When RICE is Wrong: A Better Way to Treat Overuse Injuries

It might start as a little twinge.  Or a dull ache that grows little by little.  Maybe even a stabbing pain surges through the back of your heel forcing you to stop mid run.

Oh no.  You are injured.

If you run, there’s a good chance that you’ll get injured sooner or later.  Up to 79% of us per year are smacked with some kind of running injury, making the odds of making it through a single year on two healthy feet almost a rarity.

So you suck it up, pop an anti-inflammatory, prop your foot up on a bag of frozen peas and settle in for a week-long Netflix binge session.

But you might not be doing yourself any good.

In fact, ice, NSAIDs and rest could actually make your injury heal slower.

Wait, what?

The common response to any soft tissue injury is the classic RICE treatment that we all learned in basic First Aid.  RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation and, along with taking an anti-inflammatory pill for pain and swelling, it’s prescribed for every common ailment that running can throw at us from acute ankle sprains to achilles tendonitis to hamstring pulls.

Except in many cases it’s the opposite of what you want to do.

The first step is to determine what type of injury you have before grabbing the Advil and the remote control.

There are two types of running injuries: acute and overuse.  When you trip and twist your ankle, that’s an acute injury and the RICE protocol works.  Immediate icing has been shown in research to dramatically improve sudden inflammatory response so go ahead and ice your swollen ankle, elevate it, and rest.

But that same treatment is not going to help your aching achilles and will probably end up slowing your healing.

So as backwards as it sounds, overuse injuries can heal when you continue to run and can be completely cured when you micro-damage the tendons and muscles even more.

Sounds crazy, right?

Not only should you run and strength train through this type of injury, but ice and NSAIDs should be avoided.

This sounds completely backwards, but the research backs it up.

What’s going on here?

Let’s continue to look at the achilles to explain.  For overuse injuries of the achilles tendon, most people commonly refer to it as achilles tendonitis.  The “itis” suffix refers to inflammation.

But that’s actually a misnomer.

“Inflammation of the achilles tendon or its surrounding tissues is not a common finding in athletes with overuse injuries to the achilles,” says John Davis, biomechanics researcher for Runners Connect.  “Rather, their pain is caused by real, physical damage to and degradation of the small fibers that make up the achilles tendon.  Because of this, some doctors and researchers advocate renaming the injury “achilles tendonosis” or “achilles tendinopathy” to make it clear that degeneration of the tendon fibers is the root of the problem.”

Ice and NSAIDs like Advil work to limit inflammation.  If that’s not happening, they won’t help much.  In fact, there is evidence that they might make your problem worse by slowing healing.

What has been proven to heal your heel (hee hee!) is eccentric heel drops, an exercise where you slowly lower one heel off a step, then use both feet to raise back up.  Eccentrically loading the the calves ends up strengthening the tendon and actually curing the degeneration.  Ten to fifteen repetitions twice a day for 12 weeks has been shown to be effective.

Once you get good at that, throw a bowling ball in a backpack and try them!  Eccentric heel drops while wearing a weighted backpack can further strengthen the tendon so much that the pain disappears completely.

Eccentric Heel Drops

But what about running through pain?  As a coach for Runners Connect, I’m always careful about cautioning our athletes to not run through pain.

Is that always the best advice?

Turns out that running through a little pain is okay.  In fact, continuing to train might not make the injury worse, and you may be able heal your injury without sacrificing your fitness.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, it is a little.  Running through an acute injury or a stress fracture is not a good idea and that could most certainly make the injury worse.

But a fascinating study on the achilles showed that a group of runners who continued to through moderate pain (rated as no higher than a 5/10 on a scale of 1 to 10), had the same positive outcomes as the control group who were only allowed “active recovery” activities such as swimming and walking.  The running group was not allowed to continue to run if the pain worsened or remained throughout the next day, but as long as their pain stayed moderate and improved instead of regressed, they were allowed to run and healed just as well as the non-runners.

The key words here are moderate and improving, so I’m not saying that it’s a good idea just to push through pain until your tendon ruptures.  That’s just silly.  But you may not have to be perfectly pain-free to still be able to go out for a run.

