Category Archives: Books

Reviews

Cold and Flu Season? It’s SUPER IMMUNITY Time!

Wintertime Enemy

Wintertime Enemy

It’s that time of year again, sniffles, colds, maybe even a full blown flu that lasts a week or two. And with the holidays approaching, the assaults on your immune system are legion, and they’re on their way.

Why now?

  1. Vitamin D- Some speculate that lower levels of sun exposure, and dropping levels of vitamin D may weaken the immune system.
  2. Indoors- Whatever microbes that attack you will linger around indoors instead of being blown away by the wind or fried by UV light.
  3. Other People- Being indoors a lot also means being around other people and their pathogenic microbes. Holiday gatherings intensify this.

Solutions?

  1. Test your levels and supplement if needed. Or, take a tropical vacation and get some winter sun!
  2. Keep your distance from other people, wash your hands a lot, and don’t touch your face. Hand sanitizer helps. Most cold and flu viruses enter via your face. Old news, for sure, but it works.

But Most Important is to Strengthen Your Immune System

I have a problem with the germ theory of disease. If it were  purely about germs, we would all be sick all the time because we are always surrounded by germs. The most important part of all this is a healthy immune system. A healthy immune system should be able to handle the viruses and bacteria that surround us, since we all evolved together.

How do you maximize your immune system?

Skip the vitamin C, and read Dr. Fuhrman’s excellent book, Super Immunity.

This book is a fantastic exploration of how nutrition and diet can affect the immune system in two very important ways: cancer prevention, and communicable diseases. Tgose seem like very different subjects, but they are related becasue the immune system not only keeps away colds and flu, but also destroys cancer cells before they can develop into tumors and metastasize into something really scary.

How Diet Affects Immunity

Here Dr. Fuhrman explains:

Certainly, the exposure to the virus and its multiplication within our body is at the core of viral infections. However, though it is not generally recognized, the virus adapts itself to the host (our body) and becomes dangerous and multiplies as a result of the host’s disease promoting environment, created by nutritional inadequacy. ( Super Immunity, p. 29)

So a healthy diet creates a healthy immune system, and viruses will struggle and fail to get a grip within your body.

Dr. Fuhrman’s Anti-Virus Prescription:

A clever mnemonic:

G-BOMBS

  • G- greens (spinach, chard, kale etc.)
  • B- beans (legumes, peas and lentils)
  • O- onions (all onion types and garlic)
  • M- mushrooms (all types)
  • B- berries
  • S- seeds

The Super Immunity protocol is to incorporate as many of these ingredients in as many meals as possible. Occasionally, I’ve been able to put them all in one dish, but the berries are usually the tricky one to include. But we know that these nutrients are stored in the body, so if you got them all in over the course of a day, imagine what immune system power you’d have!

Work with it Wednesdays will be devoted to testing out some of the book’s recipes over at The Training Table. Check ’em out.

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Real Food Fueling: Base Training Part 2

These little guys got me through 8 hour solo MTB races!

These little guys got me through 8 hour solo MTB races!

After my GI distress in last year’s LQS race, I have been a little more interested in finding real food to fuel my long training rides. I have become a little leery of the sweet taste and processed carbohydrates of  sports drinks and gels. One reason I switched to Hammer products was because they aren’t as sweet, and I found the exclusive use of maltodextrin to work better for me. Until it didn’t.

Plus, real food such as natural fruits and starches will be far more nutrient dense than engineered food.

I have found that the Maffetone Method allows me to train on water alone up to 2 hours. Greater reliance on burning fat for energy means I no longer need carbs along the way. Also, following a starch based diet means my glycogen stores are always full. Part of base training will be trying to push that a little further out. Can I ride for 2 1/2 hrs? 3hrs?

But what about racing?

Higher intensity means more carbohydrate burned at faster rates and the need for refueling. Short races of two hours or less I think will be fine with some Hammer HEED or gel. But what about those marathon mountain bike races? It is for these longer events that I want to find some real food alternatives.

Here are some things I have tried with varying success:

  • bananas
  • dates
  • small potatoes

Most people have discovered that bananas don’t travel well. Dates travel really well, they’re like nature’s gel packets, and I know a guy who raced on figs, but fruits have a problem shared with sports nutrition: the sweet taste can get to you after a while. Manufacturers get around this by adding things like citric acid, but this can be irritating. Finally, I began to appreciate what Allen Lim and many pro cyclists call “gut rot.”

