Sugar, Recovery, Vegan Diets & Immunity

sarah cuff Run Recovery, Running Performance, Supplements Leave a Comment

In my day to day work, I often receive questions from clients that I think are just such good questions. And I have such fun answering them. I figured I might share a few with you today that are general enough I think you might also be interested in the answers to these questions…

SUGAR – Question:

I have a question for you about sugar alternatives. I’ve been using maple syrup in place of refined sugar and of course if I’m baking I find it makes the batter too liquidy which so far I can resolve by adding more almond or oat flour. But I do see a lot of recipes asking for sugar alternatives like monk fruit and xylitol. What do you think of these? Are they just another unhealthy ingredient in disguise as a healthy alternative?

Also, what about cane sugar? Is that also a processed sugar in disguise as a healthier option because the word cane makes us think of a more naturally found sugar. And what about coconut sugar? I’ve researched these foods a little but there is so much out there it’s hard to decide what is true and what isn’t. 

Sugar – My Answer:

Good question! Yes, using maple syrup as sugar replacement is so tricky. You’ll notice I do that in my recipes but wow it took so long to get those recipes just right. And I have no desire to go about creating anymore or experimenting with new recipes ha! So here’s what I would suggest…

Really, at the end of the day, all sugars including maple syrup and honey are sugars. These days I see really no difference between coconut sugar, cane sugar, regular sugar and the like. That said, I prefer the taste of the more natural ones – cane sugar is my favourite. These days I’d argue that there’s no such thing as a ‘healthy sugar’ – but only that sugar of any sort needs to be used in moderation (and moderation depends on the individual). 

Monk fruit and xylitol are ’non caloric’ sweeteners (they do have a small amount of calories). They are super tricky to work with as they don’t have the volume that normal sugar has. Plus they have a slightly odd taste (some find it metallic). Personally I avoid them as much as possible – they just don’t ring true as real food for me. Plus anything that tastes sweet tricks the brain into thinking there’s carbs on the way… And then there’s not… Which messes up the body. So that’s never sat well for me either. 

So the place I’ve finally landed after so many years is to stay as natural as possible. When I want to make a cookie or cake or muffin, I use maple syrup and honey per my recipes but if I’m adapting a recipe, I’ll just use cane sugar. I went through periods using every other sugar out there including coconut sugar – but always found I just didn’t enjoy the final product as much. Why make a cookie you only half enjoy? Ha! 

Honestly I’d encourage you to experiment with anything that really calls to you. But if nothing does, if natural seems to be your gut instinct too, then absolutely ignore all the hype out there (and there will always be hype!!), and stick with the basics 🙂

Recovery Product – Question:

I just wondered about this product I discovered: IronVegan Rebound Recovery. Do you know of this one? It was in my quest for all things tart cherry, as although I have been using the juice regularly (I can’t find the concentrate lately), it seems like there are variations of concentrates if you keep looking. I found this and bought it and have just tried it today – it tastes good and seems to have a lot of good ingredients including 100mg of tart cherry per 5g serving. I wonder how that compares to amounts in the juice – do you know?

Anyway, something is working – I ran a (slow, but successful) 28km yesterday and feel pretty great, foot and all… but want to stay really dialled in on the recovery stuff.

Recovery Product – My Answer:

Oh wow, so I’ve seen this product but never actually taken a moment to look into it. Looking at the ingredients, I’m impressed. I’ve long been impressed with IronVegan as a brand, so not surprised. They are using chaga, great for immunity, and two adaptogens, as well as some great anti-inflammatories, tart cherry and turmeric. And of course the l-theanine for focus and concentration (only found in matcha / green tea, one of the reasons I’m such a big fan). 

The amount of tart cherry in there is about one fifth the amount you’d get in a 1 cup serving of the juice or a 2 Tbsp serving of the concentrate. Very approximately. So that’s good, although I think I’d still want a bit more tart cherry coming in elsewhere to top it up. A few dried tart cherries in salad or snack with nuts? Or half cup of tart cherry juice each day…

Vegan Diets for Endurance – Question:

What is your view on vegan diets for endurance athletes?

I am asking because it occurred to me that in my fastest and best marathon running years, I was following one. I stopped for a few reasons, mostly because I had switched careers and started grad school and the amount of meal prep etc, I no longer had the time or mental energy for….  which definitely is ‘food for thought’ too. Also it seemed restrictive at the time and I wasn’t sure about the sustainability factor. But it definitely was working for me in some ways, for a time period anyway. 

I am not about to make any drastic changes again right now, but this realization definitely has piqued my curiosity and would love to hear your thoughts.

