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BE A BEANER



This past weekend I was at Big Bear's Holcomb Valley Trail run finishing a 33-miler at 7,000+ feet above sea level. My ten-minute mile pace was the slowest I'd ever run in my life and yet sufficed for an age-group 3rd place... hardest physical thing I've ever done, yada yada.

Anyway, I get to talking with the guy who finished some 30 minutes before me. He tells me that two weeks before the race he had run (and won) a 10-mile trail race. Then, the following week he had run a 2:31 marathon, narrowly beating a guy half his age for the victory. And after coming in 3rd in our Holcomb Valley 33-miler, he was ANGRY HE DIDN'T WIN! Did I mention this guy was older than me?

I thought, is this guy human??? And so I asked him. "What do you do to run so fast and so often?" says I. I was expecting him to tell me he trained in the rarified air of Mars, or that he had tiger blood in his veins. Know what he says?

"I eat beans."

Okay, maybe he didn't say this. Maybe, after running for 5 1/2 hours straight at nearly 2 miles above sea level, mostly alone, I had a mixture of high-altitude sickness and excessive fatigue, which combined to induce these auditory hallucinations. But the runner in question was Hispanic, and the reputation Mexicans have of eating more legumes than other ethnicities is based on fact. So if indeed he attested to regular consumption of legumes, he'd be honoring his heritage (and mine, as I'm 1/4 Mexican).

Beans are a slow-burning carbohydrate. They provide sustained energy without blood sugar spikes and are therefore the perfect runner's food.

At under $1 per can, beans are affordable, and you can get them pretty much anywhere food is sold. If you choose to boil your own, they are easy to prepare. When buying in a can, make sure to opt for varieties without added sugar, and to strain and rinse them thoroughly. Then simply mix into your favorite dish. Make beans a meal in and of themselves, have them with avocado and/or salsa, or add them to greens.

Start with 1/2-cup per day and work up to 1 or 2 cups. By rinsing them well you wash away the hard to digest oligosaccharides. To aid digestibility, make sure you combine them with high-water content foods. This means vegetables and vegetable fruits rather than rice, meat, cheese, and tortillas. By starting small and working up you ensure your body will have time to adjust to the new addition to your diet.

Our favorite legumes are garbanzos, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and cannellini beans. Lentils require short preparation times, no soaking, and are very easy to digest. Lima beans, split peas, azukis, and black-eyed peas are also good.

And beans are not just for the athlete. Studies have shown including just four weekly servings of your favorite legumes results in more effective weight loss, a reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and lower levels of inflammatory markers.

Furthermore, consuming just 1/2 cup per day of legumes results in increased intakes of fiber, protein, zinc, iron, and magnesium, and lower intakes of fat and saturated fat. And diets which include beans (and leafy greens) are an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin important for cognitive function. Irritability, depression, fatigue, and memory lapse can be a sign you are not getting enough. Eat beans every day and you'll have no problem remembering how important they are!

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