"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Monday, May 27, 2013

It's Soy Complicated: The Two Faces of Soy

Much loved and much maligned. Soy has been touted as an amazing health food promoting the longevity of Asians and as a danger that will cause men to grow breasts.


The area is so complicated that I've reviewed it three times before in my life, concluding once to go on, once to go off, then again to go back on. Lately, I've been hearing the "vibe" again that it's a dangerous food I should avoid ... as a human, a female, and an athlete.

It was time to review the data again. I pulled my sleeves up, dug my arms in up to my elbows, and read several blogs and websites, primarily for reference to peer reviewed research, which is what I focused my analysis on. Yesterday I read about 20 studies, published from sources as wide ranging as a Master thesis in pharmacy on anti-nutrients in peas, to the Journal of Nutrition's "Inhibition of Human and Rat Pancreatic Proteinases by Crude and Purified Soybean Proteinase Inhibitors," to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition's "Soy Protein, Phytate, and Iron Absorption in Humans," to the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology's "Trypsin Inhibitor Activity in Commercial Soybean Products in Japan."

Here's what I found:

Soy is a bean. A legume, precisely. Other legumes include other beans of course (kidney, lima, etc), peas, lentils, alfalfa, clover, carob, and peanuts. Coffee technically isn't a bean, it's a seed from a fruit - so coffee drinkers don't have to panic about anything here! :)

Trypsin (the knife), breaking up big protein molecules!
Soybeans and other legumes contain something called trypsin inhibitors. So, they inhibit trypsin...and trypsin is?? It's a enzyme in your body. And what's an enzyme? Enzymes are basically proteins that act as a catalyst for some chemical reaction in your body. In this case, we're talking about an enzyme that is secreted by the pancreas to help your body digest food. Trypsin breaks down protein when it reaches the small intestine into smaller protein bits (like a "meat cleaver" of sorts) so that the protein is small enough to get absorbed through the intestine and thus to nourish our body/muscles.

They figure these plants contain trypsin inhibitors (TI's) in order to help protect them from insects and the like - to help their survival. A big concern, therefore, with eating soybeans (including soy milk and tofu), is that if the TIs in the soybeans reach your small intestine, they will shut down your body's production of trypsin and the protein "chunks" you've eaten will leave your body partly undigested because they're too big to be absorbed by your body. You won't get all the protein out of the soy you're eating. Or, let's say you are eating a stir fry with two protein sources - chicken and tofu...the TI in the tofu would shut down trypsin in the small intestine and neither chicken nor tofu protein would be digested completely. Thus, as a human and particularly as an athlete who needs protein in recovery, I would be compromised in my protein intake. I might think I'm getting 15 grams, but what is digested/absorbed will be less (how much less, I cannot find from studies, as almost all are based on the growth of farm animals eating peas and such - or rats who were fed only soy, which is unrealistic, as humans don't only eat soy!).

This seems to be a valid concern. Looking at the information out there, this is real science and not a made up scare tactic by the beef or dairy industry. However, agriculturalists have been aware for decades of this issue with legumes and they know many methods for destroying TIs in order to ensure animals raised for meat maximise growth. Despite the fact that it's been a known "concern" for decades amongst the farming/agricultural industries, why hasn't it been a worldwide issue for human health? Like telling us that death cap mushrooms and belladonna (nightshade) berries are deadly. There must be a reason it's not on the list of dangerous/deadly "foods!"

Getting overwhelmed? Chill out and look at the cute bunny.
First of all, it is possible to destroy the TIs in legumes. You essentially just need to process the legume somehow. Because these enzyme inhibitors are proteins themselves, they are easily denatured by heat. Germination (soaking/sprouting), fermentation (miso, natto, soy sauce are all fermented soy products), and cooking destroy the majority of TIs. Granted, soybeans contain some of the highest levels of TIs of any legume, so it takes more to destroy more...I saw studies mentioning cooking for 10 minutes reduced TIs to 11% and 20 minutes reduced TIs to 5-10%. A study of commercial soy products in Japan showed that various types of tofu had 2.5 - 7.9% TIs left, soymilk had 13% of TIs left, and natto, soy sauce, and miso all had under 1% of TIs in them.

