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A Hippie Vegan on the Slow-Carb Diet?

A vegan’s cutting out wheat, rice and potatoes. It’s a world gone crazy, people.

So yesterday I ran an ultramarathon – the FATS 50K – and now I’m starting on a vegan slow-carb diet. Why? A couple of reasons. One, I just read Tim Ferriss’s Four-Hour Body, and I’m intrigued by the concept. Two, right now seems like a good time for experimentation. I’m fresh off a 50k, and a renewed emphasis on whole foods might help recovery. The other reason that right now also seems like a good time to give this no-white-carbs-no-fruit-no-sugar thing a try is because I’m already looking ahead to my next two fall races – the Spartan Beast in Spartanburg (yes, you read that right) on November 4, and One Epic Run in early December. I’m curious to see if/how the change of diet affects my training and my race-day performance for each.

Unlike most people (I assume) who go on the slow-carb diet, I don’t really have a weight-loss goal. It probably wouldn’t hurt if I lost up to 5 more lbs., but at 5’7” and 130(ish) lbs., I’m quite certain that all will be fine if my weight remains the same. No, I’m really more interested in finding out if the change in diet, particularly the increased protein intake, will result in any noticeable strength gains by the time I compete in the Beast and in One Epic Run.

Also unlike most people on this diet…I’m vegan. At first glance, the vegan diet doesn’t lend itself especially well to this or any other low-carb (let’s call it what it is) diet. After all, what does a vegan eat besides carbs? Definitely not protein, since you can’t get protein without eating meat, dairy and egg white omelettes…right?

Wrong. All foods born of a living cell contain protein. Dark leafy greens, fruit (not that I’ll be eating any on the diet), carrots, all of ‘em. Other nutrients, too, unlike most high-protein fare you can pick up at a drive-thru window.

Which brings me to my next point: A whole-foods plant-based diet is surprisingly similar to the Paleo diet. Meat’s the biggest difference between them, and both discourage the consumption of foods that are not “whole” – as in white carbs and anything else that’s processed.

One of the ways in which the slow-carb diet is more doable as a vegan is that it allows, even encourages, the consumption of legumes for “caloric load” and to replace grains and other sources of carbs which can derail weight-loss efforts due to how the body processes most high-carb foods.

I’ve taken some baseline measurements from first thing in the morning on October 1 (yesterday) before the 50k and started to publish them here, but then it occurred to me that even personal acquaintances might not be ready for that much information about yours truly… So I’ve written them down in my journal and will provide updates on relative changes from week to week.

In terms of athletic performance, I don’t really have a baseline since I’ll be running both of these races for the first time. However, having participated in events of similar duration and intensity, I think I’ll be able to gauge whether the diet helped, hindered or did nothing by how I feel as it goes along, how my training goes, and the results of my first attempts at both races.

My hippie vegan slow-carb diet and exercise journal follows.

Vegan Slow-Carb Diet: Week 3 Recap

Just got over the hump in my 5-week vegan slow-crab diet experience.

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Guess who finally made it back out to Harbison this week? 🙂

Hello! After writing “only” 3 posts about the vegan slow-carb diet last week, I decided to dial it back even further to one weekly recap post so that I can do more “reporting by exception” (any fun food and exercise experiences that were new this week) and how my diet and exercise went overall.

 

 

SUNDAY

Just a day of puttering in the kitchen. I had planned to go to yoga, but the usual instructor was off, and they had someone else filling in with a different kind of class that I knew would be too active for how sluggish I felt, so I skipped it. One week later, I’m definitely ready for more yoga. Specifically, yin yoga. (Just checked the Müv Fitness schedule, and Brenda’s back today, yay!)

MONDAY

Exercise: 6 mile run at 4:30 a.m. followed by Body Pump with Chris and Randy at 5:30.

I freely admit that on Monday, I had a bit of a slip-up and ate a few pieces of dark chocolate. Blame the monthly visitor for that one. Otherwise, the diet continues along, and as a result of getting paid on Monday, I was able to replenish my supply of dry beans and fresh spinach and threw in some frozen ones to hold me over until my next Foodshare pickup on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.

