Sunday, September 30, 2012

Vitamin Cottage Paleo?

Is Vitamin Cottage Paleo?  Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage is a regional chain that just had it's NYSE IPO in July and has plans to go national within the next couple of years.  More about their stores in a minute, but first I want to posit that they are secretly paleo.  They have a store 40 miles down the valley from here, and occasionally have their 'Health Hotline' insert in the Aspen Times newspaper.  It's a 20 page or so flyer that has their deals for the month in addition to several health articles, usually including a couple on vitamins and a couple on 'health' issues.  In this month's edition there are two articles titled Gut Health and Heal Your Gut.  These are flat out paleo articles people.  No joke.  I'm not talking about, oh, this part is paleo but not this part.  This is full on, grains and seed oils are bad, and just because you can't feel them doing harm doesn't mean they aren't damaging you.  Following the articles they give recipes for, get this, Bone Broth, Unpasteurized Sauerkraut, and Clarified Butter (Ghee).  Here's just a couple of sample quotes:
"The typical American breakfast tends to focus on sugar-laden, highly processed cereals and pastries that supply next to nothing in the way of nutrients. Even those breakfast cereals that claim to be high-fiber and high-protein are generally highly processed and heavy on sugar."
"We are constantly told to eat more whole grains for health, but in reality, grain-based foods (even whole grains) can be a major culprit in damaging the intestinal lining.  The gluten containing grains (wheat, spelt, rye, barley, kamut, and triticale) appear to be especially problematic, with wheat in the lead because it is so omnipresent in the American diet."
Now get up off the floor and let me explain to you why this is a big deal.  You see, this is a real live, brick and mortar business that is out to make a profit.  If they don't sell stuff, they don't survive.  They aren't some blog, book, or website that is waxing paleo, primal, or ancestral health and trying to inform and set a good example for others.  No, this is a ruthless company.  I know because they're a local Colorado based chain, and are one of our competitors.  I call these guys the 'little Wal-Mart' of the natural grocery world.  They are out looking for, no, demanding, deals and discounts and then passing them on to their customers.  They are known for their low prices.  They keep overhead down by not offering prepared foods, among other things.  They are more like a Trader Joe's than a Whole Foods, except they also have lots of vitamins and supplements.  And they already have over 60 stores in the Southwest and will be going national soon.  These guys have a plan, so watch out for them.

Now, I'm not implying that their stores are paleo or primal.  Nope, they sell pretty much all of your natural grocery lines, and they usually have a small produce and dairy section in addition to selling frozen grass fed meats.  What pops into my mind when trying to frame this company is that they're a natural grocer with a paleo philosophy, whereas Whole Foods is a natural grocer with a vegetarian philosophy.  They're both ultimately out to make a profit and will likely continue to sell products that run 'against' their philosophies, but it's a stark contrast to say the least.

Okay, so here's what I like about this.  Not anywhere in their literature, store, or website will you see Vitamin Cottage connecting themselves with Paleo or Primal.  It's obvious if you read between the lines, but your average Joe won't make the connection with our rapidly becoming infamous labels.  I think this is a good thing.  There certainly needs to be those of us out there promoting and informing others about our lifestyle, but there also needs to be this unattached, market driven front as well.  In a way, this is like someone trying to sneak some liver into their kids meals. 

Not all Aspen leaves turn golden
All of this good news aside, I don't want to make this sound like some love fest for Vitamin Cottage.  I'm on the inside of the natural grocery business and I can tell you that I hear things about various companies and they're no different.  They are first and foremost a business out to make a profit.  Absolutely nothing wrong with this of course, it's just my guess that one of the members of the Isley family (who owns Vitamin Cottage) is living Paleo/Primal.  The family has too much control of their business to be having some rogue nutritionist writing a couple of 'wacky' articles for them.  No, I'd bet my bottom dollar this is very much on purpose.  Cool.  Good for them, and ultimately good for all of us too.

