Brendan Brazier Interview!

Alright guys and gals, exciting post today.  On Tuesday I talked to Brendan Brazier, vegan professional Ironman triathlete and author of Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life.  If you’ve read my blog at all during the past month or two, then you know how much I love this book and the recipes that Brendan has been kind enough to let me share with you.

We talked for about 25 minutes, and Brendan gave me so much good information that I decided not to edit out any of it!  To make it easy for you to skip around to what you’re most interested in, I’ve boldfaced the key words in each question.  Be inspired and enjoy!

No Meat Athlete: Hey Brendan! I first want to tell you just how much I loved reading Thrive. I thought it was a completely inspiring book and I’m not even a vegan.  I love that it’s not about adding up a bunch of numbers; it’s about eating normal foods. I’ve told my readers a lot about it, but would you explain in your own words what Thrive is about?

[Thrive cover photo]Brendan Brazier: I guess the best way to describe it, and I think the reason that it ended up doing fairly well—originally I thought it would just be popular with athletes, especially vegetarian athletes, but not really much beyond that—was that I talked about stress a lot. And of course, anyone and everyone can relate to stress; we all have some form of it. I really focused on reducing stress through better nutrition. And when stress goes up, it doesn’t matter where it comes from, whether it’s traditional stress like working too much with not enough downtime, or breathing polluted air, or worrying about things you have no control over, or eating low quality food that requires a lot of energy to digest and assimilate but gives you very little energy in return.

So I really focused on reducing stress through better nutrition, which of course, then brought down all the symptoms of stress, like low quality sleep, fatigue, sugar and starch cravings, things like that which are pretty common to most North Americans.  I guess if I had to describe it really concisely, it’s about reducing stress and therefore all of its symptoms through better nutrition.

NMA: Going off that just a little bit, one of the interesting things for me was the idea of energy from nourishment versus energy from stimulation; I think that’s something that a lot of people confuse. It seems like a such a crucial issue, that and the idea about digestion and how much energy it takes up, but those issues aren’t addressed by almost any other popular books. Any idea why that would be ignored by so many people?

BB: Well, I’m not totally sure; I was definitely having problems with that myself back when I starting out. I read in a lot of conventional sports nutrition books that calories are what it’s all about. If you’re hungry and you feel you need more, you need to take in more calories; if you burn a certain number of calories you’ve gotta take in that number to maintain your weight. And because a calorie is a measure of food energy, you would assume that the more calories you ate, the more energy you would have, but that’s not the case. Otherwise, people who ate tons of fast food that’s really high in calories would have more energy than everyone else, and of course they don’t. So there was obviously a problem there.

So yeah, I just looked into why that might be, and I was really surprised when I found how much energy digestion and assimilation actually took. If you’re eating a lot of those processed foods, foods that don’t have the enzymes and aren’t easy to digest, then it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of energy. And of course if you’re spending energy, you no longer have it, so it’s just a really simple concept: gaining energy through conservation, as opposed to consumption, so just conserving the energy you have by making better food choices that give you more nutrients while taking less energy to actually get them.

So yeah, seems like a pretty simple, straightforward concept, but I think that people just went off on the calorie tangent and just stuck to it. But I think also, short-term gain, obviously stimulation, when you drink coffee or eat sugary foods it’s going to give you energy right away. Whereas nourishment doesn’t give you energy right away. It nourishes your body, which helps nourish the adrenal glands, which helps bring down cortisol level (the stress hormone), and then you sleep better. You get into a deeper phase of sleep called “delta”; you wake up, you feel fresh, you feel rested. But it takes a few weeks to kick in, so it’s not a quick fix. But the great thing is it’s treating the cause of problem, not just the symptoms, whereas stimulation treats the symptom, not the cause. But stimulation is instant, and of course we’re an “instant” society, so that’s a big reason that stimulation is so popular.

NMA: When I found out the diet in the book was vegan, I was thinking I’d just read it and take what I could from it, since I’m not a vegan. But as I was reading it, I just kept forgetting that it was vegan; that was something I really liked about it. I felt like I was reading a book on how to gain energy, not a book on how to avoid animal foods while gaining energy. What I want to know, though, is why did you become vegan? Was that for purely nutritional reasons, or is it partly ethical?

BB: It started off as purely nutrition, purely performance. When I was 15, I decided I wanted to try and become a professional triathlete and live that lifestyle. I tried a whole bunch of different diets, because I knew that if I could recover faster from training, I could schedule workouts closer together and train more and improve quicker. So my goal was really just to be a great athlete; I didn’t really care what I ate at the time to make that happen. I tried high-carb diets, low-carb diets, high-protein, low-protein, all different types of things and nothing really worked great. And then I tried a completely plant-based diet as just basically the next one on the list and at first it actually didn’t work well either. I was hungry a lot of the time and was tired and not recovering well.

My track coach asked me what I was doing different and I told him I was trying this different way of eating. He was very good; he’s had great success, but because of that he’s somewhat closed-minded, so he wasn’t really into trying to boost performance through better nutrition. So he kind of just brushed it aside. But I think when I look back on that, that probably spurred me on even more, to see if it could actually make a difference.

