Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Insider Edition

In the Night Farm has four, new feet this morning. Insider's first get arrived in the early hours -- a hale and healthy Barb filly out of Sandstorm, the lovely mare in The Barb Wire's header.

Congratulations to Crystal Gray, who commissioned this breeding and has big plans for this little horse! May your hearts travel many miles together.


Related Posts
Cute Couple

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fit to Ride, Part Six: Milk Got You?

One of my many, annoying traits is curiosity. I am intensely, incessantly curious about almost everything. Fortunately, I am also on the shy side -- a characteristic that spares the rest of the world from what would otherwise be my natural tendency to behave like an overgrown three year old, tugging their sleeves and insisting on knowing, "Why? Why? Why?"

The downside of inquisitiveness is that there will never be enough time for me to cover all the material that interests me. The upside is that I can still cover quite a bit and put it to good use. Nutrition and fitness, perennials in my self-guided researches, offer myriad opportunity for testing theories on my favorite guinea pig -- myself. Over the past few years, I've intensified my focus on these issues and made discoveries that led to dietary changes that most of society considers fringe at best -- and often downright barmy.

Well. Call me crazy if you like, but there's no question that I'm leaner, stronger, and fitter today, at thirty-one, than I've been since the day I was born. Good thing, since I believe that as an endurance rider, I'm honor-bound to be every bit the athlete I ask my equine partner to be.

I've already shared three of the significant, dietary shifts I've implemented, in the form of three rules for eating clean. These are the non-negotiables:
  1. Don't eat anything with a barcode.
  2. Sugar is the devil.
  3. Eat mostly plants.
As I said before, Eating Clean Rule #1 is almost enough, all by itself. Remove all barcoded (that is, processed) "foods" from your diet, and you'll be left with the fuels your body was designed to ingest: Vegetables, fruits, meats, grains, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, and plant oils. If 95% or more of your daily intake comprises these foods, you'll be better off than 95% of Western civilization.

However, for those who are really serious about eating clean and getting lean, there are many issues among these non-barcoded foods that merit discussion. I'll touch the surface of the most prominent here, then hook you up with sources for additional research. Let's start with dairy:

Now, I just included dairy in a list of foods our bodies are designed to ingest, and so they are...or at least, they were. But when was the last time you saw a yearling foal nurse? A three-month old kitten? A six-month-old lamb?

Hmm. Seems they grow out of it. In fact, a little research reveals that their bodies -- and ours -- are clearly meant to grow out of it. Lactase, the enzyme that enables digestion of lactose, ceases to be produced in animals over weaning age. Continued consumption of milk, formerly the perfect food for Junior, thereafter results in gastrointestinal distress ranging from bloating to diarrhea.

Many of you know exactly what I'm talking about; those who don't are the lucky (?) recipients of a mutant gene that permits continued lactase production. Being one-quarter Swedish, a heritage that predisposes me to said mutant gene (and perhaps a few others as well), I am not lactose intolerant -- unlike about 25% of the U.S. population and 75% of people whose heritage is African, Asian, or American Indian.

But, I still avoid dairy.

Why? Well, let's go back to our fellow mammals: How often do you see a rat drinking hamster milk, a bear cub nursing from a cougar, or a goat suckling a fawn? Yes, photos of such anomalies make their way around the web periodically. The last one I saw involved a mama dachshund and a litter of piglets. (Or was it the other way around?) Regardless, the only reason photos like that are so popular is that cross-species nursing is downright weird!

Surely I'm not the only one who finds it bizarre that we humans habitually consume large quantities of a substance custom-made to transform an 80-pound calf into a 1,800-pound bull. (And we're supposed to believe that drinking milk will make us lose weight? Excuse me?)

Besides that, the vast majority of the dairy products in your local grocery store are highly processed remnants of what might once have been a marginally acceptable food. Factory farms don't squeeze milk right out of the cow and into a carton, you know. Not by a long shot. First, they heat the milk to kill off bacteria (including the beneficial kind), a process which also reduces its vitamin A, C, D, and E content and destroys B6 and B12 outright. Then, they force it through a strainer with tiny holes, breaking up the fat molecules to prevent separation -- and bastardizing the natural hormonal delivery system of the milk, whose steroids and proteins are now able enter the bloodstream in a manner that nature never intended, triggering unnatural growth the body is unable to control.

Sounds to me like a recipe for cancer.

Those are just a few of the crazy reasons I rarely consume dairy. Feel free to pop a couple Lactaid pills, fetch a bowl of (barcoded, sugar-laden) ice cream, and take potshots at them at your leisure. When you're finished, I dare you to go read this series over at Fitness Spotlight. Allergens, antibiotics, and osteoporosis, oh my! (If you're horrified at the prospect of sacrificing dairy, be sure to check out the section on raw milk, wherein you may find some consolation. The nuances of aged dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese may interest you, as well.)

