nutrition

Optimizing Performance

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2015 Payton Jordan 10k where I ran 33:43 on the track pre-inside tracker.

Rewind to about May/June of last year. I had goals of getting back on the track and running fast after a good fall. I had goals of running some competitive races through the summer and ending on a high point at the Sir Walter Miler. But my goals came crashing down as several races went sour as my legs seemingly hit a wall. After mulling over the cause of the tiredness I had been feeling I finally made the decision to invest in InsideTracker. Man, did it pay off.  

I had dealt with anemia prior to transitioning to the gluten free diet, but I had not put 2 and 2 together until after I got my blood results back. I knew what low ferritin felt like but there is difference between the feeling you have when it is as low as 8 and when it’s at 33. After going through the previous races and workouts in my head, it clicked. That dead leg feeling complete with the heavy breathing and instant hatred of all things running, yep that was my ferritin talking to me.

For runners ferritin is a very important blood marker. Having enough Ferritin in your blood makes your stored iron accessible for use in oxygen transfer. If your ferritin is low you could have killer levels of stored iron but have no way of accessing it. Going to your primary care doctor and asking them to check your iron typically doesn’t cut it because often this test does not include your ferritin marker. Beyond that, primary care doctors don’t work only with runners. Technically a ferritin level in the 30’s is considered normal and for a non-runner this would probably not affect their daily life. In fact they probably wouldn’t even notice it. But for runners most people thrive at 50 or higher which brings up one of the biggest benefits of InsideTracker and one of the reasons I ultimately took the leap to do it. InsideTracker takes your blood sample and analyses it to determine the specific optimal ranges for your individual biomarkers. No one person is alike and this fact is true even with your biomarkers. What may be optimal for one person may not be for another. For each biomarker, the interface spits out a chart showing the normal range, your specific optimal range within that normal range, and the ranges that would be considered abnormal. To the right of the chart is an explanation of your value and food recommendations in order to improve that level or keep it the same. For us nutrition nerds there is also a tab for the science behind each biomarker and a video to learn more. Up until using InsideTracker I knew that my iron levels could have an effect on my energy levels but I wasn’t quite aware of the other vitamin deficiencies that could also have an effect on energy and performance such as B-complex, folate, and vitamin D (among others). 

Snapshots from my inside tracker dashboard and bloodwork

Luckily for me InsideTracker helped to me catch my low ferritin levels early enough for me to make some changes with supplementation and diet. I finished that fall with a 1 minute half marathon PR, a new mile PR, a USATF NC Long Distance Series Championship, and a 15th place finish at the .US 12k Championships where I ran my 6k PR twice to finish in 40:21.   

Now fast forward to January of this year. I had all of the symptoms of overtraining and a training log to prove it. I took 3 days off in the middle of my marathon training cycle and turned to InsideTracker. Upon receiving my results there were certainly indicators of overtraining. InsideTracker opened my eyes to the idea of overtraining and broke it down from the standpoint of what is happening in the body because of it. As runners we push ourselves to our limits. We think, “If I am not hitting my splits, I am not working hard enough.” This may be true at times but other times it may be just the opposite, that you’re working too hard. In January I made excuses for my blood work and kept trucking but now that I have accepted what happened, I can rightfully say I did a lot of things wrong. But I have learned from it.

After the trials I went back to work trying to rebuild my strength and focus on the road ahead.

I tried to resume training following the marathon and it didn’t come. I made the ultimate decision at the end of April to hang it up and took an extended training break to ensure that I would come back refreshed. I resumed training at the end of May, starting with low easy mileage. I slowly increased my mileage while moderating the pace. As I started back into training I knew I needed to check in on my blood levels before getting to deep. I was feeling good but it never hurts to check. I retested everything and when I got my results back I could see the comparison of my previous number to my current numbers in chart format. I could see that I had improved across the board. I could see that my cortisol levels had gone down and my cortisol to testosterone ratio had gone up (something I had no clue about until I did
InsideTracker!). High cortisol levels and low cortisol to testosterone ratios can be indications of overtraining and or a suppressed immune system increasing the risk of illness or injury.

