Thursday, February 20, 2014

Protein.... What, me worry?

The thing people ask me the most, as a vegan and an athlete, is where i get my protein. Actually, often they are informing me i must be deficient, but let’s put that aside for now.

Admittedly, this used to be a huge concern for me. I used to consume tons of protein powder, eat lots of eggs, cheese, vegetarian faux meat, etc. It was a huge worry for me, and i carried my little blender bottle and tupperwares full of food everywhere.

But as i cleaned up my diet and ate healthier and did more reading about health, nutrition, and protein, i got to the point where i don’t worry about protein. At all. I’m so glad; it makes my life so much simpler. How can i not care about protein? Here’s why:

Our national obsession with protein is fostered by the meat, egg and dairy industries. Athletes have an even greater obsession with protein, and that is fostered by the supplement industry. Supplement manufacturers want to sell you something, but if you think you can get plenty of protein from oatmeal and bananas, you aren’t going to want to spend ½ your paycheck on protein bars and powders. So they do studies and research trying to show you can pack on more muscle if you consume massive amounts of protein.

But here’s the thing. These studies often don’t show what they claim to. They typically look at some marker of muscle growth, and show it’s higher when someone ate a whey shake after a workout as opposed to nothing. They aren’t comparing it to a regular meal, or a post workout snack, and they’re not looking at actual long-term muscle growth. Furthermore, they’re not addressing the needs of people not looking to pack on tons of muscle quickly, which, frankly, few people not on steroids can do anyways.

Let’s suppose you’re working super hard and are managing to pack on 1 pound of muscle a week. This is borderline miraculous for a non-beginner who is not injecting extra testosterone, but, ok, let’s assume it. A pound of muscle is 72% water and has about 100 grams of protein( ) . So over the course of a week, that’s 14.25g of protein per day. Here’s some foods that have 14.25 g of protein:

* less than one cup of cooked lentils
* one bunch of broccoli
* 2 slices of sprouted grain bread and a smear of almond butter

That’s it. That’s all you would need to add to your diet, protein-wise, if you’re trying to add a pound of muscle per week. Suppose you’re putting on a superhuman 3 pounds of muscle per week, which you won’t be? 32.75 grams of extra protein would be needed. Three extra almond butter sandwiches. Or one sandwich and a nice bowl of lentil soup.

So, what about our baseline protein needs? What does the actual research show? The world health organization and FDA have done a lot of research on this. The WHO’s old number is .66 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body weight. They later revised this to .88 g/kg ( ). The latter figure is meant to cover 97.5% of the population, people who are sick, injured, or have special conditions or situations that require more protein.

The United States RDA for protein is .8 g/KG, and again, this is a high number meant to account for those who are exercising a lot, have injuries, have special conditions, or are eating unbalanced amino acid profiles.

So, ok, maybe i’m a super athlete who needs more protein than most people. I work my ass off. Even though i’d be lucky to put a pound of muscle on per month, let’s say i need 1 g per kg of lean body mass. I’m 175 and have 14% bodyfat, so my lean body mass is 150lbs. Convert to kilograms and i’m 68.4 kg LBM. So being very active, and aiming high, i need less than 70 grams of protein.

Now, i eat pretty clean, largely unprocessed, and try to avoid oils and refined foods in general. 1tbsp of oil has 120 calories and no protein. ¼ cup of sugar has 180 calories and no protein. If you replace those with whole foods, you will be getting some protein along with that along with a lot more volume and other nutrients. Let’s look at a typical day of clean eating + light workout for me:

So with no special attempt to consume protein, i’ve exceeded how much i need to eat by almost 50 grams. Enough, based on our earlier math, to put on about 3.5 pounds of muscle a week. Without trying to eat any specific protein source. This is also while having a 400+ calorie deficit, because i’m aiming for a little weight loss.

This is also a lot of food.. It’s honestly hard for me to eat all that. Part of that is the 109g of fiber i put down. What kind of a problem is that in today’s world, to have a hard time getting to maintenance calories. If i am losing weight when i don’t want to, i can have a little dark chocolate, boo hoo.

