All posts by Amy

Live it up on vacation without gaining weight.

vacaySummer vacation time – the best time. My online coaching clients are making me jealous with details about all the places they plan to go this summer. It’s a stay-cation summer for my family.

They’re sharing their plans because they want to make sure they stay on track with their fitness and nutrition goals.

First, I give them the talk:

“Chill out. Have some fun, eat the things, enjoy the time away for God’s sake. Real life will be waiting for you.”

And that’s true. You can go on vacation, forget about your plan, and hop right back in. But I also know that some people, including me, feel good by taking a more moderate approach than the “YOLO” option.

I remember one trip I took to  an all-inclusive resort to Mexico 5 years ago. I’d been steadily losing weight but then faced with a 24/7 supply of food and booze I buckled. Seriously, I lost my damn mind. I mean, it’s not hard to say “screw it, I’m on vacation” and go wild.

The waiters seemed to have spidey sense about when my cocktail was nearly empty and out of nowhere they’d appear. On the beach. Asking me if I wanted another drink. After about 2 drinks I would be tipsy enough to say “um, of course” and then it went down hill. Day drunk is not a good thing 99.9% of the time.

So on my next beach vacation in Jamaica, years later, I decided to do things differently. I was in the middle of a very successful, focused training and nutrition plan and I felt really good. Sometimes when you’ve built momentum, you just want to keep it going.

So here’s what a Jamaican resort taught me about finding the middle ground between burying yourself in pina coladas and eating lettuce and chicken for every meal:

Save your calories for the good stuff. Ever notice that many resorts don’t have spectacular food? They just have a lot of choices. And it’s there all the time. It’ll still be there on day 2 and day 3. Yes, I could, in fact, have doughnuts and a cheese plate, tempura bananas, smoothies, and unlimited bacon. I’d never eat that way at home. Except maybe unlimited bacon… holy hell.

But most of us have access to those things everywhere. There was nothing special about any of them. They weren’t even Jamaican specialties. Plus even if there was no additional cost for extra nibbles, I reminded myself that this wasn’t a good reason to eat.

For breakfast, I visited the charming guy who made me an egg white and veggie omelet to order each day. I filled out my plate with the local fruits that I can’t easily get at home. Soursop is now a new favorite treat. On the first day I scoped out the joint like a pro thief from Oceans 11 and could mentally plan for what treats I’d allow myself to have each day.

After tasting a bite of a watery, tasteless dessert that marginally resembled custard, I realized that much of the food there wasn’t all that well made. I stuck to the good stuff and passed on most of their treats in order to save room for a cocktail or two each day.

Photo credit: Caribbean Pot.

Photo credit: Caribbean Pot.

Take advantage of what local food you can find. Each day on the beach the resort offered grilled Jamaican jerk chicken. It was fresh, tasted absolutely incredible, and full of healthy protein. I paired that with salad each day and felt filled up and less likely to wander back into the dining area.

The indulgent items I found weren’t banned; but usually, a few bites of a food was enough to fully enjoy it. Except coconut candy: it’s a local treat and it is completely addictive. But it’s worth the splurge, and thankfully sold in tiny bags. Like drugs. Heh.

No. Because we're not in a frat.

No. Because we’re not in a frat.

Day drinking was off limits in my mental list of “rules”. I felt better without it, and that way I could still look forward to a cocktail at night. Instead, you can order club sodas muddled with mint and a squeeze of lime juice for mock mojitos. Or a a bit of fruit juice with club soda to feel like you’re participating. 

Calorie tracking is tough to do when you don’t know much about how the food was prepped. Instead, when on vacation or on nights out, I focus on the composition of my plate – pile on quite a few vegetables, a moderately large portion of protein, and a small amount of starch. 
Give yourself choices. I made a plan for 3 meals and 2 snacks each day OR 2 cocktails a day instead of snacks. I found that I was hungry enough that I opted for the snack instead of both drinks most days.

You may fall short of your target a few times. So what? We’re human, after all. On night 2 my crew was particularly rowdy and I had major FOMO. That led to having just a bit too much to drink. Okay, a lot too much. Years ago, I would have said “oh well, I messed up. I’m going to now eat and drink it all.” But instead I just woke up the next day and got back at it. It’s one night. It’s no biggie as long as we hop back into our routine.

Photo credit: Filipe Castilhos

Photo credit: Filipe Castilhos

Staying active makes a world of difference. It’s easy to say “forget working out, it’s vacation.” Hell yeah, it is vacation – we should relax. But getting movement into our days helps our overall mindset and lets us feel even better while we’re lounging around. Every night I danced my ass off to live music. I went on walks each day to soak up the sun and get a boost of energy.

And every morning I hit the resort gym for a quickie workout: either strength or a super brief metcon routine. Be flexible when approaching a vacation workout – have a plan that doesn’t require too much equipment. Our resort had a strangely large collection of upper body machines yet nothing except dumbbells available for leg and glute work. Here’s a short workout that I did as a “tweak” of my regular leg-focused session:

1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift – 3 x 8
2a. Bulgarian Split Squat – 3 x 8/leg
2b. Single Leg Hip Thrust – 3 x 12/leg
3a. Goblet Step Ups – 3 x 8/leg
3b. Bent Over Dumbbell Rear Delt Raise – 3 x 12
3c. Seated Lateral Dumbbell Raise – 3 x 12

If you’re visiting a warm climate, you will likely find that the gym gets really hot later in the day. Get in there early (and maximize your beach time too!)

Photo credit: Trek Earth.

Photo credit: Trek Earth.

Focus on your spectacular setting. When the point of vacation is to explore a new city or relax on a beach, the food and drink become less of a thing. This is honestly a mindset I’ve had to work on, and my perspective definitely shifts a bit depending on where we’re vacationing. I’m a die-hard lover of well-made food and on trips to places with a rich culinary scene we actually plan our days around restaurants we want to visit. 

If you’re headed to somewhere with a big focus on great cooking, enjoy it. But pick one great meal each day instead of three. Stick to the one-plate strategy and make a plan. You can still stay on track with your nutrition goals!

Aim for weight maintenance, not weight loss. Look, eating at a deficit on vacation really stinks. Being on a diet usually means experiencing some hunger. It requires a much tighter rein on calories too. If you come back from vacation and you didn’t gain weight, consider it a big win. It’s a much more happy approach than trying to actually lose weight while traveling. 

So the next time you vacation, use these tips. Enjoy yourself. You can loosen the reigns without losing your mind (and fun!) 

Fat loss isn’t easy. But you can make it easier.

scalegun

Fat loss is so easy: said no one ever.

Easy. Yeah, right. But we can make it easier, both physically and mentally. Both are important, don’t you think?

I’ve tinkered with fat loss like a mad scientist for the last few years. And my online and personal training clients have taught me just as much about what works (and bombs) for them when it comes to losing body fat. Here are a few of the biggies:

You have to create a favorable environment for reducing your calories.
For me, that’s always been tracking my calories. And at first, weighing and measuring food. At least for a while. There are non-tracking tricks that work too –like limiting the number of meals you eat or having general guidelines about how much and what kinds of food go on your plate.

