Wednesday, October 30

Better Food of the Week: Coconut Milk

Brian and I have incorporated coconut milk into our weekly diet, as it is high in healthy sources of fat: saturated fatty acids in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s) (Brian’s video in this post talks about healthy fats and their importance).  MCT’s are particularly beneficial because it’s a type of fat that gets digested directly by the liver, producing ketones which are easily burned as fuel. You’ll notice for bulletproof coffee and other recipes, MCT’s are incorporated as a way to increase energy and cognitive function (More on MCT's to come later). Typically, we will have coconut milk in our smoothies or add some to our coffee or tea in the morning!

We often use coconut milk as a dairy milk replacement, because we've concluded (via Whole30 and personal experimentation) that it does work better for our bodies and it provides the extra healthy fats we need in our diet.

Now, in the Paleo-world, dairy consumption is definitely a grey area, as its beneficial qualities very much depend on how an individual reacts to dairy products. The ultimate determining factor is if dairy causes inflammation in your body, which would be noted by a sour stomach or poor digestion reaction after consumption.

When buying coconut milk, we wanted to point out a couple things, as there is (of course) a more preferable coconut milk to buy based on how it’s manufactured. Ultimately, when buying coconut milk you need to watch out for a couple things: Bisphenol-A (BPA), guar gum and additives in boxed coconut milk.

BPA is a chemical that has been used in consumer goods since the 50s and is often put in the lining of certain canned foods. BPA has been linked to neurobehavioral problems and is thus better to avoid if at all possible.  Guar gum has been linked to increasing digestive problems for some people. Although there are not definitive studies that show guar gum is particularly harmful, we try to avoid it in effort to promote better gut health. We also don’t buy the boxed coconut milk on store shelves because it always has a significant more amount of additives and preservatives that we like to avoid. Chris Kresser writes more on this topic here if you’re interested in learning more.

The coconut milk brand we recommend is Aroy-D. It does not contain BPA or additives of any kind. It's pure 100% coconut milk. You can get this product via Amazon. Another good choice is Native Forest, although this organic canned coconut milk doesn't contain BPA, it does contain guar gum. It’s sold at most local Whole Foods stores.

You can also make your own coconut milk with a good blender and coconut flakes! We loved our homemade almond milk so much that we hope to have a recipe for homemade coconut milk coming soon! 

Monday, October 28

Houston Marathon: Week 2

This is the third installment in a multi-part series documenting my path to the Houston Marathon.
Part I: Back to Work
Part II: Baseline
Part III: Week 1

Week 2 Primary Focus:           Strength & Endurance
Longest Run To-Date:             6.9mi

This week I had two sessions of weight training along with a hill repeat run. I also had a couple of bike rides for recovery purposes. Again, the primary focus now is on strength with some endurance.

Hill Repeats

Me, running hills in North Carolina
Hill repeats are a tremendous workout for various reasons. The most obvious is that they help build strength. Running up a steep incline forces you to push harder with more effort in order to maintain the same speed as you'd have on a flat terrain. This requires you to recruit all muscle fiber types, making you stronger in the process.* Hill repeats also naturally make you work on your stride (how far a part your feet land, how high you raise your knees, etc.) which feeds into better run form that we discussed in the previous post. Also, hills make you focus on your cadence (how quickly you turnover your feet) and the motion of your arms. These two things together can help generate more momentum while saving you some energy (efficiency). To read more on hill-running, click here.

*Although a technicality, I think it's important to note that working out actually makes you weaker. It's the rest/recovery which allows your muscles to repair themselves that make you stronger. We'll talk more about this in a subsequent post.


When I first ventured into the world of endurance sports I had no clue that people did weight training. And when I found out, I thought: "How could that possibly be a good idea? I thought endurance athletes wanted to be light..." I had so many misguided preconceptions. For starters, I assumed that all who lifted weights wanted to be body builders, as if the only exercises in the gym were bench press and bicep curls! The fact is that endurance athletes care much less about "being light" than they do about being economical and injury-free. They want to go as fast as they can, as easy as they can... and they want to do it without getting hurt.

Weights sessions are a critical component to the base period as they supplement strength training without the wear and tear from logging tons of miles. The fact is you can mimic running without actually running. By doing certain exercises, you can continue to build running strength while also mitigating the beating of your legs and joints. Some of the hardest workouts throughout all of my training will be non-running workouts such as weights sessions... especially if I do them with my coach! To read more on weight-training, click here.

