Author Archives: Leo Garcia

About Leo Garcia

An award-winning classical guitarist, founder of KinderGuitar, and Six String Journal (sixstringjournal.com). Other interests: nutrition, running, yoga, hiking, reading.

The Beauty of a Vegan Whole Food Plant Based Diet for Athletes

Here is a quick list of how a Vegan Whole Food Plant Based (VWFPB) diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, starches, and some seeds and nuts, will help you achieve better athletic performance.

Antioxidant power – Strenuous exercise elevates oxygen metabolism, and unfortunately as a byproduct, free radicals. Antioxidants are needed to counter free radicals. Though exercise enhances our body’s ability to produce antioxidants leading to positive adaptions, a diet rich in antioxidants helps mitigate the oxidative stress induced by too much strenuous exercise. So eat spinach, dark leafy greens, broccoli, cherries, berries, and citrus. Drink hibiscus and green teas.

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Increased arterial function – Eating animal foods and fatty processed foods high in saturated and poly-unsaturated fats impairs arterial function for hours after consumption. With the omission of these offending foods, arterial function is optimized and circulation is improved. This means more oxygen-rich blood delivered unhindered to muscles doing hard work.

Nitrates – Consuming vegetables high in nitrates improves athletic performance. Basically, your body can do more with less oxygen. This increases endurance. Eat beets, dark leafy greens like spinach and arugula, celery, fennel seeds, and other high nitrate foods.  Article Link

Recovery – Scott Jurek! Nutrition Facts article.

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Anti-Inflammation – Though most vegetables and fruits have some anti-inflammatory properties, there are some that have been studied and reported on more readily in an attempt to create new supplements. However, science shows us again and again that whole foods trump the extracted single-component when it comes to promoting health benefits. Some new discoveries: Ginger has been shown to work better than NSAIDS in post-exercise soreness. The various pigments in turmeric help reduce inflammation. Purple potatoes and cherries also contain beneficial anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming at least four servings of legumes a week has shown to dramatically decrease c-reactive protein levels (a marker for inflammation) in the blood after several weeks.

So load up on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and skip the oils, meats, dairy, and eggs.

 

The Cover of Consumer Reports

Maybe the meat (beef, chicken, pork) industry could find a way to add in a cocktail of cholesterol-lowering, cancer-suppressing, and anti-obesity drugs (and, for that matter, throw something emission-reducing into the mix to save the planet) into their meat so that you can hedge and feel super while you enjoy your ribs and bacon.

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Five Day Water Fast

 

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Years ago before I ran my second marathon, I read several books by Dr. Joel Furhman. The two that I always keep going back to are his Super Immunity and Fasting and Eating for Health. A therapeutic fast with all of the associated health benefits (improved insulin resistance, decrease in inflammation, internal repair, improved digestion, decrease in cancer cell proliferation, autophagy, among many more) and the opportunity for emotional and spiritual introspection has been an appealing idea for me.

I was running a lot and to support that, fueling a lot, and my body and knees have always been temperamental. Different modes of bodywork help but fasting seemed like it would be a calm and grounding alternative. Logistically, with a busy life, it is difficult to allot a week without inconveniencing my family rhythm. Nevertheless, a few weeks ago I heard Jay Ferruggia interview Dr. Zach Bush and was reminded how fasting can improve your performance so… I had a low-key week off and tried a five day water fast.

Day 1

179.8 (though I haven’t weighed in for a while, I usually eight in at 177ish but feel like this may be high after having a slightly looser and higher in sodium bit of food yesterday)

First day was basically boring. My day seems to revolve around food thought, planning, and cooking. It may be a long 5 days.

Day 2

178.0

Both days 1 and 2 were not very productive. It’s amazing how much food punctuates and structures my day. And, how much I think of nutrition and cooking… I’ve been a bit listless but am treating the time as rest and recovery from constant exercise and fueling…

Took my boys to watch a movie and was overwhelmed by the smells of junk food. I didn’t cave but did buy them popcorn and watched them stuff their little faces.

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Day 3

173.4

Last night was the first night where sleep was a bit erratic. I’ve been reading Joel Furhman’s Fasting and Eating for Health about what to eat to break the fast and the thought of an orange or watermelon followed with lettuce and steamed zucchini or potatoes sounds fantastic. It doesn’t help to have a fascination with cookbooks so I made it a point to hold off perusing them and that I would just cook one of my standard feed the kids dinners.

Went for a fast walk/hike for about 60 minutes. Felt good. Especially towards the end. Despite having gloves on, fingers have been getting cold more than usual.