Of course, I want to make it clear that I am not a doctor or a physical therapist.  If you are in pain and running just hurts, please be smart and go see one of them for advice.  Preferably, find a professional that is a runner and understands the obsessed runner’s brain to give you the best diagnosis and treatment plan that will help you get healthy and back to running happy.

What makes sense for you is highly individual, but it’s refreshing to know that every minor niggle doesn’t have to banish you to the couch.

And you can save that bag of frozen peas for dinner.

 

Breaking 19:00 with a Mental Breakthrough

Runners love two things:  running and round numbers.

We don’t like to run 7.98 miles.  We like to run 8, so we’ll take an extra few steps past our destination to get that 8 to appear on our watches and our Strava logs.

And just like a sale for $1.99 seems like a way better deal than $2, getting just under that round number you’ve chosen for your race goal is so much more satisfying.

Last year my goal was to break 20 minutes in the 5K and I did that in all three races I entered.

Of course, that meant the new goal became breaking 19.

But so far this year, I hadn’t been able to even break 20 again even though I had been focusing my training on speed. Each race felt harder than the last and I was wondering if I was moving backwards.

Doubts about my ability and progress started to cloud my normal optimism.  Had I reached my peak already?  Have I set my sights too high for my ability?  Am I just kidding myself here?

So I stopped racing for 6 weeks.  You can’t fail if you don’t try, right?

All this because of a number on a clock.

I wasn’t having fun and I didn’t want to keep putting myself out there just to disappoint myself.  The marathon is where I want to focus my training and the red-hot speed necessary for a great 5K is barely relevant to the marathon.

But I still had this last 5K race on the calendar.  It was technically my “goal race” for the spring.  I wondered if I should even do it.

Then my friend Veena who ran it with me last year said she might go, so that was enough incentive for me to hit the register button.

The Downhill at Dusk 5K, as the name implies, is downhill, but not the entire time.  The first mile has a short but steep descent, the second mile is flat, and the finish is an annoying uphill.  My watch calculated it as 45% downhill, 45% flat, and 10% up.

Last year I got a nice 21-second PR in 19:33 (6:17/mile pace).

It is not an automatically fast course for everyone since downhill running can beat up your legs more than you think if you are not prepared for it.  It’s also very easy to go out too fast on the first downhill without realizing what you are doing to yourself, coming back to haunt you later as you crawl up the final inclines.

Which is what I did last year.

In 2016, I certainly went out too fast and remember feeling the struggle start in mile two.  By mile 3, my pace had slowed by an entire minute per mile and the last tenth of a mile was a painful stagger, nearly two minutes per mile slower than the start.

Pretty much the opposite of what you want to do in a 5k.

But this year, I had no goal.  After flatlining on my progress this spring, I decided the time goal simply didn’t matter.  All I wanted to do was race hard and get it over with as soon as possible.

Getting below 19 minutes never entered my mind.

But here’s what did:  calmness.  Clarity.  Relaxed focus.  And even a little fun.

Call it the elusive “runner’s flow.”

I was even relaxed enough to say a few words mid race to the guys running around me, which is usually impossible when you are in the red zone.

I have been practicing getting into the right frame of mind while racing and running hard and it certainly paid off on Saturday.

I only glanced at my watch at the first and second mile splits and instead focused on how I felt.

Mile 1 felt easy and light.  I ran it 3 seconds faster than last year at 5:44, but my breathing was calm and smooth so I wasn’t worried about it being too fast.

I was expecting to start hurting in Mile 2 at about the same spot as last year, but that point never came.  There were no other women ahead of me to chase this year so I focused on the men, pretending they were women and making myself smile at the idea.  The water station at the end of Mile 2 seemed to arrive much earlier than I anticipated and again, I was three seconds faster than last year at 6:08.

I was actually feeling good and repeated that fact to myself over and over again.

But Mile 3 is where this race really starts. I knew what to expect this year and just focused on staying strong.  I wasn’t doing the math and didn’t bother looking at my watch anymore because it didn’t matter at that point.  I remember thinking as I turned the corner to start the uphills, this is the last 5K you have to do for a while.  It’s almost done. Just get there, just get there, just get there.

I later found out the Mile 3 split came in at 6:24 vs 6:43 in 2016.  The hills slowed me somewhat, but they were not a struggle this time.

