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Do You Really Need to Eat That?

Allen Lim wrote very succinctly at the beginning of his cookbook for athletes:

“First Ask This> Do You Really Need To Eat That?

If  you’ve ever run out of fuel while exercising and ‘bonked’ or ‘hit the wall,’ then you know how important eating early or often is to performance. . . However, once we take a look at the numbers I think you’ll agree that in many situations we are better served not eating anything when we’re exercising.”  (Feed Zone Portables, p. 4)

Pre and Post workout nutrition is way overstated.

As an endurance athlete who does not eat animal foods I get asked a lot:

  1. What should I eat before I work out?
  2. What should I eat while I work out?
  3. What should I eat after I work out?

The answers I used years ago came from the sports nutrition and supplement industry:

  1. a gel or half a bottle of sports drink
  2. 1-2 gels plus sports drink per hour
  3. a post workout recovery drink

Then I wised up a little and decided that such engineered food wasn’t all that nutritious. So I changed my answer:

  1. same?
  2. same!
  3. a recovery smoothie in the blender with fruit, some spinach and protein powder

A slight improvement, but I still wasn’t at racing weight, and I was going through canisters of powders and potions like they were going out of style, all while searching for this elusive “recovery” that would allow me to train myself into the ground and bounce right back.

So I wised up a little more and realized real food worked better than the engineered stuff and my answer changed again:

  1. whatever the last meal was, breakfast or lunch, ideally 2-3 hours prior
  2. maybe a sport drink, maybe some dates, maybe a rice ball/cake
  3. maybe a recovery smoothie, or some fruit and a meal an hour later

Then I wised up even more and began to question the whole process, with a new answer:

  1. the previous meal
  2. nothing
  3. the next meal, whenever that was

Everything went just fine and I learned that:

The Problem of Pre/Post and During Workout Nutrition is an ILLUSION!

You don’t need to expend any special effort to fuel up before a workout. You do not need to guzzle down 250 calories an hour during exercise, nor do you need some magic concoction after a workout.

Folks, we are a nation that is 70% overweight or obese. We do not need to look for new places and times to take in calories. Yet all the magazines drill into our heads that as soon as we start exercising, suddenly fueling becomes a tricky problem that requires diligent effort to overcome.


Most people, most of the time, who are exercising for an hour or so, do not need to eat anything. That’s right: NOTHING! If you are eating a healthy diet of adequate calories, you do not need to suddenly increase that. Your regular meals can suffice. What I see is a weird practice of people trying to limit their portions and calories at meals, then add all those calories back in the form of workout fuel  and pre/post workout snacks. Madness!  Just eat your regular meals and exercise. Your appetite will balance out whatever additional energy expenditure you engage in. Your brain is pretty smart like that, just trust it.

So why don’t people just trust their brain and eat normally?

Because some people do have to make a special effort. These are special people. We want to be like them. They are professional athletes, and they are not like the rest of us.

Professional athletes train multiple times a day for hours at a time. Their energy demands are very high. And it is crucial that they recover from the first workout of the day in time to put in a quality effort for the second (or third) workout. But that does not reflect the reality of a normal person,  with a normal schedule, who exercises for an hour or so.

An average exerciser can store 1000 calories or so of carbohydrate in their muscles. And many thousands of calories of fat. An average exerciser burns no more than 500 calories an hour for aerobic exercise. See the numbers? Until your exercise session goes well over two hours, fueling is not necessary. Post workout fueling would be important if you trained right after waking, but that’s OK, it’s called “breakfast.”

Thanks to the sports nutrition industry and our own insecurity, we think we need far more fuel than we do. For special events, like really long weekend efforts, or races at high intensity, some more fuel is needed. But regular people, on regular days, doing regular exercise, only need regular meals.

Eat, Sleep, Train, Live

Don’t Overthink It



Vegan Strength Training for Triathlon


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.

Training Plan Week of 10/03/11

The Marathon Project is officially underway! Today I ran 1:45, which is about fifteen minutes longer than my previous long runs, but a bit shy of my goal for the month of two hour long runs. The good news is that I completed the run feeling pretty good. Immediately after the run I was on my feet gathering veggies at the farmer’s market with no undue distress. So Week 1 of The Marathon Project has me training:


One hour bike commute


Run a M.A.F. test on the track


A.M. Strength Train @gym

P.M. 90 minute bike commute  1 hr. trainer ride

The first real cold front is working its way through California, with real rain expected.


Run 60 min.


Bike commute one hour


A.M. 2 hour long run

P.M. Strength train @gym


2-3 hr Bike ride, road or MTB

Except for Monday’s faculty meeting, no work commitments should interfere. Unlike the last two weeks, the weather calls for our California Indian summer to finally ease up. No more 90 degree afternoons cancelling runs, I hope.

