24 May 2014

Food and Nutrition Notes

18 November 2015:
Well lots of things happened in the meanwhile so many of the ideas I presented in this original post are now contradicting what I believe and practice with my current eating habits...
I am a whole plant based vegan since Christmas 2014 and I have no plans or reasons to change this soon. This means that I should write a new blog entry about my new eating habits...

For the record here is the unchanged original blog entry from two years ago:

As most runners, since I've got "infected" with the running virus I also started to pay more attention to the food I eat. I read quite a few articles and watched quite a few presentations about nutrition and sports nutrition. As I got more informed about this subject, I came to some conclusions that I believe make sense. Applying them seem to give me optimal performance and quick recovery time after strenuous runs.

So here are my nutrition principles:

Food Quality is much more important than Quantity!

I think that a lot of talking about carbohydrates, proteins and fats is plain bullshit! Very often these discussions shift the attention from the most important aspect of the nutrition: Food Quality!

There are no super foods or magic supplements!

No food or supplement can replace a good healthy diet and good training. However, supplements have their use. I drink isotonic drinks when I sweat a lot, especially during competitions or during runs on hot days. From time to time I also take magnesium pills to prevent or easy tense muscles.

I avoid processed, fried and refined foods as much as I can

Many studies carried all around the word concluded that populations that eat natural diets, based on locally grown food are protected from most modern degenerative and metabolic diseases. So I try to avoid and limit the intake industrially processed, refined or fried foods. 

Here is my foods black list:
  • Most processed foods that come in colorful packages in the supermarket.
  • White flour, white bread, white pasta. I prefer whole-grain (integral) bread and pasta. I often bake my own bread using a mixture of whole-grain oat and wheat flour. We also use only whole-grain flour for any food that we prepare at home. 
  • Refined vegetable oils. These seem to be better suited for running diesel engines. For eating I prefer good quality cold pressed oils. They are expensive but the high price prevents me from wasting and eating too much oils.
  • Hydrogenated and Trans fats. Yuck! I would better use them for greasing door hinges...
  • I avoid fried foods. Yes, they might be tasty but nobody thinks that they are healthy. I never fry at home. In fact I almost never add oils in the food during cooking.
  • Last, but by no means the least: Sugar! Especially refined sugar. Believe me, this stuff is really addictive and harmful! It took me a while to reduce it to a minimum. When I use sugar I try to make sure it is unrefined. When making cookies or deserts I use less than half of the quantity in the recipe.
  • Any kind of sodas, 'sport' drinks or bottled juices. 99% of them have added sugar - lots of sugar and often all sort of dubious ingredients. Just check the labels!

Plants should be the base of any diet

A good diet should be varied and contain both animal and plant origin food. However, the plants should form the basis. A good diet should be rich in all types of vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds etc. Always fresh - frozen is also OK. I try to eat lots of fresh greens and fruit every day. I tend to avoid the fruit varieties that are very sweet. I eat the fruits raw. I avoid making smoothies or worse to juice the fruits. Although I have a city life, I grow a few vegetables on  a small garden patch - there is nothing tastier than a fresh vegetable straight from the garden!

Meat, fish, eggs, dairy products - with moderation

Meat is an easy source of proteins but should be seen more as something that adds flavor to foods, like a condiment. I eat no more than 100g of meat per week. I also eat fish, a couple of times per week, mostly the oily kinds: sardines, mackerel, trout and salmon. I also eat a few eggs a week. Both fish and eggs are a good source of healthy animal fat and proteins.
I probably eat too many dairy products... cheese is highly addictive! Every day I have a bit of home-made Greek yogurt, a bit of fresh butter and some cheese. I try to eat mostly the fresh, unprocessed varieties of cheese, made from cow, sheep or goat milk.

Many studies concluded that the best quality animal products come from free-range animals fed with fresh grass, not with cereals. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to find such products in the shops in Romania. This is one more reason to limit the quantity of animal products in my diet. 

10 May 2014

My trail running gadgets

Let's talk about gadgets for trail running. What do I use? Which ones I think that are essential and I use during my trail running sessions?

I keep it Simple and efficient. I am running for the joy of running in the nature. I do not want to be distracted by useless gadgets or to try to break my record every time I go out for a run. I am quite conservative. I do not use any of the new wearable devices. No wrist band, no heart monitor, no steps counter and not even a GPS receiver on my usual trails.

Mobile Phone

This is the only gadget that I always take with me! A simple "dumb-phone" with black and white display. I often run alone on the hills and mountains, and through woods. So it is a good idea to have a reliable phone that I can use in case of an emergency.

Why use a dumb-phone in the smart-phone era? Here is why:
  • It does what is supposed to do very well: make calls!
  • Very small and light
  • Solid and hard to break
  • Great battery life - I have no worries, I charge it once a week.
  • The black and white display works very well outdoors and in sunshine.
  • It has clock function... No need to wear a watch, although I often wear one.
  • It has a torch light.
  • Very cheap. 

The trouble is that it is harder and harder to find this type of phones. It looks like they are not made anymore. They should last for a long time, however I managed to wreck several of them with my washing machine... Being so small and light, it happened several times that I forgot to take it out of the pocket and washed it with my running clothes. This spring I had difficulties to find a new phone like this.

After this last phone will break I may switch to a smart(er)phone. I just wish I can find something small, light, cheap and reliable, ideally water proof with a display that can be used outdoors in the sunshine... I may wish too much though...

Head Lamp

I tend to avoid running in the dark. My worst ankle twist incident happened on a trail in the dark... However in winter when the day is short, there is not much choice but run through the darkness. If there is snow, then running in the dark is really fun! Even a small head lamp can provide enough light when it is reflected by the snow around. However, if there is no snow, one needs a powerful head-lamp. It took me a while to find a lightweight and powerful headlamp. 

