Need a reason to eat more vegetables?
How about improving recovery after hard athletic efforts?
You may look up these Foods to Improve Athletic Performance & Recovery. on NutritionFacts.org.
I’ve been running a lot longer distances this season. With two or three runs in the weeks between before, I ran 30 miles (50 km) two Saturdays ago, 20 miles (32 km) last Saturday, and a short 14 miles (22 km) this Saturday (I was tight on time). My experience has been amazing. I am running pain-free = no threat of injury. I am running a lot of hills, especially on these long runs since I am preparing for mountains. Toward the end, after 20 miles or so, my joints may be tired, and I really have to concentrate on holding best form, but I am not feeling wasted and I am not in acute pain when I finish.
However, once I stop running and sit down for a while, my joints stiffen up and let me know they don’t want to start running again. (Stopping more than a couple minutes on really long efforts is not a good idea!) But, even so, I sense I could get up and go again if I needed to. They are stiff and tight in response to the fatigued once I cool down, but they are not strained.
What is more amazing is the next day – I am not sore; not in any one particular spot, nor generally all over. My energy is not fully replenished yet – I may need three of four days to feel the muscles recover and the energy tank full again. But I get out of bed 20 hours later and am not reminded that I ran so far the day before. This is not the way it would have felt 10 years ago running for much shorter distances, or even four years ago, before I became (mostly) vegetarian.
Vegetables Make Things Feel Better
I certainly connect this to good technique and appropriate training. But more importantly, I connect this to the effect of my strongly plant-based diet. I eat a lot of vegetables and they make it easier for my body to knock down inflammation, and repair and replenish energy. There is simply less stress on my body when I get my nutrients more from plants than from animals. I do eat some dairy and occasionally some fish. But even now I am finding my craving for those diminishing. I am doing so well without, my incentive for eating animal products is going down.
Let me note – for most of my life, I already had a reputation with family and friends for having an admirably healthy diet, including meat, and had every sign of being athletically healthy. In these last several years I simply ran across more and more high performing people talking about being plant-based and decided I needed to try it out myself, to see if it could help me with some negative sensations in my body I didn’t have better solutions for. I have been so pleased and amazed and how much better I feel. Take it or leave it, but I have no reputation on the line to be one way or the other – I am simply reporting to you what I have experienced and what I am learning about the benefit of an emphasis on plants.
My family’s functional medicine doctor has a strong focus on nutrition. This is the primary reason we switched away from our conventional doctor to her. She has her own home-raised meat and does recommends that we get some nutrients from ‘clean’ animals. In our previous conversations she even expressed skepticism about vegans when I told her of my preference to first find my nutrient solutions in plants. She said, ‘There are a few vegans who are some of my least healthy patients.’ Then she saw my comprehensive series of blood tests and had to concede that I was probably the healthiest person she has seen, on many critical markers.
One of my athletes – a guy in his late 40’s – is preparing for his first Ironman triathlon next summer – I big leap for him. I pointed out that training over the next year to be prepared for working continuously for over 12 hours is going to put an enormous load on his metabolic system. We need to make it as easy as possible for his body to fuel and remove waste. Knowing about my approach and following my progress this last year, he asked me what to do about nutrition because he doesn’t have a plan for it. He acknowledged that he needs to eat a lot more vegetables, but he doesn’t know how to make that happen.
So this post is going to be an outline of certain pieces of my advice I would like to give for how to get more vegetables in to his (your) daily meals.
View Vegetables As Gems
Initially, let’s not worry about all the different kinds of vegetables you may or may not need to eat. Just regard all vegetables in the produce section of your grocery store as powerful, performance enhancing substances. The more you can eat the better. View it that way, and cultivate an eagerness to get as many into your mouth throughout the day, at any opportunity.
The more colorful the vegetables, or rather, the more colorful an array that you can take in over the course of a day, the better. Let the different seasons of the year provide you with a different variety as well. This will get you a long way towards getting a wider range of micro-nutrients without having to study that topic yet.
Eat Veggies First And Fill Up
As a new habit, always start each meal eating the vegetables available, and fill yourself as much as you like with them.
(Wait, don’t the French eat their salads later?) I know there could be an argument for eating the vegetable fiber later in the meal to help the heavier stuff move through the digestive system, but right now we’re talking about building a habit in the face of the temptation to eat high-caloric, yet less nutrient dense foods (like meat, pasta or bread) that would fill you up first and greatly reduce how much vegetables you end up eating.
Fill The Frig
Make sure the grocery shopper in your family keeps the refrigerator stocked each week with a list of standard vegetable items. Refill the frig on the same day each week so you can get a good idea of how much you use an need to buy.
Don’t let the stock run out; error on the side of maybe buying too much. I don’t like to waste food either, so if I see extra veggies in the frig about to go to waste, I think up something to make that I can include them in. Or, while cooking another meal, I cook these extras as well, then freeze them so they can be used later.
Prepare Extra For Later
Some veggies need to be cooked to be more palatable or to make nutrients more bio-available – but not as many as we think. Barely cooked, or steamed is better. Raw is the best for many kinds. The more that you eat raw, over time your body will crave the raw form over cooked. Raw veggies may last much longer in the frig than cooked ones will.
Whenever cooking vegetables – on the grill, saute, baked, boiled, steamed, or pressure cooked – make way more than needed. You need leftovers sitting in the frig ready to go for quick meals.
Use a pressure cooker or large baking pan. Wash, and slice up enough potatoes, yams or sweet potatoes (my favorite) to fill that pot or pan. Cook them and then leave some in the frig to eat for the next two days. Freeze the rest so you have a stash of these ready to grab and microwave at any time.
Buy three pounds of beans (get a different kind of bean each month). Soak them for 8-16 hours. Use a pressure cooker to cook, cool and then scoop them into ziplock plastic freezer bags (enough to fill a flattened bag with a layer of beans about two beans thick) then stack these bags like pancakes on a cookie sheet and freeze them. If they are frozen in the shape of a square plate, they stack nicely in the freezer, and you can quickly thaw them in a pan or break off a chunk if you don’t need the whole bag. Three pounds of beans will fill about 4 or 5 gallon-size ziplock bags, and they are much less expensive than canned.
Buy big jars of simple marinara (red) sauce. You can dump some of this on many different cooked vegetables to make them more palatable. You can grate or mulch up so many different veggies, sautee them lightly and then add them to marinara to make a thick and nicely textured sauce to pour over your rice (notice I didn’t say ‘pasta’).
Oh, make an extra big pot of rice each time too, so that you a pre-cooked stock of that sitting in the frig or freezer also.
If nothing else, buy a large bag of pre-washed, pre-cut frozen vegetables (I buy organic).
It Will Cost Time
That’s part of the health reality here – you either put in the time to prepare healthier food for yourself (or another person in the home does), or you pay someone else to do it for you. But cheap (in terms of time and money) convenience food is what is killing us slowly, killing us early.
It’s a budget and values issue: we have to give up something in one area of life to gain something more valuable in another.
More in Part 2…
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