Sunday, January 21, 2018

Plant-Based Protein Sources

Recently, two things happened that spawned this blog topic:

1) One of my ultra-fit friends who is training for an Ironman asked me about how she could boost her protein intake from plant foods.  


2) I watched an amazing presentation by Dr. Garth Davis (author of the book Proteinaholic which is definitely my next read) on vegan diets & protein intake.

The response to my friend's protein question has to be prefaced with this golden nugget:  the first nutrition priority for endurance athletes is getting adequate calories.  If you boost protein without consuming enough overall calories to support your training, it won't help much.  Spreading calories as evenly as possible throughout the day is usually the best way to get them all in, breakfast - snack - lunch - snack - dinner - snack or snack - breakfast - snack - lunch - snack - dinner, depending on your schedule.  If you were aiming for 3000 calories/day, this would equate to about 750 calories/meal and 250 calories per snack.  Secondly, out of the three macronutrients in foods (carbs, fat, & protein), the one that gives us energy and we need to eat the most of as endurance athletes is carbohydrates.  Skimping on carbs will leave you feeling tired and your muscles without any get up and go (because they are depleted of their glycogen stores).  Good carbohydrate sources are:  fruit, potatoes & sweet potatoes, corn, peas, beans, and whole grains (quinoa, oatmeal, barley, bulgur, millet, brown rice, etc).  Whole wheat bread can also be a good carb source - Ezekiel is the brand I've been buying and they also make tortillas and pitas. 

OK, so on to the protein issue at hand.  Typically needs for an endurance athlete are 1.2 g/kg.  So for someone like me at ~125 lbs, that is 125 / 2.2 = 56.8 kg * 1.2 = 68 g/day.  That is much lower than a lot of people *think* they need to eat and are so worried about getting.  If I spread that out evenly throughout the day it would be 17 grams per meal and 5-6 grams per snack, pretty easily obtainable numbers.   Remember that the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range of 10% of total calories from protein meets the needs for ~98% of the population.  Now, protein sources.  Here are some excellent ideas for getting more plant-based protein:

*Beans - Beans are an incredibly healthy food and you should aim to eat three 1/2-cup servings daily.  It is worth trying as many types as possible to find out which ones you like the most.  Any type of bean is good and some you may not have considered are lentils, split peas, peas, chick peas (these can be roasted in the oven for a salty/crunchy snack), edamame, and hummus.  You could also try disguising beans by making something like black bean brownies!  Then you feel like you are eating a yummy brownie but the starch in it is coming from beans rather than flour and it is higher in protein.  I've tried a few recipes that I've found online.  Wish I could give you one that's great but never wrote any down; some are definitely better than others. 
*Nuts - In a nutshell, these provide healthy fat, fiber, and protein.  Include a wide variety of nuts in your diet and enjoy the use of nut butters!  Cashew butter and almond butter can make things more exciting if you are tired of the same ol same ol peanut butter.  Nuts also increase longevity - hip hip hooray!

*Seeds - Reap what you sow by eating these plain as snacks, sprinkled onto salads or other main dishes, in a home-made trail mix, or buy the blended versions (sunflower seed butter) which you could then spread on whole wheat bread and/or use in a sandwich. 

*Whole grains - Whole grains are a really really good source of healthy complex carbs, fiber, and protein.  Quinoa is a buzz word among whole grains b/c it is high in protein - this is b/c it is technically a seed not a whole grain but whatever, it's healthy.  Go to a health foods store and hit up the bulk foods section - you will see tons of whole grains that maybe you have never tried before - millet, bulgur, teff, wheat berries, barley, spelt, etc.  These can be eaten as a side dish or put into any soup or stew.  You can also make a hearty breakfast out of them, instead of using oats, for ex - qunioa with cinnamon, walnuts, and chopped apples, mmm.  

*Vegetables - Leafy greens are about 30% protein!!!  Eating leafy greens daily is super important.  This could be in the form of a salad, cooked greens, mixed into soups/stews, or in a green smoothie.  All vegetables have a good amount of protein in them, so make sure to up your ante on veggies.  If you don't like veggies start by trying 1 new thing per week until you gradually find things you like and can expand your palate. 