The finish line is in a parking lot and the course makes a sharp right turn off the road with about 50-75 meters left to the finish.  As soon as I turned, I saw the race clock ticking at 18:45.

Huh?

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!! 

I had no idea that I was so close to my dream goal and just pumped my arms and legs as fast as they would go in a desperate attempt to beat that clock.  I ran at full speed across the timing mats not stopping until I was well past them to be sure that I gave it my very best shot.

I made it by a literal split second: 18:59.2.

I closed the final tenth of a mile at a 6:16 pace compared to my exhausted 7:36 last year.

Veena also did awesome, knocking out a PR for herself after a long break recovering from injury, earning her a second place finish!

I plan to go more in depth about the mental work that I have been doing in future posts.   I credit staying calm and focused as equally important, or perhaps even more important, as the physical training.

This race felt better and less intense but yet was faster than last year.  Sure I’ve logged a lot of miles in the past year, but the breakthrough was more in my mind than in my legs or lungs.

Naturally, this begs the question, am I now reconsidering 5ks and going for an even faster goal?  18:45 or 18:30 perhaps?

As enticing at that sounds, I think the lesson I’ve learned here is to hold those time goals a lot less tightly.

Training with a goal in the back of your mind is probably a good thing.  But maybe racing without one is better.

Can I Start Marathon Training Yet?

After taking the spring off of racing marathons, I am so ready to get back to it.

I feel like I’ve been wearing someone else’s wardrobe for the past few months by racing 5 and 10Ks and nothing ever fit right.  I just want to put my jeans and t-shirt back on and get back to my passion.

So I have chosen my fall race, the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon on October 1.

The course is a lovely, point-to-point race along Lake Michigan.  With only a couple hundred feet of elevation drop over the entire course, it is about as flat as you can get.

Here’s the course profile for the first half:

Course elevation profiles always look a little more dramatic than they actually are.  The little rises and falls will feel almost imperceptible over this distance.

And the last 5K has a nice little descent which will be welcome at that point!

Besides the favorable course and the likelihood of good racing weather, the other reason for choosing Milwaukee is because I went to college there at Marquette University.  It’s always nice to go back and visit and hopefully catch up with some of my dearest friends from back in the day.

My sister also lives in Wisconsin, so hopefully she’ll be able to come out and be ready with a steaming bag of french fries for me at the finish line!

Milwaukee is a beautiful, fun city and while I didn’t run in college, I’m really looking forward to running there this fall.

Besides the race itself, I am mainly looking forward to getting back into the long grind of marathon training.  I know that sounds crazy to anyone who doesn’t run them, but I like the sense of accomplishment I feel when I train for a marathon.  I haven’t really fallen in love with the shorter races as I had hoped, and I have been a bit disappointed that I haven’t seen my times improve this spring.

Well, actually, I’m not sure if that’s true or not.  My racing times certainly haven’t improved, but there have been a few bright spots in workouts that have given me hope.

Nothing dramatic or clear cut, but a few track laps here and there that I know that I wouldn’t have been able to hit a year ago.

Little moments that show me that I’ve got it in me, I just need to coax it out at times.

For now, I’ve got one last 5K to race tomorrow and that’s the Downhill at Dusk 5K that I raced last year.  (Just rereading my race report is making me wonder why I’m doing this to myself again.)  It’s a very steep downhill the first mile, cruising to flat the second, with a nasty little crest at the end.

I’ve got no goal this year, except just to race it hard with an open mind and see what happens.

Because as soon as I cross that finish line, marathon training begins.

 

The Hilly Easy Run, or How to Spice Up the Slog

By now, most runners know that in order to run fast, you have to spend a lot of time going slow.  Around 80% of the time, in fact.

If you run five days a week, two of them, if not three of them, should be slow and easy.  If you run every day?  Then it’s more like four easy runs a week.

Many of the runners I coach at Runners Connect find this concept very hard to grasp.  They’ll say that they are running easy, when they are actually running just a few seconds slower than marathon pace.

Sorry to say, your marathon pace is not your easy pace.  (Unless you run marathons far below your ability, but that’s another post.)

For reference, I typically run my easy runs 2-3 minutes slower than marathon pace.

