The Science-Based Plan to Fuel the Plant-Based Athlete

I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole again.

An innocent browse through social media and before I know it, I’m reading scientific nutrition papers well past my bedtime.

What caught my attention this time was this paper outlining specific, scientific guidelines on how to fuel vegan athletes.

YES!!

No more guessing or cobbling together various bits and pieces from all over the internet.  This is a comprehensive analysis of what the best science says now about how to fuel a vegan athlete for health and performance.

Written by David Rogerson and published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, this long paper takes all the available data out there and sifts through the good and the bad, the praises and the pitfalls of a plant-based vegan diet and how it specifically applies to athletes.

I’ll give you the highlights and my take on them.

Greens, legumes, and plant-based fats are keys to a nutrient-rich vegan diet

While I like to think that I’m doing everything right when it comes to eating well for my health and for my training (and those can be very different things), I’m always open-minded  to learn something new that could make my nutrition just a little bit better.

And it looks like I need to make a couple of changes!

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of scientific research specifically on vegan athletes, so Roberson admits that some of the information has to be extrapolated from non-vegans.   Sure, vegan athletes are becoming more visible, but it’s not like there are enough of them yet to conduct widespread, double blind, replicable nutrition studies.

But even without perfect studies, the plant-based movement is becoming popular enough that athletes and sports nutritionists are looking for answers.

One issue is that the word “vegan” can mean a huge range of eating styles.  Some believe that if it didn’t come from an animal, it’s fair game, while others, myself included, base their food selections on whole, unprocessed food, free of artificial ingredients. In other words, “junk food vegans” and  raw, microbiotic herbivores (not me!) can’t all be lumped together.

So let’s assume that the vegans that are being referred to in this analysis are less the Oreo-cookie-and-French-fry vegans and more the whole-foods variety.

This triple berry nut and seed mix includes walnuts, dried cranberries, dark chocolate, almonds, dried cherries and blueberries, cashews, and pumpkin seeds.  The perfect snack with lots of protein, good fat, and micros.

The author does not seem to think that vegan athletes have an easy road.  He states that “while little data could be found in the sports nutrition literature specifically, it was revealed elsewhere that veganism creates challenges that need to be accounted for when designing a nutritious diet.”

Well, sure, eating just plants can be challenging in the sense that you do need to make sure that you are getting in beans, greens, seeds, nuts, fruits, whole grains and veggies each and every day, but once you get in that habit, I’d hardly call it a challenge at all.

This hearty, high protein vegan bolognese sauce stars kidney beans and walnuts in a classic tomato basil sauce

Nearly all nutrition guidelines seem to claim that just about everyone is missing some kind of nutrient, no matter what diet.  Omnivores need to pay attention to their micronutrient needs just as much as plant based eaters so a lot of the information in the paper is fairly universal.

Roberson points out that vegans and vegetarians do need to be mindful of several nutrients, specifically “the sufficiency of energy and protein; the adequacy of vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, iodine and vitamin D; and the lack of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in most plant-based sources.”

I personally have zero trouble getting all my calories in, so I’m not deficient in energy (aka calories).  I love to eat and love to eat big portions, so I rarely ever have the issue of eating too little.

“Achieving a high energy intake is difficult in some instances,” Roberson writes, “owing to plant-based foods promoting satiety.” In other words, plants make you feel full and satisfied!  In fact, this is one of the great benefits of eating plants. You get to eat a lot and you get to feel full!

But if you are new to plant-based eating, you might want to track your calories for a little while to be sure you are eating enough.

Let’s take a deeper look into the recommendations that vegans need to pay attention to.  Come down the rabbit hole with me!

Protein  

From the studies cited in the article, many vegan athletes tend to fall short of optimum protein levels.  Furthermore, fewer plant proteins contain all of the 8 essential amino acids required by the body.  A glass of cow’s milk, for example, will be a complete protein, while a glass of almond milk will fall short.

But this fact is easily rectified by eating a variety of sources of protein throughout the day (it doesn’t have to be the same meal).  Grains, legumes, nuts and seeds while provide all the protein needed to support recovery and adaptation from training.   Aim for 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for endurance athletes, 1.8-2.7 if you are trying to lose fat.  I easily reach this target without protein powders or a ton of soy and tend to come in somewhere around 1.75 and 2g/kg a day.

 

Carbohydrates

 This is where plant-based athletes shine. “Vegan diets tend to be higher in carbohydrates, fibre, fruits, vegetables, antioxidants and phytochemicals than omnivorous diets,” Robertson concludes. “The consumption of micronutrient and phytochemical-rich foods is an important benefit of any plant-based diet. This might help to mitigate the effects of excess inflammation and promote recovery from training.”  Endurance athletes should aim for 4g to up to 12g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight depending on training load.  I easily reach 6-8g/kg a day or 55-65% of daily calories.

