The Many Ways to Measure Wellness

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So often the word “wellness” is tied to weight and the physical body. And while wellness and feelings of wellbeing may be enhanced through weight loss for some people, it’s not the general rule of thumb.

 Let’s start out by considering the definition of wellness: The state of being healthy in mind and body.

 Wellness is multidimensional and holistic. It encompasses the whole body and mind. Thus there are many ways to measure wellness.

 I encourage you to take a few minutes to consider the following questions about your wellness. This exercise can be especially helpful when we lose sight of the true definition of wellness and begin to focus strongly on weight and body size.  

Intellectual wellness– Does your job/hobbies/education provide intellectual stimulation and challenge? And if so, how can you share your talents by teaching others?

Social wellness– Do you have a strong connections with family and friends? Do you feel that you have people to count on and who have your back in times of struggle?

Physical wellness– Are you able to fully participate in the activities of your life with comfort? Do you fuel your body with nutritious foods? Do you regularly move your body through activities that feel good to you?

Emotional wellness– Do you let yourself feel emotions or do you push them away? Are you able to separate your emotions from your thoughts and behaviors?

 These are just a few ways to measure wellness and your being. Not one is more important than the other. Nor will action in one area of wellness solve issues in other areas. An example of this is thinking that healthy eating (physical wellness) will bring about more friendships (social wellness). To increase your friendship circle, you’ll need to specifically focus on your social wellness (eg. joining a club, engaging in conversation with others).

Pre-Keto Stats

Every good science experiment requires baseline measurements. So for my n=1 experiment of a ketogenic diet, I collected information on how my body has been functioning before making any dietary changes. My goal is to determine whether or not adherence to a ketogenic diet shows benefit or drawback to my cardiovascular health, glucose tolerance and body composition.

Here are my stats along with some information about each test:

1. LDL-C: 67 mg/dL

LDL-C stands for low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. LDL-C is often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to the blood vessels, drops it off, and contributes to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). In clinical care, LDL-C is most commonly measured to assess one’s risk of heart-disease risk. However, newer research is showing that it is not the best test to use though. More on this fact, below.

My LDL-C value of 67 is considered “optimal” at less than

2. LDL-P: 518 nmol/L

LDL-P is measure of the number of LDL (low-density lipoproteins) in the blood. A high number has been associated with heart disease. LDL-P has been found to be a more accurate predictor of heart disease risk in comparison to LDL-C.

According to my lab work reference range, an LDL-P of less than 1000 nmol/L is recommended. My value of 518 nmol/L is considered “low”.

3. HDL-C: 55 mg/dL

HDL-C is a measure of the high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. HDL-C is often referred to as the “good” cholesterol because it acts to move cholesterol from the blood to the liver where it will be processed for removal from the body. Thus, the higher the HDL-C, the less chance of cholesterol finding home in the body’s blood vessels.

An HDL-C of 39 and above is recommended. My value of 55 is considered good.

4. Triglycerides: 46 mg/DL

Triglycerides are a form of fat found in the blood. After you eat a meal, any fats not used for immediate energy are formed into triglycerides and stored for later use.

My value of 46 is within normal range.

5. Small LDL-P: 234 nmol/L

Small LDL-P is a measure of the small LDL particles in the blood. A high number of these small particles is considered a risk factor for heart disease.

My value of 234 places me in the ‘low risk’ category.

6. LDL Size: 20.3 nm

The size of LDL particles has been shown to be important in determining risk of heart disease. Large LDL particles are beneficial and associated with normal levels of LDL-C, HDL-C and triglycerides. Large LDL particles are also referred to as Pattern A LDL.

On the other hand, are small LDL particles, also known as Pattern B. Small LDL particles are thought to be harmful for at least two reasons: 1) They are small enough to slip through tiny gaps in blood vessels and become lodged, and 2) They are more easily oxidized.

The tendency for one LDL particle size or the other is primarily genetic based, so you can blame your parents.

My LDL particle size is representative of small Pattern B LDL (oh no!!)

