athletes · eating · Guest Post · racing · running · sports nutrition · training

Aimée crosses a line (Guest post)

by Aimée Morrison

My half-marathon is in two weeks. I hit peak training mileage and intensity and the onset of summer heat at the same time. Naturally, my hydration and fuel strategy fell apart, and I had to buy a fuel belt, which is something I swore I would never do, but here I am. I’m thinking about why this has me so freaked out. Because I’m pretty freaked out.

The precipitating incident was last Sunday’s long run. My training group ran 20km and it was remarkably hot, all of sudden. Now, I had pretty easily run the same 20km the week before, and all the other runs before that. What happened this past Sunday, though, was: I didn’t have enough water in my tiny handheld bottle to compensate for the all the extra sweating the heat entailed, never mind the extra distance as we kept adding kilometers week after week. I also lost all my hunger cues because that’s what heat does to me and so I forgot to keep nibbling on my carb-and-chocolate baked bites that are my go-to run fuel. I also lost the pockets where I stashed these little snacks because I was now running without a jacket, so I hadn’t brought enough of them in any case. I just completely failed to hydrate and fuel anywhere near enough. I bonked at 18.5 km, and I had to stagger-walk the last 1.5km.

Which is how I found myself at the Running Room the next day, staring at a wall of bottles and bags and belts and bladders and cringing. I bought gels and reconciled myself to paste-food instead of solids. I bought a belt. It’s got a zip pouch for my phone, a quick-grab strap system for gels, and two-quick draw holsters from which I can quickly extract either of two fluorescent yellow 10oz water bottles. It’s got a non-slip strap that doesn’t bounce around on my hips, and a spot I can stash Kleenexes. It’s a fancy and expensive fanny pack, basically. I hated it on sight.

Well. Guess what? I’ve worn it out for my last three runs, and now I love it. It turns out that a steady stream of water and gels does keep me feeling strong through my whole run, and prevents me from feeling like trash in the hours afterwards. But I still feel really cringe-y about other people seeing me in it.

The thing is, I think I look like a jackass, some cross between a soccer mom with a purse full of snacks, a norm-core 90s dad, and some kind of ridiculously self-important non-athlete with more money than muscle endurance. Yeah: full on imposter syndrome, rooted in some pretty judgey thinking about soccer moms and 90s dads, and probably some worries that I now look exactly like all those other middle-aged fanny-packed women runners out there in their tech gear chugging along the Sunday sidewalks in their groups. It’s great that 25 year old me used to roll my eyes at those women in their sun-visors but I should rethink this practice at 45, when I am now clearly also a middle-aged woman with a whole hat rack of sun visors (so practical!) chugging along the Sunday trails with my group. It would be best if I could not reflexively hate myself for occasionally looking like … what I am. Ah, internalized ageism.

At the same time, I am kind of amazed at myself. How did I get here? This person with electrolyte sports drink in the left holster and water in the right? With gels on my hip that I greedily squeeze down my throat when I’m stopped at lights? But then I doubt myself: I’m just keeping a 7min/km pace—with walk breaks!—for a couple of hours in the middle of the city, not racing across the Sahara. Who do I think I am?

Increasingly, I answer myself firmly: I am a runner, putting in 35-45 km per week, across five days a week, doing hills, doing sprints, running big distances over long hours, in groups, with my husband, by myself. On my bonk run, my FitBit indicated I had burned something like 1350 calories over those 20km. I am very much entitled to my Endurance Tap energy gels and my electrolyte drinks. I am a pale and scrawny middle-aged woman with strong looking legs and a weak looking chin. I wear a fuel belt. I am an athlete.

You need a gel? I’ve got some extra, here in my fanny pack.

