What happens to your exercise performance when you drink coffee? The facts you need to know.Read More
In planning for my trip to Florence for the summer (the term "planning" being used very loosely here) I knew one thing for sure: I did NOT want to deal with jet lag. Even though my stay there was long enough for me to consider myself living there for a bit, I didn't want to miss even a few days of the excitement due to a whack sleep schedule. Yes, I just said "whack." It's hip. Whack.
Luckily for me, I happened to see one of Ben Greenfield's talks at Paleo f(x) 2016 a week before I was supposed to leave. If you aren't familiar with him, Greenfield is essentially the definition of a "biohacker". This basically means he likes to find ways to enhance his health and athletic performance using the things available in this era, without disregarding evolution. Self-proclaimed biohackers tend to have a few things in common, including: an interest in paleo or pseudo-paleo diets for optimal food intake, alternative workouts that promote fitness AND wellbeing, mental health practices like meditation, all-natural products for body care. But they still tend to include breaking-edge technology to track their health statistics to see which variations of all of the above are really helping improve their health.
I can dig it.
So when Greenfield gave us his top 10 latest methods he's been using to biohack his performance, my ears perked up. One of the items included on the list was hot-cold therapy. This can be done in cold chambers and saunas if you have access to them like he does, but it works just as well in a shower that can change temperatures quickly. Greenfield claimed this was the way he beats his jet lag every time he travels... which is a lot of the time.
That same weekend, I also finally got to meet Sarah and the other lovely people of Vital Proteins. While chatting it up with them, I asked if they thought any of their products would potentially help with jet lag. Sarah immediately handed me a bottle of their Beef Liver Capsules. I didn't know it at the time, but the B-vitamins in beef liver are actually great at easing digestive issues, like...
Travel constipation (1). I know, TMI, but I always have to deal with this. It's apparently not uncommon, either (2).
From personal experience, I know the way I feel is also hugely influenced by how well I treat my gut. If I'm not eating pre- and probiotics regularly, I feel it. And as it turns out, I'm not wrong in drawing the connection between that and feeling less-than-stellar while traveling. Sitting for long periods of time can apparently cause clogging in the large intestine, where most of your gut bacteria lives. A normal amount of daily activity moves you around enough to prevent it, but you can't exactly get in 10,000 steps on a 10-hour flight (3). So I decided to pack the Primal Probiotics that I won a while back from Primal Blueprint Publishing, since I wasn't sure what the situation with those would be like in Italy.
And lastly, my dad is a seasoned overseas traveler. Upon his advice, I was to try and sleep as much as possible on the way to Europe, and try to keep myself awake for the even-longer trek back to the states, when the time came. So with my knowledge from Greenfield, a bottle of beef liver, a container of Primal Probiotics, and Woj's best words, I set foot on my first 20-hour journey across the big pond.
Sleeping on the plane over was easy enough with the free wine offered on the ride. Sorry not sorry about that. It was still strange stepping off in Munich to see that it was somehow morning again, but I can get on board with a time warp here and there. Once I made it to Florence, I made sure that the first few things I unpacked were the beef liver capsules and probiotics. I took a serving of each and was #blessed to avoid the travel constipation that evening.
I didn't shower until the next morning, because my luggage had been lost on the flight over so I didn't have a change of clothes. Luckily, my rockstar roommate (s/o to you, Hannah!) let me borrow the essentials to wash the world off my body. I tried the hot/cold therapy tips recommended by Greenfield: 30 seconds of cold water, 10 of hot. Switch back and forth like this for several minutes and your nervous system will be hopping so much, your body clock suddenly decides you're fully awake. And it worked just as promised! I faced a day full of the labyrinth that is Florence without much of an issue. That morning and the following few began this way, plus a serving of beef liver right after the shower. The probiotic capsules helped me out each night, as I took one right before bed until finding some yogurt I trusted enough to ease me off those capsules.
On my return trip, I knew things would be trickier. Staying awake for 24 hours is never a good idea when you're me. Mama needs her 8 hours. I'm basically the worst college student ever.
However, I took a dose each of the beef liver and probiotics again before bidding "ciao!" to my home for the summer, and managed to stay awake with lots of coffee help until I made it back to Austin. I passed out for the night, and made myself take another hot/cold shower the next morning. I was tired that next day from the travel, and I let myself be lazy but avoided napping. I managed to make it through a full day back on Texas time awake and my body clock was reset by the second day after I returned home!
So, the list of things to do (which is probably the only thing you came to this article to read anyway, yes?):
- If you're traveling to a time zone later than yours (east on a map with the Atlantic ocean at the center), sleep on the way there and stay awake on the way home. If you're traveling to a time zone earlier than yours (west on a map with the Atlantic ocean at the center), do the opposite.