Having some structure will give you valuable information, builds awareness of your eating patterns and possible saboteurs, and creates overall mindfulness with eating.

wine

Identify your biggest trigger. Then stomp it out.
One of my new clients noticed that red wine was becoming her bestie during the week. Sometimes habits creep in. But first ask yourself why? As it turns out, she just really, really loves red wine. Any other booze can sit around the house and not be problematic. But if she knows the vino is there, she’ll find it hard to pass up.

So she created a rule for herself to just not keep it in the house. She can still enjoy a glass on a night out. But for now, wine is off her grocery list.

Find the sweet spot for cardio.
I used to be the cardio bunny who did nothing else except run myself ragged. And we often over estimate how many calories we burn doing cardio.

But I also got lazy for a while too and only lifted weights. For body composition, strength training is incredibly effective. But most of us could stand to get out of our chairs and infuse more physical activity into our weeks. 3-4 strength sessions, 1-2 metabolic conditioning workouts, and regular, low intensity cardio that lets me recover for the other stuff is my own sweet spot.

Your own may look a little different, and that’s fine too. And most importantly? Do what you enjoy – you’ll be way more consistent.

farmermarketstands

Find foods you like with naturally low calorie counts.

These are your secret weapons for those days when you just want to eat all the things. Mine are celery, strawberries, a pickle, a small bowl of Greek yogurt with berries, and baby sweet peppers. These typically have either protein or filling fiber and will take the edge off without zapping your progress.

Take a break some times.

You know what women’s bodies hate? Being in a calorie deficit all the time. Our hormones give us the middle finger. They put up road blocks and make it harder. Yes, that sucks. It’s a bigger deal if you’re already fairly lean and less so if you have a lot of weight to lose. One way around this is to do calorie cycling: some days you’ll eat in a more aggressive deficit. And a few days out of the week you’ll eat closer to maintenance level calories. It gives your body (and brain) a breather.

And if you’ve been dieting a really long time, it might be time to take a full diet break for 2-4 weeks. When you return to working on fat loss again, your body will be in a better spot to handle it.

Create livable rules. 
Moderation sounds great in theory. But what does that actually mean? Maybe it means ditching rigid food rules like “no bread, ever.” God, that sounds awful huh? But sometimes temporarily we can create some rigidity where we need it, and be looser where we may need it.

I know I could never live without desserts. Saying “I’m banning sugar for a month” won’t work for me, because that would make me miserable. But “dessert every Saturday” seems doable, and yet encourages me to stop inhaling baked goods on the regular.

Photo credit: pixdaus

Photo credit: pixdaus

Play the long game.

For most of us, losing fat isn’t a six week process. It’s a six month or longer journey. It can be slow at times. It doesn’t always go as planned. But don’t let that discourage you. Because the best part about the long game is that you can allow yourself to see the big picture. Screwed up your plan last night? It’s no big deal – just get right back at it.

Because when you see that night in the bigger context of many days of healthy habits, it doesn’t even cause a ripple. Be kind and patient with yourself. Not because I’m trying to sound like a motivational meme. But because people who feel shame after perceived slip ups end up sabotaging themselves. That leads to days and weeks of going backwards.

You’ll have steps forward – and a few backward. And that’s normal. We’re human, after all. 

Why?
Ask yourself this. Why do you want to make a change? There’s no right or wrong. But unless you have a reason that matters, fat loss is going to feel harder.

Flip your internal dialogue.

I used to feel pissed off that at my size and age, I had so little wiggle room for fat loss. Unlike my 6’4” husband, who can demolish a bag of Doritos and not gain an ounce, I have no such luck. I whined a lot. Then I began to just be less emotional about it. Saying “I can have all the things, just not all at once” helped me chill out.

If you tell yourself something is going to suck, it will. Funny how that works? I’m not saying you need to chant “I freaking love celery” into the mirror. But a positive attitude about the process is going to help more than you’d think.

Find beauty in your inner strength.

Find beauty in your inner strength.

Finally, remember that you’re beautiful.

You matter. And your self-worth has absolutely nothing to do with your body composition. Keep that perspective.

That’s the tough one for me. I rationally understand this and yet am sometimes still so unkind to myself. Let’s knock that off, shall we?
One thing that has always helped is focusing on improving things that have nothing to do with my body’s appearance. Enter a race. Work on a new gym PR. Find that demonstrate how you’re getting stronger. Or faster. Sleeping better, or finding more energy for life. That you’re living a life that makes you happy and healthy.  Isn’t that what matters most?

Have your own tip for making fat loss feel a wee bit easier? Or a lot easier? Leave a comment and share!

Your Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Healthy Meal Planning

 

Photo credit: Farmview Market

Photo credit: Farmview Market

“Could you just give me a meal plan?”

I can’t. Don’t hate me just yet! Because I can give you something even better. I think of it as a cheat sheet. So that you can make it easier to plan your meals and get on with your life. If you’re just here for the meals, scroll down to grab the PDF. But you’ll miss by big, juicy tips if you do that. Hang with me for a minute here. 

First, as I described in the article “Just tell me what to eat,” I’m not a big fan of meal plans. But I really do empathize with people who want one. Read that for a primer on the building blocks of healthy meals. 

It would take me all day to write a customized plan for each of my online nutrition clients. That’s because you are a unicorn. 

photo credit: teepublic

photo credit: teepublic

  • You have unique calorie requirements. 
  • You like certain flavors but not others.
  • You may love to cook, or you may hate it. Or just not have time to do it.
  • You may live alone or you may have to feed a huge family. 
  • Maybe you don’t even eat breakfast. That’s cool too. 

That all impacts the kinds of meals you’ll make at your house. 

While my former article lays out what a healthy meal looks like, I’d like to give you a little more of a head start for planning. Because when you’ve had a long week and are trying to change something big, nobody wants to spend three hours figuring out what they’re going to eat for the next week. 

It’s still worth planning out, don’t get me wrong. As I have talked about many times, making a menu, prepping some grab-and-go foods, and avoiding constant trips to the store saves you time, money, and ultimately calories. 

inabutter

Instead of a plan, I’m going to share the go to meals that my clients and I often use on a regular basis.

I won’t assume you’re Ina Garten here. Most of my ideas can be made in 20 minutes or less – many of them in less time than that. I’ll also link up the cheat sheet at the end of this to a PDF that you can keep on hand. 

photo credit: Precision Nutrition

photo credit: Precision Nutrition

Precision Nutrition does a good job of visually explaining what most of your plates will look like. Mine don’t always fit this perfectly, but I try to make them come close. Once in awhile, mama just needs a donut. 

But in general, you’ll want plenty of nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables, around 20-40 grams of lean protein per meal, and smaller amounts of healthy fats and starchy carbs.

Most of the time, 3 meals and 1-2 snacks that fit those guidelines should keep your belly satisfied and reduce your overall hunger if you’re trying to lose fat. 

How to use the cheat sheet.
If you want to get going without counting calories, cook each meal and let hunger be your guide. You may need a bigger portion or feel full before you ever finish your meal. That’s fine. Slow down when you eat. Stop eating when you’re not quite full. You likely got just enough. 

