diets · sports nutrition · traveling · weight loss

Hunger and Nutrition

There’s a lot of talk about hunger in the literature about making food choices. It doesn’t matter whether your focus is sports nutrition, weight loss, or ‘making peace with food’ and ending dieting, most books in these areas talk about hunger. It’s clear that hunger is something we need to recognize and to which we need to respond. We need to listen to our bodies and to eat when we’re hungry.

I struggle a bit with this because I’m often not hungry when I know I need to eat–during long, intense bike rides is the most common example–and at other times I’m famished even when I know there’s no need for extra calories (after long bike rides when I’m often hungry for the rest of the day and into the next one even after I’ve refueled.)

I was interested to read recently that part of my confusion may be connected to our misunderstanding of hunger.

In Hunger. What it is and what you can do about it Richard Feinman writes:

“We grow up thinking that hunger is somehow our body’s way of telling us that we need food but, for most of us that is not usually the case.  Few of us are so fit, or have so little body fat, or are so active that our bodies start calling for energy if we miss lunch.  Conversely, those of us who really like food generally hold to the philosophy that “any fool can eat when they’re hungry;” passing up a really good chocolate mousse just because you are not hungry is like … well, I don’t know what it’s like. “

When I was focusing on sports nutrition last year, I played a bit with the feelings of hunger in an effort to make peace with them. In situations where I know I’ve had enough to eat, and it’s just a feeling that I can choose to act on or not, I tried to live awhile with hunger and see if I could just let the sensation be. It was interesting experiment and it served me well to realize that the world doesn’t end. I needn’t binge at the next meal. Sometimes it’s okay to live with hunger and wait.

These days I use that to my advantage on traveling days. Yes, I pack food but if I run out it’s not the end of the world.

I hope I don’t have to use that trick as I travel home from Atlanta, site of the 2012 Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, today.

the hunger

That’s the 1983 film The Hunger, of course. My first vampire movie starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon.

fitness · health · training

Zzzz, Sleep and Fitness

Sleep, it’s the one part of healthy living that’s zero struggle for me. But from what I read that it’s a big problem for lots of people.

If you’re keen to get fit in the new year, be sure to budget time for sleep. You can’t train without enough sleep. Sleep is necessary. Indeed, if you’re the sort to make resolutions it may be more productive to focus your efforts on sleep than just about anything else.

Sleep helps us metabolize carbohydrates, maintain leptin, growth hormones, proper blood pressure and insulin resistance, and helps us keep a positive attitude through decreased anxiety and perceived stress.

Read more here from Lifehacker (of course):

Sleep Your Way to Better Fitness

Most people fall off the exercise wagon after about three weeks. Their motivation for it crashes when they do not maintain or change to healthy sleeping habits. Without enough sleep, it becomes difficult to get motivated to go out and get proper exercise. In fact, the main excuse for not getting enough exercise is either being “too tired” or having “no time.” Often, it is the combination of both, making it extremely difficult to maintain a balanced approach as taught by these Zen masters.

The “no time” bit is basically a priority issue. If someone feels tired and beat up the day after a workout, there is a tendency to have the “no time” issue become an impediment to fitness. This is because they can feel less productive, more lethargic and so on while being stiff and sore. The tendency is to feel the need to work longer to make up the time spent for the exercise. If someone goes into the exercise well rested, that day and the next day goes by better with the benefits of the natural “endorphin high” and a generally positive sense of health and well being, the “no time” issue vanishes.

It generally takes about 7 hours of quality sleep for most people. Too few achieve that with today’s harried lifestyles. People often get the sequence backwards, working on sleep after getting going on a new exercise routine. Or worse, getting no sleep or less sleep than before. This is often because the exercise is simply added to the existing busy schedule.

Making an exercise program stick is a problem for many people. One way to do it is to combine the tracking of both sleep and exercise as part of the fitness program. For example, block out 8 hours of the 24 hour day for “fitness” and mark down the actual sleep time and the time in the gym or while out jogging, hiking or playing tennis. Measure the sleep hours and quality as carefully as tracking the weights used or mileage covered. Make this part of your reporting requirement if you have a personal trainer involved in the process

Not persuaded yet? Read Your New Workout Success Secret: Sleep!

“Clocking two extra hours a night for six weeks helped basketball players up their shooting percentage by 9 percent, the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory reports. “No time!” you say? Even 30 minutes more each night may improve skills during activities that take focus and determination, scientists say. That translates to better performance, in a boot camp class or at the office.”

fat · weight loss

Fear of fat more dangerous than actual fat

On my 2013 list of books to read is What’s Wrong With Fat? by Abigail Saguy, published by Oxford University Press.

