying.

Helmet – Nothing special here…just a standard Bell road biking helmet. Once I start getting faster then I will consider upgrading to an aero helmet.

Flat Kit – I really hope I don’t need this but I’ve got an extra tube, CO2 inflator, two CO2 cartridges and tire irons just in case.

Run

Running Shoes – I’m a believer in minimalist footwear and allowing the foot to work as designed without interfering with too much support or cushion. I love Skora shoes and I’m currently using their Tempo model. I’ve also added some elastic laces so they are easy to slip on while still fitting snuggly.

Race Belt – The fastest way to put on a race number while running out of T2.

Other Misc. Items

  • Swim cap
  • Timing chip
  • Socks – TBD…13.1 miles is a little too far to go with no socks
  • Hat – for sun protection on the run
  • Body Glide
  • Bike pump and tools
  • Small towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Headphones (pre-race)
  • USAT Membership Card

Nutrition:

I’ve been training my body to more efficiently use stored body fat for fuel so I don’t need to rely on sugary gels and exogenous calories. However, I’m still going to need some amount of nutrition to maintain performance but I prefer to use healthier alternatives than what is typically offered on the course. I’m planning to take in all my solid foods on the bike because digesting a large calorie intake on the run is usually a challenge.nutrition

  • Two water bottles with a mix of coconut water and regular water.
  • One small water bottle with a chia seed slurry made with coconut water, a little honey and sea salt
  • 3 packets of Vespa – These are only 18 calories a piece but they have a peptide that helps the body use fat for fuel. These are like magic. I’ll take one about 30 minutes before the swim start and then another one every two to three hours.
  • 2-3 blueberry Phive Bars – This is a whole foods bar that is made locally with a mixture of fruit and nuts.

The weather forecast is for sun with a temperature close to 90. Gotta love SoCal! Its going to be a hot one! You can watch a live stream of the finish line and track me HERE. I’m bib 465. I’m so stoked for this race!

finish

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Advanced Health Coaching to Improve Athletic Performance, Part 1

Health and fitness are not synonymous. As I noted in my last post, I’ve rethought my training strategy to emphasize good health and patience vs. strictly fitness. Health is the basis for longevity in sports and focusing purely on building fitness can eventually come at the cost of longevity. This is why I gravitated toward the MAF training method, since an inability to make fitness improvements under MAF may indicate underlying health issues.

MAF training varies by individual. There are no standard 16-week MAF training programs for a particular endurance event.  Therefore, I don’t follow a regimented training schedule. Instead, I stay in tune with how my body is feeling and do what feels right on a particular day.

For the past two months my improvements under MAF have plateaued and my body has felt a bit off…not bad…just not ideal. As a result, I wanted to take a deeper look into my health. Coach Tawnee Prazak started offering a new Advanced Health Coaching (AHC) consultation option which is exactly what I was looking for.

AHC differs from my previous consults with Tawnee in that she also brings in a naturopathic doctor (ND), Erica Cowan, to develop a health plan. AHC includes the following:

  1. Completion of a comprehensive health questionnaire along with providing food logs, sports history, etc.
  2. An initial consult to discuss items in #1 to figure out what lab tests should be ordered and the creation of an initial health plan
  3. Upon receiving lab results, Tawnee and Erica meet for lab analysis and creation of a health plan
  4. A follow-up consult with Tawnee and Erica to discuss the lab results and the corresponding health plan

ND’s put much more emphasis on prevention and holistic wellness (diet, lifestyle change, supplements, etc,) to support the body. They focus on the underlying causes of symptoms and not the symptoms themselves. Conventional medicine has a tendency to focus more on treating the symptoms than figuring out the root cause.

After my initial consult they recommended two lab tests: Genova GI Effects (gut health) and DUTCH Complete (hormones). A few days later they sent me my initial health plan that included recommended diet and lifestyle changes that I can start working on immediately while we are waiting for my test results. Once my test results are in, they will fine tune my health plan with much more detail. Below is a summary of their initial recommendations for me:

  • Reduce FODMAP intake
  • Limit caffeine
  • Limit/eliminate alcohol – preferably 1 month of no alcohol
  • Screen cleanse – eliminate screens after 7-8pm
  • Keep a food journal – note foods that make me feel great or trigger negative issues
  • Stick with MAF training
  • Find activities for de-stressing/parasympathetic activation
  • Turn Wifi off at night

As far as implementing the above recommendations…it is still a work in process across many of the items. One great comment that Erica made in an email to me was “Lifestyle changes are often the hardest to implement, but also the most effective!” I 100% agree! Making these lifestyle changes has been difficult. However, even with making some small progressions, I have already noticed improvements with fewer gut issues and an improved MAF pace. Even though it may be hard, it definitely seems to be worth it!

