Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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I DoughNOT recommend the Krispy Kreme Challenge

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Box pile at the Krispy Kreme Challenge. Photo by Dan Block. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

I feel like I’ve heard about the Krispy Kreme Challenge before but I’d never really paid it much attention. The other day, a post by Canadian Running caught my attention. It was about the challenge and I clicked on the link to read the full article. I have to admit that I actually had a feeling of revulsion as I read that participants in this challenge must consume 2, 400 calories worth of doughnuts and run 8k to complete the challenge which is a fundraiser for a children’s hospital (#facepalm). In case you missed my earlier rants about fast food charity, here’s a taste.

A someone who loves to run (I’ve run over 400 days in a row and am currently training for the Boston Marathon) and who loves to eat doughnuts, and sometimes even combines the two, I am not opposed to doughnuts. But the idea of eating 12 doughnuts, equivalent to 2, 400 calories, whether during a run or not seems like too much of a good thing. Considering that I would probably burn just over 400 calories on an 8k run, I would be ingesting an excess 2, 000 calories, essentially all of my calories for the day with none of the other important nutrients. In fact, I would have to run a full marathon (42.2k) to use the energy from all of those doughnuts. Curious how many calories you would burn during the Krispy Kreme Challenge? Check-out this calculator.

This sort of challenge just feeds into the (false) notion that you can compensate for whatever you eat through exercise. Because it’s for charity, you’re left feeling good about feeling ill from eating far too many doughnuts and running a relatively short distance. If you want to support the hospital, make a donation. This challenge is a total doughNOT.


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The modified grocery guide for runners

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A friend and fellow runner recently shared this grocery guide for runners with me asking for my thoughts. While for the most part I think that it’s good advice for anyone not just for runners, there are a few things that I wasn’t totally down with. Here are my revisions:

STOP 1: THE PRODUCE SECTION

“If you’re going to eat the exterior (apples, peaches, bell peppers), buying organic will limit your pesticide exposure.”

While peeling or washing vegetables and fruit will remove some pesticide residue, some pesticide residue will remain and certain pesticides can exist within the vegetable or fruit. Organic produce may have fewer pesticides applied than conventional but research has shown that they often still have pesticide residue. In addition, just because a food is organic doesn’t mean that pesticides weren’t used on it. There are pesticides which are approved for organic use. Don’t be fooled into a false sense of security by purchasing organic produce. You should still always wash fruit and vegetables to remove dirt and bacteria.

STOP 2: THE MEAT, FISH & DELI COUNTERS

“Organic meat costs more but limits your exposure to the antibiotics and growth hormones used in conventionally raised livestock”

In Canada, growth hormones are only permitted for use in beef cows. Antibiotics are permitted for use in all non-organic farming. The amounts present in the meat that you purchase are very low but if you are concerned about their presence in your food you may wish to choose organic meat.

Farmed Atlantic salmon
Ocean pens can pollute surrounding waterways, and contamination from PCBs may be a concern. Splurge on wild.”

All Atlantic salmon is now farmed. It is possible to find ethically farmed Atlantic salmon. However, at this point, you’re probably better off going with wild Pacific salmon.

Toss out Multigrain bread
Toss in 100% whole grain
Multigrain bread is often made of enriched flour or wheat flour—which lacks the fiber and vitamins of 100 percent whole-grain flour.”

Just check the ingredients if you’re buying bread at the grocery store. Go for ones that list whole grain flour as the first ingredient. If you avoid mass-produced commercially available bread and go for preservative-free locally made bread you should be able to find multigrain bread that is also whole grain. Keep it in the freezer to keep it fresh.

Salted nuts and seeds Eating too many will put you into calorie and sodium overload.”

While I’m generally not one to recommend salted nuts I’m definitely a big fan of nuts. Runners usually need more calories than the average person and don’t need to worry quite as much about the calorie content. They may also be able to afford to have a sodium-containing snack such as salted nuts, especially if they’re sweating a lot during workouts (like me on my runs lately).