So, for those who eat fermented forms of soy, looks like we're in the clear for potential negative impact of TIs. Yet, are TIs all bad? Did you know that human breast milk has TIs in it? I didn't. But it's obviously there for good reason.

Now, what about those of us who drink soy milk - a non-fermented soybean product? Well, soy milk that comes in those tetra packs is UHT - ultra high temperature treated. That's over 135 degrees C for 1-2 seconds. Heat inactivates TIs, but it seems the very short heating time for this process isn't enough to inactivate all the TIs (i.e., the study that showed 13% remaining).

Does that mean we need to give up soy milk? Is 13% significant? Well, for me, moderation prevails. First, I need to look at any potential benefits I get from soy. Soybeans are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, iron, and protein for non-fish and/or non-meat eaters. They contain fibre. Consumption of soy has been linked to decreased risk of coronary heart disease, decreased LDL and total cholesterol, decreased risk of osteoporosis and diabetes, and decreased risks of many types of cancer. And decreased symptoms of menopause in women.

Ahhhh, now that takes us to Big Issue #2 with Soy. The claim: It will make men infertile and grow breasts! Is it true? Well, although the meta-analysis (review of all relevant literature) linked in the last sentence says no, I found a wee bit of evidence for the "no soy" camp - a case study of a man who was consuming 3 quarts of soy milk per day. That's just about 3 litres. He developed a swollen breast area, yup, and erectile dysfunction. But as soon as he stopped, his man boobs disappeared and he had no apparent lasting effects. Lesson? Don't eat 12 servings per day for a year.
Doubtfully the real gynecomastia medical condition - just adipose tissue (fat!)

Why the claim that men shouldn't eat soy and this stuff about man boobs? Well, that's because soybeans also contain "phyto-oestrogens." Phyto (plant) oestrogens can apparently mimic human oestrogen under "certain circumstances" (I didn't get into this, I had enough to review) but they are "1000 times less potent" than the oestrogen hormone in the body. And ... news flash for those men who didn't know...all men have oestrogen in their bodies...on purpose. It's normal and functional. For those men who won't eat soy because they are afraid of some loss of manhood, you might have to re-think much of your diet. Phyto-oestrogens, because they're in plants, are therefore also found in oats, wheat, corn, barley (beer!), rye, lentils, flax, sunflower, sesame, olives/oil, almonds, and chick peas. Hmmmm. The diet could get rather restrictive.

Big Issue #3 with soy - it contains phytates. Crap. Another big word. Isn't it easier just to read someone's link on Facebook about soy and accept their post (either for or against) as truth? Especially if it's in bright colours with a big headline? Yes, it is. But easy and wise aren't always the same. It's easier to lay on the sofa rather than go for a run, too, but we don't pick that, either. Okay, so you've decided to stay with me. Let's find out what a phytate is.
Relax. Kittens and puppies. Ahhh, now back to the research!

Phytate is the major storage form of phosphorous for plants. Cool. Easy. Humans don't get phosphorous out of these plants, though, because we aren't ruminants (we don't have the extra stomach compartment to vomit and re-chew our "cud" like a cow can). Thus, that plant phosphorous goes right through us. That's okay. The problem is actually that phytates (the salt form of phytic acid), binds to minerals (zinc and iron, and less to the macro minerals calcium and magnesium) as it passes through our bodies and keeps it from being absorbed. Damn. That's not good at all. It's stealing my minerals! This is, as I understand it, why the paleo proponents don't want you eating grains, nuts, and seeds. Yet, phytates aren't classified as anti-nutrients. Why not? Because they are potent anti-oxidants. At lower levels, phytic acid reduces blood glucose and/or plasma cholesterol and triglycerides. Phytic acid, just like protease inhibitors (another name for the TI above), and phyto-oestrogens, reduce cancer risks, including colorectal cancer and breast cancer and the formation of kidney stones. This is important. UNDIGESTED phytate in the colon (the very thing some say should be bad), appears to exert a protective factor against colon, endometrial, ovarian, and other cancers - the phytate is taken up by any malignant cells in the body, which changes them. Ahhh, a balance - yin and yang. Gee, so maybe humans do need some phytates!