Finally I found one that I really like (the Fenix HL 30) and here is why:
  • Powerful light that is nicely distributed
  • It works with a pair of AA batteries. Most chargers charge batteries in pairs; I hate all those headlamps that use 3 batteries!
  • Lightweight
  • Waterproof
  • It has 4 light intensity steps.
  • It also has a red light LED. Useful to signal my presence when running along roads used by cars.
I use Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable batteries. They work great and have no issues in the cold!

Proper outdoors GPS receiver

I carry a GPS receiver only when I am running on new trails and on mountains where I do not go too often. In that cases I am carrying a small back-pack anyway so I have room for the GPS device. I carry it for two reasons:
  • To record the track. I really love to load new tracks in Google Earth and analyse them in detail.
  • For safety. For example, in foggy conditions above the treeline, it can be very useful to help finding the way.

I use a proper GPS device, an older Garmin 60CSx device. I really love this device and here is why:
  • Very good reception. I lost the signal only in deep and narrow canyons.
  • Very accurate position. I compared it with an "outdoor" smart-phone or GPS watches. The 60CSx works way better!
  • I have free maps for it, with altitude contour lines - very useful on the mountains
  • Works with two AA batteries that last at least for a whole day - I use Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable batteries. They work great!
  • Transreflective display - works great in the sunshine. It may not have vibrant colors and the best contrast, but it works great in all conditions.
  • Waterproof. I can use it in the rain without any worries.
  • Records tracks on a micro SD card.
  • I can load new tracks and routes on it

Photo Camera

Another gadget that I carry sometimes with me is a photo camera. Like with the GPS, I carry it especially when I am running on new trails and in places where I do not get too often.
After some researching I found a good camera that I really like. A waterproof Nikon AW 110. It makes quite good photos, clearly better than any smart phone can take. It has a larger sensor and optical zoom, something no smart phone has. Moreover, it is cheaper than a top of the line smartphone with good image quality.

Here is why I like it:
  • Small and light
  • Waterproof, shockproof and even freeze-proof
  • Good image quality for its class
  • Good battery life - especially that I turned off the GPS feature.
  • Has a neck strap
  • Thin - I can keep it under the clothes whil erunning to avoid it dangling on each step
  • Cheaper, tougher and more ergonomic than a smartphone with a good camera
  • No lens cap, no external moving parts
Here are some photos taken with this camera:

Gadgets that I do not use:

Steps counter, Wrist band, Foot-pod

I find them useless. I wear a proper watch if I need/want. Why should I count my steps... Anyway, Most days I do more than the recommended 10,000 steps...

Heart Monitor. 

I do not use one anymore, but a heart mnitor can be very useful. I used one at the beginning, when I became more serious about running. In the meanwhile I learned more about my body and I feel that I do not need one anymore. I also find the chest heart belt uncomfortable.

There is a new generation of heart-monitor watches that have the heart rate sensor on the wrist - these watches do not need a chest heart belt. I may consider getting one of these when this technology gets more mature and becomes more mainstream.

GPS Watch

As I said, I use a proper GPS device when I really need it. I have never owned a GPS watch, although I was close to buying one.  I know well the trails where I do my daily runs and I use this simple map to calculate the distances. I also find annoying the fact that one has to wait for about one minute to get the initial satellite fix before to start running.

iPod, music players

I never feel any need to listen to music when I run. I run only in nature and I find it so enjoyable to listen to the surrounding sounds: bird songs, wind and water streams and so on. It is also safer not to listen to music, especially when running in the city or along roads used by cars. Also in the forest, I would rather hear in time if there is a bear or other big animal making noise around...

Action video camera

I can see why one would want to record fast action sports, but I think that it is silly to use them when running. First of all there is no way to wear it so it would not vibrate and shake like mad with each step. Secondly, who would want to watch the boring and shaky footage? I just take photos along the way if there is something interesting.
I had such a camera, a GoPro Hero. I used it a couple of times when skiing. It was OK, but then it takes so much time to edit the footage. So I got rid of it... there are better ways to use my time. Not to mention that these cameras are not cool anymore: Every second skier or biker has one... ;-)

02 May 2014

May 2nd on Piatra Mare

The sister mountains Piatra Mare and Postavarul are located just outside my hometown Brasov, and are often referred to as Brasov's Mountains.

Most of Brasov is built on and the the bottom of Postavarul foothills so I know Postavarul very well as I spend a lot of time here running, skiing, cycling, hiking, walking. I just have to get out the door and go up through the forest: 10km away and 1200m higher I can reach the summit. On the other hand, I do not hike or run so often on Piatra Mare as it is located a bit further from Brasov. It is separated from Postavarul by the the deep Timis valley. Although the two mountains are quite similar, Piatra Mare is wilder, slightly higher and a bit more massive. It has a nice open plateau on the top, while Postavarul peak is narrow and pointed.

Today it was a typical May day, with unstable weather. Not the perfect day for running or to go on higher mountains for skiing. As I was a bit tired from the previous day running session I thought that it might be a good opportunity for a slower hike on Piatra Mare. I had to go there in the morning, before the afternoon rains would start. I was right. The morning was partly sunny. We reached the top of the mountain just in time to get some wonderful photos of the landscape as the clouds were closing in. It started to rain later, while we were in the forest, half-way on the return route.

Here are the photos of the day. Click on the photos to enlarge them. Enjoy!

Piatra Mare top seen from the ruin of the old chalet
On the top plateau
Clouds everywhere!
To the north, still bathing in sunshine, Brasov City
A lock back to the top as we start to hurry down the mountain
View towards South to Baiului Mountains
Spring time!
Struggle for survival
Water everywhere... and it starts to rain too...
Cliff face seen from the forest below