Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Post-Workout Carb Equation

I've shared the recovery snack carb equation from the Why Food Works blog before.  It's an equation that tells you how many grams of carbs your body needs to recover from a workout.  The truth, though, is that after I got all excited and shared it, I basically ignored it.  What happened was, I did the calculation and thought I must have made some sort of math error because I did not understand how I could possibly eat that many carbs in one meal.

I weigh about 155 pounds, or 70 kg.  Plug that into the carb equation for a two-hour roller derby practice and you end up with 98 grams of carbs.  Which is a lot.

The first thing I did to increase my post-training carb intake was to change my post-workout snack.  I've been drinking protein powder post-workout for a couple of years now, and I know it's important to get that protein in during the 30-minute recovery window.  (Another thing I learned from Why Food Works.)  But the carbs are important, too.  So lately I've been eating a Luna protein bar, which has 12 grams of protein and 21 grams of carbs.  Before the Luna bars, I tried Quest Bars, which a lot of people really like, and which have about as much protein as a protein drink plus about 25 grams of carbs.  Sadly, I think they are kind of disgusting, although sometimes I can force one down.

My post-workout dinner lately has been oatmeal, followed by whole-grain waffles with Nutella for dessert.  (Incidentally, I also eat a small pre-workout dinner with some protein and carbs, like some turkey and black bean soup with rice, or egg salad on toast.  Since I often don't get home from the gym or practice until sometime between 9:00 and 11:00 pm, I would get too hungry if I waited to have all of my dinner after working out.)

It's harder to estimate how many carbs I need after strength training.  How do you plug a strength training session, where you might be in the gym for 70 or 80 minutes but only lifting for 20 of those minutes, into the recovery equation?  So I basically just eat the same thing on lifting days and figure it can't hurt.

I fear that I may be starting to sound like a broken record about the carbs, but as I have mentioned before, I never tried to eat low carb, and I continue to be amazed by the degree to which I was under-eating them without even knowing it.  And I should have known it because I had the recovery equation the whole time, but I ignored it!  So the moral of the story is listen to science.  And eat more potatoes.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Advice for New Skaters

It's a great time of year to start learning how to skate and how to play roller derby.  The weather is getting nice, which means you can practice your skills outside.  In DC, we're running a boot camp for new skaters, and one of my friends, who is learning to play men's derby, has been attending!  It is so exciting to see people just getting started on this crazy journey that is roller derby.  I've written advice for new skaters on here before, but all the recent derby talk with my friend has made me want to share some things I wish someone had told me when I started learning to skate.

Skate a lot, but not so much you forget to cross train.  I used to tell new skaters, "skate less, cross train more," but that is an oversimplification.  You do need to spend a lot of time on skates when you're learning.  Even an extra hour or two per week of focused practice outside of boot camp or whatever training program you have in your city will result in big improvement.

Cross train!  People come to derby with different fitness levels.  Maybe you already run or play some other sports, or maybe you're like I was and are just getting back into fitness after years of doing nothing.  Either way, cross training is important!  First of all, if you're just getting back into shape, you will need to establish a baseline of cardiovascular fitness so that when you start doing scrimmages and endurance practices, you can keep up without feeling like you're going to die.

Second, strength training is essential to prevent injuries and to improve your skills.  In the first several years of my derby training, I saw corresponding gains in my skating skills every time I took on a new strength training challenge.  I started with the Roller Derby Workout video and soon got better at crossovers and faster at my time trials.  After that came boot camp fitness classes, which improved my speed and balance, then power lifting, which made me faster and harder to knock down.  (A resource that didn't exist when I started, or if it did, I didn't know about it, is Roller Derby Athletics, and I've heard good things about these derby-specific workouts.)

Third, I would recommend doing something to improve flexibility.  I haven't followed this advice very well yet, so this is a new frontier for me, too.  Yoga can strengthen your core and help you open your hips, which is important for mohawks, transitions and hitting.  It also takes a certain amount of flexibility just to get low in derby stance.

Buy the best helmet and knee pads you can afford.  With regard to helmets, you only have one brain.  Concussions are real.  They can ruin your brain and end your derby career if you get enough of them.  Enough said.  (I wear a Bauer hockey helmet.)