In doing some research, I have found that LDL pattern can be somewhat influenced by lifestyle modifications, specially a low-carb diet and exercise. I’m especially curious as to whether or not a ketogenic diet will have any influence on my LDL particle size. I’m hoping to increase my LDL particle size to 20.6 nm or greater.

7. Fasting blood sugar: 82 mg/dL

Fasting blood sugar is a measure of how much sugar/glucose is in the blood after at least 8 hours of going without food. Fasting blood sugar is used to determine if the body is utilizing sugar properly. Fasting blood sugar is directly influenced by the amount of carbohydrates consumed and the body’s ability to manage the carbs via insulin.

8. LP-IR Score: <25

Lipoprotein insulin resistance score measures ones’ risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. The score is calculated based on the 7 blood tests above (LDL-C, LDL-P, triglycerides, LDL size, HDL-C, and Small LDL-P and fasting blood glucose)

The above tests are components of the NMR LioProfile.

9. Hgb A1c: 4.6%

Glycolysated hemoglobin (Hgb A1c) is a measure of average blood sugars over the past three months. It is used in part to measure blood sugar control and in diagnosing diabetes.

My value of 4.6% is within normal range. As a point of reference, diabetes is diagnosed when Hgb A1c is 6.5% or greater.

Test

Baseline Measure

October 2016

LDL-C 67
LDL-P 518
HDL-C 55
Triglycerides 46
Small LDL-P 234
LDL Size 20.3
Fasting blood sugar 82
A1c 4.6
LP-IR Score 25

 

New Years Reflections & Resolutions

Happy New Years, friends! 

I am grateful for a great 2016, including the balance I have achieved with health, fitness, body image, and recognizing what’s most important to me in life. 

Some tips I have for moving into a happy & healthy 2017 (I will be following these as well):

1) Try to resist the urge to jump on the January 1st weight loss bandwagon. There’s a tendency to go too extreme with fad and crash diets when quick weight loss is desired. Instead, make health your goal. Set mini-goals like recognizing hunger- & fullness cues, or planning balanced meals. If you’re in need of extra motivation to avoid dieting, consider that research shows that 95% of dieters re-gain the weight they lost (if not more) within 2 years of weight loss. This is certainly true of myself and clients I’ve worked with. 

2) Evaluate your behaviors related to health, nutrition, fitness, and body image. Everyone is different and experiences a unique response to ‘health’ behaviors. For me, weighing myself on a regular basis is something I choose not to do. Despite fully understanding that fluctuations in body weight are completely normal, seeing a higher number than I was anticipating can lead to disappointment for me. So I save weight measurements for doctors appointments and whenever else it’s necessary. Another person may be able to see their scale weight much more objectively. Take some time to evaluate how your health behaviors affect your mindset and mood. If it’s not positive, the behavior is not serving you. 

3) Find what works for you. When you’re first starting out on a journey to improve your nutrition and health, it can be helpful to have guidance from a coach, teacher, or other source of credible education. However be careful of getting lured into following a nutrition-guru that prescribes a list of do’s and dont’s. I’ve been enjoying the benefits of eating low-carbohydrate foods, a dietary pattern that most dietitians would not recommend, but it works for me.

Ask the RD: Net vs Total Calorie Counting

I’ll begin this week’s Ask the RD post with a bit of a prelude to add context to the question; information and my opinion on calorie counting.

Calorie counting is the act of tracking one’s dietary intake to measure energy consumption. In order to do so, knowledge of portion sizes eaten, and the equivalent caloric number is needed. Many people (including clients of mine) use a food tracker such as My Fitness Pal to record their intake and determine how many calories they have eaten in a day when working towards a body composition goal.

Based on information submitted by the user (sex, height, weight), My Fitness Pal will generate a recommended calorie level (total calories). If the user enters their physical activities, the calorie goal will be adjusted to reflect this (net calories).

In general,  I don’t promote calorie counting, but I do think it can have a place under certain circumstances:

  1. For someone who has reached a plateau in their weight change goals, calorie counting (and accompanying weighing & measuring of food) can help ensure portion sizes are appropriate to support weight loss/gain.
  2. For someone who has reached their healthy weight range and is interested in weight loss for vanity purposes. At this point, natural hunger cues will make further weight loss a challenge, so calorie counting can be used temporarily to restrict food intake.

