From the tree to the plate.
Duck breast with rotkraut and knödel.
minus 1,916 equals 527.
Yep, that’s the title of this entry. Check my math. It’s OK.
Subtitled: Donger need food. Go ahead and follow the link. You know you want to.
Anyway, what’s with the numbers?
Well, the 1,916 is what I’ve been working with as my Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) for several years. If you’re wondering what in the world a RMR is, read this quick primer. Or, if you’re too lazy to read that, it’s simply this – the number of calories that your body needs to survive on a daily basis. You know, basic functions. Breathing; heart beating, thinking, opening and closing the eyes. Nothing fancy.
How did I come up with that specific number? Well, you might be aware of the US guideline of 2,000 calories per day, hence the percentages on the back of that can of soda that is sitting next to you right now. But the problem with that number is that it’s an average for the entire population. Just like that faulty formula to determine your maximum heart rate (220 minus age), which is so vague that it’s meaningless. So instead of using the 2,000 calorie average, there are formulas that can help determine a more specific value. Those formulas are described in the primer.
Anyway, by running my numbers through all of the accepted calculators, I still came up with a fairly wide range of values. But the average of all of them worked out to 1,916. So that’s what I’ve been working with. And it worked for years. All I had to do was to keep track of the calories burned through the day during exercise, add them together, add the 1,916 and that was my caloric intake goal for the day. If I wanted to slim down (like when getting ready for a race), I’d try to stay about 400 calories below that day after day and watch the pounds slowly slide off. If I wanted to maintain, I just made sure I didn’t get too crazy.
Then this year rolled around. Without a change in my exercise or eating patterns, I started putting on weight. Not just a few pounds, but 10 in just a few months. It’d be one thing if I ate a standard American or German diet, but I don’t. And I don’t drink a lot of German beer, since that definitely does not help. One thing that I noticed was that I had fallen off the wagon a bit on keeping track of what I ate. Again, I didn’t change what I was eating, but not keeping track of how much. And even though I was eating all day, I noticed that I wasn’t eating enough. Yet gaining weight.
Actually, it’s a simple concept that I’ve explained to many people over the years that have been trying to lose weight – do not significantly limit calories. Otherwise your body goes into survival mode and hoards every single calorie that you ingest, storing it as fat. But those folks often unwittingly doing that. I know it, but just couldn’t eat enough even though I was trying. At the end of the day, after dinner, as Goddess and I enjoyed our glass of wine and some dark chocolate, I’d finish up the day’s tally and see that, once again, I was in about a 1,500 calorie deficit. No matter that I was eating a few hundred calories every hour all day long, I just wasn’t eating enough.
With a 30-minute bike commute to work in the morning, a 30-minute bike commute home in the evening, then, depending on the day, a 45-60 minute run meant that I was burning an additional 2,300-2,500 calories. So add 2,500 to the 1,916 and that means that I’d have to consume about 4,400 calories that day just to maintain weight. Try doing that without eating processed food or fast food. Try doing that while eating fresh fruit, vegetables and lean protein. It’s very difficult.
On a good day, I was getting up to about 3,000 calories, still 1,500 shy of were I needed to be. So even though I was taking part in some chronic cardio, my body was in starvation mode and hoarding those calories. So the weight has been slowly climbing.
Then I heard that the local hospital was offering metabolic testing. So, me being me, I did a bit of research on it to see if it was valid. I had done some reading a few years ago on it, but didn’t have any place to take advantage of the testing, even if I had to pay for it. And to find out that our hospital offered it for free? Hell, yeah.
After 15 minutes of sitting in a chair with a mask strapped to my face, I found out the real number. Granted, those 15 minutes flew by because I was dead asleep. I’ll nap anywhere.
The real number is 2,443.
So instead of being in about a 1,500 calorie deficit every day, I was actually in about a 2,000 calorie deficit every day. And my body’s been in survival mode.
Donger need food.
Lovin’ the weather here in Southwest Germany. Winter finally arrived last week, smack dab in the middle of my recovery week. Not just a tease, but a full-on, in your face arrival.
Thursday morning’s very isolated snow-shower pretty much shut down any commute for anyone on the south side of Heidelberg. But not for me. Gotta love the bicycle. I floated through the forest and across the fallow fields on a pillow of fresh snow. Shaking my head at all the poor folks in their single-file parking lots. Once I got into town, I dropped the tire pressure to 35 p.s.i. and the studs stuck to the ice. No issues at all. My commute was extended by only 2-3 minutes, which would be about the time that it took for me to let the air out of the tires as well as account for some creeping around corners (I haven’t found the edge of control with the studs yet). For those on four wheels, the commute was extended anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes.
