Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It's Working -- But, what is it?




I have not eaten wheat in three and a half weeks. Over the first 10-14 days I noticed no physical changes - only cravings.  But then, last week I had some of my best workouts ever. I had speeds on the bike that have been elusive before. I set PRs in my running.  In fact, my base pace for running has improved by :30 - :45 per mile.  So, what's working? Is it the wheat free diet? Is it that my fitness has has hit a new level of strength? Is it because I've started pre-fueling my long workouts differently? How will I ever really know?

I've only gone wheat-free, but not grain free. I've still eaten some oats, rice and corn; just not every day. I chose to drop wheat because it is indicated as a cause of joint inflammation and pH acidity - two things that are counter productive to health and fitness. Overexposure to wheat can also create irritation in the digestive tract, which can lead to malabsorption of nutrients and other undesirable affects.

My diet was already free of most highly processed foods -- we keep a whole food kitchen rather than stocking packaged, manufactured items. Dropping the wheat meant eliminating things like pasta and homemade bread, not convenience foods (cereal, crackers, croutons, cookies, etc).  We dropped the convenience items a long time ago for various other reasons. So, I wonder if the last remnants of wheat in my diet are what is making the big difference in my athletic performance.

My fitness routine is a fairly recent discipline. I've only been regularly exercising for about eighteen months. It is possible that I've hit a new level of strength based solely on the consistent physical work I've done every week for a year and a half. I don't have a prior experience to compare this to. I've never been as active in my entire life as I am right now. I'm forty-five years old, and I know I could out-perform my 20 year old self! But, is a solid base alone the facet to credit for this sudden improvement in pace and strength?

Recently, I've been reading more about proper fueling pre-workout. I started experimenting. I already fuel strategically before my long runs by eating some light, but quick energy, choices like dates and nuts, or a small glass of carrot juice. Last week I decided to switch things up by including my usual post-workout dose of Emergen-C with my standard pre-fuel. It was on a riding workout day. I set a personal record for my favorite 15 mile course and records on several segments within the course. I was impressed - but not sure what had made the difference. Next day I included the Emergen-C again, this time before a run workout. Again I set personal records -- my fastest mile ever. Maybe it was still a fluke. But I do think I've been placing such heavy demands on my body this year and my nutrition had not necessarily been keeping pace with the output. I'm still tweaking my diet and focusing on the proper intake before the workouts and in the recovery period following the workouts.  It's a work in progress.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Wheat Free Living

It is Day 10 of my current no-wheat experiment.  In previous attempts this was my "fail day".  To me, making it past ten days is an important juncture in seeing if wheat free has merit for my body composition.

I am also really struggling with an attempt to add in animal protein.  My research into wheat free eating led me to the books and articles on the 'ancestral diet'.   For over a year, I've been reading about the paleo or primal lifestyle which includes animal protein at every meal.  I've never been a big meat eater.  Ever.  But, since this concept also avoids wheat (actually all grains) I wanted to take a closer look. I've been very intrigued by some of the claims and concepts of this ancestral eating plan.  In July I tried to switch from a six month total vegetarian experiment to a paleo menu.  So, overnight I nixed all grains and beans and switched to just animal protein and plants (veg and fruit).  I was amazed that I started losing weight.  Every day my weight was dropping by close to a pound.  I really didn't need to lose weight - but it happened anyway.

I only lasted with Paleo for ten days before I "slipped up" and ate some beans and rice.  Then I ate some pasta.  My experiment cratered after that.  The trouble with me and Paleo is that, I really don't like meat.  I've tried.  Really.   I just can't seem to choke it down so frequently.  How can I possibly do Paleo if I don't even like meat?  I don't even eat eggs well.  The meal plans make me feel stressed from  trying to eat meat even once a day - let alone three times.  I did find an interesting article on a vegetarian version of Paleo.  I'm not sure I could manage this either for a long term eating plan.  I do like grains.  I believe my body relies on them for fuel for my active lifestyle.

