Monday, December 17, 2012

My Long Trip Home

Oostende Holiday lights.

  Finally home, and it feels so good.

  After struggling though another game Saturday night, I had a bright side to fall back on: I'd be headed home for a Holiday break!

  The game left me restless, and almost sick to my stomach, so it was definitely time for a break from basketball, both mentally and physically.

vs. Léon Trégor.
  In no mood to do much else after the game, I started gathering up my things, trying to organize my bags for the 20-plus hour trip home the next day. Once I felt I had wandered and puttered around my apartment long enough, I thought I should at least TRY to get some sleep. I put in my last load of laundry, set my alarm for 5:30am, started a movie, and settled in around 1am, hoping to fall asleep, for a few minutes anyways.

  Anytime I let things get quiet enough to think, my mind immediately went back to basketball, which unfortunately, made sleep impossible. With the minutes ticking by, and my window to get any rest getting smaller and smaller, I thought it was time to give in, and do something productive. You know how it goes.

Game action vs. Léon Trégor.
  I was bound to be a zombie the next day anyway -- whether I got three hours sleep, or 15 minutes. This way, with having gotten no sleep at all, maybe there was an even better chance I'd sleep my way across the Atlantic.

  Five o'clock came, and I decided it was time to start my day. Though, I guess it's hard to say when Saturday officially ended and Sunday began.

  It's always exciting to know you'll be home soon. But it's hard to get excited for such a long day of travel. It's a necessary evil. I am so thankful to be able to go home for the Holidays, so traveling 20 hours and 7,000 miles is well-worth the uncomfortable seats, tired eyes, and wobbly legs.

Lily & I trying to show off our Buff pride!
  We started out for Brussels from Dunkerque around 6:45 Sunday morning (9:45pm Saturday Portland time). My flight left Brussels at 11. I'd fly through Chicago, so once I made it through customs and found my way, it was time to settle in until my next flight. I did what I've always do once I land Stateside: I grabbed some Starbucks and found a TV to watch some Sunday afternoon football, as I waited for my connecting flight to Portland.

  I always find myself a little chattier than usual when I first get back to the US. I think that comes from not being able to really communicate with people on a regular basis when I'm out and about while overseas. When I'm in France, I don't exactly chat up the checker at the grocery store, or talk to people passing by the way I might when I'm in the US.

  Heading home a week before for the real Holiday rush was a nice change. The airports were busy, but not their usual jam-packed madness you often see mid-to-late December. Thankfully, everything was on time, and my flights went smoothly -- I even arrived early!

Holiday lights along the beach in Dunkerque.
  I was welcomed home by the glorious Portland rain (and my mom, of course). We rolled into the driveway at home at 6:45pm Sunday (3:45am Monday morning
Dunkerque time) for a grand total of 21 hours travel time. And you thought I was exaggerating. ;)

  I'm looking forward to these next few weeks at home. It will be nice to take my focus away from basketball, and enjoy the company of my family and friends.
Dunkerque Holiday lights.

  Hope you get the chance to celebrate the Holidays with loved ones, and really enjoy and appreciate what the Holiday season is all about! I know I will!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Injury Treatment

In a physical game, there are bound to be injuries!

  Injuries are a part of athletics. Unfortunately, over the course of a long season (and an even longer career) they are very difficult to avoid. Whether it's a major injury, or minor bumps and bruises, eventually there will be something you need to give extra attention to, and potentially miss a practice or game for.

  I've had my fair share of bumps and bruises, and a few major injuries along the way. So I thought it might be interesting to think back on the differences in how injuries/illnesses are treated in the various countries I've played in, including the US. 

Inner Voice vs. Outside Voices
  As a competitor, you always have that voice inside of you, urging you to get back on the court. But sometimes that voice is too eager. It's during those moments where it's important to have professionals around you, who you trust, advising you.

  Another aspect is the attitude the people around you have towards injuries/illnesses. What sorts of things are you hearing from management, coaches, fans, etc as you prepare for games? You may get pressures and feelings from influential people that don't necessarily match up with the feelings of the medical staff.

No foul.
  There's nothing worse than feeling you aren't doing what's best for the team, that your personal heath isn't important, or having your toughness questioned.

  For me, some seasons have been more injury-riddled than others. So sometimes you get a little too-familiar with the medical system, and while they're usually great people, get to know your team physio too-well.

  I've always had great medical staffs take care of me and my teammates. From college, and throughout my time in Europe as a pro. I think I've learned something valuable about my body, and how it 'works' from each and every one of them. So I thank you for that!

Ice or Heat?
  One of the most-diverging thoughts between treatment in the US and in Europe has to do with whether to ice or heat an injury. In the US, we ice everything, at all times. In Europe, you will only hear your doctor or trainer tell you to ice if it's within 48 hours of sustaining an injury. Anytime after that, they will tell you to use heat.