“But I feeeeel good!” they’ll tell me after running a good 90 seconds faster per mile than they should.

Running so slowly is uncomfortable for me,” they’ll protest while logging an “easy” run that is actually right in between medium and hard.

Or the flat-out, “I want to run, not jog.” Sigh.  Jogging will make you a faster, stronger, and more resilient runner.

Unfortunately, what makes you feel good in the moment while you are running is not always what you should be doing.

Running slow and easy is just like eating your vegetables.  You gotta do a lot of it to be at your best.

Potato chips feel good, but no one’s going to say consuming a bag of Lays is going to help your running.

The idea of eating salads every day might make you feel uncomfortable at first, too, but it will certainly help with your health.

And lots of people would rather skip the veggies and eat fried chicken, milkshakes, half pound burgers covered with slabs of cheese, washed down with gallons of beer, but that’s not doing the body any favors.

So the trick to learning to love your easy runs is exactly the same as learning to love your greens–spice them up!

Instead of a boring slog on the same flat route you always run, find some hills.  Forget all about pace (seriously, you Type A runners–just let it go!) and just keep the effort easy, even if it means you have to stop or walk a bit on the inclines.

You want to keep your breathing slow, relaxed and even and your effort level should be exactly the same as if you were running on flat ground.

You should be able to sing a song out loud while running and freak out the neighbors.

That means that if you are used to seeing 7- or 8-minute miles on your easy runs, get your ego prepared to see some 9s, 10s or even 11s.  Let all the pride you attach to pace (we all do it, I promise) go and instead make your challenge be how smooth you can keep your effort level.

You will feel ridiculously slow on the inclines and that’s okay!  Shorten your stride so you can keep your cadence light and quick and just pitter patter your way up the hill with your nice forward lean.

You will be rewarded at the top with a descent where you can open up your speed a bit to take advantage of gravity.  This is where you can have some fun!

But don’t speed up so much on the declines that you accidently increase your effort level, of course, but it’s a treat to go a little faster while keeping the effort nice and easy.

Another point to make on the declines is to remember to keep your footsteps light and avoid the natural tendency to brake with hard footfalls.  You should keep your nice slight forward lean that you have on the inclines to almost fall downhill rather than stomp down it.

If you keep the effort level easy, running hills will add variety to your runs and will strengthen your legs and lungs for race day.  Running flat will soon seem extra easy and long hills late in a race will no longer have the power to defeat you.

And who knows?  Maybe just like veggie lovers who eventually start to crave kale, you’ll learn to love your easy runs.

 

 

Big Ol’ Beet Burgers

By now, most runners know they should eat their beets.  Loaded with dietary nitrates, beets have been shown to increase performance in runners as well as decrease our perception of effort.

Win/win, right?

I’m always looking for ways to add beets to my diet and these colorful beet burgers are just right for warm weather barbeques.

I’ve loved making Isa Chandra’s beet burgers, but I can’t help but tweak her recipe a little.

Along with the beets, a key ingredient in my version is walnuts.  Walnuts contain an essential fat called alpha-linolenic acid (usually abbreviated as ALA), or omega-3 fat.  It’s only found in just a handful of plant foods (ground flaxseed and chia are two more) so it’s important to try to eat a good source of omega-3s each day.

So colorful!

What’s great about these is that you can swap out the beans and/or the grains (yes, quinoa is technically a seed) for whatever you have on hand and they’ll still turn out great.  No quinoa?  Sub brown rice.  Don’t like pintos?  Go for black beans.  You really can’t mess up here.

Whole grains and beans are great sources of iron and zinc, two nutrients that are absolutely essential for overall health, not to mention running performance.

Looks weirdly similar to ground beef!

And while I’m not a huge fan of fake meat substitutes, it’s almost scary how much these look like beef while you are making them.  But after they are cooked, they are a brilliant magenta pink, guaranteed to catch everyone’s attention at the table!

A cookie cutter makes shaping easy

This is a great reason to make a few extra cups of beans or rice whenever you are cooking them for something else to tuck away in the freezer.  That way, awesome veggie burgers come together in just a few minutes.

