Sunday, December 28, 2014

How Do I Get Enough Protein?

Last summer I started experimenting with a mostly plant-based diet.  It’s been a gradual transition, and I’ve been somewhat half-hearted about it when traveling.  On my last trip, I even had a cheeseburger with one meal.  Spending more time at home has allowed me to prepare more of my own meals, and now I’m really embracing it.

Last September, I was asked, “How do you get enough protein?”  As it turns out, it can be surprisingly easy if you plan ahead.  It can also be surprisingly difficult if you don’t.  There are lots of plant-based sources of protein, but none of them provide protein in high quantities.

I set the bar pretty high.  Because I’m an endurance athlete, I try to get about 70 grams of protein per day.  When I ate meat, I could get half or more of that in one meal.  To get that much protein without meat or dairy, I need to make sure I’m getting protein with every meal.  If I don’t get much protein with breakfast or lunch, it’s hard to make up the difference at dinner.

Sometimes, I’ll notice that I’m low on protein for the day – because I obsessively keep track with a spreadsheet.  Then I’ll have a protein snack like whole grain toast with peanut butter.  While that meets my protein needs, it also means eating extra calories, which makes it harder to maintain my weight.

There’s another challenge.  You don’t just need to get enough protein; you need to get complete protein.  What does that mean?  It means you need to get all nine essential amino acids.  Your body needs 21 amino acids, but 12 of them are considered non-essential, because your body can synthesize them from other amino acids.  The nine essential amino acids are the ones that can’t be synthesized.  A source of protein is considered complete if it contains all of the essential amino acids.

Meat, eggs and dairy products contain complete protein.  Most plant-based sources of protein contain some, but not all, of the essential amino acids.  To make sure you’re getting them all, you need to pay attention.

One of the reasons I like the recipes in Scott Jurek’s book, Eat and Run, is that they combine ingredients in ways that give you complete protein.

It would be nice to be able to buy a protein supplement that could be added to various foods – one that not only added protein, but added complete protein.  I’ve seen lots of protein powders, but most of them are made from whey, which is a dairy product.  Then I saw this at the grocery store.

When Deb and I were in Las Vegas for the Rock N Roll Las Vegas Marathon, Deb picked up some samples of a protein powder at the expo.  It was a hemp powder.  I found that I could add it to fruit smoothies without it significantly changing the flavor, although it did give them a greenish color.  The best part is that it’s a source of complete protein.  I didn’t know at the time if I could find this product in stores.  Now I do.

I saw this in the same section of the store that had various types of flour.  That made me wonder, “Can this be used in baking?”  As it turns out, it can.  According to the Red Mill website, you can use it in place of up to 25% of the flour in most recipes.  I’m a bit skeptical about using that much in baking, but I might try using it in smaller amounts.

I don’t plan to make this a staple of my diet.  One of the reasons I’m embarking on a plant-based diet is to force myself to diversify my diet.  I want to get away from my old dietary habits.  I also want to get away from a food supply that’s becoming increasingly homogenized.  Still, it’s always nice to find new sources of protein.  My diet is a work in progress, and I've added another tool to my toolbox.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

ATY Plan: Footwear, Clothing and Other Gear

This is the last post outlining my race plans for the Across the Years 48-Hour Run.  Today, I discuss footwear, clothing, other gear and travel plans.


This is the area where I need the most improvement.  It’s my biggest concern.  The running surface is mostly dirt.  The soil is clay that breaks down into fine particles.  The climate is dry.  Every footstep raises dust, and the dust gets into your shoes.  Last year I didn’t wear gaiters.  That was a HUGE mistake.  In the past, I’ve only needed them to keep gravel and small rocks from getting into the back of my shoes.  I didn’t realize how much dust there was or how bad my blisters would be.

I use double layer socks to prevent blisters.  For a race, I always wear a new pair.  I brought a few new pairs of socks last year, but I only had one pair of shoes.  Once the dust had permeated my shoes, I didn’t see much point in changing socks.  Within a few miles, the socks would pick up dust from the shoes, and I would lose the benefit of wearing a new pair.

This year I’m wearing gaiters.  That should keep dust from entering around my ankles, but the dust can still work its way through the fabric of the shoes.  My worst blisters last year were on the back of my heel and on my big toe.  The gaiters will help with the heel area.  To keep dust out of my toe box, I’m going to try covering the front of my shoes with duct tape.

