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Metabolic Efficiency and the Plant-based Endurance Athlete – Dina Griffin @ eNRG

Metabolic Efficiency and the Plant-based Endurance Athlete
Dina Griffin, MS, RD, CSSD, METS II
Sport Dietitian
Certified Level II Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist
Metabolic Efficiency and the Plant-based Endurance Athlete
Before we get into the “meat” of this article, let it be known that I am not trying to cause any controversy or debate as to whether vegetarian or vegan nutrition patterns are superior or inferior to omnivorous patterns.  There are many reasons athletes choose to follow plant-based patterns such as ethical, moral, spiritual, and/or health reasons; there are also many militant perspectives to try to persuade you one direction or another.  The purpose of this article is to highlight a few concerns for vegetarian and vegan endurance athletes from a sport dietitian perspective and to provide a short Metabolic Efficiency case study on a recent female athlete with whom I worked.
*Abbreviation you will see throughout this article:  PBEA = plant-based endurance athlete
For those who need a clarification on “vegan”vs. “vegetarian”, here is a brief description:
  • Vegan:  Avoids all animal foods, animal by-products and any food that contains any animal-derived food in it. This means no meat, poultry, dairy, fish, or eggs in any form or contained in any other food (such as baked goods). True vegan followers avoid honey, animal broths, and gelatin.
  • Vegetarian:  There are different “levels”such as those who permit eggs, dairy, or fish. All other animal foods are avoided.
Next, let us highlight some issues and concerns in the context of plant-based nutrition patterns.
Protein
While true there are ample plant-based sources of protein, I can report that many of the PBEAs with whom I have worked truly have inadequate protein intakes.  Following nutrition periodization principles, there are certain times of the training year (and within certain types of training blocks) where protein needs are increased based on the volume and intensity of training. This is a common area where I see PBEAs struggle or are simply unaware of their body’s needs.  This particularly holds true for athletes who are restricting their dietary intake to pursue weight loss. Protein intakes can range from 1.2-2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight (or 0.55-1.1 grams per pound of body weight) depending on health and training. This can be difficult to achieve for some PBEAs, especially if they have several food “dislikes”and are not a fan of cooking.
Tips:
  • Know your protein sources.  For vegan followers, these include the general categories of legumes (beans, peanuts, lentils, peas, etc.; try sprouting to improve the nutrient profile and digestibility), nuts/seeds, nut/seed butters, soy foods, whole grains, seitan, spirulina, sprouts and protein powders. Yes, there is protein in vegetables (such as leafy greens), but you must eat A LOT of vegetables. Vegetarians have more flexibility in protein sources if including eggs and dairy.
  • Vary your protein sources.  This may seem like an obvious one, but I see countless PBEAs who eat the same thing every day with little variety.  Know that not all proteins are the same, meaning the amino acid content can be quite variable. There are “indispensable”amino acids which must come from dietary sources since the body cannot make them. Supplementation of amino acids may be necessary, especially for ultra PBEAs or those in strength-building training blocks.
  • Keep it clean. It’s interesting how many PBEAs eat processed and refined foods for their protein sources, yet these items can be loaded with fillers and synthetic ingredients. Do the body better by keeping your protein sources as simple as possible.
Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
 
If you are a PBEA who is an ultra runner, long course triathlete, or a female, micronutrient deficiencies are more common than you realize.
Tips:
  • Work with a board certified sport dietitian who can assess your nutrition intake and physical training patterns. Food choices can be optimized to enhance the micronutrient quality. Appropriate supplementation can be recommended as it fits your own specific needs.
  • Get regular blood work. The blood work you get with your typical annual physical is rarely adequate for PBEAs. Seek guidance from a board certified sport dietitian so that appropriate labs can be ordered.
  • Variety in food intake will help.  If you refuse to follow the above tips, then I strongly recommend you get into the habit of eating a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
A Metabolic Efficiency Case Study:  The Female Vegetarian Endurance Athlete
 