What caught my was this press release from UCLA in my twitter feed.

Public obsession with obesity may be more dangerous than obesity itself, UCLA author says

“”What’s Wrong With Fat?” shows how debates over the best way to discuss body size — including as either a health or civil rights problem — do not take place on an even playing field. Saguy contends that powerful interests benefit from drawing attention to the “crisis,” including the International Obesity Task Force (a lobbying group funded by pharmaceutical companies), obesity researchers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On the other hand, fat-acceptance groups, which try to reframe fatness as a civil rights issue, are at a disadvantage because they have considerably less economic power and cultural authority, she says.”

But beyond the incomplete and misleading information on the issue, America’s obsession with obesity is itself unhealthy, she argues.

Saguy cites studies demonstrating that fat women are reluctant to get medical care for fear of being chided about their weight or treated insensitively by their doctors. In fact, research has shown that obese women are more likely to get cervical cancer because they are less likely than thinner women to get pap smears.
Meanwhile, Saguy’s own research shows that people who read news accounts of the “obesity epidemic” are more likely than people who have not read such reports to perceive fat people as lazy, unmotivated, sloppy, and lacking in self-discipline and competence.
Those attitudes have been shown to play out in a variety of socially damaging ways, Saguy says, including in increasingly widespread weight discrimination. Recent research has shown, for example, that bias against fat people in employment, education, health care and other areas is now comparable in prevalence to reported rates of racial discrimination in the U.S.
Heavier women in particular, Saguy notes, are less likely to be hired and less likely to earn a higher salary, compared with their similarly qualified but thinner peers.
“American attitudes about fat may be more dangerous to public health than obesity itself,” she says.”
The scary critters in the image above are from the first episode of series 4 of Dr Who  which features Adipose, the drug that makes your fat “just walk away.”
cycling · running

On running and riding with friends

There are many different reasons to join in, to run and ride with other people but here I want to talk about an overlooked reason, beyond the usual camaraderie and coffee.

When you first start to run, or ride, there’s just one speed you go at, the only speed you can. The distinction between race pace and a recovery ride isn’t really that meaningful yet. Everything you’re doing is pretty much flat out, max effort. Best not to wear a heart rate monitor at this stage!

Later you’ll learn what’s a fast but sustainable pace for a 20 km time trial versus the pace you want to be riding for a fast but sociable 100 km coffee ride with friends.

Maybe later still you’ll wear a heart rate monitor and learn how speed, time, effort, and heart rate correspond. You’ll do drills like running fast till you hit a certain heart rate, jog till your heart recovers, and run fast again. Rinse and repeat as many times as you can and still recover in a reasonable amount of time.

The best training plans teach you the difference between short and fast and long and slow and everything in between.

And you could ride or run these on your own. That’s true.

Or if you’re a member of a team or training group, you’ll do some of these drills together.

On your own turns out to be tricky.

Truth is, there is a speed we naturally like to go and your own you’ll tend to go that speed no matter what the plan says. It takes incredible discipline to do otherwise. You might think it’s the fast runs and rides on your own that are hard but slow is tricky as well. I’ve done some drills where I am supposed to ride or run but not let my heart rate exceed a certain number and that means going VERY slow. It’s tough.

I admire people who stick to training plans on their own but if you’re not one of them, I have a better plan, one that’s more fun and will make you more friends.

Ride or run with a range of people, fast, slow, and everything in between.

On a typical week’s cycling I might do a fast paced club ride of 100 km, noodle around the bike paths with family members slowly for a short distance, ride 40 km with a friend who is about my speed (ok, he’s faster on hills and I’m faster on flats, hi EK!) and ride together some of the time but have fun racing each other when the mood hits, and then ride 40 km with a friend who is a lot faster and spend time chasing his wheel.  You might add to the mix riding at a moderate pace with a friend who is new to cycling or a friend who is coming back to the bike from illness and/or injury.

The point is that you can build the challenge of riding at different speeds into your routine by varying who you ride with.

Ditto running. I had a very fast friend (hi MM!) whose recovery runs were my tempo runs, And that’s fine. We enjoyed running together although I made him do all the talking.

So next time a friend who is faster than you asks you to ride or run with her, don’t think “Oh, I can’t. She’s so much faster than me.” Recognize that fast people can go more slowly and that running and riding at different speeds is part of being fit enables you to do. Enjoy the company of other runners and riders and make moving at different speeds part of the fun.