And then I just figured out what I was lacking in my diet: complete protein, Vitamin B-12, iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids. Then I found plant-based sources, blended them together and had a blender drink every day after my workout and it made a big difference. And eventually that turned into Vega years later, but that’s how it started—just trying to find what I was lacking.
So it sent me off on the whole plant-based thing, without really trying to be, but just finding that it really did improve my performance. And that’s really—as I’m sure you’ve found–the way I wrote the book, from that perspective. It’s not about trying to be vegan, but just trying to feel and perform as well as possible. And for me it just happens to be a plant-based diet. And for a lot of others too—I think when they transition properly and know how to do it properly, in my opinion, it’s the best nutrition program for energy, for mental clarity, for physical performance, mental performance, everything really. And less sleep—you simply don’t need to sleep as much, which of course leads to greater productivity; you’ve got more waking time. Things like that are valuable to anyone, really.

NMA: Yeah, I’ve noticed that too; I’ve needed a lot less sleep since I became vegetarian six months ago. But with the vegan thing, since it sounds like it started out entirely for performance, would you say there are no circumstances at all where having animal products, even meat, would be beneficial to an endurance athlete?

BB: I really don’t think there are, you know, people can get everything they need from plant sources. And really, you know, the animal gets its nutrition from plants. The plant passes on its nutrition to the animal, and it gets passed on again, but everything comes from the soil originally. The plant is really just the medium for the nutrition that’s in the soil. And a lot of these factory-farm cows now have next to no nutrition in them, because they eat food that’s grown on over-farmed fields because the demand for it is just so high, there’s nothing in it anymore. If you just eat the high-quality plant that’s grown in good soil, you’re going to get all you need.

And also too, when I did become vegan, I started being asked by environmental groups and some animal rights groups if I would give talks at their conferences, and I have. So I’ve learned a lot of the other benefits of being vegan too; of course there’s a huge environmental benefit too. Simply making better food choices, eating food that requires less energy to produce, is going to have the biggest impact on reducing anyone’s carbon footprint, more so than driving or anything else they do.

NMA: You mention in Thrive that you think soy is fine, as long as it’s not overly processed. But then I didn’t see it in many recipes; do you just prefer not to eat it much?

BB: Yeah, I actually used to eat a lot of tofu. And I never felt bad eating it, but I did feel better when I cut it out, or down significantly. I do have soy maybe a couple times a month out somewhere; I don’t avoid it but I don’t seek it out, for sure. But yeah, tempeh or edamame once in a while I think is good, the less processed soy. I wouldn’t have soy protein isolate; I used to until I realized it was really acid-forming. Because it’s an isolate, it’s no longer a whole food.

But I think soy is great in that it’s a really good transitional food, helping people transition off the standard American diet to a plant-based diet, because there are tofu hot dogs, tofu hamburgers, soy ice cream, all kinds of things like that. Of course, soy milk. Those options are way better than the animal versions, so it’s a great transition food. Those types of foods are quite processed, so I think transitioning to a more whole food diet after you’ve transitioned away from animal products is a great use for those types of foods, but just not basing your diet on it.

The reason I don’t have recipes for soy in my book is that there are so many great tofu recipes and soy recipes that I just didn’t feel that I’d be contributing much by putting more out. I wanted to do something a little different, a little unique, because I know my book doesn’t exist in a vacuum and I’m sure people have good tofu recipes already because those are easy to come by. I wanted to add something a little different and not too redundant.

NMA: Speaking of the recipes, how did you develop them? They just seem so different from what you find in normal cookbooks. And of course, that’s partly because they have different goals. But did you develop them on your own, just by trial and error? Did you work with chefs or anything?

BB: No, the recipes are just ones that I’ve developed on my own over the years, that I’ve been making for myself for years and years. I actually don’t make quite as many of them as I used to because I’m on the road so much so I’m not around the kitchen. But the salads I still make on a regular basis, and I really like the pizzas a lot so I make those whenever I get a chance. But yeah, I just found what worked really well; it was just a really good high-quality, high-nutrition plan for an athlete. Or even a non-athlete—of course, if you’re not an athlete you don’t need to eat as much, but it really doesn’t change much. I think a healthy diet is a healthy diet; it’s just the quantity that would change based on your activity level.

Vega Whole Food Smoothie Infusion
NMA: I’ve tried your Vega Smoothie Infusion, and I really liked it. And I appreciated that your book wasn’t just a vehicle for promoting your products. But if I want to add it to any of the smoothies in the book (which are all really good, by the way), would I just replace the hemp protein with Smoothie Infusion?

BB: Yeah, you could replace the hemp protein and the ground flax as well. You could cut both of those out, just basically a 1:1 ratio. You’re getting the sprouted flax in the Smoothie Infusion, you’re getting the hemp protein, pea protein, rice protein in there as well, and some greens too. So basically substituting out the flax and the hemp on a 1:1 ratio will do it.

NMA: Great. Because I’m a marathoner, I especially enjoyed the parts of the book about eating before, during, and after exercise. It was a really eye-opening thing for me, because I eat so few processed foods normally, but then once I was exercising I’d start eating these commercial gels and Gatorades, and my diet principles went out the window while I was training. So I really like that you give all these natural methods for getting the fuel you need. So what’s a typical race-day diet for Brendan Brazier?

