Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Which fitness tracker gives you the best calories burned for your workout? An experiment

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Remember my rant a little while ago about how you shouldn’t think of exercise and food as an equation to balance? Or my post about not using the exercise component of calorie counting apps? Well, I just wanted to add a little more to that conversation today.

I use a Garmin watch to track my runs and occasionally I’ll look at the “calories burned” out of curiosity. After a pretty fast longish interval run I noticed that the calories burned seemed rather low so I started scrolling back through and was puzzled to find a shorter easier run that supposedly resulted in a very similar caloric expenditure. That left me wondering how Garmin determined the calories burned during a run. I looked it up and it turns out that it’s related to heart rate. Sometime the heart rate monitor is wonky and (especially when it’s really cold out) will register a heart rate that would be more likely seen when I’m sitting on my butt than when I’m out booking it through speed work. That means that my Garmin (erroneously) registers minimal exertion and thinks that I’m not burning very many calories.

Today I decided to do a little experiment. I wore my Garmin, as per usual, which is synched to my Strava account. I also fired up the Nike+ Run Club app for the first time in ages and I set out on an easy(ish) 10k run. After the run, I also entered the time spent running at the closest average pace into myfitnesspal. All of these apps have my height and weight. Any guesses what the results looked like?

Garmin: 463 calories

myfitnesspal: 517 calories

Nike: 526 calories

Strava: 1371 calories!!!!

Now, I have no idea how many calories I actually used during this run, I’d wager Garmin was probably closest to the mark considering that the heart rate monitor seemed to be working properly. But Strava, what the actual hell?? Considering that Strava gets all of it’s data from my run directly from Garmin I find it amazing that it estimated I burned nearly three times as many calories as Garmin thought I did. I’m sure that if I had other apps and trackers I would have gotten slightly different results from all of them.

All this to say, if you’re exercising and tracking calories burned, you probably shouldn’t give that number too much weight. Try to think of exercise as giving you health and fitness rather than taking away calories and weight.

 

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Boston Marathon Recap

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Me at the race expo in my snazzy new finishers jacket. Photo taken by Randall Andrews

After a week away, I’m back! But… Not to rant about nutrition (althoughI will touch on some nutrition-related stuff). Last week at this time I was hanging out in the athletes’ village, anxiously waiting to run the Boston Marathon. Instead of my usual blog post, here’s my race recap.

I ran the Boston Marathon for the first time in 2014, the year after the bombings. It was only my second full marathon and it did not go well. A couple of years later I decided that I needed to run Boston again so that I could soak up the experience and finish on my own. My brother qualified too so it was a family affair this year. It was good to have someone to sit with on the long bus ride to the athletes’ village. Even if we did mostly sit in anxiety tinged silence.

I figured that I had made five mistakes the last time I ran Boston: 1. we walked A LOT the day before the race, 2. I skipped breakfast, as I usually do before long runs but I usually finish running around the time that I started running, 3. I wore long-sleeves, 4. I ran too fast for sunny weather and long-sleeves, 5. I didn’t hydrate properly.  I did my best to learn from my mistakes.

This time around, we only walked as much as necessary the day before the race. Although my boyfriend and I walked around quite a bit, at a leisurely pace, the day before that.

I attempted to eat a small bowl of cocoa shredded wheat with half a sliced banana before leaving for the village. My nerves weren’t keen on it though so I ate the banana slices out of it, and had a few bites of the cereal. I downed a glass of coconut water because there was still plenty of time before the race started to go pee. Side note: I like coconut water but despite what some people believe it’s not a good sports recovery beverage. It’s high in potassium but low in sodium which is the electrolyte that really needs replacing after copious perspiration. I had one of the new peanut butter-filled Clif bars (no, this is not sponsored, I really like these bars because I love peanut butter and they’re not sickeningly sweet like the original Clif bars tend to be) as soon as I got to the athletes’ village and grabbed a bottle of water. Also got in line for the porta-potty as I knew that soon it would be as much as an hour-long wait. There was a girl in front of me in line wearing a Maritimes Race shirt so I asked if she was from Nova Scotia. She wasn’t, she was from PEI and showed no interest in befriending me. Oh well. I had my brother there (until he set out with his fellow speedsters in the first wave).