Day 4

169.4

Had a difficult time sleeping last night and woke to find my alarm hadn’t gone off. Rushed around to get my son to school but still managed to make him wholegrain pancakes and a berry smoothie. Still thinking about food but the ‘clear-headedness’ has set in and it makes it easier to see food more objectively. Notice that I am constantly asking myself how I feel and will try to focus a bit on the ‘outer’ world by going to some SF museums with my younger son who is on break.

Day 5!

166.8

It’s here! Day 5! Half excited about breaking the fast, half excited to see what another few days yield…Difficulty sleeping last night because I went to bed early and had a bit of a headache. Woke up feeling better and am thinking of breaking the fast tonight at 120 hours (8 pm) with a bit of vegetable juice and bone broth….or just waiting until tomorrow if I feel good throughout the day.

Practiced a lot today and felt super productive.

I actually do not feel like breaking the fast but given the baby steps recommended for breaking a fast I thought it better to start the process. Around hour 120 I drank diluted vegetable and carrot juice and then an hour or so later some bone-broth. Fast broken.

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Day After

Slept well and am going on a long walk. Feel great. Had more diluted carrot and vegetable juice and one amazingly flavorful banana. Over the next day or so, I’ll have more fresh fruit, romaine lettuce, and other vegetables, more broth, and maybe some steamed potatoes and more veggies. Tomorrow I’m planning on making a plain kitchari.

Lessons Learned

  • Plan on not having a plan. Let your emotional state guide you. You might feel like taking walks, you might not, you might feel like being around other people, you might not. Give yourself permission to listen to your body.
  • If possible, stay away from food. I cooked breakfasts for my boys before school, made dinner, and went to two movies where the smell of popcorn was overwhelming. If less will power is involved it may be better.
  • Enjoy the fact that you are heling internally and that ou are giving your body a long and necessary rest.
  • If you are caffeine-dependent, ease off a few weeks before you do your fast. I love coffee but weaned myself off and it seemed like the headaches and withdrawal symptoms most experience at the beginning of a fast didn’t hit me.
  • Clean up your diet months in advance. Avoid sugar, processed food, alcohol, and animal products. Stick with lots of fruit and vegetables, well-prepared legumes, starches, and well-prepared gluten-free whole grains, some nuts and seeds.
  • Meditation helps. I did about 30-40 minutes of simple breathing each day.

What would I do differently next time?

  • I would probably try to go for 10-12 days. On day 5 I felt close to wonderful and I wanted to enjoy exactly that state for several more days.
  • Maybe try to do it in the summer. My body felt colder than usual.

Hope this helps all of you on a quest for better health!

Knee Maintenance for Runners

Every fall when I decide it’s time to ramp up mileage I hit a point where my knees require more attention. In addition to following some of Dr. Kelly Starrett’s preventative advice from his encyclopedic Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance with voodoo bands and other self torture devices, these two circuits using bodyweight, a mini band, and two 35 pound dumbbells have really helped keep my knees in check. Perform them once or twice a week. I usually do three sets with a rest between each circuit.

Circuit 1

Bodyweight squats (as many as possible or if pressed for time around 50)

Dumbell deadlifts (amap or if pressed for time around 25)

Glute clamshells (amap)

Rest and repeat circuit 2 more times

Circuit 2

Bulgarian split squat (20-25 per leg) or single leg squats on a decline stool (amap)

Single leg glute bridges (amap)

Lateral walk/squat with mini-bands (20-30 steps)

Rest and repeat circuit 2 more times

Keep those knees healthy!

 

 

Upgrade Your Day

Four practices to upgrade your day:

  1. Drink espresso or my over-brewed combination of mate, gunpowder green tea, Himalayan white tea, and oolong tea.
  2. Run
  3. Meditate (pranayama, Wim Hof method, Buddhist meditation, etc…)
  4. Take cold-showers (start warm for a minute or two then crank the cold to max and breathe for 5 minutes). You will feel like a rock star afterwards.

There you go!

Vary Your Training

It’s been a while since I posted something to my running/nutrition blog, but while I ran hills this morning I thought it would be worth sharing a bit of the last year or so of training failures and successes.

I’m totally in for a 50 miler this spring. After two weeks of hard training things are looking good – my knees are holding their own. This has placed me in a very good state of mind lately and it’s mainly due to the energy I have been deriving from harder training. This has not always been the case. I’ve spent the last year somewhat sidelined due to nagging injuries while trying to maintain a healthy aerobic base and enough supplementary strength work to rehabilitate/preserve/restore those injuries.