  As an American, my first inclination has always been to ice. It took me several years to break that mentality. Now, I think: what am I about to do? If it's to prepare for a practice or game, I heat. If it's after a workout, practice, or game, I ice. You want warm, loose muscles as you prepare to play. And after playing, you might have some aches and pains that icing will help.

Treating the Pain versus Treating the Problem
  After 10 years in Europe, I've found there is a second vastly different treatment belief. I think the people I've worked with in Europe are more concerned with your individual body structure, why something is causing you pain, and how they can cause the pain to stop. They then work with you either through exercise/rehab, or manipulating/adjustment to hopefully make a more-permanent structural change.

  I think in the US we treat the pain first and foremost. Instead of treating what's the root of the problem and what's causing the pain, the why am I feeling pain? We are too quick to ask, how can I cover up the pain, by taking this pill, or getting that shot.

Getting my broken finger attended to.
  After thinking that way for a long time, I am now 100% anti-pill, and anti-shot. We feel pain for a reason. Masking it, does not help. If I have pain, I want to be able to feel it, and make a decision from there.

  I've clearly just made a gross generalization. But it's my personal belief based on my experiences. I obviously have a lot more experiences in Europe, especially as of late. Of course, there are medical professionals in both the US and Europe that don't fit either mold I have just put them into.

Elevated Heart Rate 
  A third difference comes before you ever step foot onto the court. In Europe, you're required to pass a physical before you can compete for your team (it's usually written into your contract).

  Those physicals include an EKG, observing your heart both at rest, and with an elevated heart rate. Since that is what basketball consists of, competing with a raised heart rate, the doctors want to ensure you are fit to do so.

  In the US, I never had my heart tested at an elevated level (that I remember). That practice may have changed in the 10 years I've been competing in Europe, however.

  Here are a few specifics about some of the places I've played: 

Italy - We had a doctor who came on occasion, and a trainer who was at every practice. It was my first experience as a pro, and I quickly learned that it was up to you to get yourself taken care of. They weren't going to check up on you, or make you come in for treatment. You'd just better make sure you were ready to practice and play.

  I didn't have any injury or illness that caused me to miss time during my two seasons in Italy.

Poland - No team doctor. Trainer/massage therapist who was very attentive. I didn't have any issues that caused me to miss practice or game time.

Bosnia - No team doctor, no physio/trainer present at practice. I had a horrible ankle injury in a game in November. The doctor put a cast on me, and said to come back in a several weeks. No rehab, no exercises, nothing.

  After a week of listening to him, I cut the cast off myself because I knew I needed to be doing rehab exercises, and using my leg muscles, if I wanted to come back and play in a reasonable amount of time.

  After another week or so, the doctor wanted to put another cast on me. So I told the team I needed to go home and get it taken care of. I did just that. I didn't play competitively until the following season.

Sweden - No team doctor, no physio/trainer present at practice. We had access to a great physio when treatment was needed. I found that less importance was placed on massage therapy, and more on exercise and rehab exercises.

  If you were sick, even just a little, you did not practice or play.

Germany - No team doctor, no physio/trainer present at practice. I had various injuries in Germany, and two AWESOME physios to take care of me.

  I had a foot injury that caused me to miss almost a month of practices and games. After a few games, and the team started to lose, I felt pressure to play from management; that I needed to play, no matter what.

  With illness, if you were on antibiotics, they told you not to practice.

France - Team physio present for games, but not practice, and access to physio/team doctor throughout the week. I think out of all the countries I've played in, the French are the most-cautious. They are very quick to hold you out of practice for something I would consider minor.

Playing days at CU.
  I think it's important to understand that trainers and doctors are employed by your team. Their job is to get you on the court. And your job is to be on the court. You can imagine that those unified attitudes can get you into trouble on occasion, and you push a little too hard.

  That's where trust comes into play. You have to trust yourself and your body, first and foremost. And you have to trust that your trainer/doctor has your best interest at heart, that they pay no mind to the pressures of winning or losing one particular game.

  I've said it many times before: when it comes down to it, my job is to be ready to play on game day. That may include resting a time or two during the week, to allow those aches and pains to heal up. But I've found that the most important thing to do is to listen to your body!

Your Health First
  As my career has progressed, I have taken on a different attitude towards injuries. Before, I would play at all costs. Maybe I thought I was invincible, and could play through anything. Now, not so much. I am very cognizant about long term implications and effects from playing through injuries. I think that mentality changed about three or four years ago for me.

Always playing with contact.
  And not that I question trainers, doctors, physios now, but if I don't feel comfortable with treatment, or how something feels, I won't hesitate to speak up. Whereas earlier in my career, I would have taken everything at face value, unquestioned for the most part.