TUESDAY

Exercise: Spartan workout. This week’s theme is “old school” workouts with little to no gear required. Even though my default for cardio cross-training is the stationary bike, I like that the Spartan workouts focus more on agility without quite being Crossfit (sorry Crossfitters, I had a bad experience when I tried it out a few years ago). Box jumps, body-weight squats, bear crawls and other fun movements like what I can look forward to when I face the Beast in Spartanburg in two weeks.

WEDNESDAY

Exercise: The morning low temperature dropped pretty sharply this past week following the Indian Summer conditions we had the first half of the month (it was basically summer the whole time here, except for a couple of days in September when Tropical Storm Irma brought us some early fall weather). It was around 45 or 47 degrees when my alarm went off, almost 20 degrees colder than my Monday morning run. I almost didn’t go running, wanting to just stay in my pajama pants and be cozy indoors, but then I remembered that waiting until the evening would interfere with plans to cook and work on some of my freelance assignments. So, out the door I went on a 6-mile round trip from my house to the synagogue on North Trenholm Rd. and back, barely breaking a sweat the whole time.

THURSDAY

Thursdays are normally a day off from exercise, so I got up at the usual time but stayed in my pajama pants and resumed working on freelance stuff and was just able to finish an assignment and send it off to the client before it was time to get ready for my day job.

Exercise: Despite my best effort not to exercise on Thursdays, I did take advantage of the nice weather right after work (mid-70s) to do burpees in the back yard – 5 sets of 30 burpees plus 30-second side planks. I find it especially beneficial to do lots of burpees during the weeks leading up to a Spartan race, since this assimilates part of what I already know is going to happen on race day. (One of the “features” of all Spartan races is that each failed obstacle carries a 30-burpee penalty. I usually end up doing burpees 4 or 5 times at the shorter races, so I can probably look forward to doing them 8 or 9 times at the Beast.)

After the burpee workout, I made this for dinner.

FRIDAY                    

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Exercise: I woke up a little frazzled and not inclined to do another Spartan workout, so I climbed half-awake onto a stationary bike when the gym opened and stayed on it for about 45 minutes. This was my first time doing stationary bike in a couple of weeks (lately it’s been all running and Spartan workouts), so I could really feel all the additional squats and box jumps when I got on the bike.

In the evening, I carbed up as best I could with leftover urad dal vadai plus some stir-fried red cabbage and green beans.

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SATURDAY

Exercise: 17 miles at Harbison, my first trail run since FATS three weekends ago. Even though I went up by 4 miles from last weekend’s run through Forest Acres (I’m starting to ramp up for One Epic Run in December), and factoring in that trails are more challenging than the roads I’ve stuck to these last two weekends, it felt so, so good to be back out on the trails! More on why I love the trails here.

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Also, Saturday is my slow-carb diet cheat day, so as soon as I got home from running, I made myself an Elvis smoothie: peanut butter, a whole frozen banana, a Red Delicious apple (the red flecks are from the skin), cinnamon, ginger, Demerara sugar and almond milk. (It’s not a dainty portion; my glasses are pretty big.)

Yay smoothies!

***

I had toyed with the idea of keeping the slow-carb diet going until One Epic Run, but I think I’m going to switch back to my usual vegan diet (the one that includes grains, potatoes and fruit) after the Beast on November 4. I’m just concerned that if I stick with it and then go out to do my 25-mile training run on Veterans Day, beans and veggies the day before won’t be enough fuel, and I don’t want to have to take extra Gu during the run to make up for the relative lack of carb-loading. I survived yesterday’s run, as well as the other runs since the transition to autumn began around here last weekend, but I think the weather has had just as much to do with my pace returning to normal as any adjustment I might have made to not eating the foods that are verboten in the slow-carb diet. Still, One Epic Run is a 24-hour event, and I don’t want to be lacking energy when I get there.

And five weeks of vegan slow-carbing is enough for experimental purposes, right?

Let me know what you think! Would you ever consider doing a vegan slow-carb diet? Why or why not?

Food I’m Loving This Week: Urad Dal Vadai

Yep, that’s a mouthful if you aren’t familiar with Indian cooking. If you’re into the plant based diet, though, these are a quick and easy anytime meal.

Let’s break it down. If you live in a city of any size, chances are you have at least one Indian grocery store. In your friendly neighborhood Indian store, they sell all kinds of different beans and split lentils (“dal”) in 1-2 pound bags. There are so many different kinds that they take up half of an aisle, and it’s like nothing you’ve seen in an American supermarket. It’s a great source of cheap, good- for- you food – if you know what to shop for. But that’s a topic for another day.