*Tofu - This is protein packed.  You can buy the firm or extra firm and use in stir-fries and other main dishes.  You can use the silken tofu which is a lot softer in sauces and smoothies.  Again, just like with the black bean brownies you can find yummy recipes, like vegan cheesecake and pumpkin pie, that use silken tofu if you want to disguise it!

*Seitan - Seitan is gluten, which is the protein portion of wheat.  You can make your own seitan which is a lengthy process or you can purchase it pre-made at health food stores.  Seitan has a very chewy texture similar to turkey.  Use it in place of meat in recipes.

*Tempeh - Tempeh is a fermented soy bean pressed into strips.  These strips have a much denser texture than tofu.  You can purchase the strips pre-flavored at a health food store or a regular grocery store.  I used to buy the bacon-flavored tempeh strips, cook them in a skillet, and then use them instead of bacon to make a BLT, which I called a TLT!

*Faux Meats - These are things like fake chicken strips (Gardein) and fake hamburgers (Beyond Meat) that are easily replaceable in your diet for the regular version of the food.  They are not my top go-to protein source b/c they tend to be highly processed. I feel that eating these things 1-3x/week constitutes moderation. 

*Vegan Protein Powders - These are typically made from soy, rice, pea, hemp, or other vegetable proteins.  Just like with the faux meats they are processed so they are not my #1 recommendation.  However, they are convenient and easily added to non-dairy milk or smoothies if you are just not able to get enough protein or are in a rush to get something in quick after a workout. 

Lastly, keep in mind that ALL FOODS contain amino acids, which are the building blocks to protein.  This essentially ensures that as long as you consume adequate calories you will consume adequate protein.  Consider when I did the fruitarian diet...fruit is about 10% protein on average.  If I was eating 3000 calories/day of straight fruit, that means 300 of those calories were coming from protein. Since there are 4 calories per gram of protein that means I was consuming 75 grams/day, which is greater than the 68 g/day that I gave you in the example calculation above.  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Purple Carrot

One of the coolest gifts I received for Christmas this past year was a subscription to Purple Carrot from my parents (thanks Mom & Dad!!!)  When I opened it I was really excited because I have always been curious about trying a home delivery meal service (Blue Apron, Green Chef, Plated, etc) but have shied away due to the lack of plant based meal options.   On the contrary, Purple Carrot is completely vegan!!!  It was like a second Christmas the day my box arrived at my doorstep!

The fully insulated box was filled with goodies and had two gel freezer packs in the bottom to keep everything within the time-temperature safety zone.

Each week of Purple Carrot comes with three 8.5x11" recipe cards for 3 unique recipes.  This week's menu was Socca Pizza, Spicy Red Curry Ramen, and Vietnamese Tofu Bowl.  All the ingredients were partitioned by recipe and were in sachets of the exact quantity called for by the recipe!  The only ingredients needed from my own kitchen were olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Two of the three recipes were absolutely delicious!!!  Yum yum yum were the Spicy Red Curry Ramen and the Vietnamese Tofu Bowl!   I struggled with my pizza when I decided to skimp on the oil in the skillet that the pizza was cooked in, resulting in the crust clinging to my pan as persistently as gum on the bottom of your shoe :)  I improvised and used a spatula to pry the crust out and turned the dish into a pizza salad of sorts.

Socca Pizza

Spicy Red Curry Ramen

Vietnamese Tofu Bowl

I will leave you with my opinion of the pros vs. cons of Purple Carrot...

1.  Delicious meals!
2.  Explicit, easy-to-follow directions on large pretty recipe cards that you can keep for future use
3.  Quick - time from start to table was ~30 min
4.  Eliminates the question "What am I going to eat for dinner tonight?"
5.  Fun and exciting to try new meals that you wouldn't normally make with ingredients you wouldn't normally buy like bamboo rice (which was green) and daikon radish
6.  Each meal featured a hefty portion of leafy greens in some way
7.  Fresh, high-quality ingredients
8.  Each meal makes 2 filling servings (hiya leftovers!!!)
9.  Set weekly menu.  I know some people might consider it a con that they can't pick and choose their meals each week, but I like pretty much all foods so the set menu concept for me is yet another simplification in the process of feeding myself by eliminating decision making.
10.  Variety.  I can't attest to this personally yet, but I heard from another friend that she has been using Purple Carrot for a few months and has not gotten a duplicate recipe yet.

