It’s All about the Feet

How is 2021 going for you so far? I hope it’s off to a great start! I know a lot of you have set step goals for yourselves this year. That is fantastic in any year, but even more important this year since many of us are still sheltering in place and gyms are still closed. However, if you go from not walking much to regularly hitting 10,000+ steps a day, you might start to experience some soreness and stiffness. As with any sport, it is important to start your walking, running or hiking routine gradually. Ramping up too quickly can leave you more prone to injury. It is also a good idea to incorporate stretching and mobility exercises into your routine.  

Regular mobility exercises can help protect you from injury. Mobility is defined as the “ability of a joint to move actively through a range of motion”. In other words, the better prepared your joints are to move actively, the less likely you will be to get injured. This holds true at every phase of your fitness journey. Even seasoned athletes can get sore feet if they do not pay proper attention to stretching and mobility.

You may be wondering how you can prepare your feet to take you where you want to go. I’m so glad you asked! Here are some great mobility exercises that will help get (and keep!) your feet ready to go the distance:

TOE PICKUPS

For this exercise, you can use pens, pencils, marbles, pebbles, golf balls, or other similarly-sized items. Sit or stand with the items at your feet. Use your toes to pick up each item and then put it back down. Then repeat with the other foot. Notice if this exercise is easier with one foot compared with the other.

FOOT ROLLOUT

Stand or sit with your feet flat on the ground. Place a golf ball, lacrosse ball or tennis ball in the center of the arch of your foot. Slowly move your foot forward and back and side to side using the ball to massage the bottom of your foot.  Do not be afraid to put a substantial amount of weight on your foot while doing this exercise.  The ball may want to slide out from under your arch, but do not let it. Then, do the same thing on the ball of the foot. Let your toes hang over the ball and then slowly roll from side to side crossing over every part of the foot. This helps the bones in your toes and midfoot become more mobile. Change sides and repeat.

CALF STRETCH

Tight calves affect how your feet move and are a common cause of plantar faciitis (pain the bottom of your foot).

Stand within reach of a wall or chair for balance and place a thick-rolled towel (or a cushion) on the floor in front of you. Step onto the towel with a bare foot, placing the ball of the foot on the top of the towel and keeping your heel on the floor. Make sure your foot is pointing forward and slowly straighten your stretching leg. Keeping your body upright (try not to lean forward with your torso), step forward with the opposite foot. The tighter your lower leg, the harder it is to step in front of your stretching leg.

If you find you need to lean forward, bend your knees, or you lose your balance while doing this exercise, shorten your stepping distance. If you want to make the stretch more difficult, use a foam roller or yoga block (or a thick book) instead of the towel.

DRAW THE ALPHABET WITH YOUR BIG TOE

Trace the entire alphabet with your big toe, then repeat on the other side. You can do this exercise sitting in a chair, on the floor, or lying down. For extra credit, you can do both the uppercase and lowercase alphabets.

I’ve Got Your Back!

Your lower back is part of your body’s core.  Contrary to what many people think, your core includes your entire trunk, not only your abdominal muscles. All the muscles from your shoulders down to your hips help you to stand upright and maintain balance while not only walking, running, hiking, but also while sitting and basically everything you do with your body.

Many people experience lower back pain when walking, running, hiking and even sitting. Worse than experiencing the pain itself, they think they just have to suffer through it and so do not do anything about it. If you have attended any of my workshops (or read my any of my blog posts), you know that I definitely do not believe in suffering! We are here to have fun and you should be able to do that without pain.  So, what should you do if your lower back hurts while you are walking, running or hiking?*

If you are experiencing lower back pain, check your posture. What we call our “hips” is actually called the pelvis in human anatomy. The pelvis is the basin-shaped complex of bones that connects the trunk and the legs, supports and balances the trunk, and contains and supports the intestines and other internal organs. Imagine that your pelvis is a bowl filled with soup. While you are walking, you do not want to spill the soup!  Visualize keeping “the bowl” (your pelvis) level so that the imaginary soup does not spill out. In order to keep your pelvic bowl level, use your abdominal muscles to bring the front of the bowl up, rather than using your gluteal muscles (those in your tush) to push the back of the bowl down.  When you use your abdominal muscles to lift the front of your pelvic bowl, you will notice your lower back lengthen. This should relieve any minor lower back pain you are feeling. Practice with this posture while standing still and then continue to hold this position while you walk, run, hike and even sit.

