Monday, October 13, 2014

That's a WRAP!!



When it comes to (peak) Ironman training, I am done, done annnnnnd DONE!

Hellloooo taper... Where have you been all my life?!?

It has been a fun, rewarding, yet ultimately challenging couple of weeks of peak ironman training. While I had been looking forward to it for quite some time, I honestly have to say the last 21 days of training have been without a doubt some the hardest of my life. Also, peak ironman training + 1 full time job + 1 part time job = crazy town USA. Somehow I have taken it all in stride and kept my marbles together... for the most part :) After taking the day off from work to complete my last long ride/brick last Wednesday (110 miles cycling + 2 miles running = a full work days' worth of training/prep) my body pretty much said "enough already." Can't say I blame it? After that it was 3 days of complete rest (coach's orders and I happily obliged) featuring a whole lot of sleeping, stretching, rolling, icing, eating and one awesomely-amazing but much-too-short massage.

But wait... I was not off the hook quite yet. Yesterday I did a local race, the Hokie Half Marathon, my last big "hurdle" to overcome. Though it was pouring rain at times and HURT a lot, it was sorta kinda a ton of fun (thanks coach for the suggestion!) Local races really are best, and I miss the simplicity of these types of races. All of my "special" needs were packed nicely into our commemorative drawstring backpack:

I DO love some Hokie themed race goods! (hat is my own)
Pic thanks to Ms. (soon-to-be Mrs.) Speedie Edie :) 
My husband and I both agree, a half marathon these days feels more like a 5k. Compared to some of my more recent training sessions, this thing was over in a flash!! Post-race we hung out only for a few minutes, enough time to grab some chili, chocolate and say hi to a few friends, then we jetted off to find warm, dry clothes and hit up our favorite restaurant for breakfast!!

Post-race: the rain obviously did not damper our smiles :D
So yea...When it comes to peak ironman training, I can now say "that's a wrap!" Yipee! To celebrate and as a bonus, I am sharing a favorite lunch of mine lately, a veggie-hummus wrap!


Veggie Hummus Wrap


This wrap has been a go-to meal for me over the past couple of weeks. Inspired by our cafe at work, it packs a powerful veggie punch with hummus for protein and the wrap providing complex carbs.


Ingredients

1 large spinach tortilla (wheat works also)
2 tbsp hummus of choice
1/4 avocado
Romaine lettuce or spinach
Tomatoes, diced
Cucumbers, sliced
Colorful bell peppers, sliced
Pepper, to taste


Directions

Spread your tortilla with hummus and slices of avocado. Sprinkle w/ pepper to taste. Lay down your lettuce or spinach, then add in your sliced veggies: stack'm up as desired! Wrap tightly and enjoy! Shazam. Quick, easy, delicious... my kind of on-the-go recipe for when life is crazy.

Happy Monday! Is it Friday yet???!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sports Nutrition Tidbits: Immune Health For Athletes

21 days... 3 weeks! Things are moving fast at this point and I know race day is just around the corner. That being said, I still have some essential prep to do (a.k.a. finalizing my race day nutrition plan) and a few training "hoops" to jump through before tapering down for race day. On the agenda this week is a 112 mile long ride, 3x1k swim workout and half marathon race. No big deal, right??

Last week was a MAJOR victory training-wise. Looking back at my Training Peaks data, at least according to the numbers, it was my biggest training week since I began logging workouts 1.5 years ago...AND my workouts went well. Yea! 12.5 total training hours, including two 54 mile medium-long rides, a 4k swim workout (longest ever) and a 24 mile run (second longest run of the year). For the record, never in my life did I believe I would complete such a degree of training...EVER.

It was a BIG weekend for the hubby too! He successfully completed the Grindstone 100 ultra-marathon in just over 20 hours, an incredible time and effort which was good enough for 4th overall!!! While I may post a "crew report" later, for now it's safe to say we are both pretty tired and in need of some seriously good food and TLC. It is really no wonder all I (we) want to do is SLEEP and EAT!

Cheering on the hubby as he arrives at mile marker 80.
The racer (center, orange) and his fabulous crew!