I like to make huge batches of these because beets can be a little messy to work with.  I’d rather only clean up once and have a nice stash of homemade burgers in the freezer for a quick lazy meal.

Pretty patties can be baked, grilled, or dry pan-fried

The vitamin C in the beets help you absorb the iron to help move oxygen to your hard working muscles. And it’s even better if you top your burger with the beet greens!

Loaded with guac, tomatoes, onions, and ketchup!

These patties can be a little delicate, so be careful with them on the grill.  I like to play it safe and dry fry them or use a pan on the grill and cook them until they start to get just a few slightly charred spots.

Delicious way to get all your nutrients!

Yields 10 big burgers

Big Ol’ Beet Burgers

A bright pink, delicious vegan burger stuffed with plant superpowers!

40 minPrep Time

12 minCook Time

52 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups raw shredded beets (about two medium)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2.5 cups cooked and cooled quinoa or other whole grain
  • 2 cups cooked and cooled pinto beans or one 15 oz can drained and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel or crushed whole seeds (optional but yummy!)
  • 2 teaspoons dried mustard
  • 2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 cup panko or fine breadcrumbs

Instructions

  1. Peel the beets and shred with the shredder attachment of a food processor. Remove shredded beets from machine into a large bowl.
  2. Switch to the S blade and pulse the walnuts until crumbly, but not so long that they turn into butter.
  3. Add the onion, garlic, beans, quinoa, and shredded beets and pulse 15-20 times until the mixture comes together but still has a slightly chunky texture and looks eerily like ground beef.
  4. Transfer back to the mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients.
  5. Use your hands to squish everything together so it's evenly incorporated.
  6. Refrigerate bowl for 30 minutes
  7. Preheat your cooking surface(I like well-seasoned cast iron), if cooking right away, and shape into patties, either by hand or using a cookie cutter.
  8. If your cast iron is well-seasoned, you will need very little or no oil. If not, use a light spray or swipe with a neutral high-heat oil like canola.
  9. Cook for approximately 12 minutes, flipping a few times on each side until they are just barely charred and heated through.
  10. Serve with all your favorite burger fixings!
Cuisine: American |

Notes

Inspired by Isa Chandra's Quarter Pounder Beet Burgers

http://www.isachandra.com/2012/02/quarter-pounder-beet-burger/

7.6.3
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http://theplantedrunner.com/big-ol-beet-burgers/

 

Could Those Electrolytes Be Making You Fat?

Nooooo!!  Not again.  Another damn nutrition article ruins the fun.

What’s the villain in our diets this time?  One of the usual suspects: salt.

But not for the reason you might think.

According to an article published in the New York Times, researchers have discovered that salty diets can dramatically increase hunger and lead to overeating.  And not just a few extra snacks.  A whopping 25% more calories.

That’s like eating an extra meal a day.

The researchers fed cosmonauts living in isolation to mimic space travel a salty diet and despite conventional wisdom, the cosmonauts actually drank less fluid than on a lower sodium diet.  And here’s the bad news:  their levels of hunger dramatically rose, even though they were eating the same amount of calories.

Hmmm…so maybe it’s not the extra carbs that cause some marathoners to gain weight in training despite running more miles.

It’s the extra salt driving us to eat more.

Salt has always been the one thing as a runner that I have felt pretty good about indulging in.  After all, sodium is an essential electrolyte that is lost in sweat and is critical for life.

At my house, we can go through a bottle of (low-sodium) soy sauce in a week.  I grind pink Himalayan salt over roasted veggies and sprinkle a few shakes on my oatmeal.

Salt makes food taste better, plain and simple.  (Remember the watermelon post last week?)   But when food tastes good, we are more tempted to overeat.

And it’s not just the salty deliciousness of the bag of Sea Salt Waffle Chips that makes us want to eat more, it’s the body crying out to eat more to make up for the extra calories it burns creating extra fluid to dilute the sodium.

It’s a double whammy.

Strangely, instead of continuing to signal your thirst to bring on more fluid to dilute the salt, your body will create its own.  Just like a camel breaks down the fat in its hump to unlock the stored water, our bodies do the same thing cannibalizing your own fat and muscles.

This process burns calories, of course, which should mean we’d lose weight on a salty diet.  But we don’t, because our brain ramps up the hunger cues, leading us to eat more (salty) food.

