The Mortal Coil

Today, I’m “recovering” from a bad cold after five days of suffering.

I know how I got it – I was stressed out. I haven’t been sick in years (two years in fact – I wrote about getting a cold in April 2013!) Since then, I haven’t had so much as a sniffle. (All that healthy living, I’d like to think.)

But last week my body broke down in what seemed like moments.

It’s true that stress takes a toll on your immune system, and I’m sure that’s what did it for me. I felt the waves of stress on a Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday night I felt the cold “coming on” and by Wednesday morning I lost my voice.

I’m not sure why, but when I get sick it’s always an upper-respiratory thing. And when I get sick, I lose my voice. It’s happened this way my whole life, so there’s no surprise when I start croaking like a bull frog. If I talk to anybody on the phone, they have no idea who is on the other end. (Yeah, it’s that bad.)

What bothered me most about getting sick this time around was how fast I deteriorated into a sneezing, sniffling, body aching pile of goo that couldn’t lift my head off the pillow.

I mean, here I am … going to the gym several times a week like a religious fanatic, eating tons of veggies and super-healthy food, stuffing my gob full of vitamins and good-for-me supplements, but two days of stress and the entire house comes crumbling down.

What’s up with that?

It made me realize how tenuous it is to be “healthy.” Maybe I’m over-reacting since it was “just” a common cold that hit me, and now, six days later I am coming out of my funk … but still, the experience shook me up.

I don’t know. Maybe, if I wasn’t as healthy as I am normally, the cold could have been much worse and I would have been sick for 2 weeks instead of 6 days (I am still counting today as a recovery day since I am not fully back to normal.) Or maybe, if I’d been in truly poor health, my cold would have turned into bronchitis and that could have become pneumonia.

Is this how things break down with the body?

Something innocuous like a cold starts you downhill, and then the other germs pile on and attack different parts of you until you’re done?

It’s a gruesome thought.

I’ve been taking Zinc and 2000 milligrams of Vitamin C every day of this ghastly cold, along with a daily Echinacea supplement. If you read up about this cocktail, you’ll get some people swearing it reduces the severity and length of a cold, and another group of people saying it does nothing.

I’m not a statistical sampling of one, but I do believe these items helped reduce the length of the cold. As to reducing the severity, it’s hard to say. My experience is what it is – I have nothing to compare it with – I suffered with plenty of body aches during the worst of it.

It’s unpleasant to be reminded how easily a bacteria or viral particulate, so tiny I’d need a powerful microscope to see it, can take me down.

I’m glad I never had to go to a doctor to get over this, and did not have to request antibiotics or if I had gotten some severe bronchial thing, something even stronger.

Yes, I’m on the mend now. But it gives me little peace of mind to be so “healthy” when I see how easy it is to take my legs out from under me.

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The Lemon Plum

 

Lemon plum

Lemon plum

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Just look at this beauty, caught in the prime moment of being juicy and ready to eat.

This is a “lemon plum.”

Yet another fruit I’d never eaten before, but found in one of my local green markets. I loved the shape and color of the fruit, and was told these plums have a lemony flavor. And so they do!

It seems hard for me to claim that I’m finding all this produce just because I’m (mostly) vegan, but it’s true. I like eating fruit, especially berries. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries all find their way into my grocery basket. I don’t go out of my way to find new fruits to eat, but when I saw these beautiful plums I couldn’t resist.

Of course I’ve eaten plums before, but the plums I normally eat are a deep wine color, and their flesh is dark, dense and very sweet. The lemon plums have a lighter color flesh, and while they are sweet, the lemony flavor makes them taste more refreshing.

I suppose I’ve just written an ode to a plum, but why not?

Yes, I celebrate “one ingredient” foods, including this gorgeous, delicious lemon plum. It may have one ingredient, but the flavor is more complex than anything a processing food plant’s chemistry lab can compete with any day of the week.

Vegan Massage, or Taming Your Kale

If you are vegan, or in my case “mostly vegan,” at some point you will venture into the world of greens. There are many kinds of greens, from low calorie iceberg lettuce to the more flavorful, but delicate spring mix until we get to robust and substantial leafy kale.