Many PBEAs assume that to improve metabolic efficiency (how your body uses fat and carbohydrate as an energy source at rest and during exercise), you have to convert to omnivore patterns and eat gobs of steak. While omnivores have more flexibility in food choices to facilitate metabolic efficiency, it is not necessary to begin eating animal proteins to make an impact on how your body uses its fuel sources. The underlying “trick”is to learn how to put together foods to stabilize blood sugar levels throughout daily eating.
Meet “Dee”, a female marathoner in her 50s who is a lacto-ovo vegetarian (no soy). Her goals were to find out her metabolic efficiency (M.E.) level and to lose weight.  Her daily nutrition resembled this prior to beginning the M.E. journey:
  • breakfast: coffee, bagel, cream cheese prior to run OR 2 eggs with wheat toast if no run
  • post-run: baked good from coffee shop
  • lunch: veggie dog on wheat bun with ketchup, mustard
  • snack: nonfat greek yogurt
  • dinner: “fake” meat with spaghetti or risotto or pizza
This is her M.E. test data before making any nutrition changes:
As you can see in the graph, Dee was unable to utilize fat as a predominant energy source in her running paces.  After the testing, we reviewed her food preferences and devised strategies for her to begin changing her food combinations to promote M.E.  Her new nutrition day resembled more of this:
  • breakfast:  oats/quinoa with walnuts + 1 egg before run OR eggs, veggies, cheese if no run
  • snack: full-fat greek yogurt with berries
  • lunch: wheat tortilla with beans, seitan, veggies, avocado or cheese
  • snack: almonds
  • dinner: roasted veggies or salad with a whole grain and protein source such as BeyondMeat or legumes
A blood workup found that Dee was headed towards iron deficiency anemia. She also had low levels of vitamin B12, zinc, and vitamin D. This explained some of the fatigue and sluggishness she had felt during her recent training runs. Dietary suggestions were made in addition to providing her supplementation recommendations.
Dee continued with her running program, which involved 4-5 days of training per week. When she returned to the eNRG performance facility for her second M.E. test 4 months later, she had lost 9 pounds. She reported feeling stronger for her runs and having good energy throughout her days.  Here are the results of her second M.E. test:
Through her training and her dietary changes, her Metabolic Efficiency Point moved to within her targeted marathon goal pace. She ended up with a new PR and reports feeling in great health with the M.E. lifestyle.
In summary, if you are a PBEA, I recommend working with a sport dietitian who can assess your needs (in conjunction with your goals) and guide you towards optimal health within your food preference parameters. Improvements in Metabolic Efficiency can align with your health and performance goals with further dietary and training fine-tuning.  To all of the PBEAs out there, give it a try!
-Dina
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Looking Back at My Weight Loss Journey

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It’s hard for me to look at those pictures of me when I was for lack of better words “Fat”.  I had grown to accept that I was going to be fat for the rest of my life.  I had given up on myself.  It’s been a year since I started this blog and I started with me basically coming clean with where I started and what got me going.  It’s been 5 years since I started my weight loss journey.  When I wrote that first blog entry found here I didn’t know if I would be writing it still or that I would become a 70.3 Ironman.  I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to keep the weight off.  It’s been a true lifestyle change and that part I do know.  So how did I do it?  Did I go on some special diet?  Did I go on some brand new exercise diet that the experts hailed as the next best this?

How I did it?
Diet and exercise right, isn’t that what everyone says?  First thing I did was quit drinking.  This was a crutch that I was using to make me feel better about myself.  Then I started eating more cleanly.  While I quit drinking cold turkey I didn’t quit eating crap cold turkey.  It took about 2 months to get completely clean of all the crap.  Now I still have my day a month now where I’ll have a whole medium sized bag of Peanut Butter M&M’s.  I have also noticed that I really have no desire to drink booze.  I can have a beer or glass of whine, and even a cocktail without feeling the “Need” to drink to get drunk.  I also started going to the gym and doing more strength training with very little cardio except for that 20 minutes of walking on the treadmill that progressed into jogging.  The single most important thing though is the mindset of needing to do whatever it takes.  I needed to do whatever it takes to get to where I need to be.

Did I go on some special diet?
Yes, it’s called eating!  The one thing I heard and still hear is people saying don’t eat more than this many calories and it was typically under 1800 calories.   This is disastrous to your metabolism and only makes weight loss harder.  I started eating lots of fruits as snacks and found that I eat all day long.  I also can go out and have just 1 glass of wine or a cocktail and not want to keep drinking till I blackout.  Eating is fueling your body for whatever function you need it to do.  It’s not some glorious experience that’s going to change your life forever so stop treating it like one.  Eat to perform and be your best.