You may be someone who likes to snack – or never snacks. There isn’t one correct way to eat. But my online coaching clients often report that when they eat larger meals they are satisfied longer, often able to skip snacks, and think about food less often during the day. So play around there. 

Counting calories?
That’s fine too. You’ll adjust your portions to fit your own needs. I am sharing ideas that have recipes that tell you calories per serving size or are otherwise easily trackable. 

Badass Breakfasts
Eggs on everything.

Egg + egg whites plus greens tucked inside.

Egg + egg whites + greens tucked inside.

Scrambled, fried in nonstick spray, or poached. I eat eggs in some form nearly every day. I often put a runny egg on salad greens, sprinkle on some cherry tomatoes, and drizzle sherry vinegar over the top.  But some days it’s a mix of scrambled eggs, egg whites, and a piece of fruit. That’s not even a recipe. But it’s fast and filling. 

Sweet Potato Breakfast Hash with Eggs

photo credit: clean eating

Get the recipe from Clean Eating

Make it faster: use veggies that you cut on the weekend and pre-cooked chicken or turkey sausage or even a little bacon to boost flavor. 

High Protein Cinnabon Oatmeal

Get the recipe here.

Get the recipe here.

Blueberry nectarine overnight oats. 

Get the recipe here.

Get the recipe here.

Overnight oats are the ultimate custom breakfast. Just tinker with the base recipe and you’ll have insta-breakfast. 

Banana Blueberry Protein Pancakes 

Get my recipe here.

Get my recipe here.

Protein pancakes are so easy to play with. I usually advise people to use sugar free syrup to shave down overall calories unless it’s a special occasion. In that case, hit up a little maple syrup. 

A high protein green smoothie.

Get the recipe from The Brewer and the Baker.

Get the recipe from The Brewer and the Baker.

Yogurt Parfait
berry parfait
No recipe needed: just plain Greek yogurt -I like 2% because it’s more satisfying. Add your favorite fruit and a sprinkle of healthy fat like chia seeds or a small portion of nuts. My kids like cereal or oats sprinkled on theirs. 

Lunches to Love

Also one of our favorite dinners.

Also one of our favorite dinners.

90% of my lunches are leftovers. I usually repurpose meat from dinner and toss it into a a big salad. “Chipotle bowls” are another way I squeeze in extra greens, along with a small serving of beans, meat, salsa, and avocado.

Just dumping a jar of salsa and chicken breasts into your slow cooker or an oven will yield meat that’s fairly flavor neutral, which makes it perfect for repurposing during the week. 

Not a meat lover? Try doing the same thing with pots of chickpeas or lentils. And keep tempeh and tofu on hand for your protein source. They’ll both keep for some time in the fridge. 

Here are a few more simple solutions if your leftovers left the building. 

Mediterranean Chicken Skewers from Costco
costcochickenskewer
They’re precooked. Heat them up if you like. Put them into a lower-carb wrap (I like Flatout) with veggies and some guacamole or another small serving of dressing. Or create an easy salad with greens and whatever other toppings you like. I like to add a bit of feta and sunflower seeds to mine. 

Morningstar Chipotle Black Bean Burger

photo credit: Iowa Girl Eats

photo credit: Iowa Girl Eats

Try using these on a salad some time too. They work well. I like to saute them in a pan but you can microwave them too. 

Baked sweet potato +. 

Get the recipe for a vegetarian loaded sweet potato from SkinnyTaste.

Get the recipe for a vegetarian loaded sweet potato from Skinnytaste.

Nuke a sweet potato. Or a regular potato (they’re good for you too). Top with reheated pre-cooked meat or other lean protein that you like, along with salsa, black beans, and a dollop of Greek yogurt. 

Lower-Fat Tuna Salad. 

Get a recipe from organize yourself skinny.

Get a recipe from Organize Yourself Skinny. 

Make a bigger batch of this ahead of time for a few extra meals. I mix tuna with only a bit of mayo or avocado for flavor and then round it out with Greek yogurt, a squeeze of lemon juice, and add celery and onion for crunch. Wrap it up with salad greens and a low-carb tortilla. Throw in a piece of fruit and you’re lunch is done. 

Winner Winner, All the Dinners
I use websites like Cooking Light and SkinnyTaste for inspiration on the daily. But here are a few super easy staples that my kids barely complain about. 

Chicken sausages and fire roasted peppers. 

Get the details from @green_kale on Instagram

Get the details from @green_kale on Instagram

Two ingredients. That’s it. The peppers work well for easy breakfast veggies too. 

Slow Cooker Mu Shu Chicken Wraps

Get the recipe from Better Homes and Gardens.

Get the recipe from Better Homes and Gardens.

Save time by slow cooking your chicken with bottled stir fry sauce. Just save a bit for the end, stir in broccoli slaw, and fold it into a lower calorie tortilla. 

P.F. Chang style lettuce and chicken wraps. 

Get the recipe from Iowa Girl Eats.

Get the recipe from Iowa Girl Eats.

I use ground turkey or ground chicken for these. They take very little time to prepare – make extra meat mix to stick in your freezer. 

Weight Watchers Taco Soup

Get the recipe from Kitchme.

Get the recipe from Kitchme.

I make double batches to freeze. I choose lower-sodium canned goods, because there’s quite a bit of them in here. But it’s lightning fast, low calorie, and my family loves it. I often add zucchini or chopped bell peppers to this soup too. The serving size is 1 cup. Try it with lean ground beef or turkey. 

Mango Peanut Tempeh Tacos

Get the recipe from Love and Lemons.

Get the recipe from Love and Lemons.

If you’re craving a plant-based meal, you’ve got to try the mango peanut tempeh tacos. I pick up tempeh at the grocery store and keep it in the fridge. If I’m out of meat or just so over eating other protein sources, I like to mix it up by going meatless for a meal. These tacos are fairly fast to throw together and are completely delicious. 

Curried Tuna Burgers

tunaburge

Get the recipe here.

I call my version cakes, because I’m fancy and serve them on greens. But use a sandwich thin if you’ve got a craving for a burger. These come together really fast and the protein to calorie ratio is good. 

Chicken Zucchini Noodle Caprese

chickenzoodle

Get the recipe from Skinnytaste.

Zucchini noodles or “zoodles” make a good stand-in for pasta and increase your veggie intake. No, they don’t taste like pasta. I’d never sell you that lie. But they’re tasty. You can now buy them pre-packaged at the supermarket if you don’t own your own spiralizer. Or just chop some zucchini and ditch the zoodles. Warning: if you buy one, you may become obsessed with creating spiral veggies of all sorts. This can lead to excessive Instagram photography. #instayum. 

Snack Attacks

snack
Still hungry? I always keep a few healthy go-to snacks in my fridge or pantry. Check out these ideas. 