As for knee pads, I spent my first year of skating wearing a $20 pair of knee pads.  My knees were purple all the time, and I thought that meant I was a badass.  It really just meant I was broke and dumb.  Eventually I bought a pair of good knee pads, which can run you about $70, and it felt like falling on a pillow.  After the helmet, good knee pads are by far the best equipment investment you will make.  (I like TSG Force knee pads, but you should try on a few brands because the high profile of different pads can be uncomfortable and get in the way of your crossovers, so try some on and see what feel the best.)  While you're at it, get the gaskets, too.  Nothing sucks more than having your knee pad slide down so the $70 cushion doesn't protect your knee.  Gaskets will keep that from happening

Don't compare yourself to other people.  There is going to be one person in your fresh meat class who seems to turn into a superstar overnight.  Maybe it will be you.  Or maybe you'll be like me and have to struggle over long periods of time for every little bit of improvement you can get.  Either way, don't spend your emotional energy comparing your skills to everyone else's.  Spend your energy getting better at roller derby.  Celebrate other skaters' successes and learn from them.  When you have something to teach someone else, share it.  This is a team sport, and helping each other helps the team.

Roller derby is not a poem.  You'll get a lot of feedback when you're learning.  Once upon a time when I was an English major, I learned how to take feedback in writing workshop, which is where your writing teacher and classmates critique something you've written, in my case poems.  I learned very quickly that the best writers kept their mouths shut and listened during workshop.  They didn't defend their choices, they didn't attempt to explain what they had been trying to do with their poems, they just took everything in.  They ultimately might decide not to act on all of the feedback they received, but listening to everything meant they could more easily hear the feedback that would help them because they were not distracted by defending their writing choices.

Roller derby is not a poem.  Nevertheless, the writing workshop approach to accepting feedback will serve you well as a new skater.  Listen to feedback.  Try to do what your trainers are telling you.  Say "ok" to show that you're listening, or "thank you" to show that you appreciate the help, or ask a clarifying question if you don't understand how to do what the trainer is saying.  Sometimes, your body will be incapable of doing what the trainer wants you to do.  This used to happen to me (and still does), and I find this the most frustrating feedback situation of all.  My response in this situation is usually to say ruefully, "I know...I just need to practice more."

And of course that's really the key to everything.  Just get out there and practice.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

April Review and May Goals

My only goals for April were to follow the workout schedule I'd laid out for myself and to track my calories using my fancy macro-tracking spreadsheet.  Here's a basic overview of how things went in April:

Eating all the food!  I tracked my calories and weighed myself every single day in April.  I have never done this, ever in my life.  Of course, I didn't realize until halfway through the month that every week when I re-set the spreadsheet I was losing all that data.  (You would expect more from someone whose job is all about data, I know.)  So I don't have good averages for the month.  I think my average calories were about 2,600.  My average weight since I got smart halfway through the month and started keeping the data was 157.5, which is right where it should be.  (I got a new scale partway through the month, and the new scale weighs two pounds heavier than the old scale.  I started the month weighing 155 on the old scale, so 157 on the new scale.)

On a recent podcast I heard Nia Shanks say something like, "Women who are trying to get stronger  have to let go of having skinny days."  That rang true for me.  My weight really didn't fluctuate all that much over the course of the month, about 2.5 pounds, but I guess when you eat more you carry more water, so the only days I felt skinny were when I caught a stomach bug last weekend.  Tuesday morning was my bad body image moment of the month. I looked wistfully at the mirror and thought, I look so good when I'm dehydrated.  Oh well.

This morning on the Barbell Shrugged podcast, I heard someone say something like, "If you're not vaguely sickened at the thought of eating the next plate of food in front of you, you're not eating enough." That also rang true.  Eating a lot is hard, and sometimes you have to eat when you're not hungry, which goes against everything I have tried to teach this body of mine over the last seven years.  I'm still working on figuring out what to eat to avoid that feeling while hitting my macros.  I do think bringing my average calories closer to 2,500 would help.