As far as potatoes and sweet potatoes go, they travel well, but I worry that the fiber could cause a problem over time. But after reading endlessly about Allen Lim’s rice cakes and reading a recipe for and explanation of Japanese rice balls I had a flash of insight: white rice! I have been a brown rice snob for so many years that I completely ignored that white rice is low fiber but high carbohydrate without being sweet. It just might solve my problems.

So I turned to Allen Lim and his book The Feed Zone Cookbook for some ideas. As a vegan athlete, I took a real chance ordering this from Amazon unseen, but it seems to have some good ideas and stories.  Scott Jurek uses rice in the form of onigiri, or rice balls wrapped in seaweed. kinda like sushi. Brilliant! All I have to do is find a recipe I like and learn how to package it. This part worries me, as I am clumsy while trying to fuel during a ride. I also don’t want my jersey to turn into a glutinous mess. So far I like the rice cake while skiing, but the stop and go nature of skiing coupled with a chairlift ride makes eating real food easy. For cycling, I will have to practice on some long rides to see if it works.

Then what about Tarahumara foods like chia or the little bean burritos they use while racing?

Stay tuned.

John McDougall: Still Fighting the Good Fight

Despite the trends in recent years of high protein diets, low-carb diets, and emphasizing the so-called “healthy fats”, Dr. John McDougall is still championing his high-carb, very low-fat diet that has been the foundation of healthy human populations for thousands of years. Oh, and still helping people at his live-in clinic lose weight, regain health, and reverse chronic diseases. His new book The Starch Solution is out, and at first glance he appears to have summed up what’s new in the last twenty years since his last general explanation, while staying true to his core message that a diet of unrefined plant food is the key to health and happiness.  And of course there are plenty of Mary’s recipes that have all been tested by the thousands of paying patients over the years. While finishing the book and comparing it to his previous explanations for a future review, I found this nice article in his local paper describing his work. The article lists a few Sonoma county restaurants that have McDougall menus, and they are on my list to support during my next visit.

