Healthy November Challenge

img_6899-editI announced on Facebook last week that I am making this month “Healthy November.” I set myself some rules, and am posting my progress, struggles and tips. If this sounds intriguing to you, come join along!

November is the beginning of holiday parties, comfort food, and hibernation. Some of this is thanks to daylight savings, post-marathon recovery (for runners), sweater season, and often holiday parties and the feasting that seems to never stop once we hit Thanksgiving. Statistically, Americans pack on those most pounds between Halloween and NYE. I decided that instead of embracing those desires to stay inside and eat cozy food, I would make the month of November the opportunity to reboot my relationship with food and hopefully hit December with a bit more self-control and in better shape than most years.

Therefore, I have given myself some nutritional rules and guidelines for November. I am giving myself a few “cheat days” – Thanksgiving Day and the weekend of the Philly Marathon. I figure it would be too cruel to give up Thanksgiving, and I need to be properly fueled for my 26.2 mile journey on November 23rd.

My rules: Nothing out of a box. No artificial sugar – the exception being GU for mid-run fueling. No grains, bread, pasta, pasta, pancakes, or rice – the exception being oatmeal. No chocolate, ice cream or beer. No juice – unless it’s V8. I CAN eat – all the fruits and veggies I want, dairy (but no ice cream!), beans, meat, nuts, wine, hard liquor, coffee – and that’s it.

So far (it’s been less than a week!), I am doing great. I miss my many carbs, and have to plan meals and shopping. Eating out is a challenge, but not impossible. I am finding it hard to get in all my calories, so weight loss may be super easy. I try to get some protein in every meal. Greek yogurt has become an even more important ingredient in my daily diet. Avocados, olive oil and peanut butter have been my source of fat. I find myself sometimes itching for a sweet snack, but otherwise my cravings have been few and far between.

I encourage you to make your own “rules,” and follow them. Find modifications for the month that can work for you. Then stick to it. Write them down so that they are clear. Take it a day at a time. It can be overwhelming to think about an entire month without a bagel.

A few tips: when shopping, stock up on lots of fruits and veggies. Avoid most aisles in the grocery store. At home, prepare a few homemade soups and keep healthy snacks handy. Budget a little extra time to wash and slice fresh food, and to cook. Find foods you really like that fit into your rules and eat them often. This isn’t a diet, so much as a temporary “reboot month” – so you aren’t giving up anything forever!

My goal is to get to December feeling good. I hope to feel a bit more energized, strong and perhaps without the few extra pounds I seem to find between Thanksgiving and New Years. I am sure I will still bake lots of goodies in December (I always do!), but I am hoping I won’t be tempted to graze on them the way I have in the past. I want these cold and nasty months to be the opportunity to continue improving health and fitness – not to take steps backwards. With any luck, I’ll get to 2015 in better shape than I currently am (weight training – let’s do this!), and faster than I currently am (goodbye Ultras, hello 5Ks and Half Marathons!), and nutrition is a huge part of those training goals.

Feel intrigued and want to join along? Come join me and let’s do this! You have everything to gain and nothing to lose!

Marathon Preparation – what to do now

img_7073Marathon season is in full swing. Whether you are preparing for your first marathon, your one-hundredth marathon, or a goal personal best, there are a few things you should start to practice and plan NOW so that race day goes smoothly!

  • Finalize accommodations. Race weekend can become stressful. You will naturally be a bit anxious or excited. Having your plans for the weekend – including where you are going to eat, stay and how you will get to/from the race ironed out now will equal minimal chance for added stress on race weekend.
  • Practice in what you’ll wear. Everything from your shoes to your hat – wear your “race outfit” for a few long runs. This will minimize the risk of blisters, chafing, overheating, or simply annoying or uncomfortable race-day issues. If you plan to buy new shoes for your marathon, buy them and break them in on a few long runs in the weeks leading up to the big day.
  • Practice how you will fuel on race day. Everything from what you’ll eat the night before and morning of to how often you will refuel with water or GU on the course. Leaving nutrition to chance is a good way to guarantee you’ll take a tour of the porta-potties mid-race.
  • Start looking at your race course and elevation. Make note of landmarks, turns, water stations, and other useful points on the course. You don’t want to feel “lost” on race day. Know the course, and you’ll be prepared for success.
  • Set a few race-day goals. It’s impossible to predict what will happen with 26.2 miles of running, and setting one ambitious best-case scenario goal may set you up for a whole lot of heart ache. A few goals means you may have fall-back goals you can still achieve if the star’s don’t align.
  • Look at your training paces and come to terms with your strengths and weaknesses. Runners who know themselves often have a better chance of handling the tough moments and getting back on track. Revisiting your training should also give you some confidence. The proof is in the numbers, and so try not to doubt your training while you taper.
  • If you are going to have friends/family cheering on the race course, discuss ahead of time exactly where they will be. It takes a lot of energy to search a crowded block while trying to stick to your paces. Knowing they will be on the northwest corner of Chestnut Street, wearing blue and holding a sign is a million times easier than looking for someone “at the intersection of Chestnut Street.”
  • Make clear and definitive plans for what to do and how to get home, to the hotel, or to find family post-race. Be realistic and give yourself extra time. Marathoners move notoriously slow post-race.