I’m bringing at least two pairs of shoes.  I may bring three.  I’d bring more shoes, but every pair I wear will probably get ruined.  I’ll also bring multiple pairs of socks.  I’ll start the race in a new pair.  I’ll bring other new socks, but if I change socks frequently, I’ll probably wear used socks, since any socks I wear will have to get tossed.  Once you get dust between the layers, they’re never the same again.

Besides blisters, I have another concern about the dust.  Last year, my shoes and socks picked up dust during the day.  During the night, the dust in my socks mixed with sweat to form a paste.  As it warmed up again the next day, the paste hardened.  My shoes and socks were both stiff.  It was like I was wearing an ankle cast.  This may have contributed to my ankle problems.  At the time, I tried to stop and adjust my shoes.  I couldn’t, because the laces wouldn’t move through the eyelets of me shoes.  The dust caused too much friction.

The gaiters will help keep dust away from my ankles, but some dust will still get through my shoes.  If I ever feel like my socks are getting stiff, I’ll change them.  I ran 52 races this year, and I wore a new pair of socks for each one.  I have no shortage of old running socks.  I plan to bring quite a few pairs.  My unsolved dilemma is that I need to take off my shoes to change socks.  I’d like to change socks frequently, but I’d like to limit my shoe changes.


Daytime temperatures will be comfortable.  The last time I checked, the daytime highs were forecast to be 64 degrees on Tuesday and 61 degrees on Wednesday.  It’ll be warm enough to wear shorts and short sleeves, but I won’t have to worry about getting too hot.  Because I’m taking frequent walking breaks, those temperatures will feel much cooler than they would if I was running the whole time.

The temperature drops significantly during the night.  Last year, it got down into the low 30s.  I saw frost in the grass where sprinklers had been running earlier. This year, the overnight low for the first night is forecast to be 42.  The next night it will get down to 39.  After the sun goes down, I’ll need to add extra layers.

I’ll have a variety of different warm layers that I can add during the night.  They’ll include warmer shirts, a wind shirt and a couple of different jackets.  I’ll also have various hats and gloves.

I’m hoping I can get by with a warm hat, gloves, and extra layers on top.  I can add or remove those layers quickly.  Last year, I changed into tights during the night.  The problem with tights is that you have to take off your shoes to put them on.  You also have to take off your shoes to remove the tights when it warms up again.  Once dust gets into my shoelaces, changing shoes will get more difficult.  If I’m changing shoes and/or socks anyway, I’ll be more apt to wear tights at night.  If I find it’s too difficult to get my shoes on and off, I’ll go without tights for the first night.  If I wear enough layers on top, I can probably get by with cold legs – provided I’m doing enough running to stay warm.

During the second night, I may be reduced to walking.  If that happens, I’ll need to wear something warm on my legs.  Changing into tights the second night isn’t as bad, because I’ll only need one shoe change.  I won’t need to take off the tights until after the race.

Besides tights, I’ll have a pair of Zubaz and these all-weather pants that I just bought.  I saw these when I went to Running Room to stock up on GU packets.

For years, I’ve used Zubaz as warm-ups, because I can pull them on or take them off without removing my shoes.  I’ve never tried to run wearing Zubaz, but I’m pretty sure they’d be OK for walking.  My new pants will also make good warm-ups, and they give me another option for the second night, if I’m mostly walking.  For a long time, I’ve wanted a pair of warm-up pants that I could wear in wet conditions.  They have wide ankles with zippers, so I should be able to get them on and off without taking my shoes off.

Other Gear

For $25 dollars, I was able to rent a tent.  The tents will be set up before I arrive.  When I check in for the race, I’ll get a name plate that I can attach to a tent with Velcro.  Then I’ll pick out a vacant tent.  I‘ll try to find one as close to the course as possible, so a trip to the tent won’t take too long.  I can store all my gear in my tent and have a place to change clothes.

I’ll have a sleeping bag in my tent, in case I need to take a nap.  I could have rented one, but I’m just bringing one from home.

I won’t be traveling light for this trip.  Besides shoes and running clothes, I’ll bring compression wraps, ace bandages, heel lifts, and various items for coping with injuries.  I’ll also have a flashlight, a folding chair, and a large cafeteria tray.  I’ve found the tray to be useful if I need to put my feet on a clean dry surface.