Sweeteners
Good Honey The easily-digestible carbs contain antioxidants and antibacterial properties. Stash a honey packet in your running shorts for midrun fueling.
Better Maple syrup It has about 20 percent fewer calories than honey, plus a wider array of antioxidants that may help muscle recovery. Use it to lightly sweeten plain yogurt and oatmeal.”

Still use these sweeteners sparingly as when it comes down to it they’re still sugar.

Flaxseeds
These tiny seeds brim with omega fats and fiber and can help lower cholesterol.”

Just remember that your body can’t digest whole flaxseeds. Make sure you buy cracked or ground or grind your own (I use my coffee grinder). Keep flaxseed (any other nuts and seeds) in the fridge or freezer to maintain freshness. Remember that the omega-3 in flaxseed is not the same as the omega-3 found in fish and doesn’t have the same health benefits.

Cinnamon
Studies show regular consumption can help reduce type 2 diabetes risk.”

I just found this to be a very bizarre entry in a grocery list aimed at runners who aren’t necessarily at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Also, while it may help to regulate blood sugar cinnamon has not been proven to reduce risk of developing diabetes.

Chocolate milk “The combination of protein and quick-digesting carbs helps repair exercise-induced muscle damage and refuel tired muscles,” says Sumbal. But it’s high in calories, so “choose low-fat varieties.””

Just frig off with the chocolate milk would ya.

On the whole, not a terrible article, if a bit lengthy. I wasn’t overjoyed to see the canned soup and frozen meal suggestions as I’m an advocate for preparing your own meals using basic ingredients. The specific product suggestions also made me uncomfortable. It’s always best to read the labels and decide which product best meets your needs yourself.


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Guest post: How accurate are running apps anyway?

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Finally, someone took me up on my request to write a blog post for me. Kidding. I was a little skeptical when I received a request for a guest post from someone I didn’t know and who’s background wasn’t nutrition. However, Sara took the spirit of my blog and applied it to running (my second love). I hope you all enjoy her post as much as I did!

Running apps for smartphones have been gaining momentum ever since they sprung from the starting block. Runners everywhere are strapping their phones to their arms and keeping track of distance run, pace and calories burned.

Or so they think.

How accurate are these apps, anyway? Can they really be as precise as a GPS watch?

A professional run coach named Matt Johnson decided to find out for himself. Using a running app for a smartphone, the same app for an Android phone, a GPS watch and a bicycle computer with a wheel sensor, Matt set out on a five-mile bike ride. The wheel sensor was the controlled variable of the experiment as it measures the actual ground covered by the wheel and is the same method used to measure race routes by USA Track and Field. He also conducted the same test while running the Chicago Marathon (obviously without the wheel sensor).

The results of the experiment showed the GPS watch was considerably more accurate than the running apps. The running app reported he ran 27.92 miles during the marathon, over a mile and a half more than what he actually ran!

So what are the risks? An inaccurate measure of your distance traveled will equate to an inaccurate measure of your pace. This will give you a false sense of achievement—or lack of achievement—and will lead to quite the wake-up call on race day when you suddenly can’t keep the same pace on a measured course.

A phone GPS differs from a running watch GPS in both design and function. A phone GPS device has a weaker signal and is designed more to find a general location and not a precise, pinpoint location like that of the stronger signal devices found in GPS watches. GPS devices in phones are generally smaller because they need to compete for space and signal strength with all of the other inner workings of a phone.

The GPS devices in a phone also perform differently than those of running watches. In a phone, the GPS does not track continuous movement but rather records timed snapshots of your location, kind of like a store security camera. The distance between the snapshots is then calculated as a straight line so movements like turns or zig-zags are not recorded. While it may seem minimal, these lost steps can really add up over the course of a long run.

Different phones and different apps all have different algorithms of calculating the distance traveled. You might be using one particular kind of phone or app and running alongside your friend, who has a different phone or app. The numbers produced at the end of your run will likely vary greatly.

