Friday, May 24, 2013

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition

Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell PhD and Howard Jacobson PhD aims to change the way we think about health and nutrition by taking a more wholistic view.

Dr. Campbell is 79-year-old biochemist, whose doctoral dissertation half a century ago was on the greater biological value of animal-based protein. Coming from a dairy farm, that was a natural choice for him.

Campbell's "slippery slope to heresy" began in the late 1970ies, when he discovered a connection between animal protein and cancer. Initially he naively expected to be praised for his scientific results, but soon realized that he had strayed beyond the paradigm of mainstream science.

Having tasted the forbidden fruit, he got hooked despite attacks and criticism. Campbell's magnum opus The China Study came out in 2005. (It's a lot of information to digest, so here's a convenient China Study cheat sheet.) Campbell starred in the 2011 documentary Forks Over Knives.

Whole is more like a biography of a nutritionist than one of those diet books with success stories and recipes. However there is nothing more convincing than experiencing the benefits of WFPB (Whole Foods Plant-Based) yourself. The following paragraph would be a great starting point:
"The ideal human diet looks like this: Consume plant-based foods in forms as close to their natural state as possible ("whole" foods). Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, raw nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and whole grains. Avoid heavily processed foods and animal products. Stay away from added salt, oil and sugar. Aim to get 80 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 10 percent from fat, and 10 percent from protein."
For reductionists nutrition is just the sum of the effects of individual nutrients. This is why we count calories, pay attention to nutritional labels, wonder if we get enough protein at each meal, or add ketchup to our meal because it's a source of lycopene.

From a holistic point of view that doesn't make much sense. For example an apple may do more inside our bodies than all the known effects of its nutrients. However it's difficult to say what a particular apple will do for you, due to differences in nutrition content, individual absorption rates, and complex chemical interactions. Our bodies are much more intelligent than we think, taking and using what is needed in each case.

If WFPB could be sold as a pill, it sure would make a lot of money. Imagine a drug with the following effects:
  • prevents 95% of cancers
  • prevents heart attacks and strokes
  • reverses heart disease
  • prevents and reverses Type 2 diabetes
  • gets you to your ideal weight in a healthy and sustainable fashion
  • eliminates most migranes, acne, colds and flu, chronic pain and intestinal distress
  • improves energy
  • cures erectile dysfunction.
There would the also be following positive side-effects:
  • slows and possibly reverses global warming
  • reduces groundwater contamination
  • ends the need for deforestation
  • shuts down factory farms
  • reduces malnutrition.
That's quite a list! But you can't patent a diet recommendation.

T. Colin Campbell clearly believes in nutritional rather than genetic determinism. The former states that healthy nutrition can control our genes by turning on health genes and suppressing disease genes. Lately Angelina Jolie has strongly supported the latter. As Dr John McDougall comments, the potential harms of radical surgery outweigh the benefits. Improving your diet will always be easier, healthier, cheaper and smarter than chopping off body parts.

The bottom line is that the food you eat is the most powerful determinant of your health. Who knows, Whole might soon be known as the book that inspired the world to eat plant-based whole foods. There are some signs that we are moving in that direction anyway:
  • The power vegans are already on the rise. 
  • Part-time veganism like Mark Bittman's VB6 (Vegan Before 6pm) has been a successful way to start for many. 
  • Restaurants everywhere, including in China, are serving delicious plant-based options, which are more popular than ever.
Whole is a an honest health book by an honest healthy scientist.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A good day to win a marathon

It was early Monday morning, April 17th, 1972. Olavi Suomalainen, a 25-year-old Finnish runner, wakes up in Boston and looks at the grey sky. "This is a good day to win a marathon", he announces cheerfully. Olavi's longest run so far has been 25 km.

Olavi Suomalainen wins Boston Marathon in April 1972.
A few hours later Mr. Suomalainen crossed the finish line of the 76th Boston Marathon with widespread arms in 2:15:39. He had just won the world's most prestigious marathon. Boston Globe reported: Finn takes lead at Lake St., breezes home. How was this possible?

Finland had won Boston seven times before already, the last four of them in a row from 1959-1962. After that there was a more quiet period without major victories. Interval training, the cornerstone of training in the 1960ies, seemed like the magic bullet at first, but then failed to produce further improvements.

Arthur Lydiard's new controversial training method helped Finnish distance runners get to the top of the world in the 1970ies. Lydiard replaced interval training with a huge aerobic base. At first most people were reluctant to believe in big mileage training followed by a short intense period to peak for a key race.

The real significance of Olavi Suomalainen's 1972 Boston Marathon victory was that it proved without a doubt to all Finnish runners and coaches that Lydiard's method was working for real. With this newfound confidence, Pekka Vasala won 1,500 meters Olympic gold in Munich. Lasse Viren won both 5,000 and 10,000 meters at 1972 and 1976 Olympics.

Mr. Suomalainen kisses the 1st official female Boston Marathon winner Nina Kuscsik.
Olavi Suomalainen returned to Boston in 1973 to take the third place, but was never quite able to repeat his magical 1972 performance. That winning time remains his marathon PB to this day. Unfortunate injuries prevented further victories. Suomalainen never became a big star or celebrity. He surely wasn't interested in fame. Any limelight would almost seem like a punishment for the shy, reserved and modest Finns.

In April 2012, Olavi Suomalainen visited Boston once more. He was recognized by the Boston Athletic Association at its Champion's Breakfast. The fastest Finnish participant finished with a net time of 3:26 - 2,608th position out of 21,616 runners. The previous year Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya had run the fastest marathon ever in Boston, 2:03:02. Many things had changed in four decades.

Olavi was invited to visit Boston once more in April 2012.
That was a good day to win a marathon, Olavi must have thought.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mont Blanc 80km course preview

Mont Blanc 80km is a new exciting ultra trail running event around Chamonix on June 28th with a generous 24-hour cutoff and epic 6,000 meters of cumulative ascent. The highest point is Col de Terrasse 2,643m.

Vallée du Trail is one of the best locations for trail running in Europe. We all know how crazy successful UTMB has become among mountain 100-milers. This newcomer will likely establish itself among the world's top 50-milers in a similar way. [Update: Mont Blanc 80km will be 2014 Skyrunning World Championship for ultra-distance.]

The 2013 race was quickly sold out already in October, but there may be a few cancelled spots available for registration right now if you are interested.

The famous Mont Blanc Marathon events will be held on the same weekend as follows:
  • Mont Blanc 80km (700 runners) on Friday 28 June, 4:00AM.
  • Mont Blanc Vertical Km (400 runners) on Friday 28 June, 4:00PM.
  • Mont Blanc Cross 23km (1,500 runners) on Saturday 29 June, 8:30AM.
  • Mont Blanc 10km (800 runners) on Saturday 29 June, 9:00AM.
  • Mont Blanc Mini Cross 0.8/2/3km on Saturday 29 June, 11:00AM.
  • Mont Blanc Marathon (2,000 runners), on Sunday June 30, 7:00AM. 
Based on this course map, I took a few screenshots from Google Earth to better illustrate this scenic clockwise loop course. See you in Chamonix and happy training!
This is how the clockwise 80km loop would look like from the top of Mont Blanc (4,810m).
This is the view towards Mont Blanc (South), Chamonix in the center, starting route on the right, finish on the left. 
This is the high route on the France/Swiss border towards Lac d'Emosson. The highest point is 2,643m.
Another view from the south side.
We will visit the town of Vallorcine at 45km, which I remember well from CCC 2012. 
Before finishing, we climb up to 2,000m once more to see Mer de Glace, France's largest glacier.