As a relentless self-experimenter, halfway through my training for my first 50k, I started to experiment with becoming a better “fat-burner” after reading about Zach Bitter and some lower carbohydrate using endurance athletes. I don’t know whether or not this improved my ability to use fat as energy. It must have because I was not using carbohydrates and something was getting me through the long runs. But, in retrospect, I feel like I was not running my best. I have a sneaking suspicion that my performance took a turn for the worse close to the end of my 50k training schedule. When you self-experiment, you have to learn from your mistakes and adapt or adjust.

There are studies now showing certain positive aspects to adapting your body to use more fat for energy (i.e. develop a strong aerobic base) especially for endurance athletes. However, if you train in one modality, I feel it will limit your potential. In my experience, after 8+ months of aerobic threshold training and lower-carbohydrate eating, I found my speed diminishing considerably. Despite strength workouts, my hill running became non-existent because my heart rate monitor would demand a slower pace. Doing this without fuel was perhaps a mistake but there is so much literature and “experts” out there encouraging the train low race high without addressing common pitfalls. What is worth noting, too, is that my enthusiasm for running started fading and energy for other endeavors also started wavering.

I recently re-reread Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra, Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight, and Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run. It prompted me to start fueling again during most training runs and guess what? My performance is getting better by the second. Literally. I’m faster, my workouts are more intense, I’m more positive, I have more energy post-workout, and my endorphins are on the rise. I will still do some fasted workouts but I will be more strategic about it. So, the takeaway points, for me in this training cycle are what might seem like back to basics for most experienced runners but they are worth noting:

  1. Vary the modalities of your training: long, tempo, hill sprints, solely aerobic (heart rate), cross-training, strength, etc…You can try to cram two or three modalities into one week but do low-intensity between hard days (long, hills, tempo). Don’t be afraid to walk.
  2. For god’s sake, eat real food (lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, tubers, lean meats, nuts and seeds) or as mobility and CrossFit guru, Kelly Starrett, says, “Don’t eat like an asshole!” If you are putting in the miles, eat a lot of carbohydrates before (2+ hours) and fuel with carbohydrates and protein (brown bananas, mangos, spinach, and vegan protein smoothie work for me!) afterwards to recover quickly.
  3. You will become a better fat burner if you wait 2-3 hours after a meal to do your workout. It’s a-ok to fuel while you run if you are doing a hard workout. You may burn more glycogen but your metabolism will make up for it post-workout by utilizing more fat while you recover. My favorites intra-workout fuels right now are: Tailwind and Skratch.
  4. Sleep more.

Later.

 

INJURED BUT NOT SIDELINED

Running a lot can really take a toll on your body if you have issues with moderation. I’ve been itching to start ramping up running mileage but do not want to do it while I still have unresolved issues. Knees have suffered but I am now incorporating (as prescribed after much research and a visit to my orthopedic doctor and physical therapist) LOTS of single leg squats at a very slight decline (like 5 sets of 20 for each leg before a strength workout). Apparently, the eccentric component of this exercise stresses the patellar tendon enough to increase blood flow which in turn jump starts more effective healing. So far, it’s sort of been miraculous. I haven’t taped up my knees for the running that I am doing and they are not as sore, if at all. After I ran a 50k in October, I was too eager to get back into training and after a quick run felt a twinge and tightness in what appears to be my left gluteus minimus (though I keep 2nd guessing that it may be a strained tfl). The problem manifests itself as tightness near the insertion point to my upper pelvic crest. Nevertheless, it is for this reason that I am not wholeheartedly ramping up the miles. So, scaled back miles, icing after diminished runs, rolling around on the foam roller, and strength training to support running are what I’ve been doing lately so that when I can ramp up, everything is functional and strong. Here is one particularly tough strength workout I’ve been incorporating into my week 2 times (once the day after my long run to get that back to back action) to make up for less mileage. It was inspired by Dr. Metzl’s workout for runners but I’ve modified it to help sort out my own issues. As a side note, I do it fasted (though I do have water and electrolytes). It’s not easy.

Strength Workout (running focus)–

2 sets bodyweight 25-30 reps

4-5 sets single leg squat 20 reps/leg

6-8 sets squat jumps 15 reps

circuit 1 (2-3x)

pull-ups (max)

push-ups (max)

bicycle 25 reps

circuit 2 (2-3x)

walking lunges with weighted vest or jump lunge 10 reps/leg

dumbbell deadlifts 12 reps

circuit 3 (2-3x)

mountain climbers 30 reps

flutter kicks or sit-ups 30 reps

circuit 4 (2-3 x)

squat with weighted vest and dumbbells 15 reps

dumbbell overhead presses 10-15 reps

bicep curls (mimic running arm movement) 10-15 reps

End with:

6-10 sets burpees 10 reps

side/front/other side plank 60-90 seconds each