So running watches are the way to go? Actually, a combination of both will give you the most out of your run. While watches may be more accurate, phones can provide additional data that many watches cannot.

There are GPS running watches on the market that sync up with smartphones to give you the best of both worlds. The watches will provide you with the pinpoint accuracy of your route while the phone provides additional data that can be analyzed and stored. As this article on Verizon Wireless explains, the phone can act as your own personal running coach. You can receive real-time coaching tips based on your pace and heart rate. Music will help keep your tempo. The data recorded by your watch will be instantly transferred to your phone to see your stride length, route map and more. Training plans will be altered for you based on your progress. There are running watches that are compatible with Android, iPhone and Windows devices.

So while a running watch provides greater accuracy of your run, smartphones provide a valuable source of additional data. Combine the two and let them run stride by stride.

About the author: Sara Upton is a freelance blogger and distance runner living in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. She enjoys long runs on the beach with her golden retriever, Sally.


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My Boston Marathon experience

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I’d like to begin by noting that Boston is a beautiful city full of friendly people! I absolutely loved my visit here. From the shop owner who offered me a free potted tulip on Easter to the amazing hosts we had at our Airbnb accommodation.

The morning of the marathon I was wished good luck by a stranger as we walked down the street to catch the subway. Love the feeling of support and excitement from everyone in the city!

The race itself was extremely well-organized. Hopped right on a bus to Hopkinton after getting off the subway. I was sitting next to a middle-aged runner from Italy on the ride out. He told me that he and his friends had decided to run Boston after the bombings last year as a show of support; sport should not be subject to political action. It was his tenth marathon but first outside Europe. He started running because he was overweight and had a sedentary job and wanted to be healthy. He asked my motivation for running. I told him it was my brother who’s super fast (and who should really run Boston next year – ahem). The drive out took about an hour which made me think “we have to run back all this way??!”. On the upside, it gave me time for my anxiety to subside and for me to eat the better part of a clif bar.

The athlete’s village was madness. It was a sea of people sitting on the grass. I wandered around a little bit. Got a foil cape because, despite the throw-away pants I had worn over my shorts on the recommendation of a runner from last year, I was so cold that my teeth were chattering. I had been concerned that I would be bored and anxious waiting to load into the corral at 9:50 after arriving at 8:30 but a 45 minute wait in line for the porta-potty managed to kill all of the time after my wandering.

I quickly learned why the corral loading takes place so much earlier than the start time. There’s a bit of a walk to the corrals. Met a couple of Canadian doctors from London who had gone to med school in Halifax while I was walking. Such a small world!

By the time the race started, things had warmed-up quite a bit and I pretty much immediately regretted wearing a long-sleeved shirt. My legs were hurting before I even started from all the walking we had done exploring Boston the previous day. Not a great start. I just ran and hoped for the best. I tried not to push too hard but I also wanted to make good time. Having only run one previous marathon (in 3:19) I kinda wanted to beat my time but I also knew that it was a harder course and might not be possible. I didn’t know how I was doing but apparently I was doing quite well: 44 minute 10k, 1:35 at the half, 3:11 at the 40k. I even stopped for water WAY more than I usually would because with the sun shining it was HOT! I even ducked in to use a porta potty (all that water!) around 19 miles. I really didn’t think I was pushing it too hard.

The number of spectators was amazing! There were people along the entire 42.2k route; cheering, proffering orange slices, water, beer (haha). For a while there was a man in a Canadian shirt running near me and there were continual cheers of “go Canada!!” from spectators; I kept thinking they were cheering for me and then remembering my coral shirt indicated nothing of my nationality. I wanted to revel in the moment; having all of those people cheering all of us on, running the freaking BOSTON MARATHON but I couldn’t. Every little hill was killing me and it took all of my focus to keep running.