BB: Well, for a marathon, about two hours before, I would have a Vega bar. Sometimes I’ll put a bit of coconut oil on it, because it’s a medium chain triglyceride, which is a good type of energy. And then about 30 minutes before, I would have some Vega Sport, which is a sport drink that I developed. It’s actually really new; it just came out in Canada recently and will be out in the states in September. I’ll be sure to send you some once it’s out in the states. It’s like a really healthy version of Gatorade basically. It’s got organic sprouted-grain brown rice and pom nectar as a carbohydrate source, so it’s pretty much in line with what I make in the book.

And then during the run, if it’s a standard marathon or a really long training run or bike ride, I’ll make the energy gels that are in the book (the lemon-lime ones usually) and then have some coconut water with lemon and lime juice mixed in. So yeah, just keep sipping on that every 15 or 20 minutes, depending on how warm it is out and how much I’m sweating. And then after, I would have a big smoothie that has the protein, the essential fats, the fiber, the greens…basically Vega, blended in with fruits to help recover and reduce inflammation right away.

NMA: Ok, time for my selfish question. I’m trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon this year, which I’ve never done before. I’ve picked a fast course, I don’t have any injuries or anything, and I’ve lost some weight since I went vegetarian, so I’ve gotten a lot faster because of that and the energy gains. Any suggestions for taking about 10 more minutes off my time?

BB: What time do you need to run it in, 3:10?

NMA: Yeah I need a 3:10, and I’ve done 3:20 before. I feel like I’m faster now, but any ideas just to push it over the edge?

BB: Well, picking the right marathon to qualify at, for sure, can make a big difference. As I’m sure you know, there’s lots of variety in marathon courses; some are pretty slow and some are pretty fast, and some even have a drop, which is still legal to qualify for Boston. I believe Sacramento is one of those faster marathons.

But also, I find doing the speedwork, even stuff that seems way too short for marathon training, makes a big difference. Because it’s about efficiency; just get your body used to running at a faster pace and then when you run your marathon pace it feels really quite easy. So I always find that when I want to run better, just doing some of those track workouts…they don’t have to be anything crazy, but like 6 x 1 mile, I like doing. Just do each mile at about 20 seconds faster than your marathon goal pace, and have a minute and a half to two minutes rest in between. I find that’s really helpful, and even some strides, where you stride for about 80 meters pretty quick. Just do about six of those before and six of those after. Yeah, just get your muscles used to moving quicker and going that efficiency. And of course strength work too, some good gym work with squats and things like that will help you improve.

NMA: And do you do the gym stuff during the racing season as well, or is that only during the off-season for you?

BB: I used to do it during as well, but lately I haven’t been doing it as much, just because I’ve been cycling more. I really like feeling fresh on the track, and I find that sometimes when I do weights I don’t feel as fresh. You get a good sense of how strong you are, and I know that for me, I have a better chance of running a good marathon if I’m well-rested, even if I’m a little bit weaker. You know, so I would rather just feel fresh and feel good than push it too much and feel burned out or have heavy legs.

NMA: Have you run Boston yourself?

BB: No, I never have. It’s something that I may do one day; it’s just never really worked with my schedule. So you’re planning to do it next year, for April?

NMA: Well, assuming I qualify, yeah. That’s my goal. And after that I’d really like to get into triathlons.

BB: Which marathon are you going to try and qualify at?

NMA: The one I’ve chosen is the Wineglass Marathon, in New York. My wife has always wanted to run that one, and I looked at a list of popular qualifying marathons and it was in the top 10 in terms of percentage of finishers who qualify for Boston. It’s not a huge drop; it’s like 250 feet or so, but it just seems to be a popular qualifier, for whatever reason.

BB: Is that in upstate New York?

NMA: Yes, it is.

BB: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of that one. When is that, in October?

NMA: Yeah, October 4th. Ok, this has reminded me of one last question. Do you have any advice for runners looking to make the transition to triathlons? Because I know for me, the swimming is kind of the stumbling block.

BB: Yeah, swimming was definitely my weakness too; I didn’t have a swimming background. Find a good group you can get in with, and focus on technique. With swimming, you can be really fit, but if you’re technique’s not good, you’re not going to swim well. So make sure that someone can give you good stroke advice, right away, before you start pounding out the workouts, so that you don’t ingrain the wrong movements into your brain and get stuck with that. So definitely get someone who knows what he or she is doing to watch you swim, and just give you tips on stroke.

Sometimes it’s really hard to know what you’re actually doing; even videotaping is good so you can watch it after and see exactly what it is you’re doing, like if your legs are moving around too much and slowing you down. So I would suggest that for sure, just making sure your stroke is good and getting help with that. And then getting in with a good group that is doing workouts that suit what you need and not training so hard in the pool that you completely drain yourself. I know some triathletes make that mistake; they spend way too much time training in the pool just because you can push yourself so hard. But really, it can take away from the other training, which is probably going to give you greater return in terms of getting to the finish line quicker.

So, dividing your time up wisely is important, for sure, because it’s tough to fit everything in.

NMA: Alright, well then, that’s all that I have. Thank you so much for your time; I really appreciate it.

BB: Yeah, no problem; I’m glad you like that book and I’m glad that it’s working for you. That’s good to hear.