Aimée Morrison is on sabbatical from professoring in new media studies in 2018 and trying to achieve some healthy ratio of words-written to miles-run. She’ll run her first half marathon in Ottawa on May 27. With the help of 4 Endurance Tap packs, one bottle of electrolyte replacement, and one bottle of water, she finished this week’s 20km run in record time and without bonking, not even a little.

diets · eating · eating disorders · sports nutrition

Chocolate: A yummy delicious treat

I’ve had a bag of these in the house for awhile as my go to treat in lieu of dessert. They’re delicious.

Unlike Tracy, I haven’t broken up with chocolate.

But while the chocolates are often the yummiest part of my day, chocolates are not necessarily the healthiest thing I could eat. That’s fine by me. I didn’t choose them for health reasons. I was looking for the yum. They’re a treat

Chocolate isn’t evil but it’s not exactly a health food ether. Here’s the nutritional facts.

So these are an occasional treat, not a health food. I don’t eat them as meals. They’re pleasure. An indulgence.

Maybe that’s a bit fast. Isn’t it dark chocolate supposed to be good for all that ails you? I have friends who eat dark chocolate to help with the common cold. Others who swear it helps with arthritis.

Is it really good for you? The Guardian weighs in this week.

They talk about the rebranding of chocolate as a health food and how that occurred.

“Recent years have seen chocolate undergo another transformation, this time at the hands of branding experts. Sales of milk chocolate are stagnating as consumers become more health-conscious. Manufacturers have responded with a growing range of premium products promoted with such words as organic, natural, cacao-rich and single-origin. The packets don’t say so, but the message we’re supposed to swallow is clear: this new, improved chocolate, especially if it is dark, is good for your health. Many people have swallowed the idea that it’s a “superfood”. Except it isn’t. So how has this magic trick-like metamorphosis been achieved?”

So chocolate is supposed to help with blood pressure, dementia, stroke risk and the common cold but the problem is the quality of the research which is almost all funded by the chocolate industry. Go read the Guardian story for details.

James Fell in his anti dark chocolate rant gets it right, I think.

…If you’re buying into the health washing while rationing nibbles as your reward for sticking to a soul-destroying diet, just stop. Eat a mostly healthy diet, and then when you feel like eating chocolate, you eat the shit out of it. None of this “I’ll just have a square of dark chocolate now and then” bullshit. Get some fucking Turtles, or a Caramilk bar, or a Crispy Crunch, or one of those triangle shaped Toblerone things. Get a Jersey Milk and dip that sucker in the Skippy peanut butter and say, “Mmmm … G-M-Oh-my-God-that-tastes-good.” Eat your favorite chocolate and LIVE, DAMMIT!

Want to know more about chocolate? There’s a talk on the chemistry and physics of chocolate by the University of Guelph’s Prof. Alejandro Marangoni in Waterloo, Ont., by the Royal Canadian Institute for Science on April 18.

Enjoy the talk and the occasional chocolate. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s a health food. Or worse, don’t eat dark chocolate in a medicinal manner not enjoying it at all.

food · nutrition · sports nutrition · weight lifting

Want to keep muscle after 40?: Eat all the protein and lift all the things

A cricket protein bar
A cricket protein bar

Researchers at nearby MacMaster University set out to do a meta analysis in search of an answer to the question of whether protein consumption made a difference to ordinary adults over 40 who set out to gain muscle.

What’s nice, from this blog’s perspective, about the studies is that many of them included women.

Gretchen Reynolds wrote about their research in the New York Times.

Lift Weights, Eat More Protein, Especially if You’re Over 40

“They wound up with 49 high-quality past experiments that had studied a total of 1,863 people, including men and women, young and old, and experienced weight trainers as well as novices. The sources of the protein in the different studies had varied, as had the amounts and the times of day when people had downed them.

To answer the simplest question of whether taking in more protein during weight training led to larger increases in muscle size and strength, the researchers added all of the results together.And the answer was a resounding yes. Men and women who ate more protein while weight training did develop larger, stronger muscles than those who did not.”

