Thursday, May 24, 2012

*Raw* Week 3 - Fancy Raw Dinner!

*Raw* Vegan Challenge – Week 3 (May 14 – May 20)

Colorful Salads

I totally dig making super colorful salads, they just look so fresh and vibrant and taste great too.  Who wouldnt want to dig into something so inviting!  Most of the time, my favorite colorful salads come from Whole Foods because they have everything nicely chopped and diced, I dont have to do the work.  Plus they have red cabbage, beets, detox salad (finely chopped, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, kale, currants, parsley, sunflower seeds and lemon juice) and this kale avocado salad that is to die for.  I usually get a salad there a couple of times a week, we'll walk there for lunch one day and during the weekend I'll use it to refuel between my AM and PM workouts.  I usually drizzle some lemon juice, agave, balsamic vinegar and/or apple cider vinegar on there as my dressing.  The salads I make on my own are pretty kicking but I dont normally have beets and cabbage lying around but perhaps that'll have to change!

Strawberry Banana Smoothie! 
This week I decided to mix it up a bit with my morning smoothie, I wanted to try something different instead of going green every day although there are plenty of options with that as well.  I tossed some strawberries, a banana and few pineapple chunks into the blender, added a dash of raw vanilla protein powder.  Wow this smoothie rocked!  Traditional flavor with the strawberry banana combo but the pineapple made for a pleasant addition.  I went on to make a few other tasty combos – mango/pineapple/strawberry, apple cinnamon, a great classic chocolate banana (gonna add some almond butter next time), and one of my new favorites pear w/ cinnamon and vanilla – superb!  It’s fun to get creative, sometimes they turn out awesome and other times its just eh but ya never know until you try. 
Since I realized I could chop up the raw sweet potato, I’ve been enjoying that regularly as well.  Plus found some raw bars that are quite tasty, there are traditional Larabars and Raw Revolution has some rocking flavors and are packed with protein.  Brendan Brazier’s thrive bars can be good too, packed with protein as well.   All of these bars have that same somewhat mushy consistency though, so if you’re looking for something with more texture and a little crunch, I suggest making some yourself or trying the Two Moms in the Raw bars, they have a few various flavors and they’re all pleasing to the palate. 
I also found you can buy already sprouted nuts and seeds that have a hint of flavor to them, haven’t tried em yet but they’ll be tossed in the grocery cart this upcoming weekend same with some raw granola that I found.  These bags of snacks will be a staple for me when traveling to Taipei in June.  Not sure what kind of food they’ll have for me there but I’m hoping to find some markets where I can get fresh fruits and veggies to nibble on. 
Raw Dinner – Yes, Please!!
Sunday night, I was lucky enough to experience a raw feast that was prepared by Sam Romano (the lovely, Barb McGovern’s son) who just graduated from culinary school with a focus on raw vegan cooking.  This meal was amazing!!  I was totally spoiled; it definitely put my salads to shame.  There are so many creative things you can do with raw cooking and a dehydrator works wonders.  If I could make these elaborate meals at least weekly, I’d be happy.  I think “normal” foodies could appreciate this food; it’s so great eating something that tastes amazing without the guilt of fat, sugar, calories, etc. It’s wonderful to know that what you’re eating and enjoying is good for you at the same time! 
The only “issue” with raw “cooking” is that things either have to be soaked or sprouted which can take hours if not days.  And things are “cooked” in the dehydrator which can also take days so you really have to prepare in advance but the positive side is there’s no last minute rush to get things in the oven!
I got to Barb’s house early so I could help out and write down a few tips/pointers.  I was able to help make the dolmades (grape leaves that were stuffed with zucchini, ground up brazil nuts, currants and loaded with spices).  The grape leaves were soaked and packed with flavor.  I was allowed to roll a few of these, however my technique left much to be desired, they weren’t rolled tight enough, oh well, haha. 
The dinner consisted of Mexican rice (the rice was in the dehydrator for like 24 hours!); enchiladas with homemade shells made from yellow peppers, corn and avocado possible a few other things, refried beans that weren’t even made from beans!  I think the beans were like beets, carrots and a few other magical ingredients, wow.  We also had a fresh mango avocado salsa and a green leafy salad.  The flavors were incredible in everything.  For dessert we had a peach cobbler, the cobbler part was made in the dehydrator and had nuts in it for an added crunch.   Earlier that week Sam had made a chocolate graham cracker cake, I really wanted some of that!!  I gotta make me some raw chocolate dessert soon!  I think I might find myself purchasing a dehydrator sometime in the near future so I can create some unique meals. 
I know there are a few raw restaurants in Chicago, I most certainly wanna venture to one over the summer.  Just need to find someone willing to make the trek with me, I think it’ll be well worth it. 
Seeds – They may be small but they pack a punch (kinda like me!)
I’ll add seeds to my salad, smoothies or night time snacks (ie smashed larabars or other raw bars with a piece of fruit) or I might just snack on a handful of them.  I talked about chia seeds and flax seeds in previous posts so feel free to take a gander back through those.  I think chia seeds are my favorite, when immersed in water they swell up like tapioca balls and just have a really funky texture that I enjoy.  They are rich in calcium, omega 3 and fiber - just an all around super food!