Nice guy and great information, huh?  If you’re interested in more information, check out my Thrive review (with sample recipes!).



Shroom Burgers

Happy hump day, ladies and gents.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing vegan professional triathlete and Thrive author Brendan Brazier!  He was very friendly and down-to-Earth, and showed no sign of irritation at having to spend 25 minutes of his rockstar Ironman life talking to some peon-schmuck blogger.  So go ahead and put me in the fan-for-life category.  He gave me lots of great info that I’m sure you’ll be interested in, so as soon as I get a chance to transcribe the interview today or tomorrow, I’ll post it.

Shroomin’ with Rach

[portobello mushroom burger photo]For dinner last night, I made a vegetarian version of a Rachael Ray recipe from 365: No Repeats, the book that really got me started with cooking about five years ago.  We’ve made portobello burgers before and really enjoyed them, but this recipe has bonus s*** piled on top.  Arugula, a carmelized onion-olive sauce, and pesto ricotta.  Yummo!  Delish! EVOO!  Whatever else Rachael says!

Since I’m always on the lookout for new NMA-TV demo ideas, I was excited to find that this recipe calls for pitted olives.  So I made a quick vid for you, and threw in a little bonus about popping garlic cloves out of their skins, which uses the same highly-technical, sophisticated technique which I like to call “bashing with a knife.”  Fun for all!

Erin and I were pretty happy with the way the recipe turned out.  Nothing taste-bud-blowing, but a decent, fast, mostly-healthy weeknight meal.  And I realized something about Rachel Ray’s cooking.  A lot of “real chefs” disrespect Rachael because she didn’t go to culinary school.  But you know what?  I think that’s great.  She just throws stuff together that she thinks will taste good, stuff that trained chefs would never do, and lots of times it works.  I mean, who puts onions, olives, and tomato paste together in a burger topping?  It’s just different, not stuck in a stuffy culinary-school box, and for that reason I’m so glad that my first exposure to cooking was through Rachael’s book.  Annoying phrases and all.

Pesto-Ricotta Portobello Burgers Recipe

Ingredients (for 4 burgers):

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 Tbsp canola/olive oil blend
  • 4 large portobello mushroom caps
  • 1 red onion, sliced thin
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped (don’t mince too small or it will burn)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 4 Tbsp pesto (we bought it premade, use your own if you have it)
  • 1/2 vegetable stock
  • 4 whole wheat rolls (we used Ezekiel sprouted wheat)
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 cups arugula
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a wide bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar with half of the oil blend (2 Tbsp) and some salt and pepper to taste.  Toss the portobello caps in the mixture to coat them.  Place the mushrooms on a cookie sheet gill-side up, pour leftover oil/vinegar mixture onto the gills.  Place in the oven for about 12 minutes, until they’re tender.

While the mushrooms cook, heat the rest of the oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the red onion slices, the garlic, the tomato paste, and some salt and pepper.  Mix it quickly together and stir frequently to prevent anything from burning.  Let it cook for about 8 minutes to get nice and brown, but reduce the heat if things start to char.

Combine the ricotta cheese with the pesto in a bowl.  When the mushrooms have each finished cooking, spread the ricotta mixture on top of them and return to the oven for one minute.  Pour the vegetable stock and olives into the onion mixture, increase the heat to boil it, and let it reduce for a few minutes.

Assemble the burgers: place a portobello topped with ricotta on each bun, then top with the onion-olive mixture, then arugula.

[portobello burger photo]

30-Day What?

Today, for those not scoring at home, marks the end of my 30-Day Challenge.  Yee-haw!  If you can’t tell, my excitement is feigned.  The thing is, I realized pretty quickly that my main goal, to eat three vegan, high-raw Thrive meals per week, wasn’t very challenging at all.  In addition to the dinners, we started making smoothies, salads, veggie crackers, and sports drinks and gels from Thrive, so it kind of became part of my life.   In other words, I was so easy to incorporate these meals that my “challenge” didn’t take any effort at all.  So some of the fun of a good challenge was lost, even though I’m so glad to have made my diet even better.

As for the foam-rolling part, my secondary challenge, I was supposed to do that on every non-workout day.  Meh.  It didn’t happen; I probably did it once or twice per week, on average.  Still better than nothing, but I’m a little embarrassed at having not done what I committed to do.  Ah well.

I know that a few of you who took on challenges, particularly Christine and Hanlie, have stuck with them, based on the evidence provided by the links.  So congratulations to you!  I know some of my family members who took on challenges did pretty well, modifying slightly the parts that were unrealistic.  What about the rest of you?  Did you make it?  (I’m sure a few don’t even read the blog anymore.  They suck. :))



If It Rhymes, It Must Be True!

When Erin and I got married, we had all these wooden painted signs decorating our reception.  “All because two people fell in love,” for example, and a bunch of others like it.  Interestingly, only one made its way back to our home, as a keepsake to remind us of the special day:

[happy wife happy life sign photo]

Hmm.  With this in mind, take a look at the cool stuff Erin and I got this weekend!

