Monday, August 26, 2013

Football Season! Sans the Anxiety

Always fun to see Ralphie up close and personal.

  For the first time in a long time, the dawn of football season isn't bringing up bittersweet, anxious feelings in my gut.

  Don't get me wrong, I love football season just as much as the next person. In fact, it's my favorite season to participate in as a fan.

  So what's to be anxious about? Dating back to my freshman year in college ('99 for those of you keeping track), football season meant it was time to hit the road.

  First as a teenager from Lake Oswego, heading to Colorado to start college. Then as a professional basketball player heading to Europe to begin every season anew. From my freshman year onward, as the football season got closer and closer to kicking off, the knot in my stomach grew larger by the day.

Here comes Ralphie...!
  Big changes and difficult goodbyes were looming on the horizon.

  On one hand, I grew accustomed to the drastic changes and the adjustment period I would encounter. So I was able to get comfortable fairly quickly. But on the other hand, it began to wear on me after a while. I guess you can say novelty eventually wore off.

Knowing vs. Doing
  Yet I always knew it was time to go. I admit, after a summer of being home, working out for 3-4 months, and doing not-much-of-anything else, it was time to go. Even so, I never liked to see the sunsets coming on earlier and earlier in the evening.

  Knowing you needed to do something, didn't make doing it any easier. I knew I needed to be overseas. It was my job after all. But I'd still always want to squeak out a few more days stateside. Put off the uncomfortable adjustment period, the long day of travel, and the tough goodbyes.

Not going back overseas will be a change.
  There were years when I was lucky enough to see a college football Saturday or two before I head out to cross the pond. And I always was entirely too excited if I got to see just one game on USA-time -- on TV. And if it was in person? I was ecstatic.

This Football Season
  As August quickly comes to a close, and football season knocks on the door, I'm finding that knot in my stomach isn't there.

  There still are bittersweet feelings, just of a different kind this time around. The fact that I don't get to hop on a plane and change lives is a big change for me. Knowing I won't be on a basketball team for the first time since I was eight: enormous change.

CU vs. Georgia in 2010.
  So there are still changes. But none of the anxiety and knot-inducing variety.

  There are things I enjoyed about being able to up and move overseas. Obviously -- if I continued to do it year after year. Things were always fresh and new. They were exciting. There was always something on the horizon to look forward to.

  But this time around, I look forward to enjoying college football Saturdays and NFL Sundays on the couch, or in the stands, in the good ol' US of A.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Toxic Sugar?

  Following up on my previous blog, I wanted to stick with the food theme this week.

  I came across this video a few weeks ago, thanks to my smart Facebook friends, and it was a good one. So good, I wanted to share it on my blog.

  The video deals with sugar; how it's harming our health, why we should pay more attention to it, and explains why it's hidden in foods we never expect to see it in. 

  Well-worth watching!

"In only a few decades, there are now more obese people on the planet than there are undernourished. When it comes to getting fat, we've come to believe it's as simple as 'calories in' versus 'calories out' - if you want to shed pounds, you need to burn more calories than you consume. But not all calories are the same. Some people absorb calories more efficiently and it matters what types of foods your calories are coming from. Sugar is now being proposed by experts as the new dietary villain that's making us fat and sick. Dr. Maryanne Demasi investigates the bitter truth about the dangers of a sweet diet."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Everyone Needs a Treat

Need a treat?
  Going too long without a treat is impossible. And I doubt I am alone in thinking that way. For me, never indulging in a cookie or two, ice cream, or crackers or chips is not an option.

  I've found an all or nothing mentality doesn't work too well. I need balance and routine. Even in my eating habits.

  As careful, and as conscientious as I am about how I eat, I always find room for an occasional treat or two! I'd go crazy otherwise.

  Giving yourself a break, indulging -- whatever you want to call it -- is a necessity in order to stay with your day-to-day routine. Long term dieting, if that's what you wish to call it, isn't possible.

No Chemicals, Please
  How you indulge, and how often you indulge is key. When it comes time for your treat, be picky!

  Calories and fat are okay. Chemicals are not! I know, in today's world, this is tough. The readily-available stuff -- the candy bars, the potato chips, the microwave popcorn -- is the easiest to get our hands on! But it's also the most damaging health wise.