 

Fat

Roberson notes that fat intake needs to focus on quality intake instead of quantity and admits that the relationship between fat consumption and athletic performance needs additional study.   It’s almost too easy to  meet the fat guidelines with avocados, nuts and seeds.  Endurance athletes should consume 0.5–1.5 g of fat per kilogram of body weight per day (or 30% of daily caloric intake) through avocados, nuts and seeds.  I’m generally in the 25-35% range and well over 1g/kg.

 

ALA, EPA and DHA

 Unless you’re eating salads of seaweed and microalgae, vegans are not getting many dietary sources of the omega-3 fatty acids, ALA, EPA, and DHA.  You can consume ALA in walnuts and flaxseeds, but as little as 0.5% convert in the body to DHA.  This may have important performance implications as omega-3s play an big role in cardiovascular health.  

Fish aren’t the only living beings in the ocean that supply omega-3s.  Supplementing with microalgae oil combined with whole-food sources of ALA might benefit health as well as performance.  The recommendation is 500-1000mg DHA to EPA in a 2:1 ratio or 2-4 commercially available capsules a day.  Yep, I need to get some of these!  I just ordered this brand.

 

Micronutrients

 Vegan diets tend to be higher in micros than omni diets, but attention does need to be paid to a handful of them:  B12 (vegans should supplement), iron (get a blood test to determine if you need to supplement), calcium (greens, broccoli, beans and fortified foods are great sources), vitamin D3 (“further research is warranted to determine optimal vitamin D doses for athletes”), zinc (beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds to the rescue again!), and iodine (choose iodized salt over sea salt).

My favorite afternoon ritual: A matcha latte made with calcium-fortified almond milk supplies important phytochemicals and antioxidants

And now the really interesting part, ergogenic (or performance enhancing) aids:

  • Creatine: The classic bodybuilders’ supplement may actually help endurance athletes and its effect may be more pronounced in vegans and vegetarians who have naturally lower muscle stores of creatine.  “Creatine supplementation might also lead to increased plasma volume, improved glycogen storage, improved ventilatory threshold, and reduce oxygen consumption during submaximal exercise.”  But before rushing out to your local GNC, creatine has also been shown to lead to weight gain, so be sure to think about how to time that appropriately for your training, if you choose to try it.
  • Beta alanine: If you are racing at high intensity for longer than 60 seconds, your performance might benefit from this beta amino acid, which is mainly found in meat and poultry.  Because vegans’ muscles would be low in this amino acid, supplementation would theoretically help vegans even more dramatically than omnivores who might have larger reserves.  (The article was not as clear about whether or not this would apply to the marathon distance which is not at high intensity.)

I’m not sure if I’m ready to experiment with creatine and beta alanine just yet, but it’s certainly something to think about!

The paper ended with the following conclusion:

Through the strategic selection and management of food choices, and with special attention being paid to the achievement of energy, macro and micronutrient recommendations, along with appropriate supplementation, a vegan diet can achieve the needs of most athletes satisfactorily.

All athletes need to pay attention to their diets, just like they pay attention to their training.  Perhaps plant-based athletes need to focus on things a little differently than omnis, but it’s great to know that the science is starting to catch up with us!

 

 

You Can’t Beet This Salad

I usually roll my eyes when I come across salad recipes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love salad and eat one every day, but a recipe for a salad?  Don’t you just throw some veggies on top of some greens with maybe a little dressing and call it good?  What do you need a recipe for?

As it turns out, a little saladspiration is exactly what I needed to break free from the same old sad salads.

So before a recent dinner party, I opened one of my favorite cookbooks, Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking. Inside was a gorgeous photo of a beet and orange salad that looked perfect for an early fall evening.

This is not that gorgeous photo.

This is a oh-I-just-made-dinner-for-eight-people-I-should-probably-hurry-up-and-take-at-least-one-picture picture.

Lets just say the photo in the cookbook is far better than mine!

Roasted beets paired with sliced oranges and toasted walnuts drizzled with a tahini dressing was the perfect accompaniment for the rich and creamy golden broccoli soup I served.  Along with Thanksgiving-style sweet potato dinner rolls browned in a cast iron skillet, the humble soup/salad/bread trifecta was elevated to company status.

But as simple as this salad might sound, there’s quite a bit of effort involved in washing, peeling, chopping and roasting the beets let alone toasting the walnuts just right so they don’t burn.  If you want to make this salad for a weekday lunch, you’re probably just not.