Erin made a trip to Fleet Feet Sports Baltimore, the running store where she used to work, and still her favorite.  Check out the haul:

[running equipment photo]

New kicks, a bunch of Balega socks (buy three, get one free), a great running watch, this huge-ass tub of BlisterShield powder (we had to get a second mortgage to pay for it, but it works), and a sticker!  Plus a few items from the unmentionables (and apparently, unpicturables) counter.

Great stuff, huh?  Estimated value of Showcase #1: $300.

And what wonders does Showcase #2, Matt’s showcase, hold in store for us?  Wait for it, wait for it…

[band aid photo]

That’s right.  Band-Aids.  Woo-hoo.  Estimated value of Showcase #2: $4.99.

Ok, I kid because I love.  While Erin undeniably got the better end of the deal this weekend, I must admit that I’ve exaggerated.  Four pairs of socks are for me, and so is the powder—I’m the one with blister issues, remember?  But I still didn’t get no friggin’ shoes and watch!

Actually, I’m really excited about my Band Aid Blister Cushions.  (I wonder if anyone has ever typed that sentence before.)  I found out about them via the blog Westford Mommy, where it seems I’ve been getting lots of good running ideas recently.  Robin, the author, is training to qualify for Boston this Fall too, and our races happen to be on the same day!

I kind of hoped my blisters would be taken care of by the new socks and powder, so I wasn’t quite motivated to buy these Band Aids until after my run yesterday, when my blister foot was killing me again!  When I looked at it, I realized that there is now a third blister underneath which has taken over the previous two and is thought to be targeting Tokyo next.

But the instant I put on one of these blister cushions, the pain was gone!  It was amazing.  Somehow, it actually does cushion the blister, so that when I put weight on it, it doesn’t hurt anymore.  This is so important, because my biggest concern about the blisters is not the pain, but the idea that I’ll get injured (and have my Boston dreams crushed) from running on the outside of my foot.  I haven’t run with the new blister cushion yet, but tomorrow’s track workout will provide a good test.

The ‘bucks

I can think of no better way to end this post about rampant consumerism than a Starbucks mention.  I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been drinking coffee four to five days per week recently.  Since I never drink it on long run days—I don’t know why that seems so unappealing to me—I have at least one day a week where I don’t drink it, which I am fond of telling myself prevents me from truly becoming addicted.

Anyway, Starbucks has this great new Gazebo Blend that I like so much I bought a whole pound of it.  And today, I’m blogging outside on the deck with a nice French-press-full of it.  So for what it’s worth, that’s the NMA coffee endorsement of the month.  (For another runner who enjoys her java, check out the blog She Runs Brooklyn, one of my other faves these days.)

[Starbucks gazebo blend photo]

Ok, off to get ready for my phone interview with Brendan Brazier, professional Ironman triathlete and author of Thrive!  Hope he doesn’t see all this coffee talk, I don’t think he’d approve!



Thrive Raw Energy Gel

On my run today, I went au naturale, getting all my nutrition from raw, real ingredients.   I made two things from Thrive last night to bring along today—Lemon-Lime Sports Drink and this Lemon-Lime Gel.

[thrive supplements photo]

Interestingly, both of these were made from similar ingredients, just in different proportions.  I know they don’t look too terribly exciting (the lighting in my kitchen does them no favors either), but both of these were really tasty.  I like the drink as much as any commercial sports drink, though next time I’ll strain out the date pulp and whatever coconut oil doesn’t emulsify.

But the gel was the real surprise.  I absolutely HATE normal gels, gu’s, or whatever you want to call them—I’ve stopped even trying to eat them during runs.  But this one tasted so much better.  I can’t be giving all of Brendan’s recipes away, so I’ll just do the gel recipe, since that’s the one I’m most excited about.

Also, exciting news in NMA land—my interview with Thrive author Brendan Brazier is tomorrow morning!

Raw Lemon-Lime Sport Gel Recipe (from Thrive)

Ingredients (for 3/4 cup, twice as much as pictured)

  • 4 dates (I used dried dates, soaked for a few hours)
  • 1/2 cup raw agave nectar
  • 1 Tbsp lime zest
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp dulse (I skipped this, since I didn’t have it)
  • Sea salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or small food processor until desired consistency is reached.  Put into plastic zip-lock bag or gel flask.  (You can see that in my sublime hatred of carrying heavy or bulky things with me on runs, I chose the former.  Just bite off a corner when you’re ready to eat it.)

So easy, and so much better than what you can buy.  I wasn’t able to get the citrus zest and date pulp completely incorporated into the gel; it wasn’t an issue when I was running, but if this weirds you out, then you could just be careful and pour the gel off of the solid bits.

For more posts and recipes on natural sports nutrition, check out the Running Fuel page.



10 Best Running Songs Ever

There’s something about a great running song that has the power to transform a mediocre workout into an exceptional one.

[shoes and ipod photo]Heck, the right song at the right time has the power to motivate you to get out the door in the first place.  A good running song can even make you a better runner—a few years ago I solved my shin stress fracture problems by increasing my turnover rate to lessen the force of each impact.  To do it, I found a bunch of songs with just the right tempo (180 beats per minute) and lined my strides up with the beats.

But what defines a good running song?  It’s hard to say.  Sometimes you love a song when you’re driving or at your desk, but when you take it out for a run, something just doesn’t jive.  The key isn’t necessarily a fast tempo; sometimes slow songs are just as good as upbeat ones.  A driving bass drum pulse might help, but on a two-hour run, that gets old quick.