Book Review: Finding Ultra by Rich Roll

“I can say with full confidence that my rapid transformation from middle-aged couch potato to Ultraman—to, in fact, everything I’ve accomplished as an endurance athlete—begins and ends with my PlantPower Diet.”
He had me right there. I absolutely loved that he came right out and said it up front. No beating around the bush of labeling this or that. Straight up: this was only possible because of diet. I feel exactly the same, even though I’m not at his level. I race at the back of the pack, but before I changed my diet, incidentally at about the same time, I couldn’t race at all. Racing was a dream that required far more energy than meat and dairy afforded me. When people remark about my healthy eating habits, my response is similar: I can’t do what I love to do unless I eat this way. I indulge myself from time to time, but I don’t kid myself any more. I know what it will do to my training and recovery. Indulgences are becoming less and less pleasurable.
If you’re the last person on the planet to read this book, get thee to a bookstore now! Or Amazon. Or drop by and I’ll loan you my copy. This book is amazing. I thought I knew what it was about, but I got surprised. I first found Roll online searching for other plant based athletes who shared their experiences, so I thought I knew what it was about. Then I heard some interviews where alcoholism was mentioned. Then I read the book. Holy cow! What a tale.
The book can be divided into three parts:
1) Swimming career that morphed into a drinking career
2) Mid Life Scare: goes vegan and becomes ultra distance triathlete
3) Nuts and Bolts: (or twigs and berries) how he eats, and why
TIME IN THE DRINK (chlorinated and alcoholic)
The early life stuff I tend to skim through in biographical reading. I don’t usually find it that interesting. Fortunately, Roll and his editorial team fixed that for me. The two important parts the reader needs to understand for the later story are made clear. Roll was not an athletic kid until he discovered swimming. And then he got good. Fast. He was able to choose what collegiate swimming program to attend. This shows the foundation of talent he had when he came back to sport later in life. Second, he was socially awkward and isolated a lot. This makes it much clearer why he became an alcoholic. The booze erased the awkwardness, and even early on he knew that, “Although a miracle salve to my social inadequacies, I just liked it too much.”
Part One of the book is about Roll’s career as a drinker. The vegan stuff, the endurance stuff, all that comes later. That’s what I wanted to read about, but instead I got hooked on the ten year binge. Roll tells this part of the story with a carefully balanced tone that doesn’t over-dramatize, nor leaves out anything crucial. This is not the story of a celebrity binge, but what an otherwise normal person can get themselves into. There are enough details to feel the everyday life of an addict, and drama from DUIs to keep you turning pages, but it never bogs down. The story keeps moving forward. But the best part, and what made me read it in one sitting was the clear understanding of why he did it. His insight is so clear that it all makes perfect, logical sense.
The attraction for him started from the very beginning, the first drink he had at a swim team party:
“… all those feelings of fear, resentment, insecurity, and isolation just                 vanished, replaced with the rush of comfort and belonging… For the first time         in my life, I experienced what I thought it must feel like to be normal-“
From there, the double edges of the sword begin to appear. While alcohol helped in some ways, the very problems Roll thought alcohol solved, alcohol started to cause. Rather than ease his social problems, it ended his first marriage on his honeymoon! Of course we as readers can see it thanks to power of hindsight, but the Rich Roll of the time couldn’t. And that’s what grips you.
Part Two is the athletic story that I thought I was buying. Like many people, once Roll sobered up and put his career back in focus and started a family, his health declined dramatically. It’s a bit ironic that in a story of an alcoholic, the main “moment of clarity” is walking up the stairs gasping and afraid of a heart attack! What makes this section of the book so readable is seeing Roll make mistakes trying to apply a new plant based diet and learn from them. I’ve made some of the same ones, but I guess I didn’t learn as quickly as he did! For instance, he reflects on the typical swimmer’s attitude toward nutrition by describing how many donuts he and his teammates would eat. Replacing all the calories burned from swimming was all that mattered. You might recognize this as the Michael Phelps diet. I swam in high school, so I’ve done that. When he does change his diet, his extreme personality leads him to some exotic “cleanse”. After a few days of suffering, he comes out the other end feeling great. But then he goes into what I call being a junk food vegetarian: fake meats, dairy, processed and refined foods, all the while wondering, “Why don’t I feel any better?” I have done that too, although less and less. What Rich discovered, and I am learning as well but more slowly, it doesn’t just matter what you don’t eat, it matters what you do eat. Nutrient density is key. And consistency.
Roll’s focus and drive to improve himself is where the story really becomes inspirational. In just a few months of changing his diet, he was exercising like crazy. In my experience, you have to nail the diet first in order to have the energy and motivation to exercise. I believe that the main reason most Americans don’t exercise is simply that they feel too bad from their horrible diet. In just a couple of years he had completely reinvented his body for Ultraman. His training was limited in description, but when I recognized the Maffetone Method at work by his coach, I was even more excited! Roll made horrible pacing and training mistakes early on by using intensities way too high that come directly from the swimming world. He had to learn, as I have, you must slow down to get faster by really developing the aerobic system. Consistently training his aerobic system and consistently eating nutrient dense foods led him to Ultraman and the EPIC5. By using the example of Rich Roll, my two year dream of Leadville doesn’t seem so impossible.
Part Three is the method to his madness. Roll succinctly explains how he does it in the kitchen, and why he does it. I disagree on his reliance on a blender, I think it’s better to chew your own food most of the time. I also disagree with his use of oil, especially when he references Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who vehemently opposes oil. He also relies a lot on high fat plant foods, coconut, avocados, nuts and seeds. He explains that his high volume training necessitates it. But I think whole food starches are better fuel than fats. But even if the vegan lifestyle isn’t for you, this last section gives a lot of great reasons to change your diet to include more high nutrient whole plant foods.
All in all, a fantastic read. I would not be surprised to find that this becomes my favorite book of the summer. But, next up, another great vegan endurance athlete’s story: Scott Jurek, six time Western States 100 winner.

Waiting for Rich Roll

I decided to be a good neighbor and pre-order Rich Roll’s new book, Finding Ultra. I didn’t realize until he reminded everybody that pre-orders on Amazon mean a lot to authors. And since I’m a big fan and love his plant powered message, I complied. Now I’m waiting, and I can’t stand it!

I’ve listened to two great podcast interviews with him in recent months:

Both interviews are really inspiring since Roll comes across as very approachable, regular guy. His story of resisting middle age is one many can relate to. He has the usual encumbrances of a demanding job and kids, yet he found a way out of it. Hearing how down to earth he is is contrasts a bit with his uber athlete photos! I liked in particular his response to dealing with time issues on a plant based diet. He really makes it sound much simpler and easier than many people think. It often seems to me that most people think we spend all day in the kitchen chopping vegetables. Not really. Maybe half a day.

I’ve skimmed the free excerpts of the book since I don’t want to spoil it competely for myself, but now I’m really hungry for more. Thwe world needs more plant based, athletic heroes and their stories. Now we have Rip Esselstyn, Rich Roll, and soon Scott Jurek.

C’mon Amazon, give me my Rich Roll!

Always Look on the Bright Side of . . . Life

With echoes of Monty Python running through my head I read through the second chapter of the Heath brothers’ Switch fascinated by an idea that was so obvious and clear as to be routinely ignored: find what works and do more of it.