 

I’ll admit I had never tried kale until I became vegan. Then again, there are many foods that my vegan journey has introduced into my kitchen, like chia seeds, quinoa, nutritional yeast and many other interesting ingredients that I have come to enjoy and which are nutritionally dense.

Kale is also nutritionally dense. One cup has 2 grams of protein (yes, greens have protein!) and kale is also a blockbuster delivery system for Vitamin A and C.

Raw kale nutrition panel

Raw kale nutrition panel

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And as great as kale is, if you want to eat it raw in a salad, you’ll find that you must do something to prepare the leaves because they are very firm and overly crunchy.

But, there’s a great way to tame your kale and make it softer and more “lettuce like” in your salad.

First, if you have whole kale leaves, go ahead and wash and dry. Then, remove the center stem portion which is rather woody. Chop the leaves into bite sized pieces.

Put the bite sized pieces into an over-sized bowl. Take some olive oil, you don’t need much! and drizzle it over the kale. For 2 cups of chopped kale, you probably need 1-2 teaspoons. Experiment with the amount of oil, trying to use the least amount possible. After you’ve drizzled the olive oil, sprinkle some salt on too. Use an amount of salt that you’d normally use for flavoring, but in this case the salt will also help break down the leaves.

Now… get your (washed and clean) hands into the bowl and massage the kale with your hands. I gently squeeze the leaves in my fingers, breaking them down with the moistening from the oil and salt, and circulate the leaves from top to bottom to rotate each leaf and make sure I’m compressing all of the salad.

You’ll be able to tell when you are finished when every single kale leaf is moistened with the olive oil, and the leaves feel soft to the touch.

At this point, add the remainder of your salad ingredients and mix with the kale.

Although olive oil and salt is it’s own kind of dressing, I usually add a very light drizzle (again, no more than another teaspoon) of a flavored dressing of my choice. I’m also a big fan of freshly ground black pepper for flavor.

You don’t need any additional dressing, and you could use other types of flavoring like a flavored vinegar or fresh lemon / lime juice if you feel like it.

Hopefully, this kale massage technique will help you enjoy this dark leafy green more often as a part of a high nutrition salad.

I like to add carrots, tomatoes, avocado, slivered almonds, olives and chia seeds to round out the meal!

Unusual ingredients – Homemade Vegan Chinese Dinner

As a resident of Jersey City, New Jersey I am so lucky to be living amidst immigrant populations from a variety of countries. In particular because the raw – VEGAN – ingredients available to me in the local stores are amazing.

There’s a special Asian grocery (for locals, it’s called 555 Asian Supermarket on Tonnele Avenue) where I can get unusual and delicious supplies for home made Chinese food.

Here’s a sample of what I bought recently:

Some Chinese vegetables, prior to being prepared

Some Chinese vegetables, prior to being prepared

In the photo above, we have beginning from the top left…

Bag of bean sprouts, rice wine vinegar, Chinese greens

Pea pods, bamboo tip, onions, zucchini

Lotus root, ginger root, garlic, single Chinese green, shitake mushrooms

And upon preparation for cooking, here’s how the veggies look:

The insides of the bamboo tip, lotus root, and ginger root

The insides of the bamboo tip, lotus root, and ginger root

As you can see in the center of the second photo, when I slice the bamboo open (far right) it has these cool looking spaces where the bamboo plant stores water. In the very center of this photo, you see the peeled and sliced lotus root, which also has a distinctive pattern that emerges with each slice.

What’s also wonderful about each of these vegetables is that they have their own texture. Lotus root is firm and crunchy, while the bamboo is soft and tender. Both are relatively flavorless, and take on the spices and flavors of other veggies that cook with them.

Ginger root, on the other hand, is quite spicy and makes a fantastic addition to Chinese veggies. The two chunks of ginger in the photo above are peeled, but not chopped up finely enough yet to add to the dish. I chop ginger much as I would chop garlic, into very fine pieces.