Of course, the stronger your core muscles are, the easier it will be to keep your pelvis level for longer periods of time. Here are some exercises that will help you develop strong core muscles:

CAT-COW

This dynamic yoga pose is a great way to prepare your hips and back for walking sessions. Get onto all fours, with your hands stacked under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Inhale, arching your back and bringing your belly toward the floor as your gaze shifts up. As you exhale, round your spine and draw your chin to your chest, tucking your tailbone under. Repeat 5–10 times.

ON-YOUR-BACK SQUATS

Lie on your back, bringing your knees in toward your chest. Check to see how much your pelvis tucked when you brought your knees in. Try again, only this time, don’t let the pelvis leave the ground. Only pull your knees in to the point where you can keep your pelvis still. Repeat 10 times.

GLUTE BRIDGES

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Keep your chin tucked as you curl your tailbone up off the ground, squeezing your glutes. Go as high as you can while keeping your tailbone tucked, then return to the starting position. Perform 10–15 repetitions total.

FIRE HYDRANTS

Start on all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and knees under your hips. Lift one knee out to the side without moving the pelvis (imagine you are a dog peeing on a fire hydrant), then return to the starting position with control. Complete 10 repetitions on one side, then switch to the other.

*always check with your doctor to ensure the cause of your back pain is not something more serious than exercise-induced muscle soreness.

Mindful Walking

Walking is my favorite form of exercise because, well, it’s easy! We all know how to do it. And better still, the benefits of walking are well-documented. Walking can improve your cardiovascular fitness, reduce your risk of heart disease, help you lose weight and improve your overall health. 

Mindfulness—which is often described as the practice of paying attention to the present moment—can decrease stress, help you feel more centered, and improve your overall mood.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could combine the two? Abracadabra…welcome to Mindful Walking!

Mindful Walking is about being present in the moment and bringing awareness to your movement. Rather than focusing on how many miles you have to go or moving at a specific pace, mindful walking is about paying attention to your body and how each part of it feels as you move. Your body is made up of lots of parts—not just your torso, arms and legs. When you walk, how do you ankles, shins, knees, and upper thighs feel? How about your shoulders, upper back, lower back and your hips? You get the idea…there are more than 200 bones and about 600 muscles in your body. And they are all working together and yet, independently, to get you where you are going.

The closer you pay attention to how each part of you feels, the easier it will be for you to optimize the experience. Does moving your big toe right or left make walking feel easier or harder? Does doing so relieve the pain in your (wherever it may hurt) or does it make it worse? Your body is actively communicating with you every moment—whether you are moving or not. But the question is…are you listening?

Mindful walking also includes paying attention to your breathing. It is easy and effortless? Does it feel heavy and labored? Are your lungs filling completely with clean, fresh air or is your breathing shallow? Paying closer attention to these things will help not only your walking (or running or hiking), but it can also improve your health overall as you make small adjustments in how your body moves so that you move with more ease, with less stress, and with more joy.

Learning to be mindful during your walks takes practice, but here are five tips that can help:

  1. Set your intention

I know you are a super busy, high-achieving woman. You probably have a ton of things on your mind at any given moment. However, when you go out for a walk, run, hike, or whatever activity you choose, set your intention to focus on yourself and what you are doing at this particular moment. Taking a break from solving the world’s problems will not only feel good, it will re-energize you and renew your ability to focus. And that will help you be even more successful at working out whatever issue you return to after your workout.

2. Choose a peaceful route

Spending time in nature has been scientifically proven to improve your mood and reduce stress levels. Dodging traffic and other hazards, on the other hand, has the exact opposite effect.

3. Focus on one thing at a time

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of moving parts in your body while you are active (pun intended!). It can be overwhelming to try to focus on them all. Try starting your walk by making sure your posture is in alignment and then seeing if any particular area feels tight or different than usual. Spend the walk trying to really feel what is going on in just that particular area. Focus on how adjusting your posture, cadence, or stride can help that particular area feel more relaxed.