Below is what I’ve been doing to progressively implement the above recommendations:

Reduce FODMAP Intake

Tawnee sent me this great list. It is the best FODMAP foods reference I’ve seen. I eat a lot of vegetables so I was initially discouraged that most of my favorites tended to be in the “more fermentable” categories. However, Tawnee told me there is an individuation aspect to FODMAPs and that is where a food log can be a useful tool. There are indeed certain FODMAP foods that bother me more than others. I’m anxious to get my GI Effects test back to see what is going on with my gut.

Limit Caffeine

I’ve already been working on this one – check out this post. The amount of fully caffeinated coffee I drink now is a fraction of what it used to be.

Limit/Eliminate Alcohol

Ugh! San Diego is the craft beer capital of America and I also enjoy having a glass of wine in the evenings. I have never considered myself a big drinker but I’ve started to realize that I likely drank more often than I thought. My strategies for cutting back have been:

  • Order Pellegrino/sparkling water with lime at restaurants. This helps me feel like I’m getting something special without it being alcohol (helps save some money as well!)
  • When I do drink, I try to keep it to red wines from Dry Farms wine (less alcohol, sulfites and additives)
  • When I just “need” a beer I’ll have a session IPA. Session IPAs have great hop flavor like a standard IPA but the alcohol content in a session IPA is typically in the 3.5% to 5% range vs. the 5.5% to 8% of a standard IPA.

I’m down to having four or fewer drinks per week. However, I’m going to go big…30 days of no alcohol (started yesterday)!

Screen Cleanse – eliminate screens after 7-8pm

Surprisingly, this one has been easier than I thought. I shifted my non-screen activities (cleaning the kitchen, prepping for the next day, etc.) to the evening. I’ll also read a physical book before bed instead of perusing the internet/social media and/or watching TV. This also helps my productivity because I need to get all my necessary “screen work” done by 7-8pm.

Keep a Food Journal

Easy…Evernote – DONE

Stick with MAF Training – No Added Intensity

No problems here either. Except for the occasional spin class that I’ll go to with my wife, all my workouts are at my MAF heart rate. I forwent my normal training buildup to my half Ironman, which I’m only doing for fun with no performance expectations.

Find Activities for De-Stressing/Parasympathetic Activation

I don’t have a good de-stressing routine at the moment. However, I started journaling again in the evenings (which also helps with the screen cleanse). At the end of every day I’ll write down my accomplishments, memorable moments that made me happy/smile/laugh, and other reflections.

Turn Wifi Off at Night

Zero progress here but I have an idea that I’m going to try…

By the time my test results come back in another 3-4 weeks, I’m planning to fully incorporate all these lifestyle changes. Stay tuned…

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.

 

improve-digestion

Optimizing Digestion for Better Gut Health

As I explained in my last post, gut health is vital for immunity, reducing inflammation, and nutrient absorption, all of which are important for athletes and just general overall health and wellness. In my opinion, there are two primary things necessary for gut health:

  1. Proper digestion
  2. Gut bacteria / microbiota

Therefore, those are the two main things I’m focusing on to improve the health of my gut. Gut bacteria have been getting most of the attention on the health scene lately but something that I think should be equally considered in the gut health equation is optimizing the digestive process. Before we all start ordering probiotic supplements and devouring fermented foods we should all take a moment to understand how digestion works.

The sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous systems are the two parts the autonomic nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system responsible for controlling bodily functions like breathing, heartbeat, and digestive processes. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are like yin and yang. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, heart rate increases, muscles contract, saliva production is reduced, and the stomach stops many of the digestive functions (one of the reasons we get stomach cramps if we eat before a hard training session). Correspondingly, when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, muscles relax, heart rate drops, saliva production increases and digestive enzymes are released.

