21 February 2021

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When I think back about my relationship with food and my diet in general, my earliest memories center on some pretty basic rules in our family. Soda is for special occasions only, sparkling water, juice and milk was fine, but we would usually not have drinks with our meals but rather after, so we wouldn't fill up of drinks before we actually ate our dinner. I grew up in Germany, which generally meant toast with cold cuts, cheese, jam or Nutella for breakfast, open face sandwiches with deli meat for lunch and a big dinner with some type of meat, often pork or beef along with potatoes and different vegetables cooked from scratch by my mom.

I developed a sweet tooth as I got older and food in general was as much about pleasure as it was about sustenance. While I did not have a difficult childhood in general, my parents did divorce when I was 15 and I did start to eat sweets in an almost regimented fashion. Picking up a coke, a bag of potato chips and a large chocolate bar became almost a daily routine. Thankfully, I also used athletics to stay busy and active, which helped keep my weight level. In fact, the only time I dealt with a significant increase in weight was during grad school. By that time, I was working full-time, but I had also started to smoke. Suffice it to say, while I had been a competitive athlete all my life, starting with soccer at age 6 and continuing later with kickboxing and ultimately ending up with ultra running, my other habits including my diet left a lot to be desired.

Fast forward to 3 years ago. I was in my mid 40s and had decided to start to get annual checkups. I had just recently changed general practitioners, leaving a doc that preferred to prescribe meds than deal with actual root causes of disease and choosing a fellow endurance athlete, instead, who would have a better understanding of my personality and lifestyle. At this point, I have had my share of serious health scares unrelated to my diet. I figured regular checkups would both keep me healthy as well as possibly help with my performance in general, if the blood tests during the checkup revealed any deficiencies.

When the doc returned with the results, I was slightly shocked. Two things required serious attention. One, my Vitamin D levels were too low and he advised me to take a daily supplement. This is a rather normal occurrence as we age, so I took that in stride. The second issue, however, was more concerning. My LDL cholesterol levels were through the roof, in the high 150s. While my HDL levels were great as a result of my ultra running, my LDL levels were still of major concern. 

My previous general physician would have immediately prescribed a statin rather than look at other lifestyle changes. My current doc, on the other hand, understood my desire to avoid drugs and pursue lifestyle changes, instead. Obviously, I was about as active as one could be. I ran every day, I went to the gym a couple of times a week and I stayed all around active. In addition, I had quit smoking for good 7 years earlier. All that was left to look at was my diet.

My mind was made up pretty quickly. My wife was both a vegetarian and the only one capable of cooking delicious meals in our household and since I already really only had the occasional chicken, it was time to make the switch to a fully plant based diet. But since cholesterol is in animal products like dairy and eggs, I had to do more than just turn to a vegetarian diet, I had to go full vegan. It wasn't easy, but I was committed and I did not stray, A year later, my LDL cholesterol level showed a 20% improvement during my regular checkup. Fast forward 2 years (no annual checkup in 2020 due to pandemic) and here I was in January 2021 for another annual checkup. Unfortunately, the results were not good, not good at all. My LDL cholesterol had risen to pre-veganism levels and actually exceeded the previous mark. Another follow up exam discovered other risk factors that were quite concerning. A battery of further tests showed that my heart was still functioning and working at normal levels, but I had to face some hard facts, if I was to believe my doc and the status quo of science as it relates to cholesterol and calcium buildup and the risk they posed to cardiovascular health.

First, I agreed to take a statin to lower my LDL levels to a more acceptable level. However, I wasn't willing to just resign to taking a drug for the rest of my life. Instead, I decided that day to change to a completely whole foods plant based diet with zero added sugars, salts or oils or WFPB-SOS. Through all of these radical changes, my wife has been super supportive. She's rolled with the punches and adjusted things as needed to help me make this change happen.

This lifestyle changes the average macronutrient piechart significantly. While it can often be intimidating and quite challenging when first changing to a plant-based diet, especially for endurance athletes trying to get everything needed to both "perform and recover", it can feel even more challenging when you eliminate added sugars, oils and salt. Am I getting enough fat? Am I eating too many carbs? What about protein? Protein becomes a big concern, especially as it pertains to recovery after training workouts and endurance events. Day to day, this lifestyle change to the SOS free diet calls for a super low fat diet (10-15%). However, the research that is available to this particular diet does not specifically discuss how much carbs vs. protein once should consume, especially when it comes to ultra marathoners. Once again, I started to keep a food diary to see what would naturally happen with my macronutrient makeup.

Because I also significantly reduced soy products, I was getting most of my proteins from beans and sprouted breads. I felt I needed more. Thankfully, this wasn't anything new as I had identified this gap even when I first turned vegan three years ago. While opinions and research vary on hoe much protein an individual athlete actually requires, I did want to make sure to get between 15-20% of my daily caloric intake. I generally try to get my nutrients from natural foods, so I started to look for and try out different vegan protein supplements that were both clean and hopefully somewhat tasty. I rotated to a few different ones, but never really landed at one that I stuck with.

A year into my vegan journey, I ended up volunteering as aid station captain at one of the Tahoe 200 mile aid stations. While there, I ran into a team of volunteers that offered to help out at my aid station after the runner they were supporting had to drop for medical reasons. After spending many many hours with these guys and getting to know them, I found out that they worked for a young nutrition company that developed and manufactured protein supplements among other products. Not only were these good people, but they made the stuff runners needed. My first question to them: "So, do you make a vegan protein supplement"? Their answer: "Actually, we're working on that right now. Would you be willing to try it out?", "Sure", I replied, "I would love to."

A couple of weeks later, I received a package in the mail that contained vegan protein supplement in both Chocolate and Vanilla along with a couple of rad t-shirts. I tried it...and I loved it. If you've ever tried certain protein powders, you know the issues you can encounter. The flavor is off, it doesn't dissolve easily or it creates a dust cloud in your kitchen, to name a few. The Vegan protein supplement from Silver Star Nutrition has none of these issues. I was spot on in every aspect. Even more importantly, zero stomach issues. I was hooked. Zero unnecessary additives, ingredients or calories, just what your body needs and your taste buds crave. I've even added this stuff to my morning cereal and oats, but most of the time, I just create a tasty smoothie that has as few ingredients as this protein powder: Baby spinach, bananas, frozen blueberries or strawberries and usually chia seeds and some flaxseed flakes with a splash of unsweetened almond milk or water plus Vanilla protein powder. It is the perfect post long run or post gym session fuel and has helped me recover and be ready for the next workout.

If you're looking to find that perfect protein supplement, give Silver Star Nutrition a try. You won't regret it. Yes, Silver Star Nutrition does support me by providing me with free supplements, but this relationship developed organically after I did some initial product testing for them. If I didn't love their stuff, I'd go back to trying the other supplements out there. Final note, I am in no way a certified nutritionist or dietician, but I am an experiment of one. Hopefully, what works for me works for you as well. But you won;'t know until you try. See you on the trails!

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