Breakfast Blueberry Chia Pudding - Brendan Brazier's Thrive Foods

Since chia rapidly absorbs fluids and takes on gelatinous properties when soaked, it makes an ideal nutrient-dense pudding base.

Blueberry Chia Seed Pudding2 tablespoons chia seeds
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup cashews
2-3 fresh pitted dates, or dried pitted dates soaked in water overnight to rehydrate
Pinch of cinnamon 
pinch of sea salt
Fresh or frozen blueberries

Soak chia in water for 15 minutes. In a blender, combine with the rest of the ingredients, except the blueberries, and blend until smooth. Transfer to serving bowl and top with blueberries.
Hemp is available in three basic forms: seed, powder, and oil. Hemp seeds come straight from the plant and are rich in both omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. When pressed, the seed becomes hemp powder and oil. The powder, sometimes referred to as flour, is then milled finer to remove some of the starch. The result is hemp protein.
The protein present in hemp is complete, containing all 10 essential amino acids, which boost the immune system and hasten recovery. Hemp foods also have natural anti-inflammatory properties, key factors for speeding the repair of soft tissue damage caused by physical activity. Raw hemp products maintain their naturally high level of vitamins, minerals, high-quality balanced fats, antioxidants, fiber, and the very alkaline chlorophyll. Edestin, an amino acid present only in hemp, is considered an integral part of DNA. It makes hemp the closest plant source to our own human amino acid profile.
When it comes to protein, quality, not quantity, is paramount.  Hemp protein is the easiest protein to digest. Since it is raw, its naturally occurring digestive enzymes remain intact. That and its relatively high pH allow it to be easily used by the body. As a result, the digestive strain placed on the body to absorb and utilize protein is reduced, making it a high-net-gain food. Top-quality, complete protein, such as hemp, is instrumental not only in muscle tissue regeneration but also in fat metabolism. Protein ingestion instigates the release of a hormone that enables the body to more easily utilize its fat reserves, thereby improving endurance and facilitating body fat loss.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in iron, a nutrient some people have trouble getting enough of, especially if they don't eat red meat. Anemia, a shortage of red blood cells in the body, is commonly caused by low dietary iron or by strenuous exercise. Iron is lost as a result of compression hemolysis (crushed blood cells due to intense muscle contractions). The more active the person, the more dietary iron she needs. Constant impact activity, such as running, reduces iron levels more dramatically than other types of exercise because of the more strenuous hemolysis. With each foot strike, a small amount of blood is released from the damaged capillaries. In time, this will lead to anemia if the runner doesn't pay close attention to her diet. Iron is also lost through sweat.
Seems like pumpkin seeds are very important to runners, I know as a female vegan athlete, I’ve been told to watch my iron levels so snacking on pumpkin seeds is great for me.
Sesame seeds are an excellent, easily absorbable source of calcium. Calcium is in part responsible for muscle contractions—of particular concern to athletes, who will need to ensure that they maintain correct levels of calcium in the body. Calcium plays another important role in the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth. Athletes and people living in a warm climate will need extra amounts of dietary calcium since it is excreted in sweat.
Made up of about 22 percent protein, sunflower seeds offer a good amount of dietary substance. Rich in trace minerals and several vitamins important for good health, sunflower seeds are a food worthy of regular consumption. Sunflower seeds are quite high in vitamin E and are antioxidant rich.
Sunflower seed butter is another good way to eat these seeds.  That stuff is quite tasty, spread it on fruit or just eat it straight out of the jar, yum!
PRs Galore
My workouts this week were pretty decent.  The ones during the week were standard, I found myself feeling banged up after my Tuesday mountain and Wednesday stair workout so Thursday was destined to be a recovery day.  And it most certainly turned out to be a wise decision.  The plan for the weekend was a double stair workout on Saturday followed by a 5k on Sunday. 