Friday was a bit more of the same in the afternoon, but everyone on four wheels seemed to behave themselves. Then the cold set in.
Saturday was a bit chilly, dipping down to +4°F (-15°C) and gradually warming up to +12°F (-11°C) by early afternoon. Luckily there wasn’t much wind, so the run wasn’t bad at all. Matter of fact, I layered too much and was peeling off layers, caps and gloves just a few miles into the run.
Here it is, Monday, the Winter Solstice, and we still have a fair covering of snow on the ground. Perfect for jumping in to the next Base period. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.
As I said above, last week as a recovery week. That made it week three of my Base 2 cycle for my next race on January 31st. Being the “old guy” that I am, following Friel’s protocol of using three week cycles for folks over 40, vice the four week cycles for those under 40, has worked quite well for me. Especially since I’m not focusing on long-course triathlon right now, but instead basically living the life of a duathlete.
So Base 2 was a good cycle. Through the second week I pushed my running mileage up to 35.5 miles. Nothing extravagant, but on top of my 90-miles of commuting each week, the legs are getting abused a bit. And with another Base cycle, leading into my Build cycle, I’ll be dancing very close to my upper manageable limit of 60 miles per week of running. That’s not counting the commute.
Besides, if I’m to run more than 60 miles per week, I better be getting paid for it.
The workload wasn’t overwhelming, but for some reason the recovery took a bit longer than normal. Perhaps all of the holiday parties? Typically I’m good to go by Wednesday. Last week it took until Saturday before I felt fresh. But that’s OK.
It’s the result of doing good work. And some good parties.
Today’s run, warmer than this weekend, looked similar to the photo at right, although not as deep. The nice thing is that it adds a nice bit of strength training to the run. Although strength training in the middle of 10-mile runs are typically not the best thing for the legs.
But it’s good work.
Since I’ve taken this week off from work, the commute isn’t necessary. So that leaves my legs fresh for the runs, which will tally up to ~50 miles. Next week there will be just a few commute days, so bike mileage will remain low, but I’ll have to ramp up the miles through the weekend, seeing how close to 60 miles I can dance without overdoing it. And then rush headlong into the next recovery week, which includes several days of skiing. But it’ll be good recovery from running.
What’s interesting is that right now, with a full Base cycle followed and Build cycle still to come, I’m aerobically in better shape than I was going in to last March’s 60K Trail Run and significantly better than when I ran my 40-miler in September, 2008. That isn’t a subjective feeling, but looking objectively at output from the Training Load plug-in for SportTracks. So things are looking good. The trick will be keeping injury free over the next few weeks as I ramp up the miles.
Then crank out an enjoyable 50K in six weeks.
But my challenge right now isn’t with the running. It’s with eating. I know that’s a funny thing to say during the holidays, but it is what it is. With this workload I need to be ingesting approximately 4,000 calories per day on average. That’s a lot of food, especially since I don’t eat a “normal” western diet, full of processed carbs, fats and salt. Basically, if I can’t identify it as something that came directly from a plant or animal, I eschew (or would that be “won’t chew”?) it. Within reason, of course, because life’s too short to be that strict about anything. And although I could reasonably identify a Whopper as mostly coming from animals and plants, I stay away from that stuff as much as possible. And the recent results of my blood work tell me that I’m definitely on the right track.
So I’m typically falling short of that 4,000 calorie mark by somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 calories. That’s a lot to miss. It does hamper my workout recovery. And since it’s such a large daily deficit, I’m not losing weight since my metabolism is slowing down to hold on to every calorie I ingest. Basically, my body is going in to survival mode.
Someone hand me a cookie!
<DISCLAIMER: Any and all training that I describe works for me and flies in the face of much conventional wisdom. The reason it works for me is that I have a few decades of activity and fitness under my belt and know that my body can recover quickly from a given workload. So don’t think that you could, or should, jump from 35 miles of running one week to 50 miles the next. If you do, you’ll get hurt.>
This is a continuation from part one.
So the newly adopted pooch is eating raw and I’m thinking about food.
I had read a bit on the Paleo diet, then read “The Paleo Diet for Athletes” by Joe Friel and Loren Cordain. I am quite a skeptic about pretty much everything, so I continued to do a lot of research. Slowly my initial thoughts on Paleo being a knock-off of The Atkins Diet melted away. Matter of fact, the more I read, the more I started to understand that it wasn’t so much the Atkins Diet that was completely out to lunch, but the way that the adherents during its popularity applied the principles. In other words, fair concept, poor execution.