Friends, if you are hankering for an easy and healthy substitute for chicken filets, brave the beans aisle of your local Indian store, bring home a bag of urad dal and make these tonight!

To make these resemble chicken, I soak a cup of the urad dal in water for two hours, drain and place in the food processor with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, nutritional yeast and dried cilantro (but you can use any dried herbs you like). Add just enough fresh water (about half of a cup) so that the dal can grind. Blend until smooth, and you’ve got vadai batter!

To make this go a little quicker, have a frying pan warming up on the stove over medium heat with enough cooking oil to cover the bottom. Once heated, start plopping heaping tablespoons of the batter into the pan, maybe 3 or 4 at a time, and quickly spread them out like you would with pancake batter. Cook for 2-3 minutes, flip, and cook another 2-3 minutes. (I consider mine done when they are lightly browned on both sides.) Transfer to a plate with paper towels on it so that they can drain and cool a bit and then serve however you like or eat a couple with your hands like I usually do!

As these were cooling off, I made the Brokeass Gourmet’s Thai peanut sauce as a topping for the vadai and had a red cabbage salad on the side (I’m weird like that) tossed in soy sauce, sesame oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger and cloves (I was going for something like Chinese five spice) and crushed red pepper.

It totally didn’t occur to me until later that I could have stir-fried it with all those ingredients and that would have been pretty awesome too. Next time!

Got your own dinner hacks that use ingredients that are a little ways off the culinary beaten path? If so, let me know in the comments!

Week 2 Wrap-Up

As week 2 of my vegan slow-carb diet comes to a close, I would like to remark upon a couple of discoveries I’ve made:

My Monday weigh-in will likely bear this out, but based on my casual (read “OCD”) morning and evening weigh-ins, I don’t seem to be gaining weight even though I’m consuming a lot more nuts, seeds and oils than what I normally allow myself (normally I stick to a low-fat, high-carb diet). As I recall from The Four-Hour Body (I’ve already returned the ebook to the library), the diet is intended to accelerate weight loss through ketosis – that is, attacking your fat stores to fuel you when carbs are scarce. This is essentially a low-carb diet with beans as a stand-in to provide “caloric load” and help keep you from feeling hungry and miserable. Which brings me to my next point:

I haven’t felt hungry and miserable at all since I started! One reason is that I’ve been chomping on peanuts and enjoying things like carrot sticks and hummus that Cousin Tim (OK, not my cousin, but we’re about the same age) discourages in the book. I am vegan, after all, and what good vegan doesn’t live and die by the chickpea?

The third “discovery” is really a qualification of the second: I feel fine at rest. Actually, I feel fine when I’m running, too, but I’ve been shocked this week by how much my easy running pace has slowed down. Before FATS, I was regularly running right around 8:30 miles, hills and all. Over the last two weeks, I’ve averaged more like 9:00 or 9:15 on all my runs! Not that speed really matters for either of my next two races, but it’s still a bit deflating when you’re used to running faster. 9:00 isn’t that bad, but for me that’s more of a coming-back-from-injury pace. I’m honestly sort of dreading finding out what kind of toll the relative lack of carbs will take when I start ramping up the miles on my Saturday runs later this month to get ready for One Epic Run. Since I won’t really be able to carb load the night before, it might be a good idea to plan on taking extra Gu.

FRIDAY

Exercise: 5 sets of 30 burpees + :30 side planks

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Breakfast: Pinto beans, kale and tofu scramble. The red cabbage yesterday morning was all right, but kale just makes me happy!

Mid-morning: Finished off the peanuts in my desk drawer with two mugs of Matcha tea

Lunch: A big helping of red cabbage (cooked with apple cider vinegar and ground cloves) and a big helping of pintos with salt, cinnamon and cayenne topped with guac

Mid-afternoon: Nearly tore my hair out at one point when I was working on something kinda complicated, felt the hamsters spinning in their cage and I really wanted to graze on something (like the Kashi bars that were up for grabs in our breakroom today…But I was strong and rode it out with some mint tea.

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Dinner: A few carrot sticks with hummus while dinner brewed in its cauldron, and then spinach and romaine salad with the lentil and carrot stew pictured here.

