Changes in my athletic endeavors

As the CEO of the World’s Healthiest Beverage company, the father of 2, husband to a beautiful, wonderful woman, and owner of my own body, fitness is a very, very important part of my life. I revel in the fact that our beet kvass can help virtually any athlete accomplish more through the vasodilation benefits of beets as well as naturally occurring probiotics, and I use my own kvass religiously in the constant quest for a stronger, healthier, and more enjoyable body.

Of course, this benefit of our products has led us here at Zukay to greatly explore the opportunities to reach out to all who enjoy athletic endeavors at any level of activity. The LA Lakers use our products regularly to enhance their endurance, and we know of many triathletes, wrestlers, runners, and others both pro and amateur who use our products regularly. But the one thing that kept popping out to us was CrossFit. Because of the very tight relationship between the Paleo diet movement and CrossFit, which actively pushes Paleo as a food lifestyle, there were already many CrossFitters who were using our products, and many more who were extremely interested in our message. As someone who was into “fitness” and had several methods of achieving it (Ashtanga Yoga, Sprinting, Barefoot Hiking, and some Strongman High Intensity Circuit Training), I figured it was time to check it out for myself. So, our man Zac here set us up as charter members of a brand new box close to our plant in Boyertown, PA ( , and a love affair was born.

Before I say why I have fallen in love with CrossFit, I’ll acknowledge there are many vociferous haters out there, some of whom who have done it, and some who haven’t. It’s a human-based activity, and like such, is not perfect, and is certainly not perfect for everyone (or everyone’s goals). It, like most things, is dependent on the skill and care of those in charge, and is also dependent on the participant as well. Baseball, golf, NASCAR, football, soccer, and synchronized swimming all have their detractors and lovers as well. If you love it, you love it, and if you don’t, you don’t. I just preach respect for all who take the time and energy to devote into a love they have that takes nothing away from anyone else.

That all being said, I’ve fallen in love with many, many aspects of Crossfit. I’m constantly enamored with the genius of the random schedule, the fun of having no idea what the next day’s workout will bring, and the challenge of doing things I never did before or didn’t think I could do. Yesterday, I climbed up a rope with no legs for the first time since I was in junior high. Yeah, that felt pretty awesome. I also jumped rope faster and longer than I thought possible, and I still have so far to go. I’ve always been scared of freeweights – I don’t know why, but they were always intimidating. Now, I relish the next opportunity to do deadlifts, snatches, squats (even overhead squats!), cleans, jerks, and presses. LOVE IT. My body fat has decreased more so than any time since I was 23 (I’m 41), and my strength is increasing in almost every way. I know I’m not likely to be a bodybuilder or an Olympic weightlifter, but my body feels better than it has since I was in high school. It’s like a complete rebirth. I also love the fact that the workouts, while super-intense, are generally short enough to allow for a super quick recovery so I can workout many times per week. And if I feel too rough to workout, I just don’t go. I’m in it for the long haul, not to prove anything on any given day.

What about all the other great stuff I was doing before? Well, I do sorely miss Ashtanga Yoga, and over the next few months I’ll be trying to figure out how to add that back in to my schedule. My flexibility, while fine by CrossFit standards, is less than I’m used to, mainly because I haven’t done yoga since I started CrossFit 4 months ago. The windsprints? They became too easy. I used to kill myself to do 6 sets of 30 second on/90 second rest intervals, and now I can do 8 with ease. It’s a nice filler if I can’t do a WOD, and I would like to add them into my WOD’s, and I do miss them too, but I don’t know if I’m really missing something important for my mind and body like I am with yoga. The strongman circuit stuff? I really miss the camaraderie with the guys I used to work out with, and there’s no way I would have been able to get into CrossFit at the level I’m at without it. But those guys are beasts, and I wasn’t – the hour to 90 minutes workouts were killing me, and I was starting to get injured and break down. I wasn’t losing weight or gaining aerobic and anaerobic capacity at the rate I am now. Part of that was that I had a hard time doing the workout more than once a week, while the CrossFit workouts enable me to bounce back for 4-5 WOD’s per week with no problem. It was perfect for our local high school wrestlers, football players, and the insanely impressive guys who’ve been doing this forever. Bless them all and all thanks for really being the impetus to get me in better shape – but CrossFit just works better for me, personally. That all being said, I do miss flipping tires on a regular basis 🙁 Tire flipping rocks.