  I think that comes from learning more and more about my body each and every year, knowing myself, and truly wanting to do what's best for my health. Instead of years before, where my only concern was: 'what's the quickest way I can get back on the court?'

  Having supportive people, both in management and on the medical staff, is really important when trying to overcome injuries or illnesses, no matter their severity. Having a united front, where everyone believes in the methods, is beneficial to everyone.

  Again, thanks to the many trainers, physios, and doctors who have helped keep me healthy! It really is a team effort.
P.S. I'm knocking on wood throughout this entire blog.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less."

vs. SIG 

  Game Recap Monday is going on hiatus.

  There's a saying that goes: "When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less." So after consecutive demoralizing blow out losses?!? As of now, I'm following that advice.

  I'm all for constructive criticism, and trying to improve. But that's been tried, over and over. And frankly, I'm out of good things to say. If you have nothing good to say, keep your mouth shut. Maybe that's a little harsh, but that's what the current situation is.

  So until we've turned things around, there won't be any game updates on Mondays from me. I'm tired of it. Tired of trying to find the bright spots. Tired of airing my frustrations about bad basketball. Tired of trying to figure out what's wrong -- why I'm on a team that is struggling this much, at this stage of my career.

  This year, and last, is the most I've ever lost as a pro. I've won an Italian Championship and Super Cup, played in EuroCup and the Polish All Star game, advanced to the championship series in Sweden (on a team that won 20-something consecutive games), and have been on a playoff team every season except last.

vs. SIG
  Winning is my habit. I'm not accustomed to losing week in and week out. And I never will become accustomed to it, nor do I want to be. It will never be acceptable.

  Part of the frustration comes because I'm doing nothing differently than I've done in those past seasons. My approach, my work, my play, my effort. Maybe that is the problem, who knows.

  Every athlete deals with failures and losing. You're never perfect, and your team is never perfect. Usually, you learn from the losses and mistakes. You and your teammates make adjustments and work harder -- to change the outcome, to improve the result. That's what separates winners from losers.

  Winners keep fighting, keep scrapping, keep looking for a way out of the hole. Losers quit.

  So I am at a loss for words.

  You don't want to get to the point where you're numb to losing. Where you don't feel anything.  Where the loss no longer stings, or puts a bad taste in your mouth. That's when you've given up, and you've accepted it.

  I'm not giving up, I'm just taking a different approach and re-evaluating.

  Whether I'm writing about my games or not, you can be certain that I will be working my tail off, no matter what, doing everything I can to turn this season into a winning one.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Quick Countdown

My mom's pretty Christmas tree.
  T-minus one week (and a little change) and I'll be headed home for a some Holiday Cheer.

  Honestly, the nearly-four months that have passed since I came back to France have flown by. I remember my first several seasons overseas when I would have a countdown-til-home started by mid-October. But not this year. I'm not quite sure what that means, probably just that I've become all too familiar with the countdown game

  Time has gone so fast that I think I'm the least-prepared I've ever been for the Holidays. I haven't gone shopping one time, let alone thought about potential gifts to bring home for family and friends.

  So I have a week to get into the Holiday spirit.

  And win two basketball games.

Last Christmas with my nieces.
  That's really at the forefront of my mind right now. You probably know that I've been less-than-satisfied with how the first half of the season has gone. So I'm focusing in on these last two games before the break, hoping to get things turned around.

  Maybe that's why I feel like it shouldn't be Christmas time just yet: I have too much unfinished business left on the basketball court.

  Come December 16th, we'll be at the midway-point of our season, and I'm hoping the last two games before our break will be a sign of things to come for the second half of the season.

Home to see the fam!
  This season, my teammates and I are in the unusual but fortunate (I guess) situation to be going on break a week before the rest of our league does. Before the season got underway in September, one of the teams --Armentieres -- dropped out due to financial problems.

  It just so happened that we were scheduled to play Armentieres the last game before Christmas, on the 22nd. So now, with them out of the league, we will be at the midway point a week early.

  Til then, I'll be getting things organized for my trip home, doing a little shopping, and more-importantly, doing my best to come home for the Holidays with two more wins!

  Maybe I should turn on some Holiday music, and that'll help get me into the spirit.

  Bon week-end!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

There's an App for That

Nike Training Club app
  Eating healthy, sticking with our workouts, finding new, refreshing recipes -- living a healthy lifestyle really can be overwhelming! It can consume a lot of time. And if we don't have that time in abundance, it's far-too-easy to slip into the status quo, the do-what-we've-always-done routine.

  As always, I just want to help! I've found a few tools that hopefully will help keep us on the healthy-living track.

  Many of us have made the jump, and now enjoy the benefits of using a smartphone. Whether it's an iPhone, an Android, or whatever else there is to choose from, there are a few more things that our smartphones could be doing to make our lives easier.