It important that our parasympathetic nervous system is active when we eat because proper digestion requires saliva and the release of various digestive enzymes in addition to the acid in the stomach to properly breakdown food. Problems can start to occur pretty quickly if food isn’t properly digested when it is released from the stomach into the small intestine. Undigested food molecules can compromise the lining of the gut and lead to leaky gut. If these undigested molecules pass through the gut lining into the blood stream, our immune system is called into action and it creates inflammation. Undigested food particles that make it all the way to the large intestine can even disrupt the gut flora and cause various other issues. Let’s be real…angering the large intestine is ill-advised. Nobody wants to be the third stall bandit.

bathroom-stall-7

Now that we know how proper digestion and gut health are connected, these are some of the things I have been doing to optimize my digestion:

  • Eating in a more relaxed state to activate my parasympathetic nervous system. I’ve been trying to sit down to enjoy my meals vs. devouring food on the go or shoveling food in my mouth between meetings. Essentially just trying to get my body into the rest-and-digest mode when I’m eating.
  • Thoroughly chewing food so it is can mix with the enzymes in saliva and is broken down enough for the stomach to do its thing more effectively.
  • Taking a digestive enzyme supplement prior to big meals because the body may not be able to produce adequate enzymes to break down meals that are high in fat and protein. Therefore, I take one to two capsules of this digestive enzyme supplement prior to my biggest meals to give my digestive system a little extra help.
  • Not drinking a lot of water before, during, or after meals because it may dilute stomach acid. Pepsin is the enzyme that breaks down protein and is more effective with a lower pH level (higher acidity) in the stomach. Drinking a lot of water before, during, or immediately after meals has the potential to slightly dilute stomach acid and raise the pH environment in the stomach that may inhibit the breakdown of harder to digest proteins. I try to limit water intake ~20 minutes before and up to an hour after a meal.
  • Not snacking unless I’m truly hungry. For one, there really isn’t any evidence that snacking throughout the day increases metabolism beyond what is required to digest food. For two, the gut needs some downtime to take care of housekeeping activities like repairing the gut lining. If it is constantly digesting food…these activities can’t occur.
  • Not eating too close to bedtime because laying down isn’t exactly an optimal position to digest a meal. I try to avoid eating at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Letting it all hang out and not sucking in my stomach. Over the years I’ve developed a habit of holding in my stomach. This may help me look better in a swimsuit photo but it is not good for promoting proper digestion. Sucking in the stomach doesn’t provide the digestive system with the space it needs to function properly and interferes with the wave like motion of the intestines, causing a delay in digestion. Contrary to popular belief, sucking in the stomach doesn’t activate the abs.
  • Limiting and avoiding foods that could promote leaky gut like excessive sugar, grains, and dairy. Gliadin is a protein molecule that is found in most gluten containing foods (wheat and processed foods being the biggest culprit) that can cause an inflammatory reaction in the gut. Gliadin tolerance can vary from full-blown celiac to total tolerance. As we know, inflammation in the gut can increase gut permeability (leaky gut) and nutrient malabsorption. Here is the deal…I’m not saying gluten is the root of all food evil like it often gets made out to be because everyone tolerates it differently. All I’m saying is that, because of the potential implications to gut health, I would prefer to make other food choices that are more gut friendly.

I’ve been doing the things above for a few weeks now and I’ve definitely started to notice a an improvement in my digestion. One of the most surprising things I’ve noticed is that my food and sugar cravings have gone way down and I actually feel like I don’t need to eat as much. #Boom

Based on my experience, I’m starting to be a big believer in this whole gut health movement.

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(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / doctor

The Importance of Gut Health and Why It’s My Focus Area

Gut health and the microbiome are the next health frontier. In the past, the only time I would have thought about my gut is when it was in pain and holding me back from peak performance. Even though I don’t have major digestive or autoimmune issues, I have come to realize there are still some compelling reasons why the gut needs a little more love and attention.

The digestive system is pretty hard to love after all. It is essentially a giant mucus lined tube that is home to over 500 hundred species and three pounds of bacteria. And why should we care about giving TLC to something like that? Oh…I’ll tell you why:

Over 70% of our immune system is in the digestive tract. Our digestive system is one of the main ways nasties from the external environment get into our bodies. Think about the all things that can hitch a ride on the food we eat, the chemicals that are in processed food, or the mouthful of pool/lake/ocean water that inadvertently gets swallowed once in awhile. One of the greatest challenges for the digestive tract and surrounding immune system is differentiating between the good stuff we ingest (nutrients, good bacteria, etc.) and the bad stuff (toxins, parasites, bad bacteria, etc.). We rely on this system to let all the good stuff in and keep all the bad stuff out.