Q: I’m tracking my food intake and exercise using My Fitness Pal. Should I eat according to net calories or total calories?

A: With regards to using the total or net calorie goal in My Fitness Pal, I recommend going with total calories. The main reasons being that:

  1. It supports a consistent daily intake that can make changes easier to implement in the future as progress stalls.
  2. Activity energy expenditure calculators are a good reference tool, but not always the most accurate because there are so many factors involved (body composition, temperature, heart rate). They have a tendency to overestimate energy expenditure as you get more fit too.
  3. If you are exercising for relatively similar amounts of time and intensity on a regular basis, I think its fine to assume a general daily calorie expenditure from exercise and then eat according to total calories. An exception would be in the case of someone who is doing extreme levels of activity some days (eg marathon runners) who will likely need to increase their intake to meet energy needs on those high activity days.

Photo by Jessica @ Flickr.com

Ask the RD: Processed Meats & Cancer Risk

This question comes from a recent blog post that introduces my experimentation into a ketogenic diet. I referenced consumption of bacon, a common processed meat product.

Q: Does processed meat cause cancer?

Intake of processed meat has been found to be risk factor for cancer. In fact, in comparison to consumption of fresh red meat, eating processed meats such as bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs, and corned beef, may increase ones’ risk of developing colorectal cancer up to tenfold.

Yet despite the aforementioned fact, the evidence for processed meat intake in causing cancer is relatively weak and there are many compounding variables to consider. While smoking has been shown to be a strong risk factor for cancer, the same cannot be said for eating processed meats.

A few theories do exist to explain the potential relationship between processed meat intake and cancer. Briefly, they include:

  1. Nitrites. Nitrites are additives added to meat products to prevent bacterial growth and provide coloring. Nitrites are carcinogens (cancer-causing molecules).
  2. People who eat the most processed meat also tend to eat a lot of high sugar foods (sweets, desserts, potatoes), and fewer anti-oxidant-rich foods (vegetables and fruit). A high intake of sugary foods and low-intake of vegetables and fruit are independently associated with increased cancer risk.

So considering the above, what is one to do to increase their risk of cancer? Simply avoiding intake of processed meats is one option. If you’re like me and want to enjoy a moderate amount of bacon and sausage, here are some tips-

  1. Look for nitrite-free processed meats available at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and many other “regular” grocery stores. Some of the brands I buy include Pederson’s, Applegate, and Whole Foods 365. I prefer to purchase organic meats, and the same goes for my processed meat products.
  2. Your mom was right; Eat your veggies! Vegetables and fruits are abundant sources of phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fiber, which counteract the harmful effects of any nitrites you may be consuming through meat and processed meat products. Greens and citrus fruits are especially rich in ascorbic acid (fancy name for vitamin C), which has been shown to limit the effects of nitrites in our digestive tracts.
  3. See the big picture. Does eating bacon in the context of a high-fat, high-sugar Western diet and sedentary lifestyle, have the same effects as eating it as part of a low-sugar, plant-based diet with plenty of physical activity. Likely not. My advice; feel free to eat moderate amounts of organic, nitrite-free processed meat products alongside a big salad, and follow-it up with some physical activity.
Reference: Santarelli, R. L., Pierre, F., & Corpet, D. E. (2008). Processed meat and colorectal cancer: a review of epidemiologic and experimental evidence. Nutrition and Cancer, 60(2), 131–144. http://doi.org/10.1080/01635580701684872

Workout Review: ZIFit Infrared Fitness

This week a group of friends and I gave ZIFit a try at their Allen Park, Michigan location. Here’s the run down on my experience-

What is it?  A heart-rate interval-based workout combining cardio and strength training under infrared lights. 

Claims– Not only is interval training a great workout, but raising one’s heart rate into the Fire and Burn zones promotes Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). EPOC allows the body to continue burning fats and carbohydrates for up to 36 hours after the exercise session. Infrared therapy helps with detoxification and pain relief. 
The Experience– A 60-minute, instructor-led group fitness class during which participants alternate between treadmill walking/jogging/running, indoor rowing, and full-body strength training. Use of heart rate monitors allow participants to monitor their workout intensity as displayed on large screens. The instructor provides direction on exercise technique and interval intensity. 