Okay. Take a moment to digest the truth about milk -- which, thanks to the Dairymen's Counsel and its well-funded friends in government, may be even more difficult than digesting the milk itself -- and in the next post, we'll move on to meat and eggs. (Don't worry. I promise not to advocate giving them up.)

Related Posts

Fit to Ride, Part One: Going for the Goal
Fit to Ride, Part Two: Vice and Advice
Fit to Ride, Part Three: Eating Clean
Fit to Ride, Part Four: Sweet Surrender
Fit to Ride, Part Five: Eating Green
Straight Sailing: Thoughts on Fitness for Endurance Riders

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fit to Ride, Part Five: Eating Green

Whew! It's been a long week. My apologies for the delay in continuing this series. You may recall that we've been talking about the importance of fitness for endurance riders in particular. My goal, as I stated in Part One, is to achieve leanness, cardiovascular endurance, and a high level of functional strength supported by whole food nutrition.

In Parts Three and Four of this series, I posted the first two rules for eating clean, which I defined as fueling your body with the substances it is designed to ingest. Since I interrupted myself with a few days' worth of unrelated posts, here's a quick reminder:

Eating Clean Rule #1: Don't eat anything with a barcode.

Eating Clean Rule #2: Sugar is the devil.

Between these two rules, we eliminated the vast majority of what most people in western cultures eat, leaving behind a short list of foods that can be mixed and matched in an astonishing array of delicious, healthful meals: Vegetables. Fruits. Legumes. Meats. Eggs. Nuts. Seeds. Plant oils. Grains. Milk.

Obviously, this list can be divided into two, major categories: plant matter and animal products...which leads me to...

Eating Clean Rule #3: Eat Mostly Plants

Don't panic! I said mostly.

Many of you know that I've spent the last three years as a "flegan." That's a contraction I invented in a facetious moment to describe my diet of flexible veganism. (Hey, the flexitarians are allowed their oxymoron!)

As I explain in this post on Nightlife, fleganism was a lifestyle into which I fell somewhat by accident. When a summer's bounty from my home garden crowded most other foods off my plate for nearly three months, I experienced such obvious improvements in my health that I never felt the need to return to my old habits of basing meals on meats, poultry, and cheeses.

What health benefits, you ask?

Improved body fat ratio, for one. Compare these photos again:

Both represent times in my life when I had a farm full of horses and a house full of pets to keep me active. However, the first photo was taken when I still based two meals a day on chicken, pork, beef, or pasta; the other was snapped after about a year of fleganism.

Note that the second photo was taken last summer, six months before I started bodybuilding (NOT the steroid-ridden, appearance-based, fake stuff you see in magazines, but genuine body conditioning to increase my functional strength -- a topic I'll address later in this series.) Now, I'm not preparing to make a case for vegetarianism, but I will tell you this: About 80% of leanness (and the muscle definition that goes along with it) is the result of diet, not exercise, and certainly not endless cardio routines!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to those health benefits I experienced when I started following eating mostly plants. My new practice of basing meals on vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains -- to the exclusion of all animal products, including dairy and eggs, with rare exceptions -- resulted in total elimination of my seasonal allergies, which had been severe, and dramatic reduction in the frequency and intensity of the arthritis pain caused by my bunions.

Miraculous? Unbelievable? Not really. (Hell, allergies are nothing. Some people have cured cancer through nutrition alone!) All I did was give my body the nutrients it needed to heal itself.

Note that the key point here is what I added to my diet (piles and piles of produce)...not what I removed (animal products). There are plenty of strong, lean, healthy people who eat animal products, and plenty of strong, lean, healthy people who don't. Depending on what one is trying to accomplish with regard to strength, however, the latter can be a challenge. I've recently found it necessary to add two eggs per day, plus some seafood, to my diet in order to meet my body's protein and energy demands in the face of ongoing body conditioning.

Regardless of one's opinion on vegetarianism, the point is that a healthful diet must be primarily plant-based. "Primarily," of course, is a relative term. Opinions abound on what percentage of one's daily calories should come from plant foods -- vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, and plant oils -- let alone from each of these sub-categories.

Proponents of Primal/Paleo eating, which I think has a lot of merit if followed correctly and consistently, particularly with regard to the reduction in carbohydrate consumption, emphasize a considerably higher percentage of animal products than I tend toward, but still maintain a foundation of plenty of vegetables and some fruit. I also agree with the Paleo People's emphasis on fats (natural fats, that is, from real foods -- not the man made fats that, along with man made sugars, turn processed "foods" into poisons.) For those who want to know more, Mark's Daily Apple and Fitness Spotlight are excellent blogs that will tell you all you need to know about going Paleo.

One thing is certain: the diet that is best for one person is not necessarily appropriate for another. However, any predominantly plant-based diet that also complies with Eating Clean Rules 1 & 2 is beneficial. Do your homework, experiment with what makes sense, and choose the diet that best helps you achieve your goals. Just be sure you're basing your decisions on physiological needs, not psychological desires. "I can't live without ice cream" is not a good reason to insist upon dairy as a regular feature on your table! (No more is "I avoid dairy" a valid reason to avoid the very-occasional scoop of Moose Tracks.)

