Ironman Nutrition: Status of my Health

June 25, 2016

This blog entry is to summarize some of my past experiences with nutrition, health, and fitness. First throughout my life as a non-athlete, then in pursuit of a Boston Qualifier (BQ), and then during Ironman training with the inevitable goal of qualifying for the Ironman World Championships. I’ll try and be brief but I will simply put out there what I have found through my own training as well as blood testing that I get done at least twice per year.

As a child growing up in Northern NJ in the 80’s and 90’s our mother tried to instill in us good healthy habits. While we weren’t perfect, she did her best. Some of the choice she made for us in leading a healthier diet that I can recall was wild rice (black/multi-color that I thought was and still is, disgusting), Skim milk since it was low in fat (following the paradigm that the billion dollar industry has played to us since the 70’s based off of inadequate science), and whole-wheat bread since it wasn’t “dead-bread” (dead-bread being bread with barely any nutrients). As an aerobics instructor and avid walker, these were just some of those positive habits. Others were making dinner most nights of the week, bringing our own lunch to school, and going outside to exercise through climbing trees, cycling, and rollerblading.

Senior year of high school I was getting a gut even while doing Track & Field and the Ski Team. So I joined the CANDO gym and had my first protein supplement from my friend Mike who had some leftover. I started lifting 5x per week and got pretty strong as I headed to Northeastern University.

For two years I was part of the crew team, one of the top ten schools in the USA for crew as a walk-on. Nutrition was never really discussed and I ate whatever I wanted as I went to the buffet at the Caf. After crew I immediately put on a good 5kgs. And, as I lifted heavily for the next few years I hit a max of 100kgs or nearly 225 pounds. While I like many gym-goers thought it was mostly muscle, there certainly was a ton of fat on me, hidden by the bubble-size muscles. In an effort to “bulk-up” I consumed multiple meals per day and was consuming protein shakes, creatine, and at times glutamine.

Because of sport, my favorite exercise past-times, and nutrition that was based around a “Western Diet Balanced diet”, I stayed active and healthy, whatever that means.

In 2008, I went on a two week cruise, gained 10 pounds in one week, and so became a runner. March 2009 was my first marathon, Boston in 3:38 on the typical SAD (Standard American Diet). By this time I was 25 years old and I was better educated about nutrition, not necessarily through school or the media, but through my own common sense and listening to what some of the best do. In my pursuit of the BQ I decided to become vegetarian. Along with my own training I hit my lowest weight near 175 pounds or 50 pounds less than when I was “bulking up”.  The result was a BQ with a 3:08 marathon, a 30minute improvement in 6 months.

When I think about my move from Boston, Massachusetts to Alice Springs, Australia as a new triathlete back in 2011, I think about my diet. I started going to “Caf” again for lunch and what happened to me was what I see happening to many of my colleagues which frequent the “Caf”… my waistline started to grow. Fortunately, it didn’t grow exponentially since I was training for Ironman New Zealand 2012, but I easily put weight on from the 180’s to the 190’s. I also became addicted to Monster Energy drinks. I think addiction is strong in this sense because I really love the taste of Monsters and RedBulls.

The season that really stands out for me is Ironman Busselton (Western Australia) 2013. I trained 400 hours that season, a full 29 weeks and averaging close to 14 hours per week but I ended up racing at nearly 192 pounds. I really wanted to lose weight but I just didn’t drop the fat. Even though I was training this much why wasn’t I losing weight? In that race I did go 9:38 which was great but I had bigger goals in going sub 9:30.

While enjoying several weeks of recovery and hanging down at the 5 Star Resort Windmills in Margaret River, we already started talking about what we’d do next and nutrition was on top concern. We entered the next season in the lead up to our wedding and Challenge USA with the goal of losing weight first-most. We were successful dropping to the mid to upper 180’s. The race was a complete bonk for me with the physical stress of doing a race on the other side of the world but Fiona experienced something different. While in Boston and New Jersey, Fiona and I did our standard carbo-loading regime for 2 days. By race night, Fiona felt very sick, just awful. She wasn’t even sure she would race. We’re glad she did because she was the 2nd amateur overall but looking back, we know what it was; the reliance of High-Fructose Corn Syrup in SAD. Australia never adopted this cheap sweetener invented by the Japanese and not being used to it certainly threw our bodies for a loop.