While we're on the subject of podcasts, Nia Shanks also recently had someone from Examine.com, a website that summarizes scientific evidence on nutrition topics, on her show, and he said that the evidence shows that even athletes trying to build muscle don't need more than .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight, so that has prompted me to reduce my protein goal slightly, which I hope will make it a bit easier to get some more carbs in.

Working out!  I made it to every single practice this month except one, which I missed because of the stomach flu.  It has been at least a year since my attendance percentage was that high, so that's pretty great.  Also, I got all my strength training workouts in every single week except bout week.  Finally, some consistency there.  Lastly, I did my extra HIIT workout every week except bout week.  So I'm feeling good about getting my workouts back on track, and my only goal for May is to keep up the consistency, on both the nutrition and workout fronts, through another month and see where that gets me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Baltimore

In the last few months of 2014, I alluded a few times to what I called my “secret trauma,” an experience I didn’t intend to blog about, mostly because I didn’t want my parents to read it and worry about me.  But there is some crazy shit happening up the road in Baltimore, and I find that this “secret trauma” is the one experience that colors, more than any other, my thoughts about what is going on there.  So today I’m going to write about it.  If you’re reading this, don’t tell my mom.  Seriously.

Last September I was assaulted and robbed while walking home from the metro in my neighborhood.  I knew it was going to happen as soon as I saw the two men ahead of me on the sidewalk, and I was prepared to let them take my purse and go.  But instead of grabbing my purse, one of them grabbed me around the neck, and then I wasn’t so sure it was just my purse they wanted, and so I fought back as best I could, which wasn’t very well.  (True Fact: It doesn’t matter how much you can squat or dead lift when someone grabs you around the neck and throws you on the ground.)

Eventually they escaped with my purse, and I escaped with some minor scrapes and bruises and a lot of emotional trauma.  I remember the first time I walked to my bus stop after it happened.  As I stood there in broad daylight looking up the street for my bus, I caught some movement behind me out of the corner of my eye and jumped, terrified.  It was two teenage girls on their way to school, and I stood there at my bus stop weeping until the bus came.

For several weeks after it happened, everyone in my neighborhood felt menacing.  I crossed the street many, many times to avoid encountering anyone who looked even a little bit like one of my attackers.  I knew it was irrational and offensive, but my pounding heart and surging adrenaline would not listen to reason, and I did it anyway.

Eventually, I began to feel some empathy for the men who attacked me.  As I processed the trauma of a random, isolated event, I thought about what life must be like for children born into the daily traumas of poverty, violence and absence of opportunity.  I thought about my two attackers as scared children.  I thought about all the terrible things that might have happened to them growing up, and it wasn’t hard to understand how they could have ended up on that street with me one night in September.

A couple months later, I started dating a cop.  (It didn’t last long.)  One afternoon I went to meet him after he got off duty.  We stopped at a strip mall Starbucks and passed a group of kids loitering.  Still in uniform, he walked up and hassled them about why they weren’t in school.  They seemed scared and harmless, and this was just days after the Ferguson protests, and I thought it was unnecessary.  Afterwards I said, “I’m glad we didn’t have too many cops in my hometown when I was a teenager.”  I saw him bristle, but he deflected the comment, and we got our coffee.   A week or two after that he called me and said he’d spent the afternoon responding to a shooting.  A teenage boy had been killed.  He said, “If he’d been in school like he should have been, he’d still be alive.” 

When my cop friend talked about insomnia and nightmares, I asked if he’d ever seen a counselor.  No, he didn’t want to talk about it.  I thought about how reactive my fear had made me in the days and weeks after one violent incident.  I thought about that morning when two high school girls made me jump out of my skin at the bus stop.  I wondered how anyone could face fear and violence every single day and not be traumatized by it, and then I imagined legions of traumatized cops who didn’t want to talk about it carrying that kind of primal fear out into the streets with them day after day.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know I have a three-part philosophy:

1. Fear and shame are terrible motivators.  Fear and shame are, of course, the products of trauma, and traumatized people do not always make good decisions when driven by those emotions.  Exhibit A: Baltimore. 

