The Times, They Are A’Changin’

As my best friend would tell you, nostalgia is like kryptonite for me.  I get sad during events before they’re over because they’ll be over eventually.  It’s likely irrational, but it does make me particular sensitive to the changing of seasons.

I also track changes.  I find chronicling evolution and metamorphoses important.  I reason that it’s because I like to be aware of accomplishments or something.  I used to obsessively journal, which I guess has turned into blogging.

But something passed me by almost unnoticed.

Last night, I registered to run the Turkey Trot with my father and some family friends on Thanksgiving morning.  It’s just a 5k, but this choice is particularly significant for me personally.  I’ve never run a road race.  I started running and training to apply for JAG a year ago, but I haven’t raced yet.  To me, the Turkey Trot represents a culmination of all of my efforts and obstacles for the last 12 months.

In years gone by, I’ve been baffled by my friends’ desire to run at all, or even perambulate in an area that wasn’t between the dining room and the couch, on Thanksgiving.  I thought that was ridiculous.  After all, Thanksgiving might be about pilgrims to some, but to most of us, it’s a day of complete sloth, gluttony, and lethargy.  And I liked it that way.

Today, however, I find that I am the type of person who will take great enjoyment out of running a race with my father and some friends on Thanksgiving morning.  It seems like a fun family activity.  I might not be able to keep up with the family friends, all of whom are tremendous athletes, but I’m really looking forward to it anyway.  Old Kristin was completely shocked and seemed disapproving, but new Kristin is very excited about this change.  Also, it seems very positive to burn a few hundred calories before we eat ourselves into stupor.

A new Thanksgiving tradition has been born, all when I wasn’t looking.

What are your Thanksgiving traditions?

Everybody’s Worst Nightmare

For me, it’s sports bra shopping.  Actually, this post isn’t about a nightmare.  It’s about a cool product I saw today while I poking about. As I mentioned before, I’m partial to Victoria’s Secret’s high-impact sports bra that essentially acts as a cage for running.  I’m always on the lookout for the latest and greatest in, ahem, supportive gear.  However, I found a new brand called “My Inspire” that markets compression sports bras.

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This line of sportswear is designed specifically for women, and it has several cool features.  First, it’s made of hypoallergenic materials such as bamboo and organic cotton.  This is a little “crunchy,” I’ll be honest, but I’m allergic to everything and often feel I should live in a bubble.  So I pay attention to these things.  Second, it’s also somehow antibacterial.  It’s possible that all things are antibacterial, and that this is just a marketing claim, but I still appreciate that fact.  Third, and perhaps uniquely, they give a portion of net proceeds to non-profit organizations that promote breast cancer prevention.  I think it’s really awesome when entrepreneurs struggling in a capitalist market still give back, and I like to support them.

Additionally, all the products seem reasonably priced, but I read between the lines and inferred that the sports bras wouldn’t be appropriate for full-busted women performing high-impact activities.  Sigh.  I will have to carry on in my search, but obviously these are very appropriate for some ladies.

Also, when you buy two bras, you get a nifty little bracelet.

Quick disclaimer: I just learned of this product today, I have no reason to promote it, I do not benefit from posting about it, and they have never heard of me.

Meatless Mondays: Potato Soup

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I got a crockpot for Christmas last year.  It’s a really nice crockpot, but sometimes I don’t plan far enough ahead to be able to use it.  I’m all about instant gratification when it comes to food cravings; how can people wait 8 hours to eat their food??  However, I’m breakin’ it out since it’s a perfect fall day.  The leaves have formed a lovely, crackling, golden shell over the ground, and that calls for thick, creamy soups.  Also, it’s low-maintenance, and I have a lot of studying to do.