No matter how your race weekend goes, try to have some fun and relax. There is always something positive to take away and learn from every race. If things don’t go your way, at least you know you were prepared. That should narrow the possibilities for making the same mistake twice – and hopefully you’ll have a kick ass race and will cross the finish line with a smile from ear to ear, feeling awesome.

Endurance Nutrition

Post-run pancakes, pumpkin butter, maple syrup, and beer.

Post-run pancakes, pumpkin butter, maple syrup, and beer.

During marathon season, many questions come up regarding nutrition. Today I’d like to go over some nutrition tips for marathon season, including basic nutrition, mid-run fueling, and pre-run/post-run nutrition.

It’s no secret that running a marathon is a pretty easy way to lose weight. You simply are burning thousands more calories than the person sitting on the couch. I am frequently asked about how to diet while marathon training. For most runners, this is not a smart idea. Your body and brain are put through a lot of stress during marathon training months, and depriving yourself serious calories can leave you feeling tired. You can also accidentally cut nutrition you need, leaving your body weak and unable to improve for your task at hand – 26.2 miles. Therefore, I suggest eating a sensible and well-balanced diet while training, and any extra body fat will probably disappear due to training, as long as you aren’t suddenly overeating. Instead of going on a diet, think of your body as your machine and yourself as an athlete – because you are. It doesn’t matter how fast you are going to run on race day, you are preparing your body for a marathon. Eat nutrient-dense foods. Foods that give you the fuel and nutrients you need to feel good, energized, and fueled for training. Fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, complex carbs and lots of water should make up most of your diet. Focus on eating well and don’t make anything off-limits.

For your long runs and race day, nutrition can be what makes or breaks your morning. Mid-run fueling can be tricky, as everyone has different sweat-rates, and everyone’s stomach and nutrition needs are different. Personally, if I am running a 3:00-3:30 marathon, I’ll consume 1 GU every 30-40 minutes (usually 4 GU per marathon), and I grab a cup of water every 20 minutes and take a few sips. For me, this is usually enough to get me through a marathon without feeling too zapped, but also not water-logged or sick. If conditions aren’t ideal, I may take more nutrition. I’ve sometimes used GU with caffeine and other times without. Whatever I end up training with most is what I go with on race day. That’s one example. The longer your out there for your race, the more fuel you’ll need. Other runners prefer Gatorade or Blocks over Gu-like products. On your training run, try to practice what you’ll do on race day. Nutrition is recommended for runs lasting about 90 minutes or more. Any runs of less time shouldn’t require mid-race fueling as long as you are hydrated pre-run and refuel after your workout is complete.

  • A word about mid-run nutrition – yes, there are calories in nutrition – about 100 calories per serving. These calories are very much-needed on your long runs, so DO NOT skip them because you are watching your figure. However, if you are using GU for every run you do, even easy 3-5 milers, you may end up gaining weight. Those supplements simply aren’t necessary for short runs and are therefore empty calories.

What you eat before your long run can lend itself to a successful run – or can make you suffer. Just as you should think about your general nutrition fueling your body as an athlete, you need to be aware of what you are consuming pre-long run. You don’t need to go crazy with the carbs (your body can only store so much glycogen, and the rest will simply be wasted), but you DO want to make sure you eat simple carbs. The night before a long run, I may eat pasta, pizza, rice, or potatoes. The morning of my run, I eat a bagel or toast with a little peanut butter, a banana with oatmeal, or pancakes. Just give yourself a few hours between your meal and your run. How much time you’ll need is going to vary per person. It is also very important to be consuming water the day before and the day of your long run. Just as it takes a little time to digest and process carbs into glycogen, it takes our bodies some time to hydrate. Chugging a liter right before your run will not help you.