Six weeks later, in August 2014, after our world-wide honeymoon we landed back in Alice Springs ready to pursue Geelong 70.3 and Ironman Australia, over the next 9 months. I started reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell PhD, a book that I had been sitting on for several years. As I read the controversial book the message was clear: animal based proteins were proven to on and turn off cancer and that the SAD diet leads to nearly all of the chronic diseases coming out of Western Society. Campbell advocates a whole-food plant based diet with minimal oils and added salt; it’s basically vegan.

thrive 2

This book had quite an impact on me. It made me think about nutrition and what I wanted from it. What I wanted with my new bride was to live a full, healthy life. I wanted to live to be 100 years old and I don’t want cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or to face the #1 Killer in the US and Australia being Heart Disease.

Then I read Thrive by a vegan former professional Ironman athlete Brendan Brazier. He too promoted a whole food plant based diet because its effect on the hormone cortisol. He illustrated how many of the SAD foods are high-acid forming. So when your body tries to recover from hard workouts, it can’t, because it’s trying to put the body back into a normal Ph level. He advocates reducing cortisol stress to enable to body to recover from workouts faster.

thrive

These two books both opened my eyes and were something that I would not have learned by following the US or Australian governments health recommendations or anything I learned in school. This was eye-opening because not only did I want to live a long, healthy life without any dependence on prescription drugs or suffering chronic disease, but I now had a “diet” that would help me reach my peak performances.

January 1st, 2015, Fiona and I committed to not consume meat, fish, dairy, breast-milk of cows, and limit processed foods. It resulted in our best Ironman performances both taking 5th in our a/g and I went 9:43 just 4 minutes out of a KQ. We weren’t strict to the diet during our transition phase to the next season but started back up again and went to Busso again on what I call a “Mostly-Vegan” diet since we still consumed cheese on enchiladas and lasagna. This resulted in Fiona taking 5th female amateur overall and her Kona Qualifier (KQ). She also went 9:59! Meanwhile, I raced nearly 10 pounds lighter than 2 years earlier on this new diet that long excluded the daily Monsters and I improved, setting a PB of 9:26.

We went on a two week cruise eating and drinking anything we wanted. I came back the heaviest weight in 10 years and extremely unhealthy. Starting in January 2016, we were back on the mostly-vegan diet and the weight dropped week after week. I ended up racing at 180pounds, my lowest ever race weight and got my KQ joining my wife this year in Kona.

Since that special day, two weeks ago I have had anything I wanted and went back to all my favorites:

  • Donnas Chicken (breaded chicken thighs)
  • Kangaroo Steaks
  • Australian Snag Sausages
  • Marinated pork steaks
  • Salmon and Sea Bass
  • Beef burgers
  • Eggs and Bacon
  • Frosties and Full Cream Cows Milk
  • Chocolate and Lollies
  • Cokes during the day
  • Ice Cream
  • Plenty of wine and Champagne.

And you know what? Of all this food, I honestly haven’t really enjoyed most of it. From the spikes in my blood sugar, to the gut that has increased by 2kgs, I can’t wait to Monday to get back into training and a healthy diet because a diet filled with this is just not.

I also just read The Sugar Book. I thought this book was excellent and easily put it up with The China Study and Thrive as now a trilogy of books that will have a profound impact on my life, leading me to my goals of life being 1) Live a long and healthy life with my wife Fiona 2) Be the best athlete I can be fueling on a whole foods-plant based diet.

the sugar book

Anecdote

A colleague at work has been inspired by me and has sought out my advice over the last 8 months. I educated him on a scale to use to show him how much extra fat he was carrying around and told him to “stop drinking that shit” (Coke). I told him its just sugar and is going to make him fat. I also criticized his portion size being a massive piece of chicken for lunch and told him to stop eating shit in the afternoon like his daily snacks of brownies. Since that time, this guy who was never really educated on what a healthy diet is has dropped 3 pant sizes. Several months ago the doctor told him that his recent blood work told him he could come off his pre-diabetic medication. Last week, he told me more blood tests told him he could come off his high cholesterol and high blood pressure pills. I was really happy and proud of him for this but he still has about 15 pounds or 7kgs of fat to lose. He’s also been a positive influence for his child who now says no to coke. Unfortunately, his wife hasn’t been supportive of her own unhealthy habits and often will argue with him claiming that she is doing what she can. I advised my mate to continue to focus on yourself and focus on your goal of losing the weight. I said that you’ll be a positive influence for your child who doesn’t know better, and hopefully that will rub off on your wife before she faces something that will make her really open her eyes. When I found out that he was only in his 30’s and on high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and pre-diabetic medication I couldn’t believe it. I mean all those pills in your 30s? Shit!