So, we’re definitely going to be doing more as a company with CrossFit athletes and boxes all over the country. We still love and completely respect all athletic endeavors and styles, and will always reach out to athletes everywhere. They are all valid and wonderful, and keep their practitioners fit through their activities and the magnificent competitive spirit that is at the heart of the human soul. But I wanted to send out my own little bit of love for this growing and awesome fitness regime!

To your health!


Becoming a “Health-Foodist”

I was reminded a bit of my path as a “health-foodist” today by an old friend, who commented on a Zukay facebook post. It was a funny comment basically about my penchant for eating “weeds” from my lawn and garden – all very, very accurate, and taken well in the humor it was meant.  But then I realized – though a healthy, all natural, and paleo/re-wilding/back to nature diet is an every day, no big deal occurrence for me now, when this friend and I knew each other well back at Penn State, he would have NO clue I would live like that now.

So, to all those who follow me and/or my company, who have met me recently, or are one of those very special folks who have known me for a long time, here’s my dirty laundry – I was, for a very long time, a very poor eater. In college, I would always be found:

  • With a beer in my hand, generally Yuengling, and at least on weekends, usually drunk
  • With a cigarette in the other hand (if I didn’t have two beers J)
  • Eating wings, usually from the Sub Shop, and on weekends, from the grill off of Pugh Street.
  • Eating pizza, generally from Brothers (hated Canyon’s, even though it was close)
  • Eating subs with whatever in it from the Sub Shop
  • Drinking  kool-aid for hydration (affectionately referred to as Bug Juice)
  • Often eating fried chicken at Roy Rogers

That won’t come as any surprise to those who knew me when J

I was no better than most, and definitely worse than some. I was, in 3 words, your “common college student”, and honestly, I didn’t change much over next several years.

So, why am I saying this now?

One, because I’m hungry, and while I won’t get any, fried chicken sounds great right now J

Two, because anyone, anywhere, for any reason, can change the way they eat and change their relationship with food and their body. I’m pretty sure if you asked my college friends who was most likely to be a health foodist when they got older, I would have garnered few, if any, votes. It wasn’t that I was unhealthy – just, for a few years, uninterested. Little by little, eating healthy became something that got on my mind more and more, but it really wasn’t until about 10 years ago – 9 years after college – that the health benefits of my diet started to become a driving part of my life. And even then, it still has taken many bumps and bruises, hours and hours of research, setbacks, and triumphs, to get to where I am – and I am hardly perfect (though I don’t know if there is such a thing).

I’m not here to preach about what you should and shouldn’t eat. Diets are politicized today, and there are almost as many “food theories” as there are opinions. You want my opinion? No processed foods. Start there. Make that the basis of your start to a healthier food lifestyle. Like I tell my 7 year old son for wrestling, the effort to learn and improve is the heart of this. Explore and have fun with it as your path opens up in front of you. And always remember – those of us who either espouse a direction or have a company that sells health foods were sometimes heavy smoking, heavy drinking, wing eating kids who walked the same path as well. The change is out there for all of us, and no one owns a path or is holier than thou. Enjoy your own path, and to your health!

Springtime = Garden Time!

I am sitting out in the sun writing this, after a very long and dreary (though fun and eventful!) winter. I do love the winter, but nothing beats the warmth of the sun beating down on a beautiful April day, and here in Pennsylvania, we can’t take these days for granted –

Springtime for me means two things – gardening and gathering, two of my greatest outdoor loves. This post is about gardening – my post on gathering is almost done as well!