  Not surprisingly, there are non-chemical options. You just have to look a little harder to find them.

Unreal comparison.
  For those with a sweet tooth (like me), check out Unreal Candy. They 'reinvente' your favorite candy, and make it with 100% REAL ingredients. No artificial junk, no corn syrup, no hydrogenated oil, no preservatives, no GMOs, and 50% less sugar.

  Cleaned up junk food. Worth a try if you ask me.

  If you find yourself reaching for a candy bar, make it an Unreal candy bar. Or there's Newman's Own Organics cookies. Or Eden Organic popcorn.

  The point is: there are options. And they go beyond M&Ms, Ritz Crackers, Doritos, and Orville Redenbacher's Popcorn. They are non-GMO, no chemical foods.

  Our body knows how to process calories, fats, and sugars. It doesn't, on the other hand, know what to do with chemicals. When we take the chemicals out of our snacks, it then becomes about the quantity -- how much we're eating of it (check out the podcast linked below for Jillian Michaels' talk of her 80/20% rule).

  Long story, short: pick a version of  your treat of choice that is not loaded with chemicals and/or trans-fat.

 Many times, this conversation leads to diet talk: the fad diet everyone is trying at the moment, what's working for your friend, and so on. Everyone wants to know, 'what should I be doing; what's the best diet?' 

Fill up with whole foods.
The Best Diet
  There is no 'best diet' per se.

  What I find valuable about each diet-of-the-moment is that they allow me to learn a little bit more about nutrition. If you do some research on your own, and try to learn about the various (and they are wide-ranging) ways of eating, you'll find yourself becoming educated on each and every one of them.

  You learn about food, and how it fuels you. You learn what works for you, and how your body reacts to various foods. We're all vastly different, and therefore we all react to eating habits and diets in different ways. You learn to value the quality of food.

  And most importantly, at least for me, it truly allows you to realize a balanced diet, filled with as many 'whole foods' as you can fit in, is the way to go.

  Check out this blog post from Precision Nutrition for great information about diet specifics.

  It's realizing it's a lifestyle choice, not a diet. Being healthy isn't a destination, it's a way to live.

Fads Come and Go
  Diets, gimmicks, and the popular workout-of-the-year don't last forever.

  Excluding entire food groups (such as fruit), one macronutrient or another (carbohydrates, for example), or strict demands with how to prepare food (raw food diet) are impossible diets to stick with for a prolonged period of time, let alone your entire life.

A little joke I dug up.
  To restrict yourself in such an extreme way is not a sustainable way of life.

  While you might go low-carb or paleo for four or five months, and see great results. Inevitably, we start going back to a more 'normal' way to eat. Those restricted foods are added back in, and that's when we run into trouble.

  The basics -- the well-rounded, whole food, in-moderation advices -- will last through time. If 'healthy' is a goal, habits and lifestyles have to be adjusted to match that goal. Again, it's a lifestyle, not a diet.

  We've all heard it, and it's true: Cleaning up your diet, limited processed foods, really will make you feel better, and be healthier -- even when you find yourself wandering towards the junk food aisle!

  Be conscientious and thoughtful about how you are eating, but don't forget to give yourself a break every once in a while too! It will make you more successful in the long run.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Soccer in the States -- With a European Flavor


  Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to get an invite to the always-sold-out Timbers game.

  The Portland Timbers are all the rage in the Rose City this summer, just as they've been since their re-franchising in 2011.

  The franchise originated in 1975 in the old North American Soccer League. This is the fourth Portland team to share the Timbers' legacy and don a Timbers' kit.

  Portlanders have a rich history with soccer, and traditionally do a tremendous job supporting their teams. And since the MLS brought professional soccer back to Portland just a few seasons ago, the Timbers Army and the rest of the city, have done just that.

 I put together a short video from the Timbers vs. Whitecaps.

  While most think of soccer in the US as an afterthought, the Timbers sell out Jeld-Wen Field each and every match. 20,000+ screaming, singing, scarf donning, flag waving fans, elicit thoughts of passionate European crowds (sadly, something I never got to see while in Europe), not a small-market city in the States.

Some action on the field.
  It seems to me that the Timbers Army is the heart and soul of the franchise. While the players make the machine go, the passionate supporters are what make the soccer experience in Portland memorable. Officially, the Timbers Army is made up of the 4,000+ fans at the north-end of the stadium.