Athletes seem to be given a free pass, when it comes to sodium. After all, nearly every sports drink on the planet contains salt.  Marathons offer water and salty Gatorade at every mile.

Runners even take salt tabs, especially during hot races, believing that it will prevent cramping. (Probably not.)

Athletes need more salt than non-athletes, right?  Salt stings our eyes in the summer and leaves chalky stains on our t-shirts.   Of course we need to replace it!

Yes, but it’s not that simple.  Hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, is a real issue in long distance events, but what about our daily lives?

It seems like scientists might know a lot less about salt’s role in the body than we thought.

We know that water, sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes work in a delicate balance in the body.  If you take on too much water, you have to pee.  If you eat something salty, you drink, which is why smart restaurant owners provide those salty bar snacks.

Now it seems that the salty pub mix not only increases drink sales, but it probably also increases food sales too.

So what does this mean for an endurance athlete?

Sodium is still a critical element in our diets, but we should probably be careful about our consumption, just like the rest of the population.  Many exercise scientists, most notably Tim Noakes, believe that runners’ deaths from hyponatremia come from over-hydration, not from under-consuming sodium.

What’s the bottom line, then?  How much salt do athletes need?  There is no clear answer.  Some say that excreting excess salt in our diets is one of the best benefits to exercise because we consume too much.

Yet others warn that restricting salt too much is dangerous as well, especially to the heart.

What’s a runner to do, then?

If you can’t figure out why you are always hungry or if you gain weight during heavy training, take a look at your sodium intake.  Perhaps it’s a part of the (complicated) equation.

But ultimately, I think the best advice is the same as always–choose fresh, whole foods with limited processing and don’t over do it.

Make meals at home and share them with the people you love.

And maybe go a little lighter on the soy sauce.

 

2017 Nutrition Summit Recipes

It’s been so much fun being a part of the Runners Connect 2017 Nutrition Summit!

To make it simpler for those who are just coming to my site for the first time, here are links to some of the recipes that I mention in my talk.

 

 

High Protein Whole Wheat Bread

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIY Generation UCAN Lemonade

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sugar-Free Chocolate DIY UCAN

 

 

 

 

 

Stupidly Easy Homemade Non-Dairy Yogurt for making overnight oats.

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Blackstrap Cocoa

 

 

 

 

DIY Nuun Electrolyte Replacement

 

 

 

 

Copycat GU Gel

 

 

 

 

Real Food Endurance Gels

 

 

 

Hope you are enjoying the summit!  And if you haven’t signed up yet, here’s how to get your free ticket!

How to Make One of Nature’s Finest Post-Run Foods Taste Amazing

I don’t like watermelon.

There’s something about its weirdly sweet flavor which is just, well, so watery.

But my kids love it.  They beg for it.  They would eat nothing but watermelon for dinner if I let them.

So every summer, I buy watermelon, cut it up for the kids and I eat none of it.

Then the other day, I got the latest copy of Nutrition Action, an awesome monthly publication created by the dedicated people at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

You know, the food lobbyists for the people, yo!

CSPI created scores for fruit by calculating the percentage of the recommended daily intake of seven major nutrients plus fiber and carotenoids.

What are carotenoids? you might ask.  Carotenoids are phytonutrients that give fruits and veggies their bright colors.  They act as antioxidants in the body fighting inflammation and protecting against disease.  Well-known carotenoids are lycopene, beta carotene, and lutein.

Watermelon was scored second highest on the Nutrition Action list, right behind guava (which amazingly was twice as high).  Two cups of watermelon has a score of 302, while an apple only weighs in at 34 with a difference of only 10 calories.

The publication makes it clear that all fruits are good for you so it isn’t necessary to only eat guava and watermelon while shunning apples, but adding a few more fruits that are higher on the list is probably a good idea.

Watermelon, in all its watery voluminousness, is also great for helping you feel full without costing a lot of calories.

But I don’t like watermelon!

So maybe I’ll try to find a guava.

Okay, I didn’t try too hard to find that guava, because I came home with a watermelon.

Later that night, my husband cut it up for the kids as usual and I decided to figure out a way to like watermelon.