4. Leave your headphones at home

While listening to music, an audio-book or podcast can make the time go faster, it also makes it harder to focus. Try one walk, run or hike without distractions. You do not have to ditch the headphones every day, but give it a try once in a while. You might find that you like the serenity of focusing internally rather than externally every once in a while.

5. Remember to breathe

One of the simplest ways you can center yourself and be in the moment is to remind yourself to breathe. Concentrating on the inhales, exhales and how the air moves through your body connects you with the activity and the environment in ways you might not even realize. Full, deep breaths can also help to reduce stress and improve your mood.

Once your walk is finished, take time to reflect on the positive things you gained from your workout. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back for taking a self-care break during the day.  Compare your mood before and after your workout and reflect on the benefits of caring for yourself.  Being in tune with your body and recognizing what it needs to move with ease will help you achieve your goals each and every day!

Ring in the New Year

Welcome to 2021! Here’s hoping that this year brings you only the best!

However, as much as we complain about 2020, some good things happened in the past year. The thing I am most grateful for is this community, which started the first weekend of 2020. Thank you so much for being a part of it. We ended up doing things a lot differently than I imagined we would when we got started, but all in all I think it worked out pretty well. I hope you do too.

Here are some tips to help you stay healthy and motivated in the coming year:

  • Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. It will set you up to stay hydrated all day long. Try to drink at least the equivalent of half your body weight (in ounces) throughout the day.
  • Get moving. Walks are a great way to get you (and your pets) a few extra steps each day.
  • Set a goal of trying one new thing a month. With so many how-to videos on the internet, we can virtually teach ourselves how to do anything. How about trying some different forms of staying active, like yoga, stretching, strength training…there are so many options!
  • Get outside and experience nature. Even if you go out for only 5 minutes, a little fresh-air goes a LONG way. Being out in nature has been shown to improve your mood.
  • Create a sleep routine. Unplug from electronics at least 1-2 hours before going to bed. Sleep helps our health in so many ways, so try to make sure you set yourself up for a restful night.
  • Start a gratitude practice. Set the tone by writing down three things you are grateful for each day before you go to bed.

If you would like some more tips for staying healthy while working from home, check out this article from Forbes.com.

And if you would like to learn more about how to get more active in 2021, I encourage you to join me in January for the BELIEVE in YOU workshop. We will talk about how to develop a new plan, stick with it, and make it FUN! You can register here.

Wishing you all the best in 2021!

Happy Holidays!

I want to wish you a very happy new year! Good riddance to 2020….bring on 2021! I hope you have been enjoying the holiday season whether you celebrate Christmas, Channukah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Festivus for the Rest of Us, or nothing at all. Hopefully you were able to make the most of it despite everything else going on these days. And (al)most as importantly, I hope you have been staying active.

Being active does not require a lot of fanfare, planning, or effort. It can be as simple as getting up and stretching, doing a few simple exercises while watching TV, going out for a walk with family or friends, or taking a quiet stroll with your own thoughts. It really is that easy. You do not need to do any specific activity or keep it up for a certain length of time. Just keep moving! It’s that easy!

Staying active is so important, especially as we get older. Getting older does not mean you have to slow down. On the contrary, a body in motion stays in motion (and gets to do whatever is on its bucket list) and a body at rest stays at rest (and, sadly, atrophies). So this is the time to keep moving. And if you have not been active up until now, it is NEVER to late to start!

If you need a few ideas of what to do, check out the 12 Weeks of Christmas Challenge. I have put together some videos demonstrating simple exercises that can be done anywhere, anytime in 60 seconds or less. And you do not even need any equipment! And if you have more than 60 seconds, feel free to mix and match the exercises. Do a few, or all 12, or do several sets of each. Have fun with it!

If you would like to know the secret to getting active and staying active, join me for my upcoming workshop, BELIEVE in YOU. I will be holding 3 sessions in January to help you get your new year started off right. Spoiler alert: the secret is to have FUN! Join me to learn more about how to make being active FUN! I hope to see you there!