Vegan Diets for Endurance – My Answer:

Ahhh such a good question! My view is… It depends. For some people my gosh, YES it clearly works amazing. Take Rich Rolls for example. Can’t dispute how well it worked and appears to continue to work for him (although don’t know what he’s up to these days). I have had clients who were vegan and doing just amazing in training but those who I’ve seen thrive seem to include eggs and fish on occasion. And checking back in with them years later, sometimes they’ve transitioned away from a vegan or even vegetarian diet altogether.

So I must say, from what I’ve personally seen, for many people it appears to be a no. At least long term. While in the short term, a year or two, or even a few years, it seems good, even great… Eventually things start going south. Deficiencies start appearing. I’ve worked with runners who were vegan for a decade or more. Because they were quite invested in being vegan for various reasons, when they noticed recurring injuries and other health concerns, they continued to push their diet because ’that’s who they were’. But their gut was telling them to add some animal products back in. In every instance, I’ve seen healing, body slowly changing in a good way, and the regaining of endurance and speed both. Note – the downfall may not be due solely to being vegan though, but also likely to not eating enough food or enough nutrient dense food. 

Personally I tried vegan over a decade ago. There was a point I thrived on it, and a distinct point I realized this clearly wasn’t working for me anymore. 

There was something about what you were doing when you were vegan that really worked for you. It probably wasn’t the fact you were vegan. It might have been the removal of all processed foods. Or the complete removal of all dairy for a sustained period. There’s likely a number of things or combo of things it could have been…

My view is we need to tune into our bodies closely and keep asking what they need to thrive. Mine tells me tons of veggies. And also 3-4 ounces of usually beef but sometimes chicken or salmon 2x a day. Mostly veggies though, half ish raw and half ish cooked. Not too many grains, if any. Really just in Power Cookies or Banana Muffins (pre-run food).

No dairy expect a touch of hard aged cheese here and there. No coffee. No alcohol. Did I mention tons of veggies? All the veggies. With lots of nuts, seeds, avocado, cacao, olives, coconut oil, grass fed butter. Tart cherry juice daily. Some fruit, mostly frozen tart cherries and berries.

I don’t have a label for that, don’t want a label either, ha! And none of it feels restrictive or rules based, because each one came out of a distinct message I was getting from my body on what it needed or needed me to ditch to thrive. Things like alcohol and coffee hung on until I was ready to let go. We’re only ready when we’re ready. And we know when that day comes. 

Thus, I’d simply encourage you to continue to explore this realization and let your curiosity be your guide. Break it down into parts and resist being drawn into packaging anything up into a whole ‘diet’ or someone else’s rules. Try the parts that resonate most for you. One part at a time will eventually lead you to an overall daily diet that exactly right for you, at this moment in your life!!

Supplements for Immunity – Question:

I had a couple of questions regarding optimum precautions to take to defend against getting sick this fall/winter. I already take vitamins D and C, and am wondering about taking the following possible supplements: quercetin and zinc. Thoughts?

Supplements for Immunity – My Answer:

That’s great you are already taking D and C… I see you’re using a vitamin D3 in liquid form, fantastic. I might suggest you switch from that to one that includes K2 (such as this Thorne product) and continue taking 5,000 IU per day.

For vitamin C, I’m a fan of a combo C and zinc (such as this Organika product) or if you don’t want a liquid form, this one is powder and can be added to smoothies. Or if you have lots of vitamin C and just want to add a zinc, I’d go with something like this one: ensure there’s about 15 mg zinc per serving or less (one serving per day). Many brands have what I believe is too much zinc per tablet – more is definitely not always better and very true in this case – would not want to exceed 25mg daily. 

Same with vitamin C, aiming for about 500 mg daily, up to 1000 mg. 

If you’re consuming matcha daily you are 100% covered when it comes to zinc ionophores (EGCG in matcha / green tea, quercetin, resveratrol, chloroquine and ivermectin are all known zinc ionophores). So in that case you don’t need to worry about a quercetin supplement. However if you are not using half teaspoon of matcha daily, then a quercetin supplement isn’t a bad idea. Something like this Organic Traditions product is a way to get it most naturally (the apple peel is very rich in quercetin) and it contains other anti-inflammatories (ginger etc) that are a great idea to be getting daily too. Or a capsule form, like this Platinum Naturals product

*Note – I’m not affiliated with any brands, I simply recommend products that I either do use or would use myself.

To deliciously healthy food and stronger faster running,

Sarah Cuff, R.H.N.
Holistic Sports Nutritionist
Run Coach
Therapuetic Coach

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