Cleaner Fuel

In an earlier blog I briefly mentioned that I wasn’t eating enough back in September when I started running and exercising again. I seem to remember an elementary school science teacher telling us that changing two variables in an experiment at the same time could lead to unreliable results, and that’s exactly what I did. I dramatically increased my activity level while at the same time reducing my caloric intake. Sure, I shed weight like a crack whore, but it was impossible not to notice that even as I was running more and more, I was getting slower, weaker, and more winded.

Some of that was undoubtedly due to overdoing it and not letting my body recover between runs. My early runs were very short, but for a fat guy coming off a long streak of inactivity, they were more than enough to require recovery days in between. And I wasn’t taking any rest days. Of course, I wasn’t really thinking about being a “runner” at the time. I was just doing the only thing that made me feel less shitty.

After a couple of weeks of running almost every day and not getting any faster, stronger, or even improving my breathing at all, I was getting pretty frustrated. I kind of knew what was up, but without beating a dead horse, I wasn’t in the best mental state early on, and it took a couple of weeks to settle down and decide that if I wanted to keep doing this (and I did), I was going to have to pay better attention to my body and what it’s telling me.

I decided that I should take a count of the calories I was consuming on an average day.

I was lucky to be raised in a house not overloaded with sweets and by a mom that appreciated the economic value of taking her two growing boys to all-you-can-eat salad bars instead of a lot of fast food restaurants. Thanks to those things, I’ve never been a big fan of sugary foods and I love almost every vegetable that comes out of the ground. Radishes don’t do much for me. But hey, you can’t win ‘em all.

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

I was hard-wired for dietary success, but I could probably fuck up a steel ball if you gave me a little time with it. I have been taking a garden salad to work for lunch every day for over seven years and that is probably the only healthy diet habit that I haven’t waivered on. I did really well making my own breakfast (grits and scrambled eggs) for a very long time. I avoided unhealthy snacks throughout the day. And those things meant that I didn’t generally have to be too concerned with my dinner choices. I usually cooked those at home too, so I was doing okay even for a lazy ass.

My problems came with waning portion control, career advancements that required less and less movement (desk job), and eventually a housing change that provided no reason to stay home and higher social opportunities (read: I drank more). Going out more meant sleeping less, getting up later, and buying unhealthy breakfasts. Sitting at my desk all day made my regular snack foods almost unnecessary. I’m not burning any calories sitting there; I probably don’t really need the extra sustenance between meals as much I just really like handfuls of almonds and banana chips. And if I wasn’t going out in the evenings, someone would stop by my apartment to hang out. Either way, I was drinking four or more beers, four or more days a week. That is a lot of empty calories being fed into a fairly sedentary being. And the effects were impossible to ignore, but not impossible to excuse. I believe I’ve mentioned my incredible excuse-making abilities before.

After my Labor Day weekend, a lot changed. I all but quit drinking for a few weeks and started eating all of my meals at home again because I had no desire to go anywhere. But once I discovered the healing and therapeutic powers of running and decided that I really wanted to get better at it; Once I decided that I really wanted to be healthier overall and get better at just being me, I was faced with the realization that I wasn’t fueling my body properly to accomplish those goals.

While I’m sure it’s not uncommon at all for someone to routinely pay high prices to put premium gasoline in their automobile just to then drive it into a fast food drive-thru and put cheap horrible fuel in their body, bad fuel is bad fuel and it makes things run like crap. I wanted to run better.

After I cut down on the alcohol, eliminated the poor food choices that sometimes resulted from its consumption, and better portioned the foods that I did eat, I found that I was running a pretty significant calorie deficit. When I calculated my meal totals, I found out that for those few weeks, I was only eating about 1200-1400 calories a day. That’s not enough. But I wasn’t starving myself. I wasn’t hungry. How was I going to force so many more calories into my body?

It was clearly time for some research. I started reading anything I could find about nutrition and healthy dieting (note: I use the word “diet” not as a temporary weight loss plan, but as EVERYTHING a person consumes to fuel their body). I genuinely enjoy so many healthy foods. There had to be a way to make sure that I could cover my basic nutritional needs and fuel my running without force feeding myself more food than I really wanted to eat. I’ve seen and/or met people that struggle with their weight because they claim to “love to eat.” I love and appreciate well prepared and flavorful cuisine. And I really enjoy cooking good food as well. But I’ve never simply loved to eat. That’s probably why I’ve always eaten too fast. “There has to be something better to do, let’s get this ‘eating’ thing out of the way and get on with it.”

My current diet is still a work in progress (like the rest of me). My scrambled eggs for breakfast have turned into a spinach omelet. I added nutrient and carb rich lima beans to that lunch salad, and sometimes a few sunflower seeds too (with an apple chaser most days). My dinners are all over the place, but I eat a lot of fresh organic vegetables and very little meat at all. I almost never eat red meat, and the chicken industry is so sketchy that I find it easy to skip that as well. Just to make sure that I’m not going to wake up to loose teeth and yellow skin, I started drinking a vitamin and mineral shake every morning that I now swear it is the best wakeup treat I’ve ever had. I love it. And I drink a protein shake after runs and workouts.

I have not recalculated my calorie intake, but I’m getting stronger instead of weaker and my running has noticeably improved over the last couple of weeks. So even though I am still slowly losing weight, it’s not at an alarming rate any more, and I feel good. Cleaner fuel seems to agree with this machine.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME, It’s the holiday season and while doing all of the above mentioned reading, I learned something new that might come in handy for some of you during this time of office-parties and New Years excesses. Apparently asparagus helps the body break down alcohol faster. That’s right! Not only does it make your pee smell, it can help prevent and relieve hangovers. Now that is some information that needs to be shared. Click here for more on that gem of a revelation.

After discovering that, I figured that there has to be a convenient way to work more asparagus into the holiday menu. Asparagus is not a difficult food to find or cook, but it doesn’t exactly scream “party food.” However, I was able to find these two recipes that you could probably sneak into your family dinner and/or New Year’s party: Asparagus Guacamole and Roasted Asparagus Soup.

Asparagus Guac

The asparagus “guacamole” is closer to a fine diced salsa really, but I thought it was pretty tasty. I made mine with twice as much jalapeno and no yogurt (I didn’t have any) and with the garlic, onions, cilantro, and lime it made a pretty nice snack with some pita chips. I’d definitely eat it at a party. If I made it again, I’d probably add a small amount of sweet peas to see if they’d help smooth out the texture a little and of course sweeten it just a tad.

Is it guacamole? Nope. But the goal isn’t to replace the delicious goodness of avocado guacamole; it’s to help fend off that hangover. It’s worth a shot.

Asparagus Soup

The soup was tasty too, but I’m sure it gets more than its fair share of baby food comparisons. I personally like thicker pureed type soups (split pea soup, sweet potato soup, etc). If I made this again, I’d add more garlic, probably some herbs, and definitely spice it up a bit.

Is it going to change your life? Nope. But it might be a good early dinner course before you drink those two bottles of wine at the Christmas party.

I have not personally tested the hang-over affects of these recipes because I haven’t been drinking as much, and I was never really plagued with hangovers when I did. But feel free to let me know if it works for you.