100 Days!

Remember January 1? Whatever happened to those resolutions? Come on, admit it, you’re among friends, you had a few, didn’t you? Even if you didn’t make a big deal about them at the time by broadcasting them to your support network, blogging them, keeping a journal, or even writing them on the fridge, they were there somewhere in your mind. Then what happened? Of course, Life happened. It usually does. Then there were a few slips, you slacked off, and when you started to feel bad, your ever ready ego fired up the Rationalization machine and presto! You absolved yourself of actually making any change. You’re happy now right?

Of course not. You made those resolutions because they meant something to you. So I’m here to say that you are not to late to make serious progress on those goals. We have 100 days left in 2011. That’s a lot of days that you can use to make your goals and dreams come true. So, recommit yourself to the spirit of the goals, even if they were vague to begin with. What can you do right now, this very minute to make some progress? Start small. Very small. Like five minutes worth of small. What can you do right now for five minutes that could help? Maybe write down a plan for tomorrow. Maybe reconnect with what you find inspiring about your goal. Maybe you could close your eyes and for five minutes just imagine what life would feel like when this goal is achieved. Maybe you could just watch your breath for five minutes and let theuniverse talk to you.

Then what? Do something! Maybe the original goal is too ambitious for 100 days. So what? When all else fails, lower your expectations. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Reflect for a moment on what would be reasonable to expect in the final 100 days this year. Now take that goal and cut it in half. If you’re really ambitious, cut it by 75%. You read that right. Some times we get too wound up and anxious and get in our own way. Maybe we get too excited and try to hard to “dream big”. Maybe we can ease up and be kind to ourselves by trying gentler. But you know what? Those small, kind, and gentle actions can add up to great things. And it will happen quicker than you think, because as we all know well, time truly does fly. So perhaps the harder we try and the more tension we create, the quicker we abandon. I am reminded of the old Zen story:

A spiritual seeker came to see a famous Zen master and asked how long it would take to reach enlightenment if he meditated two hours a day.
“Ten years,” the Zen master answered.
“Ten years! What if I doubled my efforts and meditated four hours a day?”
“Probably about about fifteen years.”
“What?! OK, what if I was totally devoted and meditated for six hours a day, every day. How long?”
“Oh, I would say at least twenty years.”
“This is ridiculous! How can it be that the harder I work the longer it will take? That doesn’t make any sense!”
“The harder you try, the tighter you grasp and cling to this idea of enlightenment that you alone created in your own mind. It is not true understanding. To truly wake up you must let go of all those ideas and receive the wisdom around you. Only when you relax your mind and expectations will you see with new understanding.”

Hmmm. Interesting ideas. Go easier to go farther. Sounds like the Maffetone method all over again. So what will I do? Keep practicing. The Maffetone method of athletic training has been a great help. It changes my focus from trying to hit specific targets,to instead putting faith in the practice of daily improvement of my aerobic engine. So I will continue to do that. I will find a few races to participate in to stoke the fires. But not too many, I have learned the lesson of over racing. I will focus less on numbers (weight, HRV, times, pace, poundage etc.) and more on the behavior and habit. Is what I’m doing now going to help me run that marathon in December or Leadville 2014? As long as the movement is in the right direction, I’ll count it a victory. I’m much more more interested in the habit than I am how long it took me to run to the bridge and back or ride up St. Joseph’s Hill.

100 days left! What are you going to do?

Autumn Vegan Bounty

Santa Cruz Mountains

I ran across Chris Carmichael’s postabout what is so great about the fall and couldn’t agree more. I love the fall in California. Cool nights and mornings with warm afternoons are perfect for long training or racing. Fall is definitely here in the Bay Area. I am happy that this is the second weekend in a row that I have resisted the temptations of the couch or given into workweek fatigue and actually followed the training plan. Score another one for the Maffetone method. Saturday consisted of a great 2 hour MTB ride around the trails off Skyline above Palo Alto. Sunday’s workout was a 90 minute long run to begin the build phase for a December marathon. Unfortunately, my legs were deadened a bit by Saturday’s ride, so I had to slow to a pathetic jog to keep my HR within the prescribed range. Regardless, it was a good workout because it met the criteria and it was a beautiful morning to run. After the run of course it was time to hit the Campbell Farmer’s Market. Another reason fall is the best, the truly amazing bounty at the Farmer’s Market! I scored bok choy, mizuna, eggplant, green beans, yukon gold potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, and peaches.

Time to create a menu plan and a training plan for the week. Definitely a lot more work needed on my aerobic engine. No anaerobic efforts until gym work begins next month. How are you training now? Still racing? What are you eating now?