Basically, I’m bringing everything but the kitchen sink.  If I could, I’d bring that too, so I could wash the dirt out of my shoes.  Delta will let me check up to three bags for free.  I will.  I’ll need one just for my sleeping bag.  I’ll also have a carry-on bag and a computer bag.

Travel Plans

Airfares can get expensive around the holidays.  This is the fifth consecutive year that I’m doing a race around New Years.  It’s also the fifth consecutive year that I booked my flights with frequent flier miles.  Although the race ends on New Year’s Day, I won’t fly home until January 3.  After going two nights without sleep, I’ll need more than one night to catch up.

There are hotels close to Camelback Ranch, but they tend to be more expensive than hotels in Phoenix.  Last year I stayed in Phoenix to save money.  This year, I opted for a hotel that was closer to the race.  I plan to keep my room for the five nights I’m in town, even though I’ll be running overnight for two of those nights.  I saved my hotel points to I could get a free stay.  I was able to get five nights for the same number of points as four nights.  That make me feel better about keeping a room that I’m not always using.

I have three reasons for not checking out of the hotel while I’m running.  First, I don’t want to leave my valuables in a parked car for 48 hours.  Second, after the race, I’ll be REALLY tired.  I won’t have time to wait until a new room is ready.  I’ll want to clean up and get to sleep as soon as I can.  Finally, I was glad I still had a room last year when I returned from the race a day sooner than I expected.  It would have added insult to injury if I had no room and no reservation until the next day.

Friday, December 26, 2014

ATY Plans: Nutrition and Pain Management

This post is a continuation of my race plans for the Across the Years 48-Hour Run.  Today, I’m focusing on nutrition and pain management.  I’m breaking nutrition into three components: fluids, electrolytes and food.  All three are largely unchanged from last year, as I didn’t have any problems in these areas.


My first several ultras were all in hot weather, so I was hard pressed to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.  I won’t have that problem in this race.  The climate is dry, but temperatures will be cool enough that I won’t sweat excessively.  Even if I only drink a few ounces at a time, I probably won’t need to drink every lap.  I have to be just as concerned about overhydration as underhydration.

One way to know if I’m drinking the right amount is to pay attention to how often I stop to pee.  If I go for hours without needing to pee, I’m not drinking enough.  If I’m in the bathroom every hour, I’m drinking too much.  I figure every two hours is about right.  This isn’t very scientific, but it’s easy to make adjustments.  If it seems like I’m not drinking enough, I’ll drink every lap until I catch up.  If it seems like I’m drinking too much, I’ll drink less frequently.  Having an aid station every 1.0498 miles gives me some margin for error.


As I sweat, I’ll lose electrolytes.  An easy way to replace them is to take electrolyte capsules.  In warmer weather, I take one per hour.  In really hot weather, I sometimes take them every 30 minutes.  Last year, I took them every two hours.  That seemed to work out OK.  If I’m eating a lot of salty foods, I may take them less frequently – particularly at night, when I won’t be sweating as much.


I’m hoping to run 200 miles.  The average runner burns 100 calories per mile.  I’m lighter than the average runner, so I probably only burn about 80 calories per mile.  Still, that’s about 16,000 calories.  My muscles can only store enough glycogen to last about 20 miles.  That’s 1,600 calories.  The rest either has to come from stored fat or from food I eat during the race.  One pound of fat can supply 3,300 calories, but it takes a long time to mobilize those calories.  The more I can eat, the less likely I’ll run out of glycogen.  I need to take in as many calories during the race as my digestive system can handle.  Ideally, most of it should either be sugars, or foods that convert quickly into sugar.  Also, not all sugars are the same.  Glucose can be converted quickly into glycogen.  Fructose can’t.

The easiest eat to get calories is from the fluids I’m drinking.  For that reason, I favor sport drinks over water.  I won’t need as much fluid as I would on a hot day, so I can’t
rely on getting most of my calories from fluids.  I’ll get what calories I can this way, but it’s only a start.

The next easiest way to get calories is through energy gels.  This is also an easy way to get calories in the form of glucose or glucose polymers.  Unfortunately, there’s a limit to how often I can eat them.  I’ve tried to take gels once an hour, and I’ve found that after about 10-12 hours, it gets difficult.  I feel like I’m filled to the brim with gels.  Last year, I was taking them every two hours.  That worked OK.

