On eating/fuelling/nutrition

Nutrition is very personal. Some people believe in one type of diet over another, some people have ethical or moral reasons for excluding meat or animal products, others need to take care in what they eat due to illnesses or allergies. I want to show you my way of thinking about food and nutrition.

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My private take on dieting: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (I don’t agree with Mr. Pollan in everything he preaches, but this quote is right on spot). As long as you keep things in balance, there is no “good food” or “bad food”. I eat everything; I lost significant amounts of weight that way, too. But, what works for me, doesn’t have to work for you. I was writing about “fuelling” before, mainly in the categories of “I don’t eat enough” or “I should have more protein”. Lately, I was constantly hungry and full of cravings (mostly sugar, trying to satisfy them with fresh fruit), and it came to a point where I didn’t know any more what and how much I am eating, so I went back to my old friend, MyFitnessPal. It’s simple: you can’t change your food habits if you don’t know what your food habits are in the first place.

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The previous time I have been using MFP was when I had gained a lot of weight because of an illness, and simply had to lose the extra kilos. That was greatly successful (I am healthy now and my weight is back to normal). Now I have a different goal: to keep my body in balance, make sure I eat just right, make sure my calorie intake doesn’t vary hugely day to day, and get enough of protein to fuel my growing muscles (or at least my hopes for them).

For those unfamiliar with MFP:

It is not just a calorie counter, but, if used right, it also gives a good idea on the balance of macronutrients in the food you eat, as well as the distribution of calories within the day, with up to six meals a day which you can name to your liking (you can personalise the diary this way). The added convenience is the ability to scan barcodes with the phone app, making adding food to the diary very easy. A large database of food is already available, and you can always add new items if you can’t find anything that matches what you eat. However, some foods only have their calories listed and lack the distribution of nutrients; many foods do not list their sodium content, for example. Always use your brain when evaluating your numbers! Whenever I find something largely missing, I look up the contents on the package or the internet and add the food myself. This way, my food tracking is complete and others can benefit from a good database. One very good source of information is the USDA database.

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What did it show me?

After just three-four days, I can see I can already observe some points on which I could improve:

  • Firstly, I do not eat regularly enough, so let’s start those make-ahead salad lunches already!
  • Secondly, I tend to have a high fat and fiber intake while my protein is always under the goal amount. That is directly connected to my food habits: lots of fruit, veggies, yoghurt, nuts, cheese, and an occasional fish or meatballs (I love meatballs). One might say that’s not half a bad a diet, and I agree, but I could swap some fat for protein. Even though I eat a lot of “healthy fats” (fish, avocados, etc), I think my body needs more amino acids to sustain my physical activity needs. I guess it’s time to start making my meatballs from turkey instead of beef, and add some beans in place of cheese. Conveniently, MFP just published a handy Beginner’s guide to protein!
  • Also, my calorie intake can vary by 600kcal from day to day. That’s a whole meal! I should be more consistent, so more effort will go into meal planning from next week on, to try to level out the amount of energy I am consuming.
  • I need to drink more water! I already started a change on that, bringing infused water (just some mint and lemon) with me to work. It looks great, tastes good, makes me hydrate better, and can be refilled during the day.

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  • Lastly, I am doing well on the carbs front! With all the fruit I eat, I am still always below the daily limit.
How I deal with cravings

Eat fruit. Eat carrots. I never buy and do not have any candy or cookies at home. If I want cookies, I have to bake them. If I want ice cream, I have to go out to the town and buy a cone. And yes, I will do that from time to time, because rewarding yourself is a part of good and healthy habits, keeping your moods up. Just don’t reward every pushup with a cupcake. Stay mindful of what you are eating and what you are rewarding, and how. Find alternative rewards. Go out of the city for a trip. Visit a museum. Buy a book. Go to a concert. Splurge on new gear or a race. For a big accomplishment, do something BIG you dreamed of for a while; it can be bungee jumping or skydiving or a trip to a distant country.

The important part

Not to get crazy. To be able to stay on a diet, I need to be able to eat the things I like (especially that I have to cook for myself!). On top of that, there is always the trade-off: if you lower the carbs and fats, something else has to increase to fill in the calorie gap, and that thing must be protein, as there’s basically no other choice. Too much of anything won’t be good (including too much of protein), and the goal is to find a balance that fits my body’s needs.