Post-run, it’s important to get nutrition into your system as quickly as possible. Your body, depleted of nutrition, will go into recovery-mode soon after you finish your run. Therefore, consuming something with carbs and protein and some sugar is great. You will also need to drink some water and perhaps a bottle of Gatorade. Personally, I love a tall glass of chocolate milk, a bottle of Gatorade, and a big glass of water as soon as I’m finished my long run. After that, I’ll eat a meal. Unlike some runners, my stomach is rarely a mess post-run and I always have an appetite. I’ll eat anything from a burger with fries and a beer to a big salad topped with some form of protein. Other times I’ll opt for a big plate of pancakes or a bagel with cream cheese and lox. I go with what I’m craving. If your stomach is sensitive and you don’t have an appetite, at least get water and something like chocolate milk into your system. That’s far better than nothing. Remember, in order for your legs to recover as quickly as possible, you need nutrients to do so.

Again, this is just a starting point. I could dive into the different components of endurance nutrition in a far more detailed and nerdy way, but at least you hopefully have some sort of understanding of why certain choices should and shouldn’t be made. Remember that what works for one runner may not work for the next, and so you should always use your long runs as your “dress rehearsals” for race day. Good luck, and happy running!

 

Supplementation Slap-Down

0120bwebRecently the topic of supplementation came up on a running forum, and it sparked the desire to discuss the topic here on Coach Corky Runs. Supplementation refers to vitamins and minerals, and meal replacements  – like protein shakes. These fitness tools have been popular in the health and fitness world, from body builders to people with iron or calcium deficiency.

While some people may benefit from supplementation, be it for athletic performance or daily health, its important to talk to a doctor and/or nutritionist before buying everything on the shelf at GNC.

A few things to consider if you are interested in supplementation: If you eat a balanced diet, you most-likely won’t need any supplements. The exception, of course, is if tests show you are deficient in specific nutrient.

If you are new to a fitness routine, supplementation is not a magic way to become fitter, faster or stronger. Yes, protein supplements can help folks looking to gain weight, but that’s because protein post-workout is a necessary part of the weight-training and muscle building process. Eating chicken, greek yogurt, eggs – anything high in protein will do the job. If supplementation makes getting your protein in post-workout easier than reaching for real food, it is certainly far better than nothing at all. However, look at the ingredients on the package and take note of how many ingredients you don’t know about – let alone can pronounce.

Supplementation without the guidance of a doctor or nutrition expert can be dangerous. Our bodies are all different, and we all need different things. If you don’t know exactly how much of one mineral, for example, you need, you could easily overdose and hurt your body. While many people are anemic, overdosing in iron can be dangerous. Making assumptions without medical reason can get you in trouble.

There are many theories floating around out there that certain supplements can help you train harder, run faster, lift heavier, etc. But these are only theories, have spun into a pretty web by companies looking to promote their supplementation or folks on tv looking to share a miracle vitamin, mineral, or food.

In short, remember to do your research – medical journals, not what’s floating around on Buzzfeed. And talk to a doctor. After all, unless you specialize in this field, you could be playing Russian Roulette with your health and athletic performance.

Staying Motivated

img_8482aweb-320x444Its the time of year where many people find themselves in a rut. Perhaps Winter has been grinding on you with arctic blasts, or you’ve lost the momentum you charged into 2014 with back on New Years Eve. Fear not, I have a few suggestions and tips that can get you out of your rut and having fun!

Consider signing up last-minute for a local race. Hopping into an event with no expectations but to have fun and see what happens mixes up our routines. You may surprise yourself with your fitness level, and cross the line with a PR! You may also find the company of a couple hundred fellow runners reignites your reasons for running. With weather being unpredictable, signing up last-minute also means you can pick and choose your race with the forecast in mind. If nothing else, a short race is a great speed workout.

Perhaps you don’t want to participate in an event as an athlete but still want to be involved. Volunteering always feels good, and you’ll be greeted and thanked by the warriors on the course. As a volunteer, you’ll see every runner go by – from the speedy leaders to the back of the packers and everyone in between. If seeing folks of all shapes and sizes out there pushing themselves to the best of their abilities doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will.

I love grocery shopping. I find that if my nutrition habits start slipping, heading to the store and stocking up on healthy options makes me excited to cook and eat yummy things! Looking for new recipes and trying them out is always fun.

