Weekly Review: Veganism

My week as a vegan!

So last week, I decided to give the whole super-healthy vegan thing a try, just to see if I would become one those super-humans who only eats plants and feels amazing all the time. I actually did stick to the vegan rules the whole time (ok, well almost), and there were some good things and bad things I think.

First, the good.

The best thing about trying to be a vegan was that it forced me to cook. Every night. I actually got home from work, opened the refrigerator and pulled out ingredients to make a meal! Crazy! Kevin usually does all the cooking, but eating vegan without him left me no choice. I found myself liking it a bit; there’s something intrinsically rewarding about pulling together a homemade meal that I really did enjoy. I certainly eat a more balanced diet when I make dinner for myself, rather than just eating hummus and pita chips for dinner.

Then, the bad.

I missed my dairy! I have a piece of string cheese and a yogurt for lunch every day and I sorely missed those. I tried to replace them with a Kind Bar and an apple, but it just wasn’t the same. Honestly, it was really hard to feel full. The tempeh tacos I made filled me up, but that’s about it. I always left dinner feeling not hungry, but not really satisfied. Plus, may I’m just not good at making vegan meals, but nothing tasted all that great. It wasn’t that things tasted bad, but just nothing that really satified me in a delicious way.

And, the ugly.

I craved everything I wasn’t supposed to eat. I hated feeling so restricted, and I know that for the future, it just isn’t how I want to live my life. I don’t like feeling that certain foods are off limits, and I don’t want to feel guilty all the time. I much prefer to think about adding good foods, rather than restricting foods. I did find some new foods I’d like to add to my diet, like hemp milk and tempeh, and I found new recipes I’ll keep in the rotation. However, I just couldn’t justify living within such a narrow restriction forever. Plus, I’d have to take vitamins, which I really hate.

I’d love to hear about any of your dietary adventures! Have any of you ever tried veganism or another radical change?

Vegan… for the week

My haul at the health food store

I’m doing something a little crazy this week; I’m going vegan. Hubby is out of town for the entire week, so I took the opportunity to go to the health food store and buy all kinds of things Kevin doesn’t really want to eat. He’s really a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and I have only successfully gotten him to eat tofu once. He said he liked it, but I think he was just being nice.

The funny thing is, I’m not even a vegetarian. I eat meat on a semi regular basis, and I definitely have dairy every single day. Examining the research, I’m not even convinced that veganism is necessary for optimal health. Several nutrients are really hard to get without animal products (iron and calcium) and some are impossible and require a supplement (B12). Plus, I do think that the health benefits gleaned from a vegan diet have much more to do with the large amount of vegetables and fruits consumed as well as the removal of processed foods and sugar, rather than the removal of any animal products.

So why am I bothering with the whole vegan thing? Honestly, because sometimes we all make decisions based on anecdotes and emotions rather than hard evidence. The past year I have been exposing myself to a lot of health research, and much of that has been about veganism. I read Eat and Run by Scott Jurik, Finding Utra by Rich Roll, The China Study, and watched Food Matters, Forks Over Knives, and Hungry for Change. All of which tout the incredible benefits of veganism. All of these sources go above and beyond just the health benefits; the claims about this diet border on magical. They claim it gives incredible energy, a clear mind and a great mood. They also claim that veganism improves your skin, makes the white of your eyes whiter (really?), and improves libido. So, I guess I figured why not? What’s the harm? Honestly, I thought that if I didn’t at least try it, I’d always wonder.

Lentil stew

So here I am this week, eating as healthy as humanly possible and consuming no animal products. Already, I’m tried new things I never thought I would eat. For breakfast, I make my smoothie with hemp milk, fresh spinach, chia seeds, and a packet of dried green superfood (which includes basically every healthy green plant you could imagine, plus some extracts). My lunch has stayed mostly the same; almond butter of whole wheat bread (although I bought this really expensive sprouted grain bread), apple, banana, organic applesauce, and a Kind bar. I did have to give up my string cheese and yogurt, which I was pretty sad about. Dinner is where things get interesting. Monday night I had tempeh tacos with kale and hummus. Last night I made a homemade lentil stew with sweet potatoes, and on the menu tonight is either quinoa pasta or quinoa with avocado, black beans, and some tofu. I’ve been eating cold quinoa with frozen berries, hemp milk and cinnamon for dessert, which is actually delicious.

The goal is to keep it up at least through Sunday and see if I have any of the proposed “magical” effects. I know that a week may not be long enough to tell, but I’m not sure I could really last any longer than that. Are any of you vegans? What do you think?

I’ll let you know how it goes!


Should we be exercising… less?

This might sound crazy to you, but in the quest for weight loss, some of us may be exercising too much. How can that be, you might be asking, since so few people actually exercise? Let me ask you this; for those of you who regularly go to the gym, do you know anyone that you see there every day on the treadmill not getting any thinner? I know I do. There is a new research study out this month that suggests that some people may be struggling to lose weight because they are actually exercising too much!