I was gonna have to push myself in the stairwell because it was just me and my dad and he’s not really the same speed as me :)  I wanted to shoot for my best 5 climb average but who knows how I’d feel, sometimes your legs can feel great until you start climbing.   Tired muscles can be deceiving when it comes to stairs, might feel fine running or biking or walking around but as soon as you start going vertical, watch out – it’s a totally different sensation and you might come to realize your legs are shot.  Anyways, I started off with a positive mindset and kept encouraging myself along the way.  I was focusing on my form; I really wanted to yank the rail and was trying hard not to rely on my standard technique of pushing off my leg on the turns and in certain spots.  I was forcing myself to use the rail until at least halfway. 
I knew that Taipei was gonna be a challenge with the steep steps and right turning stairwell so it would need plenty of mental fortitude and a positive mindset, my goal was to practice that during my stair workouts.  I can’t let myself back down or get weak; I need to push through it.  This workout was definitely positive reinforcement, I kept the rest the same after each climb and it happened to little bit shorter than our normal workouts.  The last one, I really wanted to push it and give it my all, I was hoping for a sub 2:30, came in at 2:31 not too shabby.  I busted my previous 5 climb PR by 1-2 seconds; it may not seem like a lot but when the climb only takes 2:30-2:35 then its more substantial, haha. 
My second workout wasn’t as pretty; my legs felt pretty ragged during the normal climbs so took the “easy” way out and did some 10 floor sprints.  Those felt much better!   
Sunday morning I was up and out the door bright and early.  Who knows how my legs would feel racing a 5k, I don’t think I’ve done a road race since fall 2011 so it’s been a while!  Pushing myself while running is totally different than in the stairwell, I still need to find my limits and blow past them.   That morning, I tried to convince some of the guys to run the 10 miler with me; we could turn it into an easy fun run instead of racing in the blazing sun and heat.  They all declined so I guess we were gonna full-out race this thing.  I didn’t put any pressure on myself, set a loose goal time of 19:30-19:40 and just wanted to go out with the guys and try to stick with them as long as I could. 
I got boxed in for a little bit at the start and fell behind but that’s ok, my legs were feeling a bit iffy.  I came across mile 1 (6:08) and they weren’t that far ahead so I just kept my eyes on them.   We turned onto a limestone path, which we all thought would be shaded but of course it wasn’t.  A water stop was up ahead, I knew this was my time to blow past Brad and Rick, which is exactly what I did, and they were suckers for water, haha.   Mile 2 was a bit slower 6:17 although I didn’t really feel like I was slowing down, my legs still felt fresh and my breathing was under control.  I was starting to feel the sun though; it was slowly baking me and draining my energy.   Came off the limestone back to the road and there was a slight downhill which I tried to use to my advantage.  Turned the corner to the home stretch, geez where is the finish?!?  I wasn’t sure if we’d have to run past the start then shoot back the other direction or if it was just a straight shot into the finishing shoot.  I tried to muster up a finishing kick but it’s hard when you’re not sure how much is left.  I picked it up a little bit when it came into sight, slapped the stop button on my watch 19:22.   How the heck did I just run a PR in the sun and heat, on a course that has crushed limestone and the day after a double stair workout?!?  Plus I finished as the 2nd female overall!  I was somewhat shocked but totally pleased with myself :) it really does pay off to stay positive and decrease the pressure, you end up pleasantly surprised.  I think the stair training is good for 5ks; the intensity is most certainly beneficial for the shorter road races! 
I think the raw diet has something to do with it too, I’m still feeling great and my workouts are solid so I’ll continue on this path :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

*RAW* - Week 2 - Go Green and Leafy!