Fooducate app
  I'm sure everyone knows about the calorie counter, recipe finder, or fitness tip apps. But what about when you're in the grocery store, and you find yourself staring at a list of ingredients that requires a PhD in chemistry to understand? Or maybe you have a food allergy, and you're unsure if a product is okay for you to have? Or, it's late in the day, and you really want to get a workout in, but you can't get out of the house, or you find yourself fresh out of ideas?

  Fortunately for you, there really are apps for all that! And they're free! (And most are available for iPhone/iPad and Android.)

Food Apps
  • Fooducate - Scan the bar code of any product in the grocery store, and this app will grade the product nutritionally, point out red flags (high fructose corn syrup, high salt, GMOs, etc), provide alternative suggestions, and more.
  • True Food - Trying to avoid GMOs? This app will help you do just that! Though it looks to be a bit outdated, most the information remains relevant. 
  • Shop No GMO - This app is a shopping guide to help you identify and avoid GMOs. Good idea, but the app freezes a lot. Hopefully they're working on a fix. 
  • What's On My Food? - Lists and identifies the foods that have the most chemicals on them, which of those chemicals may be most-harmful, and how you can avoid them. Again, a little out-dated.
  • Epicurious - Lets you search almost 30,000 healthy recipes from various resources. 
  • Harvest to Hand - This app helps you find locally harvested food, farmers markets, specialty shops, etc.
True Food app.
Fitness Apps
  • Nike Training Club (NTC) - Basically like having a personal trainer in your phone. You choose from dozens of set workouts that you can do almost anywhere. Has instructional videos. Push play, and go! (iPhone/iPad only)
  • Nike BOOM - Similar to the NTC app, but geared more towards men, in my opinion. Can be sport-specific, and has modes for warm up, workout, and interval training. 
  • MapMyRun GPS Running - Allows you to search for new running routes, maps/tracks your runs. Also available for cycling (MapMyRide).
  • MyPlate Calorie Tracker - Tracks your daily calories and exercise.
  • Nike+ Running - Similar to MapMyRun. Tracks and maps your workouts. 
  These are just a handful of apps I either use myself, just downloaded and intend to use, or have read about. I'm sure there are many more than I haven't yet stumbled onto. And chances are, if there's something specific to you, or something you want to know more about, there's an app for that as well!

  Have you found an app that you use, and want to share? Let me know!


Monday, December 3, 2012

A Team Above All...

  All it took was two wins, and we got complacent. Or content. We thought all we had to do was show up, and winning would 'just happen'. That, just because we were home, and we were supposed to win, it would take care of itself.

  That's the tough lesson we learned on Saturday against Strasbourg. After TWO wins.

  It's not enough to just hope, or want, something to happen. Or think something should happen. Winning does not happen by mistake. You have to earn it. You have to show up (in more ways than one: physically of course, and mentally), work your tail off, and do your job.

  Here's the thing about competing on a high level: your opponent believes they will/should win too. You have to out-work them, 'out-compete' them. Each and every play, of each and every game. And you rely on your teammates to do the same. Taking a possession or two off is not going to cut it. Teams are too competitive, and too talented.

  Instead of pushing our winning streak to three games on Saturday, we got a butt-whooping. We were never in the game against Strasbourg. And it's a shame.

  There's a saying that goes, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." And honestly, I think it's a shameful way to lose. Whether we were more talented than Strasbourg is an argument for another day. But there's no question which team worked harder, and more together.

  After a game like Saturday's, you want a re-do immediately, but we all know that isn't possible. So there's nothing to do but to make sure it never happens again.

  It's my feeling that the team I play on is a direct reflection of me (and this is the case every season, with every team). Its effort, its attitude, its result on the court = me. You look up DMBC Dunkerque, you see my name on the roster, it's a reflection of me, and my work. It's my reputation. And frankly, I don't like being associated with losing and giving up.

  In team sports, you're reliant on the group as a whole for your success. You don't win alone, and you don't lose alone. That's what can make it incredibly frustrating, or incredibly satisfying.

  You're putting your trust into your teammates that they will be there when you need them. It's the sum of ALL the parts that either makes a team great, or makes a team fail.

  Yes, you have control of yourself.

  It's up to you to do everything you can to pull your own weight, do your job, and make sure the end result is something you can be proud of. AND HOLD YOUR TEAMMATES ACCOUNTABLE. It's only after doing your best, that you can have no regrets -- win or lose. And you rely on your teammates to have that same attitude.

  It's not happening again. Not for the lack of trying anyway. Not on my watch. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Children in Crisis: Kids & Our Food System

  I've made my feelings on the US Food System fairly clear during my 15 months writing Sabrina's Crossing.

