Wednesday, July 24, 2013

From the blog-o-sphere.

So I used to write for a cycling website as a guest diarist. It was while I was still racing, albeit mostly recreationally but it was a nice place to talk about races and my feelings about training and racing and so forth. I stopped writing there shortly after Paleo baby arrived on the scene. I lost interest in writing, and being a dad and trying to work and be a husband too just all sort of piled up. I read back through some of those posts recently and enjoyed reading them.

I've been trying to write a book for some time now. I alternate between thinking I'll write a book on nutrition, and thinking I'll write a book on my adventures in bike racing. I've written the short form of the nutrition project and can't seem to figure out how to make a book out of it. I thought I'd include it here for your perusal. Robb Wolf (yep, that Robb Wolf) had a look at it and gave me a thumbs up and, since I had submitted it as part of a book for athletes, suggested that I emphasize that athletes pay attention to adequate carb intake and to making sure they're eating enough.

I know a lot more now than then, and my knowledge continues to grow. Here's what I've come up with so far:

Recent popular news has discussed the growing anti-gluten movement. Gluten, and related compounds like lectins (found in legumes - beans) are now realized to be a significant gut irritant to people in varying degrees. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that all people are somewhat gluten intolerant. Virtually all grains contain gluten. Adjunct to this movement is the “Paleo” or “Caveman” approach to eating. Despite the colorful name it is a relatively simple idea that our bodies are essentially genetically identical to our cavemen ancestors and, therefore, we’re meant to eat as they did. This eliminates processed foods, grains, legumes and dairy altogether, and that means donuts too!

The Paleo way of eating is well documented in traditional cultures across the world. When studies are done on these cultures they find that these people are tall, fit, lean and largely devoid of the diseases of civilization, namely cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Given that the hunter-gatherer way of making a living is a labor intensive one, it is not a big stretch to believe that athletes can benefit from this way of eating too. 

The Paleo food pyramid is very much different from the FDA food pyramid. At its base are lean meats and fish where the FDA food pyramid has whole grains at its base. The second tier is vegetables. The third tier is fruit, and nuts and seeds and the top tier (the "use sparingly tier") is berries and sugars (honey, agave nectar, etc...). 

Why and how does this diet plan work?

At the end of the day, and among many other factors, the Paleo diet is about insulin control. Insulin is a hormone your body uses for various signaling purposes. When you consume food, your body produces insulin to tell your cells to open and pull the food into themselves. The more highly refined, or sugary a food, the greater the amount of insulin that is produced. Foods that produce sharp insulin responses are refined grains, sugars and dairy. When insulin is present in the blood stream, the body realizes that food is abundant and it stops burning fat (this is a tremendously simplified explanation of digestive physiology). If you consider the average eating pattern of Americans, who are eating refined carbs and sugar all day long, it’s easy to understand why we’re the fattest nation on earth and getting fatter. Prolonged, chronic, elevated insulin levels lead to type II diabetes, obesity, heart disease and a host of other health problems.

As food is digested and broken down into glucose or, in the case of fruit, fructose, the body starts filling the liver and muscles with glucose or fructose (fructose goes preferentially to the liver). When those stores are full, and if the body is not in motion and constantly needing the circulating glucose or fructose for fuel, any remaining sugars are converted to, and stored as, fat. 

If I’m an athlete who desires to burn fat and be lean, it would behoove me to eliminate, or greatly reduce, refined carbohydrates and sugars from my diet. While the Paleo diet CAN be low carb, it does not HAVE TO be low carb. Indeed, carbohydrate dense foods abound in the form of sweet potatoes, yams, squash and fruits (all unprocessed foods). By thoughtful manipulation of food stuffs, you can adequately fuel for sport and stay lean. Your insulin levels will remain low, you’ll burn fat as opposed to storing it and, relating back to our first paragraph in this chapter, you’ll avoid gut irritation and actually digest your food much more completely.

Ok, but what does this mean and how do I  implement this?

Eating this way is simple when you consider the following: eat lean meats, good fats, vegetables, some fruit and nuts and seeds. Athletes will want to consume more carbohydrate in the form of yam, sweet potato, squash and fruit pre and post workout. But, most other meals will consist largely of lean meats, good fats, and vegetables (remember, vegetables ARE carbohydrates though not as dense as sweet potatoes, yams, squash and plantains - which are all starchy carbs - and fruit). Below are some tables of Paleo foods:

Meats (protein):
grass-fed beef
pastured chickens 
grass-fed pork
and many more.

brussel sprouts
bell peppers of all colors
sweet potato
and many more

and many more.