*Raw* Vegan Challenge – Week 2
Still *Raw*
I just finished up week 2 of my *raw* challenge and I still enjoy being a raw foodie.  There were a few days last week where the thought of having another salad didn’t seem that appealing but once I put it all together, the colorfulness of the fruits and veggies sparked my interest and it ended up being quite tasty.   I’ve gotten back into my avocado phase so it’s become a staple in my diet again.  With the warm weather here, it’s a lot easier to go raw, not sure I’d survive in the winter considering I’m always freezing and wanting something warm to get rid of the chill in my bones.  The change in seasons is inviting because it brings along new foods to explore, fresh fruits such as berries, watermelon, etc. 
This week I wanted to try a few different things, first up was a raw nut burger.  I couldn’t decide which recipe to do so I ended up kinda mixing it up a bit.  I took some almonds, walnuts and hempseeds, tossed those in the food processor and added some spices such as basil and oregano.  The recipe called for coconut oil, hemp oil or a special blend oil that Brazier suggested, all I had on hand was the coconut oil so that’s what it was gonna be.  I turned it on until it was a firm yet mushy texture that could be formed into patties although I didn’t actually make a patty, haha.  Anyways, the texture was fine but the flavor was off.  The coconut oil totally dominated, I thought it might have sort of an Italian flavor from the spices but the coconut just kicked those herbs to the side and took over.  I was somewhat disappointed; I ate it but will most certainly try a different combination the next time around. 
I also experimented with a raw sweet potato burger; this was based off a ginger lime squash recipe that’s in the Thrive book.  The original recipe calls for cooked squash but to make it raw, you could substitute an uncooked sweet potato.  I love sweet potatoes; they are one of my favorite foods so I was somewhat disappointed about having to give them up for a while even though I don’t eat them as often when it’s warm out.  This recipe definitely caught my attention.  I grabbed some chopped fresh ginger and garlic, the garlic was so strong I could smell it the entire car ride home and my house reeked of garlic too, geesh!  This was another recipe, where you just toss everything into a food processor and grind it up.  It was sweet potato, lime juice, ginger, garlic and I went for the coconut oil again, figured its flavor might mingle better with ginger and lime as opposed to basil and oregano, and also added a bit of raw honey.  I fired that sucker up and what came out was quite strong!   The ground sweet potato was awesome but the ginger and garlic were potent, the ginger made it spicy and the garlic was enough to ward off a horde of vampires for several weeks.   But again, it was a success in its own way since it was letting me explore new ways to eat foods that I enjoy so much and it was letting me figure out what flavors I liked.  I snagged the idea from a friend to make a sweet potato and black bean burger, although I’d adapt it to be raw.  I’m a huge fan of sweet potato and black bean enchiladas or chili so this had to be good.  I tried the combo last night.  Just chopped up a raw sweet potato and tossed in some organic black beans with kombu seaweed mixed in.  Topped that with some mushrooms, assorted bell peppers, organic summer salsa, yummers, it was awesome!  One of my new favorite raw meals!
For mother’s day, my family came over to my house.  My brother was in charge of the meat, they brought shrimp wrapped in bacon, yuck.  At least my sister in law is thoughtful and brought her own pan to catch the bacon grease in, haha.  I made a colorful salad and she asked for the recipe.  I told her no recipe, just tossed a bunch of stuff together and made the dressing on the fly.  Mango orange juice and apple cider vinegar, that’s it :)  the salad had plenty of colors, the baby power greens were the base, added mushrooms, avocado, red/yellow/orange bell peppers, pineapple, mango, strawberries, kiwi, cucumber, squash, walnuts, etc.  just so light and fresh. 
I also made some banana ice cream; this is one of my absolute favorite things to make!!! I was on the treadmill during a dreadful mountain workout last year and I tend to watch food network so one of the chefs said she was gonna do a banana ice cream, using nothing but frozen bananas.  I had to stick around for this, my run was nearing the end but I kept on going.  All she did was slice up bananas, freeze them then stick them in the food processor and surprisingly they develop the texture of ice cream!!  Wow, I have got to try this.  She said you could add other flavors such as cinnamon, honey, peanut butter, and cocoa powder.  I was definitely excited.  Since then, I’ve made plenty of banana ice cream and I’ve added in all of the above, also tossed in chopped nuts for some crunch and it is amazing!!  You have got to make it.  Since then, I got the Yonana which is a crazy banana ice cream making machine, awesome, I totally recommend it.  I made my ice cream in it the other day, fabulous, the texture is right on.  And it gives you a recipe book; you can make all sorts of combos with other fruits.  For father’s day my dad requested one with blackberries and pistachios, bananas are always the base.  Not only is it delicious, its super nutritious since it’s really just frozen bananas and whatever flare you might add. 
