Half-Marathon – Check!

So yesterday I completed my first road race, the Hyannis Half Marathon. I feel really good about completing one of my goals that I set when deciding that this would be the year that I challenge myself! I also feel great physically, mostly because I trained slowly and steadily and followed my plan which included a lot of rest last week. Before I get to my food for the day, I’d like to share some things that are great about running an organized race.  Some of you might have already run plenty of races and feel blasé about these particular things, and some of might not have completed any organized races before, but here are some of the things that I enjoyed yesterday:

  • You don’t have to carry water! This is such a nice bonus after doing long training runs while carrying a bottle of water. On top of it all there are such great volunteers working hard to make sure that everything goes smoothly for you!
  • There are all sorts of great people cheering you along the race route! My favorites were the kids that lined up to give high-fives to as many runners as they could. I’m sure they were there to cheer on their own Mom, Dad, Auntie, Uncle or whoever (and they held some pretty wonderful signs too) but they also cheered on every other runner that passed!
  • The great camaraderie of being with a big group of people all looking to complete the same goal! Sure there were plenty of “hard core runners” who weren’t too friendly, but there were many more friendly people out to have a good time. I had some great mini-conversations people and had the pleasure of running alongside Dick and Rick Hoyt for a moment just before mile 3.
  • Running on the double yellow lines down the middle of the street! How often is that going to happen? After the stress of dodging cars when running around town, it was pretty great to be able to just run down the middle of the street in the same direction as everyone else and not look over my shoulder once!
  • The great music I listened to! Well, this isn’t specific to running an organized race but I wanted to slip this in. I made myself a playlist that was loaded with all sorts of music that I knew would put a smile on my face. This is one more area that is very personal to each of us because taste is very individual, but no matter your taste it’s important that you come up with something you like. Every 3-5 minutes when a new song came on, it made me smile which made running easier!

So, now for what I ate to fuel that run. The race was at 10 am, so I woke up early enough to have my usual latte plus oatmeal cooked with a chopped up apple and milk (plus a splash of vanilla and a dash of cinnamon) delicious! I also made sure to drink down a tall glass of water. I didn’t have my usual breakfast since it is so high in fiber and I didn’t want to have “issues” later on! Then by about 8:15 as I was driving, I had a fig bar; once again this is something with plenty of complex carbohydrates but little fiber so it wouldn’t spend too much time in my stomach and cause trouble mid-race. During the race I ate fruit jellies – pure sugar. These are a candy that I cut up into pieces and portion into two bags of about 25 carbohydrates each. I’ve found that they go down easy for me because they aren’t too chewy like gummy options. I had my first little bite at about 30 minutes, then spread the rest of the first bag from minutes 45 to 60. The second bag I spread from 1:20 to the end. I found that by spreading out my intake, my stomach doesn’t get upset and it’s a more steady rate of delivery than eating things like Gu. Like I’ve said before however, this is totally individual, I know that my approach works for me because I had tested it out prior to race day.

After the race the first thing I did was to drink down a carton of chocolate milk and also begin drinking more water. Even though it’s winter and I stopped at every water stop, I still needed quite a bit to rehydrate! After I took a shower, I headed off to a lovely french cafe in Hyannis (Pain D’Avignon) for some lunch. I had a delicious warm chickpea salad with goat cheese and several cups of water. I really concentrated on getting some high quality carbohydrates along with some protein to speed my recovery. I also picked up some tasty bread to bring home for dinner!

Back at home, my husband had made a wonderful dinner of pot roast, roasted vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots and shallots), broccoli and mashed potatoes which went along nicely with the bread I brought home. You can see by my plate (sorry for the poor quality of the photo!) I really loaded on the veggies. I also had a snack of some greek yogurt later that evening and kept on drinking fluids.

Well, there you have it! Now I just need to decide if there is another half in my future…

Do I Need to Eat Tart Cherries?

I get questions about the latest food fads all the time. The miracle properties of sea salt, bananas, pomegranates, chia seeds, açaí berries and a million other so called ‘Super Foods’ have been touted by everyone from Dr. Oz to Oprah. It sometimes seems impossible to eat all of the foods we “should” be eating according to all of these experts. One of the latest miracles out there is tart cherries.

Tart cherries have been shown to ease muscle soreness by reducing inflammation in muscle tissue after exercise in quite a few studies. In most of these the subjects drank the juice for several days before strenuous activity as well as after. The reason inflammation was decreased is thought to be the high amount of antioxidants in the tart cherries. What’s the bottom line? The first thing I notice is that most of the studies have been funded by cherry juice manufacturers or those who have financial holdings associated with tart cherries. When looking at any study, the first question has to be the motivation for those who have funded the research, we also have to look at the numbers of subjects involved and the methodology used. Most of these studies have not been very large, plus they compare the tart cherry juice with a placebo but they have not compared it to any other fruits high in antioxidants.

Should you start making tart cherries a habit? Well, maybe. What it really comes down to is 1-Do you like tart cherry juice? 2-Can your activity level support the added calories? 3-Can your wallet support the cost? There are many other fruits that have high antioxidant levels and other things that you can do to ease muscle soreness after strenuous exercise. The first thing you want to do is make sure that you are typically consuming a diet that is high in a variety of brightly colored vegetables and fruits. All of the antioxidants in these will add up to form an inflammation fighting army within you. Notice that the studies have people consume the juice prior to the demanding exercise; by eating well on a daily basis, you too can reap the benefits of antioxidants. What else can you do? Massage has been shown to decrease inflammation and speed the process of healing in muscle tissue; bring on the foam roller! Lastly make sure that you have your recovery meal or drink soon after strenuous activity. Giving your body a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein will help give muscles the energy (carbs) and building blocks (protein) to make needed repairs to muscle tissue.