Sorry, but you aren’t going to lose weight AND stay healthy by eliminating all carbs but sucking down a Low-Carb Double Whopper at Burger King.
Coinciding with this recreational reading, I was doing research for a school paper covering the rise of childhood obesity, focusing specifically on the rapid decline of physical education and physical activity in general in our youth. Things started really clicking then. Especially when I started noticing that obesity rates started rising sharply soon after the publication of the “Food Pyramid” (right) in 1992. That was the first time that such an emphasis was placed on breads, cereals, pastas, etc., for the entire population, although carbs had been the focus for athletes for quite a while.
So the concepts of the Paleo Diet made quite a bit of sense to me. I didn’t buy into it whole-hog (pardon the pun), but decided to give it a try. The timing was perfect, since I was deploying to Iraq. I could try it without impacting the family and decide for myself. Matter of fact, Goddess didn’t even know I had changed how I was eating until about four months into my deployment. By then I had already experienced some pretty impressive changes. I didn’t have a reliable way to measure my weight and no way to measure body-fat, but I could easily see the results in the mirror.
As I read and ingested more on the Paleo Diet, there were still some foods deemed “off-limits” for unexplained reasons (that I could find). Which led me to do even more research (hey, I needed something to fill my time in Iraq when I wasn’t working or running). Slowly I began to understand more, which also led me into reading up on things such as glycemic indices and ketosis.
But all of this didn’t dissuade me from enjoying an occasional chocolate chip cookie or slice of carrot cake.
Then one day I stumbled across this post on Mark’s Daily Apple, the blog of Mark Sisson. It opened my eyes to Primal. Mark, way back when, raced marathons and long-course triathlons. In other words, not much different than you or I. So I spent a lot of time reading through the archives, where I saw a huge overlap between Paleo and Primal. There were differences, especially Mark’s insistence that physical activity should be anaerobic for short periods of time, completely eschewing the endurance sports that he participated in earlier. But he acknowledges that there are those of us that do. And Friel’s work with Cordain acknowledges the unique needs of endurance athletes, especially during and immediately post training/race.
In response to part one of this post, Tea made a very good comment – “Although, I really don’t like to tag foods as good or bad because it sets alot of people of for failure.” That is one thing that both Paleo and Primal camps do is tag certain foods as good or bad. One thing I do like about both is that they give the medical and chemical reasons as to why a certain food is on the list. Turns out that many of the foods on the “bad” list have a tendency to block the absorption of critical components of food, specifically proteins, glycogen, vitamins and minerals. As I researched this more and more, it all started making even more sense.
As I spent the summer in Iraq eating (OK, I did just a bit more than that), I started really paying attention to what everyone was eating. I wasn’t sneering at anyone, just observing. I noticed that, as a whole, we were eating beige. Everything was either fried or battered. There was very little color. Now Goddess and I had always strived to eat colorful meals, but there was always a pile of pasta or something similar on the plate. No more.
So sticking with the concepts of Paleo and Primal while training last year, I was comfortably able to complete my 40-miler. Fueling was key during the run, but in my mind, the more important fueling occurred during my training of the previous months, especially the post-run recovery meals. But the real proof was in the pudding:
1 May 2008: 204lb / 26.2% BF / Waist 35” ———————-> 20 Nov 2008: 182lb / 18.2% BF / Waist 31”.
Those results really aren’t too amazing. Over the years I’ve watched plenty of folks come back from a deployment 20-30 and sometimes even 50 lbs lighter than when they left. It’s not too hard to do while deployed. The trick is to keep it off; most don’t. I’ve been home five months now and while I’ve had little fluctuations, I’m still right around 183lb/18.5%/31”. My daily caloric intake hasn’t changed over the past few years, since I’ve been tracking it very closely. Matter of fact, my average daily caloric intake is the same now as it was last year as it was in 2007 when I was training for my IM-distance race. But I am 15lbs lighter than race day for the IM-distance race. The key has been the elimination of processed carbs.
Goddess can attest to the fact that I’ve got definition in places where I’ve never had definition, even when I was 15lbs lighter during my high school track/cross-country days than I am now.
The first few months of eating Paleo/Primal were interesting, especially during training. I didn’t feel either sluggish or overly energetic, as some have reported. Over the course of a few weeks my body started adapting to using more fat as a fuel source, instead of the steady stream of processed carbs that I had fed it before. I tracked my intake closely and made sure that I did not put my body into ketosis, which is one of the health concerns of the Atkins Diet. But I did notice that during and after particularly long and/or hard workouts, my sweat started smelling like ammonia. It was odd, but not worrisome as I learned that the smell was a result of my body switching fuel sources from glycogen to amino acids. So I made sure I upped the amount of fruits and vegetables I ate before such workouts. The smell went away.