Speaking of bananas, another delightful combination is banana with avocado.  Might seem strange but try it, I dare you.  This combo comes to me from Jeff Dinkin (ie stair climb lunatic), it’s a great one!  I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
Delightful Greens
Let’s talk about the power of greens (my favorites are spinach, kale and chard).  Here’s what Brendan Brazier has to say:
Because of their chlorophyll content, leafy green vegetables are an excellent way to help alkalize the body, which, as I mentioned before, reduces inflammation and helps maintain bone health.
Chlorophyll also cleanses and oxygenates the blood, making it a true performance enhancer. More available oxygen in the blood translates into better endurance and an overall reduction in fatigue. In their raw state, chlorophyll-containing plants also possess an abundance of live enzymes that promote the quick rejuvenation of our cells. The consumption of green foods after exercise has been shown to help speed cellular regeneration. The consumption of chlorophyll-rich leafy green vegetables combined with moderate exercise is the best way to create a biologically younger body. Ounce for ounce, dark greens are also an excellent source of iron and calcium.
All leafy greens are nutrient-dense and an excellent conduit for minerals in the soil; here are some of the more readily available ones:
Beet greens, Butter lettuce, Collards, Dandelion greens, dinosaur kale, Mustard greens, Red leaf lettuce, Romaine lettuce, Spinach, and Swiss chard.
My first experience with kale was a year or so ago, I saw a recipe for some kale chips in vegetarian times so was eager to try them.  I chopped up several leaves, sprinkled some sea salt on them and tossed em in the oven.  I think I ate the entire pan, almost instantly; I got sharp shooting pains in my stomach.  Darn kale!!  The stuff is so rough and hard to digest, the next morning I woke up and still felt horrible.  That is the only time; I’ve ever left work because I didn’t feel good.  I didn’t wanna eat anything.  Since then, I’ve been kinda scared of it and have avoided it but the past couple of months I’ve been putting it back in, in tiny quantities so I don’t have the same outcome.  So just beware if you decide to eat kale, don’t go chomping on large handfuls of kale chips the first go around, might not feel so pleasant.  The nutritional aspects of it are through the roof though so munch away, in moderate amounts!
Seed of the Week – FLAXSEED
I usually add ground flaxseed (in addition to chia and hemp seeds) to my smoothies; sprinkle it on my salad or on fruit.   Here’s what’s so cool about this little seed:
Grown mostly in the Canadian prairies, the seed of the blue-flowering flax plant is prized for its lignans and high omega-3 fatty acid content. The regular inclusion of lignans in the diet has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer. Flaxseed is also rich in fiber. However, it is its omega-3 essential fat content that makes flaxseed most valuable to athletes. As I noted earlier, aside from its ability to help reduce inflammation caused by movement, omega-3 plays an integral role in the metabolism of fat. A diet with a daily dose of 1 tablespoon of whole flaxseed will allow the body to more efficiently burn body fat as fuel. This is obviously a benefit to anyone wanting to shed body fat, but it is of major importance to athletes, who need to spare the energy stored in the muscles. As the body becomes proficient at burning fat as fuel (through training and proper diet), endurance significantly improves.
Whole flaxseed is high in potassium, an electrolyte responsible in part for smooth muscle contractions. Potassium is lost in sweat, so it must be replaced regularly to keep the body's levels adequately stocked. Potassium also helps to maintain fluid balance, assisting with the hydration process. Flaxseed is a whole food and a complete protein, and it retains its enzymes, allowing it to be absorbed and utilized by the body with ease, improving immune function.
Fit and Focused