Recipe: Potato Soup

1.) 2.5 lbs red potatoes
2.) 1 smallish yellow onion
3.) 1 stalk of leeks (I don’t love leeks the way some people do, but I feel that potato soup really needs SOME leeks)
4.) 3 big carrot sticks
5.) 2 celery stalks
6.) As much garlic as you can chop (I used practically half a head of garlic)
7.) 2 stalks of green onion
8.) 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used soy)
9.) 6 cups vegetable broth
10.) A sprinkle of Baco-Bits (because it’s just not potato soup without bacon)
11.) 4 dashes liquid smoke (to enhance the bacon-y flavors)
12.) Salt & pepper to taste
13.) 1-2 T AP flour

Directions:

1.) Chop up all the vegetables
2.) Place all the vegetables in the crockpot
3.) Put in all the other ingredients
4.) Turn crockpot to high to cook in 4-5 hours, or low to cook in 8-10 hours
5.) When there’s still about an hour left, grab a potato masher and mash everything up.  This will help make it nice and creamy.  I also added about 1 tablespoon of white flour at this point, which helped a lot.  If it’s STILL not creamy enough for you, now’s the time to add some more milk.
6.) Top with green onions, some more Baco-Bits, and maybe some vegan cheese if you’re feeling fancy.  I ate it as is, since I think garnishes are a little silly because I mix them in anyway.

Benefits:

I used to feel guilty when I ate potato soup because it seems so full of, well, fat.  The non-vegan stuff has cream, cheese, and bacon.  And believe me, I used to pile on the bacon.  It really should have been called “Bacon Soup with some Potato Bits.”  However, this vegan version is actually healthy.  First, this soup is essentially a whole food.  I notice more and more that I feel better when I don’t eat processed food.  The worst thing is the Baco-Bits . . . but I demonstrated restraint when I was adding them.  Second, there’s no cholesterol.  Third, it’s really just vegetables.  Honestly.  How can you feel bad about a meal when it’s just vegetables?  I didn’t even put any oil in it.  Other benefits are that I didn’t buy any additional spices, and I will have leftovers for the entire week.  Being an indigent law student,  leftovers are the key to my existence and well-being.

I’ll admit that I purposely packed this soup with different veggies.  Another day, I plan on adding cauliflower and broccoli, too.  I’d also like to experiment with sweet potatoes or yams-not that I can ever tell the difference.  A sweet potato butternut squash soup?  Take me now, Lord.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

I’m not sure how I feel about this.  I am definitely a morning person, but I’m only mentally alert.  While I have the concentration and focus to read cases for hours or brilliantly edit papers, I have no motivation to exercise.  My body exhibits a zombie-like lack of coordination and fine motor skills early in the morning.  My muscles are all tight; touching my toes is impossible first thing after I wake up.  Because of this, I have a tendency to slack off on my early morning workouts.  At night, I’m much more diligent.  I also find that working out at night gives me a couple extra hours of super-productivity mentally, so I can get more work done.  It essentially extends my day.

I also like to eat my breakfast the second I get up.  I was always told that this is supposed to jumpstart your metabolism.  Plus, I really like food.

However, it looks like I’ll have to adjust my schedule, at least for the holidays.  This study indicates that exercising before breakfast combats an increase in caloric consumption.  In the study, three groups of men were tested (ok, I know that I usually write about women, but this study could be such a ray of hope for us ladies that I had to post about it).  All the men ate 50% more fat and 30% more calories than usual in an effort to mimic a holiday diet.  One third agreed not to exercise at all.  The other two groups worked out at a strenuous intensity four times a week, either cycling or running.  Those groups worked out for either an hour or an hour an half.

The difference is that one group ate a big, carb-rich breakfast before exercising and continued to consume carbs in the form of energy drinks throughout the workout.  The third group ate nothing at all beforehand and consumed only water throughout the workout.  That third group made up for those breakfast calories later in the day, so all three groups were consuming the same thing.

The men participated for six weeks, and at the end, the results were pretty shocking.  The first group of non-exercisers gained an average of greater than 6 lbs., developed insulin resistance (which is bad), and began storing fat in muscle.  The second group of big breakfast eaters gained only half that and had become slightly more insulin resistant and stored some fat in muscle.  The third group gained almost no weight, showed no signs of insulin resistance, and actually burned fat more efficiently than before the study.