You have to hug the totem pole to officially finish. Also, we all concluded, who looks THAT good after 20 hrs of running?!

All that being said, I recently listening to a webinar covering the essential yet often overlooked topic of "Immune Health for Athletes." It was really loaded with some great information on why proper nutrition is essential for not only fueling day to day workouts, but to keep athletes healthy and training consistently through the stresses and various immune-insults that training hard and a long season can impart. We all know the importance of training consistently is to improving consistently and hitting our goals, and we are often thinking about ways and methods to boost recovery of our muscles, but what about helping our immune system to rejuvenate? That too is an important piece of the puzzle. Below are a few highlights from the webinar:


Nutrition & Immune Health for Athletes

Source: Sports Dietetics - A Missing Link Between Sports Nutrition and Performance. Presented by Dr. Brian McFarlin, Ph.D., FACSM and Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS


Higher levels of sport are where the biggest immune challenges are found.

Elite athletes (or serious amateurs) ask a lot from their body and have a tendency to stretch limits (in all areas of life, not just the sports aspect). This is a no brainer. The overarching goal in terms of immune health is to prevent immunosuppression and reduce risk of illness or injury.

A balanced training program involves optimal rest, recovery and nutrition.

Also a "no-brainer," but harder than it seems to effectively implement! Immunosuppression, illness or injury are the result of overtraining and/or under-recovery, and how you approach the recovery process from strenuous days, weeks or months of training is just as important as how much you put into that training. Research shows that within 24 hours of a strenuous training session, the body actually experiences a drop in immune function, thus increasing risk of both illness and injury. Nutrition and proper rest are essential to get that immune function back up to par to effectively bounce back into that training regime.

Factors that will slow down the recovery process include 

inadequate sleep, improper hydration, inconsistent eating patterns and even more so, improper choice/timing of that post-workout recovery fuel. Other factors may include: Stress/anxiety, travel, substance abuse and excess training volume.

The immune-challenged athlete may suffer from 

more frequent training disruptions, increased stress levels from trying to quickly bounce back from any disruptions, poor focus, which attributes to poor performance, and lower levels of energy and motivation with increased incidence of depression.

The benefits that a strong immune system imparts include 

enhanced health which contributes to harder, longer training sessions and consistent health/training all season long, more effective recovery and better energy levels overall and maintenance of a good mental focus, because physical health and mental health go hand in hand!

So, what does one do to optimize immune health? Get food-empowered!

Eating right is essential in not only providing macronutrients to support energy needs for training, but in providing micronutrients to boost and support immune health and recovery. A quality diet means less down time secondary to illness, provision of adequate carbs to meet critical energy needs and put in the hard work and protein to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery time. When it comes to immune health, the importance of fruits, vegetables and healthy fats in athletes' diets cannot be overlooked! Similar to training, the quality of one's diet equally important as the quantity of overall calories consumed. And just as too many "junk miles" will leave one feeling worn down and overtrained, too many "junk calories" can leave an athlete immune-impaired and at higher risk for illness or injury.

For more information, check out my previous article: A Healthy Athlete is a Well-Fueled Athlete.
Also check out this stellar fact sheet by the SCAN Dietetics Practice Group.


Happy Tuesday and wishing you a great week of training ahead!!


Friday, October 3, 2014

Recipe: Butternut Squash Mac n' Cheese

Hello cooler temps, chilly breezes, and the changing colors that comes along with it. Lately I've taken it upon myself to redecorate our front porch to fit the season. The hubby has been coming home with gifts of pumpkins, much to my excitement. I am really not hard to please. Sure fresh flowers are nice, but this time of year he usually wows me with handpicked colorful leaves found while trail running or pumpkins bought from a roadside stand...and I wouldn't have it any other way :)


Blacksburg in the fall is full of trees like this one! Photo credit: Hubby.

That being said, who loves fall recipes?!?!