Gardening, especially the springtime, is an almost religious experience for me. After spending 6 months primarily indoors, watching over a grey/brown landscape, I furiously expend my pent up energy on my 6 well-loved (though not always well-weeded) double-dug garden beds, where I grow everything my family needs for the year (or at least attempt to). I’m so jealous of those of you who live in warmer climates that can grow more tropical/citrusy things, but I do my best to make my little Eastern PA garden sing with the following:

Beets, Carrots, Chard, Spinach, Bok Choy, Broccoli Rabe, Bush Beans, Romaine Lettuce, Arugula, Sweet Potatoes, Potatoes (purple), Okra, Onions (usually yellow), Shallots, Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage (Green and Red), Collards, Cukes, Zukes, Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants, and, if I’m feeling lucky, a melon or two (though I rarely have luck with those). I planted 2 fig trees last year and got my first fig, which I’m super excited about, especially as they seem to have survived the winter well, and I’ll finally be putting some asparagus into the ground this year as well. My mouth is watering as I type this –


So, it got me to thinking – what do I love most about gardening? What do you love most about gardening? Here’s a few things I thought of – feel free to comment and add your own!

  1. Time out in the sun – Vitamin D is soooo important, and as long as you don’t burn to a crisp (I got lucky with that), there’s no better way to get your full share than some time in the sun WITHOUT sunscreen. The spring is especially important, especially here in the north, as us snow people have gone months without a natural sun-filled Vitamin D shot.

  2. Getting my hands dirty! No, I’m not 7 (though I am lucky enough to have one of them), but I love the primal feeling of dirt on my hands, and I LOVE the fact that I am intermingling with tons of bacteria. Seriously? Well, I ferment things for a living, so what would you expect? But seriously, did you know naturally occurring soil bacteria , many of which are very probiotic, have even been found to enhance your mood? Sun + good bugs = happy gardeners!

  3. Getting my workout in for free – Some days in the garden are harder than others, but the early days where I till by hand are certainly the hardest, and help take off my “winter coat” of a few extra pounds that my body still feels an Ice Age need to throw on me. I do have some good “work” workouts during the winter, but not nearly as much as the warm months – and my body appreciates it.

  4. Instant shopping in my backyard – nothing is cooler than asking my wife what she wants for dinner, and walking outside and getting it.

  5. Barefooting – I’m a huge barefooting nut, and I pretty much discard shoes from April – November, There’s a bunch of benefits associated with barefooting (here, here and here), and gardening gives me HOURS of it.

  6. Connecting with your ancestors – I’m a huge paleo guy as well, and I believe being Paleo is as much about your mindset and actions as it is about your diet. Gardening is such an awesome way to reconnect with seasonality, the natural cycle of birth and death, and doing activities our ancestors have done for countless generations. I strongly believe our almost complete separation from nature and traditional living has contributed many, many negative aspects in our mental, physical and spiritual lives, and gardening is one way to get back that reconnection.

  7. Teaching your kids about nature – Having a working garden is the ultimate laboratory to teach your children about birth and death, chemistry, symbiotic relationships between the animal and vegetable kingdoms, and so many other things. It gives them a sense of responsibility for living things, and rewards them for a job well done. My kids get so excited every spring for the start of the garden, and while I haven’t fully sold them on the amount of work needed, it’s as much a part of their life as our refrigerator.

  8. It’s cheap! I can set up my garden for less than $200 per year, and if I can actually weed it often enough, can feed our family for the year, saving about 90-95% off my yearly vegetable bill. If I were extra diligent and saved all my seeds, I could probably knock that close to zero (someday).  I like to think of it as my own personal mortgage reduction plan with benefits –

What do you love about gardening? What have I missed?


Vibrance, Ancestral Health and the Meaning Behind My Quest

Health – It’s on my mind pretty much ALL the time. I’m not sure if it’s how my mind works, but I see so many out-of-shape, lethargic people everywhere. Personally, I’m kind of surprised – I live out in the country, and while there were certainly sick people where I grew up, most people in my hometown of Bangor, PA were “country-strong” – even if they were overweight, they were vibrant. Strong. Forces of nature. Fat men with big strong arms, John Deere mesh hats and permanently dirty fingernails. Not always pretty, but folks to be reckoned with.

