Run with No Excuses

running-no-excusesAs June comes to a close, it’s been just about 3 months since I have taken up running. Not jogging, but running with training and goals in my. To date I haven’t officially signed up for any races, but am planning on three before 2013 is over. I have been very surprised at how quickly my body has adjusted to running, my form has improved and my times have decreased. Still, there is a long road ahead before I am ready to run my first half marathon. I am running by the credo, “run with no excuses” in order to remain on my plan in order to achieve the goals I have set. I still haven’t answer some basic questions; “What does it mean to you? How hard are you willing to work? What are you willing to sacrifice? Why is it even important and why does it even matter?”

My ultimate goal is to participate in my first marathon on December 2. With any luck I will be registering in 2 weeks to run in the California International Marathon in Sacramento, CA. Initially my training started so I could run in my first half marathon on August 3, the Summer Breeze Half Marathon in San Leandro, CA. I blame Born to Run by Christopher McDougall for the onset of this running addiction. It does seem to be the natural progression, running a few shorter races before challenging yourself with 26.2 miles. I have gone back and forth on running in Sacramento, but after planning out my training I realized Sacramento was possible. I am now considering a third race as a tune up to the marathon, the Rock & Roll Half Marathon in San Jose on Oct 6.

It’s an odd feeling of wanting to run, all the time. That is how I feel now after just 3 months, but not the 42 years prior. It is my desire to continue building endurance to participate in longer run and challenge myself. Each run is an adventure. Is it going to be difficult? Yup. Will I want to feel like quitting? Yup. Is it all worth it? Yup! While I still don’t have answers to the questions I asked there is something special about running. Born to Run has inspired me to challenge myself and run with “no excuses!”

While the marathon is the goal for this year, it’s definitely not the end of the road. I am already looking forward to other races, longer training run and getting into trail running. I have experienced some wonderful benefits from running and learned quite a bit in just a short period of time. Reading the CIM website for the marathon, I felt a bit overwhelmed by information. It was overload, but I do feel I will enjoy this “ultimate” experience and reflect upon it positively, looking forward to other challenges.

Body Fat vs Lean Muscle Mass: Part 5

hydrostaticAs I sit here eating oatmeal this morning I am pondering my decision to contine with intermittent fasting (IF) as part of my workout, something I began back in April as an experiment. About 3 weeks into this, I decided to make IF a daily part of my routine. The goal of IF was to gain lean muscle, while losing body fat. I currently have an 8-hour “feeding window” that opens between 11am and 8 pm. This allows me a small meal before I get home to lift weights or run. Once I am done with my daily exercise, I consume a protein shake followed by dinner and a snack, in hopes of getting my daily calories in.

On Thursday I had my fourth hydrostatic test over the last 12 months with my first test occurring in June, 2012. At that time I was pleased with the results, weight, 179 lbs. (lean weight of 151.1 lb) of which 27.9 lbs. was fat or 15.6%. Since that first test the only constant has been the plant-based diet. The exercise regiment has changed for nearly every test. Prior to the first test I transitioned from working out at home on a Bowflex Revolution to joining a gym and working a split routine. By the time of the second test I was just starting to follow Stronglifts 5×5. Things remained fairly consist through February, although I lost 1 month of lifting helping my wife recuperate from major back surgery at the end of December. All my time was for her, I stopped lifting.

This current test now takes the running I have been doing (since April) into account. The results were somewhat mixed. I was a bit discouraged by what I heard and read as Mike (the tester) went over the 4 page report with me. When I started my journey on the road to health my goal was twofold. First lose weight and second decrease my total cholesterol (TC) so I did not need medication. Within the first 10 months of changing the way I eat, not only did I meet my weight goal (175 lbs) I exceeded that by 3 pounds. I wanted to drop my TC to 150 mg/dL, not only did I meet that goal, I exceeded that with 130 mg/dL. The only exercise goals I set were when I joined the Stronglifts Inner Circle (SLIC). I wanted to  squat 240 lbs., bench 140 lbs., and deadlift 260 lbs. As of today, I have only achieved the bench goal.

