For most of the past year, I’ve been starting my day with a green smoothie for breakfast, but lately I’ve been getting back into juicing. I piled up a lot of experience in a short period of time when I did my 30-day juice feast a year ago. (I’d originally planned to go for a 92-day juice feast but decided to stop after 30 days.)
Drinking fresh juice has many benefits. With the fiber removed, fresh juice digests very easily, so you don’t have to expend as much energy on digestion. This extra energy then becomes available for your body and mind.
When I incorporate a lot of juice into my diet — about 32-64 oz per day, roughly 25-50% of my day’s caloric intake — I immediately notice a difference at the gym. My body just feels lighter and cleaner, and exercising feels easier as well.
Juicing and interval training
Lately I’ve been doing interval training at the gym on an elliptical machine. I know from past experience that interval training is an effective way to boost my cardiovascular fitness level in a matter of weeks. I’ve also shed several pounds this month.
For interval training I like my baseline heart rate to be around 148 beats per minute. Then I do various short intervals (usually 1-2 minutes in duration) that spike my heart rate as high as 180. Over a period of weeks, this training makes my cardiovascular system progressively more efficient, so my heart doesn’t have to pump as hard to handle the same workload. The effect is easily measurable with a heart rate monitor.
Four weeks ago I started out at level 10 for my baseline on a particular brand of elliptical machine. Sustained exertion at that level would get my heart up to about 146-148 beats per minute. Today that same setting will only get my heart rate into the 120s. To hit 148, I have to set the machine to level 14 now.
Also, four weeks ago I was doing intervals between levels 10 and 14. Now I’m doing intervals between levels 14 and 20 to create similar spikes in my heart rate.
How does juicing play into this? Well, I recently observed that if I drank a lot of juice the day before my workout (as opposed to all solid foods), my heart rate wouldn’t spike as high during the intervals.
Presently at level 14, my heart rate will be sustained at around 147 beats per minute. I don’t notice a change in that number whether I’m juicing or not. However, after a minute at level 19, my heart rate has been spiking to 177. But if I drink lots of juice the day before (about 64 oz), that same interval only spikes my heart rate to 163, and a minute at level 20 only spikes me to 171. If I go back to all solid food (including smoothies), then my heart rate spikes back up to 176-177 for that same level 19 interval. I don’t push it to level 20 on those days because I don’t like going past 180 (that puts me a little too close to passing out or throwing up).
So not only do I feel the difference when I’m juicing, I can also measure it at the gym when I’m working out. My heart doesn’t have to pump as hard to handle the same workload when I’m getting more of my calories from fresh juice.
If you’re curious if this would work for store-bought juice, I haven’t tried that. Pasteurized (i.e. cooked) juice isn’t something I want to put in my body.
I’ve also noticed that if I have a smaller amount of juice (like 24-32 oz), then the training benefit is diminished but still measurable. I haven’t tried going a full day on juice, which for me would require about 128 oz (1 gallon), but I may try that at some point to see if the effect is even greater.
Of course there’s a training effect whereby interval training helps my body adapt to greater workloads over time, but this effect isn’t too significant in the span of just a few days. By flip-flopping from juicy days to non-juicy days now and then (something I did simply by accident), I was able to get a reasonable idea of how my previous day’s diet affects me at the gym the next morning.
I don’t think this is because the juice is medicinal per se. I think the reason is that when I drink more juice, I eat less solid food, so my body doesn’t need as much energy for digestion, but I’m still getting adequate calories, so it’s not like I’m fasting. Digesting solid food also generates a lot more metabolic waste, some of which may be making my cardiovascular system and my muscles less efficient. The less energy my body has to expend on digestion and waste management, the more efficiently it works when I’m exercising.
Since I can push myself a bit harder when juicing — without causing my heart to explode — this makes my interval training more efficient. I’m able to burn more calories in the same amount of time. Beyond that, it’s hard to measure the long-term training impact as an individual trainee, but I can’t see it being a bad thing.
I’m eating 90-100% raw these days (and always 100% vegan), so I can’t say what effect juicing would have if you eat a diet heavy in cooked and/or processed foods. I suspect it may have an even greater impact though since you’d be crowding out foods that create a much greater digestive burden and which generate significantly more metabolic waste. However, if you jump right into it from a heavier diet, you might trigger a detox effect for the first week or two and feel a bit weaker during that time.
Juicing and weight training
What about weight training? Does juicing have an effect on that too? I haven’t been able to measure that yet because I’ve been so focused on interval training lately. I just added weight training back into my exercise routine today. This morning I did 30 minutes of interval training (including 5 minutes of warm-up and 5 minutes of cool-down), then 35 minutes of weight training, 10 minutes of basic stretching, and 20 minutes of yoga.
In the past I’ve noticed an obvious benefit to weight training on a diet of raw food vs. cooked food. I can lift more weight, and I have more muscular endurance (i.e. I can do more reps at the same weight) when I eat raw. I also don’t feel as tired during or after my workouts. As soon as I add back a little cooked food, like some cooked potatoes, I become a little weaker. I can’t lift as much weight or go as long.
Another cool benefit I’ve noticed is that my strength doesn’t degrade as much during periods when I’m not actively weight training if I’m eating high-raw or all-raw during those times. Normally on a cooked food diet, if I took several months off from weight training, I’d lose a lot of strength from atrophy, and it would take me at least a month or two to build back up to my previous high.