Just your typical commute home from work!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Primal Eats

This would be a goat spine

Well kids, I certainly had the most primal meal of my life tonight.  Not the meat itself, but the 'cut' I guess you'd say.  In addition to being extremely nutritious and very delicious, I'm learning all about the anatomy of the goat I purchased in the spring.  The way this animal was processed was very different from the quarter buffalo and cow that I've previously had.  Those two were pretty much cut up and packaged much like you would see similar stuff for sale in a market or butchers shop.  The goat, however, was essentially just cut up and wrapped.  I guess that's a nice way of saying that there's bones, and cartilage, and ligaments, and skin, and fat everywhere.  And I've been diggin it! (This probably does explain why it was so much cheaper too).

Lots of bones and bits
So yesterday I thawed out a big hunkin chunk of meat labeled 'goat roast', and this morning at seven thirty I put salt and pepper on it, placed it in a cheap aluminum pan, covered it with aluminum, and set the oven at 225 F.  Ten and a half hours later I pulled that baby out and, voila, meat heaven.  Now, as you know, I'm not the food blogging type so I didn't get any before pics, or even any when it came out perfectly, pull of the bone(s), succulent.  I didn't get the idea to even write about it until I became fascinated while pulling all of the meat off.  One thing I've learned from having some pretty big hunks of this goat to deal with is to cook the whole thing low and slow, and take all of the meat off while its still nice and hot.  With the buffalo and cow, the cuts were so small that I would be thawing out meat for one, maybe two meals at a time.  I learned the hard way with the goat that I couldn't thaw big cuts of meat out and try to cut them up before I cooked them each day.  That is to say, it is much, much harder to get the meat off the bones this way.  Lesson learned.

Lots of meat from the 'roast'
Not much to say in the taste department.  It is delicious.  End of story.  But, as you can see from the pics, there is so much more than just meat there.  Tons of fat of course.  I keep a lot of the fat, but I found out the inconvenient way that I can overdue it on the goat fat (at one meal at least).  I had two chops the other night and ate all of the fat with them.  Oh boy, I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't go back to sleep cause my gut was keeping my brain awake.  Not a 'sit like a rock' in my gut kind of feeling, just a - hey, buddy, you ate WAY too much fat there and you ain't digesting it all.  Not to worry, I eventually nodded off and slept in an extra hour to compensate.  Okay, where was I, oh right, much more than meat.  That reminds me, I guess I didn't really know that 'chops' were the meat right next to the spine until I had the 'full' chops from this goat.  In other words, the whole spinal disc from the goat was intact.  I can't wait to make broth from that stuff (and all of the goat bones really).  There was some white stuff right in the center of the spinal disc that I at too, kinda reminded me of bone marrow, only not as oily.  No idea what that stuff was, but hey, when you get the whole animal, might as well try it all.  Um, I got sidetracked again.  Right, anyway, the thing is that it's been way cool getting to eat the whole animal like this.  Even though I didn't hunt the animal down and all, it kind of makes me think more about what I'm actually eating, or make that, who I'm actually eating.  I have a friend or two who won't eat any of the goat with me because, well because it was a goat, but the way I look at it, it's the cycle of life.  And tearing apart the ribs that are still attached to the spine just makes the whole experience all the more grounding  - if that makes any sense.
Don't waste this stuff!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ute Trail

My double secret plan of taking some Thursdays off this Fall to get out and enjoy the mountains is working great.  Last week I walked up Sunnyside and then rode up to the Maroon Bells, and today I went up the Ute Trail.  It's been quite awhile since I've been up the Ute.  The trail, of course, is named after the Ute Indians who populated this area back 140 years ago.  That is, until the white man kicked them out and took this place for his own.  Someone at least had the heart to name a trail after the first inhabitants, and it's a very nice trail too!  Geeez.  (the Ute's did leave a curse for all future people living here though - read the Ute Curse at the bottom)

Anyway, the trail pretty much goes straight up (right Mom?) and heads to an outcroping of rocks that has an amazing view of Aspen.  I'll put the pics below.  At the beginning of the trail there is the usual Forest Service literature, but someone has also put up this piece of info (see pic) since the last time I've been.

It's titled:
Estimation of Energy Expenditure for the Ute Trail.

Oh boy.  Someone actually went through all of the trouble figuring this nonsense out.  Just plug in your time and your weight, and you can  figure out how many kcals you expend on the trail.

My guess is that this was put up by someone at the Aspen Club and Spa which is literally a stones throw away from the trail head.  That's just a guess though.

