Food for Thought and Running in Puerto Rico

CoconutLast weekend, I drove out a few hours west of San Juan to visit my friend Pedro in Hatillo, Puerto Rico. We met up at El Buen Café (the literal translation is The Good Café), where I enjoyed a delicious Puerto Rican lunch. My meal consisted of pechuga de pollo a la plancha (grilled chicken breast), arroz con habichuelas (rice with beans), and a postre con guyava (pastry with guava) . I never knew that rice could be prepared in so many ways until I came to Puerto Rico. I also had no idea that it could be so good! My favorite rice dish so far is Arroz Con Gandules (rice with peas). The portion was bigger than what I normally get at the Cheesecake Factory. At the end of the meal, I barely had enough strength to sink my teeth into the freshly baked guava pastry.

After lunch, we took a tour of northwestern Puerto Rico and its beaches. We drove to the town of Camuy and visited the old square. Then, we took the trip to the spectacular Playa de Jobos (Jobos Beach) in Isabela located in the northwestern tip of the island. Here, we relaxed by the palm trees as we were sipping coconut water from coconuts freshly cut from the palm trees. When it was time to head back, who could forget about dinner? Right across from the beach at Playa de Jobos , it looks like there is an abandoned shack with a drive-thru window and no name on it. They only serve freshly cooked empanadas (fried pastries). This is literally a hole-in-the-wall joint. The prices were unbelievable. Everything was below $2.00! That is completely different from San Juan where the average meal can range up to $30. We munched on empanadas de canrejo y camarones (friend pastries filled with crab and shrimp) as we quenched our thirst with Malta Indias (local malt beverage).

The next day, when I went out for my timed 5K run, I noticed that I’ve slowed down a bit. For the first time in a month, I decided to weigh myself and saw an increase of six pounds! I imagine that my meals at El Buen Café and the empanada stop at Playa de Jobos were contributing factors, but they weren’t the only ones. As a recovering chocaholic, I also couldn’t ignore my morning trips to Casa Cortés Chocobar café in Old San Juan where I’ve had chocolate shakes, waffles, and quesitos (cheese filled pastries) . How could I forget all those pastellones de yucca (chicken lasagna made from yucca root), mofongos, the pork tamales, and the mangus (mashed plaintains) that I’ve been eating? I am positive that the amounts of calories, carbohydrates, and sugar in some of my meals have been astonishing. Even the non-alcoholic Malta Indias have helped add a few pounds as well. A 12 ounce bottle of Malta India packs nearly 200 calories and 40 grams of carbohydrates!

TamalePork Tamale With Rice and Avocado

After a week of running, working out, and most importantly, eating less saturated fats, I am back at my normal weight of 140 pounds. I am not entirely convinced that a few pounds was the only factor that added a minute to my 5K time. I didn’t get that much sleep the night before and the wind was pretty strong. However, I am sure that losing the pounds has helped improve my time. Most importantly, I feel better, more energetic, and faster. My dining experience in Puerto Rico has taught me a few things. It is much easier to gain weight than lose weight. On some occasions I knew that I bit off more than I could chew, but I ignored those warning signs. I also learned that it is important to treat myself with dessert and something sweet. However, it shouldn’t be three to four times a day.

Running and exercise do make a difference. However, I believe that strong abs are made in the kitchen , sculpted in the gym, and supported by a healthy diet. Eating right makes a real difference. Now, I will do my best to consider substituting my favorite mofongos with healthier options such as the equally delicious falafel wraps. Like all cuisines, Puerto Rican food has nutritious and healthy options. The pechuga de la plancha (grilled chicken) in Puerto Rico is generally grilled to perfection, and it is relatively fat-free. The amarillos and tostones (fried plaintains) are absolutely mouthwatering sides, but they pack a lot of carbohydrates and should be eaten in moderation. For a lighter meal, I think soups and salads are universally healthy. My favorite soup is the plantain soup. Another excellent choice is Sopa de Bacalao (codfish stew). Some common ingredients found in many salads in Puerto Rico are sliced mangos, cabbage, radishes, and lime juice.

pechuga de polloPechuga De Pollo A La Plancha (Grilled Chicken)

Staying in shape and eating what I wanted seemed incompatible to me at first try.  Over time, I discovered that both running and food are key ingredients for a healthy lifestyle recipe. Sometimes, it can be difficult finding those ingredients in a different culture, cuisine, and environment. However, with a bit of research lots of trial and error, I learned that eating healthy in Puerto Rico is a real option, and that is some good food for thought.

Miles From Last Week
Monday: 7 miles
Tuesday: 5.5 miles
Thursday 4 miles
Friday: 4.5 miles
Saturday 5 miles
Total: 26 miles
Miles Ran in February: 80.8

Ideas for Future Posts
Time for Cross-Training
Running in Parque Central
Time for New Shoes
Running Rhymes
Running in Different Cultures
Best Running Movie Scenes Ever
How Running relates to Other Sports
Let’s Stretch
What do I think about while I’m running?
How I Started Running
Old School vs. New School Runners

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