Book Review: The Athlete’s Fix

book-cover

The Athlete’s Fix, by Pip Taylor (Velo Press, 2016) is a clearly written, easy-to-grasp starting point for anyone, athlete or not, who suspects they have “food issues,” but have yet sorted them out. Taylor provides a base diet to follow (reducing inflammation is a key step when troubleshooting foods), food diary and food testing protocols, recipes, and the back story—what goes awry in the body when someone ingests a food they react to, including gluten intolerance.

As I had to dig for this information on my own decades ago (e.g. begging my allergist in the early ‘90s to challenge test me for corn starch, food dyes, etc. to prove I wasn’t allergic to “all antibiotics,” but all the filler crap in pills), nothing I read was earth shattering. For example, Taylor’s “base diet” (proteins, veggies, fruits, seeds and grasses, healthy fats), the springboard to testing and hopefully adding back additional foods, has been my actual diet for many, many years.

I really like her approach to customizing your diet though, and it’s the first time I’ve seen this philosophy in print. Taylor advocates that after inflammation has reduced, you can, and should try to increase your diet variety by adding back foods you formerly suspected as triggers, one at a time. When your body is dealing with a high level of chronic inflammation, it can be tough to identify which foods are the actual aggravators. Also, I thought Taylor’s message of “trusting yourself” is key for people to read, as in you can figure out which foods are best for you, all on your own, and even identify how much of a food and how often you can eat it without triggering a reaction.

The other point from The Athlete’s Fix that stayed with me the most was a statement made by Taylor at the beginning of her book, one that kept me reading to see how she’d back it up: Today, the average American eats the same few foods all of the time. I couldn’t imagine how this could be, especially when you think of the average American grocery—so much food! And the explosion of food options, in my lifetime at least, most likely from technology advancements (think: vastly improved refrigeration abilities and shipping speeds to import, all of the processed, convenience foods). But, Taylor’s explanation was dead on—the typical American is eating the same foods all the time—corn, wheat, soy, dairy—because these cheap fillers are added to just about everything that’s not a wholefood to reduce production costs.

To sum, The Athlete’s Fix, in my opinion, will be most helpful for the individual who’s just starting to connect the dots among “what should I eat to feel my best?” and is highly motivated (this tends to be athletes, because they’re highly motivated to preform their best) to figure it out. Certainly, following Taylor’s steps in the book is easier and much more affordable, and will provide much more personalized feedback, than many of the current food testing methods. Others, and I’m addressing my fellow long-term food warriors here, will glean an immediate helpful tip or two to apply, and benefit from expanding their basic digestion and nutrition knowledge.

 

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Book Review: The Athlete’s Fix

Aging & Recovery

creaky old woman To loosely paraphrase, aging, like death and taxes, is hard to avoid. After a pretty good run (pushing my way towards 50 this fall), some classic signs of fossilizing have been popping up. In the past two years, I’ve: 1) gotten reading glasses, 2) had a few angry, tired-out organs surgically removed, 3) spotted my first gray hairs, 4) wrestled with no longer sleeping well, and, 5) been freaked out about how much more noticeably tired I am on average.

I didn’t used to panic about aging, probably because I didn’t notice any issues until recently. But now I have some major fears. Topping the list? 1) Not having a plan/care/money for when I’m ancient, 2) losing my mobility/independence/mind, and, 3) developing anything that my father had (take your pick: heart attacks, multiple strokes, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes. And so NOT helping? My mom just reminded me when I was home this past May that I’m now the age when my father was diagnosed with diabetes. Gggrreeeaattt. Now I’m terrified of sugar…)

Of course, aging also affects my swimming, namely the amount of recovery now required. As an age grouper, I used to swim three-day meets over long weekends — multiple events, prelims and finals – then head right back to doubles on Monday, no ill effect. This July, I swam five events in two days (heats only, and not even a full distance slate), and felt like I’d been run over by a truck the following two days. I wanted to sleep through days one and two, then sit on the couch and eat an entire “family-sized” bag of cheesy-fish crackers on day three. (Alas, I did not do either.)