The study was conducted by the University of Copenhagen and followed the weight loss efforts of overweight but otherwise healthy men in their 20s and 30s. The men were broken up into 3 groups; no exercise, 30 minutes daily and 60 minutes daily. They were told to keep their eating habits constant throughout the duration of the 13 week study. Afterwards, they were weighed, and as expected the group that did not change their diet or exercise habits lost no weight. The 60 minute group lost around 5 pounds on average, so they were mildly successful. However, the 30 minute group lost 7 pounds on average, which was significantly more than the researchers were expecting. How could this be?

One hypothesis is the compensatory eating effect. Those who worked out an hour each day felt exhausted afterwards and may have had an increased drive to eat in order to compensate for the large number of calories burned. The 30 minute group most likely didn’t perceive the effort to be all that hard, and may actually have kept their calorie intake constant. The second and more interesting hypothesis (I think) is the amount of other activity they did during the day. The 60 minute group usually felt pretty wiped out from their workout and spent most of their free time sitting; they took the elevator instead of the stairs and sat on the couch after work instead of tackling some chores. The 30 minute group actually reported feeling energized from their workout and they moved around significantly more during the day.

I loved this study because it actually made sense in my own life. When I was in college I ran both track and cross country. During the cross country season, I ran more miles during the week, and therefore always felt like I was burning a ton of calories. I definitely reduced my other activity and ate as many brownies as my heart desired and looking back at pictures, I was always a little heavier during cross country season.

How much do you exercise? Have you ever felt frustrated that you’re exercising so much and yet not losing weight?


Getting Motivated

For those of us who struggle to exercise daily (or at least semi-daily), finding the right motivation is key. When my alarm goes off at 5:45 every morning, I need a really good reason to get out of bed; if not, I’m hitting the snooze and exercising tomorrow.

As an exercise physiologist, I’d like to think that the most current research is what motivates people to exercise. There are dozens of studies that tout the benefits of regular physical activity on reducing chronic disease; with just 30 minutes a day, you lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and even depression. That should be enough to make us want to move around, right?

Unfortunately, the research would suggest otherwise. According to a study done by Ingledew and Markland, exercisers tended to stick with a program much longer if their reason for working out was related to social interactions and those who were exercising for appearance didn’t last very long. Researchers have also found that when we perceive benefits to be either intangible or in the distant future, we aren’t very motivated. Just knowing that when you’re 75, your cholesterol will be lower doesn’t seem to be a potent motivator for getting off the couch.

So what do we do? There’s a great article on nytimes right now that suggests we will exercise much more often if we think about how it makes us feel, rather than how it makes us look, and if we think about how it affects us today, rather than how it will affect us 10 years from now. If yo look forward to your evening walk, thinking about how it helps you de-stress and how nice it will feel to be outside, you’ll be more likely to go than if you try to guilt yourself into going. Thinking about exercise as a punishment will always leave a bad taste and it will be a dreaded item to check off the to-do list.

I exercise for a couple of reasons; some noble, some not so much. Some days I look forward to my run; I feel fit and thin and it sounds like a fun thing to do. Other days, I force myself to go because I’m training for a race, or honestly, because I had an extra piece of chocolate cake the day before. But, what gets me out of bed in the morning at 5:45 is thinking how good I’ll feel for the rest of the day. If I tell myself, “it’s just 30 minutes. Then think what you’ll have accomplished before 7 am,” I’ll  get right up.

What motivates you to exercise?

Should I Workout When I’m Sick?

I’m writing this post to you wiped out on the couch with a wicked case of strep throat. I had no idea a sore throat could hurt so badly! Have you guys ever had strep throat? If you haven’t, count yourselves incredibly lucky and if you have, I feel your pain! It’s terrible!

If you’re someone who works out most days of the week, during cold and flu season, you may want to know, “Should I work-out when I’m sick?” Or, if you’re more like me, “Should I feel guilty for not working out when I’m sick?” I should tell you that it’s Sunday and I haven’t run since Thursday. One, because I’ve been on antibiotics for strep and on strict orders from the doctor to rest, and two, I just didn’t want to.🙂

If you’re debating illness and exercise, you need to ask youself two questions; how sick am I and how much exercise am I doing?

How sick are you?

Let me first say that if you are contagious, please don’t go to the gym! You’re not being tough, you’re being a jerk. It’s bad enough that you’re sick, but sweating in out in the gym means your spreading your germs to dozens of exercisers. Don’t do it!Secondly, if you have a fever, the flu, or some other condition which makes the trip from the couch to the fridge an arduous journey, you are officially too sick to exercise.

However, if it’s just a persisent cold, a runny nose, or a cough, you may want to think about it. Research has shown that moderate exercise may boost the immune system and actually may help you fight the cold, especially if you are a regular exerciser to begin with.

How much exercise are we talking about?

Most all of the research that shows a positive relationship between immune function and exercise refers only to moderate exercise, not vigorous or long-duration exercise. What counts as moderate? If you are doing cardio, you should only exercise 20-40 minutes, and you should be able to talk to your neighbor the whole time. If you’re lifting, don’t do any sets to failure and go for volume rather than max strength (think 2 sets of 20 reps rather than 4 sets of 5 reps).