For those of you that follow me on my social media platforms you have probably been seeing my recent pushes for InsideTracker. For anyone gearing up for a fall season now is the optimal time to have your biomarkers tested to make sure you are starting your training on a high note. The worst thing would be to ramp up into training and after a few months feeling tired and junky realize you are dealing with a few vitamin deficiencies. Digging yourself out of such a hole while still trying to improve your fitness will not be a fun experience (trust me I have done it!). InsideTracker offers several options to suit any runner’s needs. Sign up before the end of July and you can use ANDIEJULY for a discount on the plan of your choosing! Enjoy 🙂

 
P.s. My Blog is moving to a new site!! I am finishing up the design and will be launching soon so stay tuned!    

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Elderberry Chocolate Avocado Mousse

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To put it nicely, this has been one heck of a long week. The type of week that invokes the temptation to gorge yourself on chocolate. If it had not been for leftovers I wouldn’t have thought twice about ordering pizza every night. Problem being, I am in base training and this is not the time for letting my nutrition slide.

In the base training phase you are slowly building your mileage back up after a well-deserved break. In running, just like building, you need to have a strong foundation or “base”. Slowly increasing your mileage each week with runs at low to moderate intensity with no high intensity workouts is necessary for injury prevention and sustainability. This phase also involves regaining your fitness and dropping the extra weight and fat you should gain during a training break. Gaining a few extra pounds and extra fat is good for prepping your body for a new training cycle. As you increase your mileage your metabolism lags behind so in essence you are able to operate at a slight caloric deficit without getting hangry and feeling drained. During this phase I try to watch what I eat while indulging when my body needs it. Indulgence in moderation is the key to maintaining a healthy diet.

This leads me into the creation of my most recent recipe…Elderberry Chocolate Avocado Mousse.

 

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When cravings strike and I want something sweet I like to find options that are both delicious and beneficial to my health. This recipe definitely fits that standard. And yes I know, avocado is for guacamole and tacos, believe me I thought the same thing…until I tried this. The avocado makes this recipe super creamy and honestly, it’s hard to believe there is no heavy cream! Avocados are super nutrient dense with heart healthy monosaturated fatty acids. These healthy fats help the body better absorb vitamins and minerals. The fiber in avocados helps to maintain a healthy immune system and contributes to a healthy gut.

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The other 2 stars in this show are of course the Norms Farms Elderberry Wellness Syrup and Generation UCAN chocolate protein powder. If you missed my last post, Elderberry has amazing benefits to athletes! (click this link for more info: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/carl-thompson/elderberry-health-benefits-exercise_b_8171086.html ). The elderberry syrup promotes recovery and a healthy immune system so in combination with the avocado, this recipe will keep you strong and healthy. I would also like to add that the elderberry flavor complements the chocolate flavor amazingly well! The UCAN protein powder contains a complex carbohydrate called superstarch. This superstarch metabolizes slowly keeping energy levels and blood sugar stable while increasing the bodies ability to burn fat for energy. This protein version contains whey protein so if you wish to make this vegan you can use the plain Cocoa Delite UCAN superstarch that does not contain added protein.

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This recipe is raw, gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-free, and sweetened with low-glycemic index agave. In light of the upcoming 4th of July holiday, this recipe would make for a great dessert for your planned festiviites! Top with raspberries and blueberries to make it nice and festive!

Elderberry Chocolate Avocado Mousse

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients (except the 2 optional toppings) into a high speed blender or food processor and process until all ingredients are well combined and smooth.
  2. Place in serving dishes and top with whatever desired toppings you choose! I suggest extra dark chocolate and Purely Elizabeth Chocolate Sea Salt Probiotic Granola

elderberry chocolate mousse (click to print!)

Norms Farm Elderberry Protein Bars

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When it comes to optimizing performance in endurance sports so many factors come into play. As I have expressed in some of my other posts nutrition can play a huge role. Eating the appropriate number of carbs, proteins and fats in addition to choosing the right sources is always an important concern, however, the timing of such intake is just as important if not more. Running can cause muscle damage even on a slow easy day so replenishing with carbs and protein right away is necessary. The sooner you eat the better! Getting the protein in right away will allow the muscles to start repairing themselves, suppress the release of the stress hormone cortisol (high cortisol levels in combination with low testosterone can be a key indicator of over-training), and get the metabolism moving. Waiting to eat leaves your muscles and your body in a starvation like state. Just like how we would save our food if we didn’t know when we would eat again, waiting to long to eat convinces the body to hold on to that food for safe keeping, and a smaller portion is shuttled to the muscle for repair. To make matters worse, endurance exercise can contribute immune suppression and inflammation within the body. The temporary immunosuppression puts an athlete at higher risk for infection or illness. Exercise, especially hard workouts or long runs will create inflammation within the body. Excessive inflammation leads to increased injury risk and longer recovery times.