Really, the only way to know a song works for running is to road-test it.  Make a playlist and try it out; you’ll know right away what works and what doesn’t.  Some will be surprisingly fit for running.  And you’ll have an inexplicable urge to skip right past some other songs that you were sure would be keepers when you made the list.

In my seven years of running, I’ve found lots of great running songs.  But there are certain ones that, no matter how many times I hear them, or how sick of them I am when I’m not running, make it onto my iPod every time.  That’s what this list is—my top 10 favorite running songs of all time. (I went to high school and college from 1995-2003, so you’ll have to excuse my post-grunge bias.)

The Top 10 Songs for Running

10. Foo Fighters – My Hero. Foo Fighters - The Colour and the Shape - My HeroA little on the slow side, but with Dave Grohl’s thundering drums and motivating lyrics, this one’s perfect for pounding out hill repeats or for when you’re really worn out and the fast stuff’s not cutting it.

9. Kelly Clarkson – My Life Would Suck Without You. Kelly Clarkson - All I Ever Wanted - My Life Would Suck Without YouAlright, I’m little embarrassed about this one.  If I’m ever listening to it in the car, I turn it down when someone walks by.  But for running, it’s got a driving beat and enough attitude to keep you pushing hard.

8.  Blink 182 – Anthem Part II. Blink-182 - Take Off Your Pants and Jacket - Anthem Part TwoSay what you want about Blink 182, but man, can they churn out good running tunes.  (And filthy lyrics.) I could make a whole list of “Best Blink 182 Running Songs,” but since you’re not all teenage boys, I didn’t.  This song has a great build at the beginning is way up-tempo.

7. Pete Yorn – For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is). Pete Yorn - Musicforthemorningafter - For Nancy ('Cos It Already Is)You might not recognize this one by name, but if you heard it, you’d probably know it.  This one was popular when I was training for my very first marathon, so I have a soft spot for it.

6. Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People. Marilyn Manson - Antichrist Superstar - The Beautiful PeopleMy wife hates when she borrows my iPod and this one is on there.  But I love this song for hill workouts.  A band played a punk version of it when I was running the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, and I’ve been pretending to be a badass ever since.

5. Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover. Eric Johnson - Ah Via Musicom - Cliffs of DoverAnother one you might not know, but this song is a fantastic running track.  There’s no vocal, so it’s easy to zone out and just listen to this guitar-god’s catchy little melody.  I ran to this song over and over when I was trying to groove a faster turnover rate, and it worked.  Try it to test out your turnover, it’s hard to keep up at first!

4. The Postal Service – Such Great Heights. The Postal Service - Give Up - Such Great HeightsA little bit electronica, a little bit sappy emo.  But the beat is perfect for running and it just makes you feel awesome.  Great lyrics don’t hurt either.

3. Death Cab for Cutie – The Sound of Settling. Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism - The Sound of SettlingI know, I know… two Ben Gibbard songs in a row.  But the hook is infectious, the tempo is perfect, and there’s something about this one that can pull you out of a funk like no other.

2. The Darkness – I Believe in a Thing Called Love. The Darkness - Permission to Land - I Believe in a Thing Called Love Hands down, my favorite song to run to.  This guy is the greatest thing since Freddie Mercury (and I’m not talking about Adam Lambert, AI fans).  This is my go-to song when I’m just feeling slow—it picks me up, speeds me up, and makes me feel happy.

1. ________________________________________. Ok, I’m tricky… I only compiled nine songs, and left the final spot open.  Why?  I want you to fill it in, because I need something new to listen to! What’s your all-time favorite running song?

Update for Women Runners: You might be interested in 1984 Olympic women’s marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson’s Women’s Marathon Mix Various Artists - Joan Benoit Samuelson: Women?s Marathon Mix, Vol. 1, a two-volume set of upbeat marathon training songs that I just discovered. The songs are surprisingly non-girly, considering the title of the album.

You can find these and other running songs at the iTunes Music Store.

Also check out:

Please note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I’ll earn commissions if you purchase any of the products I’ve recommended here.



Blueberry Spinach Crumble Bars

Happy Sweet-Tooth Friday!  It’s Christine here, and I can’t believe Friday has rolled around already.  For this Sweet-Tooth Friday I made Vegan Berry Spinach Crumble Bars.

Gross Meat Disease and Camogie

[camogie photo]I’ve had a super busy week since I checked in last.  I took a 16 hour Serv-Safe class which is a food-service certification required by the Health Department.  Even though I work in a vegetarian restaurant, it’s the same class for everybody so I still had to memorize all the diseases, bacteria, parasites and toxins associated with cooking meat.  It was totally gross and after my exam I went straight home and made a batch of lentil burgers.

A more positive aspect of my busy week  was this Saturday’s camogie game.  My team, the Lady Bohemians, played the DC Gaels.  I have been to two practices and was pretty nervous about playing in a game, but I ended up having a blast!  It definitely trumped the workouts I’ve been doing at the gym!

