Our idea of what constitutes "food" in American culture has become so skewed that it is almost unrecognizable. Our supermarkets are packed with products whose ingredients include unpronounceable chemicals, dyes, bacteria, and growth hormones. They are irradiated without our consent and contain GMOs.It's time to bring back FOOD. Pure unadulterated organic RAW food.This blog is a documentation of my continuing journey on a plant-based lifestyle.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Cane Juice Chronicles:Improving Your Fitness Naturally!

Time for a cane juice update!

Bananas + Cane Juice = Heavenly!

Running for me has always been somewhat of a leisure activity. It was simply something that I enjoyed doing, however, I was never actively trying to improve nor was I tracking my progress. Most of my running took place on a treadmill as a warm up before a spin class or when I wanted to take a day off from Bikram.

When I moved from NYC to California, where the weather is simply too beautiful to NOT run outside, I decided I wanted to devote more time to running and work on improving my pace and overall endurance.

This meant figuring out how to properly fuel these runs as most of them (at least initially) would be taking place after my morning Bikram class. I needed to figure out a way to restore my reserves and then some so that I would have enough fuel to power me through the run.

Pre-July, all of my runs were either fueled by watermelon, banana smoothies, or dateorade. And I've had varying success with all three of these:
  •  Watermelon being the least effective because I personally found that despite it's hydrating qualities it would give me melon belly before the run and then I would get very sharp cramps in my left arm/chest and sometimes burning between my shoulder blades.
  •  Banana smoothies (10+ bananas + water) I found to be very effective with minimal cramping because of the high amount of potassium and electrolytes. Though with smoothies as pre-running meals I think you always have to be careful to not drink too much or else you will find yourself feeling like you have a belly full of smoothie which is muy uncomfortable when you're trying to run, especially speed-wise. There were a few times when I made the mistake of drinking too much and I found myself experiencing some reflux. It's important to listen to your body and take those inner cues - you're body will tell you when it has had enough. 
  • And lastly, dateorade -- or as I like to refer to it now, "the poor man's cane juice!" Dateorade I would say is my preferred pre-meal before a run if I can't get cane juice. If you have never heard of or tried this delicious drink I would highly suggest you get on it right away! Datorade is just simply dates + water, blended. Dates in and of themselves are a popular running fuel for plant-based athletes because they are full of efficiently-burning simple sugars (carbs!), minerals like copper, manganese, potassium, and vitamins like vitamin K. They are also a great source of iron! I'm a big fan of dates and I eat them pretty much every day. If you have trouble controlling your "sweet tooth" and by that I mean you consistently crave sugary processed foods like cakes, cookies, candy- try switching to dates as a more nutritious way to satisfy those cravings. You will find that once your carbohydrate quotas have been reached you won't have the desire to reach for sugary or overtly fatty processed foods! With dateorade I have experienced no cramping as long as I am properly hydrated after Bikram, which I think is a given anyway. (With watermelon and banana smoothies, even if I drink water 30 mins before, I still get cramping or the burning sensation.) Dateorade's simple carbs + fibre allow me to re-fuel post-yoga and give me enough long-lasting energy to sustain a hard run. 
 In July I happened to come across the Raw Cane SuperJuice Bar at the Hollywood Farmers Market. They are always giving away samples of all of their delicious blends and even make a variety of cane juice smoothies there as well! I tried some and was hooked! At the time, and mostly because of it's name "cane sugar juice" I felt like it was really nothing more than very tasty sugary water. Ding! Ding! Ding! I remember leaving thinking to myself, "wow, this would be really great for running because it is a juice so my cells would soak up the sugar really fast and it would nice and light on the tum which would allow me to avoid cramping."
After that, I began going on Sunday's to the store to pick up cane juice and I would drink it after Bikram and before my runs.

In the past, my legs always felt heavy during at least the very first mile of my run and it wasn't until after that where I would be able to pick up my pace and find my stride. And I think that is perhaps the most noticeable difference for me between when I drink cane juice before my runs and when I don't. If I drink the cane juice I can go out with a bang and sustain that powerful energy during the whole run and my legs feel strong. Honestly, it feels like I am gliding or even flying. I feel this deep energy from within and I am able to push harder than I normally do, but without as much effort.

As I said before, I was under the impression that it was only the poly-saccharides from the cane juice that were the reason behind the increase in my performance. However, after talking to Rey from Raw Cane SuperJuice Bar and doing a bit of research, I found out some very interesting info about cane juice and why it is so effective for improving athletic performance.