The real change to my exercise was decided to take up running on the last day of March. Since then I have continued to add miles to my total each week, decrease my times, increase endurance and be able to run faster. I also decided to set a goal of running in a half marathon on August 3. This has been the motivation to run. Why do I mention all of these exercises? The 4 page report I was looking at and the numbers I heard frustrated me.

My weight for the test was 174.4 lbs. or just over half a pound off from my goal weight. I have been within 5 pounds of this weight with the exception of my February, 2013 test which saw me weigh in at 182 lbs. The most frustrating number was the ‘Lean Lb.’ or lean body mass. I was hoping for another increase (of 5 lbs)  over the last 4 months, which would have brought my increase to 10 lbs. of lean body mass, unfortunately that gain I had hoped for was dashed when I saw I had lost 3.25 lbs. of lean body mass. I was discouraged, especially considering I adhered to a strict routine of lifting weights 3 days a week with continual gains up until just a few weeks ago when I had to deload a few exercises and stop two lifts altogether because of shoulder pain.

The other number that caught my attention was seeing my body fat had dropped to 13% (a loss of 4.35 lbs.)! I had been told quite a few times on the SLIC that my strength gains (muscle) would be compromised with the addition of running to my exercise regiment. I do believe that to be true based on the body composition results. Still weight lifting and running can coexist and I have shifted my focus and goals. Even with the naysayers on board, I am still pleased with the progress. Never thought I would see my body fat reduced to just 13%! I am sure if I continue to increase the running that number would probably go lower, but I am not sure I want it much lower.

I would still like to lean out a bit by losing another few inches in the waist, but increase numbers around my chest and arms for healthier looking physique. The problem seems to be how much I eat or don’t eat. I continue to track my calories daily, which is not required but like running and lifting has become part of my routine. I am still adhering to a plant-based, whole foods lifestyle, but seem to have problems meeting the 2000 calories. Every day I lift or run there is a good chance I will be in a calorie deficiency.

So has intermittent fasting helped or hindered my progress? Not sure I have a definitive answer at this point. No longer to do I crave meals in the morning, usually going until 11am before having my first meal. Obviously the body fat number has improved considerably, did it come at a small cost in lean body mass? Possibly but received information,

One of the things I don’t want you to worry about is losing body mass. Unless you are starving and losing massive amounts of strength I wouldn’t worry to much about it. What has probably happened is you are burning off the fat that has stored in your muscles. People store fat in their muscles and if you cut a cross section of one it will sometimes look like a well marbled steak. So you aren’t losing muscle. You are just finishing one of the processes of leaning up. You are probably also burning off the fat that has stored around your organs too. And all this is a good thing! You want to get rid of all the extra stored fat, visceral and otherwise.

Bottom line regardless of what I decide, I need to eat more, especially with my half marathon quickly approaching. I am still pleased with all the progress I have made from diet change to exercise to improvement in my blood work numbers as well as body composition.

Dough. Sauce. Toppings.

veggie-pizzaDough. Sauce. Toppings. These are the key components to making a pizza or pie. In fact there is no wrong way to build your plant based pizza. Move away from “conventional” pizza you can see at any box type restaurant and get creative. Over the last 10 days or so I have made 5 different pizzas, thanks in part to Mark Sutton’s book, Heart Healthy Pizza. I picked this book up in April and made a few pizzas, but after watching Mark on his first “TeeVee” appearance I was motivated to take pizza making to the next level, skipping the store bought pizza dough flours and jars of sauce. You can watch Mark in action below to be “inspired” when comes to your pizza.

After watching the video I pulled out his book and decided to make a veggie pizza for dinner last week. I had finally run across a great tasting, as well as oil free pasta sauce from Trader Joe’s (Trader Giotto’s Fat Free Pizza Sauce). Not typically a store I shop at because of their prices, but the pizza sauce was relatively thick, easy to spread and had a very mild (not overpowered by spices) flavor to it. One jar allows me to make two 13″ pizzas, all for $1.99! It would only be a few days later I would stumble upon a homemade recipes that is cheaper and just as good, if not better. More on that shortly.