At a dinner party years ago, some friends served mango for dessert dressed with a little lime juice and salt.  It was a delicious combination so I thought I’d try it with the watermelon cubes.

Complete transformation!

The salt cut the sickly sweet taste of the watermelon and it became fresh and tart with the lime juice.  I ate my 2 cup serving and then went back for seconds!

It’s the perfect combo to eat cold out of the fridge after a hot, sweaty run.  Two cups of watermelon provides 23 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein, and almost no fat.

But the vitamin and mineral content is where watermelon is a superstar for runners.  It provides 34% of your RDA of vitamin A, 42% of vitamin C, plus calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.  And when you sprinkle a little salt on top, you are helping to replace the sodium you just lost in your sweat.

Natural glycogen and electrolyte replacement at its finest!

The carotenoid content of watermelon is also quite high, providing more than 20% of what you need in a day for optimal health.  So it’s not just great after a run, but any time of the day.

One thing to remember is that carotenoids are fat-soluble, so sprinkling some sesame, hemp, or sunflower seeds on your frosty, limey, salty cubes is a great addition to make sure that all of those micro-nutrients are being absorbed well in your body.  It’s also a good idea to get some protein with your carbs post-run, so those seed sprinkles are doing double-duty!

So often we runners like to over-analyze and over-complicate things.  We buy gels and powders and goos and gadgets that are supposed to make every facet of our fitness optimized to the nth degree.

Yet sometimes, we just need to take a step back and look for the simple choice right in front of us: whole, unprocessed food straight from nature.

 

The Exercise Paradox: Why Running Won’t Make You Lose Weight

Great.  Another depressing study that tells me running isn’t doing what I think it’s doing.

Running burns a ton of calories, right?  So if you run just a little more, you’ll lose weight, right?

Not necessarily.

In the February 2017 issue of Scientific American, researchers glumly announced that it really doesn’t matter how much exercise you do.  Human metabolism is fixed and exercise is a poor tool for weight loss.

Let me say that again:  your metabolism is fixed and running more won’t make you lose more weight.

The scientists measured the calorie burn of the highly active hunter-gatherer Hadza tribe in rural Tanzania who hunt all day long in hopes of killing their food, only to discover that they burn roughly the same amount of calories as their sedentary Western counterparts.

Just reading that seems ridiculous.  How in the world can an active person burn the same amount of calories as a couch potato?

Well, moderately active people do burn more than those glued to the desk and the couch, but bumping your mileage up from moderate to high in the name of losing weight won’t provide the same returns it once did when you first started.

Sigh.

In a study of over 300 Westerners, the researchers discovered that “energy expenditure plateaued at higher activity levels: people with the most intensely active daily lives burned the same number of calories each day as those with moderately active lives. The same phenomenon keeping Hadza energy expenditure in line with that of other populations was evident among individuals in the study.”

Lovely.  I’m burning the same amount of calories sitting at my desk typing this as the Hadza woman gathering wild berries and digging tubers out of the hard ground with a stick.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how it works, but they theorize that as your body becomes fitter and healthier, it spends less time “housekeeping,”  like rebuilding damaged cells or fighting inflammation.

In other words, your body becomes more efficient and will run on less.

But wait.  If you go out on a 20 mile run, the average person is burning about 2000 calories, depending on weight. Therefore, she should be able to eat 2000 additional calories worth of food to maintain her weight.  It’s a simple equation, isn’t it?

Ah, just like just about everything in the human body, it isn’t that simple.

What happens when the Hadza tribesmen don’t catch the giraffe after spending the entire day hunting?  That’s a big, expensive caloric gamble that they sometimes lose.  Why don’t they starve?

The answer is fat.  Even the leanest humans, like the Hadza, carry about twice as much fat as other primates.  We are built to store fat to feed our big brains when we don’t catch the giraffe.

This is not really news, of course.  Everyone’s heard the phrases “abs are made in the kitchen” and “you can’t outrun a bad diet.”  We all know it’s a lot easier to eat 100 calories of peanut butter in one swallow than it is to burn it off running a mile.

I know this is true first hand because I ran more miles than ever last year and still gained weight!