Sugar cane juice is actually a grass and only about 15% sugar despite it's sweet taste! (And still low glycemic; only about a 30-40 whereas refined sugar is around a 60!)  Think wheatgrass or barely grass, but actually palatable and with slightly less chlorophyll.  And as you know, freshly pressed grass juices are some of the most nourishing juices we can consume as they are plentiful in live enzymes, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and even complete chains of amino acids, which allow our bodies to build and convert usable protein. That's right, you heard me, protein!

When I discussed with Rey how I felt my performance had improved and how my body felt overall during a run (and even post-run) she asked me why I thought this might be. And I told her that I always focus on how I can get the most sugar with my pre-workout meals aka glucose that my body will convert and use for energy. And she told me that was correct in that fruit and things like dateorade are rich in poly-saccharides that the body uses as energy, but that cane juice was unique in that it contains a whole host of specific minerals, much like you would find in wheat grass. And that's what makes cane juice so powerful! Not only are you getting the boost in energy from the sugars, but you are also flooding your body with all these minerals etc. that you might not otherwise get with dateorade, bananas, or watermelon.

The key ingredient here is chlorophyll. "Chlorophyll delivers a continuous energy transfusion into our bloodstream, replenishing and increasing red blood cell count. And since hemoglobin carries oxygen to our cells, increasing hemoglobin thereby increases the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen and delivers us increased levels of oxygen..." (More benefits about chlorophyll/)

Increased oxygen = more efficient running.

So, let's take a look at my stats for some good hard evidence. Click the individual photos to zoom.

Break in graph due to hip injury

If you look at my runs pre-July (focusing mostly on June) you can see that I am in the high 8's/9's as far as pace goes and that there is a lack of consistency in my pace overall. If you wish to examine further, you can check out my Runtastic online where it shows my mile splits. From looking over them myself, it seemed that I had a tendency to go out too fast in the beginning because I was trying to gain more power in my legs by pushing hard, I would lag in the middle, and then have to go all out at the end to try to finish within my time goals. If you take notice of the notes I made, many of the non-cane juice runs express my frustration with my legs feeling like lead. I can say for certain, that when I drink cane juice before a work out I do not experience this at all. My legs feel light, and as I mentioned, sometimes it feels like I am just flying!

Now, my runs after beginning to incorporate cane juice into my routine, you can see a steady improvement. Whereas before I am hovering in the high 8's/9's I am slowly making progress and my speed is increasing therefore my pace per mile is moving into the low 8's/ high 7's and for some post-Bikram runs I made sure to document my first mile time. For me, 7:14 for the first mile feeling rather effortless is a HUGE accomplishment.

As far as recovery goes, I think cane juice far surpasses any commercial sports drinks or supplements. I noticed an incredible difference in my recovery time as far as sore muscles and fighting inflammation. Much like wheatgrass, cane juice increases alkalinity in the body which is very important for muscle repair and regeneration. An athlete with an acidic constitution is more prone to injuries. Many supplements and sports protein drinks on the market are extremely acid-forming and actually may decrease performance overall.

According to Brandon Brazier, triathlete and owner of Vega, "Athletes in peak training are the most affected by acidosis...for recovery to be expedited, alkalizing foods, such as those rich in chlorophyll, need to be consumed soon after exercise. Protein must also be consumed to help repair broken down muscle tissue. As with processed energy bars, numerous sport supplements touted as post-workout recovery agents contain highly processed, manufactured proteins usually in the form of denatured isolates, which are acid-forming. Suggestion they be consumed soon after a workout will fulfill the body's need for protein, but completely neglect its need for pH balancing." (Excerpt from The AAA Diet by Paul Fanny Ph.D.)

As discussed earlier, sugar cane juice contains the amino acids, chlorophyll, and sugars necessary to facilitate not only a successful workout, but it's alkalizing effect on the body is a much better choice recovery-wise over your typical energy products.

Overall, I would say incorporating sugar cane juice has been hugely beneficial, not just for my running but, for my overall health. And I believe this experiment just goes to show that animal products, sugary energy drinks, and depleting protein powders are not necessary for improving athletic performance!

There is serious power in adhering to a mainly plant-based diet and incorporating nutrient-rich, delicious, sugar cane juice can only enhance those benefits.

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