  Unfortunately, the problems go beyond what we are putting on our plates for any one meal. And they go much deeper than any one individual.

  Our system is broken at the core.  

  I recently watched the HBO documentary The Weight of the Nation, a four-part series that explored the obesity 'epidemic' in the US, and came away shaking my head.

  Part 3, "Children in Crisis" (the full video is below), examined the steadily rising obesity rates among America's children.

  The marketing of foods to children, the national school lunch program, and sugary drinks (soda and juices) were the prime focus.

  While I don't have kids myself, I can't help but see that there's a problem. We should not be seeing a country of unhealthy children; struggling with their weight as youngsters, and living an overall unhealthy childhood. As the documentary notes this "will probably be the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents."

  Kids should not have to be on diets. They're kids! But with obesity rates tripling in just one generation, and rising chances of developing obesity-related cardio-medabolic disorders and side-effects (Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, etc), it's clear this is not just an isolated problem.

The Happy Meal. Sold by everyone's favorite ogre: Shrek.
  Yes, problems lie on the home front as well. But the blame cannot come down solely on parents. If it was just an individual problem, we would not be seeing rising rates across the board, throughout the country.

  As cliche as it may sound: kids are our future. We should be doing all we can do to protect them, and set them up for successes, instead of allowing them to be exploited. 

  The problem lies in our system. 

How Washington Has Gone Soft
  Instead of making strides in policy in recent years, either by overhauling school lunch programs, regulating what foods are marketed to children, or even a 'soda-tax', the food and beverage industry has won fight after fight at every level of government during the last decade.

  There have been attempts to go healthy, but we've failed thus far.

  In late-2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed into law by President Obama. The act instructed the USDA to develop higher nutrition standards based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. It was to invest more money than ever before into the school lunch program, and other food programs for children.

Pizza and fries. A common lunch at school.
  The act would immediately increase the quantity of fruits and vegetables served, limit french fries to only be served two times per week, require grains served be whole grain, and reduce saturated fat and sodium in lunches.

  But less than a year later, the bottom fell out. Remember the 'pizza as a vegetable' debacle last November?

  Congress took huge steps backwards with a spending bill that essentially nullified the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. By keeping french fries on the daily menu, allowing pizza to be classified as a vegetable, and delaying the requirement of whole grains, Congress failed our children.

  In 2011, there was an effort to develop one consistent set of nutrition standards regarding food marketing to children. Standards set by experts, not dictated by manufacturers and advertisers. Congress created the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG), which was made up of experts from the CDC, FDA, USDA, and FTC.

A healthier, more well-rounded lunch. What it should look like!
  The IWG was tasked with improving the nutritional profile of children's diets. In July 2011, they proposed principles that would lower the levels of sugar, salt, and fat in the majority of foods marketed to children.

  Once the food industry got wind of the healthier proposals, there was huge push back. A joint hearing was called in October 2011 where there were complaints of policies going too far, and 'declaring war on many healthy products'.

  The food industry won out again. After the hearing, Congress declared that the IWG completely withdraw their recommendations, and 'conduct a study, and report the findings to Congress'. As of March 2012, no further progress has been made on the IWG study.

  In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama's childhood-obesity campaign went from criticizing food makers to only promoting exercise after lobbyists weighed in with their opinions, and more-importantly, their dollars.

Michelle Obama's Let's Move program
  Health experts have compared the tactics of the food industry to those used by Big Tobacco to fight stricter regulations. The most popular argument is to allow the food industry to regulate itself. The companies themselves decide what is, and what is not, healthy food. 

  I've talked about food labeling tactics before. Such as making health claims on sugary cereals. That comes from self-regulation.

  The food industry's interests do NOT lie in protecting children, or our overall health.

  $1.5 billion per year is spent by the food industry marketing food products to children. Young children don't understand what marketing is and how it works. They see a fun cartoon, or their favorite character, and want the related product. Essentially the food industry buys our children.

  For example, the worst cereals nutritionally are the ones that are marketed most-aggressively to children.

  This is not a new discussion. For 30 years, there has been an active debate in Washington over whether or not we should limit advertising to children. 

  In many European countries (you knew I was going there), where obesity and diet-related disease rates are much lower, there are warning labels (France), food and beverage advertising to children bans (Sweden and Norway), and bans on TV ads, including celebrity endorsement, for candy and fast food (Ireland).
                                                                       Who's responsible for getting us back on track?  
What child doesn't want Cookie Crisp for breakfast?
Yes, there is personal choice and personal responsibility. But there is also such a thing as social responsibility. 

  We encountered the same strong push back and roadblocks in regard to smoking, public health and the tobacco industry. But look how regulation and tobacco/smoking is looked upon now. 

  I see our food industry in the same light. And it's just as serious of a problem, if not more-so.

