What St. Patrick Really Meant

Happy belated St. Patrick’s Day to readers of Irish and non-Irish heritage; I’m sure you all celebrated one way or another.  I find it interesting that while almost 12% of the US population has Irish ancestry, it seems like nearly everyone was Irish in some way or another.  If you like the color green, or if you like beer, or if you like green beer.  Everyone’s Irish on St. Patty’s Day.  Along with all of the traditional Irish song and dance, feast and festivities, we have the American traditional of intoxication.  I had originally planned on sharing an article called “What Happens to Your Body When You Binge Drink on St. Patrick’s Day“, but I had the feeling that most people wouldn’t click it, or wouldn’t care.  This video is definitely more entertaining, and delivers the same message:

According to Wikipedia, “St. Patrick’s Day, although not a legal holiday anywhere in the United States, is nonetheless widely recognized and celebrated throughout the country. It is primarily observed as a celebration of Irish and Irish American culture; celebrations include prominent displays of the colour green, feasting, copious consumption of alcohol, religious observances, and numerous parades. The holiday has been celebrated on the North American continent since the late eighteenth century, prior to the American Revolution.”  That pretty much sums it up, but I want to use part of Irish tradition for the sake of a post.  I’m Irish, so it’s okay.

According to tradition, St. Patrick used the three-leaf shamrock as a metaphor to explain the Christian Trinity to the pagan Irish.  We typically hear about 4 leaf clovers and the luck of the Irish, so I’m going to use a 4 leaf clover for my interpretation.  The four points I’d like to cover include addressing conditioning needs, lifting iron, eating iron,  and recovering.  Splendid, let’s get into it.

Were you aware that St. Patrick wasn’t Irish?  He was British born and taken to Ireland as a slave, but he escaped and joined the clergy.  He eventually returned to Ireland to convert the polytheistic Irish to Catholicism.  What’s the training related part here?  I’m not sure exactly what was going on in the early 400’s, but he was an escaped slave; I bet that boy boogied out of there when he got a chance.  We can learn from this when it comes to conditioning.  Gohard!  I see lots of folks who are regularly active who leave a little too much in the tank during their conditioning exercise.  Maybe they’re pushing the Prowler, or doing farmers walks, or doing a timed ride or run.  Whatever the case may be, there are too many folks who go out easy and then try to finish strong.  I’m not a fan.

I’d rather see aggressive conditioning that needs to be dialed back for a certain period of time than to have someone say, “Oh, I can do better next time.”  Screw that; you should have given your best this time.  I once heard Tabata sprints explained as if you were running down a tunnel away from a train; you’re running as if your life depended on it.  St. Patrick’s life depended on it, and you should work that hard, too.

On to lifting iron; you expected this one, didn’t you.  Strength is probably the most universally applicable aspect of fitness; it helps everything else get better.  St. Patrick was a Shepard as a slave, and I bet he had to carry around his sheep occasionally.  Today we’re talking about him, and not the kid that hung up the laundry.  Catch my drift?  I’ll have a great quote about this tomorrow.

Now, for eating iron; let’s talk nutrition. Iron is an essential mineral for proper function; it’s a major player in normal human physiology.  Iron plays a roll in cell growth and differentiation, it’s part of proteins and enzymes, and you’ve likely heard of it’s roll as a major player in the delivery of oxygen to muscles.  Iron is found in large quantities in hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that oxygen binds to for it’s joy ride through your circulatory system.  During the pit-stop in your muscles, myoglobin is the raft that oxygen floats on.  Yippee, aerobic metabolism!

To make sure everything in your innards are running properly, it’s important to consume foods that contain iron.  There are a number of symptoms of iron deficiency, including:

  • lack of energy or tiredness
  • extreme fatigue and feeling of weakness
  • light headedness
  • headache
  • pale skin on the lining of the eyes, the inner mouth and the nails
  • rapid and forceful heartbeat
  • low blood pressure with position change from sitting to standing up
  • finger nails that become thin, brittle and white – they may grow abnormally and get a spoon-shaped appearance
  • tongue may become sore, smooth and reddened
  • decrease in appetite
  • shortness of breath during exercise
  • brittle hair
  • reduction in immunity and increased vulnerability to infection
  • a strong desire to eat nonfoods such as ice, paint or dirt (a condition called Pica)
  • disturbed sleep
  • abdominal pain
  • Source

Most of the iron in your body is found in your blood and muscle tissue, and it would please Dr. Lecter to know that other blood and muscle tissue supplies large quantities of iron.  Iron sources which come from animals is derived from hemoglobin, and is known as heme iron.  Non animals sources get a non-exciting name, nonheme iron.  Heme iron is much more readily absorbed than nonheme iron, and is happens to be magically delicious.  Here’s a list of lucky charms animal sources or iron:

The nonheme list I found on the same site was chock full of processed/fortified foods, and I don’t think that “100% fortified cereal” is what you should be turning to as your iron source.  My selected list, without the processed foods, includes:

  • Beans
    • lima beans
    • soybeans
    • dried beans and peas
    • kidney beans
  • Seeds
    • almonds
    • Brazil nuts
  • Vegetables
    • broccoli
    • spinach
    • kale
    • collards
    • asparagus
    • dandelion greens

Seeing that nonheme sources are pretty paltry compared to animal sources, I’m going to recommend having steak along with your spinach.  One of my carnivorous friends asked a vegetarian friend how her “iron deficient anemia was”, and she responded by saying “I didn’t know there were other people like you.”  Eat the meat.

Finally, on to recovery.  It’s important to balance smart strength training with daily activities and rest.  If you’re ‘proud’ of training 6 or 7 days a week, you probably aren’t training hard enough.  If you’re training 4 days a week and playing basketball 3 times a week, that may be too much.  Even simpler; how is your quality of sleep.  Think about that.

I’m a proponent of sweating every day, but I also believe your training should make you feel better; not worse.  If you feel like crap, whether it be before, during, or after your workout; you may want to address that.  Perhaps your conditioning isn’t up to par.  Getting stronger might help make your lifestyle and recreational activities easier.  Addressing food selection, and fueling your body for activity, will help you feel better and perform better.  Finally, it’s also important to turn it down, and recover from lifting big and eating big. I’m about to drink some water, brush my teeth, and call it a night.

The only question I have left is, what do Shamrocks taste like, and how much iron do they have.  Perhaps this is what St. Patrick really meant.

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