  • Plain Greek yogurt + half a banana or half cup berries. 
  • String cheese + apple
  • Turkey jerky + clementine. 
  • Boomchickapop lightly sweet popcorn (for crunchy needs). 
  • Roasted veggies with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and sea salt. 
  • Apple slices + a serving of cheddar cheese. 
  • A smaller protein shake.
  • Hardboiled egg + bell pepper strips. 
  • Lean turkey or ham with dijon mustard wrapped in romaine lettuce leaves. 
  • Greek yogurt cream cheese and deli ham wrapped around a dill pickle. (Midwest sushi, am I right?) 
  • Cottage cheese + fruit.
  • “Proyo” – plain Greek yogurt, 1 TBSP of PB2, 1 teaspoon of chocolate chips or low sugar jam. Freeze for 15 minutes. 
  • Halo Top ice cream. 
  • Egg white crepe – egg whites whisked with stevia, a splash of vanilla and cinnamon. Cooked in a pan. Top with berries. 
  • Guacamole + salsa + celery or mini peppers to dip. 

Take it with you. 
Here’s a nifty pdf version to keep on hand for reference. Remember, there’s no one right way to do your meals. But I hope my ideas help you get started.  

Want more inspiration? Join my free newsletter and get in on workouts, healthy eating tips, and everything else you need to be fit and fine. Just fill out the form below and you’ll be an even cooler kid. 

 

Want a better booty and thighs? Try my favorite lower body builder.

squatfun

Sure, you squat. Or you should be squatting, because squats are crazy effective at defining muscle, making you strong, and will help you sculpt dat ass.  But hold the phone – because there’s one that you probably aren’t doing. But it’s my very favorite of all, and I want you to love it too. 

It’s a variation on a goblet squat. A squat that’s almost anyone can do. But I’m going to show you a “next level” squat that’s basically a souped up goblet squat. 

In case you don’t already know, to perform a goblet squat, you simply hold a dumbbell under your chin and skwat. Easy peasy. Just think about squatting between your legs, let your elbows brush your thighs, and chances are, you’re going to do a pretty bang up job. 

gobletsquat

Maybe you think you’re too strong/jacked/dope to goblet squat.

 Nope nope nope.

Changing up the kind of squat you do helps you build strength and stability in new ways, prevents boredom, and helps you work around injuries. That’s all good stuff. For me in particular, heavy barbell back squatting just didn’t play well with my hip, and at times my shoulders, very well. That’s where I began to use goblet squats way more frequently for lower body work. Not only for high rep fat burning workouts – but for sculpting more muscle too. 

So what’s the problem?

You see, I reached a point in my training where I wanted to use the squat to get stronger through my legs and glutes. Here’s where it sounds like I’m going to cry and complain about a “first world gym problem”.

crybabies

The heavy dumbbell. On the rack. It’s so big. So unwieldy. So annoying to get into position. Bleh.

Yeah yeah, maybe I’m being a big baby about it. But the act of dragging out a big dumbbell was off putting. Yet as some inventor-type person once said, “necessity is the mother of invention”. So it dawned on me that I could get around this issue and squat heavier weight more comfortably.

It’s the zercher squat.

Here’s the part of the article where anyone who’s ever done a zercher squat is going to silently say “Amy, are you high?”

No. I am not. I’m merely highly caffeinated. But I always get this look when I talk about zercher squats:

zercherface

That’s because they can be hellishly uncomfortable. But there’s a work around there too, so stick with me for a minute and I’ll show you.

“Zercher” is named after an old lifter named Ed, but the name now just refers to how you hold the bar. In the crook of your elbow. For the squat, most people set pins on a rack somewhere between waist and chest height, and scoop the bar into that sweet spot.

As you can imagine,  the big issue that people seem to have with this variation is that the thin bar, nestled into this tender spot, becomes terribly painful at higher loads, especially if you’re doing a lot of reps. So that’s why I get the look of dismay.

Photo credit wrestler power. This guy looks like he's feeling the pain.

Photo credit Wrestler Power. This guy looks like he’s feeling the pain.

Before you run for the hills, convinced I’m going to say “Suck it up, buttercup”, remember – I was just whining about being uncomfortable with the dumbbell. Instead, I want to focus on getting stronger without my work feeling needlessly awkward. You need only one thing.

This baby.

squat-sponge

Squat sponges get mocked regularly at gyms. I’ve heard them called “pussy pads”. Cue the snickering. It’s apparently the anti-badass gym accessory. 

And I don’t love them for barbell back squats: I feel more stable and better tension with the bar maintaining close contact with my back. But I wondered what would happen if I used the sponge as I had been doing for months already with hip thrusts. If now, instead of protecting my hips, I could create an elbow cushion. 

Then I gave it a whirl.

Magic, baby, magic. The Zercher squat remained stable and secure – even more so, I wager, than with just the bar. And I could load up more weight than I could with a dumbbell goblet squat.

Check mine out here:

The thing is, the two lifts have quite a bit in common:

  • They both encourage a more upright posture, which can be tricky for some who squat. 
  • Both variations are fairly friendly to the lower back.
  • Both zercher and goblet squats allow you to get down and dirty into a deep squat – good for building your butt.
  • Each lift require your body to maintain a metric ton of tension throughout your core. You don’t even have to try to engage your core. It’s going to happen if you like it or not. 
  • And both are safe to do without a spotter – at worst, you’ll dump the bar in front of you and feel a little embarrassed.

While I wouldn’t recommend the zercher variation to a brand spankin’ new squatter, I see it as a fine variation to use simply because you can load it more heavily, making it possibly appropriate for a “main lift” of the day.  And once the discomfort issue is out of the way, there’s no reason not to try.

Unless you’re like my friend Andy, who retorted “yeah but I could never Instagram that”. Get outta here. You’ll still be a badass even with a snuggly squat sponge. I promise.

So give Zerchers a try if you’ve avoided them. Just like dumbbell goblet squats, they’re a great tool in your leg day tool kit. 

 

Hate to run? You can still hit these high intensity interval workouts.

i dont run

Get more for less. I like that a whole lot. How about you? If that’s the case, try high intensity interval workouts, aka HIIT. They’ll give you a ton of bang for your buck. You’ll not only torch fat, you’ll make your heart and lungs stronger, improve your cardiovascular health, and even help yourself build and retain muscle. So read on with me if you want some workouts that’ll get you all that good stuff.

And why no running?

Because you don’t need it. If you like to run, rock on with that. But I don’t very often these days. Not because I hate it. I actually miss the zen-like vibe I got while doing long runs. But I hate how my hip feels every time I get sucked back into trying.

Yet even if you aren’t able to pound the pavement or jogging just isn’t your jam, you’re in luck: because there are about eleventy billion ways to get HIIT into your life, so choose what lets you work hard and have fun. But I’ve got some workouts to get you started.

What to know first.
HIIT is nothing complicated – you’ll just alternate periods of insanely hard work and easier work, or sometimes even complete rest. Take those easy intervals seriously– they refuel your energy stores so you can pour every bit of energy you have in you into your work. And then reap those delicious perks of HIIT conditioning.

So let’s do dis.
3-2-1
superman321

3-2-1 intervals work well on just about any piece of machinery. And the idea is easy to remember. I love that on days when I workout at 5 am and am still too sleepy to come up with a crazy, creative workout.