  Here are two small examples of the quality of foods marketed to children: 1) In the breaded chicken and mozzarella Lunchable by Oscar Meyer, there are 80 ingredients listed. Shouldn't it be three: chicken, cheese, and bread? The other 77 ingredients accounts for processed junk.

  And who eats Lunchables -- kids!

  2) In strawberry fruit roll ups, the ingredient list doesn't even include actual strawberries. It's all chemicals, and it's all marketed to kids.

What do we do?
  We need to hold industry leaders and our politicians accountable and demand that the lack of regulation for the food industry be addressed. That we don't allow the big dollars influence school lunches. The health of the younger generation is too important.

  In the past 15 years, the percentage of new cases of Type 2 diabetes (what used to be called adult-onset) among children has from three to 50 percent. Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has tripled.

  What's more, a 2006 USDA report states that the percentage of children who are overweight has doubled and the percentage of adolescents who are overweight has more than triple. This has nothing to do with looks, and everything to do with health.

  Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease, what previously were 'adult-only' ailments, are now becoming more and more common in children and adolescents. These conditions arise primarily from poor diets and consumption of poor quality foods.

  We need to fix our system. It's more than personal choice and responsibility. Our leaders must get tough on the corporations, and we must tell the food industry enough is enough.

   In the meantime, exercise our right to make healthy choices. Educate ourselves about the food we put on the dinner table (and in the lunch box). We each can do more! 

  If you have the time, which I hope you do, watch "Children in Crisis", the third installment from HBO's The Weight of the Nation. And let me know your thoughts!

Kids Get Hooked Early and Often
How Washington Went Soft on Childhood Obesity
Congress to Kids: Drop Dead
Time to Stop Marketing Food to Kids
Jillian Michaels Podcast 9/15/2012
2006 USDA Report

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Amp Up Your Workouts with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Red Rocks. How's this for an interval workout!?!

  The Holiday Season is here!

  For many of us that means busier schedules, and yummier foods than usual. And if exercising is a part of our regular routine, maybe we should try to get more bang for our buck in the workout department to go along with our hectic holiday lives.

  Or maybe we've hit a plateau, or are bored with our workouts, and are looking to spice things up a bit? Maybe pounding away on that treadmill or bike is getting tiresome? Whatever our workout-complaints are, here are some ways to shake things up a bit!

  These are some tried and tested ways to amp up your workouts, change the status quo, and get your heart thumping: 

HIIT -- (High Intensity Interval Training) is exactly what it sounds like: intense cardio performed in a series of intervals.

Luscher Farms -- my field of choice for sprints.
  What makes HIIT any different, or any better, than your run-of-the-mill cardio? The payoff for a shorter, more-intense workout is that after a HIIT session, your body spends the rest of the day expending energy to recover!

  This is called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), or 'after-burn'. It means that you consume a great deal more oxygen recovering from the workout than you would have if you'd just done a steady-state workout.

  HIIT allows you to burn "up to nine times more fat while sitting on the couch later that night than you would have if you'd spent an hour on the treadmill at a moderate pace." But it has to be intense -- no slacking allowed!

Three examples of HIIT that I use on a regular basis, mostly in my off-season are:
  • Hills/Stairs -- Find a hill, or a set of stairs, in your neighborhood -- something that takes roughly 20 seconds to run. After a sufficient warm up (10-minute jog, for example), perform a series of 10-15 sprints up the hill, or stairs. Walk, or jog back down for your recovery, and repeat. After 10-15 repetitions, finish with a 10-minute cool down (and don't forget to stretch!). This works the same if walking is your preferred method of cardio!
  • Sprint Intervals -- If you can't find a hill or a good set of stadium stairs, surely there's a field or track in your neighborhood! Again, after a good warm up, it's time to hike up the intensity: sprint for 50 yards. Then recover, by either jogging or walking, for another 50 yards. Repeat for 10-15 minutes. I like to do my sprint intervals on a football field because it's a nice flat/soft surface, and the distances are already marked for me. I don't need to look at a watch, I just sprint 50 yards, then recover for 50 yards. No thinking involved, just run! And don't forget your cool down!
  • Machine work -- Both of these workouts can be performed on a treadmill, bike, or elliptical. For hills/stairs, you increase the incline for 20-30 seconds, then return it to normal for your recovery time. For the sprint work, you increase the speed for 15-30 seconds (depends on how hard the sprint is!), and then return it to a comfortable pace for your recovery. Again, these can be done as walking workouts as well!
Tera and I getting ready to run the stairs at Red Rocks.
  The point of interval workouts is to raise your heart rate very quickly, and then during your recovery, return your heart rate to a lower pace. This will increase your fitness level overall (you will recover quicker the more often you do it).

Push Outside Your Comfort Zone
  The trick is that you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone: the more you push yourself during the 'sprint' phase, the better results you will see. And of course, the more 'after-burn' effect you will see.