Once all of my veggies are washed and clean, peeled and chopped or sliced as needed … into the pot they go. The most time consuming part of cooking the Chinese veggie dinner is the preparation of the veggies. Lots of chopping.

But in the end…a little garlic flavored rice wine vinegar, some soy sauce, freshly ground black pepper and lots of veggies turns into…

Home made vegan Chinese dinner is served

Home made vegan Chinese dinner is served

Dinner is served!

Stretching Myself on the Rack

While my title might imply torturous methods, I’ve found a way to expand my work out regimen that’s helping me make progress and I’d like to share it with you.

I’ve been going to the gym 3-5 times a week for the last 6 months. When I started at the gym, I got an introductory session to acquaint myself with the equipment, including the weight lifting machines because I was determined to do weight lifting along with cardio.

Using weight lifting machines has been a great way for me to reshape my body. Slowly, over these past 6 months, some of my body fat has been transformed into muscle. (I know that’s not what actually happens, but you know what I mean.)

And weight machines are an excellent way to get started because the machines are easy to use, and have more controlled movements than free weights. I also liked how I could see my progress on the weight machines as I was able to increase the amount of weight over time.

I had a lengthy discussion with the primary trainer at the gym about how I seem to have hit a plateau on the weight machines. Even though I’m doing my regular workouts, I don’t see the kinds of results I got in the first six months. My body has adapted to my workout, and I haven’t changed things up enough.

The trainer suggested it was time for me to head over to the weight rack, and begin using free weights. He was nice enough to show me several exercises, and explained how I could do all of the exercises I was doing on the machine with free weights.

One thing that immediately surprised me was the extreme difference in the amount of weight I could lift. With the free weights, I felt like a wimp! The trainer said that’s normal. He said that I might be able to lift 30% of the amount of weight I was doing on the machine because free weights require more muscle groups to be engaged since there is no machine there to limit and control the movement of the weight.

But guess what? After only a few sessions with lighter weights at the free weight rack, I’m already seeing a difference in my workouts at the machines! (Yes, I’m still working out on all the machines I’d been using, plus adding new exercises with the free weights.)

I’m very excited about this new breakthrough I seem to be having with the free weights. I’ve got to be patient for the results, but I’d like to see where I am in another 3 weeks of doing free weights plus the weight machines, plus my cardio.

So, if you’re exclusively using weight machines to do your lifting, consider going to the rack!

Work Out Tip – The Easy 400 Calorie Workout

Ah, the new year. A time when everyone resolves to “get back to the gym” and to lose the weight they gained during the holidays.

Many people who get started at the gym push themselves too hard, and feel sore and tired and then give up before they see real results, which take time.

In today’s post, I have ONE simple suggestion to help you burn calories but not kill yourself at the gym.

Many people who do cardio to lose weight believe they have to kill themselves by running fast on the treadmill to rack up a lot of calories burned. And while running will burn a lot of calories, there are many reasons why you may not want to run. It puts a lot of stress on your joints, particularly your ankles and knees. Also, unless you are already in great shape, you are not going to be able to sustain a run at a fast pace for any length of time. For some people, this might be a discouragement from exercising at all.

So, instead of getting on the treadmill and running, use the incline setting on the treadmill to increase the amount of calories burned, while walking at a brisk pace. Many treadmills have settings that go from 1 to 15, and at the upper range it’s like walking up a steep hill. You’ll have to hang onto the treadmill handles, but you can still walk, not run and burn loads of calories.

In the title to my post, I’ve used 400 calories as a target goal for the workout. I regularly exceed 400 calorie workouts on the treadmill, and I don’t run.

The key to achieving the calorie goal is extending the amount of time you spend on the treadmill as well. So, to burn 400 calories, you should plan to spend one hour on the treadmill so you can walk at a brisk pace but not feel exhausted when you’re done.

Use the incline setting and make sure you don’t go below 6, and alternate between 6, 8 and 10 on the treadmill as you are walking. Alternate speeds between 3.5 through 4.0, and as the incline is higher (let’s say 10) use the lower speed to get through that lap.