So, in short, you’re much better off simply forgetting about protein and eating lots of healthy, unprocessed, nutrient dense food. Unless something very weird is happening, you will get plenty of protein, and you’ll be much better off getting all the OTHER things you’re getting in your unprocessed plant foods aside from just protein. After awhile, those protein shakes start to look like excess protein tundra, devoid of nutrients.

So how does this looks for me on an ongoing basis? I don’t really try to hold myself to any specific macronutrient ratios, but i try to keep fat down, as it’s easy to get a lot of calories with little nutrition or volume. What fats i do eat are super high quality.

If i’m eating at maintenance calories ( for me, 2500 ) i try to keep my protein and fat no lower than 10%, though i think those are good targets for each. That means my carbohydrates can be 80% of my calories, which i’m also fine with. In reality, my protein and fats are often higher, and sometimes my macro nutrient ratios are more like 60/20/20 though i try not to go higher in fat and protein than 20%.

So, if i’m eating my 2500 calories per day ( not exercising ) here are my ratios under 80/10/10:

           calories grams:
carbs    2000    500
protein 250      62.5
fat       250      27.77

Note that that the protein is almost exactly in line with what the research recommends my needs are. And it’s tricky to get my protein that low unless i’m eating tons of processed food, or all fruit. Since 10% protein is fine, any food that has 10% or more is fine, and you can have some that is lower if you are eating some that is higher. Your intake of greens and broccoli ( 35% ) is more than balancing out that grapefruit ( 5% ). Even if you think you need much more than 10%, there is no reason to have to look beyond health-building plant foods:

If i work out a lot, my calorie needs increase, and my protein goes up, just because i am eating more. If i burn & eat 1000 extra calories, i'll be getting at least 100 extra calories of protein, or 25g, which would be enough to support 1.6 pounds of muscle gain per week.

If i’m trying to cut calories, i do it by lowering my carb intake, and don’t lower my fat and protein. So, let’s say i’m trying to drop a pound a week. That means a 500 calorie deficit per day. I also do 800 calories of exercise for the day, so my BMR + exercise gives me a 3300 calorie budget. My non-diet macros would look like this:

            calories grams
carbs       2640    660
protein     330     82.5
fat           330     36.66

I’d aim to get my 500 calorie deficit by cutting out 125 grams of carbohydrate. That still leaves 535g of carbs, and my full compliment of protein and fat. And, as i said, often my macros creep towards 60/20/20, so my protein and fat could be double this, though i don’t want to get my carbs too low if i am expecting to get a good intense workout in.

So that’s it. I don’t worry about protein, which lets me focus on getting in vitamin-rich, nutrient-dense, high-energy food which will lower my odds of getting cancer or heart disease. And the food tastes great, and i get to eat a lot more of it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

oakbrook 2014

Oakbrook 2014 was going to be my first power hour of the year, and my longest race in quite awhile.  In a power hour, you get one hour to climb the steps of a building as many times as you can. You are ranked by how many times you ascend the steps, and ties are broken by how much time you use to climb, faster climbs equalling better placing.  

I hadn’t had a race i’d felt genuinely good about in a long time, so i was sort of torn. I’d actually been slower at a few races, so maybe just shooting for as many climbs as last year would be the right thing to do, allowing me to gain a little confidence by hitting a goal.  I could also shoot for more climbs than the previous year, knowing full well my condition probably wouldn’t really allow for it.  I even seriously considered signing up for the triple climb and forgoing the power hour entirely.  I’d done the triple climb two years ago, and done my climbs in 4:45, 4:47, and 4:50, numbers i thought i could beat pretty easily.  I thought i might even be able to win the triple climb outright.  In the end, I decided that that option would just be too much of a wimp out, a all my friends were signed up for the power hour.  

Deciding i was going to stick with the power hour, i had to decide if i’d go for 9 climbs ( last year’s total ) or for one more.  In a power hour, you get an hour from when you start to begin your last climb.  So, if you enter the stairs 59:59 after your start your first climb, that climb counts.  So, you can do 10 climbs if you can do 9 climbs in one second less than an hour.  So :

(60*60-1)/9 = 399.88 seconds -or- 6:40.