- Utilize hot/cold shower therapy to wake yourself up when you want to be awake in the new time zone.
- Supplement with Vital Proteins Beef Liver capsules & quality probiotics, like Primal Probiotics, to avoid travel constipation.
Oh, and remember to ENJOY your trip! :)
(1) Holland, K., Carter, A. (March 25, 2016). 5 vitamins that can relieve constipation. Healthline. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/vitamins-for-constipation#1
(2) Monastersky, Konstantin. (2016). What causes traveler's constipation?. Gut Sense. Retrieved from https://www.gutsense.org/constipation/travel.html
(3) Bloudoff-Indelicato, M. (December 28, 2015). The science behind vacation constipation. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/12/all-i-got-for-christmas-was-constipation/422046/
(4) St. Pierre, B. (n.d.) Eliminating jeg lag: strategies to reduce, even avoid, symptoms. Precision Nutrition. Retrieved from http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-jet-lag
(5) n.a. (n.d.) Setting up your shower valve: a smart solution for your bathroom. Delta Monitor Shower Faucet. Retrieved from http://deltamonitorshowerfaucet.net/setting-up-your-shower-valve-a-smart-solution-for-your-bathroom
(6) Elizabeth, H. (June 15, 2016). #STOP. Facebook.
Food quality is a hot topic right now.
Well, well, well. We meet this subject again.
If you've been following my Instagram, Facebook, or this website for any length of time now then you're already acquainted with my strong bias in support of producing food at only the highest sustainable quality.
However, I will do my best to push that aside and do an objective report on how the food in Italy has affected my body over the past 7 weeks.
This is usually referred to as an "n=1 study," since I am only testing it on myself.
These are usually super effective for people trying to figure things out for themselves and their health, because I am in my body and only I am in tune with that enough to feel what it feels and see how it is being affected: by clothes fitting a certain way or how heavily I'm breathing after certain activities.
So that being established, this is going to be a compilation of how I've felt with this drastic diet change while in Florence for the summer.
What is different in Italy?
The diet change I'm referring to is this: at home, I eat primal (no legumes, only rice sometimes if grains are consumed, no processed sugar, moderate dairy, LOTS of veggies, high protein, a little bit of fruit, lots of healthy fats).
Here, I've pretty much only stayed away from gluten and soy because they really bother me.
Pizza and pasta and gelato and milk chocolate that exists without soy lechitin as an emulsifier here have been very present in my body.
I will place here that there are also other variables.
One is that I've walked at least 5 miles a day, usually more.
My workout routine went from lifting 5-6 days a week plus at least 4 cardio sessions on top of that to 3-5 HIIT & body weight workout sessions per week, not lasting longer than 45 minutes.
So, I will do my best to explain what happened as a result of that. But first, I think a little Italian food history is in order.
Italian food quality
In the Italian cooking class I took the first week I was here, the chef got on his soapbox for a few minutes.
He talked about how when the US really started pumping GMOs and hormones into their food, Italy went the opposite route.
He explained the laws here are really in favor of organic produce, grass-fed and free-range meats, and full-fat foods without the sugar added to reduce it.
I decided to do a little poking around on the interwebs and found some cool stuff in these regards.
For instance, Italy not only rejected the idea of GMOs when they first became popular in the US, they still stringently fight against them.
As recently as 2015, the country opted to reject 8 strands of GMOs that the EU was promoting for its countries (1).
In 1993, the year before the first GMOs hit grocery stores in the US (2), Italy was not super focused on organic farming, either.
They were pretty exclusive to small northern markets near the farms that produced them.
However, as the "organic" title began implying the meaning that a product was also "non-GMO," it seems that my chef was right about Italians' push back against GMOs.
Production of organic produce increased 200% between 1997-1999, with production still increasing yearly, though not necessarily at that high a rate each year (3).
But don't they love their sugar?
After hearing the chef & reading those things about Italy's unique perspective on food production, I was more confused about this place than ever.
If you've ever been to Italy, you know they love their sugar.
Gelato or a granite (basically a slush) for breakfast is the thing to do in Sicily, and up north it's not much better with sugared tarts or croissants paired with your sugared-down cappuccino first thing in the morning.
Pizza or a bread-heavy sandwich for lunch.
Gelato as a cool afternoon snack, followed by a 3-course dinner of pasta, meat & veggies, and dessert. Oh, and always wine.
The realization that the people are very concerned about food quality & sourcing here was interesting to me.
I've crusaded against processed sugar for the past 2 years and haven't consumed any other than the tiny bit in dark chocolate back home.
So the fact that the sugar capital of the world cares about quality means maybe our idea of "quality" is skewed.
I was even more interested to see if the fact that even though there is a lot of white cane sugar in Italian food, high fructose corn syrup is rarely used.