And, plants also have phytase in them, the enzyme that neutralises the phytates. You can activate the enzyme by sprouting, soaking, or fermenting the nut/grain/seed. (The reason you see some people keen on "sprouted" breads). And it's also well known that you can mitigate the "binding" effects on minerals such as iron by eating ascorbic acid (vitamin C) with the meal...that is, throw something like red capsicums in with your stir fry/lentil stew. But it sounds like we don't want to lose all the phytates, anyway, as they are essential anti-oxidants with what appear to be remarkable cancer fighting properties. And, personally, as a mostly vegetarian with a pretty high intake of plants (lentils, quinoa, beans, etc), all my bloodwork and my recent calcium absorption testing have all shown normal values. The only issue I've ever had is with iron and that remains stable with supplements. And the research I reviewed all reported the same thing - the only time malnutrition is seen in humans is in societies with very high plant intake and very low nutrient intake...like impoverished people living in refugee camps. This is not a problem seen in everyday society.

The final word? Again, moderation. I'm sure if you ate 12 servings of chia a day or 12 steaks a day, bad things would happen to your guts and overall nutrition as well. Soybeans, along with other plants/legumes, appear to have their role in our overall health. The only people who should consider avoiding soybeans? Those with an allergy, obviously, and perhaps those with hypothyroidism/iodine deficiencies. And what is a serve of soy? 1 cup of milk or ~115g of tofu. Go on, have some. And sprinkle some cinnamon into that soy latte or turmeric on the tofu ;)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mind Under Matter: World Championships 2013

Four days before World 24 Hour Championships - I'm staring at my roommate, my partner, and my crew. One and the same. Finally, I saw the thing we've been trying to ignore. "I can't believe you're allowing yourself to get a cold at Worlds!" He replies, "I can't believe I'm allowing myself to get a cold at Worlds!"

I am trapped in the confined spaces of car and bedroom with a walking virus. I buy raspberries, berry smoothies, turmeric, and cinnamon. All my food is based around antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and anti-virals. We arrive in Steenbergen and he wants to hold hands on our romantic European vacation. Not likely!
The team, minus Rick, with our young Dutch flag bearer

Race morning comes and I feel relaxed and ready to run, prepared for the inclement weather. The model shows showers, wind, and 15 degrees, deteriorating to what might feel like 3 degrees if a storm comes through the night.

I start with a plan for only 400ml/hr of water with my Perpetuem fuel. It's cold and I'm running "slowly" (5.25-5.30 min/k pace). I'll take extra sips of water if needed. Despite the low volume of fluid, I start peeing every 2.3k lap. Volumes. As far as I understand, my blood is trying to thicken to warm my core. I'm running in a 200 weight Icebreaker thermal with my light race tech shirt over top. My legs are fine in shorts and compression calf guards. I'm testing a new 24hr shoe - the Inov-8 f-lite 240s. I was meant to run a 6hr in them but that didn't happen, so the most they've done at once is 32k. Despite the shoes being a full size too big (I'll swell into them), they are so "minimal" feeling that they contour well to my foot like a ballet slipper over top. My feet aren't sliding around. I'm happy and smiling. 3 hours in my right addy tightens for a while, but I focus on form and it abates.