I had not had much luck with pizza crust in the past, always deferring to a store bought bag, usually from Bob’s Red Mill. There is a gluten free pizza crust sold, which I thought made pizza making easier, but I could not have been further from the truth. Thankfully I have no intolerance, allergy or sensitivity to gluten, so I opened Mark’s book to a whole wheat pizza crust (find a basic recipe on his site). It was his video that got me thinking, “hey this is easy, I could do it.” I followed the recipe mixed some whole wheat flour with spelt flour, some water, a little agave nectar and a package of yeast and let it rise for 60 minutes. I was somewhat disappointed when it the dough had some resiliency to it. Little did I know this was normal and was the gluten in the dough, something I had not experienced previously with gluten free flour I had used.

Thinking I had done something wrong, I stretched the dough as best I could on a 13″ pizza pan. I popped open the jar of sauce and started to cover the pizza. Maybe I got lazy, but I just opened a bag of frozen veggies and started placing on top of my pie. I also (thanks to Mark) added fresh cut slices of onion and mushrooms. On top of the veggies I added one of Mark’s signature “cheese-like” sauces, as he refers to it. But these toppings only scratch the surface, there are no limitations as to how or what to top your pie with.

On the topic of toppings, I took a page from Vegan Dad, who’s website I seemed to come back to when looking for meat substitutes. I am not talking about that soy crap that grocers pass off a healthy or alternative meat substitutes, none of which are any better for your than meat because these products are highly processed. Vegan Dad had a niche for real meat substitutes, usually using vital wheat gluten as the basis for his meats.

Now for those who don’t favor a plant based diet or plant based pizza, I would not expect you to understand. For me, it’s not about missing meat, I don’t I missing nothing about the taste (or lack of flavor) or preparing animal flesh for cooking. Especially chicken, always hated that slimy feel of dead foul. Meat was actually easier to stop eating than cheese, regardless of how happy cows were. I had favored a few soy/bean based meatless products from MorningStar, but that was prior to learning more about health and nutrition that lead me away from this hideous products.

Vegan Dad’s website would usually be near the top of an interwebs search as it related to vegan meat or meatless meat. This day I decided it was to be pepperoni, but printed up the homemade sausage recipe without realizing it. It was a wonderful mistake in the end, as I will explain. I had all the ingredients except wheat gluten, which I found in bulk at Winco Foods. I knew this was the basis of saitan or wheat meat but I had never ate it or bought it. Little did I know, once the ingredients were mixed it would be similar to a dough recipe with the resiliency.

The recipe looked simple, so I started combining ingredients and heating water in a steamer that would cook the sausages. I wasn’t impressed with how my “meat” looked when it was mixed. I rolled it out on a cutting board and divided it 6 times, with each link being about 5″-6″ long. I rolled each link up in foiled and placed them in the steamer for 40 minutes.

Back to the pizza I was making last week. After swirling the cheese-like sauce on top, it was off to the oven for 15-20 minutes. I checked the the dough at 15 minutes and was shocked when I had a wonderful looking raised, light brown crust. The first thing that ran though my mind, “okay where did I make a mistake and why did this work?” Remember I had only used gluten free dough and until recently I didn’t know that the gluten was required to help the dough raise. Awesome! I was excited to show someone, since no one was home, so I shared the image on Facebook and Instagram.

Since then I have made 4 other pizza crusts, two of them with the whole wheat and spelt mix, but the other 2 with another Bob’s Red Mill product, Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour. The two pizzas made with this flour made a nice full crust, but nothing like the whole wheat/spelt combination I was using because of the lack of gluten in the flour. So now I had a foolproof dough recipe that would make a great crust, the basis of any pie you plan to create.

As for the sausage, when the timer went off I lifted each link out of the steamer to cool. I was anxious to unwrap and cut up the first sausage that I only waited 5 minutes. I sliced off the end and then sliced a narrow piece of sausage and took a bite. I was shocked at the flavor and texture of this meatless creation. If I didn’t know better I would have thought it was some sort of sausage. I had another bite and another. This stuff was good and would make an excellent pizza topping. The nutritional information was well within allowable tolerance: 177 calories, less than 1 gram of fat, 17 carbs and 24 grams of protein. The sodium was high at 577 milligrams, but that could be reduced.