Do you track your food? Do you use MFP or any other solution?
What’s your take on making sure you get enough protein?

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Day 185: Half a year of running!

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Can you believe that? I’ve been running for half a year already. I went from barely going 1k without walking, through getting scared of 3k, to running my first 10k race, and soon training for a half marathon. It’s been a great journey so far. Here’s to many more months and years of running.

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At the same time, with today’s run I arrived at 400km total since last year November. 400km! Unbelievable. And I have no desire to ever stop.

It was a great run today. So great, Morgan Freeman should have narrated it. I wanted to do it earlier in the day, but, in the end, it was all the way in the evening. It didn’t matter.
I felt fantastic, the weather was nice and warm, I was running in shorts and a tee, I rested halfway with a bit of walking when I felt tired, and I stretched with some yoga at home afterwards.

As much as I can’t wait to start with the half marathon training, I also feel this great freedom from the lack of pressure in the recovery phase; just letting my feet do their thing and not caring about the time or anything. The resulting pace was very good, anyway.

Distance: 5.5km
Time:       32:10

Finally, I would like to congratulate a dear friend of mine on her first 5k, just two months after she started running! She’s amazing and doing great, you go girl!

What is your strategy for recovering after a race?
How long do you take to prepare for a half-marathon?

Day 181: First post-race run and future plans

The weather is not spoiling us here in the Netherlands at the moment; even if it’s sunny, the temperatures barely resemble what I am used to in May. It’s a month till summer, and it’s difficult to leave your house without a sweater and a jacket, not to mention an umbrella… wpid-better-in-running-shoes.png

It’s been a couple of days since the Amsterdam 10K race. I know I have mentioned it a couple of times before, but I really love my asics training plan, and one additional reason for it (on top of its flexibility and diversity) is that the plan does not end at the race day. It also guides me through the recovery period, and, last Wednesday, I went for my first post-race run. And it was amazing.

One of the few moments when it did not look like autumn…

First of all, I had two sessions of yoga, netting a total whopping 2.5h of yoga (with a break) before I set off for my evening trot. It wasn’t very warm, but it was sunny and running felt so effortless, free and natural.

I am transitioning away from the heel strike, and I can feel that in my Achilles/calves, what means that I am not doing it properly, yet. But I am trying, and I’ll get there. I just need to find a good middle ground for a nice mid-foot strike.

Would be good to have it covered before the Amsterdam Half-Marathon in October! Yup, MRB and I registered for our first half, so from June on a long half-marathon training will start. I plan to stick to the asics plan again. I know June to October is a long time and one could get well prepared with a much shorter training plan, but I don’t mind adding a few extra weeks. Moreover, we also signed up for a local 4 mile run where I live, a week before the half. It might be less impressive distance-wise, but it is one of the biggest running events in the country.

It is a lot of time till October. Will there be some other races in meantime? Maybe, but I will certainly try volunteering at some local events, too.

Distance: 5.2km
Time:       32:56

What are your plans for the races in the near and far future?
Is there a particular race you have on your bucket list?
Do you have advice on transitioning away from heel strike?

DAY 177: Nike Women’s 10KM Amsterdam – my first race!

First thought: We made it! With negative splits and all that buzz. How cool! Friday evening we went to pick up our race packs and stood in a line for nearly one hour, but that saved us standing in an even longer queue on the race day itself. The crowd was insane, and people were picking up their packs till minutes before start.

Flat Alice waiting for her first race

I need to say I was super nervous. I changed my outfit like five times before I figured out what to run in (short pants? long pants? jacket? no jacket? T-shirt over the jacket?), as it was not warm at all, and the race took place in the late evening. In the end I decided for long pants and a t-shirt and it was a good decision; I wasn’t too cold or too warm. We chose to try for 65 minutes, because MRB’s best 10k before was about 1:08; we chose our pacer to follow (thank you for pacing us, unknown pacer! you were so friendly and did a great job!) and set off around 21:30 into the city of Amsterdam. We even managed to get into the official starting photo, which caught us just meters before the start line.

The route took us from the Olympic Stadium to the old town of Amsterdam and back, very nice route with plenty of water around, picturesque old buildings, and a park. It was great to discover Amsterdam from the running perspective, although we couldn’t enjoy the views all the time as it was very, very crowded and we had to make sure that we stay close to our pacer, we don’t step on any other people’s heels, and we tried to stick together as much as we could.