Eqipment and Cost-– ZIFit offers monthly and class packages, upwards of $15/class. Participants are required to use a ZIFit heart rate monitor which costs $50. Additional offerings for purchase include infrared sauna sessions. 

The Verdict- ZIFit is a fun and high-intensity interval workout that provides both cardiovascular and resistance training. Heart rate monitoring allows participants to safely alternate between various levels of intensity, so as to prevent overtraining. Appropriate for most anyone who was previous exercise experience and a base level of fitness. Research supports interval training for cardiovascular fitness and EPOC, however it is much less conclusive for the benefits of infrared therapy.  

I enjoyed my ZIFit class however I do not foresee myself becoming a regular participant. For one, the membership and heart rate monitor fees are beyond my budget. Secondly, I remain a skeptic of infrared therapy based on the lack of research support. While I did enjoy the group training environment and instructor’s guidance, I’m already highly motivated to exercise. With a little creativity, I can create a cardio and strength interval workout at home or my regular gym and use my Garmin heart rate monitor to track intensity. 

For more information on ZIFit- http://www.ZIFitInfaredFitness.com

Fall Squash Soup

Fall brings an abundance of hearty, nutritious, and delicious squashes. From butternut to hubbard, each variety of squash brings forth a slightly different flavor and texture profile.

Here is a simple yet delicious fall squash recipe. It can be prepared using most any kind of squash, including acorn, butternut or pumpkin (yes, pumpkin is a squash!). I suggest trying it out using different squashes each time, and see if you can pick up the difference in flavors.

 

Fall Squash Soup

squash-soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds squash (butternut, acorn, delicate, pumpkin, kobocha) (about one medium sized squash)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt & pepper
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease with non-stick spray or butter.
  2. Peel squash and cut into slightly larger than bite-sized pieces. Dice onion. Combine squash and onion in a large mixing bowl and toss with pumpkin pie spice, salt and pepper. Add to greased baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until vegetables are tender and beginning to caramelize.
  3. Place cooked vegetables in blender. Add almond milk and chicken broth. Puree until fully combined and smooth. Add additional liquids as needed.
  4. Pour into bowls and enjoy with a slice of toasted baguette.

Squash soup freezes well. Make a large batch, divide into small serving sizes, and enjoy at a later time.

 

 

 

Looks that Killed My Job

stage-shot

I recently lost an important business contract based upon on the way I look, or more accurately stated, the way I looked.

Beginning in 2013, and through 2014, I trained for, and competed in a couple of fitness competitions (aka bodybuilding shows). I did the weight training and cardio, ate the “clean” foods, and took the gym selfies. I had my skin painted brown before hitting the stage in my stripper heels to show off the highly-provocative poses I had been practicing for months (in the bikini division), and the musculature I had worked hard to build (figure division). I played the role of a fitness competitor and it cost me a job.

Now before anyone offers their legal advice or services for a case of wrongful termination, I must explain the situation which led me to loosing this contract.

I was hired and briefly employed with a nutrition and psychological counseling practice that specializes in the treatment of  eating disorders. As a Registered Dietitian, I was hired to provide nutritional counseling and therapy for clients of the clinic. This was an opportunity I was very excited about for personal and career development reasons. As some who has struggled and recovered from disordered eating, I felt a sense of calling to help and guide others through the recovery process. I whole-heartedly believe in the power of body positivity and saw this job as a chance to share my message . Career-wise, it was an opportunity to begin gaining experience in an area of dietetics I had little formal training in. I had often thought about pursing eating disorder treatment as a specialty practice niche.