You'll notice the time stamp of this post is actually 4 weeks into my official Houston Marathon training. Over the next week we'll get caught up on Weeks 3 & 4, at which point I'll begin updating you on a weekly cadence. Each update will include training details from the previous week, such as the types of workouts, the theme/focus, nutrition and other information.

Thursday, October 24

Better Food of the Week: Swiss Chard

Swiss chard was a common side dish in my house growing up, but I've had many friends who have never eaten it, nor even heard of it (Brian hadn't when we first started dating!). I can remember friends at our family dinner table giving the hearty green a questioning look, but once they tasted it, they quickly grew to love it. In high school, I'd even get special requests, with friends asking, "Hey, can your Dad cook some of that leafy green stuff, tonight?!" This may be due to the fact that my Dad is quite the chef, but Swiss chard is also easy to cook and flavor.  

Most greens are fantastic sources of phytonutrients (plant-nutrients), but I wanted to point out the specific benefits of Swiss chard, a nutrient-dense leafy green that is in season during the summer and fall, and can often be overlooked. 

Swiss chard is similar to kale in that it's slightly hardier than spinach, but it can still be very quickly cooked by boiling, steaming or roasting the leaves and even stocksThere are several different varieties of chard, including Swiss, rainbow chard, red chard and white chard. This leafy green is not only loaded with nutrients, but actually has specific properties that help regulate blood sugar. It also is an excellent source of vitamins K, A and C, as well as a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron and dietary fiber. A fun fact is that one cup of chopped Swiss chard can provide 300% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin K. 

We hope you'll be able to incorporate it into some of your own meals! To get you started, here's one of our recipes!

Wednesday, October 23

Featured Whole30'er: Stewart

Slightly different format for this Featured Whole30'er that we think you'll appreciate. Stew is a dear friend and is a part of our Small Group through Church that has been together for over three years.

As someone who is physically active and relatively health conscious (at least on the weekdays), I decided to do the Whole30 because I felt like I had hit a plateau in terms of workouts, energy and health in general.  I was exercising regularly and eating pretty healthy food but wasn't getting the results I wanted.  After hearing so many of the great physical and mental benefits the Whole30 program yields from Brian and Jessie and recently reading the book “It Starts With Food”, I felt I had no choice but to experience it for myself.  Apologies in advance for the lengthy write-up…

I am going to keep my thoughts on physical benefits of the Whole30 program relatively brief as I don’t think the effects of eliminating all processed garbage from my diet and replacing it with naturally derived, nutrient dense substances that were intended for human consumption will be all that shocking to you; additionally, Brian and Jessie have done a great job of discussing it in detail already. 

Tuesday, October 22

Houston Marathon: Week 1

My first week of official training for the Houston Marathon is in the books, and I must say, it felt really great to get back out there. 

Week 1 Primary Focus:           Strength & Endurance
Longest Run To-Date:             6.9mi

For the first few weeks my primary focus will be on strength with some endurance. Often times this is referred to as the "Base" period in training as it lays the groundwork for the rest of the program. Think of this stage of training as if building the foundation for a house. Without a solid base, there's nothing to build off of. As the old saying goes, "You have to walk before you run." Or in my case, I have to run before I can run faster and longer. The foundation that I build over the coming weeks is going to provide me the strength to sustain higher levels of volume and intensity throughout my Houston Marathon training. 

Strength helps to maintain proper run formThis is important for several reasons. 

If your running form breaks down, you become more prone to injury. The more tired one gets while running, the more susceptible he or she is to reverting back to poor running form and thus increasing the odds of being injured. We'll talk in more detail about run form more in the future, but for now, know this: there is, in fact, a right way to run. 

Aside from increasing your odds of injury, poor running form, like heel-striking, slows you down and isn't economical. Just like a proper back swing in golf generates more velocity on the ball, proper run form allows for the ability to run faster. Also, poor run form is incredibly inefficient, meaning you waste energy and momentum if you're not running the right way. In order to run a 6:50/mi for a marathon, I can't afford to lose speed or waste energy. 

This "Base" phase of training will also contribute to what happens at mile 22 in Houston. The strength I build and reinforce now will help me maintain good running form/technique when fatigue sets in during the race. 

My first training day was a one hour "Zone 2" run, which, depending on the context, is typically a run that works on endurance. (Note: When I say "context" here I simply mean where the workout is inserted in the greater scheme of other workouts; in other words, some workouts can have multiple purposes to them.) If you remember back to the first Whole30 post, zones correlate with the effort put forth, so this run required a very moderate effort. It was an awesome way to officially kick-off my training, to ease back into it. After the run I wrote this feedback to my coach:

"Felt great... nice and easy. Walked a few times to bring HR (heart rate) down. No music, just the road and me back at it."