Sure, some of my post-meet sore, draggy-ness might be attributed to training at altitude, competing at sea level, then going right back to altitude. Bad air quality (from smog in the Bay Area to a raging wild fire at home) is also probably partly to blame. And, it has been a super stressful year so far.

But I can’t deny the aging factor, especially when I’ve improved in so many other areas per managing myself while competing — better nutrition, massage, hydration with fancy electrolytes, and no longer running around the entire meet like a crazed age grouper hopped up on dry Jell-O (shout out to anyone who remembers eating this during meets!)

Unfortunately, I’m only realizing now that I’ve been on the “rusting into old age” pathway for a while. Other tell-tale signs from the pool? Some types of back-to-back practices are really tough on my body (e.g. two distance or sprint days in a row, anything that requires going off the block a lot.) I frequently start off practice pretty sore and tired. I need more warm up on good days. It’s “distressing” to think about what’s next — beginning every practice feeling creaky? Down to just one event per meet? In-pool starts? Major health or joint issues? Will the 50 fly become my current 200 “distance” fly?

I’ll never quit swimming, it offers me too much – I love to train, (especially outside), try new pools, meet new people, tweak in hope of improvement, and staying fit. It is, however, time to think about making training, racing, and recovery adjustments. Which means it’s time for one of my favorite phases — guinea pig! I’ll research, read, and test, and then report back this fall and winter; stay tuned!

Aging & Recovery

Self Test: DIY Electrolytes for Swim Practice

electrolyte bottles

I love to experiment with all things swim-related, then review and asses because I always strive for improvement in the pool, even if the result is a small tweak. Luckily, I’m also my own-best guinea pig. Last week I was motivated to try a DIY [Do It Yourself] electrolyte drink. While I’ve used and loved Ultima (I highly recommend their “grape”) for the past several years, I wanted to see if making my own electrolyte drink would be healthier, easier, and/or cheaper.

There are lots of DIY electrolyte recipes and variations to choose from online. I selected the one below based on common-household ingredients and simplicity:

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

2 cups water

1/8 Tsp. salt

2 Tbls. honey

It took less than five minutes to whip up a batch, although the process was a bit messy (sticky honey, and I quickly discovered that it’s best to squeeze for juice over a bowl). It was quite zesty-energizing to smell while concocting, but this also made me wonder if the drink would hold up well (no way am I getting up any earlier than 4:45 a.m., even to prep proper hydration, so I stashed it in my Klean Kanteen in the fridge to “grab and go” in the morning.)

Right before heading to practice the next day, I popped it out of the fridge. A quick sniff and taste reassured me that my DIY electrolyte drink was still fresh and tasty. I did have to shake it up a bit though—some honey had settled on the bottom overnight.

Once in the water, it wasn’t long before I knew that his DIY electrolyte drink was a failure for me, however. It quenched my thirst well, but apparently my tummy can’t handle straight-up citrus—I was cramping before warm-up was over, a situation that lasted all 90 minutes of IM day…

Furthermore, Ultima offers a few other pros:

–More minerals my body needs during practice and after to recover faster (I polish off whatever remains in my Klean Kanteen on the way home to start re-hydrating)

–It’s easier and quicker to add a scoop of dry powder to my pre-filled water bottle right before leaving to swim. And this is in sync with my on-going “streamline” effort—fewer chores, especially at night.

–A dry powder is much more travel-meet friendly.

To sum, I’ll stick with what is already working well, Ultima. Ease and calm tummy are worth the cost. And, a timely reminder: Always test new products (food, drink, gear, etc.) in practice. Race day is not the time to deal with an adverse reaction or ill-fitting gear!

Self Test: DIY Electrolytes for Swim Practice

Passion Flower as Sleep Aid

passion flower Poor sleep quality has become a particularly distressing side effect of “aging” for me. Foremost, I’m tired of being tired. Secondly, I’ve always loved to sleep, so I miss those solid nights of sleep. I have no idea what a typical “sleep block” is for me now, but I suspect it’s somewhere between 2-4 hours, way down from 10-8.