Arrange a social event with athletic and fit friends. The social event doesn’t have to be athletic at all. Being around positive, supportive and active people can motivate you to get back to your routine. If fitness and/or training comes up in conversation, reach out and ask for support. Having a running buddy or fellow gym-goer makes the commitment one thousand times easier! I promise that your friends have all gone through training ruts at some point themselves. They won’t view you as weak, but simply as human.

If you have a goal race or fitness goal on your calendar but feel unmotivated to train, force yourself to figure out why. Denial is common, but doesn’t fix anything. Get real. Perhaps this isn’t the time to be committing to a race and you should bag the idea until a later date. Perhaps your diet goals were simply too ambitious but can be tweaked to guarantee success in the big picture. Maybe you need to reconfigure your schedule to make time for training. Sometimes watching a running movie or going to a race website is enough to get your training mojo back. Whatever you do, take an active approach to figuring out why you are in a slump.

We all fall off the wagon now and then. As long as we get back up, we are back in the game.

Do Dairy

These days, many foods are getting a bad wrap. Sadly, some of these foods are being slammed based on on “scientific study,” so on and so forth. It’s tempting to jump on a bandwagon, but also silly. Thanks to the internet, lots of information is available out there – both good and bad.

Today I would like to defend one food category that is often judged: dairy. Some studies will tell you that dairy is bad for you. Or will make you fat. Or cause cancer. Yada, yada, yada.

Dairy is also high in vitamin D, calcium, protein and sometimes fat. Fat isn’t all bad. Remember, fat is a necessary part of your dietary needs. If you are running and/or working out, dairy is an important (and delicious!) part of your daily diet.

So, before you jump on a nutrition bandwagon, do your research, One “study” is not enough. You wouldn’t base many important decisions on one study, would you? I’d say your diet, what you put into your body, is a pretty big decision. Do your homework.

Caloric Cocktails and Naughty Noshes

In honor of summer, and the many garden parties, social events, happy hours, vacations, and other celebratory events on your calendar, I have decided to write a blog in honor of the lovely cocktails and noshes that we will all be consuming.

Many people sabotage their diet plans and weight-loss goals without knowing they are doing it. Social gatherings alway involve food and drink, and can cause a person to feel in a bit of a trap: how to partake in social events without completely sabotaging a weight-loss goal?!?

Fear not, I have a few tips to help.

Avoid fried foods. Yes, they are delicious, and very popular at social events. They also pack an extremely high caloric-punch. Stick to non-fried alternatives and you can eat more while consuming fewer calories.

Beware of cheese. This one makes me want to cry, since cheese is one of my top five foods. If you aren’t looking to lose weight, I say go ahead and have your cheese. If you are looking to drop some weight, avoid cheese. You don’t know how much cheese went into that yummy, melted dish, and knowledge is power. If there are cheese slices out, you can eyeball what an ounce is, and indulge a *little.*

Avoid “salads.” chicken salad. Potato salad. Lobster salad, yada, yada, yada. Why? These summer staples are often loaded with mayonaise and/or sour cream, which are extremely high in calories and fat. If you choose to have some salads, be honest with how much you are eating. One cup of chicken salad can easily pack 400-500 calories. One cup. Yeah.

Avoid sugary cocktails. I love a good pina colada as much as the next gal. Margaritas are delicious. Mojitos? Divine. If you are watching your figure, don’t have any of them. One margarita can pack 400-600 calories. One cocktail. Do you know how many vodka cranberries or glasses of wine you could consume for those same calories? Try 2-3. look, if you want to have one sugary cocktail it won’t completely ruin your diet goals, but combine that margarita with fried mozzarella sticks and a cup or two of chicken or potato salad, and you start to see the whole picture.

What should you indulge in while at your dozens of summer social events? My advice: for beverages, stick to wine, beer (careful, a 6 pack of beer is over 1000 calories!!!!), martinis, rum and diet coke, vodka cranberries – cocktails that contain 150-250 calories per drink. That way, you can still partake in the party, but at a fraction of the calories you’d consume if you have the same amount of margaritas.

For food, stick to what’s raw. Veggies and hummus. Fruit salads. Cheese slices (remember, you can keep an honest eye as to how much cheese you are nibbling), tossed salads, grilled chicken.