Did I go on some new fad exercise program?
No, I did it through strength training and aerobic cardiovascular exercise.  I’d wake up and go to the gym in the morning… every morning.  The goal was to go before work so that I can’t use the excuse of too tired.  Then I noticed I had a lot more confidence through the day and less stress.  I also ran in the evenings a few times a week.

The one thing that I can say that makes some people successful at weight loss and keeping it off has been keeping the mindset that I will do whatever it takes for me to reach my goals.  So many people think it’s going to be easy and they don’t realize that you’re going to have to make some life choices.  We’ve spent years gaining weight and living an unhealthy lifestyle.  To think that it’s going to be easy to change that is just naïve and ignorant.   Some people chose to to compete in a body building or physique competition to show off their new found fitness.  I went the endurance athlete path and I can honestly say that I’ve found out more about me than I even thought I would.  Set your goals and achieve them.  Don’t expect it to be easy and prepare to suffer at times.   It’s that suffering and struggle that builds the pride within yourself.

Rock N Roll Arizona 13.1–Race Report & A New PR!

rnraztimeWell a new year and a new PR out and the Rock N Roll Arizona Half Marathon.  Here is my race report.

The week leading up to the race I was dealing with a cold that turned into bronchitis that ended my taper by Tuesday and sidelined me till race day.  I drove out to Tempe from San Diego the day before the race.  I know it’s a no-no but as I do more and more half marathons I’ve realized that I don’t take them as seriously as I take my triathlon races.  The expo was just as crazy as every other Rock N Roll branded race which seems to become a staple of it.  Which is good, I like seeing the growth of running and people becoming more active.  Although that is not without it’s downfall of having too many people on the course.  After I was checked in at the hotel and stretch the legs a bit, I was able to hang out with my old buddy John Saturday night so it was a good distraction from never running this race before.  I got a decent night sleep with all the coughing and woke up at a decent hour as well.  I probably should have studied the race course but I figured it’s only a half marathon and I’ve done several of them prior. I looked at the course enough to know that aid stations will be 2-3 miles apart and there would be at least 1 GU station most likely out of GU, so I brought my own.

Race Day.
I took a shower like I normally do and just felt calm for the race and didn’t even really think about how cold it might be.  Got a banana and some yogurt from the breakfast downstairs, which I probably should have ate more.  It was a good mile walk to the start line and I wanted to get out early in case there was a huge crowd that might cause me to be late.  Got there with hardly anyone around (If it wasn’t for the visible start sign I almost thought I was lost) and I was able to catch up with an old high school buddy Damien (It’s always nice to see friends when you travel for races).  I was in corral 11 since I seeded myself at a 2:20:00 start time and as the time ticked downward more and more people showed up to where it was insanely packed.  Thankfully I was at the beginning of my wave and wouldn’t have to fight through the crowds out of the gate.  The gun goes off and I started way too fast and slowed down a bit to settle into a comfortable 9 min/mile pace.  Things were going well and I was feeling great minus my feet being cold and feeling like pegs.  But low and behold around mile 2 I caught up to the mass of walkers who seeded themselves too fast.  As I expended more energy than I wanted to so that I can go around them or tell them I’m on their left or right I got really frustrated at these people.  If you’re going to walk, move to the sides don’t walk down the middle of the lane.  I can respect you’re out there walking for a cause but you need to be respectful of other people as well.  Anyways as the miles ticked off away with ease I noticed something I’m at mile 7 and things seemed to be going really well.  I also wasn’t battling my usual “This Blows” mindset.  Even though I had some pains on my heels from what turned out to be my Achilles being chafed to hell from my shoes.  By mile 10 it hurt to even slow down for my 1 minute walk.  Between the constant uphill between what seemed to be mile 7-9 and being stuck with walkers that I had to weave in and out of I was getting spent.  Thankfully the rest had to be downhill or at least level right?  Thankfully it was and then I actually looked at my time on my Garmin and knew I was going to beat my Las Vegas time when I saw mile 11.  I was jazzed, I didn’t really feel the need to push it anymore since it was already hard to breathe and my Achilles were bleeding all over my shoes.  I finally crossed the finished line.  2:14:21 is what was on my Garmin and I’ll take that.  I even got another medal for doing Las Vegas and Arizona back to back.  Yeah I’m an over achiever.