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The course wasn’t too difficult, and the pace was quite easy for me. I was happy to maintain a nice running form throughout the whole course, and, for the first time, I ran the whole 10k without taking a walking break! Nice achievement for me. It surely does help when you have someone to follow, even if I wasn’t too fond of the crowd. There was only one downside, though, with the race route like it was planned, there were plenty of places where you had to step up/down a curb, and the curbs were not marked in any way; I would expect the organisers to put bright reflective tape on them, especially with such a crowded race which took place in the late evening, and finished after dark. Personally, I was super scared of tripping and falling (gladly I didn’t), so marking the curbs would be greatly appreciated. We overtook our pacers somewhere between km 7 and 8, and at the last km we put on our 5th gear and flew to the finish line, passing a lot of other runners. With the end time a minute faster than expected, and a PR for MRB by over 4 minutes, the race was great. We stayed a bit to watch the last runners finish their course, and I shed a tear of joy when the great gals, doing their best finished with the cheering of the crowd and a huge supporting escort from the race crew. It was great! Then we danced a bit in the afterparty and, finally, went to the hotel and celebrated with some drinks and some friends.

One interesting thing about the race was that there were no bibs, and no “real” medals. We got shoe tags which counted as bibs and had chips in them, and as a finisher medal everyone got a silver bracelet in the shape inspired by the channels surrounding the old town of Amsterdam.

Worn with pride!

#UPDATE as of May 27th. The race was great, and the experience was wonderful. However, I really do not like how the post-race experience is handled. Nike published a total of 10 pictures from the whole race, and a “personalised video” which came out bugged and featuring other people. I managed to find my own video – there was 1 low quality picture of me there. I am very sad and disappointed on the post-race experience from this NIke race. The idea behind having a personalised video is cool, but in practice it turned out to be very poor. The lack of photographs for anyone except of the chosen few is disheartening. I hope Nike will take from this lesson and organise it better next year.

Days 165-171: Week 8 of 10k training

11212611_10152886810022717_3959023713251531796_oHappy Mother’s Day to all who celebrate it today!

And, first of all: Congrats to MRB for his first race! He smashed the GP Bern yesterday and he told me he enjoyed it thoroughly. Can’t wait for the Amsterdam 10k!

The race is in a week. In a week! I am starting to feel weak in the knees for that. That’s a bit early, isn’t it? But there’s only two runs left, and then, hey, the R-day. I have been training really hard and I actually need to cut back a little bit, because the last week has had one major theme: cramps. I was certainly overdoing it.

Wednesday – slow 5k

Yup, two rest days to start the week! I only did some yoga on Monday. I also did yoga on Wednesday – a lot of it, actually, and I had a pretty nice evening run, concentrating on going slow. I noticed that, while going slower than comfortable place, my Achilles tendons tend to stiff up. I guess that’s because I tend to strike more on the heel when I run slower? No idea.

Distance: 5.7km
Time:       37:03

Thursday – fast 10k and bootcamp training!

My first morning run in ages! I knew how busy would I be, so I decided to get up earlier and run before work. And it was great. It started sunny, then it started to rain – hooray rainbows! – and it finished pouring. I ended up soaked, but it was really nice anyway. Not to mention that the park is so empty early in the morning when it rains. Nevertheless, I still met some other runners. So great to see dedicated people.

Bootcamp, people!

In the evening, I went to my first bootcamp training! It was great fun. I really liked the social aspect of the training, and even though I am still not the strongest person out there, I am managing far better than I used to. I was on the winning team in the plank challenge we did! Maybe I should enrol for regular bootcamp trainings? Once or twice a week? What do you guys think?

Distance: 10.1km
Time:       59:30

Saturday – slow 5k

And slow it was, but mostly because I basically walked half of it. I had incredible cramps in my calves. The whole run was run-cramp-walk-repeat. I hydrate a lot, I slept quite well, I went to yoga before running, I try to eat enough protein and I even eaten some chocolate to replenish minerals (I am one of the few weirdos who isn’t crazy on chocolate; I know, I know, it’s strange), but I think I simply overwork myself and my body is not yet used to such training intensity. My guess is that I got a prime example of too much, too soon.