With race day coming up, I’m trying to get beets in any way I can and I can’t always spend an hour in the kitchen just to make a salad!

So I decided to make the weekday lunch version that seriously took less than 5 minutes to put together and tastes just as good.

Admittedly, I do have a love for the rich sweetness of roasted beets that cannot be rushed, but this is close enough for your average Tuesday.

I also found that I prefer honey instead of maple syrup in the lemon tahini dressing.  (Honey is not strictly vegan so if you are, you can sub agave or maple syrup.)  The combo of honey and tahini is something that I learned from some of the Greek athletes I coach at RunnersConnect who eat it on their toast in the morning.  It’s perfect whisked with lemon juice for a light and tangy complement to the beets, oranges, and walnuts.

The dressing couldn’t be simpler or more delicious

Using raw walnuts, easy-to-peel mandarins, and economical canned sliced beets, a wow-worthy salad can be ready in minutes!

Make this salad even more of a meal by adding kidney or black beans along with cooled leftover rice or quinoa!

 

Serves 1 salad

You Can’t Beet This Salad

5 minPrep Time

5 minTotal Time

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Ingredients

  • 1-2 cups spinach or mixed greens
  • 6-7 slices of canned or jarred beets (containing water and salt only)
  • 1 peeled and sectioned mandarin orange
  • optional other vegetables of choice, cold cooked grains and/or legumes
  • 2 tablespoons (15g) raw walnuts
  • Honey Tahini Dressing:
    1/4 cup (55g) tahini
    2 tbs (30 ml) lemon juice
    1-2 tbs (15-30ml) honey
    2-4 tbs (30-60ml) warm water to thin

Instructions

  1. For the salad, place greens in a bowl, arrange the rest of the salad ingredients on top in a way that looks pretty!
  2. For the dressing, mix dressing ingredients in a small jar and stir until it's the consistency you like.
  3. Drizzle over salad and enjoy!
Cuisine: Salad |

Notes

Inspired by Minimalist Baker

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http://theplantedrunner.com/you-cant-beet-this-salad/

Aquafaba Mango Ice Cream

Aquafaba is a miraculous ingredient.  The liquid from a can of chickpeas that you normally dump down the drain can be whipped into meringues, baked into cookies, and frozen into ice cream.

What’s normally thought of a waste product is actually one of the greatest egg substitutes that’s ever been discovered and it seems that there is almost no limit to what it can do. (Well, don’t try to make an angel food cake with it, but that’s another story.)

Aquafaba whipped into stiff peaks

At only 5 calories per teaspoon, with a touch of carbs and protein and almost no fat, it makes the lightest, creamiest, and impossibly delicious ice cream!  And, no, it does not taste like chickpeas at all.

Each enormous serving has less than 100 calories!

Even if you are not vegan, you’ll want to try this just for the sheer magic of it.   It really is that amazing.

And no ice cream maker required!

I love mangos and when they are on sale, I like to grab a big box of them.  And they make perfect ice cream.

But you can substitute any fruit you like with this recipe.  It really is that simple.

Scoops easily even without using an ice cream maker!

Just 5 ingredients (or fewer if you omit the lime and salt) and four hours in the freezer and you’ll have your own delicious treat that hits the spot after a hot summer run!

I swear, this recipe is so good, even my non-vegan husband loves it.

Yields Makes 4 HUGE servings

Aquafaba Mango Ice Cream

Light, creamy, low-fat mango ice cream with less than 100 calories per each enormous serving!

15 minPrep Time

4 hr, 15 Total Time

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Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (180g) aquafaba, or about the amount from a standard can of unsalted chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup (about 50g) powdered sugar (more or less to your taste)
  • 1 cup (about 165g) sliced fresh or thawed frozen mango
  • 1 teaspoon (about 5g) lime juice
  • dash table salt

Instructions

  1. Beat aquafaba on high in a stand mixer until stiff peaks form. This can take up to 12-15 minutes, so be patient!
  2. Meanwhile, blend the rest of the ingredients in a blender on high until liquified.
  3. Add mango sauce to whipped aquafaba and mix slowly until just incorporated.
  4. Pour into a freezer-safe container and let freeze for 4 hours or more.
  5. Scoop and enjoy!
Cuisine: Dessert |

Notes

Each serving has 93 calories, 23.3g of carbs, 0g fat, 0.9g protein.

