Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Finding Ultra: A Review of Rich Roll’s Autobiography

Day one starts with a grueling 6.2 mile open-ocean swim, followed by a 90 mile bike ride through the mountains of Hawaii. Day two is an additional one hundred and seventy miles of steep climbs, fast descents, blazing sun and hard rain on the bike. Day three is a daunting double marathon (52.4-mile run). Totaling three hundred and twenty miles, this is Ultraman. An elite, invite only double Ironman that takes place once a year on the Big Island of Hawaii. This is Rich Roll’s chosen sport and he excels at it.

While Rich Roll was named one of the 25 fittest men by Men’s Fitness magazine, this was not always the case. In fact, as Roll details in his new autobiography, Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself, just six months prior to completing his first Ultraman, he was nearly fifty pounds overweight and couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without pausing to rest. In this riveting account, Roll bares all, sometimes uncomfortably, displaying his awkward and lonely youth, his struggles with alcoholism and his transformation into a vegan Ultraman. The end result, a read that is as moving as it is thrilling.

Roll’s new book recounts how swimming literally saved him as a child. Socially awkward, Roll had a difficult time making friends. His lack of coordination and ill attempt at sports made him an easy target to pick on for other children. However, he proved to be a natural in the water, which consumed much of his childhood. By the end of high school, he was one of the nations top swimmers. Turning down full-scholarships to schools such as Harvard, and Princeton, Roll picked Stanford University. However, by his sophomore year, alcohol began dismantling everything he had already achieved.

Quitting the swim team and trading in his highly disciplined life for a carefree party attitude, Roll quickly descended into a decade of depression and alcoholism. Even still, Roll managed to be a high achieve, earning his law degree from Cornell. After several struggling years where he came close to hitting rock bottom, Roll finally was able to get himself clean. It was at this time he met his wife Julie, who would not only become his best friend, but in many ways also became his savior. 

Roll is a huge fan of his Vitamix

With her encouragement, at the age of forty, Roll abandoned the average American diet, which was killing him, and completely overhauled not only his diet but also his life. As Roll testified, going from the cheeseburger munching, couch potato to ultra athlete was only possible after adopting a whole food, plant-based vegan diet (He also includes three appendixes on how to become plant-strong). Joining the ranks of an increasingly burgeoning list of vegan athletes, the nutrient-dense foods he began feasting on gave him the energy required to train up to twenty-five hours a week, while also maintaining a law business and raising a family. Relying on the discipline he developed as a child, Rich Roll went from a couch potato to elite athlete in under a years time.  

After his first Ultraman, where he placed eleventh out of thirty five, Roll then joined up with his friend Jason Lester to complete one of the most intense endurance challenges ever attempted. What become known as the EPIC 5: five Ironman distance triathlons in seven days, each on a different Hawaiian island, is perhaps Roll's greatest athletic achievement to date. Concluding his narrative  with the 560 mile journey, Roll demonstrates amazing mental strength as well as physical prowess, and as it turns out, it is also quite the page turner. 

                                    man                                                    ultraman

Throughout, Roll keeps the narrative moving with enjoyable and fun prose. While fitness junkies will clearly be drawn to Roll’s account, anyone who picks up Finding Ultra will find themselves engrossed in a great story and may even find the urge to lace up an old pair of running shoes or dusting off the bike sitting in the garage. 

However, Roll's book is so much more than just a good story. The last 100 pages of the book changes tone, and morphs from an autobiography to a well researched and easily comprehensible primer on plant-based nutrition. Roll's principles are not that different from Brendan Braziers' with one glaring exception. Roll consistently reminds his readers that remaining flexible is important. While never advocating anything but a vegan diet, Roll does understand that not everyone will want to be so rigid as to follow an exclusively whole food plant-based diet. He himself admits that he enjoys vegan marshmallows occasionally (Let's hope he is talking about Sweet & Sara!). As such, Roll's work can help a person move towards a plant-based diet without feeling completely overwhelmed, allowing him to connect with a far larger audience than just the elite athlete or strict nutritionist.  