How much protein? 1.6 grams per day per kilo of bodyweight. That’s well over the recommended daily amount of protein.

When? It didn’t matter when in the day people are the extra protein. So you don’t need to fuss about before or after workout or other special timing.

What kind of protein? That didn’t matter either. You can eat it in the form of animal protein or vegan protein. You can drink protein shakes. It’s all good.

See the scientific article here.

I haven’t tried the cricket protein bar just yet.

cycling · running · sports nutrition

Maple syrup for cyclists: A one word review. Yum!

And cross country skiers, distance runners etc.

I tried it on the chilly, wet, windy Gran Fondo I did the other day. And I liked it. Sweet, but not sickening, no chemical flavour, and a better texture than the usual toothpaste like goos and gels. I’ll buy more. (And no, I didn’t get free samples! They were a birthday gift.) You can buy yours here.

Here’s the blurb about them:

Endurance Tap is an easy to digest, super tasty, high-performance energy gel made with a few simple natural ingredients: Canadian maple syrup, sea salt, and ginger.  With everything you need and nothing you don’t, Endurance Tap fits with your goals of both maximum athletic performance and having a healthy diet.

Endurance Tap was founded in early 2014 by Matt and Pat, old friends who are passionate about endurance sports and nutrition.  After becoming frustrated with many of the “natural” products on the market, and the hard to pronounce mystery ingredients, Matt and Pat decided that they could do better.  As good Canadian boys, Matt and Pat turned to the country’s number one export, and the sticky engine behind the Canadian economy – maple syrup.



See Maple Syrup as Fuel for Athletes.

chi running · fitness · racing · sports nutrition · training

Mississauga Marathon Part 1: Taper Time!

Exciting times! On Sunday I’ll be running my first marathon ever! Sam, who has a gift for generating blog ideas not just for herself but also for me, made a special request for a three-part series: 1. Taper week; 2. Race report; 3. Recovery week.

I’m not sure if anyone else is as interested as she is, but I’m going to oblige anyway.  Having set aside my terror, I’m feeling kind of stoked about the upcoming marathon. Here’s what I know. It may not be pretty, but I will make it across the finish line.  In my experience with anything I’ve not done before, feeling confident that I can finish one way or another is one key ingredient to making it to the end.

I’ve never gone into an event worried about a DNF, so why start now? I had my moment when I thought I might demote my registration to a half marathon, but I’m over it. A marathon it will be!

So what does taper week look like for me? I don’t have a very sophisticated understanding of what’s required. I didn’t do a lot of reading. I just consulted my coach. She suggested three short-ish runs this week: 40 minutes on Tuesday, 30 minutes on Thursday, and 20 minutes on Saturday. Nothing particularly exerting save for a few super-short sprint bursts on the longer run.

When I say I didn’t do a lot of reading, that’s because the reading I did start to do overwhelmed me. Much of what I saw on the internet suggested that my tapering should have started before this week. It kind of did, in that last week was a bit of a wash. But not in a structured or intentional way.

Then there’s the nutrition. Sam sent me this post about nutrition the week before the marathon. I started to read it but when it started talking about grams of carbs per 500 grams of body weight, it felt too complicated. For one thing, I’m just not all that good at counting grams of carbs.  And for another, I’m just not all that good at seeing to it that I get a certain number of grams of anything.

So far my week-leading-up-to-the-race nutrition doesn’t look much different from any other week.  Maybe I’ll regret that. The one thing I do plan to implement is low fiber, high carbs, and low fat for the 2-3 days before race day. I don’t need to count to be able to do that and it seems like a sensible plan.

I’m also going to follow the suggestion of 30-60g of easily digestible carbs for each hour that I’m out there. I can count race food–gels, shot blocks, dates–and figure out how much to bring and how best to spread it out over the duration, which I estimate will be at least five hours.