If you are just getting back to the gym, give yourself a more modest goal… perhaps a 200 calorie workout to start. Then, when you’ve easily achieved that goal, after a week or so of 200 calorie workouts, increase to 300 and then 400 calories.

Since I’m a “seasoned pro” at the gym – at this point I go to the gym at least five times a week, for a minimum of an hour each session – I’m able to achieve high calorie burns. Today I spent one hour on the treadmill and burned 600 calories. After I was done, I felt so good I hopped on the stair master and did another 100 calories in 15 minutes. I’m not going at blazing fast speeds, but that’s fine, I’m willing to put in the time.

When you consider that one pound is about 35o0 calories, losing one pound through effort at the gym comes into a whole new perspective.

I hope this treadmill tip is helpful for anyone getting back into a new workout routine. You CAN do it. Remember, it takes time to build up your endurance, but with a bit of effort you can burn off hundreds of calories.

Bad News for Vegan Aging

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a doctor or a nutritionist. I am NOT recommending that anyone reading this post take any supplement without first consulting their own health care professional.

In the year plus that I’ve been mostly vegan, I’ve learned some things about nutrients that people who are consuming a vegan diet are missing. I found a new one which I’d like to share.

L-Carnosine

Please READ THIS ARTICLE on Carnosine, which details the many health benefits of this amino acid. (Some may refer to Carnosine as a dipeptide, meaning two amino acids joined together. In the case of Carnosine, it’s the combination of beta-alanine and L-histidine.)

Most notably, in my opinion, Carnosine helps reduce protein glycation – which is a fancy way of saying that as your body takes in sugars like fructose (from eating fruit, for example), those sugars create free radicals and damage your cells. This damage causes, among other things, cells to age.

Carnosine is naturally ingested by people who eat meat. However, Carnosine is available as a supplement too.

It is VERY ironic to me that vegans will “suffer” the ill effects of not ingesting Carnosine to help delay the aging process unless we use supplements. However, even eating a lot of red meat may not be sufficient amount of Carnosine to accumulate the benefits of this amino acid.

 

Previously, I’ve written about the use of Creatine and my personal experiences with that supplement too. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you have very low levels of creatine in your body from not eating meat. If you are an athlete, you may want to consider supplementation. Please look for my other posts about this.

In keeping with this form of experimentation, I have ordered some Carnosine and once I get the supplement I will begin taking it.

No one seems to know the “correct dosage” for Carnosine, however the supplement producers are making 500 mg capsules as the daily dose, so my plan is to begin taking the 500 mg daily. I will plan to report back on the effects, so far as I am able to observe them (nothing like being my own lab rat!)

Some final thoughts…

Vegans are probably, by nature, already health conscious since we are careful about what we’re putting into our bodies. However, we still have to be mindful that by deleting entire food groups from our meal plans, we are missing different nutrients (B12, Carnosine and Creatine for example.)

If we choose to, we can take supplements to remain in better overall balance, while still avoiding the foods we don’t want to eat.

In my opinion, a great daily multi-vitamin is a wonderful place to start. If you are a (pre-menopausal) woman, and a vegan, get a multi that has B12, calcium, iron and zinc.

If you want to go beyond that, consider supplements that are right for you.

I’ve chosen to be mostly vegan. I consume eggs, and I also choose to take a fish oil based Omega 3 supplement daily – although I do not eat fish. (Yes, I know flax and chia seeds have Omega 3’s, but not anywhere near supplement levels.)

Now I will add a Carnosine supplement too.

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to get straight answers about health and nutrition in this country, especially as it pertains to supplements. It’s always a good idea to do as much research as possible, or talking to your personal health care provider, until you feel comfortable with what you decide to take.

I’m wishing everyone great health!