(The above photo is of women cycling in the 1890s. I found the image here, I gave my talk to the International Association for Philosophy of Sport at the APA today and so I’ve been thinking a lot about the early feminists and women’s bicycling.)

cycling · racing · Rowing · running · triathalon

Six reasons not to race and why they might be mistaken

I love racing, even though I’m a midlife, middle of the pack athlete. I know this puzzles some people (okay, some of my friends) and I often find myself in the situation of responding to the objections to racing that they raise.

Some of my friends are not at all interested in competition but I worry that their reasons are based on some misconceptions about why those of us who do race enjoy it.

I often think the anti-racing crowd might like it too.

So here’s my attempt to respond to the race-shy or the race-skeptical.

1. Some friends say, ‘I’ll never win so why race?’

Note first that this is true for lots of athletes. Think of how many riders there are in the Tour de France and how few are serious contenders for even winning one of the stages, let alone the overall race. Think about the numbers of people in the Hawaii Ironman. They aren’t all contenders for the podium, even in the age group categories. I’ve only won two races in my lifetime but I love the ‘winning moments’–passing someone even if I can’t hold them off, for example. In bike racing I love being part of the team effort, participating in strategies that get one of my team’s riders into the front pack.

2. Some friends say “I’m only interested in fitness.”

I get that but to be fit you have to push yourself and trust me, you’ll never ever push yourself as hard in training as you do when racing. I wear a heart rate monitor when training on the bike and I’ve done VO2 max testing so I’ve got some idea of what the various sports training zones mean for me. I’ve also worn the heart rate monitor when criterium racing. The first time I did this and then looked at the data after I laughed out loud at how much time I’d spent in the red zone, E4. That’s something I just can’t make myself do for very long outside race situations. I won’t bore you with all the geeky gory details but here’s the my HR data from a crit last year: Avg HR 171, max HR 178 (32% in E4) Avg speed 33.2, max speed 42. No way I could do that outside a race.

3.  Some friends say, “I just want to train, not race.”

Okay, but it helps to have a focus for your training, something to train for. Races give structure to your training as you build endurance, then speed, then both together, taper off coming up to the race, race, recover, and rebuild.

4.  Some friends say, “I’m too old.”

These friends admit they might have enjoyed racing in their youth but now they are too old, they think. They’ve grown up and put all the fun away. To which I say, don’t be ridiculous. It’s like saying that sex is for the young.  We’ve only got one kick at the can, one try at this life, and if something would have been fun when you were young, it’s probably still fun now. (Like sex.) The Vets Racing Club in Canberra requires a doctor’s notes in order to keep racing after age 75 and there are people in that category.

5.  Some friends say, “I might get hurt.”

Yes, that’s true you might. You also might get hurt sitting on your sofa for too long, or shoveling snow. Life is risky, no way around it. But in the category of recreational racing most people recognize that we aren’t professional athletes and there’s no sense risking injury unnecessarily. Some of the rules in masters and recreational racing reflect this. On the one dodgy corner on the crit racing course in Canberra–“collarbone corner” as it’s known–race organizers decided not to allow passing through that bend. For that one short turn the race is “neutralized” and riders are asked to hold their place. I also love the reminder that the race organizer gives riders before the start, “Remember we’re not racing for sheep stations out there.” In other words, we’re out there for fun not fortunes. (See image above.)

6. Some friends say, “I’m just doing this for fun.”

Racing is a lot of fun. Whether you most enjoy the training, being out there competing, or the music, snacks and prizes after, at the level of recreational athletics it’s all about the fun.

Hope to see you out there!!!

athletes · fitness · training

Am I (Are You) an Athlete?

jackie-joyner-kersee-jumping-rtr12e5g_13925_600x450When I first wanted to be a writer, I used to read lots about writing. I read more about writing than I actually wrote. Something I read that stuck with me more than anything was that if you want to be a writer, start thinking of yourself as a writer. Call yourself a writer. Organize your schedule as a writer would. Write.

It took awhile, but eventually, instead of thinking in terms of wanting to be a writer, I started to think of myself as a writer. And I behaved as a writer. That is, I started to write.

I wonder if we can say the same for athletes? If you start to think of yourself as an athlete, will you then behave as one?

As I’ve said before, I don’t consider myself an athlete. I didn’t grow up thinking of myself as an athlete in any way, shape, or form. I played no sports. I’m fortunate that the other kids liked me for other reasons or I would always have been picked last for a team. I couldn’t hit a ball, throw a ball, or run fast. My best sport was the broad jump. I enjoyed roller skating and tap dancing more than baseball (not that I was all that great at tap dancing either, but I didn’t compete).

The one thing I excelled at was swimming. And I did swim for much of my childhood, even competed. But I didn’t stay with it long enough to consider it an athletic pursuit.