4 1/2 hours in and low level nausea begins. I have flashbacks to Commonwealths 2011, but know my iron levels are fine and my fuel is fresh. It takes me a few hours to figure it out. Slight overfueling, due to the laps being 12.5 minutes (I usually feed every 15 minutes). I am also slightly dehydrated, which is ironic, considering the amount I'm still peeing. My body must be fighting a war between warmth (thicken the blood) and hydration.
Ewan passing by, two Aussies and their Perp bottles!

I try a few sips of Gingerale at 7 hours. Simple sugars. Stupid idea. Turns out it might also have gluten in it. I get cramps in my gut for the next hour.

The nauseous feeling is further helped along by the muscle spasms that start in my right mid back. Whenever I get a bad backache, it always makes me feel like puking; I think it spasms around the ribcage. I'm running and trying to self-massage my right mid back. Awkward, but feels fantastic to dig into the knot. I don't think it's a coincidence that it's the right side, when the laps are all clockwise - unlike a track race, we don't get to change directions every 4 hours.

Finally, around 9.5 hours, I come out of the "bad patch." It gets dark between 9.30 - 10 PM. Race officials start going around the back 1.5km with tea candles in glass jars, placing them every 10 metres or so. This is what they are calling a "well lit" course. The candles are mostly put on the outside lane, too, which makes them even less helpful. They're pretty, but. Mother nature confirms this by dumping rain on us and the jars of candles, which all go out - except for about 15 candles, which an official smartly placed sideways in the jars (that is, jars laying on their sides), with the opening away from the wind.

Darkness has brought one great joy, though. The "loudspeaker assault system," a non-stop barrage of announcements over the loudspeakers all around the course, has been turned off for residents to sleep. The brass bands playing traditional music have packed up and gone home. All around the course, the athletes seem to be revelling in the silence. We ask each other when it will start again in the morning.
Just two blokes here, but they've got LOUD speakers & enthusiasm!

The noise completely messed with my mojo all day. I am highly sensitive to sound and very easily overstimulated. Typically before a race I appear "aloof" as I avoid pasta parties and other runners generally who are hyped up before the event.

Despite all the personal challenges, I pass Helen Stanger's AUS 12hr W40 road record (112.225k) around 11 hours. I am just below target pace, but don't yet realise it. Rolf is too busy trying to crew 2 people to monitor my splits closely. After another lap, I do some maths and realise I have fallen off pace (not surprising, given all the pee stops!). My next goals are the Canadian 12hr W40 record (120.800k) and the AUS open 12hr road record (123.070k). The long 2.3k laps make record-breaking an extra challenge, as there's no mat at the halfway point. So my 12 hour distance for record purposes will be recorded as the point I cross the one and only mat before 12 hours has lapsed. My maths tell me that I'll have to run really hard to get to 54 laps (~125k) to surpass the AUS open record. Such a push will almost certainly destroy my ability to run well for another 12 hours. I pass the CAN 12hr W40 mark and decide I have to let go of the AUS open record, although I unofficially pass the distance within 12 hours, between laps. Officially, I get recorded at 122.649k.

Achieving two records at the 12 hour mark, I announce to crew that I'm coming in for a reward break. This isn't in the plan at all. But the brutally dark, cobblestoned, and otherwise rough course, accompanied by rain and wind, has beaten me up mentally. I'm aware that I went through days of adversity on the Bibbulmun FKT, but am finding this one more difficult. I think my "mind over matter" edge is missing. The stressful lead up to the event (my burnout) is one factor. And the crowds of people, music, and noise all day - the silence and solitude of the Bib made it much easier for me to cope and mass mental energy. I'm running too much "outside" myself.
Fuel hand-off. Pocket shorts were handy!

After a 20 minute sook (sulk) break, I get back out there. My next mini-goal is the 100 mile mark, though that seems like forever. 40 more km.

We add a chunk of pear to my fuel each lap, which I love. At 2 am, I find myself getting too cold, though I added a Montane lightweight running jacket and Icebreaker gloves hours ago. My hand freezes in my soaked glove when I have to hold the Perpetuem bottle of cold fuel, so I tuck it into my sleeve and run with a crooked wrist to hold it there. I end up with a terrible pain in the front of my upper arm/shoulder above the armpit and can only think it's related to that.