  Clearly you need to have a good base fitness level to perform HIIT workouts. You can't just jump off the couch, straight into sprint workouts. That's a recipe for disaster. And you should not do HIIT workouts every day. Your body needs time to recover from intense workouts, and should only be done two to three times a week.

  If you find yourself having difficulty maintaining a high intensity throughout your workout (or want to give interval training a try, and you're new new to the working out game), you are better off performing more moderately-paced 'endurance' cardio. But try to push yourself with a few harder minutes sprinkled in throughout the session. This will help increase your metabolism (although not as much as with HIIT), as well as your overall fitness, which may lead to you eventually including HIIT workouts as part of your routine.
High Intensity Interval Training.
Tabata Training -- is a very specific, rigorous kind of HIIT. Tabata is becoming more and more popular because it can be done very, very quickly and it simultaneously improves your anaerobic AND aerobic conditioning. Tabata develops your ability to sustain explosive bursts of strength and speed, along with improving endurance. 

  If you TRULY only have 20 minutes to squeeze in a workout, try Tabata, it'll torch you! I have given it a shot a few times this season, and have found my legs were shot the next day. Something I never feel the day after something like a 40-minute run.

  Again, it is suggested that you have a good, if not GREAT, fitness level for Tabata training -- because if you cannot sustain the intensity, you will not see the results in the short time.

  Any exercise can be incorporated into Tabata training. Pay close attention to the 'sprint' phase, and the recovery phase: notice that the sprint-time is twice as long as the rest-time. The basic outline of Tabata training method is:
  • 10-minute warm up
  • 20 seconds of intense training (all out sprint)
  • 10 seconds of rest 
  • Total of 8 sessions/rounds (making the entire Tabata session 4 minutes long)
  • Cool down and stretch
  True Tabata training is not supposed to last longer than one session.

  Whether you're looking to spice up your workout, or get a more-intense workout, in a shorter time, give interval training a try! Your extra hard work will pay off. And it's always good mentally and physically to change up your routine -- it keeps us on our toes, and forces our bodies to adapt.

  Good luck, and let me know what you think!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Road Game in Paris

Picture day on the beach.

  After securing our first win last Saturday, DMBC Dunkerque hit the road this Saturday looking for our first road win of the season. This time in Paris.

  You're never not excited to go to Paris. No matter the reason, no matter how short the stay. Just being able to say, 'I'm going to Paris' or 'we're playing in Paris' is fun. There's an extra buzz about it, and a feeling of excitement as the bus navigates its way through the city.

  A road trip to Paris also meant a shorter bus ride for us. Something that is always appreciated. For once we didn't have an overnight trip on the bus. So it was a different experience to wake up on game day in my own bed, and then travel to the game.

  We had INSEP (Institut National du Sport de l'Expertise et de la Performance) on the slate this time around. I compare INSEP to that of the college playing experience in the US. They live, study, train, and play together.

  An extremely young, athletic, and very talented team. INSEP features France's best and brightest from the younger generation. They're training to be France's next generation of stars. But until then, as a professional, you cannot lose to them. So the pressure's on.

Institut National du Sport de l'Expertise et de la Performance
  INSEP came out of the gate hot. They couldn't miss. Mostly due to our passive defense. But to give their young players credit, they were making and finishing plays. INSEP knocked down every thing they put up, and we were looking at a 10-point deficit right away.

  As we increased our defensive aggressiveness and intensity, we were able to slowly chip away at their lead. By being passive defensively, we allowed the INSEP players to be comfortable and play at their own pace. We couldn't allow that to continue. As a defender, you have to make the offense uncomfortable. Especially if they lack the experience, like INSEP does. Put pressure on their players, and make them play a little faster than they want to play.

  Though INSEP maintained a small lead, we kept our heads, didn't get down mentally, and were able to draw even towards the end of the first half. Eventually we took the lead, and never looked back, taking a four-point lead into the half.

vs. Calais earlier in the season.
  A four-point lead is nothing, so we needed to make sure we came out of the second half gate more focused, and more aggressive than we did to start the game. And we did exactly that. Gradually we were able to increase our lead by exploiting our advantage inside, sustaining defensive pressure, and knocking down open shots from the perimeter. 

  A double-digit road win -- you really can't complain! Everyone contributed, and every win is a good win, isn't it? We're progressing, and I feel our team getting better and better. And that's exactly what you hope for, week-by-week, as your season progresses.

  After a fun celebratory team dinner at a restaurant in Paris, we hopped back on the bus with our first road win in hand. Let's hope there are many more to come!