The true test would be my son, wife and mother-in-law. My son was a bit hesitant when I asked if he wanted a bite. I broke the piece I was giving him in half and his first comment was, “it’s hot” (as in spicy). He then asked for a bowl of sausage. My wife is not a bit fan of spicy foods, doesn’t agree with stomach and leads to heartburn, but she did try a bit. My mother-in-law was highly impressed with the flavor as well. The next day I brought a link to work and shared it with 4 other co-workers, including a manager who is renown in the art of smoking meat and BBQ. He was impressed with the flavor of the sausage, which led me to believe I had a winning food here. Another co-worker took two home for dinner the following day. Now the final test, will they grill? I have a sneaky suspicion they will, but haven’t confirmed it. Next BBQ I attend I will give it a shot.

Since meat and dairy products are no longer a healthy option for my plant based pizza the options seemed limited at first, but that is not the case. Nearly any food can act as a pizza topping. Look past veggies, I made a Pad Thai Pizza a few weeks back, which featured peppers, rice noodles with a peanut sauce. The crust was made from brown rice and chickpea flour (another recipe from Mark Sutton). Cheese used to be a common denominator for all pizza I ate. Now, it’s not needed for a pizza to be successful. With that said, I have made a few different “cheese-like” sauces to drizzle on the toppings. Many of these sauces are based around nutritional yeast, but much like toppings, expand your horizons and get creative. Many grains can be the base for wonderful sauces for pizza, as highlighted in Heart Healthy Pizza.

You don’t have to be plant based to enjoy a “heart healthy” plant based pizza. Dump the hot box, forget the frozen and spend some time creating a great tasting pie. Look past dairy and meat as your only options for toppings and see what you can create. I’m off to treat myself to cold, leftover pizza.

Point Blank Review: Heart Healthy Pizza

sutton_healthypizzaI have been on a pizza kick recently thanks in part to Mark Sutton’s book, Heart Healthy Pizza. It was a book I had been looking to buy for a few months, but I seemed to get sidetracked and would end up order other cookbooks. Prior to finding Mark’s book I was creating healthy pizza recipes, but they were more of a “traditional” pizza . I had tried to create my own version of a veggie pizza last year. It’s wasn’t anything overly impressive, I used a package of Bob’s Red Mill GF Pizza Crust, substituted my spaghetti sauce as pizza sauce (mistake) and piled on the veggies. I even added Daiya to the top of the pizza for those I were feeding who were not plant-based eaters.

While the pizza came out okay it was still lacking. Pizza as I knew it growing up came from Round Table Pizza. It was usually sausage or pepperoni or cheese, obviously full of fat, highly processed and dripping with oil. Pizza in college was all about what was affordable. “Pizza. Pizza.” was usually the cry and their 2 for $5 deal. Again, not a healthy option, but it was how I knew pizza. Over the years my mom made some pretty good pizza and I have experienced pizza from California and Chicago to New York. Everyone has their own idea as to what makes a good pie.

It was December, 2012 when I first learned about Mark Sutton and his book. It would be April before I finally purchased Heath Healthy Pizza I was thrilled to look at all the different options I had at my fingertips. To be honest I had to ask Mark on Facebook, his recommendation for my first pie. Not only did I have to select the crust, but sauce(s) and toppings I was going to us. It appeared a but more complicated that just unrolling some processed dough, squeezing sauce and tossing cheese and pepperoni on it.

Gone are the days of processed ingredients, everything I make for my pizzas now are all homemade; from the dough to the sauce to some of the toppings. Mark’s got all the bases covered, sometimes not the most conventional of ingredients, but surprisingly enough they come together nicely and taste amazing. For example, the Pad Thai Pizza (pg 23) I made had a simple, yet delicious Sweet & Spicy Chili Corn Sauce on top of a brown rice, chickpea and cilantro crust. As I said, truly unique combinations.

I was not too confident in working with dough and creating my own crusts. Yet last week I had the best success and honestly I thought I made a mistake, but one that worked to advantage. It was no mistake though, it was a basic whole wheat dough recipe from Mark’s book that demonstrated how quick and easy making homemade pizza dough truly was. I was so thrilled with the result I made pizza the next night, just to make sure what I experienced wasn’t a mistake on my part. Lo and behold, the dough worked and came out amazing!