2. Honesty is the antidote to fear and shame.  I think of the cop who didn’t want to talk and the traumatized children growing into young men fluent only in the language of violence. 

3. Love conquers all.  I think of the clergy marching peacefully through the streets of Baltimore. I heard, once, that you don’t find God at the center of horror and tragedy, you find God in the way people respond to horror and tragedy with love.

I don’t know…I’m even less qualified to give social commentary than I am to give fitness advice.  And I’m sure my personal observations greatly oversimplify the legacy of systematic oppression at work in Baltimore and all around the country.  I’m just a white girl from Maine, after all.  But what I know about human experience is this:  Damage to one part of our human ecosystem inevitably damages other parts of that system, even if we don’t always see it.  Sometimes I feel like we are all just a bunch of wounded people wandering through a maze of invisible trauma.  And how do any of us manage to conduct ourselves with any grace at all in that kind of environment?


Walking to my bus stop this morning, I found myself wanting to hug everyone in my neighborhood.  The cops on the corner, the disheveled guy who hangs out on the bench most of the day, the kids on their way to school. I’m not an expert, but I think you can’t go wrong too many times in life responding to trauma with love, and today it felt important to say that.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Squeezing My Butt and Other Gym Happenings

Last week on my heavy lifting day, I was struggling with my last dead lift rep when Frak suddenly yelled, "Squeeze your butt!"  So I squeezed my butt, and it made a huge difference.  If you ever thought lifting weights was simply a matter of picking things up and putting them down, you are wrong.  One of the greatest lessons I have learned from weight lifting is how everything in the body is connected to everything else.  It's pretty damn miraculous, actually.  And part of becoming a good weight lifter is learning how to make the most of that interconnectedness by using all of those different muscles as efficiently as possible.

It's a process, and I'm still learning.  One of the unintended benefits of my recent gym slump has been an opportunity to make some refinements in my form.  I switched to a wider grip on bench press and a low bar squat position.  These are changes that should help my lifting in the long run, and it makes sense to implement them while I have backed off on the weight a bit.  At least I can feel like I am making progress at something.

And I am making progress, slowly but surely.  Today I had several breakthroughs at the gym.  First, I had been having problems with grip on the low bar squat.  Frak had pointed out that my wrists were flexed too much, which is a recipe for injury.  I was still having a hard time getting it, though, especially on days when she wasn't there to remind me how to do it right.  Then the other day I found a video that helped me get it.


The cue is elbows up, and it helped to hear Mark Rippetoe relate it to the front squat, which I already know how to do.  I tried it out today, and it felt much better.  I think I am starting to get it.  I did 5 reps at 190 for my heavy set today, which is still ten pounds less than my five rep PR, but at least I am finally making progress again.

The second breakthrough was bench.  Bench is so hard!  I have been struggling with it forever, but tonight I finally did 5 reps at 95 pounds, which I have only done one other time before, back in February.  And it felt really easy for some reason.  I think I am finally getting used to the wider grip, but I also have to wonder if maybe eating more is also helping.  Anyway, it felt good today, and I feel optimistic about the possibility of making some more gains on bench in the next few weeks.

Lastly, today I squeezed my butt all the way to a five rep PR on dead lift.  I hadn't realized I was close to my PR until Frak asked me last week what it was.  I had thought it was 225, but when I looked back through my notebook I realized that was for three reps.  My five rep PR was 215, and today I got 220.  Hopefully next week I can do 225.

April is almost over, which means almost a third of the year has gone by.  After all the setbacks this winter, I'm not where I hoped to be right now, but it feels really good to finally feel like I'm getting back on track.  I am hoping to do another power lifting meet in the fall, and if I can stay consistent and injury-free for the next third of the year, I should be able to make some decent gains before competing again.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Six Years

Grief is a funny thing.  It settles in our bones and hides deep in our muscles, and sometimes those old aches catch us by surprise.

I've had this headache for a few days, and the last two nights I couldn't sleep.  I think my body knew somehow before my mind remembered:  Six years ago today my marriage ended.  It was the saddest day I'd ever lived through, and it still is.  I suppose I should be grateful I have yet to encounter anything worse.