In fact, the population in Italy consumes less than 1 pound of it per person per year (4). Compare that to the 35 pounds per year the average American takes in (5)!
Okay, enough of the research.
What did my time here teach me?
The first week, I was in full "vacation mode." Eating out for almost every meal, gelato at least once a day, and skipping breakfast.
I didn't work out because at that point I was allowing a week off since my training was vigorous for a solid 4 months leading up to coming here.
Plus, I wasn't sure if I was going to join the local gym or not and wanted to check it out before "settling" for using the staircase in the hallway to our apartment. It's 98 steps, by the way.
The second week, I could feel it.
My normally-low-carb body was in full revolt with bloating and breakouts galore.
The reintroduction of excessive white sugar was definitely the culprit, in my opinion.
Because of these crappy feelings, I began inventing HIIT workouts on the stairs and turning it into my little gym.
I went to the local market and got fresh, preservative-free cheeses & meats and lots of produce.
Another great thing on the produce: Italians are snobs about eating in-season.
So a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of peaches was €2 since they're a summer fruit, whereas apples were closer to €5 per kilogram.
Still way cheaper than America for ANYTHING organic, in-season or not. But it's cool to see that most farmers refuse to even sell things that aren't in-season.
Cooking the freshest in-season produce
Cooking for myself definitely helped.
I made sure to remember probiotics and prebiotics daily, only discoverable here in the form of full-fat yogurt and the tub of Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides I brought along with me (thanks, Sarah!).
I still ate out plenty of times, mind you.
Lots of GF pizza. And gelato was still a very regular occurrence.
But here's the interesting part: those HIIT sessions invigorated me. Walking everywhere rarely felt like a chore. I began loving the constant movement.
I ate until I was full, and then some.
If I was exhausted from visiting 2 museums and rehearsing Shakespeare and writing too much all in one day, I let myself not worry about missing a workout.
This resulted in the 3-5 times a week exercise schedule.
Sure, I lost some muscle since I wasn't lifting weights like back home.
But my core is much stronger now from the functional nature of the workouts I've been doing. My acne went away and the bloating reduced.
My clothes still fit, so I haven't gained that much weight, if any.
I'm actually scared the number went down because of muscle loss... I was very hypertrophic from over-training when I got here.
My abs are hiding a little more than my first week, but honestly not as much as I'd expected.
And you know what?
My mental state is better than ever.
I love the routine I've got at home: I kick ass on a primal diet there. But I needed this break more than I knew.
Italy taught me how to enjoy dessert again without guilt.
But I strongly feel that the simplicity, care, and quality put into food production in this country made all the difference between how I do feel and how crappy I would be feeling if I ate like this regularly at home.
I've eaten like this before in the States.
It's called the no-diet plan.
Or if you're on one, IIFYM.
And I was always depleted, constantly had cravings, and got irritable very easily. My brain got foggy.
Maybe because I was eating pounds of HFCS without meaning to. Maybe because I wasn't exercising for stimulation and health.
But whatever it was, I've never felt this good on a lifestyle considered so "unhealthy" back home.
Here, I've filled a journal and written more than 30 letters just on this trip.
Again, I credit the food quality and lack of hormones, GMOs, and preservatives.
I'm luckily very in tune with my body and am a hippie snob with chemicals as a result.
But you can take from my n=1 experience what you will. :)
(1) Tropia, C. (September 28, 2015). "No a 8 produtti ogm, l'Italia contro l'Ue." il Salvagente Test. Retrieved from https://www.testmagazine.it/2015/09/18/no-a-8-prodotti-ogm-litalia-contro-lue/2714/?v=cd32106bcb6d
(2) Shireen. (March 10, 2013). "GMO timeline: a history of genetically-modified foods." GMO Inside Blog. Retrieved from http://gmoinside.org/gmo-timeline-a-history-genetically-modified-foods/
(3) n.a. n.d. "Italy." FAO Corporate Document Repository. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/004/y1669e/y1669e0a.htm
(4) n.a. (December 4, 2012). "Countries with the greatest use of high-fructose corn syrup also have more diabetes." Yahoo! News. Retrieved from https://www.yahoo.com/news/countries-greatest-high-fructose-corn-syrup-more-diabetes-182823674.html?ref=gs
(5) Gucciardi, A. (June 2, 2012). "Americans eat 35 lbs of 'stupidity' linked high fructose corn syrup on average." Natural Society. Retrieved from http://naturalsociety.com/americans-eat-35-lbs-high-fructose-corn-syrup-average/
(6) n.a. n.d. "home." Pranzo Fresh Italian Food to go. Retrieved from http://www.pranzo.uk
(7) n.a. (2016). "Our passion." Gelato Giuliana. Retrieved from http://www.gelatogiuliana.com