I just placed 3rd overall at the 32nd Annual CF Climb in the tallest building in Albany this past Saturday. We raced up 42 floors and 809 steps. I crushed my time from last year. How did I just beat participants more than half my age? Aren’t I suppose to slow down as I get older? Isn’t a serious illness supposed to sideline me? The short answer is, no. Not if I make the proper adjustments to improve and sustain a healthy active lifestyle. Balanced nutrition is one of the most important adjustments that allows me to defy all of the assumptions above.
The night before a race I used to eat 2 slices of pizza and wash it down with a glass or two of red wine. Hey, Babe Ruth is one of my idols for a reason! However, my superstitious dinner ritual ended when I began taking maintenance chemotherapy. Now I have a homemade meat sauce, or as us Italians say, gravy, over whole wheat pasta, with a glass or two of lemon water. I don’t know if this meal makes me climb faster, or the anticipation of finally having a glass of wine after the race does. Either way, it works.
But seriously, I’ve always believed that food is fuel for your body. Think of your body as a well oiled machine, a beautiful high end sports car. You’re going to put the best fuel in it, right? So you'd think you'd do the same for your body, right? ...well not high octane gasoline, but the best food possible!
Over the years I’ve found what works for me, and more recently, being on chemotherapy, what doesn’t work for me. Some foods that have helped me in the past now hurt because the medicine causes intestinal problems. (I won’t elaborate anymore there, haha) My diet and nutrition options have become an even more delicate balancing act and is constantly being adjusted because of my illness. But, through research, talking to others with the same issues, and trial & error (Just make sure those trials aren’t on important days!) I have found just the right road to take to get my body in top performance mode.
I still eat things I shouldn’t, hey, you only live once. But like they say, in moderation, and on special occasions. I think every day you’re alive is a special occasion, so that’s where I remind myself, in moderation. Consulting with a nutritionist can be very valuable too.
When I was preparing for my autologous stem cell transplant, I met with a nutritionist to help me plan my meals to avoid some of that risky trial and error I previously mentioned. I was told I had to be on a strict neutropenic diet. I had no idea what that was, or what foods that included. It’s not what you think they’d advise you to eat during treatment either. Lucky for me, the neutropenic diet included junk food. Yup, you read the right. You don’t have to tell me twice to eat a chocolate bar!
During this phase of my treatment I was not allowed to eat any fresh fruit, vegetables, raw nuts or yogurt because my body did not have an immune system, nor could I eat meat unless it was burnt. Not well done, burnt! I could not consume anything that might have the slightest chance of bacteria or an organism on it because my body had no neutrophils (white blood cells to fight infection). Too bad the fluids on this diet didn’t include alcohol or I would have been endorsing the neutropenic diet as the next fad diet.
Speaking of fluids, I must mention hydration. Over time I’ve noticed my body craves more water than it used to. I consume more water now than ever to help flush the medicine and toxins out of my body faster. Since Multiple Myeloma has the potential to interfere with the kidneys, I want to be pro active and help my body machine to keep running well. I also try to limit any beverages that may dehydrate me.
Unfortunately, two of my favorites do that: coffee and wine. I’m not a dietician but I believe caffeine plays an important part in athletic performance, but only to an extent. I also believe alcohol plays an important role in post athletic celebratory occasions, but again and unfortunately, only to an extent. Though I love all those studies that say red wine is good for you...
Please stay tuned for a future blog when I discuss nutrition in detail with a registered dietician. That is unless she tells me no red wine. After all, I must be doing something right.....I was the oldest female in the race last weekend!
I’m not a chef but, I’d like to share my race winning recipe for my homemade meat sauce. Even if you aren't preparing to run a race, you can still impress your friends and family by telling them you made your own gravy from scratch. I can’t take all the credit for this recipe though, my sister Jo told me how to prepare the sauce but I tweaked it to make it my own and turned it up a notch by adding the meat. See recipe at the bottom of this article!
WINNING MEAT* SAUCE
Sauté minced garlic in olive oil.
Add a pound of ground turkey and season with sea salt, black pepper, and McCormick’s Italian Herb Seasoning.
While the meat is cooking, empty a large can of tomato sauce in a pot, add a whole onion, 2 bay leaves and one stick of plant butter.
When the meat is fully cooked add to sauce, stir well & simmer for 30 min.
Remove the onion & bay leaves.
Serve over whole wheat pasta with fresh grated Parmesan and Romano cheese.
*you can substitute the meat for vegetables, or do both. Sometimes I will sauté left over vegetables with the garlic. I will remove the vegetables before adding the meat. Once the meat is cooked thoroughly, I will combine everything in the tomato sauce.