I knew from my female friends ahead of me in the age curve that “restless” nights become a common issue. One example? The still clear, panic-y memory of being in the locker room with fellow masters swimmer “Magic Hands” Pam (how I envy her quick breast stroke hand recovery!) following a 5 a.m. practice, wondering what the heck time she got up to have had time to make us fresh hard-boiled eggs before swimming that morning because “she couldn’t sleep.”

Fitful sleep cycles started when I was in my young 40s (all those hormones dropping to get ready for menopause!), and became bad enough that I started looking for potential solutions by my mid-40s. Those “seven tips to ensure a better night’s sleep” articles were of little use for me. I’ve always preferred sleeping in a quiet, cool, dark room. Reading in bed right before lights out has been a lifelong habit, so bright electronic screens weren’t disrupting my sleep cycle. With swim practice, I exercise nearly every day and adhere to the same sleep/wake schedule daily. And, I’ve always eaten an early dinner to digest prior to that early bedtime required for a.m. practice.

I’ve taken melatonin for the past five years, but found (similar to comments I’ve read and heard) that I had to keep upping the amount to achieve a solid six hours of sleep—I worked my way up from a quarter of a 3mg pill to a full pill every night within a few years.

This past year, the melatonin didn’t seem to be doing didily. I was aware of waking up several times every night, couldn’t easily fall back asleep, and was having near-constant nightmares (another melatonin side effect I’ve since learned about.) It was time to try something new.

After reading a chance article about how people with anxiety kept reporting that passion flower provided an additional “side-effect” of sound sleep, I looked into passion flower’s sleep aid potential. I like what I found—100% plant-based (melatonin is a synthetic hormone), no known side effects (not even next-day mental fogginess) and affordable (.27-cents/dose, which is 800mg for 45 days).

Passion Flower worked well, and right away for me. The first night I tried it (I took the two capsules right before picking up my book to read) I felt noticeably more relaxed and sleepy while reading, and feel asleep easily and quickly. The next morning, I felt much more alert and rested, with had no memory/awareness of waking up during the night.

During the past month of my passion flower trial, I continue to have improved sleep—I’m not sleeping a solid 8-10, but my blocks of time have become longer, and I wake feeling more refreshed. Nightmares have become much less frequent too. The other element I appreciate about passion flower is that I don’t fall into a heavy, drugged sleep. If my cat paws me to hold him, I’m able to wake and make an adjustment. This is a relief, because I wouldn’t want to take anything that had me sleeping through events such as say, a fire.

I can’t do much about aging and the accompanying issues, but I’ll continue to take passion flower. Meanwhile, I can certainly work more on what is probably my other big sleep inhibitor: reducing stress levels!

Next week: Book Review: Penny Heyns, An Autobiography with Gary Lemke

 

Passion Flower as Sleep Aid

Kombucha

 

IMG_0214 It’s no secret that digestion is not one of my super powers. It never has been, probably never will be. It might because I was premature (didn’t quite “finish”), or just a personal physical quirk. Certainly, “fossilizing” (losing digestive enzymes during middle age is a common aging event), is now part of it, but my body has never liked a lot of foods nor digested well what it does tolerate.

As such, improving digestion has been a long-term goal of mine. Following basic food combining tenets, avoiding known irritants, and taking daily digestive enzymes and probiotics all have been the norm for years, but I’m always interested in trying something new that might bring additional benefits.

Drinking kombucha tea is an ancient habit that’s making a big comeback. It’s fermentation/yeast properties have been touted as an elixir for many health ailments, including balky digestion. Of course, other fermented foods toting equal health benefits are available, but I’m not a fan of kimchi (can’t have it due to it’s pepperflakes) or sauerkraut, and regular yogurt still isn’t cultured enough for me to tolerate well (dairy makes me super congested.)

Also in kombucha favor is that it’s readily available in a variety of tea and juice options, and affordable – my fave brand, GT’s Synergy Chia, is less than $3/bottle and provides me with three servings. You can make kombucha at home, but I doubt I’ll bother because it’s just as easy and affordable to get a week’s supply at the store.