So, here is the exciting part…the amazing benefits of elderberry! I was fortunate to be introduced by a friend and former teammate to Norms Farms, a local NC farm specializing in all things Elderberry. Elderberries contain powerful antioxidants and have anti-viral properties making them known for their ability to fight disease and infection. The antioxidants also have the ability to fight free radicals which the body produces more of after hard exercise. By reducing the number of free radicals in the body, they can help reduce post-exercise muscle damage and soreness (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/carl-thompson/elderberry-health-benefits-exercise_b_8171086.html). Elderberry’s specific antioxidant source comes from the presence of anthocyanins, a  compound also found in mortmorcency tart cherries. In the realm of competitive endurance athletes, tart cherries have become increasing popular because of there anti inflammatory properties due to the presence of anthocyanins. To make elderberries even more desirable, they are rich in magnesium and promote respiratory health (to read more on this click the link above!) Elderberry may just be the new superfood for endurance athletes!

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All that being said, my friend Lauren and I wanted to find creative ways to use elderberry in recipes that athletes would want. We wanted something that could be made on a lazy Sunday and used as a healthy grab and go for post-workout. Something that would have adequate protein and carbs, was low in sugar(compared to many bars out there), and easy to make. So what was our final product?! These raw elderberry protein bars!

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These bars maintain roughly a 3:1 carbs to protein ratio(9:27), 220 calories, 13g sugar (all from natural sources), and of course a healthy dose of elderberry extract. We made this a raw bar to maintain the maximal benefit of all of the ingredients. The ingredient brands listed on our recipe made be substituted but we suggest the ones we chose. The granola we used was Purely Elizabeth’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt granola because contains probiotics and promotes good gut health. It also is sweetened solely by coconut sugar, a natural low glycemic sweetener, and contains chia seeds. We chose BiPro unflavored protein because it contains minimal ingredients and is high quality protein that mixes in unnoticed. The tart cherries we chose were from Country Spoon (ordered of Amazon). These are mortmorcency cherries and contain no added sugar. We highly suggest the use of the coconut peanut butter because it is a natural peanut butter that uses coconut oil. The use of the coconut oil helps to keep it solid at room temperature unlike many natural peanut butters that separate.

For me, understanding why things work the way they do is necessary for making smart choices about consuming them. Every ingredient has a purpose and a value so why not use the best ones possible to maximize the benefits of what we eat!? Hope you enjoy this recipe and look out for more to come. I’m thinking something with UCAN cocao delite and elderberry extract may be coming soon!

Elderberry Protein Bars 

*gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-free, raw, high-protein*

Ingredients

1/2 cup Earth Balance Coconut Peanut Butter

1/4 cup Pure Maple Syrup

1/2 cup Elderberry Extract

1/4 cup Oat Flour

2 scoops BiPro Unflavored Protein (44g)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup Purely Elizabeth Chocolate Sea Salt Probiotic Granola (if not using this brand I suggest adding a tbsp of chia seeds for a the added nutritional benefit)

1/2 cup Country Spoon Dried Tart Montmorency Cherries

Directions:

1. Line an 8×8″ pan with wax paper and set aside

2. Combine Peanut butter and maple syrup in a saucepan over low heat. Mix until combined and then remove from heat. Let the mixture cool a bit and then add the elderberry extract and mix well. Make sure to remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to begin cooling as heat can kill some of the beneficial properties of the elderberry extract.

3. In a separate bowl combine the protein powder, oat flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the peanut butter mixture to this and mix until well combined.

4. Next, fold in the granola and cherries. Once everything is combined press the mixture into the 8×8 pan making sure it is spread evenly. Place a sheet of wax paper over top and refrigerate overnight.

5. Enjoy as a snack or post workout!