Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Going Paleo

For a few years going back to my training for triathlons, I had heard via several podcasts about the Paleo diet.  As I started into ultra running and listening to more podcasts http://www.imtalk.me/home/2011/5/30/imtalk-episode-264-loren-cordain-on-the-paleo-diet.html
I was struck by how many elite athletes are following a Paleo diet.  After doing some research and buying some books, I dove head long into the Paleo world.

In brief, the diet name refers to the Paleolithic era and is also called the "caveman diet".  The approach specified in the diet has been around for many years.  However, in recent years it was the research and books by Loren Cordain, PhdD who is a professor from Colorado State University who has advanced our understanding.  I read his books "Paleo Diet for Athletes" who he co-wrote with Joe Friel who also wrote "The Triathletes training bible". http://www.trainingbible.com/pdf/Paleo_for_Athletes_Cliff_Notes.pdf  Their theory is that humans evolved to eat a diet that more closely resembles a hunter/gatherer lifestyle and that modern food, specially processed food has contributed to many of the illnesses that we are increasingly seeing (heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, etc.).  As such, the diet consists of fresh fruits/vegetables, wild caught fish, free range chicken/turkey, free range beef, organic eggs with Omega 3, nuts such as walnuts but not peanuts, and coconut milk/almond milk.  What is not allowed is carbohydrates from grains, no bread, no pasta, no heavy starches, no dairy products (cows were not domesticated until 10,000 years ago), no sodas, or alcohol.

My goal for following this diet was to be healthier and lose a few pounds which will help me be a better runner, specially running hills.  From my reading, an additional benefit for athletes in terms of enhancing performance has to do with increasing muscle, decreasing fat stores, and improving recovery from workouts.   In addition, as you have more circulating fatty acids and less carbohydrates, the muscles start to get trained to burn fat instead of sugar.  Fat stores are much greater than glycogen in the liver and muscles, so endurance is improved, specially for long distance events.

So Lety and I went to our local market, Sprout, and acquired the necessary ingredients to start on the diet about 2 months ago.  Surprisingly, Walmart also has free range chicken and turkey available as well.  For me this meant instead of toast and orange juice, I started eating omelets with spinach and fruit for breakfast.  I made smoothies with coconut milk, strawberries, papaya, kiwis, bananas, and cantaloupe.  Lunch  is salad with olive oil/balsamic dressing and chicken/fish and dinner is salmon with vegetables and a salad.  I started drinking chocolate almond milk and lots of nuts like almonds and walnuts.  I try to focus on foods with Lower glycemic index which avoid big insulin spikes which foods with high glycemic index which causes them.

So what has been the effect that I have observed? For one, I was at first very tired and sleepy (no caffeine), somewhat more irritable and when I went to run, my legs were not responding.  My heart rate was super low but my legs did not want to propel me with any kind of energy.  I would say that lasted for about 2 weeks but slowly I started to get back to my normal pace and have started to improve.  The BIGGEST difference however, was the lack of muscle soreness in the morning.  In the past, when I would wake up, my muscles were sore the day after a workout.  However, on the Paleo diet you don't feel as sore and of course this is a benefit in terms of allowing consecutive days of training.  I had read about this effect and it has to do with the alkaline content of the foods that are consumed with the Paleo diet.  The lactic acid is more rapidly neutralized so the cause of muscle aches is diminished and speeds recovery.  In contrast to a regular diet which tends to be more acidic and so the lactic acid hangs around and delays recovery. I have also lost about 8-10 pounds while eating as much as I want of the allowed foods, so I have not been hungry.
As far as during training runs, I am still eating gels (Gu) and Cliff Bars/Powerbars which the Paleo Book for athletes says are essential.  Gatorade is OK as well.

If you read the books you find out cheating is OK and unavoidable, so I have gone out to eat "regular food" such as chocolate croissants and paninis for lunch on occasion.  The important thing is that at least 85% of the meals in a given week follow the diet.  Interestingly, I started to drink a Coke (I used to drink at least 3 a day) and could not finish it as I had lost the taste for it, never would have believed it!  I guess I now longer crave that high fructose corn syrup.
Anyway, I hope this creates an interest and you can research for your selves about this diet and how it could help you.  Meanwhile, I am going to get back to my usual posts about training as I prepare for Leadville 50 miler on July 15.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Altitude Training in El Paso and Cloudcroft

Well, I have 2 months until Leadville 50 mile Ultra and I am really concerned about the 10,000 feet elevation at the start and going up to 12,000 feet over 2 passes.  The elevation gain in Leadville is about 7400 feet so I really have my work cut out for me.  With this in mind,  I decided to run the Franklin Mountains on Saturday and make a day trip to Cloudcroft on Sunday.
Saturday AM headed out to the Henrich Park trail head to run the trails from that side of the mountain.  I drove via Transmountain and squirreled away some Gu's and Gatorade at the entrance on the Tom Mayes Unit of The Franklin Mountain State Park.  At 0700 AM, I was off to tin mine road towards Mundy's gap.  The road surface is really rocky and pretty technical.  I nearly fell a couple of times but made good progress up to the switchbacks which start after the tin mines.   I decided that I really needed to push it and for the first time went on the trail up to the North Franklin Peak.  Same rocks and at some points it is a technical single track.  I reached the summit and my Garmin read out 7,200 feet.
The Highest Point is North Franklin Peak

 That is the highest I can go here in El Paso and noticed a little less oxygen available up there.  The views are spectacular and its amazing how small Cristo Rey which I ran up last week with Run El Paso.  There was a couple up there and was able to capture the moment.

From there I could see the Organ Mountains next to Las Cruces and the Sacramento Mountains in Cloudcroft.  The winds were pretty strong up there as well.  

Next, I crossed over Mundy's gap over to the West Side of El Paso and down to the State Park and down to where I had my Gatorade waiting.  At this point, I had completed 12 miles in 3 hours.  I headed back towards Mundy's gap and again encountered the dreaded rock farm which I knew from the Puzzler was there.  Over Mundy's gap and back down to Tin Mine road and to Henrich Park I was able to complete a 20 mile loop in about 4:45.  The total elevation gain according to my Garmin was 4,700 feet.  From what I read the hallmark of ultra training is back to back long runs, most commonly on the weekends.  You never really have to run more than 26-28 miles on any given day.  The idea is to run the next day with tired legs, and my legs were sure tired the next morning. 

I headed out to Cloudcroft for the 120 mile drive arriving at the city center at 10:30 AM.  Having never run there before, I stopped at the High Altitude Bike Shop and picked up a map of the race course for the mountain bike race that was held a few weeks ago.  I proceeded to run the Osha Loop trail and did a total of 8 hard miles on some BEAUTIFUL single tract trails. 

View from OSHA trail with White Sands in the distance

Single tract section, Green all around!

As I went into the trail, there were several markings for different kinds of wild berries and trees.  It is really indescribable how nice it was to be able to do this run which is so close to El Paso and so different.  Amazingly, I came across a Douglas Fir Tree which was designated as the  "Largest native tree in New Mexico reaching 150 fee in height, 6 feet in diameter and 400 yards of age. 

The total run was for about 2 hours with stops for pictures and catching my breath.  The elevation at the start was 8,600 feet and climbed up to 8,800.  The total elevation gain for the run was 3,100 feet. 

I highly recommend making the trip up to Cloudcroft for some amazing trail runs.  There are many more to be explored and I hope I can come back up there soon.  For more maps and information, check out the New Mexico Rails-to-Trails Organization at http://nmrta.wordpress.com  they have a lot of maps and have organized trail building once a month.  The next event will be on May 19.