I plan to bring enough GU packets to take them every two hours.  I’ll also bring a couple of extras.  I bought a variety of flavors, so I won’t get sick of the taste.  Some flavors have caffeine.  Others don’t.  I’ll have some of each.  I want to be able to take caffeine when I’m feeling tired, but I don’t want to get too much caffeine.  Finally, about a third of my GU packets will have amino acids, to help prevent catabolism of muscle tissue.

The rest of my calories will have to come from solid food.  About once an hour, when I’m stopping at the aid station to get something to drink, I’ll also get something to eat.  They’ll have standard easy-to-digest foods like PBJs and potato wedges.  They’ll also have more substantial foods.  Last year, in addition to the PBJs and potatoes, I sampled turkey & cheese sandwiches, chili, pumpkin pie, bean burritos, pasta, cheese enchiladas, a red chili burrito, a fruit smoothie, a pickle spear and an egg burrito.  Nothing gave me GI problems.  Just in case, I’ll have some crystallized ginger, which helps with nausea.

I have one other concern about food or beverages.  At midnight on New Year’s Eve, they’ll have champagne for a toast.  Normally, I wouldn’t think twice about it, but that’s when I’ll be fighting to stay awake.  Will a small glass of champagne tip me over?  Stay tuned.

Pain Management

I used to take ibuprofen in the second half of a 24-hour run.  Now I’m much more conservative about NSAIDs.  I don’t plan to take any during the race.  I’ll bring some ibuprofen, but mostly so I have the option of taking it after the race to take the edge off the soreness so I can sleep.

Last year I had painful blisters after 12 hours.  It wasn’t easy to live with the pain, but I was able to do it.  I’m pretty good at tuning out the pain from blisters.  I’ll also have increasingly sore muscles.  That’s a bigger problem.  I’ve found that sore quads can make it difficult to start running again after a walking break.

Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers.  Sometimes you don’t even realize how much pain you’re in until you take a break.  When you stop exerting yourself, you stop producing endorphins.  Pain that was previously masked suddenly becomes noticeable.  It also works in reverse.  If you start exerting yourself harder, you produce more endorphins.  By working harder, you can make the pain melt away.  This only works, however, if you can sustain the effort.  Late in the race, I’ll have to balance my desire to conserve energy with my desire to manage the pain.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Weigh-in Wednesday: Christmas Eve

Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go …

Across the country, people are traveling to be with their families for Christmas.  Parents with young children are taking them to see their grandparents.  Most of the children are asking, “Are we there yet?”

As I stepped on the scale this morning, I was thinking the same thing.  “Am I there yet?”  The answer is, “No, not quite.”  I weighed in this morning at 118.6 pounds.  I’m getting closer.

Having a longer break between races has given me a chance to eat more home-cooked meals, and I’m really embracing it.  I’m finding new foods and trying new recipes.  At times, I’m loving it a little too much.  I’m wanting to try all the new foods at once.  I love these 8-grain strawberry pancakes.  I made them again yesterday.  I love that the recipe is adaptable.  I’ve made them with strawberries, but now I’m tempted to try them with bananas instead.  I see lots of possibilities.  You can also substitute different grains.  I just discovered that our grocery store carries quinoa flour.

In the past week, I only had two restaurant meals.  Both times, I had burrito bowls at Chipotle.  I haven’t had any meals that were over the top, like I sometimes always do when I’m traveling.

I’m tapering for my next race, so I’m not getting as much exercise as I usually do.  Last week, tapering just meant no races.  I ran 50 miles, but that was down from 82 miles the previous week.  This week I may run as little as 25 miles, so I’m not likely to lose any more weight before my next race.

For most people, holidays are like dietary obstacle courses.  So far, I haven’t had to overcome much temptation.  I was out of town over Thanksgiving weekend, and we haven’t baked any Christmas cookies or other sweet treats.

In my family, we never had a big Christmas dinner.  We had a brunch on Christmas morning, but it wasn’t over the top.  Deb is from a bigger family, and they always had a large Christmas dinner.  It was a feast that was just as big as their Thanksgiving dinner.  Both families have simplified things this year.  We’ll get together with each family for a restaurant meal.  It’s less about the meal itself and more about getting together with family.

We’ll be going to restaurants with buffets.  That means I’ll have a lot of flexibility.  If I want a big fattening meal, I can do that.  If I want a light sensible meal, I can do that.  In the past, I shunned salads in favor of comfort foods.  This year, I’ll probably be more restrained.  Maybe.

Merry Christmas!