The good bacteria in our gut help train the immune system to identify what is good and what is bad. They even attack foreign invaders. Therefore, the health of our gut and our immune system are vitally linked. When one is in balance, the other is usually in balance as well.

Our bodies are protected from the toxic environment in our digestive system by a layer that is only one cell thick. We basically have a tube of toxins and sewage running through us that is lined by a single layer of epithelial cells whose cell membranes fuse together to form protein complexes called tight junctions. These junctions have the final say on what gets into our bodies and what doesn’t. The nerd in me can’t help but think of a bunch of Gandalfs…

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Unfortunately, these junctions can be comprised by things like a poor diet, chronic stress, medications, low stomach acid, overgrowth of bacteria and yeast, parasites, and excessive environmental toxins. When these junctions are compromised they can allow un-screened molecules to flow directly into the bloodstream (aka, leaky gut). Our immune system attacks these foreign molecules and this creates inflammation. If leaky gut is left unchecked it can cause systemic inflammation. Systemic gut inflammation is correlated to food intolerances, eczema, celiac disease, and other autoimmune diseases. Of course, these correlations could just be coincidental but a leaky gut definitely isn’t helping the matter.

The good bacteria in our gut help play defense by taking up space and providing an additional layer between the bad stuff and the tight junctions. They also help prevent bad bacteria and parasite overgrowth by using up all the necessary resources so the bad guys don’t have any resources to utilize for themselves. Good bacteria even secrete chemicals that influence the integrity of the intestinal lining.

A comprised gut may not effectively absorb nutrients. Gut inflammation impacts the gut’s ability to effectively absorb nutrients. All that money spent on the highest quality food and supplements and time preparing nutritious meals won’t be as beneficial if you can’t effectively absorb all the goodness.

As noted above, good gut bacteria help prevent the causes of gut inflammation. Additionally, gut bacteria help synthesize vitamins and breakdown carbohydrates, that would normally be indigestible, into short chain fatty acids. These fatty acids not only provide a major source of energy and nutrients but also help with the absorption of certain minerals and lipids.

Since I want to be as productive as possible at all times (not getting sick), minimize inflammation except the good, self-inflicted kind from training, and optimize my nutrient absorption to take full advantage of all the high-quality foods I eat, paying attention to and improving my gut health is a no-brainer and is currently a key focus area of mine.

So…what am I doing to improve my gut health? Stay tuned…

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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.

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The Top Tip for Improving Your Diet

As I mentioned in my last post about two months ago, I’ve been trying to figure out my best diet. A lot of things have happened in our lives over the last two months. We bought and started renovating a house, work got crazy again with quarter close and a private sale announcement, and holiday planning & travel. So what started out with good momentum and the best of intentions got put on the back burner. Even though I wasn’t able to follow through with the full elimination diet like I planned, I had plenty of learnings about what does and doesn’t work for me.

There were numerous times I found myself craving and eating empty calorie, carb laden comfort food, especially during high stress days. However, what I attributed to stress was more likely rooted in a lack of sleep. When I get super busy, my overall sleep quality goes down and sleep tends to get prioritized a bit lower on the list – even though I know it shouldn’t per my sleep post almost nine months ago. Sleep really is the foundation that I keep going back to.

The deal with me is that I’m an abstainer vs. a moderator. I first heard about this concept from Gretchen Rubin on a podcast about habits and happiness. In short, abstainers find it easier to give up something entirely than to indulge moderately. On the other hand, moderators do better when they avoid absolutes and strict rules. For example, I’m either going to eat no cookies or ALL the cookies. There is no in between. Eating only one requires substantially more self-control from me than eating none. My wife is a moderator. She could have one cookie and be totally satisfied. She can’t understand my extreme approach and I can’t understand her small indulgences. This dynamic has resulted in its fair share of marital annoyances for her (mostly from me eating the rest of something that she wants a few days later).

So how does how does this relate to sleep? Well…lack of sleep impairs self-control according to a review. I love food and I definitely have a sweet tooth. If my self-control is impaired I’m definitely more likely to give into impulses. And…since I’m an abstainer…once I give in to those impulses it isn’t likely going to be a moderate indulgence either.