Blood Testing

Cholesterol I never ate as much meat or consumed cows milk or dairy as much as the average person. In September 2012 my cholesterol was 139 and went down to 131 in February 2014. And don’t give me that genetic bull-shit. My father is on high cholesterol pills because he eats a lot of meat, burgers, and hot dogs, well, he did before he started focusing on his healthy. But coming into our plan of focusing on a mostly vegan diet started 1/1/15, we ate meat literally every single day since Christmas of 2014 since I had cooked a fully turkey. As a result, my cholesterol increased 30% to 170 and again, that was only 1 week of high meat consumption. My latest test during my KQ resulted in a reductio to 143.1.

lab 1

Urea & Iron Most people who have no idea what the hell they are talking about ask me where do I get my protein. Note, protein is literally in everything. It’s a building block of life. Without it, things fall apart. Construct a building on top of sand and see what happens. When you consume a high meat diet as well as protein shakes, or just too many protein bars and protein shakes like I have, protein in your urine is too high causing issues in the liver and kidneys and probably causing prostrate cancer. My urea has been high as a result for years and increased from 8.4 to 10.3 after Christmas 2014. (You want a range of 3.0-8.0). Because I only have protein shakes a few times a week and no longer take EnuroxR4, my urea is now normal at 7.7 within the 3.0-8.0 range!!!

However, my Iron is very very low and my Ferritin is now at 28 on a range of 30-400. Last season I was taking an Iron tablet and B12 Vitamin each day. My B12 is in range but the Iron is clearly lacking. This being caused by the 20 hours/week of training I was doing in the lead up to my KQ. But, knowing how bad my run was in Cairns (3:38 in shape for a sub 3:25) makes me believe it was this hit to my Iron. I bought a new supplement as a result to really kick the Iron into high gear.

lab 2

Other tests I had everything else tested as well including my Coronary Risk Ratio. I’m at 2.1 with the average being 4.9 and twice the average is 9.5. Hell yea! I’m not going to die from a fucking heart attack. Screw that shit! Thyroid is 2.27 on the range of .4- 4.0. Hell yea! Those hemoglobin were trucking along at 155 in the 135-170 range. Way to go little guys! Vitamin B12 was 403 of the 150-750 normal range. Thank you RedBull! And Glucose which indicates Diabetes  improved from 4.7 at Christmas 2014 to 4.3 now. The range is under 5.5 for fasting and diabetic is greater than 6.9. Screw you needles! Mr Vitamin D hasn’t been enjoying my tablets and is only 65 which is borderline in the 50-75 range.

Summary Just because your doctor tells you your healthy when your 30 pounds overweight and not on pills doesn’t mean what you do today doesn’t impact what happens to you in 30 years from now. Obesity is tied to most of the Western chronic diseases. I don’t want that shit so I’m focusing on myself now, when it really matters. Tomorrow is too late. Actively paying attention to my health has had a direct influence on me and my wife’s lives. It has lead us to both qualifying for Kona together in the same year and enables us to do absolutely everything we want to do. As we enter this season with the focus of removing processed sugar from our diet from cokes, energy drinks, chocolate, and “healthy foods” like pasta sauce and BBQ sauce, we look forward to continuing on our path of Ironman and living the rest of our lives as healthy as we can be and removing some extra pounds of fat!

Happy Training!

2 responses to “Ironman Nutrition: Status of my Health

  1. Great post mate. I think a vegetarian / vegan based diet is a great choice. Something I’m researching and considering at the moment to improve long term health!

    Like

    • Cheers! I do believe it is the optimum food diet for longevity and sport. There are some incredible athletes out there fueling on plants (even body builders!)

      I certainly stand by it as it has definitely allowed Fiona and I to perform at our bests. Read The China Study and Thrive to jumpstart. All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

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