It just looks like this: do 30 seconds of “easy” work, 20 seconds of “moderately hard” work, and then 10 seconds of all out effort. You’ll do 5 rounds. Then rest a few minutes, and repeat. That’s it.

Try this on a bike, stair master, or rower. Just use resistance, speed, or a combination of both to get the job done.

Row Your Boat

ergpic

photo credit: Richard Greenspan

 

Have an ergometer? Then try this workout. Of course you could use the same idea for miles on a bike or treadmill, but chasing meters on the erg is fast, fun, and a full body blast. Try this descending ladder set:

tableforrow

Repeat once more if you’re up for it, or use it as a fast finisher after a strength workout.

Ride Like an Egyptian
Back in the day, I banked a ton of miles on my bike. When doing interval work, it helped my mental focus to play around with my intervals, especially during the winter when I was stuck on a trainer or spin bike. This set uses equal amounts of work and rest. If you’re a cyclist needing more saddle time, you can also sandwich this with some easy warm up and cool down miles.

This ride is a pyramid set: meaning you’ll work up in your timed intervals and then back down.

pyramid

The Hills Are Alive
funnysom

Use a treadmill to crank up your heart rate without jogging. Just do a steep mountain hike and take advantage of the incline setting. Here’s a leg killer to take to the gym. Feel free to change speeds or incline levels. They’re just a starting place. The steep climbs will be your high intensity segments – so choose an incline that makes your heart rate skyrocket. And then crank it down for an easy walk as you catch your breath.  

hillsalive

Mighty Metcons

photo credit: Tom Britt

photo credit: Tom Britt

Metabolic conditioning workouts use full body, “big” movements that crank up your heart rate quickly and use large muscle groups to build your work capacity, torch fat, and groove the same patterns you’ll use in your strength workouts. What’s not to love? They don’t always use timed intervals, but they can. Here are two to try. One uses active recovery moves peppered with high intensity metabolic moves. The other uses timed intervals.

Black Widow
Try this badass set. It uses only 2 exercises and takes only 10 minutes.

Instructions:  set an interval timer for 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest. Cycle between the following moves 4 times. Rest 2 minutes, then repeat once more.

The circuit:

Goblet squat to reverse lunge (alternate legs for time)
Spider pushups (alternating legs)

Bonus – Baller
Have a med ball? You’re set. Don’t go too heavy in your weight. You want to be explosive during your work.

Instructions: each med ball move requires focused, intense work. Complete your reps as quickly as you can. Your “recovery” isn’t total rest – it just lets your heart rate come back down so you’ll be ready to work hard again.

Complete 2-4 rounds, taking rest only when absolutely necessary and preferably at the bottom of a round. Rest 2 minutes between each round.

The circuit:
Med ball pushups x 12 (6 per side)
20 med ball glute bridges
Med ball rotational slams x 12/side
20 med ball glute bridges
Med ball squat thrusters x 12
20 med ball glute bridges
Med ball SHELCs x 12

There you have it. 5+ ways to fuel your fitness, fat loss, and fun at the gym. Have your own favorite HIIT workout? Head over to my Facebook community page and share that up, yo. We’d love to hear about it!

You don’t need a detox. But I know why you want one, so do this instead.

If I owned this sticker my life would be better.

If I owned this sticker my life would be better.

I didn’t set out to write about pooping today. But apparently the time has come to do just that. So I’ll talk a little about pooping – and other things that make our bodies feel good. 

Why am I talking about poop, aside from the word being fun to say? Because yesterday as I chatted with a friend about the growing popularity of detox drinks, diets, and pills, two thoughts popped into my mind.

Marketers are selling you a whole bunch of “detox” products that you don’t need. That’s a shady ploy, as my coach just recently pointed out in an excellent video. You’re being told on a daily basis that your body is full of toxins. And that if you just follow their plan, take their pill, or drink their shake, you’ll get rid of them. And then feel like a million bucks.

You don’t need this stuff. Your liver is fully capable of getting rid of toxic substances in your body.  And sometimes these products may make your health even worse.

What’s more important: there’s a reason that marketers are selling detoxes, cleanses, and other nonsense. They make you believe that you need something special. They know that the idea appeals to us. They’re just giving us what we want.But what do we want? And why?

When clients, friends, and family come to me asking about detoxes,  what they’re really sharing is something deeper. Here are the big issues. And along with that, my thoughts on how to tackle them. Without an overpriced product.

siplay

“I just came back from vacation, so I’m detoxing.”
My client Becky told me this last month. She is an excellent example of someone who exercises reasonably and regularly. And she normally eats well. After a long weekend of being whisked around to restaurant dinners, she came home feeling bloated and yuck. I asked her what her detox entailed.

“Oh, I’m eating some salads.”

That put a big smile on my face. She wasn’t doing anything bonkers.

When we get out of our routine and eat more calories, junkier food, and maybe throw back a lot more adult beverages than on average, you know what feels really, really good?

Eating a damn salad.

It feels good physically, because we get more nutrients and water. It also feels good psychologically: probably because in our heads, it’s a clear line in the sand that we’re getting back to normal. And this is a perfectly good thing.

So sometimes what we think of as a detox isn’t actually silly. It’s just a word that people use to say “stop behaving like I’m still on that beach vacation where the waiter brought me food and drink every time I gave him a sideways glance.”

bloats

“I feel bloated and gross.”
A party weekend may do this. Drinking dairy does this to me, because I’m lactose intolerant. There are a lot of reasons that we may feel bloated.

Overdo the food and drink? You most likely don’t need to do anything other than let your body get back to normal after a few days.

Certain foods may lead to extra gassiness, even if you don’t have a food intolerance. We all know about beans, but veggies like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and other foods that contain particular starches and sugars can make your stomach feel bloated.  If bloating is a regular issue, see a doctor. There are all sorts of conditions that cause chronic symptoms. 

Fizzy drinks may temporarily make you feel full and uncomfortable. That’s an easy one to replace with water or another drink like hot tea on a day when you feel blah.

And after a day of eating foods high in sodium, you may retain water that makes you look and feel puffier than normal. If you don’t normally eat a ton of processed food, most likely your daily sodium intake is just fine. But by eating mostly whole foods for a few days may help you feel less like an inflated balloon. 

Finally, some experts recommend chewing more slowly so that you don’t draw so much air into your body as you eat. Eating more slowly is a good practice for developing mindfulness around hunger. So hey, why not give that a go too? 

yay!

Yay!

“I just want to poop, okay?”
Sweet. We’re in the pooping portion of the program today.  So you know that most likely, you’ll never need a colonic cleanse to poop better. Thank God, because that sounds terrifying.

First of all, if you get plenty of water and fiber in your diet on a daily basis, things should be moving along well.

If you’re not currently eating plenty of fruits, veggies, and other sources of fiber like whole grains, but you want to begin, don’t do it by diving in hard with a detox diet you saw on Pinterest. Ease into eating more fiber. That’s because fiber just helps forms better stool. And if you suddenly go from eating no fiber to eating tons of fiber, you may feel worse. So gradually increase your intake.