As you experiment with your personal diet, here are a few things to bear in mind:
  • The great benefit of plants is found less in macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, all of which plants also provide), than in micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients). Micronutrients are critical to survival; they're the necessary components that enable the body to identify and rectify those external threats and internal errors that will, if left unchecked, lead to disease. The more micronutrients you put in your body, the better it will be able to defend and heal itself. In the process of obtaining all those micronutrients, of course, you'll taking in most of the macronutrients you need as well.
  • Plants shouldn't have barcodes. Fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, legumes, and grains are vastly superior to their canned, dried, or frozen counterparts. Grains should look like they were just shaken loose of their chaff, and maybe run under a roller. They should not reach your mouth in the form of loaves, rolls, wafers, or flakes (check out that link for the alarming history of your breakfast cereal!) Nuts and seeds should be raw, not roasted and salted. Plant oils (which most of us cannot obtain outside a barcoded bottle) should contain no additives.
  • Fresh is better. As soon as a plant is picked, its nutrient density begins to decrease. Therefore, it is ideal to concentrate your produce consumption on varieties that are locally grown and in season. Organic produce, which generally has the opportunity to grow in richer soils than does conventional produce, and which is proven to contain more nutrients (which comprise the plant's own defense system and are therefore more concentrated in plants unshielded by man made pesticides) is preferable as well. That said, conventional, out-of-season produce grown in a different hemisphere is preferable to no produce at all...for nutritional purposes, anyway. See Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life for an engaging and intelligent discussion on the merits of eating locally produced foods.
  • Fresh and raw is best. (Some would argue this point. See this post for details.) A bit of creativity is all it takes to ensure that you consume at least half your daily produce in an uncooked state, without overdosing on garden salads. I'll share some of my ideas for doing so in a future post.

Speaking of my personal eating habits, anyone who has spent significant time in my presence knows that I eat a lot, in terms of both volume and frequency. You've heard the USDA's recommendation that you eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day? Yeah. It's not uncommon for me to eat that much produce before lunch.

Indeed, one of the benefits of a smart, plant-based diet is that it's almost impossible to overeat. Your body's satiation center will stop you before you can consume an overabundance of vegetables, fruits, or legumes, particularly if much of the produce is raw. (It is wise, however, to remain attentive to the volume of whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oils in your diet.)

For those who are already lean and are working on building strength, the inclusion of some animal products is likely to prove beneficial. Part Six of this series will cover some of the issues related to meats, dairy, and eggs. I'll also discuss grains in further detail, as they are the source of much debate among the lean, the strong, and those endeavoring to become so.

Related Posts

Fit to Ride, Part One: Going for the Goal
Fit to Ride, Part Two: Vice and Advice
Fit to Ride, Part Three: Eating Clean
Fit to Ride, Part Four: Sweet Surrender

Fit to Ride, Part Six: Milk Got You?
Straight Sailing: Thoughts on Fitness for Endurance Riders


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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day?

"The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield
and government to gain ground."

...maybe that's why...

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time
with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Smart guy, that Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Paine wasn't half bad, either:

"When men yield up the privilege of thinking,
the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon."

Here's something worth thinking about today.

Observe. Conclude. Act.

Or lose.



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Friday, July 3, 2009

Shot in the Dark: Partnership

Love me, please, I love you;
I can bear to be your ask of me anything.
I am not a tentative person.
Whatever I do, I give up my whole self to it.

~ Edna Saint Vincent Millay


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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Setback...but Back

News flash!

This photo was taken Saturday morning last, as Consolation and I prepared for our first ride since the dog attack that sidelined me for nine weeks with a torn hamstring.

Almost everyone to whom I mentioned that I was finally back in the saddle said something like, "That must feel really good!"

Well...sort of. The truth is, Consolation and I ran into a spot of difficulty almost immediately. Here, we're discussing whether she'll cross a weedy trench.

It was a long conversation, but she finally agreed to give it a try.

See, that wasn't so bad!

The ride that followed was...interesting. (Read: Frustrating and exhausting. Lord have mercy, the balking issue is back.)

But, I wouldn't have traded those four miles for the world.

By the way, I'm really happy with my new riding helmet. I went with the Tipperary Sportage again.

This is my third Sportage. The previous two suffered ignominious fates -- one from a header off a bolting greenie that hit the brakes a few years ago, and the other from that fall on my back in April. I survived both tumbles with no apparent brain damage (though, admittedly, it's hard to tell) -- so why mess with success?

Tipperary has made a few changes to the Sportage since I bought my previous one. I find that the new model fits better, has a slightly lower profile, and is more attractive in matte charcoal than the previous, shiny version. Looking for a helmet recommedation? This is mine.

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