                                                     Short story short ... I fixed it once I got down:


There ... better.   I crack myself up.  When I was at the top looking about, a squirrel came up to me, got up onto my shoe, and stared me in the eyes.  I think that's a good omen.  Here's my little town:

One version of the Ute Curse goes something like this:  “though the white man may take this land, if he ever leaves this place he will only find sorrow"  Great, I'm stuck here!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Risk ?

I'm going to start this post with a disclaimer:  What follows is not advice, it's merely me tinkering with my health and fitness and writing about it.

Okay, now that the formalities are done, here's what happened ... I sprinted on Saturday morning.  Just like I said I was NOT going to do.  And to spoil it, everything went fine.

So, why would I do such a thing when my hamstring was sore and there was absolutely no need for me to even try?  Because I know something you don't know ... I'm not left handed*   Here's the deal, I've learned from prior experience that if I tweak or injure something I can often still perform exercises, even at full throttle, IF THE TWEAK DIDN'T OCCUR WHILE ACTUALLY DOING THAT EXERCISE.

KT Tape on my hamstring.  Love this stuff.
Case in point here is my sprinting yesterday.  I tweaked my hammy walking uphill on Thursday, but was able to go full blast sprinting on Saturday morning even though it was still sore rolling around on the Grid roller.  Most importantly though, is that it DID NOT hurt while sprinting.  That's the key.  Let me repeat that.  It DID NOT hurt while sprinting.  In my two warm up sprints I was feeling it out and ready to shut down in an instant and call off the sprints if it felt at all weird, BUT, I knew from past experience that there was a good chance that it would be fine.  Of course, there was also a chance that it wouldn't, but I would never know if I didn't try.  Five years ago I wouldn't have even considered sprinting with my hammy feeling tender like that,  I would've just thought it was a given that it would hurt.  However, time and again, I've found that more often than not, I can still perform my workouts pain free.

Right, I hear you ... but why even risk it?  Why not just do something else or take the extra rest.  Am I some kind of masochist?  Actually no, I'm a routinist.  I really, really enjoy my routines, that is to say, the way I have my days set up.  How I exercise, what and when I eat, etc, etc.  I'm hip to change once in awhile, but a chaotic life I could not lead.  One day years ago when I had a sore pectoral muscle from something or another I decided to try push ups anyway, and as you can guess, it went fine.  Better than fine, it didn't hurt at all.  So from then on, I check my 'oh for sure I can't do that' mentality at the door and usually try the sucker out.  If it does end up hurting then forget it, it's a no go, but surprisingly, it usually doesn't.

Why is it fine most of the time?  I don't know for sure.  I'll bet each tweak has it's limitations depending on how it came about and all, but that's not my point here.  Actually, I don't really have a good point, I'm just telling you what I've found out from some body hacking.  It works for me, but your mileage may vary.  Probably many people would look at a tweak as a chance to try something new or take some extra rest.  More power to them.  

Was what I did risky?  In my mind it wasn't.  Like I've said, if it hurt, game over.  Risk is relative though, as it certainly would've been less risky to sit on the couch and stare at the T.V. I just had disconnected.

Again, I'm not telling anyone to blast through their workouts when they have an injury.  Listen to your body. 

Speaking of hurting bodies, Aspen Ruggerfest was this weekend.  The Gentlemen of Aspen are in the red and black.

* a line from the movie The Princess Bride.  A truly classic flic.

PS  In reading this over, one could get the impression I get a lot of tweaks.  Truth is, I did get a few a couple of years ago when lifting heavy weights.  Now it's low and slow, and by golly, the tweaks are rare.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Odds and Ends III

Gave up the boob tube:   I ditched watching television this week.  I mean really ditched it - I returned the cable box.  I need a little break.  The news has become nothing but political bickering and I've seen my fill of foodie shows over the past few years as well.  It's cycling that I mostly watch, and that won't start up again until next spring.  I've probably gone about half of my adult life without a tele, but I've had one now for the past 7 years or so.  With the advent of the DVR and many more informational shows and channels these days, I don't dislike television as much as I once did.  That is to say, television can be used in a much more productive manner than has been possible before (no commercials, recording shows), although, I suppose, one could also just watch junk on it all day as well.  Same goes for the internet ... it is what you make of it.  I'll reevaluate early next year.