After spending the entire afternoon running around and wearing a sweaty helmet in the August sun, you can imagine I was quite spent after the game.  I ducked into a 7-11 to get a bottle of water and while waiting in line I took TWO oatmeal cookies out of the bakery case. Without a second thought, I ate them BOTH before even checking out!  I guess my body really needed a quick-fix.  Unfortunately, my body didn’t care to alert me about my 30-day challenge that excludes dairy.  I have been so diligent about my challenge that I was totally bummed out, but mistakes happen.

[berry almond bar slice photo]That incident inspired me to make a sweet goodie to pack along next time.  I was going to just make some more energy bars, but I decided I wanted something more indulgent.  This recipe I used for my Berry Spinach Crumble Bars is a modified version of the Deceptively Delicious recipe for Blueberry Oatmeal Bars.

I Saw the Sein

[deceptively delicious photo]Deceptively Delicious is a cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld that sneaks veggies into classic kid-friendly meals.  I was pretty excited when I picked up this book because the concept is right up my alley.  Even though the recipes have added nutrition, they still aren’t all that healthy and I had to make many changes to get it to my standards.

The obvious change was using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose.  I also don’t like the idea of trans-fat-free-margarine-spread, so I used a combination of coconut and canola oil.  Even though she uses low-sugar blueberry preserves, I cut that in half and added lots of fresh blueberries.

[berry almond bar ingredients photo]The addition of almonds was an afterthought, mainly because I got nervous by the weird smells coming out of my mixing bowl.  I thought that a little almond extract would be guaranteed to overpower the spinach taste.  Feel free to use coconut extract and coconut shreds in the topping instead of the almonds; I debated long and hard between the two.

Even though it’s only a half cup of spinach puree it’s actually a ton of spinach, probably about 3 salad servings.  I ended up using three times the amount I set up for the ingredient picture.  But after tasting the final product, the spinach is so undetectable I wish I would have used more!

Vegan Blueberry Crumble Bars with Spinach

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups oats
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup raw sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped almonds

The Wet Ingredients:
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used 1/4 cup coconut oil and 1/2 cup canola)
1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup blackberry preserves
1/2 cup spinach puree
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 tbs arrowroot or cornstarch
1 tsp almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all the dry ingredients together except for the almonds.  Add the wet ingredients and stir or mix with your hands until evenly moistened and crumbly.

Press about half the mixture firmly into a greased 9 inch round pan (or 8 inch square pan).  Bake for 10 minutes.

While that’s baking, stir together the filling ingredients.  To make the spinach puree, microwave spinach with a tablespoon of water in covered bowl for 25 seconds, then puree in a food processor.

Spread the filling onto the partially baked crust.  Don’t worry, it won’t look green after it bakes.  Then top with the remainder of dry mixture and chopped almonds.  Bake for 25 more minutes, rotating once.

Let cool and cut into 8 wedges if using a round pan or 12 bars if using a square one.  Jessica recommends letting these cool completely so that the spinach taste totally disappears, but I had a wedge still warm out of the oven and it tasted fantastic.  These bars are my boyfriend Greg’s official new favorite healthy dessert, though it’s a close race with the Chocolate Avocado Mousse for him.

[berry almond bar photo]

Like I said, I wish I would have added more spinach!  These were rich and decadent- so decadent that next time I might cut back a little on the oil, maybe add a little applesauce.  Either way, it’s a nice healthy way to have that comforting home-style taste.  Actually this reminded me a lot of the NMA mom’s apple crisp she made for us whenever it snowed outside.  If you experiment with different berries, nuts, and flavorings, let me know what you come up with!  I know I will definitely be making a version of this one again!

Before I go, I just want to wish my NMA dad a Happy Happy Birthday!  NMA Dad, you have been a great sport trying out all these healthy recipes.  I promise the birthday cake I make you won’t have any spinach in it!  Though I might at least make it whole grain…and without dairy…

Until next time, stay sweet!

xoxo Christine



As Close to Perfect as Workouts Get

Good morning, readers.  Guess what?  I’ve decided that, as part of my new morning routine (which includes dog walking, a mango-jalapeno smoothie, and other niceties), I’m going to try to write my blog posts early.  That way when you get to work, you’ll have a nice fresh post waiting for you.  We’ll just have to see how long this lasts…


[risotto photo]I’m going to keep this one short today, and point you in the direction of The Healthy Everythingtarian, where you’ll find my first-ever guest post on another blog!  I read a list of “new-blogger milestones” a few weeks ago; it included things like “your first comment from someone you don’t know,” “your first link from another blog,” and so on.  The daddy of them all was—you guessed it—your first guest post on another blog, the only one I had yet to achieve.  Thanks so much to Holly for fulfilling my dream!  Anyway, check it out.  I usually don’t stray too far from recipes when I cook, but I had to get creative for this one!

So now that I’ve done all the milestones, can I no longer call myself a new blogger?

A Track Workout Like You Read About

I try not to get too detailed about my workouts on the blog, because my goal is to keep you from falling narcoleptically face-first into your keyboard.  But yesterday’s was so great that I have to tell you about it.

First good thing: my shoes must have taken a break from smelling bad and whatever else it is that running shoes do when they’re not being worn, and taken a look at the post I wrote about ditching them, because I didn’t even have a hint of blister pain!  And this, keep in mind, was just two days after my 20-miler when my shoes were really bothering me by the end.

