Sunday, June 26, 2011

Nutrition, Dietary Transitions and Observations

I don't have anything to write a long blog about, but I want to stay in practice so I'll write about a few little things. Most of my time lately has been spent either at work (because we've had some really big things going on at the Zoo), logging miles and/or soul searching.

As an athlete, I'm always looking for that one thing that will make me better - whether that means faster or stronger or more durable (always a plus for someone known as the Disaster Magnet). The most recent thing I'm in the middle of is changing my nutrition both in and out of training and racing.

I've become a huge fan of First Endurance, so I'm switching over to using mainly their products (mostly E.F.S. liquid shot and drink) while training and racing. And how can you argue with the company that makes the "official training and racing supplement" of Leopard Trek and has a product mixture dubbed "the holy hand grenade." With my next long brick, I'm hoping to get a good test of whether this change will solve my dehydration and nausea issues on the run. Afterall, my problem seems to be related to salt and electrolytes and E.F.S. stands for Electrolyte Fuel System.

On the non-training front, I've also had a heads-up on nutrition. A good friend emailed me about dietary choices and asked me if I had ever tried switching to the "paleo diet." Now, I've read a million things about this type of diet - both good and bad - and it's touted by none other than my favorite triathlon coach, Joe Friel. However I never considered it because I don't eat meat. And I've learned that, as a vegetarian, I probably would have starved to death in paleolithic times. The diet is based on eating what paleolithic people ate - basically meat, fresh vegetables, nuts and seeds - with no products that came about as a result of modern agriculture (which, it's argued, our bodies have not yet adapted to). No dairy, no soy, no beans, no grains, no wheat products, etc. Thus, the basic food groups of vegetarians everywhere have been eliminated. (Vegetarians, please feel free to weigh in on this.) Upon reading several online sources (no, I've not purchased the books yet), there is quite a bit of disagreement about whether the diet includes certain products -- the big ones that I'm confused about are olive oil, eggs and yams/sweet potatoes. Some paleo experts say no to one or more of these things, while others do not.

There is also something called the "primal blueprint" diet that varies somewhat from paleo. First of all, it is more about lifestyle than diet. Not only do you eat paleo but you behave paleo - move around like a hunter-gatherer and sprint all-out once in a while. I can handle the gathering part because I have a large backyard and I do regularly gather raspberries, blueberries and tomatoes. And I do sprint once in a while in my training. But this primal thing also makes me wonder if I have to also come up with a way to live in fear of being eaten by a lion or other predator (which, believe it or not, isn't as hard as you might think, working at a zoo and being the disaster magnet and a blogger). One of the big dietary differences of "primal" is that fatty meat like bacon is included unlike the lean-only meat of the paleo advocates. So, yeah, there are variations and I don't know which one is right or wrong, but I also believe that too much of one thing can also be bad.

I will add the disclaimer is that I don't know everything about these diets yet and I welcome comments. However, I HAVE read that these types of diets are good for everything from curing chronic conditions to losing weight to giving you more energy.

Now, having said all of that, I would probably have dismissed diet advice immediately if it hadn't been for the source. It came from someone who has so many important things going on in his own life that I would never have expected he'd have time to send ME an email with nutrition advice. And therefore it was instantly compelling. So compelling that I am willing to think seriously about it - about changing from 20 years of a vegetarian diet. He probably doesn't even realize how much klout I gave his words (but I suspect he knows now).

After reading extensively, I've decided the most important reason to try a new diet was not for me but for my husband Jim. Jim has suffered from several chronic conditions for years: rheumatoid arthritis, hypo-thyroid, low energy, etc. My friend who recommended the dietary change has a spouse who also suffers from similar conditions. Changing their diet worked -- even without a 100% alteration.

After a couple emails about it, my friend questioned that at my level of competition, "isn't it worth a test?" And my answer could be nothing but "absolutely." I am adding fish back into my diet, and Jim and I have cut back on processed foods and carbohydrate consumption. I don't have any answers yet -- I suspect we need a little time to adapt. (And, embarrassingly, stress has sent me to the cookie jar already once this week. It's not something I'm proud of.)

And finally, with work, dietary and athletic challenges lately, I have found myself looking for some kind of deeper meaning, which usually happens after a perceived disaster (such as my broken rib). I wonder what IS the POINT of it all. Sometimes, there are coincidental answers. Like one that came recently at the Zoo.

She even had time to pose
with the photographer *sigh*
About a week ago, the Zoo had a famous visitor, Betty White. I'm sure you know that Betty's popularity has soared recently for many reasons. One of the reasons she's ultra-popular in Cleveland is because of her TV Land show "Hot in Cleveland." She was in town with her costars from the show (Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick) to accept the keys to the city from the Mayor. A well-known animal lover, Betty took a side trip to the Zoo for a personal tour from the Zoo Director.

I was "commissioned" to tag along as the official photographer. (What that means is my supervisor said "Betty White is coming to the Zoo tomorrow, do you have time to take some pictures?" Um... what kind of question IS THAT??? My answer? "I'll clear my schedule.")

My world changed that day. Through simple observation (and my camera lens), I got an insight into a woman who has often been called the "Animal Whisperer." I'm convinced Betty White's longevity has something to do with the peace she has with animals and people. I think she left an indelible mark on everyone who met her that day, and I'm now convinced that it may not be all about eating healthy and exercising, but that happiness and peace are essential in keeping us alive and well for many years.

One of the most amazing things Betty White did for us was a one-take 30-second video telling Cleveland about their Zoo. Being behind the video camera for that was one of the most thrilling and nerve-wracking experiences of my life. As the Disaster Magnet, I was SURE that I did something wrong like forgetting to press "play" on the camera.

But I didn't.

I hope that means my disastrous luck is changing.

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