 

 

SATURDAY

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View from Spring Lake Dam

 

Exercise: Easy 13-mile run through Forest Acres. It was noticeably cooler out with a calm breeze. I like to think that this, along with some degree of acclimation to the diet, made a more normal (8:38/mile) pace possible.

Breakfast: Pineapple smoothie, tea with sugar (not stevia) and pancakes!

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Lunch: All 6 of the banana muffins pictured here!

Dinner: A spinach salad topped with warmed leftover lentils and carrots (despite a major sweet tooth, I needed something salty) followed by two bags of Boy Scouts Kettle Corn and another pineapple smoothie.

It’s been a quiet weekend, mostly spent working on some freelance writing gigs when not stuffing my face. I have a bad habit of stress-eating, but the cheat day meant that I was able to indulge while I worked. From now through Friday, it’ll have to be peanuts while I’m busy spinning words in the mental loom…

4 Things I Frickin’ Love About Trail Running

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Photo from chaletsavoiefaire.com

So in a recent post I listed off things that marathoners need to be warned about going into their first 50K ultramarathon, chief among them being that most ultras are on trails instead of roads. And that trails are kinda hard if you’re not used to them.

While that might seem off-putting to seasoned distance runners, even some road runners who aspire to cross over from marathons into ultra land, there is, in fact, a lot to love about trail running. Don’t knock it until you try it!

So with no further ado, here are the top reasons to give the trails a chance:

You never have to dodge cars. This is huge, especially when you’re fatiguing around mile 15 or 17 but determined to run another 5. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, though, and you may find yourself running on a trail system that intersects or is shared with a dirt road for campers or kayakers to drive in toward a campsite or landing. Generally speaking, though, the worst you’ll have to deal with on the trails is a mountain biker coming up behind you at breakneck speed and having to move aside to save him or her from swerving, possibly into a tree, or screeching to a halt just centimeters from your ankles. Trail etiquette says that bikers should announce themselves to you (and how many more are coming along behind them if they’re riding in a group that has spread out) in time for you to move, and that you, the runner, should indeed move – stepping just to the side of the trail if necessary – for your safety and theirs.

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Photo from Fit Body Now

 

Weekend adventure! The forest – whichever one you happen to live near – can provide a temporary escape from the noise of our everyday lives. Even though it may be slightly less convenient to drive across or a little ways out of town to the local trail system than to just lace up and head out the door on a Saturday morning, the extra time involved pays off handsomely once you’re out there experiencing the freedom, the fresh air and the sounds of nature. At Harbison State Forest, where I regularly run on the weekends, deer sightings are not uncommon, and at Congaree National Park, the wildlife gets more exciting the farther off the beaten path you go!

You’ll develop balanced strength. This happens for a few reasons. One, the uneven surfaces force you to recruit muscle groups you wouldn’t normally have to recruit while road running (and that you probably didn’t know you weren’t recruiting until you went out on the trails for the first time). This includes muscles around your ankles, calves and also your abs! You know that Bosu trainer thingy you see sometimes at the gym but have never used? It’s an unstable surface that standing on, especially one foot at a time, forces you to brace your core to keep from toppling over. My friend, welcome to your great big woodland Bosu. Be sure to brace your abs as you run and jump over puddles.

Trails are easier on your joints and feet. Why? Because when you run on trails, the ground, which is softer than your bones, absorbs the shock. When you run on paved surfaces, you –and your poor joints and feet – absorb the shock. If you’re like most runners I know (including myself in my pre-trail days), that means you’ll be popping more Advil as time goes on and icing after every run. And what do you graduate to from there? Full-blown injury. “Runner’s knee,” that persistent pain that some runners get on the inside and/or underside of the kneecap, can progress to chondromalacia (a precursor to knee arthritis) if you only treat the symptoms instead of the cause or think that “stretching it out” will help. (More on that and how I bounced back from an extended injury period in an upcoming post.) If your knees have been giving you trouble during or after running in the road but you’re not quite at the point of needing to take time off, do yourself a favor and get out on the trails this weekend.