If you feel like a cold is coming on, let me encourage you to keep your exercise moderate, and don’t go for that long run this week. While moderate exercise may help you get over that cold, extreme or intense exercise could actually make you more susceptible to an infection.

Bottom Line: If you have strep throat, stay home! But, if you just have a cold, get your butt out the door and go for a 30  minute brisk walk.

Do you guys exercise when you’re sick?


To Stretch or Not?

Please let me apologize for our extended hiatus! I’ve been teaching like a crazy person all summer, Kevin has been working tons of overtime, and unfortunately the blog had to go on the backburner for a bit. But, now it’s almost fall and we should have plenty of time for our blog. Hooray!🙂

One great thing that happened this summer was that a friend of mine guest lectured in one of my classes, and I learned a ton! He is a certified strength and conditioning coach, has a PhD in Exercise Physiology, and is an accomplished powerlifter. He knows a ton about weight lifting and I was thrilled to have him give a three hour lecture (plus, it meant I didn’t have to lecture that day).

The coolest thing I learned was how much convincing research there is about stretching; mostly, it’s stupid. Shocked? I was. Every team I’ve ever been on has started every practice by stretching. For those of you who work out, how many of you feel that you need to stretch before you start? It’s just good common sense, right? If you care at all about athletic performance, apparently not.

A study done at LSU looked at the effects of static stretching on sprint performance. The athletes stretched for 15 minutes (think bending down and reaching for your toes for 30 seconds at a time), and then did a 20 meter sprint as fast as possible. They compared the running time without stretching and interestingly, all the runners were significantly slower after stretching. The researchers even asked the runners which trial they thought was fastest, and every runner said they felt faster and more confidant on the stretching trial. But they were slower!

The same effect was found in endurance running as well. So why do we continue to stretch? For most of us, it’s habit. Our coaches told us to do it, our friends do it, and we’ve been doing it for years, but is it any good? What about injuries? For the longest time, I continued to stretch because I was afraid that if I didn’t, I’d  get injured. The research is mostly…inconclusive. (Here’s a link to a nice review article if you are nerdy like me) The problem is that stretching decreases the elasticity of a muscle, making it more compliant. Think about stretching a rubber band around a chair and leaving it for awhile. Not so stretchy. If you need to do a powerful, fast sport, you need all the elasticity you can get, and reducing elasticity can actually lead to injury. Even  low- intensity activity requires muscle elasticity, and while it probably doesn’t increase injury, it certainly doesn’t prevent it.

However, don’t take all this to mean you shouldn’t do any kind of warm-up before exercising. A slow jog and some dynamix stretching is wonderfully effective. Think leg swings, high knees, and butt-kicks to get you started.

Do you guys stretch before you exercise? What do you do and do you swear by it?


Our Olympic Hopefuls

Hendiatris Citius, Altius, Fortius

Swifter, higher stronger, this summer Olympics are shaping up to be an all photo finish, pun intended. So I thought I would share a preview for I think we are in store for. China which didn’t fully compete in the Olympics will win the overall medal count. That is if you consider what has transpired at the world championships. Swimming will be key; at Beijing we outnumbered China 31-6 in the water however at worlds the number was reduced to 26-12. Most predictions have China beating us by 5-10 medals in the overall count. So clearly given what has happened at worlds, we need a strong showing in the pool.

The 100 meter dash is not a shoe-in for Usain Bolt. He was a relative unknown coming into the last summer games and from 2008 on he has had ever mounting pressure on him. He was a victim of the recently implemented one-and-done rule; his false start at worlds as an immediate disqualification. Yohan Blake capitalized on this and won the 100 and then came back and ran the second fastest 200 ever. Worst of all for Bolt, he is a team mate and fellow Jamaican.

Lochte, Phelps show down is going to be awesome! At trials, Lochte edged Phelps in most events. However this year Lochte is taking a Phelps-esk amount of races more than he has ever taken on. This is most likely will be Phelps last Olympics. He knows this and is truly ready to go out as the most storied Olympian in history.

Allyson Felix is America’s best chance to restore our sprinting glory. She is truly pushing hard for the individual medal that has eluded her. She is primed and ready to compete. In the 200 she is a three time world champion and she was just .03 off a world title in the 400 in her first time racing this distance. Her coach, Bobby Kersee, is husband and coach of the late Jackie Joyner-Kersee. He was also coach to Florence Griffith Joyner (Flow Jo) so I know he has her in true Olympic shape.

Ashton Eaton has brought about a renewal and attention back to the Decathlon. He just recently set a new world record with 9039 points breaking an 11 year old record by 13 points held by Roman Sebrle. He has joined the ranks of Bruce Jenner, Dan O’Brien, and Rafer Johnson among the Americans who have held the world record. His feat came on the 100 year anniversary of the decathlon and his world record was done against horrible odds.  Drizzle, Rain, cold and sun shine and everything in-between is the weather he faced that day. Which holds great promise for him as London weather hits all those wickets before noon.

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