The fact that our metabolism is fixed is a little disheartening, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run or even that you shouldn’t run a lot.  If my only reason to run were that it kept my weight in check, I’d run a whole lot less, but that’s only a small part of why I run at this point.

The way I’m choosing to look at this is that it means that nutrition matters more than how much you run.  Exercise is still essential, but the returns from a metabolic standpoint plateau and may even diminish as the miles pile up.

Eating whole, nutritious foods that satisfy without being too calorically dense is the key to fueling your body with exactly what it needs, without allowing it to store the excess as fat.

Forcing your body to work harder to get the nutrients out of your food could help a bit too.  That means salads instead of smoothies and nuts instead of nut butters.  The more chopping, blending, and processing that you do to your food outside of your body, the easier it is for your body digest and use (good things!) but also store as fat (bleh).

The fact is that our brains were developed to obsessively search for food and our bodies were designed to greedily hoard fat no matter what the caloric cost.

But the Scientific American piece did end on an upbeat note.  It mentioned another evolutionary development that is essential to human survival:  cooperation.

Other apes do not share food, but we do.  The Hadza men work together as a group to hunt the giraffe, but if they are not successful, they come back to their camp to share in the food that the women have gathered.

Because they share in the hunting, the gathering, and the food, they do not starve.

So run together.

Eat together.

(Just not too much.)

 

 

 

Lime Mango Tart

Life is too short to skip dessert.

I adore making beautiful cakes and pies, but they generally are not the healthiest way to finish off a meal.  Sure, having a slice of cake is wonderful for a celebration, but when there’s half a cake left after the party’s over, it’s just too easy to eat cake every single day until it’s gone.

Or twice a day.

Or for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

For Easter this year, I wanted to make something gorgeous and impressive, but without the flour, sugar, and tons of oil.

Of course, it had to be delicious too.

So I chose a mango tart with an almond crust with a lime coconut filling.

And yes, I was singing “you put the lime in da coconut and drink it all up” pretty much the whole time.

The mango rose is easier than it looks.  You use a vegetable peeler to peel the mango skin, then slice off the two halves around the flat seed.  Then you cut into thin slices.

Using the longest slices first, begin placing them around the filled pie, starting from the outside edge.  Continue around in a circular pattern until you get to the center.  Easy peasy!

I used a tart pan with a removable bottom so that the shell could stand on its own without a pie dish, but if you don’t have one, you can just use a regular pie pan.

Be warned that while this recipe is super easy, it does require some chilling, so it’s easier to make this the day before you need it, or at least several hours in advance.

This is a recipe that I would have been happy to have as leftovers.  Even for breakfast!

But wouldn’t you know it?   It was so good, there weren’t any!

Lime Mango Tart
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Ingredients

    For the tart shell:
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
  • For the filling:
  • 1 can coconut cream or full fat coconut milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews (optional, but delicious)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3-4 ripe mangos

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Add all tart shell ingredients to a food processor and pulse until you get coarse crumbs that clump together when squeezed in your hand.
  2. Press dough into a greased 11" tart pan with a removable bottom or pie pan. Make sure dough is even all around and up the sides.
  3. Bake until lightly golden and cookie-like, about 15 minutes.
  4. Cool completely, at least an hour.
  5. To prepare the filling, place coconut cream, maple syrup, vanilla, and cashews in a high speed blender and blend until smooth. (If you do not have a high speed blender, you'll want to boil the cashews in just enough water to cover them for ten minutes, drain the water, then add to the blender.)
  6. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently.
  7. Meanwhile, mix almond milk and cornstarch in a container until dissolved.
  8. Once at a simmer, add lime juice, then slowly pour in cornstarch mix.
  9. Stir until thickened.
  10. Pour into cooled tart shell and refrigerate one hour.
  11. Meanwhile, slice your mangos. Peel with a vegetable peeler and slice into two halves around the flat seed. Then slice longways into thin strips.
  12. Arrange sliced mangos in a rose pattern by using the longest slices first along the outside of the tart, working in a circular pattern until you reach the center.
  13. Keep at room temperature or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Notes

*inspired by http://www.bakerita.com/mango-tart/ and http://minimalistbaker.com/coconut-cream-pie-vegan-gf/

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http://theplantedrunner.com/lime-mango-tart/