Winterize Your Workout

I lived in Seattle for six years and can tell you from personal experience that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is REAL. Even here in California, many of us feel a little down on rainy days. Fortunately for our depression (but unfortunately for our water supply), the rain here does not usually last more than a handful of days, so we do not spend much time thinking about it.  Nevertheless, the effect the winter has on our psyche is real, and it affects us whether we realize it or not. And one of the best ways to combat this and perk yourself up during the winter months is to go outside and getting moving.

You may be thinking to yourself, but why would I go outside if it’s cold, rainy, snowy, etc? It can admittedly feel punishing, but training in winter can be extremely beneficial both physically and mentally. Studies show that exercising in cold weather can increase the body’s metabolism and fat-burning ability. Getting into nature at any time of year lowers your risk for depression and increases your intake of vitamin D.

Many of us are also facing more COVID restrictions this winter making finding a way to reduce stress and enjoy ourselves in unique ways even more important. Here are 5 tips for winterizing your workout:

  • Choose an activity you actually enjoy. You get extra bonus points if it can only be done during the winter such as skiing or shoe-shoeing, because that will make it even more fun to get out during the winter. But cycling, hiking, running and walking in the winter can also be very rewarding.
  • Get the right gear. If it is cold or rainy where you live, check out my blog post on layering your clothing to keep yourself warm and dry. In Scandinavian countries, parents encourage their children to go outside and play during the winter by reminding them that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
  • Protect your head, hands, and toes. Most of your body heat is stored in your core to protect your vital organs. This makes your extremities vulnerable to cold. Wearing a cloth mask over your nose and mouth or pulling a neck warmer up over your nose not only prevents the spread of the coronavirus, it keeps your face warm. I’ve been wearing my neck warmer this way in the winter long before COVID! Covering your nose and mouth also warms the air you exhale and breathe in which will make heavy breathing in cold temperatures more comfortable.
  • Be extra diligent warming up. Muscles contract in cold weather, making them stiffer and less flexible. Before you start your workout, make sure to warm up dynamically. A dynamic warm-up incorporates active stretching movements, rather than static movements, which are helpful post-workout. Here is an example of a dynamic warm-up you might want to try.
  • Pace yourself. Many people start out too fast. It is better to hold back in the beginning so you can warm up and pick up the pace as you go, rather than burning yourself out too quickly. You may find that working out in the winter seems to take more energy than the same activity would in other seasons because not only is your body focusing on fueling the activity, it is also expending energy on keeping you warm. As a result, it may feel more intense, so give yourself some grace. Simply getting outside and moving can be a decent workout at first, so be sure to listen to your body and take it slowly at first. As your body gets used to its new environment, you will then be able to pick up the pace.

Getting outside during the winter can be extremely rewarding both physically and mentally. I encourage you to give it a try. It might seem daunting at first, but try it…you might like it!

Lucy dressed & ready for a winter workout
Out on the trail in fresh powder!

‘Tis the Season for New’s Years Resolutions

It’s less than three weeks until the end of the year and this is the time that people start thinking about their goals for the coming year (if they haven’t already been thinking about it!). If you’ve been following my 12 Weeks of Christmas Challenge, you know that my goal for the new year is to help you keep moving. My resolution is to help you (and me!) age gracefully. You definitely don’t have to run, and you don’t even have to walk (as a form of exercise, I mean). But you do have to keep moving. Why? Because that is what will keep your body happy. A body in motion stays in motion (and gets to do whatever is on it’s bucket list) and a body at rest stays at rest (and sadly, eventually atrophies and stops functioning). Whatever you want to accomplish in the rest of your life, you will need a strong, healthy body to do it. Sitting on the couch is not natural for your body and it is not what your body needs to stay (or become) strong and healthy. Staying active will not only help you get stronger, it will help your brain focus better and it will reduce your stress level. Really. 

But the questions is….how do you do that? And even more importantly…how do you stick with it? Gyms are notoriously crowded every January, but by February a lot of those new year’s resolutions have been abandoned. And (no) thanks to COVID, the gym may not even an option for many of us this year. How can you make this year the year you actually stick with your new year’s resolutions and make progress toward a stronger, healthier body? 