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http://theplantedrunner.com/aquafaba-mango-ice-cream/

Make Your Own PB Chocolate Protein UCAN

As much as I would love to believe that people come to my site to read my sage training advice and chuckle at my endless witticisms, I (sadly) know that’s not the main draw.

People want the recipes!

By far the most popular thing I have ever posted is my recipe for DIY Generation UCAN, a sugar-free race fuel made with slow-release carbohydrates that you can mix up in you kitchen for pennies.

So when a reader recently asked if I had a version of the Chocolate Protein UCAN, I decided to rise to the challenge.  I’ve already posted my chocolate version, but it’s naturally low in protein by design.

Of course, my version will not contain whey powder (obviously not vegan, but even if I weren’t plant-based, I wouldn’t recommend it, and here’s a few reasons why) xanthan gum (I’m okay with this ingredient, but I don’t like thick drinks), or sucralose (an artificial sweetener that definitely should be avoided) like the original contains.

The protein of choice instead is PB Fit Peanut Butter Powder, which makes this a rich peanut butter chocolate flavor.

PB Fit does contain a little sugar, so if you are looking to make this sugar-free, use a defatted peanut butter powder or flour that is sugar-free.

One scoop of UCAN’s protein version contains 110 calories for a 30 gram scoop, 18 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams of protein, and 1 gram of fat.

My version is 122 calories, 19.6 grams of carbs, 7.3 grams of protein, and 1.9 grams of fat.  Mine also includes 354mg sodium, 87.5mg potassium, 4.7% of the RDA of calcium, 5.3% RDA of iron, and a touch of magnesium.

Now I’m not going to lie and tell you this tastes like drinking a luscious chocolate peanut butter milkshake.  But it’s still pretty good.

And let’s be real:  not even the pricey commercial version can claim that that people are ending their meals with UCAN milkshakes for dessert simply for the scrumptious flavor.

This is performance fuel, not dessert, and it works!

For me, this is far superior to any gel or other race fuel that I have ever tried and keeps me going without the crash!

Let me know what you think!

Make Your Own PB Chocolate Protein UCAN

Liquid starch-based fuel that is an alternative to gels or chews.

My version is 122 calories, 19.6 grams of carbs, 7.3 grams of protein, and 1.9 grams of fat.  Also includes 354mg sodium, 87.5mg potassium, 4.7% of the RDA of calcium, 5.3% RDA of iron, and a touch of magnesium.

5 minPrep Time

5 minTotal Time

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (16g) cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons plus one teaspoon (14g) PB Fit
  • 1 teaspoon (2g) cocoa powder
  • 1/16 teaspoon salt
  • 1/16 teaspoon Morton's Lite Salt
  • 10 drops stevia extract or other sweetener of your choice
  • 2 to 4 ounces of water or more, depending on preferred thickness

Instructions

  1. Mix all dry ingredients except water in a small measuring cup with a spout.
  2. Slowly add enough water to your desired thickness.
  3. Stir thoroughly and pour into a small running bottle.
  4. Shake before drinking.
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http://theplantedrunner.com/make-your-own-pb-chocolate-protein-ucan/

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

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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/

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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.)

 

 

 

Easy (But Slow) Falafel and Vegan Tzatziki Sauce

The Greeks know how to make seriously good food.

Crispy yet crumbly falafels with a tangy cucumber yogurt sauce is so simple, healthy, and easy to make restaurant-quality at home.

Easy and simple does not always mean quick, however.  The secret to the very best falafel is skipping the cans of chickpeas and using dried beans that are soaked overnight.  This creates a crumbly yet cohesive texture that you just will not get from canned or cooked beans.

If you are in a hurry, canned or cooked will work, but you will be missing out.

This recipe from  J Kenji Lopez-Alt is not my own and for once, I didn’t alter someone else’s because it is just perfect.  And that’s saying a lot coming from me!

The only thing I do differently is skip the frying and bake the falafels instead at 400 degrees F for 20-22 minutes, turning once in the middle of baking.

For the tzatziki sauce, I use this recipe, subbing my non-dairy soy yogurt for the Greek yogurt.  I like to squeeze out some of the water from my yogurt in a thin cloth for a few minutes to get a nice, thick texture.

It tastes even better if you allow it to chill in the fridge a few hours before serving.

For the salad, I had to find a Greek dressing recipe and I used this easy-to-whip up recipe from the Detoxinista.  I like to limit oil as much as possible, so I just used a splash instead of the quarter cup.

For dinner, we rolled everything up into a tortilla, piled on more tzatziki and had the most delicious wraps.  My husband said it was as good as anything we could order in our local Greek restaurant.

You might want to go ahead and double the recipes, because you will be definitely wanting more soon!