Fit to Feast
By Genevieve Morgan
The days are lengthening, sap is rising in the maple trees, and many of us are trading in winter nap time for lap time at the pool or track in preparation for the beach or the multitude of amateur sporting events and races that take place across our state in the warmer months. Whether you have a particular goal or not, regular exercise is the body’s own self-producing, bioactive medicine. Exercising moderately for an hour a day reduces your chances of premature death by 40 percent. If you follow a more rigorous but smart training regimen and engage in activity vigorous enough to break a sweat at least four times a week, the perks skyrocket.
I emphasize the word “smart” because the wise athlete—whether she’s a professional or a weekend warrior—knows that the nuances of a training regime are the difference between being fit for just one race and being fit for life. Attacking an arduous workout routine without properly feeding, hydrating, and resting yourself is a recipe for short-term injury and long-term degradation of your core health reserves, especially if you are over 35. I learned this lesson from personal experience. In the past, I was careless with my energy account, withdrawing from my reserves and not depositing until I went broke. As your wellness partner, I want to help you avoid making the same mistake. Let’s begin with the foundation of good health: food.
At the molecular level, we get our life energy from food, water, and breath. In fact, eating and drinking are like an advanced form of microscopic respiration. When we eat, the nutrients in our food react to the oxygen in our cells and exhale energy. In the United States, we measure the amount of energy released by a nutrient in calories. To live well, we have to consume enough calories to fuel the physical demands of our body, preferably calories that are sourced from a varied and regular supply of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and a healthy wallop of fiber (which helps break down food so that nutrients are more easily accessible). Daily caloric needs vary depending on age, gender, activity levels, and BMI (body mass index), but generally speaking the bigger your frame and the more active you are, the more energy your body will require to keep your weight and health status stable—an enviable state of balance called homeostasis that is the secret weapon of athletic performance. A lot more than this goes into attaining homeostasis—for instance, the quality of nutrients you consume and other lifestyle choices you make—but at its essence this balance is why we need to eat to survive and, more important, why we need to eat really well if we want our bodies to excel.
But what does “eating well” really mean?
If you want to put on lean muscle and burn fat, as most active people would like to do, how should you eat? According to a 2011 report in Nutrition Business Journal, the sports nutrition industry made $22.7 billion dollars the previous year by selling “suites” of sports performance products, including plant-based endurance gels and nutritionally enhanced bars and powders targeted to boost warm-up, peak, and recovery capacity. Now I’m not against diving into a protein bar every now and then when I’m wiped out, but I resist the idea that the best way to fuel performance is eating a neon gel.
If you ask this question to Joanne Arnold—a fitness trainer, sports consultant, bodybuilder, and former Ms. Maine—as I did, she will give you the radically simple advice she gave Olympic gold medalist Ian Crocker when she trained him: “Eat three balanced meals a day and let your digestive system rest at night.” Arnold is the country’s first body, mind, and sport fitness trainer to be certified by legendary sport guru, author, and fitness expert John Douillard. As followers of ancient Indian Ayurvedic principles, both Douillard and Arnold have witnessed the extraordinary metabolic changes that occur when their clients eat real food at regular intervals, saving the bulk of their caloric intake for the middle of the day, when (according to Ayurvedic tenets) the digestive fires are burning hottest.
“The key is to eat a good breakfast that gets you gracefully to lunch, ideally anytime between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.,” says Arnold. “Then at lunch, chow. Sit down, tuck your napkin in, and really enjoy your food. Have dessert if you like. In the evening, eat lightly: a small salad and soup or a small amount of what others are eating—enough so that you aren’t waking up in the middle of the night hungry but you aren’t going to bed full. Don’t eat after 8 p.m. and don’t snack in between meals to allow your digestive system time to fully rest.” Sounds good to me, I say. But it is also entirely different from most of the eating advice I have gotten, which claims that several small meals throughout the day are better.
“Eating at set times, with full rest in between, is more in line with how we have eaten for thousands of years.”
Arnold continues, “And it helps disarm the body, which, ultimately, if you can manage to eat this way 51 percent of the time, resets the metabolism to burn more efficiently.” Arnold is thoughtful for a moment. “Think about it this way: In nature everything is a cycle between activity and rest. Why should metabolism be any different? Eating every two hours is like ringing your body’s doorbell all the time. It becomes stressful instead of relaxing. If your metabolism is working the way it’s supposed to, you won’t need to raise blood sugar in between meals. You can just eat normally.”
When I ask Arnold what winning combination of carbs, protein, and fat she thinks is normal for a person in training, she shrugs. “Real food. Good food. Ian liked donuts.”
He got that body eating donuts? I almost fall off the exercise ball I’m sitting on. What about the holy nutritionist trinity of fresh vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains? Arnold laughs. “Of course, you should try to eat home-cooked whole food that combines unrefined carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats as often as possible. Ian didn’t just eat donuts, but he wasn’t banned from them either. Food should make you feel satisfied and happy—it’s a joy, and never more so than when you are training. Deprivation, anxiety, and guilt are all emotions that trigger the release of stress hormones that break down muscle—not what we’re after, right?” Arnold sighs a little. “I’ve come to see real fitness as a measure of our capacity to ‘fit’ the infinite nature of ourselves into our physical experience—and still rock six-pack abs if that’s what your heart desires.” She cocks an eyebrow at me. “The most enlightened training program offers more than putting muscles through the grind of repetitive stress and recovery; it teaches you how to perform optimally and thrive.”
Now that you have the good word to feast at lunch, the question is, where? The biggest hurdle most active people face when it comes to eating well in the middle of the day is time. Luckily there are a number of delis and markets that make fresh foods for people on the go.
Located upstairs at the Public Market House, Kamasouptra features steamy, home-made soup selections served with a delicious crusty roll.
28 Monument Sq. | Portland 207.415.6692 | kamasouptra.com
Fit to Eat
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., they offer made-to order sandwiches on home-baked bread. Place to-go orders by phone.
65 Market St. | Ste. 5 | Portland 207.761.4441
Lois’ Natural Marketplace
This Scarborough market makes a cornucopia of healthy meals, including many really good vegan desserts.
152 US Route 1 | Scarborough 207.885.0602 | loisnatural.com
Wild Oats Bakery + Cafe
The popular downtown Brunswick eatery offers a wide selection of soup, salads, sandwiches, and baked goods made on the premises from scratch. They also deliver as far afield as Topsham.
149 Maine St. | Brunswick | 207.725.6287 | wildoatsbakery.com
Relax in their spacious riverside eatery or call for take-away.
14 Maine St. | Mill 3 | Brunswick 207.725.5222 | explorefrontier.com
If you are unsure how many calories you need per day to maintain homeostasis, you can calculate your daily requirement on the nutritional needs calculator at active.com.
To consult with Joanne Arnold about the mind, body, and sport training methodology, send her an email at [email protected].