I did notice that my daily energy levels started to level out. Gone were the daily post-lunch crashes after a carb-heavy meal. Now I may occasionally want a nap in the afternoon, but typically only after a long, hard training run or after a night of less than optimal sleep. Goddess keeps me up late most nights, you know. ;^)
Now I am far from being dogmatic about this. There’s nothing wrong with having a small serving of pasta once in a while, or a bit of rice with that sushi that I love. And the other night we were at a neighbor kid’s 18th birthday party, where I had a few Oreo’s and a piece of sheet cake. I just chose to move from having that as a significant part of my diet and I firmly believe that it’s made quite a difference in my health and performance.
And recently I read another book that all but confirmed my decisions – The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. While following the industrial food chain, centered around grains, Pollan points out many of the significant health issues related to our over-consumption of corn and the myriad corn by-products. I highly recommend giving it a read.
Anyway, instead of turning this into a diatribe, I’ll close here. I’ve got some resting up to do before this weekend’s marathon.
And some carb loading, mainly with fruits and vegetables, but I’m sure a plate of spaghetti will slide in front of me Friday when my mom and sister are in town.
P.S. Goddess found that she had to drop the cooking time of the Flourless Chocolate Muffins to 25 minutes. They came out great, especially with a glass of cold milk.
I am spoiled.
Goddess sure puts up with me. Even when I say silly things. She tolerates my training and racing, although she will shake her head at times and tell me that I’m nuts.
To some, I’m sure.
The most impressive thing has been her support of my eating habits. She’s actually adapted quite a bit and makes wonderful treats like these Flourless Chocolate Muffins for me.
Both concepts were something that I had been doing a lot of research on for quite a while. As Goddess can attest to, if I get interested in something, I research the hell out of it. Mostly to satisfy my curiosity.
Because I am a sponge.
Initially I poo-pooed both as concepts that were capitalizing on the Adkins fad. And that was one thing I stayed the hell away from. I saw many friends and co-workers jump on that bandwagon and do some pretty rough things to their bodies that they did not understand, all while eating crap and claiming that all carbs were evil.
And that was one belief that I fought violently. I knew, and still know, that carbs are not evil. Matter of fact, we need them.
But a dog got me to look more closely at the carbs that I was eating.
Yep, a dog.
Growing up racing in the ‘80s and through the ‘90s, carbs were king. Racing track, cross-country, bikes and building up to ultra-marathon bike races in the late ‘90s were a great excuse for me to inhale carbs. The more the merrier. Pile them high, pile them thick. Matter of fact, I swore that I was an Italian in a previous life.
And no matter how active I was, the waistband kept expanding. I got pretty thick, but could still ride hard and ride long. Unfortunately, with the added girth, any time the road tilted upwards, I’d get dropped. But on the flats, I was a locomotive that the teams would love to jump behind as I’d drag them across the countryside. So I made sure that I kept the engine stoked. But I was failing at simple math, so I was easily taking in more than I was burning.
Once I figured out the math, I worked on that. So it dropped off quite nicely. But even though I tracked everything as closely as possible, I still was softer than I needed to be. Even in 2007 when I was training for my IM-distance race, I dropped a fair bit, but just couldn’t get below 190lbs. I didn’t worry about that though, figuring that 190lbs was my body’s comfortable “floor”.
But then the dog came in.
In late 2007, we started looking at rescuing a retired greyhound. While we were waiting to be approved and waiting for a dog that would adopt us, I did a lot of research on feed, especially after the dog food contamination scare of 2007. One thing that I kept returning to was the concept of feeding raw or biologically appropriate raw food (BARF for short). Basically the idea is to feed the same foods that the animals ancestors ate, instead of the processed food with additives and chemicals. It made perfect sense to me.
So we discussed with one of the ladies that fosters and helps place the retired greyhounds in homes. She was extremely supportive, especially since she feeds her dogs the same way. The resident veterinarian for the group was there as well and she was supportive. That vet support is something that we’ve found to be rare.
So when Skinny adopted us late last January, we started easing him in to a raw diet. The pooch took to it immediately. And as I’d stand there, holding a chicken leg quarter while feeling him crunch his way through the bones and flesh, it got me to thinking about the foods that I ate.
<…to be continued…>