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Post Race.
I had to walk back to the hotel which was just insane and every step hurt worse than the next.  But I had to shower and get on the road back to San Diego.   Surprisingly enough all I wanted to do was swim in the pool for a while.  I will say that the drive from Tempe to San Diego is boring.  I think my brain clocked out during the drive since I can’t remember portions of it.   Looking back I think had it not been for all the people and the chafing I could have broke that 2 hour mark.  I think I will have to work even harder now so that I can break that time come Oceanside 70.3.  If I can do that and keep my bike to a 3 hour that should put me at a sub 5:30:00 finish!

1 Week From Rock N Roll Arizona

I’ve been going hard since December with a moderate break for the holidays.  I was feeling ready for the Rock N Roll Arizona Half Marathon coming up on January 19th.  Then on Saturday disaster struck with a cold.  To much of my disproval I took Saturday and Sunday off from any training and instead took a trip to the local CVS and stocked up on supplies.
Monday morning I woke up and could still feel the linger cold stuff but Operation Kill Cold is still in effect.  The ammo currently being used is: Sudafed, Mucinex Spray and Tablets, Dayquil, Tunnusin DM, Airborn, and Zicam.  With morning and nighttime neti pot treatments.  So far it appears I’m winning the war, but not without some cost…  Training Time.

With 1 week till race day in a state I rarely visit but will be doing my first full Ironman in thank god it’s only a half marathon.  Thankfully my taper week is on, but I really wanted to get out and do a full 13 miles before hand and keep my training on pace for my half Ironman.  Over the weekend mileage wise I was supposed to get in roughly 16 miles and I got 0 in.   It’s like everyone says the hard part is not training and letting your body rest.  Well this morning on Monday I decided I was going to go to the gym and keep it a very low intensity workout which I did.  I did 2 miles at maybe 50% capacity and then finished it up with a 1 mile run.  I still kept up with the drugs and sat in the sauna for about 20 minutes to sweat things out and keep the airways clear.  Which means I have to be even more strict on the diet as this last 5-6% Body Fat is proving to be next to impossible to get off as well.  I’m finding that dropping weight these days is almost next to impossible which means my body is at it’s walking weight which is good.  Now I just have to improve on it even more.

Diet Over The Holiday’s and Looking Ahead to 2014

We all know it’s coming, the holiday cookies, candy, and drinks, but the hardest part is controlling yourself.  You’ve worked so hard through the year to lose weight and keep it off and you don’t want to put it back on.  I can’t say I followed mine to a “T” this year around I did cut back on the usual items and played everything in moderation.  I was 2 weeks into my Half Ironman training but still wanted to enjoy the holidays as well.  My nutritionist won’t be too happy about it but the serious training starts now and I am thankful that I had a solid base level of fitness to improve upon.  So while I kept to my main diet plan I didn’t have seconds of anything on the menu’s and I kept my portions small.  I paid close attention to my macros as well.   Overall I’m sure I put on a few pounds but nothing that won’t shed off come next week.  It was a bit strange to watch everyone going back for more and I wasn’t but that’s just part of how it all goes.   For the most part though everyone was pretty accepting of the fact and yeah some people looked at me like I was nuts.  Well I am nuts, I signed up for an Ironman!

Looking forward to 2014!
Aside from races I have a lot to look forward to and I have a lot of goals lined up personally outside of racing.  So here are a list of my resolutions.

Non racing items.
1. Cut down to 10% body fat.
2. Find more time to date.
3. Complete 1 college course at Mesa College
4. Learn more things to do around San Diego that doesn’t require drinking
5. Listen to more audio books about non-fictional subjects.

Race wise there are a lot more items.
1. Goal time for my Half Ironman under 6 hours.
2. Top 3 finish in my Clydesdale races.
3. Qualify for USAT Nationals in my 35-39 Age Group.
4. Ride a Century before June.
5. Run a 13.1 in 2 hours.

Lofty goals but I feel that they can be achieved.   Here’s to an even better year in 2014.