I never really looked outside the box when it came to pizza sauce. If it’s red, then call it pizza sauce. I mistakenly used my spaghetti sauce recipe for my pizza. It wasn’t the right sauce to use, but as Mark demonstrated sauce doesn’t necessarily need to be tomato based. A quick look of the book index shows you wide array of sauces, including non-cheese sauces including ingredients such as tofu, beans, rice, quinoa, oats, barley and millet. Each of these comprise a variety of sauces to top your pizza with. As I said, it gets a bit overwhelming when you start thinking how you are going to combine your sauce and toppings.

Thankfully he does provide you with some “power pizza possibilities” in order to get you started. Prior to making my first Mark Sutton original, the Pizza Margherita (followed by the Nearly Nouveaux Mex), I actually make a BBQ Chicken Pizza from The Effervescent Vegan. A few Facebook comments made mention of Mark’s book and the rest is history. Let your imagination go, forget traditional pizza, give the ‘Really Reubenisque’ or ‘Clever Curry’ a try. There are no limits on pizza combinations. So many choices I am looking forward to expanding my pizza repertoire thanks to Heart Healthy Pizza.

I’ll be honest, while I have gone through the entire book, I haven’t read each recipe in detail. I do believe Mark uses vegan sausage, like MorningStar Farms, Light Life and Gimme Lean in some of this recipes. I tend to skip the highly processed vegan sausage, even the crumbles since these are not any better for your than their meat counterparts. I did however have excellent luck in making my own pepperoni last night.

Yeah, you heard me, pepperoni (it was actually the sausage). While Vegan Dad is no longer active, his blog remains and he ventured into the “mock meat” arena with some very good success. Whenever I have an inkling for a “meatless” meat I always check his site. I mistakenly used the homemade sausage recipe with excellent success last night, but called it pepperoni. Even from the first bite, my brain said, “this is sausage!” It was that good! Yet posting my success on Facebook I continued to refer to it as pepperoni, my mistake but it does give me a chance to make pepperoni tonight.

So far everyone who has tried a slice thought it was tasty. The first test was my 7 year old son. He was a bit hesitant, but I cut him a small piece. His first comment, “can I have a bowl?” followed by “it’s spicy!” I will count that as a success. Next came my mother-in-law and wife. I was thrilled to have them taste test, as my wife is very picky and my MIL is a fantastic cook. My MIL raved about the flavor, alone and one a slice of pizza. My wife, much like my son thought it was a bit spicy, but good. She has never been one for really spicy food. At work I have given pieces to 3 co-workers and all have commented positively on the flavor and texture.

While it wont’ be an every day food it’s great to know I have this meatless recipe as an option. As for Heart Healthy Pizza, well that is all I make these days. Thanks to a Mark Sutton for all his hard work and dedication to pizza. If you miss a slice or a pie now and then but don’t miss the cheese, oil and fat, his Heart Healthy Pizza book is the way to go.

The 6th Thought: Plants vs Animals

“To wrongly suggest that people need to eat animal protein for proper nutrition encourages consumption of foods known to contribute to the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, many forms of cancer, and other common health problems.”

-Jeff Novick, MS., R.D.
The Myth of Complemtary Protein – ForksOverKnives.com

Something I hear all the time on the weight lifting forum I frequent, “you are getting incomplete proteins” since I don’t include animal protein in my diet. This is a myth “inadvertently promoted and popularized in the 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappé.” Unfortunately this myth doesn’t seem to die, as Dr. John McDougall found out in a response to the medical journal Circulation, the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association, which wrote :Although plant proteins form a large part of the human diet, most are deficient in one or more essential amino acids and are therefore regarded as incomplete proteins.” Barbara Howard, Ph.D., head of the Nutrition Committee, replied on June 25, 2002 to Dr. McDougall’s letter, stating (without a single scientific reference) that the committee was correct and that “most [plant foods] are deficient in one or more essential amino acids.” Clearly, the committee did not want to be confused by the facts. So don’t worry about my protein intake and I won’t comment on your poor diet choices.