 

Additional Reading on Carnosine

Wiki page for Carnosine

Life Extension Magazine on Carnosine

BodyBuilding.com (older article) on Carnosine

A Year of Being Mostly Vegan

I’ve been keeping a personal journal for many decades, and periodically I re-read entries. Today I re-read an entry from November 16th, 2013 which noted that I’d moved from eating vegetarian to eating vegan.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this (crazy) eating regimen for over a year now! BUT, right now I’m in the best shape I’ve been in, probably in my life.

In June this year I began going to the gym regularly. I started out going every day, now I have two rest days within the week, but I’m still lifting and doing cardio 5 days a week.

And while I haven’t lost much weight (today I am 7 pounds lighter than I was this time last year) I have lost inches and dress sizes. I’m down to about a size 6 – I’m really proud of that!

On the eating front, I am mostly vegan. I’ve continued allowing egg whites into my diet so I can ensure I’m getting enough protein, which is a constant battle. I use my brown rice protein shake to supplement, but I must be mindful of the foods I choose to get the daily requirement of protein.

This year has been a great learning experience. I’ve experimented more with my diet and now find myself in a place where I eat lots of veggies and fruits, along with legumes, nuts and seeds.

Have I been a perfect vegan? Heck no. I estimate I ate chicken about a half a dozen times this year (no, I won’t be eating turkey on Thanksgiving!) and I do allow myself some buttered toast or buttered bagel every now and again as a treat.

These changes ARE CHALLENGING, but I still believe they are worth it.

As the holidays approach, I already know my eating habits are not fun at parties. Many times there is absolutely nothing I can eat when I’m at a party, or I wind up defaulting into eating junky processed food like potato chips. I think I’m going to start bringing food to parties… maybe a bag of carrots and a container of hummus dip, so that I’ll be sure to at least have one thing I can eat that is healthy. But when it comes to sour cream and onion dip, cheese and cracker plates, pigs in a blanket, cream filled whatever, and meat, meat and more meat… I’ll be skipping all that, thanks. (Hmm, maybe I need more vegan friends, ha!)

So here I am, beginning year two of being vegan. No one is more amazed than me, I’m sure.

My immediate goals are to continue eating healthy, continue going to the gym, and yes, I’d still like to lose 10 pounds. Who knows, maybe I’ll wind up being a Size 4 someday. I’ve never been a size 4 in my life, but as I achieve new health milestones it’s possible my body will continue to be transformed.

The biggest obstacle to becoming vegan in the first place was psychological. Most people believe they cannot give up X, Y or Z foods. Or perhaps even when they try to eat healthier, they still are in a deprivation mindset, instead of embracing the opportunity for better health.

So, let me warn you now, if you eat healthier and do it consistently, the foods you love now will taste BAD to you in the future. Do you know why? Because the foods that are not healthy for you are usually fake, processed foods. Ersatz food. And once you give that up, if you go back and taste processed foods, you’ll know they’re disgusting.

I have my own example of this. I used to like banana chips. I eat fresh bananas regularly, but I also used to enjoy banana chips as a snack. But after a while, I noticed that when I ate the banana chips, I could taste the oil the chip was fried in rather than the chip itself, and it tasted gross to me. Eventually, I could taste that the chip was very slightly rancid from the oil.

If my palette wasn’t as finely tuned, I doubt my sense of smell and taste would have registered this a year ago. I would have eaten the food then and enjoyed it. But when you convert your body and taste buds into eating fresh food 99% of the time, these things become obvious.

Good luck to everyone out there working on changing your diet and improving your health. I’ve achieved some decent milestones in the past year, and I’m looking forward to another year of improved health.

 

Vegan Tip – Avocado boosts Beta Carotene absorption

Beta carotene rich salad ingredients and a roll with mashed avocado

Beta carotene rich salad ingredients and a roll with mashed avocado

Welcome to lunch at my house today. What’s on the menu? Blockbuster nutrients, and the means to absorb them. It’s 100% vegan.

First, we have a beta carotene rich salad. I start with a cucumber base, and on top are heirloom baby tomatoes in orange, red and yellow from the local farmer’s market. You’ll also find slices of purple carrot (also scored at the farmer’s market), along with a sprinkling of dried wild blueberries and almond slivers.