I’ve been drinking about one-third of a bottle each day, about an hour before lunch (my tummy appreciates digesting just one thing at a time as much as possible) for the past month. I haven’t had a bad reaction, and am definitely seeing improvement – my stomach is calmer with much fewer aches.

From nutrition standpoint, GT’s Synergy Chia isn’t crazy-high in anything: sugar (2g), carbs (7g), calories (about 50 as am drinking less than the two-serving amount), and offers protein (2g) and fiber 4g) in addition to all the bennies of kombucha. And, my tummy high fives the three ingredient label – 100% juice, chia seeds, kombucha.

I know many people who don’t like the taste of kombucha, but I like it’s fruity-with-a tart-tang-after-taste. I also love the chia seeds included in this Syngery label, it reminds me of a fave treat, bubble tea (fruit ice tea with tapioca pearls.)

The only downside to kombucha I can identify at this stage is the need for refrigeration, being a “keep refrigerated at all times” product. I doubt I’ll ever guzzle a full bottle in one sitting (and I don’t always have access to a fridge when traveling) but you never know… On the whole though, kombucha is tasty, easy, and affordable, so it’s a keeper per the daily regimen.

Next week: Quarterly Housekeeping

Kombucha

Reducing Chemical Exposure & Why

toxic image  Living with tons of allergies and sensitivities can get real old real fast, particularly during a “random flare”—a strong reaction to some unknown irritant. Not only do you have to tamp down symptoms, you need to identify what set off the autoimmune response.

My latest flare was odd. It felt like just my lips spent the day swimming in the ocean then becoming sunburned on the beach. Think: swollen, dry, and irritated. Most puzzling was that it happened at all. If you’re like me, you don’t try new things on a whim. You live in a carefully controlled bubble amidst your few proven-non-reactionary foods, cleansers, bath products, etc.

Although, having just written that, you can suddenly react to a product you’ve used safely for years. When that happens, it’s one of two things: 1) the formula’s changed (yet packaging lacks a splashy “better than ever before!” shout-out, which for people like me translates to “Code Red! Re-check ingredients!” And yes, I’m talking to you, Go Veggie!, for recently adding coconut oil and potato starch, making your rice “cheese” now off limits for me), or 2) you’ve developed an over-use intolerance, which happens more than you think. Likely because it’s one of five items you actually can eat, so you eat it each meal, every day…

Lip balm is one of my few regular-use products. But, I hadn’t switched brands, “flavors” or even tubes lately, so I didn’t think it was the culprit. Instead, I targeted black pepper—not the finely powdered stuff that sits on store shelf exposed to light endlessly and thus has no kick, but the fresh, whole-seed kind from a spice store. Testing was simple—stop adding freshly cracked to my food. Sure enough, within 24 hours, my lips were no longer irritated.

A minor blip easily solved, and the cycle also sparked a chemical-exposure audit. I react a lot to chemicals (think: dyes, scents, additives and more), so reducing my reaction loop equals better health. Unfortunately, today’s world is rife with chemicals—pool chlorine levels, people who bathe in perfume/aftershave, detergents (e.g. the cleaning aisle in the store, on clothes/towels of others, when the neighbors do laundry) and much, much more.

That’s why I try to limit my chemical exposure in realms I can control a bit by going “all natural” as much as possible—making food from scratch using organic ingredients as mush as possible, emphasizing whole foods over processed, making my own lotion, cleaning with vinegar, I don’t wear makeup, when I get a hair trim I ask that they don’t use any products, etc. After the most recent chemicals audit I stopped using a hair curl enhancer (the scent never really agreed with me, and already feel a bit less congested 24/7) and am contemplating no longer polishing my nails. I don’t do them often, and I love the look, but it’s just so much chemical-y layers sitting on your nails for weeks…

Next week: Kombucha

Reducing Chemical Exposure & Why

Stressed to Sick

stress image  Two full months have yet to pass since I’ve relocated to Reno, but I’ve already been sick twice. This is “discouraging” because 1) consistent training makes all the difference for me, and 2) for once, I’d been doing so well this past season (healthy all fall/early winter until I caught the crud that everyone had in January. But, even then I bounced back well—no six-weeks-malinger.)