*plants palm firmly in center of forehead making a distinct slapping sound*

Of course. Why focus on problems if solutions are right next to you? The subtitle of this book is “How to Change When Change is Hard”, and this first lesson hits you like, “Why didn’t I think about that?”

To back up, the Heaths explain that our behavior is governed by two independent forces that are complementary, but not always complimentary. That is, they complete each other, but don’t always cooperate. These forces are our executive function or logical thinking, and our emotional motivation. Without our reasoning brain to solve a problem and find the path, our emotional energy will flail around. Without the motivation and drive of our emotions, our executive function will spin its wheels and never get started. The Heaths borrow a metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The elephant represents the tremendous power of our emotional motivation, but it needs direction from the rider. The rider knows where to go, but needs the elephant’s power to get there. The first section of the book explores how to get the Rider to most efficiently create a winning plan. This is a plan that is reasonable, rational, but most importantly, accessible to the Elephant.

The first technique is to find what already works and copy it. They call it finding the bright spots, and give some great examples of it in action. My favorite came from a children’s malnutrition project. Plenty of expert “Riders” had already assessed the situation and found it too difficult to solve. The malnutrition came from insurmountable structural problems: poverty, lack of sanitation, no clean water, etc. These problems would not go away overnight because they were large in scale and complicated. A new team went to one particular village to investigate. They asked a simple question, “Is this problem universal, affecting everyone equally, or are some people able to get around it and raise healthy children despite the odds?” What they found was that some families in the same circumstances did have healthy children. With the same resources, they were getting better results. The investigators had found a “bright spot”. They followed them around to see what they did differently. Instead of two meals a day like the adults, these families fed their kids more often. And they used a couple of ingredients not usually thought of as appropriate for kids, some leafy greens and shrimp. These few ingredient changes increased both the calorie density and nutrient density of the food and resulted in healthy children. Once this strategy was shared, other families got the same results.

Amazing, isn’t it? The reasoning brain would get stuck at the big problems, but by showing it a practical solution, it can focus on the details. Seeing that success is possible, the emotional side is motivated by the good feelings that success creates. In these villages, Elephants and Riders worked together to improve the health of the children.

So the take home message is to find the bright spots. What has worked in the past? Why did it work? Can we do more of that? Right now I’m tempted to try anaerobic workouts again. I’ve been building my aerobic base for awhile, and I want to get faster. But my bright spot is the Maffetone method, not anaerobic running or cycling. What I need now is better climbing, so I will combine the methods. I will find some hills to climb and climb more and more, but I will keep it aerobic. This way I practice what needs improving, climbing, in a similar way to traditional interval training. But I will keep the intensity aerobic. My thinking is that this way I can build strength in my aerobic slow twitch muscle fibers to climb faster, and do it without the added recovery demands and increased overtraining risk from anaerobic training. At least for one more month. In June I may need to find a new bright spot.

Healthy Pizza? Damn Straight!

Thanks to my boy Soulveggie, pizza no longer needs to be the pariah that it deserves to be. Mark Sutton’s new book Heart Healthy Pizza  is out and it is slammin’! It’s no secret that pizza is one of America’s favorite junk foods, of the top three foods ordered in restaurants, it is just as you would imagine, burgers, fries, and pizza. Pizza is typically made with a ridiculous amount of artery clogging cheese, but does it have to be that way? If you can sidestep the addictive nature of the opiate like casomorphins, can you build a satisfying pie that won’t tighten up your chest?

The answer is a resounding yes!

I made this pizza using a garbanzo, oat, pimiento sauce that was fantastic. I topped it Greek style with spniach, red onion, kalamata olive, mushroom, and tofu feta from the Happy Herbivore. Bomb!

It was also fun to try out the pizza baking stone I got for Christmas. So give your heart a break and cook up some Heart Healthy Pizza.

Long Run Recovery

Another two hour run today in preparation for a marathon. The whole run, except for a mad dash across six lanes of waiting traffic to make a light, done at a brutally slow MAF pace. The good news: I went further and faster than the last attempt two weeks ago. Unfortunately, I missed last week due to being out of town for an all day weekend workshop.  I think this led to the bad news: a sore and very grumpy left knee about 90 min. into the run. It was just the muscles that control the knee and power my stride. They will get stronger and if Maffetone is correct, keeping the aerobic metabolism exclusively engaged, the correct muscles for endurance are getting stronger. So here are my secrets for recovery since tomorrow I have a two hour ride planned.