The psychological impact of taper week is that you have a lot more time to let your head mess with you.  I first heard about that in this video that Caitlin of Fit and Feminist talked about when she wrote about her taper leading up to her BQ a few weeks ago. Here’s the video:

Call it heightened sensitivity or whatever. But yes, I can relate. I’m hyper-aware of every physical thing going on. I attended a Chi Running workshop on the weekend (blog post coming) and something we did that day (maybe the part where we ran without shoes–which I did against my better judgment) really activated my plantar fasciitis all over again. My mind went into a spiral: How am I going to run 42.2 km with this feeling in my right foot?

It’s fine now.

They also talk about getting lots of rest. I’m trying, but there is a ton going on in my life right now besides the marathon. So as much as I want to make race day the focal point, it’s really just one thing among several this week and that’s not what I had in mind when I signed up way back in the fall.

So I wouldn’t say this taper time is going especially well or that I’m doing it “properly.”  But right now I can’t be too preoccupied with that. I’m getting in my runs as precribed, putting a halt on resistance training for the week, and doing one swim session on Friday.

I only have two real goals for race day (which I’m happy to report is expected to be partly sunny and warm but not hot hot): 1. Make it to the finish line and 2. have at least a little bit of fun.

sports nutrition

Fasted cardio, fat adaptation, why?

Talk of fasted cardio and fat adaptation is all the rage these days in fitness communities as diverse as CrossFit and the ultra endurance athletes set. Those are usually strange bed fellows (one says “too much cardio is pointless” and the other says “run all the miles”) so when something has caught both their attention it might be worth listening.

What’s fasted cardio? Basically exercising–running, biking, rowing, etc–first thing in the morning before eating.

Why do such a thing?

See Gretchen Reynolds, The Benefits of Exercising Before Breakfast

Exercising in a fasted state (usually possible only before breakfast), coaxes the body to burn a greater percentage of fat for fuel during vigorous exercise, instead of relying primarily on carbohydrates. When you burn fat, you obviously don’t store it in your muscles. In “our study, only the fasted group demonstrated beneficial metabolic adaptations, which eventually may enhance oxidative fatty acid turnover,” said Peter Hespel, Ph.D., a professor in the Research Center for Exercise and Health at Catholic University Leuven in Belgium and senior author of the study.

One warning: Some say that fasted cardio is as likely to use muscle for fuel as fat so while you’ll lose weight you won’t get any leaner. See Fasted Cardio Eats Muscle. There’s also the claim that you’re better off not fasting and doing a high intensity workout instead. See Is Fasted Cardio the Best for Burning Fat? There’s lots of skepticism out there. See AM Cardio Myth Exposed.

But for now let’s just set the worries to one side and continue.

The goal isn’t just to lose fat. It’s to change how your body works. You want to train your body to rely on fat stores for fuel rather than carbohydrates.

You want your body to become, as they say, fat adapted.  What does it mean to be fat adapted? Read this from Mark’s Daily Apple. You get the idea pretty quickly from the language. Sugar burners have it all wrong. Those who are fat adapted have got it right.

Okay, so my story. My past experience with fasted cardio isn’t great. Food is a real challenge for  me and morning exercise. In the past it’s been enough to stop me running in the morning even though that’s when it best fits my schedule. I wake up hungry and have to eat before exercise. But I can’t run on a full stomach so I have to set my alarm for early, early and then wait. I used to cycle with a young woman with the same issue. She used to set her alarm for 4 am, get up, eat breakfast and then go back to bed and nap til our 6 am ride.

I’ve tried to change my ways, really I have. I blogged about intermittent fasting and wrote, “A few years ago on the advice of a personal trainer I experimented with morning workouts on an empty stomach but that was a bit of a disaster. ….Halfway through my morning run I was prepared to go knock on doors in search of breakfast.”

