March 23, 2012

Roses and thorns


I lied.

I promised part two of my "Racing Weight" recap yesterday, but got super overwhelmed with stuff to do for work before closing out for spring break. Papers to grade, exams to make, paperwork to complete.

And last night was full of getting ready to leave prep: doing laundry and dishes, packing my suitcase, making a perfect playlist for my race on Sunday.

Basically, it's been a long week. Stressful, exhausting, but with pockets of happiness ... praise from my boss, a good feeling about this week's lessons, good conversation with friends, and warm enough temperatures to wear my favorite dress:

It's light, flowy, and a bit loose even. It may not look like much, but wearing this dress makes me feel thin and healthy and good about my body. Much better than previous side shots:

Looking through all my old pictures this week didn't help with feeling emotionally overwhelmed. But that's enough for a post all its own someday.

I'm looking forward to today - a 4 hour flight to Chicago after a 2-3 hour drive to San Francisco (yes, drive - I was planning on taking the train, but a friend offered to drive since he'd be heading that way anyway. What luck!). I am bringing a book of John Muir's stories, but something tells me I'll be using most of the time (on the plane, anyway) to catch up on sleep.

I ran a lot this week, and I would say 5 of 7 days were good food-wise. It was a tough week, no way around it. I'm really looking forward to being in Chicago for a few days and spending time with amazing and supportive people. I'm hoping the trip provides me some of the clarity I'm looking for with how to finally feel good about my progress again. I'd be fine with weeks of no weight loss if I felt under control about my eating and my workouts. Every week, though, I only feel successful in one arena. I need to figure out how to feel good about both.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone! Any fun or interesting plans? Anyone racing?

March 20, 2012

Racing Weight (Part One)

As I started to write my recap of the book "Racing Weight" by Matt Fitzgerald, it quickly became clear that it was going to be an intensely long and information-dense post. So, I've broken it up into two parts. Today, I'll be talking about calories out; Thursday, look for a post on calories in.

In short, I loved the book. I got it through my university's interlibrary loan system, but fully intend on purchasing my own copy soon so I can take notes in it. It offered a lot of perspective not only on how to find your ideal weight as an endurance athlete, but how to get there in a healthy way.

"Racing Weight" talks about how to determine your optimal racing weight, and what things you can do to help get to that point. It breaks it down into calories in and calories out, and clarifies further by explaining how the needs of a cyclist, for example, are different than those of a swimmer.

Ideally, you should be measuring body composition (namely, body fat percentage) over your weight on a scale, since that will take lean muscle mass into account. The average body fat percentage ranges, again, by sport - for example, the average female swimmer has a body fat percentage of 19-21%, compared to 11% for the average female cross-country skiier [p. 12-16].

So, how to reach your ideal performance weight? Once again, it depends on your sport. For runners, it's less about keeping calories low and more about longer distances:
For runners, higher mileage is a better way to get lean than calorie restriction because calorie restriction does not send the same message. Calorie restriction tells your body to conserve energy, which it will do by reducing its metabolic rate to retain fat stores, dismantling more muscle tissue than it otherwise would, and making you feel sluggish in workouts so you go slower, quit sooner, and thereby burn fewer precious calories.
[p. 75]
And voilà, my personal revelations.

I was talking to one of the people in my French conversation group the other night. He's a cyclist, and said that when he first moved to our city, he lived right near me, so he also rode his bike to and from work. In the first month, he lost 10 pounds. It struck me as interesting, because I had an identical conversation with someone else last semester.

I was commuting by bike to work, too. But I wasn't losing any weight. In fact, for seven months, my weight essentially stayed the same. Yes, there were off-plan things eaten - not daily, but more often than they had been back in Chicago. But I also ran hundreds of miles - and biked thousands. Surely I should have seen some change, right?

Well, not necessarily.

Because even though it takes 3500 calories in/out to gain/lose a pound, not all workouts are created equal.

Stick with me.

In the beginning, it was pretty simple. When I first started getting healthier, I was limited with what I could do. At 345 pounds, I could barely get out of bed without pain, let alone go to a gym and workout. So, I used what I had: I walked around my block. Once at first, then twice, then three times, building up as I felt physically capable of more. Then I started getting off the bus a few stops earlier, in addition to the laps around my neighborhood. And when a friend from work suggested walking the Race for the Cure 5K with her, I had my first distance goal.

And as I lost weight, I sought different challenges. I raced up the stairs of my office building. I walked 5Ks, and then 8Ks. I ran a 5K, then an 8K, a 10K, and a half marathon. And I started biking - first as a commuter, and then as my main form of exercise.

My bike was stolen in early February, and I started to lose weight again. It immediately struck me that this was not likely a coincidence. When I got my new bike, I was back on it every day, riding 10-25 miles and burning over 1000 calories at a time. And my weight loss slowed, then halted, then started to climb back up.

Time to reassess.

Based on the readouts I've seen from my Garmin's heart rate monitor, in my current weight range, a 1 mile bike ride burns about 50 calories on average. A 1 mile walk burns about 100. And a 1 mile run burns about 150.

