Are You Using Food for Fuel or Pleasure?

I was raised in the south, where like many cultures, we use food to show love. If it was my birthday, I got a good report card, or needed to be cheered up, my mom would make my favorite meals.

Those traditions are still evident in my life today. I enjoy making a big breakfast on Sunday mornings with all my favorite foods. It reminds me of how my mom went all out for breakfast on Sunday morning. We’d have french toast, eggs, bacon and even coffee. She would make me this very milk laden version of coffee. It was so sweet. It had so much sugar and milk I couldn’t really taste the coffee. I just remember how she’d make it for me and put it in her nice tea cups from the “good” china. It makes me smile just to think about that.  So, my version of Sunday morning breakfast is my way of trying to recreate that experience. It’s such a happy memory for me. I’m sure many of you have similar stories. I’m definitely not asking anyone to give that up. It’s really okay in moderation.

foodisfuel

What I’d like to accomplish through this blog is to get us back to basics. Basically, food was created to sustain us by providing us with the energy we need to function and to live. I want to challenge you to rethink how you look at food and how we use it. As I’m preparing to train for a triathlon I’m constantly working on my diet. It’s forcing me to change how I use food. The most important thing for me is to see it as fuel. I need the energy to sustain myself through my workouts and to accomplish my fitness goals.

Now that I’m fine tuning my daily caloric intake I try to make the most of what I’m eating. I’m on a schedule that has me eating six times a day. I’m eating at 7am, 10am, 12:30pm, 3pm, 5pm, and 7:30pm. It seems like a lot, but these aren’t big meals.

I just started this schedule, but I immediately noticed my energy level at the end of the first day. It was incredible. By eating every 2-3 hours, my blood sugar levels are stable throughout the day. Therefore, my energy level is consistent. I avoid the highs and lows that most of us typically experience on any given day.

Noticing the difference in my energy motivated me to evaluate “what” I’m eating at those times. I dont’ want to consume empty calories. I need the right foods that will help me get to my next meal without feeling hungry or sluggish.

So, if you want to see a change in your energy levels, and use your food as fuel here are some basic tips.

1. Make sure every meal is balanced with protein, carbs and healthy fats. Not all carbs are bad; just make sure they have a low glycemic index. Low glycemic index foods are better for regulating your blood sugar levels (i.e. sweet potatoes). Try healthy fats like almond butter or peanut butter, and my favorite – avocado. These foods help you stay full longer.

2. Incorporate snacks between meals. Make sure they are no more than 150-200 calories and they are purposeful. A small bag of plain potato chips is 150 calories, but they do nothing to curb your hunger or sustain you. Good sources are pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and vegan friendly protein bars. Just make sure it’s not laden with sugar. Some protein bars are just glorified candy bars. You want to avoid those.

3. Make sure the afternoon snacks are higher in protein. This will give you that healthy pick me up at the time of the day our energy drops the most. My 3 pm snack helps me on my last leg of the work day. This is when I like an apple with 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter.

4. For your larger meals load your plate with high fiber, low fat veggies. Broccoli is a great veggie that leaves you feeling full and provides very little calories.

5. Keep your carbohydrate intake to the early part of the day. Your body will have time to use those carbs for energy instead of storing it as fat when you eat them in the evening. You’re less active in the evening and your metabolism is lower.

6. Drink LOTS of water! Water not only makes you feel full, but it gives you energy. If you squeeze a little fresh lemon juice in it, it’s even better. Lemons have tons of vitamin C.

Those are my suggestions for now. I hope this is helpful to you. I’m learning new stuff everyday as I try to train efficiently for the triathlon. I will continue to share those lessons with you.

Question: How often do you eat food for comfort instead of fuel?

Healthy Ways to Increase Protein for Peak Performance

As you may recall from my last blog, my biggest goal this year is to participate in a triathlon. It’s part of my overall goal to get in the BEST shape of my life. In general, I’m a healthy person. Now, I want to work on defining my muscles and reshaping my body. So, I’m kicking up my workouts to include more strength training.

veganathlete

Of course, in order to build muscle I have to increase my protein. As a vegan, I’m always asked about my ability to meet my protein needs. Since I primarily follow a plant based diet, I get enough protein. But to increase my muscles I need to double my current intake. This is a challenge because the easiest way for a vegan to increase their protein is to consume a lot of soy products. I’m not a big soy fan. I do consume certain soy products on occasion: non-GMO brands of organic tofu, tempeh, and miso. Other than that, I try to avoid it.

The other challenge for me is trying to increase my protein while reducing my calories. I can get my protein up with beans, nut butters, protein powders, but the calories can add up really fast. So, every day is an experiment for me as I try to strike a balance. I need to find the right proteins and combine them with the right foods so I can build muscle while losing weight. This is key because as I’ve said in previous blogs, you can’t out train a bad diet. I can work out all day, but if I’m not fueling my body with the right foods, it’s to no avail.

I’m learning as I go. Now that I’ve committed to completing a sprint triathlon I’m going to start my official training schedule the end of this month. I need my diet to be consistent and on track by then. I’m making adjustments and progress everyday.

I want to share with you some of the things I’m doing to increase my protein intake and reduce my body fat.

1.  Consume at least 30g of protein at breakfast. This helps me stave off hunger for at least 4 hours. Protein rich foods are good for satiety…meaning you feel satisfied after eating and you don’t get hungry as quickly. A sample breakfast for me includes a sprouted wheat bagel (10 grams of protein, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter (4 grams), and a protein shake (17g). I use either Vega protein powder in vanilla, or raw protein powder in vanilla. I mix it with frozen strawberries, ½ banana, water and a little almond milk.  I prefer to consume my largest meal at breakfast. To save on calories, I can just mix the protein powder with water or a little almond milk. A cup of plain, unsweetened almond milk is only 30 calories.

2. Eat lentils as much as possible. Lentils are such a great source of protein. I buy the bag and cook it myself. It has 20 grams of protein for a ½ cup. That is huge! You really don’t need to eat much more than that because they are so filling. Combine it with green veggies or pair it with your vegan sausage at breakfast. I’m learning to eat veggies at breakfast, especially now, because it’s better to consume carbs early in the day.  I try to avoid carbs in the evening.

3. Replace pasta and rice with quinoa. Quinoa is a staple in most vegan diets. Quinoa is a great source of protein because it’s actually a complete protein. It doesn’t have as high protein content per serving as lentils, but it’s a great replacement for rice and pasta. In ¼ cup of Quinoa you get 6 grams of protein. I also buy quinoa burgers. They contain no soy, dairy, or gluten. They have 4 grams of protein and only 190 calories. They’re called burgers, but I don’t dress them as burgers. I pair them with veggies like broccoli or kale.

4. Incorporate a modest amount of nuts. Nuts are another great source for protein. I just realized that sunflower seeds have a lot of protein, about 7 grams per serving, which compares to almonds and walnuts. As with most nuts, they are high in calories, so I have to be careful with consumption. I usually eat way too many.

So, these are just some things I’m trying as I try to increase my protein to about 100 grams per day. My desire is to do it without using a lot of soy. I don’t feel comfortable consuming soy on a regular basis.

Now, if you’re a vegan who is not trying to build muscle or participate in a triathlon, then you will not have any problem getting sufficient protein. Just make sure you eat plenty of leafy greens, black beans, green split peas, quinoa, and nuts.

Question: Do you have any suggestions as to how I can double my protein without soy products and without increasing my calories so much to compromise my desired weight loss?