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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Great Vegetable Experiment

I have a confession to make. I consume a plant based diet.

This is not to say that I am a vegan or a vegetarian. These folks seem to have adopted the phrase "plant based" to pertain solely to them, but I think the term more appropriately describes our relationships with fruits and vegetables. To that end, I extol the power of vegetables as a primary staple in the human diet.

Let's get one thing straight. I have always disliked eating vegetables. Most of them taste bland, and some are downright disgusting. The closest thing I got to a vegetable growing up was pizza sauce and ketchup. If I had my way, I would be eating cheeseburgers (minus the veggies), pizza (minus the veggies), and ice cream (probably shouldn't have veggies in the first place) on a daily basis.

Despite that, I now understand the power vegetables have when it comes to general health, athletic fitness, and overall happiness. They are a tremendous source of energy, which in turn gives us the capacity to perform better and feel better.

If you think about it, being "plant powered" is the closest that a person can come to consuming and harnessing the power and energy of the sun. Plants utilize the energy of the sun, through photosynthesis, to produce energy in the form of sugar. When we eat plants, we are consuming "sun sugar".

Wow, Carl Segan was right. We are all made of "star stuff".

Okay, so maybe that's a bit of cosmic gobbledygook, but you see my point. The vitamins, fiber, and energy from plants is the most natural form of energy. Homans are evolutionarily equipped to break down these foods and harness their nutrients and utilize them in an efficient manner.

Contrast that with the highly processed, nutrient void foods many people have in their diets. These foods do not break down easily. We absorb far more toxic ingredients through these processed foods than actual nutrients. In addition, they contain sugar on steroids, which contributes to heart problems, diabetes, and the buildup of fat we all love to complain about.

Don't get me wrong, I love me some Peanut M&Ms, and indulge from time to time. However, vegetables are now a primary staple in my diet. A food I primarily eat for function, yet has provided me such a great benefit - from being more fit, healthier, happier, and more energetic - that I actually miss my vegetables when I don't get to eat them. Even though I've always hated veggies, I love veggies.

Now the hard part. I believe that it is necessary to eat a whole lot of vegetables. Veggies should be (and are for me) the primary source of food for any person. For over a year, they were for me, but then it dropped off for a while. Until recently.

During the year when I first started getting very healthy, I was eating vegetables with every meal. My morning shake had spinach in it. For dinner I had Brussels sprouts and asparagus. On top of that, I had a large green shake for my afternoon snack.

I felt absolutely great during that year. I was performing at new levels. My blood pressure was perfect. My cholesterol was perfect. Zero anxiety or stress. Plenty of energy. Lots of joy. But I started thinking that maybe it was overkill. Perhaps I was taking in too many veggies, and I should cut it back.

So I went to having just my concentrated shake in the afternoon. As you now know, I hate veggies, so getting them in all at once was preferable to spreading them out over the course of the day. There was a noticeable change. While I still felt "okay", I didn't feel fantastic as I had. So again I made the choice to start eating more veggies more frequently throughout the day. Within a short time I was once again feeling like Superman.

And wouldn't you know it, I realized that I don't hate veggies after all!

Here are some tips on how to become plant-based, and add more fruits and veggies into your daily life.

  1. Eat some veggies at every meal and during snacks. This means every meal. For breakfast, make a smoothie with some spinach or kale in it. For lunch, throw some bell peppers and tomatoes in your omelette. For dinner, stir fry up some zucchini and squash. Eat a carrot "just 'cause". Whatever it is, a veggie has it's place on your plate. What this does is not only imprints healthy habits, but it also assures that you are having effective distribution of nutrient rich foods throughout the day, rather than "loading up" at just one meal. This keeps you energized and healthy at all times.
  2. Make shopping for veggies fun. Literally every shape and color of the rainbow is represented in the produce aisle of the supermarket. What an exciting opportunity to try something new! It's almost like going to an art store to pick up some supplies. What type of picture do you want to paint today? There are numerous combinations of meals you can make with each vegetable. Become inspired! Additionally, there are a number of produce co-ops which will deliver farm fresh fruits and vegetables to your home. Each week is like a new discovery of different types of foods.
  3. Start drinking a veggie smoothie every day. This one is great for those of you who, like me, don't like the taste of vegetables. It is easier and quicker to drink a salad than to eat it. "But Adam, that sounds disgusting!". Well, you may be right, if the smoothie is only veggies. But it's amazing what a banana or apple can do to improve the taste!
  4. Craving sugar? Eat an apple. Still craving sugar? Eat another apple. Don't just give into the temptation for ice cream (although, indulging every once in a while is not a crime!). Instead, when you're craving sugar, eat an apple. If it helps, tell yourself that you'll have the ice cream after you finish the apple. Then, if you're still craving the sugar, repeat the process. Your mind is trying to trick you into eating the sugar on steroids. It is important to beat your mind at its own game! Eat as many apples as it takes. No doctor has ever said "He died from eating too many apples."
I challenge you to experiment with eating more vegetables. More than you think is necessary. Just see how well you begin to feel.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Pitfalls of Getting Better

I'm really slow, and it's really annoying. 

In 2014 I ran two sub 4 hour marathons in both of my Ironman races. Over the offseason I expected that I would improve for 2015. 

It didn't. In fact, I had poorer performances in my marathons at each of my two Ironmans this year. I knew I could get better, but instead I got worse. Not from lack of trying.

My training had me pacing at below 8 minute miles, which "should" have resulted in a sub 3:30 marathon. And now after both Ironmans, despite feeling fully recovered, I'm now pacing at over 10 minute miles. 

It is really annoying.

But that is my ego talking, which it's a pitfall of getting better.

When we're congratulated for a job well done, rewarded for a great performance, or reach a new milestone, it is easy for our egos to have us believe that we can no longer fall below that new benchmark, and when we do, it is catastrophic failure. 

Don't get me wrong, we should always celebrate achieving something great. Our accomplishments are worth celebrating. However, allowing our egos to get in the way will quickly move us from celebrating to thinking of what more we can accomplish. We become greedy.

It is ironic that we can gain a bit of humility, recognize ego as one of our shortcomings, and strive to better ourselves to remove that shortcoming, and as a result of getting better, reintroduce ego into our lives. 

This battle with ego is not a battle we can win, it is a continuous challenge. Despite our egotistical nature of wanting to "win" everything, we have to acknowledge this ot as a battle with ego, but instead an exercise in humility. It is a chance to continue getting better, even in failure. 

I'm not sure how or if my running will improve over this offseason, but I will control what I can, which is to put one foot in front of the other as fast as my body will allow. I will try my best to not allow myself to fall into the pit of ego, but try to practice humility through failure and success.