Thursday, December 22, 2011

Danger! Learning Curve Ahead!

A little misery and I appear to be putting the latest reminder of my food intolerance behind me.  It does bring me to a different question though.  Although I have said very little on the topic so far, I have been very degrees of vegetarian, even vegan, for quite a while.  I really like the idea of an existence that minimizes my impact on the world around me.  It is guilt free and off-sets some of the same generated by the great ridiculous SUV I drive (because I need the power for towing and the space for work).  I like the ideology and since I really enjoy veggies, it seems win-win.

Except for one thing.

I can't seem to get enough protein and levels of certain vitamins.  It could be due to poor absorption.  Gluten sensitivity can interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients in the small intestine and a gluten free diet tends to be deficient in some as well.  Of course, that list is the list that a vegan diet struggles with.  Iron, B vitamins, Vitamin D, and a few others.  And then there is the fact that I am on the road so much, frequently unable to prepare foods with the types and variety of ingredients necessary. There are a variety of ways to combat this if any one condition is present but with them all in play, I am coming up short.
(I am missing two and a half segments!)

Over the last two weeks, I went into a block of training that increased volume and intensity.  I was fine at first but then I started feeling really weak.  It was like I wasn't refueling between sessions, except that I was.  I would get just past the warm up and my muscles would be burning.  I was failing to get my heart rate into the desired zones (and wonky readings from the overlord was confusing that issue further) and couldn't stabilize my breathing in the pool.  My perceived exertion was off the charts but my performance was in the toilet.  I couldn't help feeling like the problem was coming from within, a problem with nutrition.

I got a chance to pow-wow with MVF, the cycling fiend, and she asserted her opinion that I wasn't getting a balanced diet.  Perhaps I should say reasserted, as she has made that point many times regardless of the fact that I never listen.  Her master's degree in human nutrition and status as a cyclist and certified personal trainer gives her opinion a certain credibility.

Since stubborn ducks who never listen often end up on a plate with orange sauce, I decided to heed a little advice.  At her urging, I took stock of my diet for over a couple of days and found that I was getting less than half of the protein in a day that I probably need, not to mention low levels of several vitamins and sodium.    That came as a big surprise since I make an effort to include protein at every meal, but I realized that is was usually about 7-8 grams.  And who really thinks of vitamins or sodium when making food choices.

I realized that what she has been saying for a long time is true.  An entirely plant based diet is a great diet, but not for me, not right now.  I have not been successful in getting what I need and my performance is paying the price.  I feel rotten most of the time and little things like what gear I can push on the bike have, over time, dropped off.

I have introduced free-range eggs to my diet, but without dairy, it will be difficult to get everything I need without a least a little guilt.  I also began supplementing a few things in low doses.  So far the difference in just 48 hours has been pretty profound.  I am still falling short of my protein needs by 30-40% but at least I feel a little better.  I have had two workouts now and haven't seen any walls.

I realize that perfection is impossible.  This learning curve is all a part of the experience of training.  I am finding out that training your body is also training your mind.  I worry (because that is what a duck does best) that DW will get fed up with my cluelessness, that there is no hope for me as an athlete, that I am too deluded to realize how stupid I look.  Then I remind myself that all of those things are about pleasing other people and that triathlon is the thing I do to please myself.

The news, trade publications and websites, etc are peppered with stories of people who have overcome huge adversity to accomplish great things.  The reality is that their journeys, like my own, were full of wrong turns, mistakes, pitfalls and learning experiences.  They succeeded because they accepted imperfection as a compass for learning and every time the needle moved, they responded and most likely, still do.

In the words of  Ted Kennedy "Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good."


  1. Great post! I struggle with nutrition daily and it's hard enough with no allergy or intolerance issues. I'm glad that you are getting things figured out!

  2. Thanks! I think nutrition is tough for almost everyone. DW coaches a top pro and she had to skip a race last year due to screwing up her nutrition at a critical time. I guess I am glad that my mistakes don't have quite that much impact!