Good fats:
avocado (guacamole!!)
coconut oil
coconut milk
fish oil 
olive oil 
(avoid seed & vegetable oils)
walnut oil

Meal Planning:

While you may have to relearn some habits, like getting rid of your precious grains (think bread, rice and pasta), Paleo meals are simple. For instance, if you’ve ever had a plate of scrambled eggs with salsa and half an avocado, you’ve had a simple, quality Paleo meal. If this were a pre-race or training meal you’d want to ad some carbs like berries or sweet potato/yam. If you’ve ever had a big salad with colorful vegetables and a chicken breast, you’ve eaten paleo.  A good mid-day snack might be jerkey (protein), half an apple (carbs) and a handful of walnuts (good fats). This snack, too, could be taken on the bike.

Think of your above lists of foods as a food matrix. When making a meal, try to pick something from each list and put it altogether in a pan. You’ll find that there are almost infinite combinations. For instance, for dinner: 

- Put a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a pan. Chop half an onion and add it to the pan. Toss in 2 chicken breasts. Next, chop 1 large red pepper and also add to pan. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder (or real garlic). Serve with avocado slices or guacamole.

For lunch:
In a bowl add spinach leaves, lettuce, carrots, broccoli, chunks of last nights left over chicken and walnuts. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss.

If you’re needing more carbs and feel like cooking, put in a pan , olive oil, chunks of last nights chicken, 1/4 to 1/2 a can of coconut milk, sweet potato or squash shredded on a cheese grater, and old bay seasoning (easy to find at most grocery stores). 

It’s important to bear in mind the fueling need of athletes. As such, nutrient timing is important. As mentioned before, you’ll want to add some pre-workout carbs on training and racing days. Since endurance athletes need to be lean, the majority of your carbohydrates should come after workouts or races. This doesn’t necessarily mean only in the first 30 minutes following the race or ride. Instead, think of it perhaps as following the race or ride up until bed. 

The idea of “Train High, Live Low.”

This idea is becoming more and more popular in Paleo circles, particularly among Paleo athletes. While, due to insulin response, you’ll want to generally avoid sugary foods like berries and so forth, you can use these foods around exercise, particularly DURING exercise. Because exercise increases your body's insulin sensitivity, during and just following exercise your body can use sugars in a non-insulin mediated way. 

If you’re serious about being a Paleo athlete then, where you peers have gels and Clif Bars in their jersey pockets, you’ll have apple slices and strawberries. However, if you were going to consume sugary foods like gels and sports drinks, on the bike is the time to do it. I know, I know, it’s not Paleo but, if the rest of your meals are in line, you can use more practical food energy sources on the bike. The same holds true for post workout recovery products. Protein shakes are handy after a race or ride and your body won’t go nuts with insulin at that time (remember, your body can use sugars in a non-insulin mediated way during or post exercise). If, though, you want to stay strict Paleo, your recovery foods can be fruit, jerky and nuts. Incidentally, none of those foods need refrigeration either and, so, could go in your race bag.

Wait, no dairy? What about calcium?

We’ve been told from birth that we must have milk. But, think about it for a moment. We’re the only species on earth that continues to consume milk after weaning. There’s probably a good reason for this. Imagine, if our caveman ancestors could even have captured a wild animal live, it would have been nearly impossible to milk it. As our species evolved into anatomically modern man, we weren’t consuming milk past weaning. So how did we get our calcium?

Calcium is found in many vegetables and fruits. Green leafy veggies like kale, chard, spinach, broccoli and brussell sprouts are all rich in calcium. Further, fruits like oranges and bananas contain calcium, as well as the other nutrients like magnesium and phosphorus that bones need. Our cave dwelling ancestors fed themselves with meat and the leaves and fruits of plants. They were getting calcium regularly. 

Our ancestors also spent a lot more time in the sun than we do. Our bodies use sun to create vitamin D, which is a component in bone growth and strength. Given that most of us work indoors and don’t live in tropical locales where we can get away with wearing little clothing, our sun exposure is scarce. Vitamin D is one case where you may, in fact, want to supplement.

Bone density is stimulated by load. Force channeled through bones causes bones to become stronger. Our ancestors lifted heavy stuff, ran and jumped. They carried deer carcasses home, ran away from danger, jumped across streams or on and off rocks. In other words, they were quite active. Americans as a rule are not active enough. As such, our puny muscles are not pulling on bones and, therefore, not stimulating our bones to be strong.

Finally, every food that you eat has a net acid or alkaline (base) load. Without going into too much detail, just remember that acids eat away at things, including bones. Vegetables, in general, have a net alkaline load. The standard american diet of refined grains, sugars and some meat, has a net acid load. American’s need to supplement calcium with milk and, in some cases pills, comes from the fact that our diet does not support strong, healthy bones. So, by the addition of many and varied vegetables, and the elimination of refined grains and sugars, you can strike an acid/base balance that will support strong, healthy bones. Referring back to our mention of aboriginal cultures, despite a total absence of dairy, their cultures are largely devoid of osteoporosis. 

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