The researchers concluded that exercising in a fasting state is more effective than exercising in a carb-fed state, at least for the purpose of stimulating glucose tolerance.  They’re not sure why this is true, but it’s certainly interesting.  One theory is that the fasted state forces you to burn fat rather than carbs, since your body has no carbs on which to rely.  Similarly, when you’re burning fat, you’re not storing it in your muscles.  The increased level of muscle protein helps regulate the insulin sensitivity, which ultimately helped the fasting men not to gain weight.

The researchers pointed out that there were some drawbacks, of course.  Working out in a fasting state won’t help improve performance because your muscles process carbs more easily than fat for fuel.  The study also did not indicate whether working out less frequently and at a lower intensity would be helpful in the same way.  I’m going to take comfort in the fact that a well-known researcher at the University of Adelaide predicts that any sort of exercise before breakfast is better than nothing.  He has studied high-fat diets and exercise for many years, and he made that conclusion in a commentary he wrote in response to this study.

Therefore, I say, let us eat cake.

Carbo-Loading

As athletes, we’re told to load up on carbs the night before races or meets or sporting events.  I think the quintessential meal is probably pasta.  The idea is to increase athletic performance by increasing the amount of fuel stored in your muscles.  Normally, one’s muscles only store a small amount of glycogen, but consuming a lot of carbohydrates stores a lot of extra fuel in your muscles, thereby combating fatigue.  On a simple level, this makes sense because physical activity requires fuel in the form of carbs.  It’s supposed to be an especially effective technique for endurance sports, such as marathon running.

A man’s glycogen levels will be increased up to 100% by carbo-loading.  Studies done on women and carbo-loading have yielded mixed results.  Some studies indicate that women may also need to significantly increase caloric consumption in addition to carbohydrate intake.  Others suggest that the menstrual cycle will substantially diminish the benefits of carbo-loading, though the reasons are unclear.  Most researchers agree that women, on the whole, simply oxidize fewer carbohydrates than men.  Women appear to burn more fatty acids from adipose tissue (fat deposits) during intense exercise while using fuel from skeletal muscles during rest.

What can we do to combat fatigue and increase performance time?  It seems that there is a fairly high threshold for increasing carbohydrates before it becomes effective.  One researcher found that a daily increase of 12 rams of fat-free carbohydrates per day, combined with a totally cessation of physical activity (rest days) allowed men and women to utilize the same amount of glycogen.

Me and You, Just Us Two

I’ve reached an age where seemingly everyone I know is having babies.  I stumbled across this extremely pertinent article, and I think it’s something every mother-to-be should be told: there is a link between your fitness levels during pregnancy and your baby’s heart health.

It turns out that gestating babies are actually involved in the mother’s exercise, and that the training response lingers on through gestation and even after birth.  Mothers who exercise during pregnancy produce babies who have healthier hearts than other infants.  The health benefit continued even after birth.

For a long time, scientists have known that fetuses’ heart rates increase during a mother’s workout, but a few recent studies have demonstrated that the cardiovascular benefits extend after birth.  It is not a transient response.  Specifically, the studies demonstrated that aerobically-inclined mothers have babies with lower heart rates and greater heart-rate variability than babies born to sedentary women.

Even more significantly, there is a direct relationship between a mother’s level of exercise and the baby’s cardiac health: the mothers who exercised most had the children with the slowest heart rates and the strongest hearts.  The women in the study were assigned to different control groups according to exercise: some did cardio, some lifted weights, and some did yoga.  Aerobic exercise proved the most beneficial.

There are a lot of theories about why this occurs.  Some researchers believe that a woman’s increased breath sounds are loud inside the body, and the fetus responds to that.  Others thinks it is a special music of the blood.  Some reason that the effect on the baby is a hormonal response.  Whatever the cause, the effect is clear.  Mothers, embrace cardio.