I would like to invite you to join me to learn more about sticking to your new year’s resolutions (whatever they may be) at these events over the next few weeks. Each will be a different talk so feel free to register for more than one. All of them are free and guests are welcome, but they do require advance registration.

December 17th I will be one of three fabulous speakers at the Polka Dot Powerhouse Petaluma, CA Chapter meeting from 11:30am-1:30pm PST (2:30pm-4:30pm EST). You do not need to be a member of Polka Dot Powerhouse to attend. Register here.

December 28th I will be speaking at the Greater Boston NW Chapter of PDP  11:30am-1:30pm EST (8:30am-10:30am PST). You do not need to be a member to attend. Register here.

I will also be hosting the transformative, info-packed workshop, BELIEVE in YOU. There are three sessions to choose from and you can register here for free. 

Running without Ruining your Knees

If I had a penny for every time someone said to me “running will ruin your knees”, I would be rich. Nevertheless, what I do not have is…ruined knees. I have run more than 20 full marathons and 50 half marathons in the last 14 years alone, including 3 marathons in 3 consecutive days, without injury. If you have been to one of my workshops or seen any of my videos, you know that I am passionate about body mechanics, posture, and listening to what your body tells you as it moves. If you listen to your body when it whispers, you will not have to hear it scream. And a screaming body can be extremely unpleasant. My body whispers to me all the time, and I take its advice regularly to ensure that I keep my body blissing in movement.  Because if your body is not blissing, it will eventually revolt, and you will definitely stop moving—one way or the other!

If you are considering starting a new running, walking or hiking routine, it is important to make sure your body is prepared. Ramping up slowly by increasing your distance no more than 10% each week is a good way to start. Also, the strength and muscle endurance needed for walking might not seem like much, but it does help to make sure your body is prepared. Following is an excerpt from the article “How to Get Your Knees in Walking Shape” by Julia Malacoff, certified personal trainer and Precision Nutrition Level 1 coach:


WHY PREP YOUR KNEES?

“The most common issue I hear about when someone starts walking regularly for exercise is patellofemoral pain syndrome,” says Nicole Lombardo, a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist. “This is when pain develops under or around the patella, also known as the kneecap.” It can have various causes, but one of them is the kneecap itself coming out of alignment and rubbing up against the surrounding cartilage and tendons or the femur (thigh bone). Often, it happens because of weakness and tightness in the surrounding muscles, explains Lombardo.

To prevent this common knee pain, “you definitely want to do a combination of strength and mobility exercises,” says Lombardo. “This will ensure your legs are strong enough to handle longer distances and prevent any tightness that might develop and cause pain.” (CF Note: have you seen my 12 Weeks of Christmas videos? You can find 12 weeks of strength and mobility exercises right here!)

If you start to experience knee pain after walking, take stock of what could be causing it, Lombardo suggests. Are you stretching and strengthening? How supportive are your shoes? Are you walking mostly on unforgiving concrete? “There are so many factors of your walk that might affect your knees,” she adds. “If you still have pain after addressing all of these things, contact a physical therapist who is trained to help you problem-solve and get you back walking pain-free.”

EXERCISES TO TRY

At a minimum, stretch before or after your walks, recommends Lombardo. (CF Note: check out these dynamic exercises to help you warm up before a walk/run/hike) But if you want to set yourself up for the best chance of pain-free knees, give these exercises a try a few times a week. They’ll help strengthen the muscles around the knee and remove tension and tightness.

PATELLA ROLLOUT

“Massaging around the kneecap can help improve range of motion,” says Jill Miller, co-founder of Walking Well. Place a grippy rubber physical therapy ball (or a tennis ball wrapped in duct tape) on a chair or the floor. Position yourself so you can orbit the ball slowly around your kneecap. From time to time, twist the ball as if it were a screw around the knee. Maintain tension on the ball and slowly open and close your knee. Make sure to twist the ball in both directions, spending some extra time above the kneecap, says Miller. Repeat on the other side.

QUAD SETS

Sitting on the floor with one leg straight out in front of you, squeeze your quad muscle. “You can do this by thinking of pushing the back of your knee down into the floor,” says Lombardo. You should see your knee straighten and your knee cap move slightly up toward your hip. Hold this for 5–10 seconds. Repeat 10–15 times on each side.