When I think of athletes, I think of Olympians, elite cyclists, champions in various sports. I think of people whose lives are dedicated to their sport and who have reached a certain level of achievement. In some sense, I understand that there is more to being an athlete than competing and winning. But even still, I have difficulty thinking of myself as someone to whom the descriptor “athlete” could ever, in all fairness to those who really are athletes, apply.

What makes a person an athlete? Does it make sense for me to think of myself in those terms.

In Samantha’s recent post on athletic values, she comments that athletes care about competing and winning. This is in opposition to those who would pursue fitness for a particular aesthetic. I think the rest of the post suggests that it’s not necessarily competing and winning, but the emphasis on performance, that distinguishes the athlete from the fitness enthusiast who is pursuing a particular aesthetic.

At least a couple of times Gretchen Reynolds’ The First 20 Minutes, she puts the question to her reader: “Are you an athlete?”

When talking about how much a person should work out, she says: If you have ambitions beyond glowing health; if essentially you are an athlete –which does not mean that you must compete, only that you ache to be a little faster or better at your chosen activity–you will have to push your body somewhat.

I aspire to run faster, lift heavier, and hold my yoga asanas with more strength and better form. On the “aching to be faster or better” criterion, that makes me an athlete. I don’t need to want to compete and win. This is a good thing because competing and winning are not my main goals.

When discussing who should think about sports nutrition, Reynolds says: Ask Yourself: Am I an athlete? Be honest. If you’re not working out for more than an hour a day or at an achingly strenuous intensity, then, really, you’re not.

In my regular routine, not interrupted by travel or injury, I either run or spend time on the elliptical machine every day for 30-40 minutes plus I do either yoga or strength training for a minimum of 60 minutes each day. It’s the perfect balance, for me, of cardio and strength training, doing activities that I enjoy. (side note: I don’t exactly enjoy the elliptical, especially now that I am doing tough intervals, but it’s not a bad way to spend half an hour. It makes me feel a sense of accomplishment and in the recovery intervals I am able to read. I consider the reading time a bonus).

I’m sure to many, thinking of yourself as an athlete is simply a practical thing. If you are engaged in activity as an athlete, with particular goals for improvement, then you need to feed yourself appropriately (sports nutrition!) and train appropriately (intervals!). I could try to explain my resistance to calling myself an athlete in terms of my aversion to both of these things. As I said, sports nutrition is a risky path for me. And even though I am doing intervals, they are hard.

If Gretchen Reynolds’ take on the latest research is accurate, you can’t achieve better performance–faster, stronger, better–without intervals. And if you are active at the level of athlete, then you do need to pay attention to what you’re eating. In particular (she says) you need to eat more carbs than the non-athlete.

But I don’t think that’s what I’m resisting. Instead, I’m not distinguishing between athletes and elite athletes. Just as all writers are not Pulitzer Prize winners or even full-time authors, not all athletes are Olympians or professionals. If it’s about quantity of activity and having performance goals instead of aesthetic goals, then there’s no question that I’m an athlete.

And maybe, as it was when I was an aspiring writer, the qualifier “aspiring” was part of the problem.

What about you? If you fit these various criteria for being an athlete, are you comfortable with the label?

[photo: Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee soars past spectators during the long jump at the 2000 U.S. trials.


Buddha Brain

20121226-143942.jpg Samantha loaned me Gretchen Reynolds’ great book, The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer. It’s a great read, filled with loads of good information about the science of fitness.

I love Chapter 8: How to Build a Better Brain. And I really like the part about “Buddha Brain.” Based on experiments with rats, it appears that running creates “a brain that [is] biochemically and molecularly calm.”

In general, the science Gretchen Reynolds cites supports the idea that exercise insulates us against stress, even against anger. It can act as an “emotional shield,” making people who engage in regular activity more resistant to stress than those who do not.”

I have found this to be true in my own life and based on the anecdotal reports from my friends and family members. If I’m feeling stressed out, I decompress immediately if I spend some time doing yoga, running, swimming, even weight training.

More importantly, it has a preventive affect too. The more I stay active, the less likely I am to succumb to stressful situations. The research shows that the real molecular biochemical changes in the brain take time. A trip to the hot yoga studio might help, but repeated activity over time will have a profound impact on mood.

Reynolds cites loads of other interesting findings in this chapter. Exercise doesn’t just make you feel better, it can actually improve cognition, lower your risk of neurological disease and memory loss, raise IQ.

If you want to be smart and keep your marbles, be in a good mood, and approach life’s stresses with the calmness of Buddha, there is a magic solution. Hit the pavement, the pool, the yoga studio, the bike, or the weight room, play tennis, kick around a soccer ball, or take to the slopes.