Post Workout Nutrition

NUtrition timing is over rated. The research seems to show that it doesn’t really matter whether it’s solid or liquid, consumed within 30 min. or 60 min. What matters is that you eat sooner rather than later. I used to be serious about drinking a commercially prepared “recovery” drink with the trendy ratio of highly processed carbs to high refined protein immediately after a long workout. I still do that after really long races, like an XTERRA, because I can’t stomach solid food for a while. But I am trying as much as possible to get away from the processed calories and instead eat whole food sources. So I time my long workouts to end within an hour of a real meal, either lunch or dinner. Today I finished my long run with a bottle of sports drink because I needed fluids and some calories. But after I cleaned up I ate my lunch, an enormous bowl of soba noodles with stir fried veggies and tofu.

Post Workout Rest

Rubbed magnesium oil into legs for relaxation.

Take a nap. Nothing helps recovery like sleep. Ad who doesn’t like a nap after lunch?

Post Workout Chillin’ Like a Villain

Compression socks

Feet up

Reading an old Travis McGee novel

Bliss

For extended recovery, I’ve got basic black beans in the slow cooker. They’ll go with quinoa, homemade fresh salsa and avocado. Does it get any better? I’ll save you time spent on research, it does not.

What works for you? Any special rituals put mind, body and soul back together after a long effort?

Vegan Strength Training for Triathlon

Conundrum:

Despite yesterday’s perplexing MAF test, my real conundrum consists of how to transition into a three-month strength training phase. Since I have been experiencing success with the Maffetone method of low stress, low intensity, purely aerobic training, I am at a bit of a loss about how to proceed. In his Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing he explains that all strength training should be considered as anaerobic, and therefore potentially damaging to increasing aerobic fitness and fat burning metabolism. Since endurance events rely almost exclusively on aerobic energy, strength training is less important. As I understand it, this is because aerobic endurance relies on the slow twitch muscle fibers and strength training recruits mostly fast twitch fibers. So, in essence the wrong muscle fibers are being trained if endurance is the goal. Maffetone explains on page 122:

“Some feel the added muscle gained during lifting will protect them from injury. But it’s the aerobic muscle fibers that perform this task much more than the anaerobic fibers. Others feel weight training improves power, which it does. But this power is not used nearly as significant (sic) as aerobic function in endurance events.”

So why am I risking it?

I fall into a couple of exceptional categories:

  • Age:  I am now at an age where maintaining muscle mass with strength training may outweigh the risks
  • Aerobic Base: I have completed six months where nearly all workouts were purely aerobic. I cut back on racing.
  • Ski season: While I am not as dedicated to alpine skiing as previously, I know from experience how helpful the gym is.
  • Racing: What? Despite what Maffetone believes, I believe that in off-road racing there is greater need for power than racing on the road.

So, I am willing to risk it. The conundrum is how to design a workout that will increase strength without interfering with my aerobic development, since I still have a long way to go, as clearly shown by my MAF test.

The Plan:

Today I trained basic movements: lower body thrust, upper body push, upper body pull, crunch and back extension. It looked like this:

Chest Press 2×12

Lat pull-down 2×12

Leg Press 2×15

Crunch 2×20

Back Extension 2×12

I tried as hard as I could to keep intensity and volume low. I know my joints will be sore for a while as I adapt. I want to do the minimum possible that will still get gains. I am trying to apply the “less is more” philosophy to the gym and avoid the injury and burnout producing “no pain no gain” mantra. So, I’ll hit the gym again this weekend and change up the exercises, but keep the same template. Knowing whether I am on the right track will come from watching my HRV and my MAF test result in two weeks.

Iron War Heats Up

Damn! I was SO looking forward to this book about the legendary 1989 Ironman triathlon being published. Now I’m concerned. This race has fascinated me for years, especially as I have delved more deeply into the Maffetone training method that Mark Allen used in preparing for this historic win over the amazing Dave Scott. I heard the author, Matt Fitzgerald, speak at a meeting of my triathlon club this summer where he mentioned this book. So I was dying to read it. (He was speaking about his last two books Racing Weight and Run The Mind Body Method of Running by Feel) I have long enjoyed his articles in print and on the web, but now I worry about veracity and integrity. I mean, if the two principal players in the drama are outraged enough to actually pursue legal action? I really want to read the book, especially because of the controversy, but if Fitzgerald is truly wrong here, then I don’t want any of my money going to his cause. What to do? Do I cancel my Amazon pre-order? Just follow the internet flame war to follow? Or do I pay Fitzgerald, read and then make up my mind? What would  you do? Check out the amazing finish to that race.