My workouts over the past week were solid too, well let me rephrase that some of them were solid.  I had a few where my legs felt totally thrashed and I suffered through a couple of runs.  The extreme volume from the week before was leaving me feeling a bit worn down, which is to be expected.  I recently decided that I’m doing the Taipei 101 Run-Up on June 10th.  The intensity must return, so much for starting my base building phase, so long 15 hour weeks.  It was time to get back into the stairwell and crank the intensity.  I hit a few solid mountain snake runs, forgot how incredibly brutal those things are especially after a stair workout or biking for an hour.  My plan was to start hitting the stairs a few times a week; Wednesday was my first chance to get back in there.  My legs felt horrible, I could tell 2 floors in that a real workout wasn’t gonna happen.  They were feeling it from all the volume, the mountains, the incline, everything.  Maybe spinning for several hours doesn’t seem like it’s all that challenging but dang, it still wears your legs out and you can feel that in the stairwell.  I cut the workout short, figured I didn’t need to pound through it and would give my legs a little rest then get back in there. 
Saturday was a different story; I hit some decent times but was still feeling a bit worn down.  The last one was rough and then we decided to add some sprints on top of that.  Sometimes the 5 or 10 floor sprints seem less daunting than another 21 floor climb.   They definitely hurt more but are over quicker!  I’m guessing that since they suck so much and we dread them that they gotta be good for me.  Sunday I did a hilly trail run which was amazing, so nice to get out there and experience something new, plus there were some outdoor stairs so can’t complain about that.  Nothing compared to culver though, haha. 
I was back in the stairwell on Monday; it was blasted hot and humid in there.  It was like training in an altitude chamber, the higher I got, the harder it was to catch my breath and my heart rate would skyrocket.  Not really ideal training conditions but had to get it done.  I wanted to push myself to see what I could get for a 5 climb average; I wanted to be close to my best times so I could use that as encouragement.  Stair races need incredible mental focus so I need any boost I can get, I need to find that inner beast again, figure out how to push myself to the limits and give it everything.  I know she’s in there. 
I’ve been focused on this quote by Melissa Moon:
"The thing about stair racing is that physical fitness only takes you so far," says Moon. "It is your mind alone that will get you to the end. Usually by the 10th floor, your heart is pumping at 180 beats per minute.
"Your body is hurting and you have got to be together mentally-you can either give up or keep going. Sport is always about the mind but stair climbing seems to take that to another level.“
On the surface, it is a bizarrely brutal sport. The confined stairwells are often dusty and sometimes dark. Apart from your own breathing, all you can hear are the sounds of pain and physical exertion below you, echoing through the chambers. The constant vertical hops also mean an instant, intense accumulation of lactic acid, with no flat periods that allow it to dissipate.
"It seems like 13 minutes of hell," Moon, 42, says of this year's Empire State Building race. "But you have to lock yourself into a zone and concentrate on technique-that is the only way to get through it."
I kept thinking about that during my climb, how I needed the mental focus and tenacity to get through it.  I was pushing myself in there, all alone in the confined stairwell.  All I could hear was my own breathing, I tried to focus on technique and rope the rail.  My first 4 climbs were good, I was on pace to hit a great average and I told myself I’d pick it up and give it all I had on the last one.  Well that didn’t happen, I wanted to start off a bit conservative instead of burning my legs in the first few floors.  By floor 11, I was dizzy and seeing spots.  I backed it off a bit, came in 13 seconds from where I wanted to be.  Darn hot, dusty stairwell.  I’m still super encouraged by this workout; I was hitting good times and my rest was shorter than usual so that’s cool.  I’m still determined to hit that best average before Taipei or maybe go for an all-out time trial to see how I’m doing. 
Anyways, I think the raw diet is complementing my insane workouts.  I still feel like I have plenty of energy and am always ready to go after it.  I don’t think I’m compromising what I’m doing or losing strength or anything.  It seems to be going well.  My body still feels great too, its liking what I’m feeding it and I don’t really want the things I’ve given up which is a wonderful feeling.  Not sure where this journey will take me or what I’ll do when this challenge is up but for now, I’m continuing on the raw path! I’m also making an effort to drink more water during the day and am using coconut water for my pre and post workout drink of choice.   
New favorite – raw sweet potato with salsa and veggies, toss in beans for added protein, superb! 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