I’m hungry a lot. It’s part of why intuitive eating hasn’t appealed to me as much as it has to Tracy. I’m hungry when I wake up and often I go to bed hungry. I don’t feel like there’s lots of non hungry eating to get rid of in my life. Weight loss for me has always involved hunger. I can manage it, make peace with it. Hunger isn’t an emergency. But I can’t exercise when I’m hungry.

I’m jealous of people who can get up and go. Many years ago when Tracy was two hours a day in the gym, in the morning, I once asked her what she had to eat first. She said she had a glass of orange juice.

That made me laugh. I was eating the full fruit and oatmeal breakfast and still needing 2nd breakfast after morning workouts. Morning swim workouts were worse yet for managing hunger.

But on the bike things are different for me. I can go a long while without eating if we’re not going fast. I have smaller friends–Hi Eaton! Hi Tracy!–who need to eat more often but I can do some pretty long rides without food. If I slept in and you showed up on my doorstep with your bike, ready to go, I’d be happy to leave the house with a banana and a Cliff bar in my pocket and eat on the bike. I can’t eat while running.

Cyclists vary about this. Me and another larger woman cyclist once sat watching in shock as we were eating poached eggs and english muffins as the some of the young men we’d been riding with were chowing down waffles, pancakes and french toast. How could they eat that much?

There’s two sides to this, good  and bad.  On the good side, they were eating like that because they can. On the bad side, they were eating like that because they had to. Our upside is that we can ride on very little food.

It’s hard for me to lose weight but on the bike I can ride without constantly refueling.

I’d never go without adequate carbs in a race. No, not ever. You’re slower, for sure. There’s lots of debate about high fat/low carb diets in the cycling community but all the evidence shows that when racing you’re faster if you’re consuming adequate carbohydrates. Your body can use other sources of fuel–i.e., fat and muscle–but it’s less efficient doing so. You slow down.

But training, why not?

Well, first. Why? Weight loss.

Second, the ability to go long distances with minimal fuel.

Women are better at this than men apparently. It’s part of the story, along with higher body fat stores, about what makes women better ultra endurance runners. The longer the distance the closer the gap between men and women and at the very long distances, women win.

But here’s my reason, which is neither of those, convenience.

I want to be able to run in the morning without setting a 5 am alarm. I want to run at 6 am so I can be home by 7 am to wake teenagers. (Yes, waking teenagers is a big thing in my life.)

So my experiment is to start by taking it easy. Go out there on an empty stomach and walk/run. This morning I even did walk one block, run one block. I didn’t get dizzy or woozy and I ate a normal breakfast after.

The plan is to increase gradually and see if I get used to it.

I’ll report back and let you know how it goes. Maybe one day I’ll be able to run run after a glass of OJ!

cycling · sports nutrition

How much biking does that breakfast get you? Thinking about food as fuel


The menu above appeared in my Facebook newsfeed this week–lots of cyclist friends, what can I say?–and it made me smile. I recognized myself and my riding in the choices. On Saturdays when I do a short, slow beginners’ ride with friends I don’t worry too much about breakfast. I can grab a banana and go. Latte and scone after. But for events like the MEC Century or the Halton Epic Tour, it;s very different. Why? Speed and distance. For long, hard rides I carefully make sure I eat a lot and I pack food for the road as well. See Why riding fast and long requires lots of food.

But I confess that while “food as fuel” speaks to me, I’ve been leery about associating food choices with exercise, outside of that context.

It seemed too close, to me, of thinking of exercise as punishment for eating. See Thinking beyond exercise as punishment and food as fuel.

I wrote, “I remember when I started to think about food as fuel instead. Cycling certainly requires that perspective. You can’t go for long, fast bike rides without planning what you’ll eat and when. My friend David sets an alarm to remind himself to eat on the bike.

Let’s rewrite the text on the image below. How about instead you think, “French fries fuel a lot of burpees! ” While I don’t generally eat french fries, I do find myself thinking that I need to eat before I work out. That’s totally different than thinking I need to work out because I ate. It’s what happens when you start thinking in terms of sports nutrition. “What would best fuel my workout?” is a different question than “What do I have to do to burn off those french fries?”