Hammy pull:  I have a slight hamstring strain from an uphill hike yesterday (I'm pretty sure that's what it's from).  I wore my vibrams and had to shorten my stride a little because of the rocky terrain (I do live in the middle of the ROCKY Mountains) and I think that's what tweaked it.  Although, I'm not positive because I didn't feel it until this morning.  Anyway, blah blah blah, my point is that I might not sprint tomorrow, and thinking about it, this will be the first time in 2 years that I might not sprint because of a tweak.  Yes, that's bragging.  No, I could give a toot about a 'streak' or anything like that.  It just made me realize how tweak/injury free I've been the past few years, and how this has mostly to do with my low risk approach to exercise.  As I've mentioned before on this blog, I would get tweaks often enough when I wore a backpack full of weights while doing explosive dips, pullups, or clapping pushups.  Luckily nothing serious, but the potential for injury was much, much higher.  If I can build the same strength in a much safer and efficient manner, why the heck wouldn't I?  Oh, right - I do.

Not sick:  I haven't been sick in over a year.  I don't consciously track things like this, but I recall having a sinus infection last year when I rode up Independence Pass to watch the Pro Cycling Challenge, and since that time, I've started gargling and swishing with salt water every morning and usually a couple of times after I get home.  I can't pin my non sickness solely on this habit of course, but I have a big hunch it has something to do with it.  If people are sick around me at work, I especially take care to gargle a couple of times throughout the day.  Call me lazy for not really caring enough to dig in and see if there's any research on this practice, I'm just running with it because it feels right.  Like it's sanitizing my throat, not to mention my teeth and gums - my toofies are sparkling white!

New shoes:  I just purchased a pair of Altra 'The Instinct' running shoes this week.  But I didn't get them for running.  I got them for work.  They're a new company making shoes with very wide toe boxes, no arch support and zero drop.  Yes, yes and yes.  They feel promising and I'll do a review on them here shortly.

Autumn is here and we're right smack dab in the middle of the changing colors.  This week and the next will be the best viewing and then it'll be on the down slope.  These things happen fast up at altitude. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Static Contraction Workout

I did my fist workout with my new toy today (see previous post).  I did a triceps extension, a upright barbell row and a front lateral raise all with the ez curl bar attached to the chain (and a static hold pull up without the chain).

To sum it up in a word - surprised.  I've been doing static hold/contractions with weighs recently and figured this would be similar.  Not so much.  It felt very different.  I had to chew on why this was for a bit until I figured it out.  Let me explain what I came up with by taking the same movement, let's say the triceps extension, and breaking it down for each of the methods.

First is the weighted triceps extension.  In this exercise I put 40 lbs on the bar, raise it into the maximum moment arm position (elbow at 90 degrees) and hold it there until my muscles fail and the bar lowers.  No matter how long it takes to get to failure, I'm always exerting 40 lbs of upward force on the bar in order to keep it still (I aim for a weight which causes failure in roughly 90 seconds).  

Weighted triceps extension
At the start of this exercise, I'm capable of exerting more than 40 lbs of force, but choose not to ... otherwise the bar would go up.  In this way, I bide my time knowing my muscles will find it increasingly difficult to hold the bar in place.  The end result, of course, is failure and the bar comes down.  Exactly what I'm aiming for.

Second is the chained triceps extension.  In this exercise I find the right chain length to put the bar in exactly the same position as the weighted extension and then pull upwards on it until my muscles fail and I can no longer exert upward force.  Let's assume that I also want to do this in roughly the same amount of time (90 seconds).  Unlike in the weighted extension where I have to exert exactly 40 lbs of force at all times in order to keep the bar from moving, in this situation I can vary how much force I exert while still pulling upwards.  The graph below shows you roughly how I felt the force distribution of my triceps extension played out today.  Now, mind you, other than the zero at the failure point, I'm just guessing as to the actual upward forces I exerted (and the time really).  What's important, though, is the very different curve that resulted.  After a slow build up of about 25 to 30 seconds, I tried with all of my might to rip that eye bolt out of the board, and because the force was so high at this point, I had much more room (in force lbs) to come down from.