Instead, begin by increasing your water intake. Fiber absorbs water, so drinking extra will help the process move along more smoothly. Avoid harsh laxatives and if you’re really backed up, try a gentler stool softener. My doctor recommends Miralax, but ask your own M.D. here.

If despite eating plenty of healthy fiber from fruits and veggies you find that you’re still having wonky issues with your digestion, see a doc. Soluble and insoluble fiber both play a role in helping food get broken down and pass through our bodies. Foods with soluble fiber attract water and firm up stool, while foods with insoluble fiber can make it easier to relieve constipation. People who have gastrointestional issues such as IBS may be particularly sensitive to what kinds of fiber they ingest. So get that checked out if you suspect you have an issue. 

Finally – try the squatty potty. Aside from having an adorable name, those stools help your stool. See what I just did there? Hahaha. Okay. Moving on.

These drinks will not detoxify you but they sure look tasty.

These drinks will not detoxify you but they sure look tasty.

“I need a detox to lose this belly fat.”
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. No. You don’t need that. But sometimes going out and buying the special foods and drinks sends a message that we’re doing something. That we’re kick starting a change. Unfortunately, after the excitement wears off, people are left with some crappy drink and a burning desire to inhale an entire pizza. Screw that diet.

It’s fine to gain momentum with a more aggressive fat loss plan, but it should be one that is safe, not absolute misery, and can transition into a more moderate nutrition approach.  

I’m not opposed to a “rapid fat loss” diet. When you give yourself more structure and see big results initially, it may help you believe that you are capable of change.

But when I use these with my online coaching clients, I carefully monitor them to take note of how their bodies are functioning as they lose fat. Don’t go in blind when it comes to nutrition – partner with someone who will help you create a safe, sane plan. And remember, the more radical the approach, the more likely it will fail you. Especially if there’s nothing about it that you can take with you for long term healthy eating. 
So the bottom line – you don’t need anything special. But it’s completely normal to want to reset, recharge, and make your insides feel better.  Make sleep a priority for a few days. Drink water, put veggies (but not all the veggies) into your body, and go get a workout. You’ll be glowier than the chicks hawking detoxes on the Internet and keep more money in your bank account.

Hip healthy eats: what’s trending in 2017.

fancy jerkyIs kale finally over? Do we still need to put an egg on it? If you’re wondering what new foods you should pile on your plate this year to fuel your bod and your taste buds, read on. 

Of course you can eat well with the basics. Fill your plate with broccoli and chicken every day and live your life. But I need a lot of variety in my diet and screw around with new recipes. Thankfully, I can just scroll through my social media feeds to find plenty of inspiration (aka food porn, am I right?)

If you’re doing that too, you’ve likely already noticed certain foods popping up over and over. Are they really all they’re cracked up to be?

In the interest of research and a hungry belly, I test drove a whole bunch for you. Maybe there will be some fresh ideas. In any case, find out what’s healthy and what’s just hype with the new cool kids in your grocery store.

Before I dig into my list, remember this: all foods can be part of a healthy diet. The idea of superfoods is way overblown, as I recently discussed. But still, some foods make it easier to stay nourished and well than others.

Now that I’ve covered my butt in that disclaimer, let’s move on to the fun stuff.

Haha what?

Haha what?

I didn’t sample “functional food”, like supplements you add to smoothies like spirulina, which is apparently ridiculously good for you. I also left out things that while inexplicably popular, are expensive and sound hella stupid. I’m looking at you moon dust and sex dust. Yeah, sex dust is real. I don’t know what else to say about that.

I’m also leaving out recipes for cleanses and detox drinks. Because you don’t need any of that. Your liver does that job. Plus we all know that concoctions of lemon juice, maple syrup and God knows what else is going to taste like donkey. We good? Let’s do this.  

golden milk
My turmeric latte.

Turmeric – the golden child?

It seems that turmeric everything popped out of nowhere. It’s what gives curry powder its vibrant yellow hue. And it happens to contain a compound called curcumin, which provides anti-inflammatory effects to the body.

If its popularity on Pinterest is any indication, it would seem that turmeric has the ability to help fight off disease, help your brain, and maybe fight off ninjas. But you need to keep a few key things in mind:

In order to benefit from curcumin, you need to consume black pepper with it. It contains piperine, which allows you to absorb it way more effectively.

Most importantly, most of the research that finds turmeric to be beneficial uses turmeric extract. The foods and drinks you’re seeing all over the Internet don’t likely contain enough curcumin to improve your health.

Still, I had to try. I decided to go hardcore and use the fresh root instead of the powder form.

First I tried the much pinned “golden milk” or “turmeric latte”.

The verdict:
golden milk is terrible. Medicinal. I took one sip and poured the rest down the drain. The thing is, I’m not sure it was the turmeric that tasted so bad: the drink is usually mixed with quite a bit of fresh ginger and a bit of black pepper, along with coconut or almond milk, because everyone drinking golden milk appears to dislike dairy. Turmeric root itself smells fresh. I liked that.

I gave our relationship one more chance by grating some into my morning egg, cheese, and veggie scramble. On the plus side, it made my eggs prettier. And my eggs tasted great. Except I couldn’t detect any discernable turmeric taste. 

Try if: you want to add a little spice or color to your life. Be prepared for yellow fingers and countertops if you use the fresh root.

buckwheatbowl

Buckwheat porridge.

Quinoa, why you so basic?

Ahh, quinoa, the “ancient grain” that’s still plenty popular. It’s gluten free, though it’s not the protein powerhouse that everyone swoons over.

The term ‘ancient grains’ makes all the health food aficionados wet their pants. Just because something has been around awhile doesn’t automatically make it superior. But why not branch out? There’s a world of whole grains out there that have plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber to both power you up and satisfy your need for a little starchy goodness.

I’ve been digging other grains like Chinese forbidden rice, which is slightly chewy and has a gorgeous deep purple hue that you can Instagram to display your fanciness.

Nutty farro and freekeh are worth tasting too. Sprouted grains will likely get more attention this year as well. The process can increase many key nutrients within grains. Some people may tolerate them better too if they have sensitivities to grain.

I tried buckwheat this week. It has a neutral flavor and texture similar to steel cut oats. Though the name might sound like it contains wheat, it’s actually a gluten-free seed, often called a “groat”. It’s filled with plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and amino acids.

Most importantly, it makes a bomb porridge for breakfast. Start with this recipe to get going. 

Try if: you want new textures and flavors in your whole grains.

Old trends. New trends. Coming together, on my plate.

Old trends. New trends. Coming together, on my plate.

Kale is dead. Long live other green stuff.
Okay, kale isn’t dead. I don’t even hate kale. But I predict people will branch out to discover some other good green stuff. I cooked up mustard greens, which have a peppery bite but taste less bitter than kale.

I used this quick recipe for wilted greens and onions from Martha Stewart, who probably has an entire garden of mustard greens at the ready. Of course she does. They paired perfectly with my avocado toast and poached eggs – two 2016 trends that don’t show much sign of slowing down. #avotoast #putaneggonit.

Try if: you want to feel more excited about leaves.

 

Bowl of power. Or something.

Bowl of power. Or something.