But a lively discussion on our Facebook page past week got me rethinking the whole thing.

A friend and a diabetes researcher pointed out that labeling with food with exercise, rather than calories, was much more effective. Unlike the calorie labeling, exercise actually affected peoples’ choices. The average person found much more it to know that a can of Coke equals a 50 min jog, than to know how many calories it contained.

If I can view the menu above in neutral terms–that’s what kind of ride this breakfast fuels–maybe non-riders can do the same.

What do you think of this style of food labeling?

Further reading:

Tread Lightly: Labels That Translate Calories into Walking Distance Could Induce People to Eat Less

Public awareness posters used by the campaign showed the number of miles a person would have to walk to burn off the calories in a 20-ounce soda, and new research suggests that physical activity–based conversions such as these can actually persuade people to make healthier choices.

Choosing what to eat or drink based on calorie numbers alone is challenging for some restaurant-goers, according to Anthony Viera at the University of North Carolina (U.N.C.) at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. “It requires a computation that many people might not find easy to make at the point of decision,” he says. So Viera and his colleagues conducted an online survey of 802 individuals randomly presented with one of four hypothetical menus. One of the menus provided only calorie counts, another supplemented this with information about the number of minutes one would need to walk to burn those calories whereas the third menu showed calorie numbers plus the distance necessary to walk them off. The fourth menu had no nutritional data whatsoever. All of the physical activity labeling for walking was based on the energy expenditure of a 160-pound adult walking at a rate of 30 minutes per mile—so a “regular burger” was, for example, listed as containing 250 calories, the equivalent amount burned in 2.6 miles, or 78 minutes of walking.

A Doughnut Will Cost You Two Miles

Unless you’re a dedicated dieter, you probably pay little mind to your calorie consumption. But what if instead of calories your favorite foods were labeled in terms of physical activity? Would this have more of an influence on your eating habits?

That’s the question behind a $2.3 million study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

 The Exercise Cost of Soda and Juice

What if nutrition labels told people exactly what calories meant, in practical terms? A bottle of Coke could dole out specific exercise requirements. The calories herein, it might say, are the equivalent of a 50-minute jog. The decision to drink the Coke then becomes, would you rather spend the evening on a treadmill, or just not drink the soda?

Some would say that’s a joyless, infantilizing idea. The implication that people can’t understand calorie counts is unduly cynical. Have a Coke and a smile, not a Coke and a guilt-wail. Others would protest on grounds that it’s impossible to make this kind of exercise requirement universal to people of all ages, body sizes, and levels of fitness. Everyone burns calories at different rates. But Sara Bleich, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is not among these people. She describes these labels as her dream.

For the past four years, translating nutrition information into exercise equivalents has been the focus of Bleich’s increasingly popular research endeavor. Her latest findings on the effectiveness of the concept are published today in the American Journal of Public Health. In the study, researchers posted signs next to the soda and juice in Baltimore corner stores that read: “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?” or “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about five miles of walking?” (And, long as those distances and times may seem, they may even underestimate the magnitude of the metabolic insult of liquid sugar.)

The signs were a proxy for an actual food label, but they made the point. They effectively led to fewer juice and soda purchases, and to purchases of smaller sizes (12-ounce cans instead of 20-ounce bottles). Bleich also saw learned behavior; even after the signs came down, the local patrons continued to buy less soda and juice.

“The problem with calories is that they’re not very meaningful to people,” Bleich told me. “The average American doesn’t know much about calories, and they’re not good at numeracy.”

That concern is the impetus for a growing movement to make nutrition information as simple and practical as possible. Some have proposed a three-tiered stoplight system, where healthy foods are labeled with a green light (Go!), and junk bears a damning red. Yellow is … everything else. Others have proposed an even simpler thumbs-up, thumbs-down dichotomy.