I thought this picture, while incredibly cheesy, was very fitting for my first week back in training. The past month had been a dark one, indeed. And no, I don't condone their heel-strike running form!

Back to the Houston Marathon home page.

Wednesday, October 16

Houston Marathon: Baseline

This is the second installment in a multi-part series documenting my path to the Houston Marathon.
Part I: Back to Work

Before we dive into the details of my Houston Marathon training, I think it's very important to establish a baseline for my current fitness: what have I been doing lately, and where do I currently stand. 

As we all know, everything is relative and context matters. In other words, Week 1 of my training will look much different than Week 1 of others' training. Obviously someone who hasn't run further than 2mi will have a different starting point (and thus training program) than an Olympic marathoner.

Customizing a marathon training plan based on the individual is key to success. Furthermore, defining success itself is critical. Qualifying for Boston entails a much different training strategy than someone looking to just cross the finish line. These variables, along with many others, dictate a lot of the training program. This is part of the reason I have a coach and typically don't advocate catch-all online programs. More on this later.

In last week’s post I mentioned that for the past few months I've been on a training and running hiatus of sorts. I knew this to be true, but I wanted to examine exactly how much of a hiatus I was on. I wanted to see details. Technology makes it incredibly simple to record and track any workout, so here you have it, my running sabbatical in numbers.

The above chart is called a run-rate analysis (no pun intended). Sounds fancy, but it's pretty straight forward. Each column represents cumulative running totals over two periods of time, separated by my Newport Marathon on 6/1. Each time frame is 110 days, so just over three months, which allows for a more apples-to-apples comparison. The first column (2/10 thru 5/31) is the period leading up to the marathon and the second column is life after Newport, formally known as my hiatus. You'd expect the numbers to be lower after a race, but not that much lower. 16 runs in over three months? -- that's barely one run per week. For additional context, I ran twice in the month of June after the marathon. This is the epitome of burnout, something I'll intentionally avoid while training for Houston.

So that I paint the most accurate picture and stay honest to my baseline, I must admit a footnote to all of this: While it may appear that I was a lazy couch potato for three months, I still remained active, just not as much in the form of running. Cycling, tennis and some weight training were more prevalent. Also, my diet has been cleaner than ever. I've been living a predominantly Paleo lifestyle and also did a Whole30 in August. All of this has kept me healthy and arguably helped preserve [some of] my fitness.

September 21, 2013: Tour des Fleurs 20K

A few weeks ago I did my third consecutive Tour des Fleurs Race. It is a 20K (~12.4mi) run here in Dallas that I absolutely love. Below are my results over the past three years. 

For this recent race my coach told me to run Boston-qualifying pace, or a 7:00/mi. At first, I laughed in his face, keeping in mind the amount of training (or lack thereof) I had done lately. "No, seriously Mike, what do you want me to run?" He was dead serious, and beneath the race plan was an intention to motivate. Up until this point I hadn't been training much for reasons I outlined last week. This was his [sick and demented] way of lighting that competitive fire again. He knew I'd run a BQ pace for a while but wouldn't be able to hold it. He also knew that my inability to hold the pace wouldn't sit well with my competitive nature. He was right on all accounts. 

Jess and I at the TDF 20K
About 6mi into the run my legs said "screw you, man -- we can't keep this pace." Couldn't really blame them; after all, I had neglected them over the last 110 days. The rest of the run was a combination of run-walk until I crossed the finish line. It was a humbling experience, for sure. I was encouraged by the fact I could keep a 7:00/mi pace for over half the race on minimal training. The back half was a rude awakening and served as a motivating force, just as Mike had expected. And above all that, I was also really happy to be out with a community running after a long time off.

September 28, 2013: Yasso 800s (#1)

I'm not going to go into the details of what Yasso 800s are, although I plan to write more about them in the coming weeks. If you'd like to read about them now, Runner's World has an article and video here. For the purpose of this post I'll try to keep it simple. A Yasso 800 is a type of workout that some argue can gauge your race-day aptitude. Put another way, if you can complete a set number of Yasso 800s at a set speed, you have a high probability of running a marathon proportional to the Yass 800. If this is confusing, hang tight, as I'll explain it all in more detail soon. For now, know this: I did Yasso 800s a couple weeks back as a baseline 'test' to see where I was in my training. I ran a pace during the workout that would correlate with running a sub-3hr marathon (since that's the goal for Houston). The goal is to be able to finish 10 Yasso 800s.  I finished three.