1.  My only real gripe is that these meals were a lot higher in fat content than I am used to.  I try to get my fat from whole foods like nuts, seeds, and avocados.  I have quit using oil to sauté foods and now only water sauté or sauté in vegetable broth. All of the recipes called for what I consider large amounts of oil and two of them had veganaise.  To get around this you could simply use less oil than the recipe calls for - just don't do it with the Socca Pizza!  ;)
2.  Cost - $72/week

Overall I am a highly satisfied customer and am waiting in eager anticipation for Wednesday when I receive my next box!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Healthiest Chips

Here's a conversation I've had many times at my job as a dietitian:

Q:  What are the healthiest chips to eat?

A:  Chips are actually NOT a health food. 

Q:  But what about veggie chips?

A:  Veggie chips are still deep fried in oil and do not count as a vegetable serving.

Q:  Well, tortilla chips are healthy right?

A:  No -  tortilla chips, like potato chips, are deep fried in oil and high in calories and fat. 

Q:  Then what in the world am I supposed to eat with salsa???

I have never had a great answer to this question until now!  I purchased some Ezekiel brand tortillas and put one on the top rack of the oven which was set to broil.  In less than 5 minutes, the tortilla was heated and I took it out and sliced it into triangular shaped chips.  As they cooled a little they became crispy.  These homemade "chips" were totally dippable and satisfying in salsa, hummus, and as a scooper for a delicious shredded kale salad I made (pic below).  And best of all, they have about half the calories of regular chips, 75% less fat, are high in fiber (5 g/svg!), and are low in sodium!  

For those interested here is a comparison nutrition chart for some popular chip brands.  To keep it consistent the serving size for each item is 2 oz.  FYI one Ezekiel tortilla is 2 oz.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Race Report - Ironman Los Cabos 2017

Ironman Los Cabos was my 4th Ironman and the hardest one so far!  I also trained the hardest for this race, so am slightly disappointed/puzzled as to why I didn't get better results.  I have been trying to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona since coming in 3rd place in my AG in Ironman Chattanooga in 2015.  My training was really inconsistent for IM Cozumel in 2016.  Training for IM Texas 2017 was slightly better but not up to par for a KQ.  From reading blogs & talking to fellow athletes, I gathered that 18-20 hours/week is generally what is needed for getting to Kona.  So, I wrote myself a training plan and mostly followed it.  I found that 20 hours/week was pretty much my max, given my full time job and having enough time to eat and sleep.  Here's what I did in preparation for Los Cabos in comparison to Texas & Cozumel:

I also purchased a power meter for the bike --> the Garmin Vector pedals <-- and started training with power for the first time ever.  I bought this book and did workouts from the book designed to increase FTP:

I did an FTP test on the trainer every 4 weeks and over the course of 3 months improved my FTP by 24 watts.  (This was from July to Oct; I didn't do another FTP test after my last build b/c I started tapering).  I also did a timed 500 yd swim every month and improved from 7:20 (1:28/100 yds) to 6:56 (1:23/100 yds) over the same time period.  I didn't do test sets on the run since that has historically been a strength for me and I was focusing on trying to improve my cycling.  So, going into this race I felt I had done as much as I could do.  I felt confident that I would have a good race.

The Swim - 2.4 miles - 1:07:53 (1:35/100 yds)
The swim was really enjoyable!  The water was not as clear as Cozumel, but visibility was still decent.  Water temperature was around 80 degrees and felt perfect!  I settled into a comfortable pace and felt good for the majority of the swim.  The water was a little wavy and a few times I felt little tiny jellyfish stings, but neither of these things bothered me and for the most part I think I swam pretty straight.  I drafted when I could.  I wanted to get out of the water and not feel tired and that's exactly what happened.  When I finished the swim I felt like I had plenty of energy left for the bike and the run.  I had also posted my fastest non-current IM-distance swim.  So far, things were off to a good start!

T1 - 4:01
Transition was interesting because you put your bike shoes on in the changing tent and then ran through the sand to get to your bike:

To my surprise and delight I ran into Bobby!  We exited T1 at the same time and laughed about how both of our shoes were totally filled with sand.  Then we started the big climb out of transition and he was gone like a rocket!