Background checks are nothing new to the hiring process, and thankfully nothing I’ve ever had an issue in getting through in the past. But this time, red flags were raised. As I later found out, a quick Google search of my name bestowed images from my fitness competition days. These photos were stage shots, captured by the official photographer of each competition, with the intent of being sold to competitors as keepsakes. For anyone who’s ever run an organized race, whether it be a 5k or marathon, you’ve likely familiar with “action” shots taken by race photographers who never seem to miss a face of desperation or a wonky stride.  Well, my stage shots were the equivalent of bad race photos.

blog-photos

I met with the clinic director who explained that the images of me strutting across stage in a red bikini and lean physique were not ones that they wanted their clinic associated with. He explained that its very common for patients with eating disorders to do their own fact checking on their therapists and nutritionists, scoping out the provider’s background, lifestyle habits and dietary practices. In many cases, those working with eating disorder clients fulfill a role-model role whether intentional or not. Clients will look up to their therapist or nutritionist for reassurance of healthy messages.

The clinic director was familiar enough with the bodybuilding lifestyle and what it entails. He knew of the emphasis placed on appearance and the intentional altering of ones’ physique to meet judging criteria. He was aware of how competitors drastically restrict their food intake and monitor it with razor-sharp focus, often comparable to the level of control that eating disorder patients seek to maintain with their food habits.  He didn’t want a member of his staff to promote, nor let alone, be affiliated with the highly quantitative food, exercise, and body composition tendencies of the bodybuilding culture. And I respect his opinion.

While losing this contract was certainly disappointing, the most disheartening component of this experience was recognizing myself as someone being labeled with the negative stigma attached with bodybuilding and fitness competitions. And while I realize that it’s not uncommon for individuals within the sport to engage in extreme & unhealthy practices, its not a case for all.

I began training for fitness competitions as a way to stay in shape and maintain motivation for exercise. It was also a way for me to spend time with my husband, a seasoned competitor. Throughout the process I learned more competition nutrition, physical training, and about myself. I worked hard and did what I need to do to take fourth place in a local show. Nothing significant in the world of bodybuilding, but that’s as far as I could, and wanted to take it. Bodybuilding requires a strong commitment from oneself, and my lifestyle had significantly changed to accommodate this, but my end goal was still health. Fortunately my food and training journals revealed that I never dropped my calorie intake below 1800, weight-trained 4 days per week, and did cardiovascular exercise 3 days per week for 30 minutes each session.  Those were my numbers. Nothing extreme. Not a cc of silicon or an mL of chemical enhancement.

While it took some time, I have returned to a “normal” lifestyle in which I no longer weigh myself nor my food daily. My time is the gym is much less regimented. I’m not focused on the next show or comparing myself to other competitors. As could have been the case for someone who has struggled in the past, I have not allowed the bodybuilding lifestyle to mask an underlying eating disorder or case of body dysmorphia. I moved on and resumed dieting abstinence.  My experience in fitness competitions was more-or-less a trial of bodybuilding, a check off of life’s ‘bucket-list’.

I fully understand the reason behind the clinic’s decision to terminate my contract. One’s image portrays powerful messages, but it can also be deceiving. My image portrayed someone who micro-managed their appearance through diet and training, but as you’ve read, there was more to the story that what meets the eye. I may have not been the right fit for this particular clinic, but because of my experiences with the bodybuilding lifestyle, I feel I am better equipped to help current, prior, and future competitors ensure good health aligns with their fitness goals. And with the recent boom in fitness competitions, I expect this kind of help will be needed.

Going Keto

If you been reading my blog then you know I’m not an advocate of diets. (If this is your fist article, then be sure to read through previous posts for more on my thoughts around restrictive eating). In dietetics school I completed an assignment in which I tried a “fad” diet for a period of 2 weeks. I researched, experimented, and then reported back to my professor and peers on the Atkins diet. In case you’re not familiar, the Atkins Diet is a way of eating that severely restricts carbohydrates, including all fruits and many vegetables, in favor for high-fat foods. At the time I recall scoffing at a diet that allows one to eat a 1/2 pound of bacon a day but denies even a single apple. How is that kind of eating supposed to keep the doctor away? (Perhaps it was not; the Atkins diet was developed by cardiologist, Dr Robert Atkins. Everyone needs to make money some how, right?).

My dietetics education and training only further added to my disbelief of the Atkins diet. I mean, the USDA and My Plate people recommend consumption of 5-8 servings of grains daily for sedentary adults, and even more if you exercise. I wouldn’t need an RD credential behind my name to realize that’s gotta be at least a moderate amount of carbohydrates.