Buddha/Power Bowls
Yeah, yeah, these were a 2016 thing. But plenty of people are just coming to the power bowl party. The basic idea is just to mix plenty of veggies, a protein, and healthy fats – nuts, seeds, avocado, you name it. I threw together zucchini and carrot noodles, cabbage, cucumbers, chicken, and peanut sauce. It made a perfect light dinner that doesn’t require a recipe.

Try if: you like to throw together leftovers from your fridge.

Veggie burgers that taste like burgers.

Veggie “meats” that taste like the real deal.

Eat some peas: pea protein.
Protein is my wing mate. It helps me build and keep muscle, stay lean, and feel full. Protein is also becoming perhaps too much of a grocery shelf darling these days, as you’ll see it jammed into everything from water to cereal.

At the same time, more people are looking for plant-based alternatives to meat as their protein source. Pea protein is gaining popularity as an alternative to animal sources like meat, dairy, and egg. And it’s helping producers create veggie burgers that are more juicy and meaty than ever. I don’t know what kind of witchcraft this is, but I’d wager that the vegans are excited. 

I tried the new Beyond Meat beast burger to give these a test drive. Unlike most veggie burgers, this one packs a walloping 20 grams of protein into it. It’s also 290 calories, which isn’t anything spectacular for a protein to calorie ratio.

But if you’re eating only plant based protein, it weighs in pretty well. Pea protein is also good stuff because it has a good amino acid profile, is unlikely to cause allergic reactions, and lets vegetarians back off from eating a metric ton of soy products. I also plan to try the “chicken” fajita strips. I have high hopes.

Try if: you’re a vegetarian who secretly longs for a juicy hunk o meat. Or gainz.

I didn't spiffy up my "toast" very well here.

I didn’t spiffy up my “toast” very well here.

Sweet potato toast is now a thing.
Sweet potato toast is not toast. I don’t care what you put on it. Toast is bread. This is a thin slice of roasted sweet potato that happens to be a good delivery vehicle for #thingsontoast.

Some people have roasted them in a toaster. This sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. I didn’t want to burn down my kitchen. Well sometimes I want to burn down the kitchen, but only because I want a new kitchen. But I digress.

I read up on this not-toast. Roasting at 450F was apparently the way to go. You can always reheat them in the toaster briefly. I managed to burn most of my slices because I was looking at Instagram at pictures of sweet potato toast. Oh, sweet irony.

But I won’t lie, having a thin slice of sweet potato smeared with peanut butter and apple was delightful. I’ve never been so mobile with my root vegetables. Sure, I might lose a few fingers trying to slice a sweet potato into uniformly thin pieces. But it makes a mighty fine pre-workout snack to take out the door.

Try if: you love sweet potato, are terrified of actual toast, and also have a mandoline to make these less tricky.

I eat this straight out of the jar because I'm weird like that.

I eat this straight out of the jar because I’m weird like that.

Fermented foods – sour, funky goodness for your gut.
Gut health is continuing to gain more attention. Fermented foods contain probiotics that make your gut function well and help your digestion as well as improve other aspects of your health. Research into gut health is still emerging, but it holds quite a bit of promise for helping us function better.

I’ve been eating many of these for a while. Not because I’m trying to be healthy A.F. But mostly because plenty of them are packed with flavor. Think kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, yogurt, and kefir.

Wall-O-Kombucha

Wall-O-Kombucha

Kombucha gets a lot of love too. Whole Foods has an entire wall. That’s impressive. For some reason I can’t get excited about kombucha. It’s just too sour and has a weird, slippery feel. Some varieties contain quite a bit of sugar, unlike most fermented foods that I eat, which are very low in calories. However, the bottles I picked up at the market were very low in sugar. So knock yourselves out if kombucha is your thing,

Try if: you love flavor-packed foods that help you poop like a rock star.

Another power bowl with maple tahini sauce and that sexy forbidden rice.

Another power bowl with maple tahini sauce and that sexy forbidden rice.

Middle eastern cuisine.
Middle eastern food isn’t necessarily synonymous with healthy food – except much of it is. Vegetables and lean meats are star players in this cuisine, which makes wise use of spices to create layers of flavor. They also love tahini, which is high in calories but can be used in small amounts to perk up just about everything.

Watch for more recipes and restaurants featuring vibrantly spiced dishes like Za’atar chicken, dukkah dusted lentils, beans, tahini sauces, labneh, and the holy grail of egg-based breakfasts, shakshouka.

Try a middle-eastern vibe in your next power bowl, like this recipe for roasted sweet potato, beet, and forbidden rice with maple tahini sauce. The sauce was incredible. I added chicken for more brotein.

Pounding some seaweed.

Pounding some seaweed.

Under the seaweed.
Ever have a nori wrapper holding your sushi together? That’s seaweed. More and more seaweed products are available now in American grocery stores than ever before.

Try furikake, a Japanese seasoning, adds a dimension of flavor to veggies, meat, and fish. It’s made from chopped seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, and MSG. Other seaweed based condiments are also popular in Asian cooking.

Seaweed is low in calories and  is super dense nutritionally. It’s high in fiber and vitamins and minerals,, including iodine, which regulates your thyroid; and vitamin B12, which is usually lacking in vegetarian diets.

I don’t mind nori wrappers when I’m eating sushi. But I took it a little too far. I grabbed these seaweed snacks. I wish I’d grabbed the furikake instead, it holds more promise. These snacks, imported from Korea, just tasted like seaweed. Crazy, right? I guess I’m not a fan.

Try if: you either get down to chow on seaweed or use this as a component in other foods to temper the taste of the ocean in your mouth.

Balls.

Balls.

More and more protein-focused treats.
From 2016-2017, the energy bar aisle exploded. Now there are vegan bars, raw bars, paleo bars, protein bars, energy bars, tree hugging bars, savory bars… you see where I’m going. It’s overwhelming.

And if you read blogs or social media, you may see just as many recipes for homemade versions, especially balls. Energy balls. Protein balls. Power balls. Hey, that’s a lottery game isn’t it?

Everyone loves balls.

While I’d rather eat a bigger snack that I don’t wolf down in under a minute, bars have the potential to be more nutritious than a candy bar. I think this is a key reason why people love energy bars. Because they want to eat candy and feel like they’re doing something better for their bodies with these.

It’s cool to eat some candy. It’s cool to put more nutritious food in there too.

Bars are “meh” on the scale of awesomeness, both with taste and nutrition. Many are little more than candy bars. The homemade versions contain fewer fillers, preservatives, and had the potential to taste good too.

What I mostly found were recipes containing a lot of nut butter, dried fruit, and honey. This might be perfect for powering up an endurance workout. But those foods don’t provide a meaningful source of protein yet also pack a ton of calories, which you might not want to spend on something so small.

I found a recipe that used protein powder, PB2 instead of calorie dense peanut butter, crunchy puffed rice and oats, plus just a small amount of honey and chocolate.

They tasted fantastic. And only 85 calories each. Except I ate three, because I was hungry and they were in front of me.

Try if: you want a portable treat that’s slightly virtuous. Just remember that even healthy treats contain calories. Damnit.

