"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, September 2, 2013

What's in the Carry On Bag?

Travelling internationally for nearly two months now, I have several items that comprise my "essentials." I've mentioned them before, but haven't made the time to talk much about why.

Dark hot chocolate with cinnamon. Perfect reward after a  chilly winter run?
Cinnamon. I came across reference to the anti-viral properties of cinnamon when I went to World 24hr champs in May. Keen to enlist whatever I could in good nutrition to help ward off the possibility of cold/flu viruses after 24 hours of flying, I tried it. Since then, I've stuck with it, sprinkling a bit of cinnamon on my yoghurt each morning. Cinnamon oil contains eugenol, and it's the eugenol that was found to inhibit the replication of the herpes virus. You know the smell of cloves? That smell is eugenol, as eugenol is really high in cloves. It's also found in nutmeg, basil, and bay leaves. Eugenol also has antiseptic/antimicrobial properties. Thus, it should also be useful against yeast, fungus, and candida issues. And it has anaesthetic properties, and is used by dentists and exotic fish vets/owners. What a super-food, eh? Of course, one needs to maintain balance in taking cinnamon/eugenol, as there are reports of sensitivity in a few cases (just like some people are allergic to eggs or strawberries) and toxicity can develop in the liver in extreme high doses.

Another benefit of cinnamon has been found in its apparent ability to reduce fasting blood glucose levels and LDL cholesterol, as reported in a few studies. This has been suggested as potentially helpful for those with Type 2 diabetes. Dosages mentioned seem to be under 6g/day, which would roughly equal 1 teaspoon in volume, I figure.

If only there was a superfood to cure fear of precipices!
Finally, cinnamon has been found to have catechins/epicatechins, the flavanol in green tea and cocoa that has an antioxidant effect. Woohoo! Cinnamon flavoured dark chocolate, anyone?

Turmeric. A plant from the ginger family. 'Nuf said, then, right? Antifungal and antibacterial properties. Of particular interest to me is its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric contains curcumin (not related to cumin), which also has antioxidant properties that seem to work against cancer cells (also found in studies with cinnamon). I try to get up to 1 teaspoon worth sprinkled on all my savoury foods, like stews, eggs, potatoes, and such. There is evidence it's a blood thinner, so those on blood thinning meds might be best to talk to their doc if thinking of mega-dosing. Also, if on NSAIDS, one might consider the effect of "double-dipping."

Udo's Oil (plus chia seeds and walnuts). If I am temporarily without a bottle of Udo's, I find some flaxseed or linseed oil to spread on my morning cereal and yoghurt combo. I'm crediting an increase in the omega-3 fatty acids found in these foods for a lot of the reason behind my decrease in injury rates over the past year+. My spending at physios this year is down by at least $1000. I should actually do a count at year end! (Other things I credit are the use of ice cup massages and ice baths, musculoskeletal adaptation, which just takes place over time, and regularly scheduled "rest").

Legal to grow in your backyard :)
Dark chocolate. For the antioxidant properties cited above. There was even one study done where they fed the participants 40g of dark chocolate for breakfast before their cycling test (nice!). This study and others have found connections between the catechins in the dark chocolate reducing free radicals, therefore "oxidative stress" therefore inflammatory responses/immune cell dysfunction and muscle fatigue. So, although there's generally nothing found saying it can directly improve performance (e.g., VO2max), it may indirectly improve performance by reducing fatigue and improving recovery. And the caffeine (stand alone or in dark chocolate) promotes lipolysis (increases free fatty acid concentrations), suggesting that at sub-maximal efforts (below 70% of VO2max), caffeine should help to promote use of fat burning vs glycogen. There's some interesting stuff emerging about the possible synergistic effects of combining catechins with caffeine. (Cinnamon sprinkled green tea leaves dunked in dark chocolate?!?) And, perhaps most importantly, it's truly a "feel-good" food that's not just a toxic, processed, engineered horror.

Peppermint tea. Particularly in the evenings, I find a cuppa helps me rehydrate when I don't feel like a cup of water. And there's evidence it sooths the digestive system. It's also supposed to give feelings of satiety, but I'm not sure about that one! I still feel like I eat non-stop! :)
Tapering's not so bad, if you have the right distractions!

Also in the carry on? A tennis ball for trigger spot treatment of tight back and hips. A trail magazine for easy, inspirational reading. And Tigger (I'm okay with being the only 44 year old woman on the plane with a stuffy - he makes a great lumbar support and occasionally I lend him out to a screaming overtired small child, too).

The things you won't find in my carry-on? Gluten, sugary high-GI processed foods, and alcohol. If I have to compromise something in my diet these last two months whilst travelling, trying to be a vegetarian, lactose intolerant, gluten free, no trans-fats/bad fat eater, I have chosen to compromise the vegetarian part first. That's just my personal choice, based on prioritising what makes my body feel best through to worst.

A new one I've been reading about that might prove a bit awkward in the carry-on is watermelon! Some new research just came out focusing on watermelon's antioxidant properties for athletes. There's an ingredient in watermelon called L-citrulline, an amino acid. But a bit of searching has shown me that the bodybuilding world has been onto L-citrulline for quite a while already. In addition to the antioxidant properties (which reduced post-exercise soreness in the cyclists given 500ml of liquefied watermelon an hour before their workout), it forms nitric oxide (think beetroot juice!). Thus, with its potential for dilating blood vessels, it is used to help lower blood pressure, too. I might try this out before the Lost Soul 100 miler this weekend. Nothing like trying something new before a race! :)

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