I took good care of myself today.  I left work early.  I ate two cupcakes and crawled into bed.  I cried. I took a nap.  I got up and went for a run with my friend, Nellie.  All of these things made me feel better.

I tried to figure out why the grief surfaced on this day, this year.  I think what I realized is that I'd done a pretty good job mourning the loss of the husband and the marriage, but maybe I hadn't fully mourned the loss of my best friend.  I haven't been as close to anyone else since then, I struggle so much to get close to people, and six years is a long time to go without a best friend.

Six years ago I had another blog, and after my husband drove off into the sunset, I wrote down these lines from Jeanette Winterson:

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.  What then kills love?  Only this: Neglect.  Not to see you when you stand before me.  Not to think of you in the little things.  Not to make the road wide for you, the table spread for you.  To choose you out of habit, not desire, to pass the flower seller without a thought.  To leave the dishes unwashed, the bed unmade, to ignore you in the mornings, make use of you at night.  To crave another while pecking your cheek.  To say your name without hearing it, to assume it is mine to call.

I blamed that kind of fatal carelessness for the demise of my marriage.  Six years later, I am moved by an understanding of how much vulnerability is required to make the choice not to be careless.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Double Standard: What People Eat

Did you hear about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's meal plan?  It made the rounds on the internet and in my weight lifting circles the past couple of weeks.  The guy eats more than 5,000 calories a day to maintain his muscular physique.

Around the same time, this piece about cliff diver Rachelle Simpson made the rounds with less fanfare.  I didn't know who Rachelle Simpson was, but BuzzFeed says she is one of the fittest people on the planet, so it must be true.  Based on her workout plan, which involves HIIT, high-rep strength training, distance running and yoga, not to mention actually jumping off cliffs, she does sound pretty fit.  According to the article, here's a typical day's eating for Ms. Simpson:

For breakfast, Simpson has a heaping helping of oatmeal, with either some natural protein powder or egg whites, or Belgian waffles...

Ok, protein and carbs.  So far so good.

Lunch is a protein shake with Greek yogurt and fruit, and dinner is usually a pile of vegetables and a piece of fish.  Simpson says she'll eat "as many vegetables as I want -- a huge salad loaded up with all different colors."  

So I am supposed to believe that this woman survives on protein shakes and vegetables with a little bit of fish thrown in?  I hope it's one of the Rock's gigantic servings of cod, or this lady is going to be pretty hungry and tired.

For snacks, Simpson grabs fruit or hummus and carrots.

Hummus and carrots.  The secret weapons of athletes everywhere.

I call bullshit.

I'm not saying Simpson is lying, but I am saying that this article sounds like every other article I've ever read about the eating habits of supposedly fit (read: skinny) women who somehow complete marathons and triathlons while subsisting on chicken and kale.

Meanwhile, I have been working on eating more.  I'm only three weeks into this food experiment, but here is what I can tell you:

  • Most days my caloric intake ranges between 2,400 and 2,600.  (I have been aiming for a little more than 2,400 but I'm still getting a handle on knowing what to eat to hit my macros, and I am still not hitting my carbs most days.)  
  • My weight was 155 on the first day of calorie tracking.  My highest weight in the last three weeks was 156.3 when I had my period, and this morning it was 154.7.  
  • I really cannot believe how much I have been able to eat, and how many more carbs.  I'm not getting skinny or anything, but I'm not getting fat either.  At least not so far.

As for how I feel, the biggest thing I noticed was a change in how I felt after bouting.  We had a bout right before I started this experiment and then about two weeks after.  The difference in how I felt the day after the second bout was remarkable--so much less tired and sore, and there was no difference in how much or how hard I played.

I also think I'm sleeping a bit better.  Maybe it is all those beautiful post-practice carbs lulling me into sweet, sweet slumber.

All I'm saying is female athletes, like their male counterparts, need to eat.  Probably a lot of us need to eat more than we think we should.  And I'm tired of so-called women's "fitness" media perpetuating this idea that piles of salad and steamed vegetables are going to get us through hard cardio and strength training workouts.  We might not need to eat like the Rock, but we do need to eat like athletes if we're ever going to live up to our athletic potential.