*Raw* Week 1 - The power of chia seeds & soaking nuts :)

*Raw* Vegan Challenge – Week 1 (Thursday – Sunday, yea I know that’s not actually a week…)
Let’s start off with the definition of raw: A raw vegan diet consists entirely of uncooked, unprocessed, whole plant foods. Examples of what a raw "fooder" might eat are; fresh vegetables and salads, fruits and fruit smoothies, and nuts and seeds.
There’s one sole question that constantly plagues vegetarians, vegans and raw “fooders” and I’m sure you can all guess what that it is.  Where do I get my protein?!?  Let’s get the experts take on the subject. 
Tim VanOrden, of Running Raw, 2011 US Masters Mountain Running Champion, 2011 US Trail Running Series Champion, snow shoe champion, amazing tower runner and raw food extraordinaire has the following to say on the protein subject:
“This is probably the most common question I get, and the answer is that I'm not really that concerned with protein intake. Yes, I do consume some protein in the few hemp seeds and nuts that I eat. The dark leafy greens and broccoli that I consume daily also contain protein, but all in all, I really don't consume that much protein. The human body breaks protein down into amino acids, so I cut out the middle man and eat foods that are rich in amino acids - ALL uncooked fruits and vegetables.”
Good, now I have a solid answer for when people ask me this question and the same people will ask me this question several times.  Not sure why they think my answer would change but certain people like to bring it up constantly, anyways now I can just tell them that I’m cutting out the middle man.  I’m no longer interested in him; I’d rather go straight for his faster, fitter friends who are rich in amino acids! 
I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries recently highlighting the power of nutrition and eating a more whole foods, plant based diet and I would highly recommend them if you’re questioning how you feel and looking to take a stand against disease, obesity, and wanna make a change to your diet.  Here are a few on the top of my list:
-          Healthy for Change
-          Forks Over Knives
-          Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead
-          Food Inc.
Most of these focus on the health aspects of a whole foods plant based diet - how to reduce your risks for cancers, heart disease, diabetes.  They also showcase people who have gotten rid of health ailments by switching to a plant based diet!!  They also discuss the environmental impacts to eating animal products.  However, these movies don’t really focus on how animals are treated in meat / dairy / poultry production industry so you don’t have to worry about these films consisting of one gruesome scene after another.  I wouldn’t be able to handle that! 
My Cravings
I’m on the 5th day of my raw diet and so far I’m really enjoying it.  I feel a sense of freedom and my dependency on breads and cereal are definitely starting to fade away.  I’ve had a couple of green smoothies for breakfast, giant salads consisting power greens, lots of other veggies, nuts/seeds, dried fruits and loaded with avocado for lunch and probably the same for dinner.  Instead of reaching for a box of cereal, which would be hard since my cupboards are bare, I’m getting inventive with my nighttime snacking.  One night, I mashed up a banana, added a chopped up pear, tossed in some raw nuts and raisins, and then added a dash of cinnamon, good stuff.  Another night, I mashed up another banana and then smashed up a coconut larabar, mixed in some nuts and went to town.  I’m still getting the calories that my body needs to sustain my high levels of working out (I hit about 14-15 hours this week!!) but I’m getting it its purest, most natural form. 
Every day since I’ve started my raw diet, I’ve had 2+ hours of working out to take on and I’m feeling totally fine during my workouts, well except for my legs feeling a bit dead at times but that’s due to the sheer volume.  I haven’t felt a lack of energy due to what I’m eating.  I’m feeling a little tired at work but that’s due to the sleep issues I have and working out so much, I’m hoping that this raw challenge will give me more energy, keep me focused and let me fall asleep easier.  I guess it doesn’t help when your mind is racing, thinking about everything under the sun and trying to solve all your problems in the span of 5 minutes, doesn’t really get ya anywhere and just makes ya stay awake staring at the ceiling.  I’ve decided that I’m back to focusing on the positive, getting rid of negative energy!! 
For the most part, I’ve been incorporating a lot of greens into my diets, whether just leafy in a salad or blended into a smoothie or in the form of kombucha with chia seeds.  Chia seeds are another nutritional powerhouse that we’ll get to discuss at some point as well.  
As shown on the can - Raw Chia = Raw Energy
Often called "runner's food", chia is a nutrient-rich superfood that provides sustained energy for you body.  Packed with more than 8 times the omega-3's found in salmon, this small seed has big nutritional value.  With more antioxidants than blueberries and more fiber than oatmeal!
My main focus during the first few days of this challenge, has been on trying new things, I wanna start making new recipes and finding raw alternatives that are simple and tasty! I’ve been feeling better / leaner too without all the refined carbs, my body is really appreciating it :)
Soaking Nuts
So in order to reap the nutritional benefits of raw nuts and seeds, they should be soaked.  According to Brendan Brazier (another superb vegan endurance athlete, I recommend his series of books under The Thrive Diet) soaking nuts and seeds is an easy way to improve their digestibility and increase their nutritional value.  Soaking them for as little as 4 hours can yield a significant benefit.  Let’s go through a few of the most popular nuts:
·         Almonds - One of the most popular nuts and is high in Vit B2, fiber and antioxidants, they also have one of the highest nutrient levels of nuts.   

