coffee

Experiment of One: Sugar

I had a total revelation last week (and it resulted in an awesome recipe, at the bottom of this post).

Since I’m no longer training, I decided to do a little nutritional “experiment of one” around sugar and stimulants (i.e. caffeine).  I was inspired by my sister who recently cut out all sugar – and I mean all sugar, even natural sugars like honey, fruit, dairy and anything else containing lactose, fructose or glucose – after learning sugar is one of her food sensitivities.  I figured I’d give it a try and see what happened.

Although I planned to start my no-sugar, no-caffeine diet on Monday, I only lasted until about 4pm so I didn’t technically start until Tuesday.  But seriously, not eating any sugar is freaking hard ’cause that stuff is in everything!  No raisins in my yogurt, no banana, no chocolate – definitely not something I could keep up long term.

So, I was only successful in doing one day of no sugar at all.  But over the rest of the week I started adding in sugar gradually, and I’ve still drastically reduced the amount I used to eat every day.  I also learned a couple cool things about how my body responds to sugar (and here I’m using “sugar” to refer to natural or refined because fruit has more or less the same effects):

  • Between 30 and 60 minutes after eating sugar, even if I’m not hungry, I get a strong desire to eat – specifically sugar and junk food cravings, but I just feel the need to eat something.
  • This craving goes away if I wait about 15 minutes without eating.

I spent most of the summer wondering why I constantly felt a need to eat even when I wasn’t hungry, but then I’d snack on fruit because it’s delicious and good for you.  Vicious circle ensues, leaving me feeling simultaneously guilty and unsatisfied.

But I also learned something else about sugar cravings this week: excessive sugar cravings are a sign of overtraining, according to page two of Avoiding Late-Season Burnout from Inside Triathlon.  I’d never made that connection, but it makes sense and might have made it’s own contribution too.

My final discovery this week was the BEST BREAKFAST CEREAL EVER.  Homemade, gluten-free/low, totally sugar-free (unless you put raisins in it like I do) and so many variations: basically pick any combination of seeds and grains, mix them with some sort of dairy or non-dairy milk or yogurt and let them sit for about 15 minutes then enjoy!  I throw it all together in the morning when I get up, and it’s ready by the time I’m out of the shower.

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Clockwise from top: chia seeds, hemp seeds, kasha, flax meal, rolled oats

Best Breakfast Cereal

Here’s what I put in one serving, but feel free to substitute (Bulk Barn carries most of these):
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp flax meal
1 Tbsp kasha (toasted buckwheat)
1 Tbsp hulled hemp seeds
2 Tbsp old-fashioned rolled oats
1 Tbsp raisins
1/2 cup milk

Mix everything together, then let it sit for at least 15 minutes so the chia seeds have time to gel.

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Nutritional info: 296 cal, 33g carbs, 8g fibre, 14g protein, 12g fat (healthy ones!)

Variations:

  • Add half a scoop of protein powder (I use Vega sport protein)
  • Use unsweetened almond or flax milk instead of dairy
  • Add cinnamon and apple chunks
  • Substitute steel-cut oats if you like a chewier texture
  • Add more rolled oats for texture or to increase the carbs
  • Mix everything in a small pot and eat it warm
  • Add a few spoonfuls of Greek or regular plain yogurt
  • Make it the night before and store in the fridge overnight so it’s ready in the morning
  • Flavour with vanilla extract or cocoa powder
  • Anything else you can think of!

Happy eating!

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Pride Run and Olya’s Apricot Scones

My race mornings are usually fairly typical: waking up entirely too early, grabbing a bagel and some coffee, then driving for an hour or two to the race site and arriving about an hour before race start so I can set up transition and use the porta-potty before the line gets too long.

Last Saturday morning was entirely unlike any other race morning: it was relaxing.

I woke up early, before the alarm went off, and took my time getting out of bed. The sun was shining and it looked like a perfect day for racing – warm but not too hot, and slightly overcast. The combination of knowing that it was a short enough race that it was going to be really painful, and that I had a chance to place quite well if I had a good race gave me some pre-race jitters, but I like a little nervous energy before a race.

But the best part of my pre-race morning was walking to Café Olya for some coffee and the most delicious apricot scone I have ever tasted. CO is a very cute coffee shop and bakery owned by a husband and wife team, and the atmosphere is casual and friendly with a few bar stools and touches of coffee-inspired décor. The bakery is located just behind the coffee bar and we could watch Olya preparing some strawberry custard croissants that looked positively to die for, but what caught my attention was the little glass case to the right of the coffee bar where I saw a crispy and buttery apricot scone. How could I resist?

Of course the coffee was wonderful, nice and strong the way I like it and served with delighful conversation. I followed my first sip of coffee with a bite of apricot scone, and thought I had died and gone to heaven. The scone was crunchy on the outside and so soft on the inside, the apricots stuffed inside were sweet and moist and the creamy custard rounded out a delectable combination of flavours and textures. I enjoyed every bite of my scone and every sip of coffee.

It’s difficult to see how the day could possibly get any better, but I love racing so much that it was almost inevitable. My legs were feeling a little sluggish during my 3km warmup but felt better after some strides, and the run settled my nerves slightly. I knew my legs would feel better once the race started, and I was hoping for a sub-20 minute 5k.

We walked to the start line about 10 minutes before the 10am race start, just in time to wish some friends a good race and catch the pre-race announcements and group stretches. It seemed like the race would never start, but then the announcer was counting down from 10 and the confetti cannon marked the beginning of the race!

My race strategy was to stick to a 4 minute pace for the first 2km, then evaluate how I was feeling and adjust my pace for the next two kilometers then go all out for the finish. My first km was quite fast at 3:58, but my legs felt shaky and I was already working pretty hard just to keep my goal pace. The first lap of Queen’s Park was pretty open as I was still with the faster runners and ahead of most of the pack.

I slowed down a little in the second kilometer and was really struggling by the time I got to the halfway point where we started the second lap of Queen’s Park. By this time the walkers had reached the park and I had to do some doging and calling out to get around people, and almost ran into a little boy on the hairpin turn. I really slowed down in the third kilometer and was quite disappointed to see that it took 4:34, about 5 seconds slower than 10k pace, and I was struggling to maintain even that!

The last kilometer along Wellesley was incredibly difficult and I’m very proud of myself for pushing through for a fast finish despite heavy legs and being on the verge of tears. The moment I crossed the finish line, Sarp was there with a great big hug and a bottle of water. The clock said 21:36, which wasn’t fast enough to beat my goal but still gave me a personal best by almost a minute.

Finishing the race

Photo courtesy of Richard Bowry

My finish was good for placing 7/169 in the F25-34 category and 17/495 overall women, and my chip time of 21:33.9 was 56 seconds faster than my previous unofficial 5k PB (I ran the first half of the MEC 10k in 22:30) and 1:17 faster than my official 5k PB from last December. While I don’t think I could have pushed myself any faster that day, I do feel that I would have been able to finish faster if my legs weren’t feeling so tired. I suspect that my 140km ride at Cycle for Sight the previous weekend affected my race more than I expected, and that a week wasn’t enough to really recover enough to race. That being said, I’m incredibly happy with my new PB and it feels great to really race again!

Post-race group photo

With Sarp, Michael and Maya after Pride Run. (Photo courtesy of Richard Bowry)