If the foods you are eating are natural, and colorful … reds, yellows, oranges… they are high in beta carotene. But guess what? Avocado is also high in beta carotene.

Along with my salad is an artisanal bread roll dressed with mashed avocado (although I could have just put diced avocado directly onto the salad.)

According to the World’s Healthiest Foods website:

Recent research has shown that absorption of two key carotenoid antioxidants—lycopene and beta-carotene—increases significantly when fresh avocado (or avocado oil) is added to an otherwise avocado-free salad. One cup of fresh avocado (150 grams) added to a salad of romaine lettuce, spinach, and carrots increased absorption of carotenoids from this salad between 200-400%.

 

So eat up! Not only does it taste good, it’s really good for you!

Vegan Weight Lifting – Creatine Update

At the end of August I began experimenting with taking Creatine to enhance my weight lifting regimen at the gym. I decided not to follow the “typical” recommendations which suggest that a person do “loading” where you take larger doses of creatine to jack up the blood levels of this naturally occurring substance. Instead I opted for a slow daily half dose of the recommended 5 mg a day… which meant I took 2.5 mg a day for a few weeks.

Within 3 days of taking this level dosage, I felt a huge improvement in my weight lifting at the gym. Suddenly, I was able to increase the amount of weight I was lifting at all of my machines, and overall I felt more energized during my workouts. Everything seemed to be working as expected.

Unfortunately, one known side effect of taking creatine is water retention. As I monitored myself on the scale, I did notice a 1-2 pound increase and I figured it was water retention, but I was okay with that because of the tremendous improvement to the work out.

And then, I began retaining water in my ankles. It wasn’t anything severe, but I realized it was clearly a side effect from the creatine, so as a way of testing if my hypothesis was right, I stopped taking it.

Sure enough, my ankles returned to normal size and the water gains I saw on the scale disappeared.

But… I also saw the negative effect on my workout too. Where I’d previously felt stronger and more able to take on higher amounts of weight, I now felt weaker and had to take a step back on the amount of weight I was lifting.

What’s incredible to me, is that it really was that direct an effect AND that dramatic in terms of the increase and decrease to performance. It was quite surprising.

Because I do have some aspect of the scientist in me, I decided to do another “experiment” on myself. This time, I would take creatine again, but in an even smaller dosage. I figured I would try a 1/4 dose, instead of a half dose. That meant taking 1.25 mg / day, instead of the previous 2.5 mg dose I’d been using.

After maybe 4 days I did not see a dramatic improvement at the gym, but I did begin slight retaining of water and slight swelling of the ankles returned too.

So, these two tests lead me to stop taking creatine, because of the side effects I experienced.

However, it does work. Creatine does greatly enhance weight lifting, especially when – as a vegan or vegetarian – your body is not getting the natural source of creatine that meat eaters get.

Each athlete has to make their own decisions about what’s best for them. For me, I’d like to be able to use creatine, but my body does not react well to the water retention … even at lower doses.

As a vegan athlete (who does eat eggs), I have to work harder than my meat-eating, weight lifting counterparts to achieve results. My power gains at the gym will likely be slower as a result.

Also as a vegan athlete, I have to be mindful of getting enough protein too. I continue to use brown rice powder protein shakes (I use the Growing Naturals brand, which provides 24 g of protein per scoop.) The shakes are part of my recovery process, which has been beneficial.

In the more than 3 months I have gone to the gym and I’ve continued to see progress. I’ve dropped two clothing sizes (inches) and I can see much better muscle definition than I had before I started. The progress seems frustratingly slow sometimes, especially because it takes so much effort to achieve results. Also, this routine requires a freakishly zealous adherence to eating about 1400 calories a day so that I don’t back-slide.

But, I feel the results have been worth it.

Me 10-3-14 LBD cropped

Vegetarian and Vegan Weight Lifting – Consider Creatine

While perusing a bookstore recently, I found Vegan For Her, by Virginia Messina. It’s a very good reference book for women who are interested in a vegan lifestyle.