In other words, if i could complete one circuit every six minutes and forty seconds, i could complete 10 climbs in the power hour.  Further breaking it down, i thought the trip down the elevator was quite quick, so my time out the door, down the elevator, and back unto the steps might be around 1:10.  Therefore, if i could do each climb in 5:30, i could execute 10 climbs.  That would be cutting it super close, of course, so i decided i’d try to follow my 5:30 pace for the most of each climb, and all of the first one, and see how long the round trips were taking.  Last year, i had avoided drinking water until later, but after 6-7 climbs i was too sick to take in the water i needed.  I decided to take a little water after every climb.  There had been gatorade before, so i was going to rely on that for some in-race carbs.

The day before, Oz, Kirstie and Karen drove up from springfield.  I met them at Karen’s hotel, then drove Kristie and Oz to my place to bunk down for the night.  Kelley ( my GF ) showed up, and we hung out for awhile before heading to a great thai place just a block away from me.  Great race carb-up, Thai! 

We watched the movie “Tucker and Dale versus Evil” which is a great movie that got too little appreciation.  We have a new tradition of watching dumb comedies before races to get our mind off the next day’s potential suffering. After the movie ended, we all went to bed to get some shut-eye, though i couldn’t sleep for quite awhile, and late-night snacked on two clif bars.  

Oz and i woke up early, and i took his advice to have a quick shower to wake my body up.  We each had the starbucks we’d picked up the day before, the perfect thing to get your body humming the morning of a race.  My poison was a venti soy mocha latte.  We dressed, and i did my best to get myself as close to race-ready before we stepped out the door at 6:30.  The race was only about a 10 minute drive, and wouldn’t start until 7:30 but oz and i like to get there as early as we can instead of scrambling to get to the line.

At the race, we got our bibs, greeted all of our racing friends and did our warm up routines.  In my case, it was just a little stretching, since my plan was to start slow and essentially use my first climb or two to warm up.  I had the typical pre-race nervous bladder, and made a few bathroom trips.  There was a whole gym downstairs, and used the facilities there, instead of adding to the overcrowding of the upstairs bathrooms.  There was a balance scale, and i hopped on there, and found that even with my clothes, shoes, phone, gel shot, and other assorted gear, i was only 175.5.  I was certainly the leanest i’d been in quite awhile!

We were called to the line, and  wished my friends luck as we lined up in bib order.  My #9 felt pretty good; i knew i’d have my work cut out for me to justify that seeding.  When i was called to the line and stepped across the mat, i hit start on my iphone’s stopwatch and started to climb, starting my timing track a few seconds after.  

Right away, it felt slow, which was good.  Several people passed me, but i resisted the urge to stay ahead and simply moved over for them. It was a long race, and this climb meant very little in the grand scheme of things.  I focused on remaining upright and executing efficient turns. Some of the people that passed me, i re-passed by the end, but some remained ahead. No matter.  I grabbed a drink and husted into the elevator, drinking it as we went down. I didn’t need water yet, but i was hydrating for the last few climbs, not this one.  I noticed there was only water available, not the gatorade i was hoping for, and in fact had slightly counted on to get me a little sugar shot after each climb.  My gel shot might come in handier than i’d expected; i might be quite low on glucose by the end of the climb.

As i left the elevator, i glanced at my clock, and saw it read nearly 7 minutes.  Not the 6:40 i was hoping for, but the elevator had been a bit disorganized, and i hoped they would get faster as the hour went on. I started my track as soon as i got into the stairs and focused on hitting my splits. A woman from milwaukee i’d met at a few races tore away from me but i saw her on 15 again with her headphone cords caught in the handrail.  A very tough break, but something i’d been careful to avoid by tucking my headphone cables inside my shirt and under my heart monitor strap.  She freed them and again took off and went out of sight.  I stick to my splits until i hit 25, then picked up the pace slightly, hoping to shave off a few seconds. I finished about 10-15 under 5:30 and was happy, again grabbing some water before sliding into the elevator.