2013 A Life Changing Year–Happy Holiday’s (Late)

WP_20131225_15_57_12_ProWell it’s been a life changing year for me and a lot of changes both physically and mentally.  I know I’m a couple days late on getting this out but better late than never.  I’m down almost 70lbs from the same time last year and I’ve actually achieved my goal weight that I set out to when I first started back in 2009.  I’m back down to my 36 inch weight but it doesn’t stop there.  This year I set out with no real direction in terms of my fitness and as the year progressed I embraced my passion for competition, specifically triathlon.  In doing so I am in without question in the best shape of my life.  I am achieving what I thought was once impossible..  Next year holds more challenges that normal people do and call me crazy for even trying, but that’s part of living life.  When I first started back in 2009 and I looked into gastric bypass it was the easy way out and I didn’t really think anything of changing my lifestyle, and I still would not be where I am at today.  In all honesty I probably would have been thinner sure, but I would not have made the strides that I have and I certainly would not have inspired the amount of people that I have.  I take great pride in watching others achieve their goals and their dreams.  I love hearing from people that I have inspired them, albeit it’s still new to me and I am still accepting the fact that I have inspired them.  None the less helping people accomplish what they thought was impossible is such a rewarding experience.

Physical Changes this year alone have not been too much.  I started the year in 40/38” pants and currently in a 38/36”.  My shirt size was 3/2 XL and now I’m pushing a L.  I’ve had several people tell me that I don’t look 37 at all and that I look years younger.  The extra skin has been a struggle but I have to constantly tell myself that my body will do what it needs to and that I’m not going to resort to seeing a doctor about having it removed.  I started this journey out without help from the medical field and I’m going to stick to it.  I could barely run a half marathon in 3 hours without cramping.  In June I was able to run a half marathon in 2 hours and 28 minutes.  By the end of the year I was able to run a half marathon in 2 hours and 24 minutes without really training for it.  I love it.

Mental changes on the other hand have been very hard and have been the most profound.  So what’s been so hard mentally about all the changes?  When you view yourself as fat for so long and you view yourself every day you don’t feel thin.  So it really impacts your confidence.  I’ve got a lot of my confidence back and it’s getting easier to view myself as athletic.  I’m still learning to deal with all the positive change that I’ve had on people.  From being so down on myself about so many things it’s been a challenge to believe in myself that I’ve inspired people to go out and change their lives for the positive.  You always here that the body follows the mind but in my case with the weight loss my mind has followed the body.

So with the new year about to begin I can’t wait for what changes this year will bring in.  When I write this next year I should be an Ironman.

San Diego Triathlon Challenge–The Best Day in Triathlon

Donate here to help me raise money for the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation San Diego Triathlon Challenge!  The Best Day in Triathlon!

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It was the day of the Mission Bay Triathlon and my relay mate Jeff had told me about this race.   At the time I had no clue what this was about I thought it was but it sounded challenging.  So as he spoke more about it and mentioned the Challenged Athlete Foundation is the one that puts it on and that it goes to support challenged athletes to assist them in accomplishing their dreams.  As this race moved closer to race day I hear more and more people talking about it and I wanted to get involved.   I checked on their website and it was on the same day as my Oceanside Life Time Tri race that I had committed to.  I told myself that in 2014 I will be doing this race.  I wanted to race for a cause and I always found challenged athletes inspirational.

About the San Diego Triathlon Challenge
What began 20 years ago as a fundraiser to help one athlete, Jim MacLaren, to regain his independence after a tragic second accident has grown to become one of the most highly-regarded and motivational events in the triathlon world. Since that first event 20 years ago, the Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge has been instrumental in raising the funds that have allowed more than 8,200 challenged athletes around the world to make it to the starting line and inspired a new generation to realize they have no limits.

“The San Diego Triathlon Challenge is the greatest day in our sport. To be a part of what this amazing Foundation does and how they change lives for people was so motivating, it gave me a purpose. I was inspired, and wanted to do more.” — Chris “Macca” McCormack

So as 2014 progresses and I become more and more active in my racing and triathlon I’ve found it important to race to support a cause and the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation falls right in line with what I believe.  So help me support CAF and making other athlete’s dreams possible.   You can click on the picture to donate for a good cause or the line under the title.  I’m starting small with just a $600.00 goal but the more the merrier!