We’re told that we live longer than we ever have, but I often wonder if we hit a plateau a while ago and that only science can prop us up to continue that rise. And I also wonder if it’s really true that we actually live longer– I did a quick study a while ago through my wife’s family history – the Slocumb family – and found that the big difference was that infant mortality was the real killer. If you made it to 16, chances were you’d make it at least to 60, at least out in the country. No Type 2 Diabetes, minimal cancer, morbid obesity. There were an awful lot of entries that said “and he passed at 84 in great health and surrounded by family”.

So, what were things like hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago? Disease, sanitation, and warfare aside, was there a level of vibrance we have a hard time imagining in ourselves? Personally, I think there was. When you look at the hard work it took our ancestors to survive in the wild, build civilizations, survive untold famines, conquer through tremendous foot travel and hand-to-hand combat (right or wrong, you have to admit it was physically impressive), I find myself wondering – could we do the same? Do we have the nutrients to make these physical sacrifices? The willpower?

There are so many aspects to health. As the owner of the world’s healthiest beverage company, our choices in what we eat and drink are obviously one of the most important and visible, as well as our exercise, or, in a more primal/ancestral application, physical exertion. But there’s so many other things. What we put on our bodies. What we put in our minds. How we defend ourselves in a world so different than it was for the first 99% of our history as a species.

Let me know your thoughts, and I look forward to having you along on one humble man’s journey to the rediscovery of our ancestral, rightful health.

Torture at Tiny's

I was getting chunky – that’s all there is to say about it. There’s definitely a genetic predisposition towards weight gain in my bloodline (probably from too many centuries of too little food in rural Poland). I hadn’t fallen off any cliffs, and black was still slimming. But despite decreasing my carb intake tremendously, and having a fairly active lifestyle, I was slowly gaining weight.
It’s easy when one is a busy entrepreneur and a father of 2 young boys (one of whom appears to not require sleep) to make excuses. Such as “I still look good for my age (40)”, “I don’t look as bad as that guy”, and of course, “I have no frickin’ time”. But, as John Adams said, facts are stubborn things, and wishing won’t dissolve a fat tire or increase my metabolism.

My oldest son is a wrestler, and I’ve been talking with one of his coaches about fitness for some time. So, when he told me his friend, Tiny, had a “gym” in his garage where he swings sledgehammers and flips tires, I immediately took him up on it. When? 7:30 PM. How long? About an hour and a half. Anything else? Don’t be a wuss. Just come. OK, sounds good. The only promise I got out of him was that no one would laugh.

And so, my introduction to the world of High-Intensity Interval Training started. Tiny doesn’t call it that, but through my research that’s what we’re doing. Circuits of resistance-based, often anaerobic state inducing exercises that are like actual work. Sledgehammers (the 20 lb. one is killer, or a 10 lb one in each hand) swung as hard as possible, weighted sleds pulled long distances over an unforgiving gravel driveway, 50-75 pound “haybalers” tossed back and forth as quickly as possible, push-ups, pull-ups, crunches – all done for 1:20 with 40 seconds of rest between exercises. This is just the warm-up – tire flipping is usually the entrée, and it’s the best full-body workout I’ve ever had. Overall, the workout moves quick, is never boring, and is utterly exhausting. Tiny is relentless, and gleefully so.

Really, I’m no expert on this. Though I wasn’t in “bad” shape before, I’m sure no self-respecting doctor would have said “Hey! Great Idea! Jump into some insanely difficult weight-based cardio workouts as hard as you can after 20 years of basic inactivity!”. But well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, and honestly, my body figured it out. It’s also figured out how to drop at least 15 pounds of fat off the middle, have more energy, and a better attitude. I’m hooked.

There’s all kinds of things you can do. I do a few other workouts as well (which I’ll go into later), and everyone’s different. You may not have Tiny near you, and tire flipping may be outside your realm of interest. And, you may not want to turn to an entrepreneur who ferments food for a living for advice. But I’ll tell you what – find something, and dive into it. Make the time, however you have to. Do it this Thursday. Those facts sure aren’t taking any time off –