So there you have it. My baseline. It's the context in which I'm starting my training. This will be an important reference to refer back to in the future. I wouldn't call my current benchmark of fitness good, nor would I call it bad. As you'll come to learn with training, often times "it is what it is" is the ideal philosophy to adopt.

You'll notice the time stamp of this post is actually 2.5 weeks into my official Houston Marathon training. Over the next couple of weeks we'll get caught up on Weeks 1 & 2, at which point I'll begin updating you on a weekly cadence. Each update will include training details from the previous week, such as the types of workouts, the theme/focus, nutrition and other information.

Sunday, October 13

Homemade Taco Meat Seasoning

Brian and I have a hard time finding taco meat seasoning that doesn't have added preservatives or starches. I couldn't find a single one the other day! But, it's so easy to make and taco bowl night is a fast and tasty meal for the many week nights when time is limited.

Taco seasoning:
- 1 tbs chili powder
- 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp paprika
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp onion powder
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
- 1/8  tsp cayenne pepper
1 lbs ground beef
1/2-3/4 c water

1. Mix all the spices together.
2. To make the taco meat, cook the ground beef thoroughly.
3. When we buy grass-fed beef we don't drain all the fat, but if we don't we drain all the fat.
4. Depending on what kind of meat we buy, we'll add 1/2-3/4 cup of water (less water if more fat).
5. Add in all the pre-mixed spices. Let the meat simmer for approximately 10 min.
6. Add meat over chopped lettuce. Top with salsa and guacamole. 
7. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 10

Houston Marathon: Back to Work

This is the first installment in a multi-part series documenting my path to the Houston Marathon.

A couple of weeks ago my quest to run the 2014 Boston Marathon took a detour. I was notified via e-mail from the Boston Athletic Association that despite qualifying, I would not be accepted “due to field size limitations and the large number of applications received from qualified runners.” As I wrote that post, I wasn't entirely sure what my next step was. I knew deep-down that I was going to make another attempt, I just didn't know where or when.

Now I do.

Qualification for Boston does not roll forward to the next race; you have to re-qualify. This means that if I were to qualify again, I would be running at the 2015 Boston Marathon. A couple of days after I received the e-mail with the bad news, I began looking at potential races and consulting with my Coach. Lots going on in 2014, combined with marathons being ‘seasonal’ in nature, has provided for a narrow window optimal for re-qualifying. After weighing the options and coordinating the logistics, it’s been settled…

On January 19, 2014 I’ll be running the Chevron Houston Marathon.

The goal for this race will be to qualify for Boston, and then some. As I just experienced, qualifying isn't good enough, which means the goal will need to be more aggressive than simply running a sub-3:05. To avoid this situation from ever happening again, I’m going to leave no doubts on the table by running a sub-3hr marathon. Ambitious? Yes. Doable? Yes. Based on the statistics of this year's field and several years past, any marathon time beginning with a “2” will all but solidify me a slot in 2015.

The past three months have been strange.

I thought back, and since September of 2009 I've had an athletic goal of some sort. It started with my first marathon, White Rock, in December of 2009 and has carried through to the recent Newport Marathon in June of 2013. That’s three and a half years of always having some target to hit, some objective to work toward. After Newport, it was gone – as if someone had yanked a rug out from underneath me.

The past three months I have been on a running and training hiatus. Admittedly, some of this was necessary for physical and mental recovery as I borderline experienced burn-out and fatigue. But the x-factor and underlying theme that I believe drove my behavior was the lack of a goal. You see, goals are what push me to perform. Whether in religion, at work, in relationships or athletically – having an end target to achieve is part of who I am.

In all seriousness, this hasn't been just a journey. It’s been a quest – an emotional and physical roller coaster spanning several years. And it continues. It is my hope that you’ll follow along with me as I regularly update you on my training leading up to the Houston Marathon. I’ll provide details on different training strategies, including the workouts, recovery and nutrition. I’ll continually update you on my progress over the next 15 weeks so that you can hopefully take away some concepts and apply them to your life, whether or not you're training for a marathon. And at the bare minimum, perhaps you'll find my quest interesting!

After a couple of weeks of sitting in the dark crying and sucking my thumb, I've decided I’m OK.  I've done my venting, reflecting and letting the shock simmer.  The quotes on perseverance are abundant yet again. Time to get back to work.

Back to the Houston Marathon home page.

Tuesday, October 8

Sweet Potato Carrot Ginger Cakes

On Sunday's I like to make these sweet potato cakes to have for the week. They're great for breakfast sandwiches  or with cashew butter and fruit! 