But my body doesn't feel the same after burning 1000 calories biking as it does after a 1000 calorie run.

The term "aerobic" refers to oxygen and breathing, and while you shouldn't be working out so hard that you cannot breathe or that it becomes painful, you *should* have a change in your breathing patterns when you work out versus, say, sit down and have a conversation with someone. After a long bike ride - even over 2 hours, 25+ miles - my breathing isn't all that different. I'm less sweaty than even a 20-30 minute run. And I don't have that full-body I've-just-worked-out feeling. My legs feel it, but not my arms, or my abs.

There are ways for cyclists to lose weight while riding, for sure. The book covers this in great detail. But I'm not a high intensity cyclist. The ground here is flat and at my current weight, I can only ride 14 mph, max, and usually average 10-12 (for perspective, the local cycling club does group rides, and you must be able to maintain 18-28 mph for the 1-3 hour round trip). So biking, while fun, really isn't a fantastic workout for me.

My legs are the proof that the biking hasn't been a complete waste of time. My weight stayed the same last semester, more or less, but my legs are considerably leaner than when I simply ran and did workouts on machines at the gym. Cycling is good - no, great - for my legs, but my main trouble area right now is still belly fat. And I need a higher intensity aerobic exercise, paired with smarter eating, to take care of that.

So, as tough as it is right now, I'm doing a little test. I've been doing my run streak for a few days now, and am biking considerably less - about an hour once a week. The next step is to work on finding an ideal balance with my workouts and eating.

Stay tuned for more information on that on Thursday!

March 18, 2012

Green day

As a kid, my family always had St. Patrick's dinner at my maternal grandmother's house - she was Irish, and always made a full holiday spread. For the kids, we even got a few drops of green food coloring in with our milk! But yesterday was St. Patrick's Day, and for the second year in a row, I didn't have a single bite of corned beef and cabbage.

It's interesting, because I'm typically not really crazy about beef - I'll take poultry over beef any day. But corned beef is definitely an exception. I might have made some yesterday if I had a group to entertain, but with just myself, it was easier to just abstain entirely.

I still wanted to do something fun, though, so I decided to challenge myself a little: have something green with every meal/snack. Here's how my day went:

Breakfast: egg white omelette with spinach and ground turkey. First I browned the ground turkey with some garlic and dill (double green!). Then I finely chopped the spinach in the food processor, mixed it in with egg whites, cooked it up like a regular scramble, tossed in the turkey, and voilà! Very delicious and very filling for just under 300 calories.

Snack: a D'Anjou pear. I have been loving pears lately. Semi-related, I loved them so much when I was a kid that my dad called me "Mairzy Pears," or sometimes "Pears in Light Syrup." My family is big into long, ridiculous nicknames, and I couldn't love it more.

Lunch: a small banana, plus a whopping 100 calories for a giant tray of roasted asparagus (plus whatever calories are added with the spray). I lightly spray them with olive oil cooking spray, sprinkle them with whatever seasonings I am in the mood for, and roast them at 425º for 22 1/2 minutes. I usually just do a little salt and black pepper, but today I went with Greektown-inspired seasoning, one of my favorites from The Spice House. It's a bit lemon-y, with oregano and other goodness. I don't use it often because it's a lot of salt and not a lot of herbs, but a little pinch goes a long way.

Snack: cucumber slices and Greek yogurt mixed with dill. I usually grab a piece of fruit for a snack, but lately I've been paying closer attention to my nutrient breakdowns on MyFitnessPal, and even though it's sugar from fruit, my sugar has still been over the limit most (if not all) days. So, I've been looking for snack alternatives. It was a good sized cucumber for 36 calories, remarkably filling since it's mostly water (and because the dip I made used protein-packed Greek yogurt instead of sour cream!)

Dinner: what was left in a box of pasta (about 4/5 cup), a small chicken breast (about 4 oz.), and roasted broccoli (cooked the same as the asparagus - had some mixed in with the pasta, lots just eaten as-is!).

I had a lot of fun with this, and I think I might try and make it a semi-regular challenge. Pick a color, and stick with it all day. Red, green, yellow ... easy-ish. Blue? A bit more challenging. But it would certainly be interesting!

It was weird to not be in Chicago for St. Patrick's ... first time in a few years I haven't seen the green river!

My picture from last year *sigh* It rained all day and was pretty cold (for central California, anyway) - I thought about ditching my daily run and ending my streak just as it was getting started. I dreaded it all day, but finally accepted that "you know, it's only cold out there when you stop running..." So I got out there and did it anyway - a mile in 9:31, then walked for a bit, then ran another 1/4 mile in 2:11, then walked the little bit home. Not much, but I'm glad I got at least a little workout in before the daylight disappeared ... and I'm glad my streak is still going strong!

I know I promised a write-up on Matt Fitzgerald's "Racing Weight" today, but since my idea for a recipe post turned a bit into a photo dump post, I'll be giving his book a whole separate post on Tuesday. It was such an important read, and my post will be fairly long ... so I didn't want all the great info to get lost among pictures of the things I ate yesterday.

What about you? Did you partake in any St. Patrick's festivities?