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Selfie of my brother and me in the athletes’ village

It was a lot warmer in the village than I had remembered it being the last time I ran. It had been 30C the day before and hadn’t cooled off as much overnight as we would have liked. So, I ditched my extra layers early (this year I worse a tank top and shorts) and got some sunscreen from the medical tent. Unfortunately, I only put it on my face and the tops of my ears so I got nicely burnt on my chest and on my right side where the sun was beating down during the race. Ditching the layers early was a mistake I realised as I sat in the cool shade of a tent after my brother left for the corrals. I did make friends with a lovey woman from Florida who was running for the third time and had run the 5k with her daughter the day before. We were in the same corral (6) in the second wave so we headed to the parking lot together, queued for the porta-potties near the corrals, and hung-out together in our corral. I’m not sure how she did and I didn’t get her last name so I can’t look her up. On the off chance that you’re reading this Claudia, let me know how you did!

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Queues for the porta-potties near the start corrals

When you’re setting out with so many other runners it’s pretty much impossible to pick-up the pace. I decided just to settle into the pace of the crowd and only move ahead into open space. Some people took the fact that it was a race a little more literally and were darting in in front of other runners and jostling a little. I saw one guy get tripped up by another runner and nearly fall over and there were a few times that I had to slam on the brakes to avoid running into people who cut in front of me. Kind of annoying but I guess that’s what happens when you have so many runners together. Most people were just trying to find their strides and soak up the experience, like I was.

It was in the low 20s (Celsius, that’s mid-70s for you chowdah heads) for the race but there were few clouds and the sun was deadly. Normally I don’t bring water on runs. Even during a race I would probably only grab water from a few stations. This time I skipped the first hydration station and then hit every subsequent one. I was so warm and thirsty. My race strategy became “make it to the next hydration station”. They were at every mile so it made the 26 miles pretty doable. Even though the sweetness of the Gatorade was not nearly as refreshing as the plain water I knew that I need the sodium that it was giving me so I alternated beverages at each station, taking a couple of sips every time. When I got water I would take my sips and dump the remainder over my head. It was a lifesaver. I was also hugely grateful to the people who had sprinklers and freezies. I had three gu energy gels for the race. Blackberry with caffeine at the start, salted watermelon with caffeine at 10 miles (my favourite), and lemon without caffeine at 19 miles. My mouth was so parched that I couldn’t finished either of the gels during the race, especially the lemon.

Once again, I nearly missed Heartbreak Hill thinking that it was later in the race. I was running up it thinking “I might have to walk up Heartbreak Hill” and then got to the top and was pleasantly surprised to realise that was Heartbreak Hill and there were just a couple of slight inclines to follow.

I always listen to podcasts while I run and music during races. However, I remembered how loud the crowds were last time, drowning out my music, so this time I didn’t listen to any tunes. People basting music and cheering nearly all the way along the route were so energizing. The best was near the start line where they had Sweet Caroline going and everyone sang along to the chorus as we ran past.

With the warmth of the sun after a cold winter of training, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to stick with my usual pace. I would have liked to have done better than last time but it was even more important not to collapse. I thought that maybe I would have some energy left in the tank for a push at the finish but there was nothing there. I kept going, slow and steady, through the last mile which was the longest frigging mile of my life until I crossed the finish line in 3:38:56. A personal worst that I’m totally happy with. As great a story and experience it was to have Anne help me across the finish in 2014, it was a much better feeling to be able to walk and talk and not feel like I had the flu and hangover all at once. One of the first things I said to anyone was “now I need a beer”. The volunteer was like “yes! My kind of runner.”

Of course, my brother didn’t back off the pace until he absolutely had to so I found him looking grey in the family meeting area. He had finished in 3:15:23 which was even further off his usual pace than my run was but still way faster than I’ve ever run a full marathon, and fantastic given the conditions.

So, that was how I spent my 39th birthday. I said that I was done with full marathons, I’d had enough. But I meant that I’m done for now. I’m sure I’ll run Boston again someday.


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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.