I pop into the medico/massage building, have yet another pee, and try to warm my hands. I run back to the crew table and say I am too cold. Although I feel warm enough in the core, my hands are freezing, so we need to try warming my core more. I add another 200 weight Icebreaker and a 320 weight vest. The Montane jacket goes back over top, with hood. I put on my 200 weight Icebreaker bottoms, which requires shoes to come off. It's a long stop - easily another 20 minutes lost. It could have been shorter, but I'm wasting time getting back out there. I do another lap and joke how hard it is to run fast dressed as the Michelin Man. I should have just gained fat for warmth ;)

My pace has been slower than planned since the 12 hour mark, too. However, I close in on the 100 mile mark and officials record an accurate time. I've yet to get it, but it should be around 17h 25m. This surpasses Helen Stanger's AUS 100 mile W40 road record of 18.13.11.

My opinion of things around hour 21
I stop after the 100 mile mark for another unplanned "reward break" (aka sook/sulk). I change my shoes - putting on one of my former long road/track standbys - the Saucony Fastwitch. I do it just because I'm hoping "a change is as good as a vacation." One AUS runner told me once that when he changed shoes it felt like he had new legs, running on pillows. For me, however, switching into the Fastwitch is like putting blocks of wood underfoot. And they fit more poorly - less conforming - so I get top of foot pain and have to re-lace the left shoe later to take the pressure off.

I aim for 200k - the next reward mark. What would I do without these mini-goals for this race?? I am inspired by the strength of my AUS teammates and others still out on the course - my record attempts seem to give me a reason to push on through such brutal running conditions. Sure, I've been in worse, but not in a World 24hr road championship.

The crew works to keep us cheerful, fueled, and warm, to get us running laps - all the while themselves freezing in the cold and working with power outages every 20-30 minutes, as the generator at the event can't cope with the load. It hails briefly between rain showers.

The announcements and music start up again about 8 am. Instead of hearing the names Lizzie Hawker, Mami Kudo, and Yiannos Kouros nonstop, we hear more of Mami Kudo, Jon Olsen, and Wilma Dierx. Lizzie retired somewhere in the night. Mami is on world record breaking pace. Jon Olsen moves to lead male. Wilma is a local Dutch favourite, set to break a Dutch record. About 9.30 am and 192k, I get a whiff of the 200k goal approaching. I need to get within myself. I find a one word mantra, create a visualisation to go with it, and my pace picks up. I repeat the mantra and keep up the visualisation.
Part of race course - cobbles! ack!

I get an official 200k split time recorded, though haven't received it yet (~22h 20m). This surpasses Helen Stanger's W40 road record of 23.21.04, but I'm far in arrears of plan now. I toy with running the bare minimum to surpass the CAN and AUS W40 24hr records, which are 205-206k. Six km in 1.5 hours sounds heavenly. But I'm almost running mad now. I pass the AUS team manager and announce I'm going  to break another three records, as it's the only way I can accept having run such a brutal race. Although the "anger" temporarily buoys me, it's not a lasting fuel - it's like a simple sugar. Spike, then crash. So I get back to my mantra and visuals...more like a good maltodextrin blend with a nice, sustained burn.

I pass the W40 records with about 1 hour to go. The final goal - the open CAN 24hr record of 211.167k. Two and a half laps later, on the far side of the course, to no fan fare, I pass that point. I feel a wave of emotion, but stifle it, as it will not help now. I push on another 3 laps, trying to work my way through an increasingly crowded course. Spectators and residents are now walking along our "closed" course. A family with a dog that wanders out in front of a couple of us gets a few pleading words from me. "Please watch the dog - we're too tired to move!" Runners at 23.5 hours have lost their zig and their zag.