I was especially impressed with Chapter 8, which has 7 pages dedicated to “Powered by Plants: The Female Vegan Athlete”.

In particular, I learned something important I didn’t know. Vegetarians and Vegans are low in Creatine, and should consider supplementation, particularly for athletes who are weight lifting, like me.

Creatine is a substance that naturally occurs in the body, and supports the body’s ability to build muscle. For women who are afraid of “getting big” that is NOT what happens when a woman does weight lifting. Instead, a woman builds bone density, and builds a lean, muscular form and as a result your resting metabolic rate rises, and voila… you burn more calories even when at rest. That also means it will be more likely that you’d be able to reduce overall levels of body fat.

Needless to say, weight lifting means doing the work and I’m not talking about lifting a 5 pound dumb bell once a week! My routine is a minimum of 4 weight lifting days per week, with 2 dedicated to upper body and 2 dedicated to lower body. I’m working on 5-7 weight lifting machines per workout, and continuing to increase the amount of weight resistance I use over time.

Back to Creatine.

Here’s what VeganHealth.Org says about it (http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/weightlifting):

 

Creatine (also known as creatine monohydrate) is the only nutritional supplement that has been consistently shown to improve strength and muscle mass. The main benefit of creatine is thought to be due to its effect on reducing fatigue during repeated, short bursts of intense exercise (such as weightlifting, sprinting, soccer, rugby, and hockey . Lower fatigue during sprinting and weightlifting means increased training and greater results.

 

Creatine is a component of phosphocreatine (PCr). PCr provides energy during short bursts of powerful exercise, by providing a phosphate for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the quickest source of energy in skeletal muscle. Depletion of PCr in muscle is associated with fatigue during such exercise.

 

Creatine can be synthesized in the body. It is also supplied in the diet by meat and fish. Supplementing with creatine has been shown to increase performance especially in people whose creatine levels in muscle were initially on the lower side of normal.

Guess whose creatine levels are typically on the lower side of normal because we don’t eat meat or fish? Yeah, you guessed it: Vegans and Vegetarians.

There are vegetarian/vegan sources of Creatine, and a company called Now Sports makes one variety of Creatine Monohydrate that I’m using right now which is vegan, based on the label. There may be others, but my local health food store stocks this one – so it’s the one I got.

If you are interested in creatine, and read about it, you’ll read about “Creatine Loading.” For athletes looking to rapidly increase the amount of creatine in their bodies, there is a process whereby you take higher doses of the supplement during the “loading phase” which usually lasts 5-6 days. After that, you would return to the normal daily dose.

Since I have never taken creatine before, I decided to play it much more conservatively. There are potential side effects to taking creatine, including retaining water, and before you decide to take ANY supplement, you should do the research to determine whether or not it’s right for you.

So, I began taking only 2.5 milligrams (mg) of creatine per day, mixed with fruit juice since creatine is more readily absorbed in the body when coupled with carbohydrates. In most reading I’ve done, 5mg per day is the recommended daily dose, with perhaps a 10mg (min) per day during a loading phase. You can see, I’m below even the daily recommended dose because I wanted to try it without overloading my system right away. I am fine taking a more gradual approach.

After only 4 days of supplementation, I can already see the difference in my weight lifting routines. I have more power and explosive energy when I begin doing my repetitions, and I do not feel as tired at the end of my four sets as I had previously.

Of course, creatine is part of a larger picture equation.

I have purposefully increased the amount of protein I eat every day, while still keeping an eye on my calories. An adult woman needs 46 grams of protein a day, but a vegan weight lifter needs more than that, and the amount of protein you eat should be calculated based on your body weight. And of course you still need carbohydrates to fuel your workout, while your protein intake (especially immediately after your lifts) will help with recovery.

I’d love to hear from other vegan athletes, especially weight lifters, to see if creatine has been helpful to you too?

 

 

Why It’s Easy to Gain, but Hard to Lose Weight

This week marks eight weeks since I began my daily exercise routine, including intensive weight lifting and more intensive cardio than I’d been doing prior to joining my local gym. Yay for me!