STRAIGHT LEG LIFTS

“Your knee joints come with a space made for your knee cap, but when your leg muscles get weak, the patella moves out of that space and digs into the tissues beneath, causing pain when you use your knees,” Miller explains. “This move works to pull the patella back toward its space, so using your knees while walking, flat, uphill and downhill feels good again.”

Lie on your back with one knee bent and the other leg fully extended on the ground. Before beginning the exercise, ensure your pelvis is in a neutral position. This means your pubic bone and hip bones should be level with the floor, not tilted toward your head or toes.

Rotate your straight leg so your knee is centered, not veering to the left or right. From here, lift your straight leg to the height of your bent knee while keeping your hips level on the floor. You want to feel your quads working in this exercise, not your hip flexors. “Move slowly, taking your time to lift the leg,” Miller instructs. Repeat until fatigued, then switch to the other side.

STEP UPS

This exercise helps maintain knee alignment, says Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and co-founder of Walking Well. It also strengthens the quadriceps muscles. Place your right foot up onto a step with your knee bent. The bottom step of a staircase works well if you don’t have an aerobic step. Slowly push through your right foot until your right leg is straight, lifting your left foot off the floor. Then, slowly and with control, lower back down. Repeat 10–20 times on the same side, focusing on keeping your working knee in line with your foot and ankle, not allowing it to cave in toward your midline. Once you’ve finished on the right side, repeat on the left.

BODYWEIGHT SQUATS

A squat is one of the body’s most functional movements, and practicing it can make uphill and downhill walking feel more comfortable for your knees. Depending on your fitness level, try a free-standing squat or, if that’s difficult or painful, squat to a chair and stand back up. “The key here is to only go as low as you can without pain,” Lombardo says. Be sure your feet stay flat and your knees are driving outward as you do these. Aim for a total of 10–15 reps.


In addition to the exercises mentioned in the article above, it is also important to maintain proper body alignment while walking, running & hiking. Do not force your knees bear all of your body weight by stepping out too far in front of you body. You want to keep your knees under your body, which is your center of mass. In order to do that, stand up straight, tilt your pelvis slightly forward (so your back is straight rather than swayed) and lean forward from your ankles (your ankles, not your waist). As you lean forward from your ankles, gravity will pull your center of mass forward almost forcing you to take a step. Propelling yourself forward in this manner rather than forcing your body forward will make running, walking and hiking feel so much easier. It will also take the pressure off your knees, making injury significantly less likely. Your body was meant to be in motion. If it hurts when you are moving, you are doing it wrong. The solution is not to stop moving. The solution is to get help and guidance regarding body mechanics so that your body can keep blissing in movement!

Paleo, Keto, Whole30, oh my!

There are so many diets out there, that it is hard to keep them all straight. Today I am going to talk about three very popular ones and the pros and cons of each:

The Paleo Diet

While I personally see absolutely no reason to live like a caveman (they don’t sleep on nice comfy mattresses, for one reason), many people aim to eat like one and follow the paleo diet. While some people debate if the paleo diet is actually how cavemen ate, it does not really matter. The question is…are there benefits to following the paleo diet?

The foundation of the paleo diet is no grains, legumes, dairy or sugar and lots of meat, vegetables and fruit. Vegetables and fruit are chock full of vitamins, minerals and fiber, so I can really get behind that part. Paleo also recommends avoiding processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, artificial sweeteners, margarine and trans fats. That part sounds very good too because the typical American diet has way too much of all of those.

If you are going to try paleo, choose high-quality animal proteins. People who recommend this diet recommend eating reasonable portions of grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and eggs and sustainably raised seafood. However (here comes the “but…”), the paleo diet also recommends avoiding grains based on the theory that grains can cause inflammation. Research, however, does not support that theory for the average person.  On the contrary, many heart health studies suggest that whole grains are beneficial to heart health. Whole grains contain many nutrients like B vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, and a diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer.