I suspect that a perfect storm of physical, mental, and emotional stressors has left me exceptionally run-down and thus more susceptible. Here’s the tally:

Practice time shift: Back in Denver I was on deck at 8 a.m. most days. In Reno, practice begins at 5:30 a.m., requiring a 4:45 a.m. alarm. It’s just early enough that I’m afraid that I’ll never fully adjust. Thus, I now feel draggy most of the time, and on days when I swim later on my own, I naturally wake up between 5:30-6:30 a.m., so of course I have trouble getting to sleep on those nights, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

Diet: Not so good recently. I’ve been having some really bad days that provoke scarfing whatever junk I can get my hands on (see “stress” below), all of which I normally avoid like the plague because it sparks my chain of inflammation-to-sick. Full disclosure list: cookies, corn chips, cheese & wheat crackers, froyo, microwave popcorn.

Lack of steaming: In Denver, it was easy to steam, a simple 10-minute remedy that’s been very effective for reducing my chronic asthma/allergy congestion. On my a.m. LCM days, I did weights in the afternoon, finishing with a steam room session. On a.m. SCM days, I simply moved from pool to steam room. In Reno however, there’s no time to steam prior to 5:30 a.m. practices. With “eating” being the priority once home, I then roll into the day’s tasks, making it hard for me to stop everything to steam. While the gym I joined here has a steam room, you know from my last post that getting there regularly has been a problem lately.

Lack of outdoor time: I’d swim at least three days a week outside in Denver year-round, weather permitting. I can do that here now thanks to the nifty 25m lap lane right outside my door, but I’ve yet to get on a solid schedule due to either being sick or busy (or both at the same time), and LCM outdoor pool practice here may not begin until mid-June. So, the majority of my practice time lately has been indoors, which isn’t as healthy for me (heat + recycled dry air + chlorine isn’t great combo for my asthma) as fresh outdoor air.

Stress: Easily the biggest running-me-down factor at the moment. Right before I moved, my sister and I had to start sorting our parents’ affairs. It’s been a staggering amount of 24/7 tasks under far-from-optimal circumstances (crisis-level decisions and actions, searching for and trying to make sense of paperwork, very divergent levels of care required per parent, shocking reveals, and we’ve yet to find one factor that’s been “good news.”) I’m the first to admit that my status quo lately veers between depressed, exhausted, sad, irritable, and stressed.

Listing the above issues however, is a great way for me to review and brainstorm remedies. Some of the things I’ve thought to try include:

–Staying within one hour of bed/rise times. Avoiding daytime naps if possible to fall asleep more easily at night.

–Tweaking my diet: Adding healthier fat (e.g. avocado) and eating smaller portions but more frequently to feel satiated most of the time. Emphasizing veggies and other whole foods. Stocking some treat foods that are “safe” for me. I’m aware that simply “stopping” stress eating may not be realistic right now, but I can at least reach for something that won’t make me sick. I’ve also been reminding myself that making myself sick via food is not going to help anything.

–Bringing my shower stuff every time I go to gym to make sitting in the steam room automatic. And I’ve paired TV-treat-time with steaming and stretching on afternoons I don’t go to the gym – I look in advance for fun things to record as play-back steam/stretch “carrots.”

–Avoiding getting too run-down. This is the biggest issue I’m trying to address at the moment. So far it includes doing whatever I can to boost restful sleep, asking for help, setting up small regular perks, and allowing myself to feel my emotions and permission to “just stop.” The latter ranges from getting out of practice early (one morning last week, for whatever reason, everything was hitting me right then and I was melting down), to asking for time to “process” what I’ve just learned before responding/making a decision.

I know there are many essential life lessons for me to lean into right now. Some key ones include: learning to remain grounded under duress, patience, forgiveness, letting go of the notion of “control” (especially when tied to “expectation”), and that “acceptance” sometimes means taking no action. I know I’ll eventually look back on this phase with some thanks for providing so much personal growth. But for now, my immediate focus is finding and maintaining a healthy balance again…

Next week: Swim Garmin Mini-Review

Stressed to Sick