  I wouldn't call myself a soccer fanatic, but without a doubt, I'm a sports fan. And am always loyal to my hometown teams. So when I got the invite, I jumped at the chance to see the Timbers, and the Timbers Army, in person.

Timbers Army.
  I had seen several games on TV, and the constant singing and chanting from the crowd alone made it fun and exciting. Since this would be my first game in person, I was thrilled to see and feel the energy of the crowd. The Timbers Army lived up to the hype, and then some. Our seats (or stands, since we never sat down) were just next to the Timbers Army in the north-end of Jeld-Wen field.

  After two seasons of less-than-stellar play, this year's Timbers squad is an improved team, and is battling to stay near the top of the Western Conference standings. And the game versus Vancouver just happened to be one of their rivalry games -- the Cascadia Cup.

Yell sheets.
  My first professional soccer match was sure to be a doozy. 

  Walking into the stadium, yell sheets with lyrics were being handed out. And as we found our seats, roughly 20 minutes before kickoff, the chants were already echoing throughout the stadium.

  While I thoroughly enjoyed the game, I felt myself, at times, paying more attention to the crowd and the yell leaders -- trying to decipher which song they were chanting. The were entertaining in
Pre-game activities.

  Now to the game.

  It was my first professional soccer match. And it was fast, physical, and intense. The athletes were impressive; quick, strong, and skilled.

The final minutes tick off the clock.
  Seeing a game in person is always a sure fire way to becoming a fan, as the speed of any game never translates through television. So being able to watch live and in person, was a real treat.

  One thing I was disappointed with: the game ended in a 1-1 tie.

  The last five minutes were played in a fury -- get that game-winning goal! But then the final whistle blew, and the match was over. You could feel the disappointment in the crowd too, as if everyone was saying, 'now what?'

On the MAX. Headed home with a tie?
  No win, no loss. And yet, it was time to head home. Weird. I don't know, as an athlete, if I could ever get used to ending a game in a tie.

  Nonetheless, we hopped back on the MAX, jam-packed with all the rest of the crowd, and eventually made our way home.

  Though I was disappointed with the tie result, my first professional soccer match was a blast -- thanks to the exceptional athletes on the pitch, and the tremendous fans in the stands.

  Next time, I'll have yells down pat. And maybe we'll get a win out of the deal too.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Post-Career Career Advice

Summer '09 -- Huntington Beach

  Word to athletes -- professional, collegiate, or otherwise: intern!

  We all know, we can't play forever, so there's no time like the present to start preparing for the 'after-life'.

  Whenever your off-season may be, for me it was the summer time, make it a point to do what I didn't do -- get some work experience!

  Interning provides a great opportunity to learn a few tricks to the trade, make some quality connections, and bolster your resume. And if you can't find an internship that works with your off-season calendar, volunteer!

  During my time as a college athlete at Colorado, and my 10-year career in Europe, I never interned. And right now, I'm asking myself why. Instead of already having an understanding of how the job market works, and true work experience under my belt, I'm playing catch up. And trying to learn everything all at once.

  Sure I volunteered, worked at various camps, and then eventually ran my own clinics. But I'm learning that employers want proof you can handle yourself in an office setting, problem solve, and maybe most-importantly, hit the ground running when hired.

Time = Opportunity
  We do love our off-seasons: free time, family, friends. I loved mine. It allowed me to reset the batteries, see the people I had missed all season while I was gone, and train for the upcoming season.

  But how about doing something to invest in the not-too-distant future?

Ice Hotel -- Sweden. Winter '09.
  We have nothing but time during the off-season. Yes, workouts take up a lot of time and energy. If you're a pro, think back to those college days where we somehow mustered up the energy to go to school full time and hold it down in our athletic arena.

   See, we already know how to manage our time and energy! It will be time very well spent.

  Interning, or volunteering, will give you the one thing that employers seem to want: people with work experience. No matter how we chalk it up, being a successful athlete isn't the only thing they're looking for. So we've got to give them what they want.

  Here are your choices: put in some work during the off-season, or try to make up for lost time when the ball stops bouncing.

  Take it from me; take a summer (or two, or three) before your playing career comes to a close, and intern!

  If you've been thinking about it, do it! You'll thank me later.