Tart Cherry Follow-Up

After my post about tart cherries and going to the SCAN Symposium, I’ve been thinking more about tart cherries and anti-inflammatory foods in general. Along with the industry sponsored studies, there have now been a few more that were done without industry sponsorship which I like to see! As I said before, tart cherries have been shown to  ease muscle soreness by reducing inflammation in muscle tissue after intense exercise. It is important to remember that in all of these studies, the subjects consumed tart cherries (or juice) for at least a week prior to strenuous activity as well as afterwards. I still would like to see a study comparing cherries to other foods (for example raspberries are are said to have high amounts of the same anti-inflammatory found in cherries) but for now it’s cherries that we have the data on!

Since I like the taste of dried tart cherries, and my activity level can certainly support the extra calories, I decided to incorporate some cherries in my training for the half. I had about 1/3 cup (45g) of dried tart cherries every day. I have to say that despite all of the hard work I put in while training over the last few months, I really haven’t been feeling excessively sore! Of course I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t also taking my own advice and eating a ton of vegetables and other fruits in the meantime. I also make sure to have a recovery meal or drink soon after strenuous training, and have been spending some quality time with my foam roller. All in all I’d say it’s a winning combination!

What’s the best way to incorporate cherries into your day? I have sprinkled them on salads (especially delicious in combination with some cheese and nuts!). I’ve also mixed them with some dried cereal for a trail mix that can be stowed in a resealable container or bag. This is something I can have with me if I know I’ll be out and about all day so I’m prepared if I get hungry. Dried cherries are also delicious when cooked into oatmeal. I combine a half cup of old-fashioned oats, 1/3 cup dried cherries, a splash of vanilla, and 1 1/2 cups water (it’s important to add extra water because the cherries really absorb a lot of it), after it’s cooked, I top it off with some milk. Those are just three ways with cherries and there are many more out there. Please let me know if you have a favorite you’d like to share!

Happy Memorial Day & Half Marathon Recap

Happy Memorial Day and a big Thank You! to all of the men and women that serve in the armed forces.

Yesterday I ran the Johnny Kelley Half Marathon in Hyannis, MA. For those who don’t know who Johnny Kelley was, you can read this obituary from the Boston Globe. He started running Marathons back before it was the cool thing to do, and he did it with greater obstacles to his training and less high-tech equipment than people do now; Johnny Kelley was an inspiring figure then, and still is today.

When I got up in the morning the weather was cool and overcast – perfect! Too bad the perfect weather didn’t last, by the time I finished it was in the 80′s and very sunny. I started out great, but by mile 10 I was starting to feel the effects of the heat. Even though I took 2 cups of water at each aide station, I was feeling dehydrated and really slowed down. I dug in and reminded myself of my goals: #1 complete the race, #2 achieve a PR, #3 finish in under 2 hours (I never said I was speedy!). I might not achieve all three, but I could certainly reach #1 and maybe #2.

When I hit mile 13 I knew that I was almost there and
I would hopefully see my family cheering me on soon. With about 100 yards to go, I saw my family clapping and cheering, then I heard the announcer urging people through to the end. I have no idea where I got the last burst of speed, but I sprinted to the end and passed 4 people! My time was 2:01:36. I PR’d by 3 1/2 minutes and was surprised that despite the heat I came so close to breaking 2 hours. Check out that grimace on my face – that doesn’t look fun!

The event was very well organized and there were tons of great volunteers ensuring that everything went smoothly. At the finish there were apples, oranges, bananas, granola bars, water, and they were even grilling hot dogs. I had my husband bring me water, chocolate milk, and dried cherries; I also grabbed an orange which really hit the spot. I also had packed a wet washcloth next to an ice pack and a change of clothes which felt great.

After we had lunch we went to Coast Guard Beach. The icy cold water felt fantastic on my legs! This morning I got a massage which really helped because my legs were feeling stiff. I briefly mentioned cherries which I have started to incorporate into my training after learning even more about them. I’ll follow up with a post about cherries in a couple of days. Enjoy Memorial Day!

Beet Follow-up & Another Half!

After my post about beets a few weeks ago, I thought I’d try incorporating them into my pre-workout fueling routine to see if I felt any benefits. I have been training for another half marathon in Hyannis on May 27th, so there have been plenty of opportunities to slip a few beets in before a workout! The hardest part I’ve found is the early morning long-runs. I have resorted to using beet juice at those times because having too much fiber tends to be a problem for me right before I run. I’m getting used to the taste of the juice, although I have to say it’s not for everyone. I have done a little experimenting to try to incorporate the juice into other things for those who aren’t too keen on the flavor. If I come up with something good I’ll let you all know.

One of may all-time favorite pre-workout snacks has become a salad with beets and poached eggs. Leafy greens also happen to be pretty high in nitrates, giving me an even bigger boost. Why the eggs? The addition of poached eggs is delicious, plus spreading high-quality protein intake throughout the day in moderate amounts is helpful for muscle recovery later on. I have been eating this salad a couple of hours before my favorite cross-training workout at a local martial arts dojo.

So what are the results? I can’t say that I have noticed an overt difference or that workouts have magically seemed easier. I can report that I have gotten stronger (I have upped the weights I am lifting) and I’m also faster (my last training run on Sunday was my best yet!). Is this just a result of smart training OR have I been able to train at a higher level than before because of the beets? It is impossible to know for sure in my experiment of one, but I do know that adding a few beets in has been delicious and easy. I’ll let you know if it results in a PR on Sunday!

Continuing to Evaluate the List: Organic

A little while ago I started talking about “perfect” eating and the long list of food “noes” that some people think need to be followed in order eat a healthy diet.  This includes processed foods, anything not organic, foods high on the glycemic index, sugar, alcohol, chemicals, salt, trans fats, white flour, grains and dairy. It’s a long list so I’m trying to ease some guilt one item at a time.

How about organic foods? I talked a little about the term organic in my post about health halos and there has been a movement afoot for a few years now when it comes to organic foods, but what are they? In order for a food to be labeled Organic, producers must meet the guidelines set by the USDA and are subject to inspections, audits, and testing. Food that has been produced organically reduces the amount of synthetic fertilizers used and promotes more biodiversity and ecological balance among other things, so overall is better for the planet. Is organic food more healthy? There have been mixed results when it comes to increased nutrient content of organic vs non-organic foods. The biggest benefit probably comes from the lack of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers used in producing non-organic food that you could possibly ingest.

Should we all go organic to be healthier? Just the fact that a food is organic, doesn’t make it a healthy choice. For example, organic candy is still candy. Organic foods can be very costly and not always a health bargain. When buying organic, it is important not to be drawn in by the health halo of the word. If you are worried about pesticides but your budget is tight, then consider going organic for the dirty dozen which are typically highest in pesticide residue. Overall, the benefits of eating a diet high in vegetables and fruit outweigh the risk of pesticide exposure.

Another approach to consider is buying locally. Since going through the process to meet the organic labeling guidelines is a very expensive proposition, some small farms do not even attempt it. Very often at local farmers markets you can find products that were raised using organic methods but cannot be labeled as organic. Get to know your local growers, ask them about their growing practices, and purchase produce directly from them. By getting food directly from local growers you will be supporting the local economy, burning less fuel (than getting food from halfway around the world), and you’ll probably eat more vegetables and fruit because it just looks so darn good!

The bottom line: You don’t have to eat only organic foods to be healthy. Read labels carefully and load your plate with plenty of vegetables and fruits!