While I haven't had much time for cooking, the changing seasonal produce has reignited my desire to whip up a few new recipes to savor. Now, the husband LOVES mac n' cheese, but you better believe I am not buying that crazy boxed/powdered cheese stuff. No thanks :) My inspiration for this recipe actually came from Jessica Seinfield's cookbook, Deceptively Delicious. The cookbook is written around the concept of finding creative ways to sneak healthy foods into the diet of those "picky eaters" of the world who may not eat a dish if it contains that dreaded "V" word (vegetables). Not saying that I live with one... he still avoids green veggies but what fun would a mac n' cheese recipe be if it were green?? I whipped up another batch of this last night for him fuel up on in preparation for his 100 Mile Ultramarathon which starts at dusk today in the mountains of western-central Virginia.


Butternut Squash Mac n' Cheese

This twist on mac n' cheese has a winning flavor combo. The addition of butternut squash both enhances the creamy texture of the dish while boosting the nutritional value to boot! Add in a sprinkle of cinnamon and you have a warm and gooey comfort food with a dash of fall with each bite!



Ingredients

1 box (13.25oz) elbow macaroni (whole grain!)
1-2 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
2 cups butternut squash, cooked and pureed
1 c. milk (2%) or plain soy milk
2 c. sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp cinnamon, salt & pepper to taste


Directions

Cook your butternut squash. This is probably the hardest step. First, preheat the oven to 350 F, then cut your squash in half lengthwise like this:

Second, remove the seeds. Don't automatically throw them away! These can be roasted like pumpkin seeds for a yummy snack :) Next, place the two squash halves in a casserole dish with 1/2-1 inch water (you don't need much!) Place your squash in the oven for about 45 minutes until the flesh has fully softened.

Meanwhile, cook your macaroni according to directions in a large pot. Drain and place macaroni into your pot while mixing in 1-2 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil. This is a great source of healthy fats and keeps the macaroni from sticking.

Remove your squash from the oven and allow to cool. Be patient! When cool to touch, use a spoon to scrap the flesh away from the skin into a separate bowl (Yield will be approximately 4-5 cups while this recipe calls for 2 cups). Combine 2 c. of the squash puree with your seasoning & spices, then add to your pot of macaroni and stir until thoroughly combined. Mix in your cheese and milk, stir, and transfer to a 9 x 12" casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350 F. Uncover, add another sprinkle of cheese (about 1/2 c.) and bake another 5-10 minutes until golden and bubbly :)

Time to hit the road for some quality trail action.

Peace!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Happy World Vegetarian Day!


October is considered Vegetarian Awareness Month and today, October 1st, is World Vegetarian Day!! In the words of the North American Vegetarian Society, "World Vegetarian Day was established as an annual celebration to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism."

I have been vegetarian for almost 2.5 years now and have not looked back. The other day at the grocery store,  I realized I walked right past the refrigerated sections of meat, fish and poultry and didn't even notice it. I'm not focused on what I am missing, but rather, on all the other great fresh foods & produce I get to fill my cart with.

So days I get a little too excited :)

There are a number of different reasons to consider adapting a more plant-based diet, and you don't have to be a strict "vegetarian" or "vegan" to realize some of the benefits! In a 2009 position paper published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), it was determined that a plant-based, vegetarian dietary pattern can be nutritionally adequate for individuals of all ages and that advantages of such a diet include lowered cholesterol/blood pressure levels and lowered chronic diseases including heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Why? Vegetarian or plant-based diets typically include lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals.

The environmental benefits of eating more plants and less animal products are also pretty significant. In fact, estimates have shown that if everyone in the United States where to choose to eat no meat or cheese on just ONE day each week, it would be equivalent to taking 7.6 million cars off the road in terms of our societal carbon footprint. Thus was born the Meatless Monday campaign.

Crazy cool !



I get that a vegetarian diet may not be for everyone, but DO consider incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet and experimenting with adding few meatless meals to your normal rotation.  For healthy tips on meatless meals and recipe ideas, click on over to my previously written post on Plant Powered Nutrition or view my Prezi Presentation!

Interested in more reliable information on vegetarian diet or eating more plant-based? Check out:
vegetariannutrition.net/ or meatlessmonday.com. You can also download this fun (and free!) handout.

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