Prep and Cook Time: 20 min.
Serves: 6
Tools: Mini food processor

1/2 small sweet potato, shredded
1 large carrot, shredded
1/4 inch ginger, shredded
5 tsp coconut flour
4 large eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
coconut oil for cooking

1.  Shred 1/2 sweet potato, carrot, and slice of ginger in food processor (chop it enough to be in pieces, but make sure not to puree it). If you don't have a food processor you could shred them by hand and chop the ginger, but it'll take a little longer.

2. In a separate bowl, mix the coconut flour, cinnamon and nutmeg together. 

3. Mix the shredded sweet potato, carrot and ginger with the dry ingredients. 

4. Finally, add the eggs and mix the batter till smooth. 

5. Heat coconut oil in a large frying pan and cook the cakes, much like pancakes. The cake is done when each side is golden brown. 

6. If making a breakfast sandwich, cook the sausage first and then fry the egg in the sausage grease. 

7. If spreading cashew butter and adding fruit on your cake, you're in for a real treat!

8. Enjoy! 

Friday, October 4

Moroccan Butternut Squash

As we say hello to fall, I'm so excited to welcome squash dishes back into our weekly meal planning. Here's one of my favorites for butternut squash. 

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 15-20 min
Serves: 4

1 large butternut squash (approximately 1 1/2 lbs.): peeled, seeds removed and diced
2 tbs butter/ghee
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tbs Ras el Hanout (A Moroccan spice courtesy of Clothes Make the Girl)
1/4-1/2 cup raisins

1. Heat a large skillet on medium heat. Add the butter and whisk frequently. Once melted add the fresh thyme, whisking continuously. (Note that it doesn't take much time to go from browned butter to burnt butter. You will want to remove the pan from the heat element and place it on a cool surface to help stop cooking the butter if it's overcooking). 

2. Once browned a little bit, add the cubed butternut squash pieces to the pan heating to medium high. Use a wooden or metal spoon to stir the squash pieces so they are all well coated with the butter thyme mixture. Sprinkle generously with the Ras el Hanout. Spread the squash pieces out in an even layer and let cook, without stirring, so that they brown a bit on one side (several minutes). Stir and spread the pieces out again and let cook without stirring so more sides get browned.

3. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and let cook until the squash is tender, 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how big you cut the pieces.
4. When squash is almost done, add the raisins and let them warm up for a couple min. 
5. Add more Ras el Hanout to taste. Or, salt and pepper.

6. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 1

Featured Whole30'er: Taza

Why did you decide to do a Whole30?

Even though I am close to achieving some major life goals with grad school and my career, I still had moments where I felt as if I was going backwards in my life with respect to certain areas, physical health being one. Although I wasn’t completely out of shape, I had used school and work as an excuse to let myself go and I was just constantly exhausted physically and mentally. I definitely needed to make a change and was looking for anything to get myself moving forward in terms of my physical well-being. After hearing what Kylie and Stacy had to say about the program, I figured it would be a nice challenge to dive into because it was so structured and organized.

What has been the hardest part?

The hardest part for me was the preparation that it took to ensure I would be Whole30 compliant throughout the month. Between work and school, I had limited free time. I would try to cook meals two days in advance, just so I wouldn't fall into the trap of eating out and ruining the plan. 

I know people thought that not being able to drink for 30 days was borderline absurd just because our social lives in our mid-20’s revolve around grabbing drinks and partying almost constantly. To be honest though I really enjoyed that aspect of it, because I hadn’t gone 30 days without alcohol since I was maybe 17. Not drinking for a month has a huge positive effect on your wallet, your energy levels, your outlook on your problems and heck just your life choices in general.

What has been the best part?

Undoubtedly, the best part for me has been how I feel on a day-to-day basis. I am constantly full of energy, I don’t hit those mid-day walls and have actually been a lot more attentive and focused throughout the day.  I lost a lot of weight which obviously boosts your self-esteem and confidence. I’ve even had people comment on how much better I look, and in general I am just riding that high you have when you achieve your goals. Kylie, Stacy, Denise, and Brian even refer to me as McDreamy post-program.

Any advice for anyone doing one in the future?

The best advice I can give is to prepare as much in advance as possible. I know it can be a process especially when you are trying to cook 3 or 4 meals to last for a few days but it is so worth it. Second, I know it seems daunting at first, but really 30 days will fly by. Especially after you get past that first 5-10 days of low levels of energy as your body adjusts, everything about you just starts to improve. When you feel good and confident about yourself, naturally your life improves because you have a better outlook and because you are moving in a positive direction and that’s a great feeling.  If you are trying to make positive changes, especially in terms of physical health, this is the perfect challenge for you.
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