251443_660133989274_8009646_nI know it’s hard to “behave” while most friends will be loading up their plates without a care in the world, but remember the big picture. You have some sort of fitness goal, which is way more important than that damn tray of mozzarella sticks, right? Think of that number on the scale, that target dress size, that string bikini, that goal race – whatever your goal may be.

I’ll raise a martini glass to you, being fit and fabulous!

Veggie and Fruit Monster

img_6337-editMost people are unsuccessful at weight-loss for different reasons, though a common trend is diet. Often people think they must starve themselves or give up everything yummy, and end up bingeing after a given time of sacrifice.

Tired of that cycle? I don’t blame you, it’s a bad cycle and one I fought for a long time. What worked for me, and what I recommend to those looking to lose a few pounds is not focus on what you “can’t” have, but to instead focus on what you should be eating. Nobody likes to be told what they cannot do, and the same is true when it comes to our food choices. Therefore, if you focus on what you should be adding to your diet, you aren’t actually depriving yourself of anything.

I am a firm believer in the consumption of fruits and veggies. In fact, personally, I try to eat at least ten servings per day. If you focus on getting those nutrient-packed fruits and veggies into your meals everyday, you’ll be surprised how little you will be craving all of the other stuff and how full you will feel. Combine all of those yummy fruits and veggies with the amount of protein and complex carbs you’ll need for fueling and refueling for your workouts, and you won’t have room for much else.

Find fruits and veggies you like. Pack fresh veggies in a bag to take to work as a healthy snack at your desk, or pack a couple pieces of fruit. Saute veggies if you want a hot meal, and mix it up. Eating salads everyday can get boring, and all of the added “goodies” on a salad can add a lot of fat and calories without realizing it. Salads don’t always equal “healthy.” Sweet potatoes are an awesome complex carb, full of all kinds of nutrients.

Adding fruits and veggies to your diet, regardless of goals, will make you feel better and energized. Whether you are completely happy with your physique and athletic performance, or looking to improve, fruits and veggies can be your secret weapon. Bonus: they will also keep your immune system strong.

Weight Loss Rut

Liz Corkum 516We’ve all been there. You’ve gained 10 lbs., or 40 lbs, or whatever – and you freak out and look for the “easy” way to shed those extra pounds. You look into quick solutions, which include diet pills, cleanses, delivery food plans, fad diets, etc. You are miserable on said “easy” diet plan, and within a few weeks gain any weight you lost on your “quick fix” back, and are exactly where you started – only even more frustrated.

Let’s stop that cycle, for once and for all. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, there is no quick fix, and fad diets should be avoided at all cost. Personally, I probably tried a dozen of them (maybe 2 dozen!), and I know first-hand how that cycle can continue.

if you take anything away from this blog, consider this: You need to be honest with yourself about how many calories you need to consume in a day to maintain your current weight, and what would be a healthy amount to consume for weight loss. Most people I know are SHOCKED when they find out how many calories they consume in a day, or what a serving size actually looks like.

For example, as a 5’7″, 20-something athlete, calculating my body fat, BMI, etc – on days I am stationary (not training), I only need 1500-1800 calories per day. PER DAY. Most people eat 1500-1800 calories in ONE MEAL. This is why Americans are so obese.

The good news: the more you exercise, the higher that number of necessary calories.

Know your body, your lifestyle, your needs – and you will begin to have the tools to take control of the scale, your abilities and your body fat.

Fad Diets

img_6239-editLadies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls – I am going to tell you the truth, which you probably already know but are still hoping isn’t true – Fad Diets do not work and should be avoided at all cost.

Magic pills, fasting, cleansing, juicing, Atkins, Paleo, the Acai Berry Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet, Medifast, hCG, The Tapeworm Diet (yes folks, that’s a real thing!) – DO NOT DO IT!!!! There is NO factual evidence that any extreme diet or lifestyle has any benefit at all. On the flip side, they could all be extremely dangerous.

Yes, you will probably lose weight from one of the above diets, but it will be water weight, or worse yet – muscle weight. If you are training, you need water weight (dehydration is very dangerous), and you should be aiming to gain muscle, not lose it.

At the end of the day, a balanced diet is all you need. What does that mean? Well, you’d have to go into that with your coach in greater detail.

The point is, unless you KNOW that a diet is healthy, it’s probably too good to be true. By all means, add juicing to your already-balanced diet, or incorporate some aspects of the Paleo diet – but jumping on the bandwagon is bad. And stupid.

Commercial, magazines, ads in magazines – they are all out to make money, not to help you lead a healthy life style. Got it? Good.