So what has prompted my interest in the ketogenic diet as of recent?

Through webinars, podcasts, books, and literature reviews, I’ve been learning more about the influence of metabolism on such concepts as inflammation, gene expression, disease  risk, and cognitive performance.  And what has significant effect on ones’ metabolism? Dietary and lifestyle habits sure do! Not a new fact, but the way it such is being explored has changed over the years. The realization that a calorie is not just a calorie, has led researchers to study how food affects our hormones, genes, and our risk of developing disease. A ketogenic diet has emerged has a common thread amongst those seeking to achieve optimal cognitive and physical health.

In brief, a ketogenic diet severely restricts intake of carbohydrates, allows moderate protein, and encourages dietary fat. A traditional ketogenic diet, as used in the treatment of epilepsy, keeps both protein and carbohydrates low. In response to a low carb intake, the body produces molecules called ketones which the brain and body can use for energy in place of blood sugar.

When the body is producing ketones it is in a state known as ketosis. In ketosis, the body is  relying on fat to produce ketones for energy and therefore may be considered “fat-adapted”.

A few of the benefits associated with adherence to a ketogenic diet-

Improved insulin sensitivity– By eliminating processed grains and sugars from my diet, I can expect my body to both need, and produce less insulin. Insulin is the hormone responsible for lowering blood sugars by moving glucose (sugar) into cells, and thus it’s often referred to as the storage hormone. A high carbohydrate intake which produces a high insulin response can result in insulin resistance because the body adapts to consistently high circulating insulin level. This can lead to issues with blood sugar regulation including symptoms of mood swings, fatigue, weight (fat) gain, and development of diabetes and cancer. Because a ketogenic diet significantly limits carbohydrate intake, it reduces the amount of insulin the body produces. The body’s cells become much more sensitive to the relatively low amount of insulin that is produced.

I currently eat a high carbohydrate diet. I don’t routinely track my intake, however estimate I’m eating approximately 250-300 grams of carbohydrates daily. This is in the form of starchy vegetables (sweet/white potatoes, winter squashes, carrots, beets), fruit, limited grains (1-2 servings/week) and added sugars (grain-free baked goods, honey). My blood sugars are fine (my most recent A1c was 4.8, fasting glucose level of 80), most likely due to an active lifestyle which effectively utilizes the carbohydrates I’m eating, I can definitely relate to the term “sugar burner”. As the name implies, sugar burners rely primarily on sugar/carbohydrate/glucose for energy and are not well adapted to using stored body fat for energy. How do I know I have come to be a sugar burner? I can identify with the following symptoms:

image

 

♦ Hungry every 2 hours

♦ Tendency to feel tired, fatigued, irritable when hungry “hangry”

♦ Cravings for sugar and treats

♦ Fat disposition around the abdomen

 

 

Improved cardiovascular health– While medical and nutrition authorities have long touted the benefits of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet for heart health, recent research suggests that a low-carb, higher- fat diet is actually more favorable. A low carbohydrate intake is associated with lower levels of triglycerides and the “bad” LDL  (low-density lipoprotein), which have been shown to increase risk of heart disease if elevated. If there is less LDL cholesterol around, there is less chance of it becoming oxidized, which leads to reductions in arterial plaque build-up and resulting risk of heart attack and stroke.  Furthermore, a diet rich in saturated fats (found in animal and coconut products) can help increase levels of the “good” HDL  (high-density lipoprotein) which is responsible for helping the body to excrete cholesterol.

Reduced risk of cancer– Cancer cells thrive off of sugar. And while healthy cells are able to shift to the use of ketones for energy when sugar is absent, cancer cells cannot. This mechanism essentially ‘starves’ the cancer cells, causing them to die off. Ketogenic diets have been instrumental in the treatment of specific cancers, including brain cancers. I’m fortunate to not have personally dealt with cancer, but I do have a family history of the disease. My interest in the ketogenic diet partially stems from my goal of reducing my risk of developing cancer.