The next 2 climbs were the same, and i kept seeing the people who started near me in the elevator or in the steps.  There were more people in the stairs than the year before. Furthermore, the race director had told them to let the fast people pass on the outside, which was unfortunate for those of us hoping to climb quickly, as that would cost us precious seconds.  I tried to pass efficiently, using the handrail to accelerate myself when i needed a burst of speed.  

Climbing happy--for now. 

Heading down after #4, i looked at the time, and saw it was a little over 26 minutes ( i forget precisely ).  I had figured before that i’d want to get climb #5 done at 32 minutes, so time was pretty tight.  I was feeling good, and my climbs had felt slow and controlled, so i decided to do a fast climb to try to get myself on track for 10 climbs.  I didn’t use my pacing track for this one, but i knew my pace, and tried to just be a smidge faster, then picked it up a little more for the last ten floors.  Several people who’d been hanging with me disappeared and i never saw them again.  I felt good about the climb, even better when i saw i was under 32 minutes, so i was well on pace for 10 climbs if i could keep knocking out 5:30’s.  

Climbs 6,7,8 i just put my head down and stuck remorselessly to my pacing track.  If i got a few seconds behind because i had to pass some people, i made it up. If i got a few seconds ahead, i slowed down to catch my breath and let my legs recover a little. When i remembered, i breathed deep, and tried to be efficient. I peeked at my time periodically, and saw i was on track, but it was going to be pretty close. There was no time for me to rest or have a bad climb, but i was getting very close to the end.  I did give myself a little slack on #6 to recover from #5, but 7 & 8 i returned to my strategy of picking up the pace at 25 to shave a few seconds off.  As i finished, i grabbed waters, sipped them, and dumped the rest into my hair to cool off.  

As i was heading down for #7 it was the time i’d planned to use my boost ( a honey stinger ), but when i pulled it out of my pocket, the idea of chugging it made me sick.  In fact, i dry-heaved a bit, and the elevator operator looked kinda nervous. I put it back in my pocket, just in case

As i headed down in the elevator after #8. I checked my time.  A little over 8 minutes left. I if i started my next climb in one minute, climbed in 6, and got down and back in one minute, i’d get my 10th climb in.  Again, very close, so this was not a climb to take it easy on.   When i emerged from the door i was confused and couldn’t find the door to get up the stairs again! I was terribly brain fried.  After wandering and looking around a few eternal seconds, i said “where do i go?” and Kelley, bless her, grabbed my arm and pointed me at the door. 

I literally can't find my way to the big, brightly-lit open door. 

I went in, punched my timing track, and started climbing.  Again, i stuck to my splits, and kept peeking at the stopwatch.  If my math showed i needed to, i was prepared to sprint even if i killed me.  I didn’t need to, however, and i didn’t want to risk crashing, so i stuck to my splits, dragged myself up the last few floors, and ran into the elevator as quickly as i could and said “Down, now please” and the operator hit the down button. I looked at my clock, and saw i had a little over 2 minutes left.  I was ahead of schedule, and glad of it.  The last thing i needed now was drama.

As i left the elevator the last time, i flashed ‘10’ to Kelley on my fingers and gave her the thumbs up.  The timing mat guy looked as my bib and said “just in time” as i crossed the mat the last time, with about 1:20 left.

I’d like to say my last climb took nine and a half minutes because i was talking to volunteers and thanking them, and in honestly, that was part of it, but i was exhausted, and my body had seemingly shut down when my brain told it the race as over and this lap’s time didn’t count. But i did thank everyone who was in the staircase cheering, and told them how much it helped and that we all appreciated it.  Even after such a slow climb, i was wiped out at the top, and sat on the floor a few minutes until i felt capable of getting back down and facing people.  