I didn’t feel great for most of the race but things really fell apart after 20 miles. I kept considering walking but I just wanted to be done so I pushed myself to keep running. With every mile marker I figured I was that much closer and may as well just keep running for as long as I could. I could feel my face getting sunburnt and whenever I touched my face I could only feel a layer of gritty salt. Then my head felt a bit like it was separate from my body and I was having trouble seeing. I had been scanning the spectators for my boyfriend as I neared the finish but I had to stop because I couldn’t focus. I knew it wasn’t good but I couldn’t quit. I’d come so far! I was the running dead.

About a half mile (or maybe less because I have a vague recollection of seeing the 26 mile marker) from the finish line my legs gave out. I crumbled to the pavement. I kept trying to get up but I couldn’t. I was like a baby deer with zero control of my legs. I had a brief moment in which I wondered what I would do since I couldn’t use my legs. Suddenly another runner was helping me up. She let me cling to her as I slowly stumbled the rest of the way to the finish line, for a short period another woman joined me on the other side. This was an act of true altruism, sacrificing her race time to help a complete stranger. I wouldn’t have finished with out her and I will be eternally grateful. I was so out of it my head kept flopping around and I don’t even remember crossing the finish line. I just remember thanking her and apologizing while we shuffled along, her asking me if I could see the finish line. The next thing I remember was being put into a wheelchair and brought to a cot in the medical tent where I was helped onto my back on a cot with a box elevating my feet. I was asked a bunch of questions like who I was, emergency contact, my finish time (I had no clue what it was but I think I accurately answered the rest of the questions). Someone brought me a medal for finishing and then water and Gatorade. I tried to eat a couple of potato chips for the salt but they were like sawdust in my parched mouth.

The medical staff and volunteers were very kind and helpful. I knew they wanted to get me out of the tent so that they could get someone else into my cot but they let me take all the time I needed until I could walk again.

Looking around the tent, I felt better about the sad state I was in. I think I was “just” overheated and dehydrated. There were first wave (the fastest) runners hooked-up to IVs, unconscious, people with injuries. It could have been worse. And on the upside, I had a Boston Marathon experience that few other people did. I was still embarrassed. I thought that I was too smart to let myself get in such a state. I guess my one previous marathon wasn’t enough to predict this race experience. It was much hillier (heartbreak hill, what? Every hill broke my heart!) and warmer (I would have given just about anything for an overcast day). I finished that race excited to run another one. This one I finished swearing no more full marathons!

Once I was able to stand again, one of the medical staff walked out of the tent with me and then left me to slowly hobble my way down to the appropriate family meeting point to find my boyfriend. Why did the start of the alphabet have to be so far away?! Why couldn’t my last name begin with “Z”?

After finding my boyfriend we hobbled to the subway and then caught a cab back to the apartment we were staying at in Cambridge. I promptly lay down on the bed and stayed there for a couple of hours. I was alternately hot and cold, I had a headache, and my legs were killing me. It was like having a combined flu and hangover and extreme DOMS. My boyfriend was a great and patient nurse. Offering me water and going out to Whole Foods to buy me some fruit when I finally started to feel like I might be able to eat something again.

Lessons learned: unless running a hypothermic marathon, long sleeves are not a good idea on a sunny day. Run faster on the days the training schedule says “race pace”. Try a longer training run even if the schedule puts the longest at 20 miles. Try bringing salt tablets on sunny marathon days. Water, gu, and a little Gatorade were no competition for the sodium loss I experienced. Previous experience doesn’t necessarily predict future experience and every race will be different.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me. Back to your regularly scheduled nutrition rants next post!

Update:

I received an email with a link to my official race photos today. Based on the bib number I was able to find my saviour! Her name is Anne Zannoni. You can find her on twitter: @anne_zannoni and read her blog (although if you’re like me, you may need to translate it as it’s in Italian) at: http://artedicorrere.wordpress.com/. I cannot express my gratitude to her enough and I’m so glad that I was able to thank her!