The Bike - 112 miles - 6:22:19 (17.6 mph)
I knew the bike was going to be hilly and tried to prepare for this by riding hilly courses in training.  The most elevation I could find around Pensacola was a 128-mile route with 3000 feet of climbing.  Between Sharon, Bobby, & my Garmin's the race course was somewhere between 6000-7000 feet of climbing, so essentially double what I did in a training ride!  I got up to over 40 mph on the descents and was crawling at 7 mph on some of the climbs.  There were two longer climbs - one 5 miles and the other 3 miles, both of which were done twice.  I don't remember any flat sections.  There was a small section of sand that we had to ride through b/c they hadn't gotten finished paving the road, there were boards over grates to ride over while descending one of the climbs, and there was this nice little ramp that they constructed the day before the race to get us off the highway:

This makeshift ramp didn't go all the way to the pavement on the other side.  When you got off the ramp, there was a thick blue carpet that they had laid out over the sand to bridge the gap.  LOL!  Despite these quirks and how slow I was going I did enjoy the bike.  It was very scenic with great views of the water coming down the descents.  I didn't like the fact that it felt like the entire race was passing me, but I didn't want to push too hard and over bike.  I stuck to my plan of keeping within a certain power range, which was a little challenging because it was hard to gauge overall output of effort since the terrain was so hilly.  However, my normalized average power was only 10 watts higher than my average power, so I think I did a decent job.  It got up to the low 90's, but I was ready for the heat and it wasn't a big factor in my performance on the day.  

T2 - 5:25
Not much to say about T2.  Changed into running attire and commiserated with fellow athletes in the changing tent about the difficulty of the bike :)

The Run - 4:01:11 (9:12/mi)
At first I felt really good getting off the bike and my first 5 miles were 8:00-8:30.  I was happy to be chasing quite a few people down.  Then things started getting harder and didn't get any easier until the finish.  I think it was simply overall fatigue b/c my nutrition was on point all day.  My legs were so tired and it was taking everything I had to not walk.  I didn't let myself walk at all b/c I was afraid if I walked, even through an aid station I wouldn't start running again.  It was great to see Bobby & Sharon on the race course and my spirits were lifted a little bit each time we ran by each other.  The course was 4 loops, which was a tad bit monotonous. My last loop was mostly in the dark and really could've used a head lamp.  I got a little pep in my step once I only had 3 miles to go and clocked my final mile at 8:04.  I was sooooo happy to make that final turn into the finish chute and hear the announcer call my name, "Tara Martine - you are an Ironman!"  Those words never get old!!!

Total Time - 11:40:47 (5th AG)
I'm really happy and proud that I finished my 4th IM and the toughest one to date!  It was an awesome experience and I enjoyed the entire thing and appreciated every moment.  Since the race I've been mulling over how I feel about my results and I do feel disappointed.  It's not that I didn't make it to Kona (or wasn't even close).  It's more the fact that I put in all that time and effort and didn't see tangible gains in speed.  On the contrary, I had my slowest bike ever and slowest run (not including Cozumel where I walked a lot).  I'm not sure if I over-trained or just had a bad day or the course was just that difficult....  It has left me wondering whether or not to pursue another Ironman in 2018.  I'm considering doing more local sprints & olympics, perhaps a 70.3, perhaps another full but focused more on fun than trying to KQ.  I'm not sure what I would do differently in my training if I wanted to KQ.  Cut down the hours a little bit to allow for more recovery?  Or is it just a matter of stacking multiple years of the type of training I did for this race to get to Kona.  I'm not sure I have the motivation for that kind of dedication right now.  So, I'm going to enjoy the off season and do things like hang out with friends I have been neglecting, go for some walks on the beach, and take advantage of the fun things to do here in Pensacola.  I've gotten back into cooking and remembered how much I love to cook and try new recipes.  It's truly amazing how much time there is when you're not training 20 hours/week!  

The entire trip to Los Cabos was awesome and I loved hanging out w/ Sharon, Matt, & Bobby!  Major congrats to Bobby for finishing his 10th Ironman!!!!!   We had tons of fun, went to the beach, partook of the swim-up pool bar, got massages on the beach, saw some big a$$ waves, went on jet skis, explored the marina, visited Cabo Wabo, found a delicious vegan restaurant, and of course took a boat to the famous arch!  Can't wait for the next adventure...