Chained triceps extension
The difference you can see between the two graphs explains why it felt so different.  Although the end goal of failure was reached in both cases, I was used to applying a very consistent force throughout the entire static hold.  However, having a buildup followed by a sharp rise and a relatively rapid decline felt, well, different.

Was it better or worse?  I don't know.  I guess I hadn't really though all of this through before hand and it caught me by surprise.  In my next effort, I believe I'll try to more evenly distribute my force throughout the rep, but I don't think I'm going to necessarily try to emulate the constant force applied in the weighted exercises.  Perhaps I'll just try not to pull (or push) so hard right after the build up phase so I don't have so 'far to fall' on the other side of the curve.  It'll be fun to play around with this.

Another thought regarding this topic is that it's probably easier to teach somebody static holds to failure with weights rather than with immovable objects.  With the weights there can be no 'cheating'.  That is, in order to keep the bar at the same position, we KNOW what the force applied has to be.  In the chained case, you could actually bounce up and down with your applied force and still have the chain remain taught.  I could easily see a newbie tackling this backwards and try to chase a time under load rather than muscle failure.  It's probably more intuitive to hold a weight in place with all you've got until it drops.

And here's the super bonus thought for today.  If Work is defined as Force times Distance, then technically speaking, static hold/contraction exercises produce no Work since the Distance traveled by the weight is zero.  Thusly, we can correctly call this type of training the No Work Workout

Friday, September 7, 2012

D.I.Y. Static Contraction Device

Drew Baye had a post the other day about a homemade piece of equipment for static contraction hip belt squats that uses your own body weight against itself (post, pics and instructions are here).  I immediately recognized the potential for what he had built to be used for static contraction exercises for a bunch of other body parts/movements as well.  And like a little kid, I got all excited.  I've been using weights and a barbell for static contractions to good effect, but I really, really want something immovable I can push or pull against. 

Too bulky
So yesterday I headed to the hardware store and rounded up the pieces necessary to build this simple device. However, when I got home and merely stacked the wood in the proper position, I realized that it was going to be far too large and heavy for my liking.  If you have garage space or even an exercise room, I think it would be fine to make the thing via Drew's instructions, but having just a studio apartment, my wheels began spinning as to how to make a smaller and lighter version without compromising safety.  I believe I've come up with a hack that fits the bill nicely.

Instead of using three pieces of wood, as you can see in the pics, I'm only using one (I now have extra wood if anybody close by wants some).  The trick here is that I 'submerged' the nut and washer on the bottom side of the board so that it will be flush with the ground.  To do this I simply used a boring drill bit to make the necessary space.  As the board is a 2 by 12, I feel confident that there is plenty of 'depth' left for the eye bolt to screw into.  But just in case, I made sure to use a 1 1/2" diameter washer on both sides to spread out the forces over a greater surface area (look Mom I'm using my engineering degree!).  Theoretically, the larger the washer, the harder it will be to pull that eye bolt out, but I don't think they make washers much bigger for 1/4" diameter bolts and screws.  Anyway, if I do manage to rip that thing out, I'm signing up for the Worlds Strongest Man competition right away.
Top side with O ring and chain

Underside is flush (click to enlarge)

I plan on getting a hip/dip belt to use this thing like Drew shows in his post, and also for push ups (can you see how?) and dips, but for right now I just purchased about 7' of sturdy chain links.  With these, not only can I do biceps and triceps static holds, I can vary the angles just by selecting different chain lengths (via the O ring attached to the eye bolt).  With the long chain length I suppose I could also attach it to two dumbbells using a second carabiner.  The chain doesn't slide around the ez curl bar with the carabiner attached because there is a slight 'dip' in the center of the bar.  To make it even safer I could get an extra pair of stoppers and put them almost next to each other in the middle of the bar and then attach the carabiner in between them (see below).  I'm sure there are different ways to hook the chain up to your bar or device of choice, but safety must be a concern here as you don't want stuff slipping around under load.

Static contraction biceps curl

Static triceps extension

Attached to the ez curl bar

So there you have it.  A simple, and yet, very effective tool to play with.  I love little things like this.  I'll let you know soon how I'm getting along with my new toy.

By the way, from this pic here you can see that two years ago I was trying to do static contraction push ups at the playground using the structures.  This didn't work out so well as the bar 'dug' into my back too much.  At least the idea was there.