There are many different fruits and vegetables out there high in antioxidants and many antioxidants that haven’t even been discovered yet! This lack of knowledge is one reason why there are ‘new super foods’ coming out all of the time and it’s also the reason that when taken as a powder or pill, specific vitamins and antioxidants don’t stack up as well as whole foods when compared in studies. There are components of foods that work within our bodies in ways we haven’t yet begun to understand. What is known, is that eating a varied diet low in processed foods and high in whole foods will do you a world of good!

The Scoop on Whole Grains

As I mentioned in my last post, fiber and whole grains are linked together often, but are not synonymous.  Now you know that fiber can be found in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans. So what’s so great about whole grains if you can get your fiber from so many other sources? Grains have much more going for them than just the fiber!

First I’ll explain what whole grains are. There are three parts to a grain seed: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. The bran is the outer husk, this is where the fiber is as well as some B vitamins and antioxidants. The germ is actually the embryo of the seed (you can think of it as similar to the yolk of an egg) and this contains B vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats. The endosperm is what is sold as white flour; this is the largest part of the seed and is mostly starchy carbohydrate and protein with small amounts of vitamins and minerals. You can get the idea from this that when you take away the germ and the bran, most of the micro-nutrients go with them. Processors are required to add back some vitamins and minerals but refined grains still don’t come close to the nutrition of whole grains.

When you are looking at labels in the supermarket there are a few things to look out for. Lots of companies are now putting “made with whole gains” or “multi-grain” on the front of the box or bag in an attempt to get you to buy them. These products might have only a sprinkling of whole grains in them. Take the time to turn the package around and read the ingredients list. Since Ingredients must be listed from greatest quantity to least, you want to see whole grains at the top of the list. The word whole along with whatever grain it is must be there (as in whole wheat flour) if it says wheat flour then it is refined. Some other whole grains you may see on packages include barley, corn, oats, brown rice, rye, and quinoa (to name just a few). Did you notice corn on the list? Yes, corn is a grain, and air-popped popcorn is a great whole grain snack!

How much should you be eating? For the average adult, the minimum amount is 3-4 oz per day. Since a slice of bread or 1/2 of an english muffin is a 1 oz equivalent, you can see that it’s easy to reach the minimum. The recommendation is also to make sure that half of all the grains you consume are whole grains. I’m going to stick with my usual recommendation to stay away from processed foods as much as possible. The more foods are processed, the fewer vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients remain in them and I need all the nutrients I can get!

A few delicious whole grains

For more information you can visit the Whole Grain Council website. If you see one of their stamps on a product you know it contains whole grains, but don’t let that limit you! There are plenty of products out there that contain whole grains which don’t carry the stamp. In order to use the stamp each company must pay a fee as well as show that their product complies. There are some good store brands which do not bother to go through this process; the most foolproof method is to read the ingredients list.

Fiber Facts

You may have noticed an uptick in the marketing of whole grains and fiber lately. From pasta to sugary breakfast cereals, many products are now being touted as containing whole grains or more fiber with the hope that you will buy them. So what’s the deal? You know that whole grains and fiber are supposed to be good for you so this is a good thing, right? Well… yes and no…. let me explain. Fiber and whole grains are two things that while linked, are not synonymous and hopefully I can help clear up the differences between them. This first post will focus on fiber and I’ll follow up with one on whole grains soon.

The recommendation for fiber intake is 14 grams per 1,000 calories consumed; so if you eat about 2,000 calories per day you should be consuming about 28 grams of fiber.  What is Fiber? It is the indigestible part of the foods we eat (some people refer to it as roughage). There are two types of fiber which are typically referred to as soluble or insoluble; the big difference being that soluble fiber absorbs water and becomes gelatinous. Some types of soluble fiber can be used by gut bacteria as fuel, which is important to know because the by-product of this is gas (we all know what that is!).

Are you wondering why we need fiber if it’s something that our bodies can’t digest? Fiber actually has many health benefits. Think of fiber as the broom that helps to clean out your digestive tract, helping to eliminate waste and prevent constipation, but that’s not all! Fiber also helps to slow the rate of digestion which is helps to make you feel full longer and slows the rate of sugar entering your bloodstream which helps people maintain bodyweight and control diabetes. Fiber also helps to reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood by binding with fatty acids which can help prevent heart disease.

So fiber is great, right? Well, not all fiber is created equal. Fibers that are naturally occurring in foods (like the fiber in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans) have the added benefit of supplying your body with vitamins and minerals that can improve health in other ways. Other types of fiber that are used as additives in foods just so that they can carry a high fiber label may or may not be as useful and can cause quite a bit of gastric distress if eaten in large quantities. Some words to look out for on labels include: psyllium husk, beta-glucan, inulin, resistant dextrins or resistant starch, fructans, xanthan gum, cellulose, modified starch, guar gum, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and oligo- or polysaccharides, and various brans.

If you are one of the millions of Americans that needs to increase fiber intake, the first thing you need to remember is go slowly! If you are not used to fiber and you suddenly up your intake it could spell constipation, gas and discomfort! It is also important to increase your water consumption to help prevent constipation as your intake increases. If you focus on adding more vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains and beans instead of just looking at the number of grams in processed foods, your body will thank you!

Some delicious sources of fiber