So that’s my four cents about why trails are awesome – and they are! If you haven’t yet experienced the trails and haven’t been inclined because you’ve heard about people twisting their ankles and other bad things happening, then ignore them and go out and do it anyway. Live dangerously! The next time you have a weekend where you’re temporarily stepping down your marathon training mileage and only running 10 or so on a Saturday, check out a nearby trail. (Before you go, check their website to see if there are any parking fees: here in Columbia, Harbison is $5 per day or $25 for the annual pass, Sesquicentennial State Park is $2 per person per visit, and Congaree is free.)

That’s it, no excuses. Pick the date and DO IT.

And if you like what you’ve read so far, bookmark me and come back to visit often!

So, having read all of this, do you still have any misgivings about the trails? If so, let me know in the comments!

Week 2 Days 3 and 4

Tuesday Exercise: First Spartan workout since the Asheville Super in late July. Today’s workout was the first I’ve ever done with no burpees!

Breakfast: The last of the pinto beans with tofu scramble and Irish Breakfast tea with stevia.

Lunch: The last of the chili that I made last week and froze over the weekend.

Dinner: It was raining cats and dogs and I had some produce to use up, so I threw it all in a pot with some homemade veggie broth and mashed Great Northern beans and called it soup.

Honestly, I wish I hadn’t mashed the beans because it seemed to thin the soup further (it was already thin on account of too much broth), but…I got fed and there’s soup left over.

Wednesday exercise: 9-mile run through Forest Acres.

Breakfast: Since I am running low on beans but still had tempeh and a bunch of new produce, I had a salad for breakfast. That’s right. Baked tempeh on a bed of spinach. Because I didn’t have the time or inclination to cook any more tofu scramble this morning, was more thirsty than hungry after my hot and humid run, and because I knew I still had peanuts in my desk drawer at work.

Mid-morning: You guessed it: peanuts!

Lunch: Leftover vadai with hummus and the last of the ginger cabbage.

Thursday: My customary day off from the gym left ample time to cook breakfast. So I made red cabbage. Seriously.

Vegan Slow Carb Diet Week 2 Day 2

This morning before the gym I took measurements to see what, if anything, I might have lost this past week. As it turns out, not much: I’m down 0.6 lbs and I might have lost half an inch off my waist. That’s fine; I’m really just in this to see if I experience any strength gains or changes in performance.

Last week I did what was familiar and comfortable in terms of exercise so that I would be able to recover from the 50k and get acclimated to this diet. This week, though, I will be adding in a couple of Spartan workouts in preparation for the Beast on November 4. If you’re interested in knowing more about those, check out their website.

Exercise: 5:30 AM Body Pump with Chris.

Breakfast: Pinto beans with tofu scramble and Irish Breakfast tea with stevia.

Mid-morning: Noshing on dry roasted peanuts, Matcha tea with stevia. (Homegirl tries new things sometimes!)

Lunch: 3 leftover vadai, ginger cabbage and black beans.

Mid-afternoon: More Matcha tea. That cup this morning lit me up more than I thought it would!

Exercise part two: 2nd Monday run from Strictly Running. 3 miles solo + 3.5 with the group.

Dinner: So this happened. I have been wanting salad in the evening lately, but the only leafy anything on hand right now is some regular cabbage and red cabbage, so I made a salad with the latter and topped it with hummus. A little weird, but surprisingly good!

Bedtime sneaks sneaks up quick around here. Until tomorrow…

Vegan Slow Carb diet Week Two, Day 1

Back on the slow carb straight and narrow today…

Getting back to the slow carb lifestyle has been fine. I had my mini Rumspringer last night, and Sundays are always lazy for yours truly. Today was no exception, except that I finally got around to painting some ugly doors in my house and then replacing the old ugly doorknobs.

Exercise: Minor home project

Breakfast: I was a little worse for wear this morning (Tropical Torpedo indeed, Sierra Nevada), so just a couple of mugs of tea with soy milk and stevia.

Lunch: Freezer Delight. Great Northern beans with salt, pepper, oregano and balsamic vinegar, followed by a small freezer helping of the Greek style black eyed peas.

Mid-afternoon: Yin Yoga, which I firmly believe that everyone should do! For more on that, check out this post.

Dinner: Sunday is also a day for blowing up the kitchen chez moi. With leftovers in mind, I cooked some Indian-inspired ginger cabbage, tofu scramble with orange and red mini sweet peppers, and vadai from my Indian cookbook.

Tummy has finally settled down, and there’s just enough time left in this day for curling up with a book…