I hung out with my friends for awhile before looking for the results, and saw that i had made no mistake, and i was indeed counted as having climbed 10 times.  My 5th climb where i had pushed a little to get back on track had been 4:40, which was faster than my fastest triple climb two years earlier, where i had had all the time i wanted between climbs, and a much clearer staircase.  My slowest climb (aside from the 10th) had also been faster than my fastest power climb the year before.  Indeed, i’d had a good race, and evidence my fitness had really improved.

1         2         3        4        5         6         7        8         9         10
5:25    5:18    5:19    5:24    4:40    5:37    5:15    5:21    5:30    9:26

seconds saved:
  5       12       11      6        50        -7       15       9        0     = 101 seconds saved

So, for the first 9 climbs, i spent 47:49 in the staircase.  I started the last climb with 1:20 left, so out of 58:40, 47:49 were spent doing 9 climbs, and 9:51 were spent doing 8 turnarounds. That means each trip down took 1:14 seconds, not far off the 1:10 i’d guessed it would take. My 101 seconds saved on my climbs meant i should have crossed the mat the last time with 1:41 left, and it had actually been about 1:20 because the trips down had been a little slower than expected.  In the end, the math had all worked out.  

In the end though, even if it hadn’t quite, i think it would have been ok. The trips down cost time, but were rest too; if i’d spent more time in the elevator, i think i could have squeezed out a few faster climbs, maybe even doing another 4:40 on #9.  But i am glad it didn’t come to that, as there is a good chance i wouldn’t have been able to do so at that time!

After the race, i hung out with my friends before going home for a quick shower, then off to flat top with Kelley, where i made use of the $4 unlimited refills to eat 3 heaping bowls of vegetables and protein, yum!

So after such a heartening success, i am, of course, looking forward to next year, and getting in more climbs--11 this time!  I think i could manage to improve turnaround a little, averaging 1:05 each ( for example, noting the direction of the door before the elevator heads down so i can sprint in that direction, always dropping my drink cup in the elevator trash can before the door opens). But 10 circuits in 60 minutes means 6 minutes per circuit, and with a 1:05 turnaround, that means 4:55 per climb to sneak in an 11th climb with seconds to go.  With this year as experience, it seems i’d need to go 4:45-4:50, mabe scrubbing off a few seconds on climbs where i felt good, to be safe.  That seems super tough, but i did do a 4:40 in the middle of my climbs this year, and i averaged about a 5:17, so it’s not completely out of the question, either.  

My self grade:

Conditioning: C-  I did one 1 hour climb with josh duncan 1 week before. Aside from that, i'd been doing some running, stair sprints, and various haphazard and easy workouts.  Physically i was hardly at all prepared for this race. I should have done hour climbs, spin classes, sculpt yoga, etc.   On the positive side, i still had a good race, so i have a potential area to make a large improvement over an already good result by coming in with good conditioning next year.

Weight B: I was probably at 173 bodyweight on the line, but i could easily be 163 without losing muscle mass. OTOH, i was 180 last year, and i have more muscle now, so i’m only going to be so hard on myself,

Strategy/Planning: A+ : This undoubtedly made the race for me. Having in-the-stairs and after-lap splits figured out is the main reason i was able to get 10 climbs in.

Effort / Focus: A-   I stuck to the plan, but lost focus on a few details, like getting to the door & elevator quickly, and having water after each climb.  My effort was A+, there was no quit in me the way there had been in some other climbs.

Nutrition: C+ : i could have come in a bit better hydrated and carbed.  I was counting on gatorade being available between ascents so i didn’t have enough sugar and sodium in me.  I should ask about the refreshments, and practice calorie intake during training, as well as hydration.  I don’t know why it never occurred to me that this should be a part of practice too, but i SHOULD practice taking in a gel ( or date ) after 40 minutes of hard effort.

With that information, my big area for improving my power hour is to work on high-effort hour climbs during the summer once every 8-12 days, working at a similar effort to a race, also experimenting with hydration and nutrition--for example, seeing if i can indeed squeeze in a gel when i feel destroyed at 40 minutes, and if sipping gatorade between climbs really does help. If i can get my conditioning and nutrition grades to A’s, i think oakbrook 2015 will be a pretty great result for me!