But it gets worse. In addition to the dynamic above, studies have shown a lack of sleep negatively impacts hunger hormones. Ghrelin is the “hunger hormone” that tells you when to eat and Leptin is the “satiety hormone” that tells you when you are full. A lack of sleep increases Ghrelin and decreases Leptin so, essentially, a lack of sleeps makes you hungrier and less likely to stop eating.

So basically…as an abstainer, when I don’t get enough sleep I’m more likely to indulge in food I want to avoid AND I’m more likely to over eat because my hunger hormones aren’t working like they should.

Therefore, the best thing for having an optimal diet is getting enough sleep!

Week 1 Diet Missteps, Learnings, and Recipes

I’m one week into my plan for finding my optimal diet and I’ve already had some good insights about what does and doesn’t work for me:

  1. A larger breakfast works better for me than a large dinner. Dinner for us tends to be late because we usually work late and/or I try to get a workout session in when I get home. That means dinner is typically 8pm or later. As I noted in my previous post about sleep, a big meal in the evenings can inhibit sleep because it spikes insulin and causes a cortisol response. Additionally, since I eat a low carb high fat (LCHF) diet and fat and protein take longer to digest, eating a big LCHF meal that late in the evening is more likely to cause indigestion because a sleep position isn’t ideal for proper digestion.
  2. Sugar hides in unlikely places. As part of the Two Week test I am trying to avoid foods with added sugar. It wasn’t until I after I snacked on some of my favorite jerky that I realized I just took in 38g of sugar! No Bueno… Time to look into out some other jerky brands.
  3. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. Some friends generously hosted us for dinner this week so as good guests we brought over wine and dessert. For the most part I stuck to my diet plan by opting for salad over pasta and only having one glass of wine. However, tried as I might, I gave in to a piece of banana crème pie from Whole Foods. Normally at the point of losing willpower and succumbing to peer pressure I would throw in the towel and just go for a second piece…and probably a third. But I didn’t this time! So instead of considering the night a dietary failure, I’m considering it a big success.
  4. Reducing coffee consumption is hard! I love coffee and it is as much of a habitual thing for me as caffeine addiction. I can satisfy the habitual craving with decaf but I don’t trust the chemical (methylene chloride) decaffeination process that most decaf coffees undergo. I prefer the non-toxic swiss water process instead. I found out that my favorite K-Cup brand uses the chemical process (oh yeah…I emailed them to ask) and so does Starbucks, which is the brand served in our office. Therefore, I may just need to get real crazy and get an aeropress or French press for my desk.
  5. Sipping herbal tea helps with sugar cravings. About mid-week I noticed that I was having some sugar cravings even though I wasn’t (and shouldn’t have been) hungry. Sipping on herbal tea really helped during those times (as did decaf coffee with a little heavy cream). I’ve also noticed that those cravings really started to subside as the week went on. One caveat here is that I don’t have a severe sugar addiction like I used to before I switched to a more ancestral LCHF diet over a year ago. I would have laughed in the face of anyone telling me this a few years ago while probably eating a cookie at the same time.

Meal planning has been essential and enjoying cooking has helped as well. My mom was right…if you love food and want to eat healthy, cooking skills are a must. The following are some of the foods I’ve been making and eating this last week. I’ve started an Evernote notebook with detailed recipes so if you want any of them just drop me a note or a comment and I can either send you recipes or give you access to the notebook. (Evernote is an amazing tool if you aren’t using it already.) As much as I enjoy cooking, I enjoy other things more. Therefore, I only make things that are quick, don’t require lots of prep and can easily be batched cooked for lots of leftovers. The finance/accounting side of me wants to say that I cook things that provide maximum return (volume of food) for a minimal investment (time).

Autoimmune Paleo & Two-Week Test Meals:

  • Fried eggs and sweet potato hash browns w/ avocado and sautéed greens
  • Fat based green smoothie
  • Spaghetti squash w/ turkey meatballs
  • Zucchini “pasta” with kale pesto and shredded chicken
  • Balsamic braised boneless short ribs
  • Roasted thyme and rosemary carrots and parsnips
  • Lemon and rosemary-sage broiled salmon
  • Roasted baby squash

Snacks:

  • Tuna w/ homemade balsamic vinaigrette
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Mini cucumbers w/ seasoned salt