·         Macadamias – Contain omega 7 & 9 fatty acids, these are nonessential fatty acids, meaning the body produces them but their inclusion in the diet has been linked to positive health benefits.  Blended soaked macadamia nuts results in a creamy spread that makes for a healthy alternative to butter or margarine.

·         Walnuts – Rich in B vitamins and a unique amino acid profile, they are also rich in potassium and magnesium which help maintain adequate electrolyte levels in the body, prolonging hydration.

I decided I wanted to experiment with soaking some almonds, making almond milk and then using that to make some berry chia pudding.  I needed another breakfast alternative instead of having a green smoothie every day, not that there’d be anything wrong with that. 
I soaked the almonds for 8 hours, then put em in a blender with some water, dates and a splash of vanilla and voila, my own raw almond milk!  And it was delicious!!  I’m definitely gonna start making this more often.  I then mixed the homemade almond milk with some frozen berries and poured that over some chia seeds to make my breakfast for this morning, added some fresh berries and nuts, tasty stuff! 
On to week 2.  Gonna try some new recipes from the Thrive Diet and hopefully I enjoy them! :)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

*raw* vegan challenge - lets get started!

*Raw* Vegan Challenge – Starting Up
Veggie / Vegan Background
Growing up, I pretty much ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  Like most children, I loved frosted flakes, pizza, french fries and chicken nuggets.  I always had an affinity for animals as well, I gave up fish in high school because I wanted to be a marine biologist, just didn’t seem right eating sea creatures, ha.  When I got to college, I decided I wanted to try being a vegetarian so I could support animal rights, during this time I wasn’t really all that into veggies so I’d eat a lot of carbs, pasta, bread, etc.  so it wasn’t exactly the healthiest diet around.  I tried that twice and both times, I’d only last about 3-4 months and whenever I’d go home it’d be hard on my parents because they didn’t know what I wanted or could eat. 
I became a typical college student, staying up late, drinking, eating pizza at 2 am and during my first few years regular exercise was a foreign concept despite the fact I grew up playing soccer and ran all throughout high school.  I gained 20 pounds and definitely had a little extra pudge where I shouldn’t.  When I decided to run the 2005 Chicago Marathon, I kicked off my training in January of that year and I knew that I needed to drop some weight so I cut out fried, greasy foods, pizza, snacking after a certain time and got rid of cheese.  I dropped the weight I had gained and started to get hooked on marathon training. 
I was studying animal science at U of I and having to see how the animals (pigs, cows, chickens, sheep) were treated in a farm production setting, gave me creeps and broke my heart, it just wasn’t right.  I couldn’t eat them knowing the life they were living and the effect it was having on the environment.  I also knew there were healthier alternatives. During my senior year (spring 2006), I decided to give up meat for Lent and told my parents that this was their warning and I wasn’t going back on it.
I started exploring the world of veggies a bit more, they’re actually pretty good and eating other things.  I was still addicted to carbs though!  January 2007, I decided to become a vegan.  I read “The Foot Revolution: How Diet Can Save Your Life and Our World” written by John Robbins (the son of the guy who founded Baskin-Robbins, kinda ironic that he ended up vegan), anyways it was about animal productions effect on our health and the environment.  I won’t get into all the details or facts but it made me wanna give up dairy and eggs so I took the challenge of being a vegan.  Its actually not all that difficult, you have to read a lot of labels and sometimes people think you’re strange just by saying you’re a vegan but I like it. 
Since then, I’m still as active as ever and am not eating animal products.  But I still have an addiction to carbs, bread, cereal, oatmeal, bars, etc. At night, I used to snack on nut butters and cereal.  I could take down a box of cereal in like 2 days.  I needed to fuel my running obsession.  But I didn’t like the way it made me feel, my body didn’t react well to unending handfuls of the stuff.  Overall I’m a healthy eater; I eat most fruits, veggies and don’t really eat processed foods except for the above mentioned items.  Haven’t had fried foods in who knows how long, cut out soda in 2005, don’t really eat candy (besides dark chocolate), don’t eat chips/pretzels or snacky stuff like that, no cookies/cupcakes.  I’ve been buying sprouted breads for a while now and eat whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa (a nutritional powerhouse!) and things of that nature.  But I want to change, I want to get rid of that carb dependency and feel better.  I don’t wanna be held down so I’m challenging myself to be *raw* vegan for 30 days.
My *Raw* Vegan Challenge 
My *raw* vegan challenge will consist of eating more raw fruits and veggies (i.e. fruits and veggies that aren’t cooked above 118), green smoothies, big salads, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, vegan raw bars such as larabars, etc.  I will still be allowing myself oatmeal from time to time especially during post-run breakfasts with my running peeps; I’ll still also be eating quinoa and sprouted grains as well. 

The main thing that will need to change is my nighttime eating / snacking habits, I will no longer have cereal in the house and I’ll have to reach for a larabar or apple instead or make a smoothie.  By doing this, I will also be avoiding gluten and although I don’t really add sugar to anything, my sugar intake should drop as well. 

This diet really isn’t all that drastic from what I’ve been doing but there are a few changes so I’m excited to get started.  I'm hoping that this makes my body feel a bit better and I'm eager to see how it helps my tower running, road running and biking.  It should make me faster, leaner, smarter, decrease recovery time, increase energy, etc.
Follow me on my journey over the next 30 days, I’ll be making posts about what I’m eating, how I’m feeling and my workouts for the week.  Hopefully this turns out to be a pleasant experience :)
My journey starts today and for breakfast I’m having a green smoothie consisting of the following:
-          Couple handfuls of power greens including baby spinach, baby kale, baby chard
-          1 Red pear
-          1 carrot
-          Splash of chia coconut mango drink
-          Flaxseed
-          Honey (yes, I know this isnt vegan but its like a special treat, ha)