The paleo diet also prohibits dairy, beans, and soy. As someone who suffers from lactose intolerance, I agree that dairy can cause inflammation and a wide variety of digestive issues. However, that is because my gut is particularly sensitive to dairy. Yours may not be. And without dairy, beans and soy, you may find it difficult to get enough calcium, which is incredibly important for strong bones.

Many nutritionists reject the paleo diet because of its restrictions on entire food groups.  A diet with a wide variety of foods is important to ensure your body has access to and absorbs all the nutrients it needs. While nutritional supplements can help provide nutrients that may be missing in a person’s diet, studies show that supplements are not absorbed by the body as effectively as nutrients obtained from real food.

The Keto Diet

The keto diet has become trendy for people looking to lose weight and recommends 70% of daily calories from fat, 20% from protein and just 10% for carbohydrates.
The keto diet recommends a 4:1 ratio of fat to carbs. Therefore, about 5–10% of your total daily calories can come from carbohydrates.  In order to achieve that goal, you will have to drastically reduce your intake of carbohydrates to less than 40–50 grams per day. By comparison, I personally consume about 100-200 grams of carbohydrates a day despite my relatively small frame. As I discussed in last week’s post, carbohydrates are an important source of energy for both your body and your brain. Fifty percent of my daily calories come from carbohydrates. I may be able to cut that down to 30-40% if I were not running, but I cannot even begin to imagine how foggy my brain would get if I tried to cut it down more than that.

Also, the keto diet is high in saturated fat, which research suggests may increase your risk of heart disease. We all need some fat in our diets to ensure we feel satisfied, but too much may not only clog your arteries, it may offset any potential weight-loss benefits as well.

Nutritionists say that vitamin and mineral supplements are essential on this type of diet since pure fats like coconut oil, olive oil and butter and many other fats that make up the base of a keto diet are not really very good sources of vitamins. Also, you are also missing out on the beneficial antioxidants in fruit and root vegetables, which have been associated with a decreased risk of cancer, heart disease and other conditions.

The Whole30 Diet

Unlike the paleo and keto diets, which recommend following the plan for an indefinite period of time, the Whole30 diet recommends following specific guidelines for 30 days. It is meant as more of a detox than a lifestyle. The basic guidelines are to completely cut out “hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups,” including sugar, dairy, alcohol, grains, and legumes (including hummus and peanut butter). The Whole 30 diet also recommends reading the nutrition labels on all foods and avoiding carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites. My first problem with this plan is that my food comes with “nutritional labels”. In other words, it comes in a package and is (therefore) somewhat processed. That may not be 100% true since, for example, peanut butter comes in a package and there are plenty of healthy, unprocessed brands of peanut butter (it’s not like I crush my own peanuts!). But overall, it does not sound as “whole food”-oriented as I thought it would be. And for some reason they prohibit peanut butter, one of my favorite healthy energizing snacks.

Whole30 also excludes paleo-approved sugars like honey and baked goods made with almond or coconut flour. On the plus side, you can eat all the fruit, veggies, and meat that you want.  The list of foods to avoid includes the following:

  • Natural or artificial sugars and sweeteners, including maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, monk fruit extract, stevia, Splenda, xylitol, and others.
  • Alcohol in any form, even if you’re using it in your cooking.
  • Grains, including wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains, quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat as well as any additives derived from these foods, like brans, germs, and starches.
  • Legumes, including all beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, and all forms of soy.
  • Dairy, including all cow, goat, and sheep’s milk products.
  • Additives like carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites
  • Sweet treats, and other not-so-healthy goodies made with compliant ingredients, like cauliflower pizza.

Wow! That’s a lot of things not to eat!  On the positive side, one benefit of Whole30 is by cutting out so many categories of food, you may be able to identify potential allergies or intolerances (for example to grains or dairy) when you introduce them back into you diet when the 30-day plan is over. However, I believe that nutrition is a lifestyle. We need to eat every day! 😊 So, while changing your diet drastically for one month may help you lose weight, it may not necessarily help you keep it off as you transition back to a less restrictive form of eating.

So, what will help you ensure that you get all the nutrients you need to function optimally while maintaining a healthy weight?