Future blog posts will provide updates on my progress in following a ketogenic diet including meal ideas and recipes. Be sure to check back for more!

Bacon photo courtesy of @jeltovski/Morguefile

Staying Healthy for the Detroit Free Press Half-Marathon

Last weekend I ran the Detroit Free Press International Half-Marathon. It was a great experience- 65 degrees and sunny, late enough into fall to observe the changing colors, and a once in a lifetime (& legal!) chance to run across the Ambassador Bridge into Canada, followed by an underwater mile through the Detroit/Windsor tunnel back to the USA.

Being that it had been a few years since I last ran a race of significant distance, I started from scratch when it came to training. Over the course of 4 months, I  conditioned by body to run 13.1 miles. In addition to a gradually progressive training plan, here are a few other steps I took (no pun intended!) to stay healthy, injury & relatively pain free.

  1. Fish oil. Despite making a conscious effort to eat salmon at least twice weekly, I maintained fish oil as a staple in my supplement regime while training for 1/2-marathon. Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, which have shown benefit for supporting blood vessel health and reducing inflammation. Fish oil works on signaling molecules, called eicosanoids, which are released in response to stress. Since long-distance running is taxing on the body, fish oil can help reduce the amount of stress the body experiences while running and also helps with recovery. Typically a 1 to 3 gram dose of combined EPA + DHA is recommended for general and cardiovascular health, yet according to dietary supplement database, Examine.com,  6 grams daily is suggested for reducing exercise-induced muscle soreness, also known as delayed on-set muscle soreness (DOMS). I personally take 3 grams daily from supplements and eat two servings of salmon per week for my omega-3 fatty acids. There are risks associated with taking too much fish oil, so check with your doctor before supplementing.
  2. Bone broth. I savored many cups of homemade bone broth prior to early morning training runs over the past couple months. Bone broth is not only soothing to drink, but it also contains multiple health-benefiting compounds. Bone broth is rich in glutamine, an amino acid that becomes essential to consume through food or supplements when the body is under significant physical stress, aka marathon training! Glutamine helps to keep our gastrointestinal and immune systems running well. I believe that my intake of bone broth has helped me stay healthy and avoid having to miss training runs due to illness during the beginning of cold and flu season.
  3. Creatine Monohydrate. Best known for its benefit in increasing power output and strength, research does not show a direct link between creatine monohydrate supplementation and improved aerobic endurance performance (ie physical activity lasting longer than 3 minutes). This being said, creatine monohydrate has been shown to be beneficial for reducing muscle damage and muscle soreness. While training for the Detroit Free Press 1/2- Marathon, I continued to weight train 2-3 days per week and maintained use of creatine monohydrate to support my strength in the gym. I believe it helped with reducing muscle soreness, thus allowing me to get back to running soon after a leg workout.
  4. Low-Level Cardio. I used the Garmin Forerunner 220 to track my heart rate during  training runs. My goal was to stay under 75% of my max heart rate. Based on my age, this meant keeping my heart rate under 144 beats/minute. The reason behind doing so was to stay within a low-level cardio range and avoid the potential overtraining risks of sustained high-intensity exercise. I trained my body to work just hard enough to deal with increased fuel and oxygen demands, without inducing a full-on, cortisol-driven, stress-response.
  5. Golden Milk. During 1/2-marathon training, I enjoyed a nightly mug of warm golden milk. And while preparing golden milk from scratch is relatively easily (a bit of tumeric, black pepper, and milk), I chose to use Gaia Herbs’ Golden Milk mixed with coconut or almond milk and honey. The main ingredient in golden milk, which provides the gold color, is tumeric. Tumeric has been used extensively in traditional chinese and ayurvedic medicine and is now making its way into mainstream health practices because of its strong anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Such benefits are specifically attributed to a compound within the spice called curcumin. Of note for runners and 
  6. others engaging in strenuous exercise, is that curcumin supplements have been shown to reduce joint pain and muscle soreness. To get the most benefit from curumin, be sure to combine it with black pepper extact (piperine). Gaia Herbs’ Golden Milk contains black pepper extract as well as vanilla, cardamon, dates and ashwaghanda.
Medal in hand, I finished!