The nutrition primer alone is worth the price of the book, and while it is regrettable that he did not include an index, at least for the primer, the work remains top-tier. While it's impact on the sports world is yet to be seen, I for one am happy to add this handy resource to my collection.

In Good Health,

(I should note all of these photos were found on google.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

High Quality H20

I’ve wanted to do a post on this topic for a while and since school is finally winding down (you can practically start calling me master!) I figured there is no better time than now.

Since we were little, we’ve been told about the benefits of staying properly hydrated and as the weather gets warmer, we need to remind ourselves of this truism! Water makes up about 60 percent of our body weight. Our brains are nearly 90% water and every single system in our body requires water for proper function, maintenance and growth. Water can also help flush toxins from our kidneys and liver. It is hard to overstate the importance that water plays in our lives. 

While health experts cite 8 glasses of water every single day as the necessary amount needed to maintain a healthy level of hydration, the truth is that our bodies’ needs are more complex. According to MayoClinic.com, “your water needs depend on many factors, including your health, how active you are and where you live.” The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) also depends on gender. They state that the AI for men is roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day while Women need slightly less, about 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day. They further state, that perhaps the best way to judge your hydration, is by the color of your urine. While not the most pleasant way imaginable, you want your urine to be clear a pale yellow color.

There are several ways our bodies lose water. Most obvious; sweat. However, one way that we lose water, which is often overlooked, is from exhaling. Every time we breathe out, we exhale moisture from our bodies. Hence, during periods of intense exercise, we lose water both from an increased rate of exhaling as well as from sweating. This makes our need to replace those liquids more necessary. Also, after sleeping for 8 hours, (hopefully breathing the entire time) our bodies exhale a significant amount of liquid and as such we are typically slightly dehydrated upon waking. Try drinking a glass of water within the first half hour of waking up to replenish your fluids and jump start your day.

Vegan Ultraman Rich Roll rehydrating in Ultraman 2011 

Athletes should pay special attention to their hydration. Since water transports nutrients and oxygen into our cells, it is especially important to be well hydrated during and after exercise. It has even been shown that being well-hydrated will help not only performance but also recovery. Due to higher volumes of perspiration, endurance athletes may also want to replace lost electrolytes. If you choose to do this, add a pinch of salt and a few ounces of lemon juice to your workout drink to make sure you are replacing both the electrolytes as well as potassium and calcium to keep your bodies pH even.

Does adding a slice of lemon or lemon juice to water increase the benefits? Some claim, including vegan professional Ironman athlete, Brendan Brazier, that doing this helps alkalize the water, helping to raise and neutralize our bodies pH level. Some proponents go as far as claiming that this can neutralize acid in your bloodstream, boost your metabolism and help your body absorb nutrients more effectively while also helping to prevent disease and slow the aging process. However, according to Katherine Zeratsky, (RD, LD.,) researchers haven't verified these claims. As such, there is no real need to do this, although it does add some vitamin C to your beverage and can help improve the taste.

Vegan Ultramarathon runner Scott Jurek, double fisting!

Besides water, there are other ways to hydrate. Food, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables can have as much as 90% water per calorie weight. Many people get as much as 20% of their daily liquid needs from foods. Also, other beverages like tea are great ways to hydrate as they also contain powerful antioxidants and vitamins. That said, water has some additional benefits making it more valuable. First, it has zero calories and is relatively inexpensive. It has also been shown to help boost the metabolism, whiten and clean teeth, and even helps keep our skin healthy and young looking.

Carrying around a reusable bottle is a great way to always have fresh, clean water with you, making staying hydrated easy. 

Jurek again. He really does love promoting hydration! He also has a new book coming out soon!

I hope you will all join me and raise a glass... of water
see you out there.