To relax and train differently for a bit, I went for a swim. The open air swimming pool is now available and I love that place. I will be going more often. I love swimming, and even though I am not a fast swimmer, it was so enjoyable! I lost count of the number of laps, but it was a solid 1 hour in the water. Splendid.

Distance: 5km
Time:       35:32

Sunday – “race pace” 5k

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This was a very interesting run. I started out bit too fast, but paid attention to my form and breathing, and I was flying (Lap 1)! It felt pretty good actually, and I didn’t have to push too hard, but somewhere halfway my right calf started to cramp up, so I took a walking break (Lap 2). After I felt better I picked up a bit slower, but with a still nice tempo. The run itself felt really good, I was bummed for the walking break in the middle, but I am not going to push myself too hard a week before the race.

Distance: 5km
Time:       29:04

I can’t believe that it’s almost race day! 

366 marathons in 366 days: Ryszard Kałaczyński

And what have you done to reach your goal? Photo credit: Ryszard Kałaczyński

There is a Marathon Man you have never hear of.
Because he’s Polish.

His name is Ryszard Kałaczyński. He’s a farmer and he is running marathons.
Every. Single. Day.
His goal is to run 366 marathons in 366 days. He’s on 267 now, making it less than 100 to reach his goal.

Everyone can join him and his route – or part of it, however they please. For 50PLN (about $14) you get a bib, a tshirt, and a medal. If you come from far, he provides you with a place to sleep. If you don’t want the bling, the start price drops to $3.

I have a great respect for this man. He is a father, he works a heavy job and has incredible endurance.
I know many of you can’t follow his challenge as it is mostly in Polish, but if you want, show him your support! I am sure he’ll appreciate it.

https://www.facebook.com/366maratonow

Days 158-164: Week 7 of 10k training and April summary

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April total distance 102.7 km!!!

Yes that deserves three exclamation marks: I ran over 100km in April total. Amazing.
But that’s not the only thing. I tried my first fartlek. I ran over horrible mood and even got a PR on 5k (28:16). I learned to have a healthy relationship with running. I tested the new Adidas shoes. I went wall climbing and I loved it. And I completely smashed my first attempt on the 10k distance, making it in under 1 hour! That sums up to a truly eventful and successful month.

So, how did the last week go?

Monday

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When living in the Netherlands, there’s one day that virtually everyone gets out and parties together, and that’s the King’s birthday on the 27th of April, aka: KINGSDAY! There are only two rules two kingsday: 1. wear orange 2. get out and have a great time. So we did. No one parties like the Netherlands on Kingsday, and when Kingsday happens to be on Monday, the party lasts all weekend long. You can imagine I was very glad that Tuesday was a rest day this week…

Wednesday

The slow 5k didn’t feel too great, even though I ran after yoga. In general, this week’s runs were not that great. I was taking plenty of walking breaks and did not push myself very hard. But I am managing to slow down the “slow” runs to something resembling jogging, and to pull off slower paces. It’s not easy, running slow!

Distance: 5.5km
Time:       37:34

Thursday

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My second ever attempt on 10k was much worse than the first. I walked a lot. I didn’t really have the mental strength to keep pushing, and I didn’t feel good about the run in the slightest. There is a saying among runners that the only workout you regret is the one you haven’t done; if so, this run was close to being second only to that.

Distance: 10.1km
Time:        1:02:21

Saturday

Starting with a yoga in the morning and the run directly afterwards, it was a good start into a busy day. It would be better if I didn’t have to endure the urgent need to use the bathroom the second half of the distance, but I somehow pulled that through. Thank God.
And there are so. many. runners. Saturday morning in the park. It’s like a swarm. Maybe they have a mating spot somewhere in the neighbourhood? Just kidding.

Distance: 5km
Time:       33:23

Sunday

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I am so happy I managed to pull this run in under 1 hour… even if just a couple of seconds. Especially that it rained cats and dogs during this run. I was completely soaked. And much fewer people than on Saturday, obviously, but there were still some hardcore runners I met on the trail. Strangely, the only thing I was worried about is whether my phone would survive it (it did). But the run was much more of a struggle than the one last week. I finished dead tired despite the walking break I took and some spots when I slowed down to get some breath.

Distance: 10km
Time:        59:47

And now, two weeks left to the Nike Women’s 10k Amsterdam!

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