I do know that several athletes that I admire have taken wheat out of their diets.  There seems to be a connection with wheat and slow muscle recovery, inflammation and a more acidic body pH level.  This  research is what has led me to begin my "no wheat experiment" again.  I've committed to staying wheat free for the whole month of August.  I'll make my final assessment of any personal benefits after that.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tally of the Day - Monday style.

Food/Fuel
Today's breakfast was a spontaneous creation inspired by my craving for bread.  Those who adopt a paleo-grain-free-diet do not encourage such baking - especially at the beginning of the journey - because it does not change one's mindset about food.

I ignored all that advice this morning and made a wheat-free-carrot-walnut-spice-coffee- ___.  I was going to say coffee cake, but the texture of the finished product was anything but cake-like.  My kids had to spoon honey over it to make it palatable.  They resorted to making cinnamon toast with some whole wheat tortillas we still had.

Here is today's morning kitchen experiment:

I ate it.  It wasn't terrible.  It wasn't great either.  Wheat free baking is tricky business.  Especially since I made up the recipe by adapting two other recipes from a favorite cookbook.

Lunch refuel was a little sketchy. Just some blueberries and bacon, before getting the kids to an afternoon social event at church.  We grabbed peanut butter Clif Bars afterward; then came home and snacked on peaches while I made dinner.

I made a pot of (gluten free) Taco Soup for dinner -- complete with a pan of corn bread for my still-wheat-eating family.

Fitness
Today's training consisted of 40 minutes on the spin bike at the gym, followed by 45 minutes of yoga/pilates/barre.

Homework
I didn't get much done on the tutor prep front today.  I was able to connect with the parent of one of my students and walk through the Challenge II guide a little.  I located a youtube of Beowulf to listen to.  [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaB0trCztM0 ].   I won an ebay auction for a set of prepared slides for Biology.  I also had a parent orientation meeting for one of my sons tonight.  He'll be a Challenge IV student this year.  This is his senior year of school.  I love going to meetings hosted by other tutors.  I gain so much from hearing the perspective of those who have been in Classical Conversations longer than we have.  It also makes me realize what a difficult task I have ahead of me as a Challenge II tutor.

Still, it was a very good day.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

August 4, 2013


August 4, 2013

Sundays are my “rest days” from training.  I did still sneak in 50 squats and 20 push-ups before my shower this morning though.  Last Sunday I began a wheat-free-month.  Again.  I’ve been curious about the affects of wheat on my over all body composition.  Many athletes I admire have dropped wheat from their diets, and so I want to examine what my body does without wheat.  I’ve been poking around in several paleo cook books off and on for the past year.  Interesting concept.  I just don’t know my way around meal prep that doesn’t include some sort of grain-based side dish.  I am trying to learn.

So, I began my new wheat free experiment eight days ago.  I was doing pretty well with it -- until this evening.  My brain was craving something baked and sweet.  I tried baking a pumpkin souffl├ę from www.BalancedBites.com.  It was delicious, but didn’t cure my craving.  I ate a bowl of frozen blueberries.  Good - but not quite “it”.  Next, I reheated the leftover hashbrowns from breakfast.  Getting closer, maybe.  Finally, I made a berry sorbet with strawberries, blueberries and coconut milk.  I’m full now, but not satisfied.  My brain wants something else.  

I’ve read that refined grains hit the same brain receptors as drugs, and alcohol.  They create an addictive craving.  I really didn’t believe it.  Now I am beginning to wonder if it’s true.  

The main benefit I’ve seen in my previous wheat free attempts has been that each time I nix the wheat, my body begins to get lean quickly.  I lose nearly a pound a day.  The trouble is - I like bread.  No really, I love bread.  I love baking it and eating it and sharing it.  I baked my first loaf of bread when I was only twelve.  It was on a Saturday, after watching an episode of The French Chef in which Julia Child demonstrated pan de mie.  My life changed that day.  I became a baker.  People who know me know my bread.  Baking bread has been part of what defines me. It is with great struggle on several levels that I attempt a respite from all things wheat.  It tampers with a sense of identity.  I am currently displaced in my own kitchen because of this experiment.  I’ve entered an unfamiliar culture.  I am working to adapt so that I can learn something about myself - or at least about my metabolism.