  Two wins is a start. But it's up to us to continue to work to improve because it's certainly not enough!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A French Thanksgiving

2012 Thanksgiving crew!

  As I wrote last year, it's always a bit strange to spend Thanksgiving abroad. It's the only holiday I spend overseas that isn't celebrated in Europe. So while my American friends and family at home are readying for a big feast together, life goes on, just like any other day for me in Europe.

  My willingness to do something special for Turkey Day while in Europe always depends on the people I'm around: if they want to have a Thanksgiving dinner, I am more than happy to oblige.

  Thanksgiving Dunkerque 2012 Edition wasn't too different than the previous year's version -- except the addition of 10 more people to the dinner table. This year I would cook for my teammates as well!

The tedious task of cubing loaves of bread!
  Since my team would have two practices on the real Thanksgiving, I would have to settle for celebrating a day early. Having only a midday practice on Wednesday would allow me to cook the majority of the day, and prepare a hopefully-delicious meal for everyone.

Dressing: the final product.
  After we finished practice, I went straight home to begin my marathon day in the kitchen. I had done a little prepping the night before, but not much. (Note to self for future Thanksgivings: it's okay to prep the night before!)

  Dinner was to be around 7:30. And I knew my guests would start to arrive around seven, so I had roughly five hours to get everything ready. Time was ticking!

  Here was my menu:
  • Oven Roasted Turkey Breast & one thigh, for those dark meat lovers (no whole turkeys to be found this time of year in France!)
  • Homemade Dressing from scratch
  • Sweet Potato casserole
  • Green Bean casserole
  • Peas & Pancetta
  • Cranberry sauce (made from dried cranberries, since fresh cranberries are nowhere to be found here)
  • Mashed Potatoes (this was the one thing I would NOT be preparing! Thankfully. my friends V and Bruno would take care of the taters.)
Yum yum!
  I was to take care of the Turkey Day food, while I left the drinks up to the wine experts: my French teammates and coach. They also brought a little dessert as well.

  The tricky part about Thanksgiving, as many of you know, is managing your kitchen so everything is ready on time! For me, this is always where the panic sets in. I have a TINY kitchen, with counter space the size of a checkerboard, to go along with a microwave-sized oven.

Bon appétit!
  The turkey and the dressing (cooked separately) monopolize so much oven time on their own, I had to cook the casseroles ahead of time, and plan to heat them up as the turkey and dressing were finishing up closer to eating time. I started getting stressed as I sat, chopping onion and celery for the dressing, when I was realizing I needed at least two more sets of hands, and at least one more oven!

  Thankfully, one of my teammates lives next door. So I was able to put her oven to good use. But you forget how long it takes to chop everything up! I chopped as fast as I could, while concentrating not to chop a finger off, as the sweet potatoes cooked in the oven.

  The rest of my afternoon was spent running between ovens, checking and re-checking recipes, stirring, tasting, and Skyping with my mom for re-assurance. I was finally able to jump in the shower, and be somewhat-presentable for dinner, and get my apartment ready for my guests.

  The food was the first, and only thing on my mind. Delicious food trumps all, so that was my focus. I knew my teammates, coach, and friends would give me some leeway in the hosting department as long as I put a good dinner on the table.

My plate. Think I need some more turkey.
  My favorite Thanksgiving day food is the dressing (stuffing, whatever you call it). It's not really Thanksgiving for me unless I've had a heaping helping of my favorite breaded food. Since there's no prepped/pre-packaged dried croutons in France (that I can find), I have to make my own.

  I actually kind of enjoy this aspect, but it's just incredibly tedious! I buy a few loaves of fresh bread, cut them into one-inch-or-so cubes, and then leave them to dry out overnight. This is the only time when stale bread is a good thing!

Lots of first Thanksgivings here.
  I'd made dressing (I guess it's not stuffing if it's never stuffed inside the bird!) the same way the year before, but I remember it being a little too dry. So this time around, I made sure to have extra liquid on hand to keep that from happening. That definitely did the trick, cause I have to say my dressing was delicious!

  It was finally time to eat! I could see a few puzzled looks on some of my teammates' faces as they sat down to the table. So I explained to them what everything was, what my favorite things were, and encouraged them to dig in.

  You're always nervous about the food turning out. You spend so much time and energy preparing everything, your worst nightmare is be bad food -- and with all those people there no less! But after I loaded up my plate, and took my first bite, I was happy! And when I heard a few  'ahhhh trop bon' from my teammates, I could relax.

  All in all, I had 14 people over for Thanksgiving dinner this year: 10 adults, and four kids. It was a lot of work, and I was truly exhausted after the night was over. But I had a great time cooking, and sharing some of my family's Thanksgiving traditions with my team. And I loved that I was able to provide several first Thanksgivings as well!

  While celebrating holidays are never quite the same without your family, this year's Thanksgiving was a pretty good alternative. Hope you and your families had a great Thanksgiving!