I am pleased with the level of progress I have made thusfar, but I admit that I’m impatient sometimes, particularly with my weight. However, I am LESS focused on my weight these days than I am on the overall gains I am making, which include a smaller waist, much better muscle tone, and a higher level of personal health.

Yes, it’s a journey to achieve the goals I have set for myself, but it’s a journey of health well worth the investment that can include a massive payoff … such as a longer life, with a higher quality of life.

These days, my weekly routine is Mon/Tues I do upper body weight lifting, Wed is a cardio day, Thurs/Fri I do lower body lifting, Saturday is a cardio day and Sunday I determine how I feel. If I feel I need a full day of rest for my recovery, I take a rest day. If I have a lot of energy, I do lighter cardio on that day.

Today, being Wednesday, I had a cardio day. I started by doing exercise on the elliptical machine, then I moved on to the stair master. Of all the machines in the gym, I have personally found the stair master to be the most challenging. On the positive side, the stair master burns a LOT of calories, on the challenging side, after doing 30 minutes of the stair master I have to be very careful to ensure I am eating properly that day to replenish my energy.

Speaking of energy, calorie intake represents energy I take in from food. Burning calories at the gym represents the energy I expend in exercise.

It’s extremely simplistic, but if I burn 300 calories … as I did today in my cardio workout … and I eat the 1400 calories I’ve set for myself each day, then I’m contributing to my goal of losing weight since my net calories that day would be 1100 calories. Alternatively, if I ate 1700 calories (which I didn’t) I would still net out to 1400 calories today since I expended 300 calories at the gym by doing rigorous hard exercise for an hour.

But for anyone reading this blog who is sitting on their couch and thinking, oh, if you’re exercising it’s easy to lose weight… think again.

I’ll say this again… I spent an hour doing rigorous, heart pounding exercise at the gym today and I burned 300 calories. I was dripping with sweat when I was done.

300 calories is NOT MUCH.

A single, medium sized banana has 105 calories. It is very easy to eat a banana, and consume those 105 calories. Conversely, burning off those same 105 calories takes a LOT of effort.

While I was exercising, I was thinking about people who eat all kinds of stuff everyday. Oh, they might think, I want a slice of apple pie, and I’m eating salad otherwise. Oh yeah? That ONE SLICE of apple pie is 300 calories. Is that same person prepared to do an hour of heart pounding exercise to work off that slice of pie?

Every day that goes by, I do my best to tally my calorie intake in my head. This is something I’ve taught myself over time, that a whole egg is about 70 calories, but one egg white is about 25. A banana is about 100 calories, and I can eat as many raw cucumbers as I want. 🙂

I tally up the amount of protein I am taking in each day too, so that I’m doing my best to achieve my 46 grams of protein required and hopefully exceeding that.

My new trick, now that I’m back to eating eggs, is to consume 3 egg whites (18 grams of protein) plus my regular brown rice protein shake (24 grams of protein for the brown rice powder, 2 grams of protein for the almond milk = 26 grams). These two protein power houses, together give me 44 grams of protein a day and they contribute only about 325 calories to my daily intake, which still leaves me with over 1000 calories for veggies, fruits, grains and nuts. Thank goodness, 1000 calories of fresh food is very filling! I don’t worry about protein now the way I used to, because getting the 2 grams of protein I need to hit my minimum daily requirement is fine through whatever protein is in the remainder of the food I eat. I know I will easily exceed my daily requirement.

But my real point here is back to the idea of thinking about the food you are eating, and how it contributes to your health. If you are eating more calories each day than you are working off, you will gain weight. Your weight gain might be very slow, you may not notice it much until one day your pants feel tight and the scale (if you use one) says you are now 10 pounds heavier than you were a few months ago. Unfortunately, it is much easier to see that happen than to see the reverse.

However, if you are mindful of what you are putting in your body, and if you are exercising regularly, you have a great chance of either maintaining your weight and health, or improving it over time.

I wish everyone the best of health. Remember: it’s the smallest choices we make everyday that add up to the big picture.