Second good thing: nobody else was there.  Normally I like having some company, but every once in a while I have a great workout when I’m by myself.  Something about it makes me dig a little deeper.  Bonus—shirtless running in the heat.  Normally I feel like a total ass-clown running with no shirt, and hence don’t do it, but I must admit, it was kinda fun just this once.

Last good thing: the workout itself.  Two sets of six 400’s at 1:24 pace with 1:30 rest intervals, with 2:30 rest in between the two sets.  For those not accustomed to running around in circles, this means “run once around the track in 1:24, rest 1:30, repeat six times.  Take an extra minute rest, then do it all again.”  And you know what?  It was the perfect amount for me, the best workout I can get.  The first three or four laps were no problem, then they started getting hard.  After the first few in the second set, I thought, “That was great; I did it, but I’ll never get another one at that speed.”  But then the rest would be just enough, the next lap would be incrementally harder, and I’d barely get it done, gasping for air and probably pumping my arms way too much.  And so on, until the end.

I left the workout feeling so wiped out and so energized all at once.  It wasn’t the hardest workout I’ve ever done.  But it was probably the hardest workout that I’ve ever done perfectly.



What Will We Put Black Beans in Next?

What’s happening, my reduced-meat-eating friends?  It’s ok if I call you that, right?  I mean, I don’t expect you all to be vegetarians, but if you’re not eating at least a one or two meatless meals per week, then really, what are you doing reading this blog?  Work isn’t that boring, is it?  Come on, do it, don’t be a poser. 😉

[stir fry photo]I just have time for a quick post today, lots of research to do for school…as far as I know, this dissertation is not going to write itself.  When you’re finished reading this post, don’t be surprised if you find yourself  craving another blog post 30 minutes later.  Why?  It’s about Chinese food!  Even better, in keeping with what seems to be a theme running through recent NMA recipes, it involves black beans!  (From the comments, by Mel @ She Runs Brooklyn:  “Looks like there’s a black bean party goin’ on at NMA. What will you use it in next?”   This one’s for you, Mel!)

The recipe is a stir fry, and the best thing about it was how simple it was to make.  Remember what I said about giving this no-meat thing a try a few times a week?  Well, you’ll never find a better one to start with.  Tempeh has a very meaty texture (to me, anyway) and is a perfect vegetarian substitute for chicken.  The recipe that inspired this one is from the always-delicious, always-easy Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast: Vegetarian cookbook.  I made a few changes—mainly subbing tempeh for tofu, and kale for bok choy.  (This just in—Erin’s garden works!  Check out the sweet zuke!)

[zucchini photo]

In making many, many bad, limp stir-frys, I’ve become quite adept at effortlessly screwing them up.  With that knowledge, I’ve put together an NMA-exclusive, Matt’s Sure-Fire Ways to Botch a Stir-Fry:

  • Use olive oil, which has a low smoke point, in order to force an evacuation of your kitchen when you crank up the heat in the skillet.
  • Add minced garlic at the beginning with the oil, so that by the time you’re done, it’s a beautiful dark brown to light black color and tastes like death.
  • Add soy sauce very early to a hot skillet, so that it burns, coats the pan in a weird brown crust, and smells bad.
  • Use no seasoning other than soy sauce for a true flavor extravaganza.
  • And my favorite: let your veggies get completely cooked before you add your sauce, even overcooked, so that in the additional minute or two with the sauce they become completely soggy and gross.

Keep those keys in mind, and you too can make a terrible stir-fry that nobody will want to eat!

In all seriousness, I really like this recipe because you don’t need to worry about any of that.  The instructions are simple and it comes out great.  Just follow the instructions and you can’t screw up.  Well, maybe you can think of a way to.  If you do, I’d love to hear about it!

[stir fry close photo]

Tempeh Stir-Fry with Black Bean Sauce Recipe

Vegan Tempeh Stir-Fry with Black Bean Sauce
Serves: 4 Servings
  • 1 pound tempeh, cut into ¾ inch cubes
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • ¼ cup vegetable broth
  • 1 Tbsp black bean sauce (I used prepared, you could make it from scratch if desired)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ¼ cup (4 Tbsp) Peanut oil
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 small head of kale, leaves torn in half
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • ¼ pound sugar snap peas
  • soy sauce to adjust flavor
  • cooked brown rice (optional)
  1. In a small bown, whisk together the cornstarch and vegetable broth, then add the black bean sauce and sugar and stir together. Set aside.
  2. Heat a large skillet over high heat (wait until it gets pretty hot), then add 3 Tbsp of peanut oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the tempeh cubes and let them brown for a few minutes, turning them quickly to let all sides touch the oil. Don't let them burn, you really just need to heat them through. Move to a plate lined with paper towels.
  3. Carefully wipe out the skillet (or heat another), return to heat and add the remaining Tbsp of peanut oil. Once it's hot, add all the vegetables and red pepper flakes. Stir everything quickly through the hot oil for about three minutes, until they're tender-crisp. Don't let them get soft, or even all the way tender! Add back the tempeh and add the sauce from the bowl, then stir everything together for another minute. (If the tempeh starts sticking to the pan, enough already!)
  4. Season with soy sauce to taste, and serve, optionally over rice.