Most runners pick up their nation's flag from crew and are slowing down, enjoying a gentle last lap. The crew area is lined with crews and spectators on both sides now, narrowing the road to one tight space that barely gives room for one to pass. I yell out to ask for more space. My race isn't done yet. I am trying to redeem what I can out of my day.

Last lap with the stick!
We have been given wooden sticks with our number on them to drop at the sound of the gun. A Belgian bloke next to me refuses to take his block or a flag, so his crew run alongside him, as he tries to match my pace. It's quite disruptive, as he's running right next to me with them pleading (I assume) nonstop to him to take the things. He's working hard and won't have a bar of it. The officials finally spot the crew and tell them to get off the course. I'm impressed with their running, as they continue to follow and plead from the side, having to dodge lampposts, railings, kerbs, and bystanders.

I finish with 216.343k and a few tears are shed. Rolf runs up the street, bringing a spare jacket. It's over. We slowly walk back towards the crew zone, picking up a few more Aussies along the way, looking at the carnage of runners sitting and laying on the road, wrapped in jackets, sleeping bags, and space blankets.

So, in review? I know I didn't run my best. I took 3 x 20+ minute sook breaks. I went into the race just starting to recover from the stress of burnout. My mental prep was terrible. Whether or how much it affected my race, I cannot know, but I expect it highly likely to have had a negative effect on my will. Coupled with the noise, rough surface, and inclement weather, it made a combination that resulted in some personal disappointment. Of course, I do say personal disappointment, because Mami Kudo successfully broke the world 24hr road record in these conditions - so it was good running for some. Things I am happy with? Fuel/nutrition, shoes (the first pair), foot care (no blisters), and race plan. Things I would change? (that I have control over) Pre-race stress levels/load. And if I could find a way, I'd have a team massage therapist present.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Je Maintiendrai

In 4 hours, I head to the airport (or is that aeroport as an Aussie??)

The week has been intense. That engine has been a bugger to fix. Almost scrapped it. So, not great mental preparation, but training has gone well and I have no niggles (what's that, an ultra runner without niggles?!?). Of course, taper week should bring out at least some psychosomatic (made up) ones! :)

On Saturday at noon Dutch time (6 pm Saturday in WA and 4 AM Saturday in Alberta, mum), I will begin running the 2.314km loop through Steenbergen. As I run, I am representing Australia. I will wear the coat of arms on my chest.

Aussie Coat of Arms
Yesterday, taking my poor neglected motorcycle for a head-calming spin in the autumn air, I contemplated...what does it mean to represent Australia? Athletes do this at international events, but what does it really mean? What does it mean to me, if anything?

Am I standing guard somehow for my country? Going into a modern day "battle" of sorts? Defending our flag against William of Orange and his ultra running descendants?

If I am out there to bring honour and to somehow defend my nation, without gun or sword, then what am I doing? What good do I do in running around in circles for 24 hours? Surely 22,620,400 Australians are going to go about their day having no idea that the roo and emu are going up against the three lions! Hardly seems fair! (But, Go Herbivores!)


Dutch coat of arms
Well, I can't speak to anyone else's reasons for being there and to their feelings of representing. I have decided that I am representing health and wellness, fitness, and longevity. I am running to fight obesity, apathy, binge drinking, and overwork. If I am battling in order to make my country a better place, then those are the things I will vanquish.

I have the battle dress at the ready. I will paint my nails orange and channel a little King Billy (William of Orange, that is). A Dutch man who, no matter what else he did or how, became king of England in the 1600s (Do the British teach that part of history? ha ha). I have the Inov-8s with the Aussie green on them, but the Fastwitch orange are at the ready!
My coat of arms (knife is for cutting pears, of course!)

I even have my own monogram! ;) 

(Okay, Beatrix might have something else to say about that, but I'm sure she's generous enough to share!)

By the way, Je Maintiendrai is the Dutch motto and means "I will maintain."