On a raw food diet, I seem to retain most of my strength gains even when I don’t train for months. This morning when I started weight training again after taking a lot of time off from it, I was pretty close to my previous max on most exercises. My chest seemed to have the most degradation, whereas my biceps were just as strong as they were a few months ago.
I don’t exactly know why this is so. Perhaps it’s because cleaner burning foods generate less metabolic waste, so there isn’t as much waste build-up in the muscles during non-training periods. Initially though, the training effect tends to be more neurological than muscular, whereby more muscle fibers get activated (as opposed to building new muscle tissue via hypertrophy). So perhaps with cleaner burning foods, the mind doesn’t find it as necessary to de-activate as many of the muscle fibers when training stops. Perhaps that de-activation process gets triggered to help free up resources to handle waste management with the higher toxic load from cooked foods. I’m just postulating here — quite honestly I haven’t a clue as to what’s really going on. But I’ve seen a marked difference in how my own body behaves on raw vs. cooked foods, and I rather like it, so I wanted to share it in the hopes that it may benefit you as well.
Making delicious juices
I tend to make fairly complex juices because I love how the different flavors combine. Even if I use the exact same ingredients, every juice comes out unique.
As I write this article, I’m drinking 34 oz of carrot, apple, beet, celery, mixed greens, dandelion greens, kale, parsley, ginger, lime, pomegranate juice. It takes me about 20 minutes to make that much juice, including prep and clean-up.
I frequently use 6-7 medium-sized carrots and an apple as a base for a 32-oz juice (one quart). It has a pleasant flavor and guarantees a sweet-tasting juice no matter what I add to it. When I start with carrot-apple, it’s hard to screw it up.
If I want a slightly sweeter, earthier juice, I’ll add 1/2 to 1 beet to it. I juice the beet greens too.
Carrots, apples, and beets are all high in natural sugar, so you can use them in any combination to create a sweet base for a juice that will effectively mask stronger flavors like those of bitter greens. Over time you may wish to decrease the quantity of these ingredients as your palate adjusts.
Celery, cucumber, and romaine lettuce make nice alkalizing additions to any juice. They’re mild in flavor, so they won’t overpower your juice. Usually I’ll include at least 4 stalks of celery and/or a small cucumber. Sometimes I’ll juice a whole head of celery. These foods are very water-rich, so they’re great to use for adding volume to a juice if you want to make a lot of juice quickly without a lot of prep work. Because of their mild flavors, they won’t wreck the flavor of your juice no matter how much you use.
Romaine lettuce (and most other lettuces) also have a mild flavor when juiced, so that’s another good ingredient to use frequently.
Next I include some dark greens, usually at least 2-3 different types. My favorites include spinach, dandelion greens, kale (especially dinosaur kale), beet greens, and parsley, mainly because they’re easy to feed into my Green Star juicer. Sometimes I’ll use mixed greens, Swiss chard, or collard greens. Dark greens tend to have a very strong flavor when juiced, so I don’t recommend trying to drink them straight. You’ll want something to mask their bitterness. Carrot-apple does a great job of that, so you can include a lot of greens while still enjoying an extremely palatable juice.
Lastly I add a few ingredients to create more sizzle and spike up the flavor. My favorites are lime and ginger — it’s rare that I make a juice w/o one or both of them. I normally use 1/4 to 1/2 of a lime plus 1-2 tsp of fresh ginger for a 32-oz juice. Sometimes I use lemon, but I almost always prefer lime. You can juice the lemon and lime with the skin too — and the ginger as well.
Other flavor-spiking ingredients I use are pomegranate seeds (several tablespoons), kiwi (one or two of them), and fennel (1-2 sprigs). Some people like to toss in a clove of garlic or some hot peppers, but I’m not really into that. Don’t use onion though — even a small amount of onion can overpower a juice and make it taste pretty nasty. I learned that lesson the hard way.
When I want to clean out my fridge, I will sometimes toss in a zucchini, sprouts, some cabbage, or some bell pepper (any color). Most water-rich produce can be juiced, but not all juicers can accommodate every type of produce. For example, my juicer doesn’t handle tomatoes or pineapples well because they clog the mesh filter.
Many juice-loving friends of mine prefer to make much simpler juices with only 3-4 ingredients, such as cucumber, celery, romaine juice or carrot, romaine, spinach. I sometimes make such juices too, but I seem to keep going back to the complex ones with 10-12 ingredients. I just love how the different items combine to create an explosive layering of different flavors and sensations.
My favorite simple juice is probably pineapple-garlic juice. I blend one pineapple (minus the skin) plus 3 garlic cloves in my Vita-Mix and then run it through a nut milk bag to remove the pulp. I know it probably sounds disgusting, but it’s quite delicious. Since it’s mostly pineapple juice, the garlic adds an interesting accent. When I drink this juice, however, I can expect to smell like garlic for 2-3 days afterwards. Raw garlic is pretty potent!
Try it for yourself
If you enjoy physical training or if you’re just curious about juicing, try incorporating more fresh juice into your diet to see if you notice a difference in your workouts. I suspect that at the very least, you’ll notice that exercising feels a little easier, so you can push yourself a bit harder each time.
Note that juicing is different from blending up a smoothie. With a smoothie the fiber remains intact, but with juicing the fiber is removed as pulp. I even run my juice through a nut milk bag just to remove the last bits of fiber that made it through my juicer.
If you don’t have a juicer yet, read the section on Juice Feasting Equipment from my juice feasting article for some recommendations on how to get started.