Regardless of your macro mix, it is important to focus on high-quality calories. A good rule of thumb is to prioritize whole foods over processed ones whenever possible. Carbohydrates are not evil (as many diets would have you believe), however you should choose nutrient-dense whole grains and starchy vegetables over highly processed refined carbohydrates and sugar. For fats, choose heart-healthy options like nuts, avocados, fatty fish and olive oil. And most importantly, feel free to experiment to find your personal optimal mix of macronutrients.  We are all different. That means each of our bodies may have different needs and preferences to function optimally.  Celebrity diets may work well for the celebrities who created them and they may work well for lots of other people too. But the key to optimal health is finding the right mix for YOU!

Fueling Your Workout

Have you ever tried to drive your car with the gas tank on empty? You can go a few miles, but eventually the car will just stop. You body works the same way. Without proper fuel, it will just stop. Like your car, your body requires regular maintenance. Let’s consider that a healthy diet. Yeah, you can eat a donut every now and then, but if you only eat donuts, you will not get very far. You will also probably have very high maintenance costs to pay in the future (like dealing with diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments).  You keep your car well-fueled most of the time and you should keep your body well-fueled as well.

But sometimes, you need extra fuel. This weekend I plan to drive 250 miles to Lake Tahoe, so my usual half a tank of gas is not going to cut it. Making sure the car’s tank is completely full before I leave is definitely on my “to do” list. And before I head out on a long run (or any activity of an hour or more), I also make sure to “top off the tank”.  Just like there are different types of gasoline, there are different types of body fuel.

Fuel for your body is made of three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Your body needs some combination of all three to keep running smoothly. There are many types of “lifestyle” diets out there and they all recommend different combinations of carbs, protein, and fat since it is practically impossible to eliminate any category from your diet completely.  In my next several posts I will talk about the keto diet, the paleo diet, whole 30, and the pros and cons of each. However, these diets relate primarily to your body’s daily, ongoing fuel levels; so I will leave that discussion for future posts. Today’s topic is how to top off your tank before a big effort.

Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy: They help fuel your brain, kidneys, heart muscles, and central nervous system.  The pre-race “carbo load” used to be quite popular. But subsequent research has shown that eating a big bowl of pasta the night before your race or long workout is not really going to help you as much as we previously thought.  Like fat, carbohydrates come in good varieties and “junk” varieties. You will want to focus on carbohydrates that provide energy without providing processed sugars and all the other things that have a negative effect on your body. I will provide some examples of “good carbs” below.

Also, eating protein together with carbohydrates can help slow the rate at which the carbohydrates are released into your blood stream. Therefore, carbohydrates eaten with protein provide a longer-term source of energy than carbohydrates alone.  Additionally, some research shows that including protein in your pre-workout meal may reduce muscle soreness post-workout by providing your body with immediate access to protein for recovery.

And finally, incorporating healthy fats into your pre-workout meal can help you feel more satisfied and therefore ensure that you crave less “junk”. The combination of healthy fats (which help you feel sated) and protein (which provides sustained energy and gives the muscles the tools they need to recover) together with carbohydrates (which provide an immediate source of energy) will help sustain you through a workout of longer than an hour.

Now that we have talked about how this works and why this works, what should you eat? Here are some of my go-to pre-long run favorites:

  1. Oatmeal with fresh fruit
  2. 2 slices of whole wheat or sourdough bread with 2 tbsps of nut butter and a banana
  3. Eggs with brown rice, couscous, or quinoa

And if you are going for a workout of two hours or more, you will want to carry some carbohydrates with you to keep your tank from emptying out along the way. While there are lots of packaged products you can buy for quick energy such as gels and blocks, you can also make your own to reduce your reliance on processed foods and know exactly what you are eating. Here are some great snacks for during your workout:

  1. Mini potatoes with salt (or plain, if you need to limit your salt intake)
  2. Tangerines or mandarin oranges
  3. Pretzels (with or without salt)
  4. Homemade trail mix

And one more word of advice, you want to stay away from high-fiber foods right before and during a race. Fiber is a carbohydrate, an important part of any healthy diet, and helps your body function smoothly. But no one wants to be that “smooth” during a long work out. Been there, done that, do not need to do it again!