Other Trends to Track
I didn’t have time to eat all of the things. Just most of them. I think in 2017, you’ll see even more of these:

Foods prepared with bone broth. Bone broth is low calorie, nutrient dense, and flavorful. The jury seems divided on its worth so far.

-Poke bowls showing up everywhere. Poke has been popular in Hawaii for awhile. It’s a loose term for a bowl of fresh fish, plenty of veggies, seasonings, and sometimes rice. Healthy. Yummy. And eating poke on my bucket list for 2017.

-All the jerky. More fancy brands of dried meat – but also dried meat alternatives and fish jerky too. Remember the wall of kombucha? The wall of jerky is real too. I love it for a portable snack, so rock on with this.

-More matcha. The concentrated green tea powder is popular already, but with our national obsession over antioxidants, I expect to see some matcha Cheerios anytime now.

We like to over do a good thing, don’t we?

After a week of binge cooking and tasting, I’m ready to kick back with an untrendy but deeply satisfying plate of scrambled eggs and toast with no toppings. How about you? What food trends excite you, and which ones need to die? Leave a comment and share!

Meal Planning Monday 1.22.2017 – the Pantry Challenge

meal-plan-monday

Hey hey, it’s almost Monday. International meal prep day if you’re a bro. Mine is on Sunday, so here we go. 

I just rhymed the hell out of that. Anyway, my freezer and pantry are overflowing with stuff that I completely believed that I needed when I bought them. But now things are cluttered. Ever do that? Since I’m not stocking up for the apocalypse, I need to use some things up. 

Ever hear of a pantry challenge? Spend less money, use what you already have, and get creative in the kitchen. It not only saves money, you’ll make fewer trips to the supermarket. 

My one caveat is that I’ll allow myself to grab fresh produce when needed, as some things just don’t keep well. My boys drink quite a lot of milk too. But I’m using what I have hanging out for my main meals. Lunches are almost always leftovers. My breakfasts are pretty boring too: eggs and veggies, protein pancakes, or overnight oats will be going on. 

Here are my dinners. You up for a challenge? See what you can make with what you’ve already got. 

Monday: Leftover pork souvlaki with tzatziki – I’ve got leftover pork, a cucumber, onions, and yogurt. I’m in business. On the side, instead of pita, I’ll use whole grain sandwich thins or pile it all on a plate of greens. 

Tuesday: Simple roast chicken. Yes, an entire bird is living in my freezer. I’ll clear out space by roasting it up along with extra carrots, onions, and potatoes. 

Wednesday: chicken chorizo is real, folks. My market sells this stuff and it’s amazingly good – yet lean. I’ll make a hash out of this by adding kale, chunks of potato, and an egg on top. Here’s a recipe that follows this idea. 

Thursday: Leftover chicken works well in soup. I’ll be making my avgolemono soup for a winter meal that uses very few ingredients. 

Friday: I bought chicken burgers from Costco months ago. They’re in the deep freezer and they need to go in our bellies. I’ll serve them on sandwich thins with steamed cauliflower and broccoli on the side. 

Saturday: We have so many bags of mystery soup in the freezer. Pro tip: label your bags. You won’t actually remember what you put inside. So yeah, mystery soup Saturday. 

Sunday: I dream a dream. Of making my own sausage. And I happen to have ground chicken breast in my house. So these spicy mango chicken breakfast sausages will become our brinner, along with bell peppers, potatoes, and eggs. 

Challenge accepted? Leave a comment and tell me what you drum up from your own pantry and freezer. Have a great week! 

 

Three abs builders that also help your chin ups.

abs dogAre you including exercises that move you closer to doing things you’ve always wanted to do? Maybe you’ve never been able to do a chin up. Or you’d like to be able to do them better. Because chin ups are badass, of course.
 
There are a lot of factors that come into play when we pull ourselves up to a bar. A perfect chin up is a display of strength, mobility, and control over our bodies.
 

You might think that a chin up requires mostly upper body strength. You do need to have a strong upper body. Pulling your own weight isn’t easy.

There are all sorts of variations on chin ups. And they all get easier to do if you develop a powerful core. Your abs, your lats, and your glutes need to not only be strong. They need to be trained in a way that makes it easier for you to translate that stability onto the bar.

Strength + stabilizing yourself + proper positioning = better chin ups.

Today you’ll get a few big moves that will help your stability and positioning – and killer abs, of course.

Hollow Body Holds

Why you need them:  see that “hollow banana” shape my body is making? That’s the position that you’ll use on the bar. You can make this exercise easier or harder by how high or low you set your legs. 

Stick them in your workout: try 3-4 sets of holding as long as you can without your lower back kicking in. For me, 20 to 30 seconds is plenty.

Watch the video above to get a full tutorial on this one. Then set your abs on fire. 

Hanging Leg Raises

Why you need them: want to improve your chin ups? Spend time practicing perfect positioning at both the top and the bottom of the position. The photo above shows a flexed arm hang. It gives you more time holding the top of the chin up position, takes some pressure off your lower back, and helps you avoid stress to your shoulders if you tend to lose your position at the bottom while you crunch with your abs. 

You can do leg raises with straight arms too. Both versions require the hollow body position we talked about – avoid arching your back during this exercise and maintain tension through your abs and back. The link above will demo the flexed arm version. Or watch this full tutorial for the straight arm version of a  leg raise:

Make it easier by bending your knees. Make it harder by crunching with straight legs. 

How many: try 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps as one of your ab exercises for the day. 

 Deadbugs

Why you need them: for an amazing ab adventure, to learn to develop stiffness and control through your core, and as an easier alternative to the hanging leg raise. 

Think about what a hanging leg raise looks like. Now take that position back down to the floor. That’s essentially the starting point of the deadbug. I used to think this move was easy and dumb until I actually did it correctly. 

The most common mistake is bringing the knee too close to the chest. That lets your hip flexor do too much work and lets your abs off the hook. Instead, forcefully exhale your breath with every rep and make sure you feel your abs contract hard. Catch the demo above. And if you’re still not feeling your abs, it can help to try them with a band, as in the following demo.

As you can see, working your core stability translates to helping you do just about everything better – in and out of the gym. 

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Meal Planning Monday: 1.16.2017

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I always write these on Sunday, but Monday sounds so much catchier. Anyway, if you’re actually reading this on Sunday, high fives to you for being a go getter. 

It doesn’t even matter when you meal prep: just get it done when it works for you. 

Here’s what I’m cooking and eating up this week for dinner. I also have some badass breakfasts to share. Lunches for me are usually leftovers. I live a glamorous life, I know. 

Sunday (today): Slow cooker cider pork roast with apple thyme gravy. Serving with mashed cauliflower. This recipe is cooking right now. It smells great and was stupid easy to throw together. I skipped the apple brandy and picked up a mini bottle of apple whiskey. Boozy dinner ftw. You can freeze extra meat to use in other things if you won’t be using it up for leftover lunches and dinners this week. 

Monday: Upside down BBQ chicken bowls. The bonus of this is that you can put a huge batch of chicken breasts in your slow cooker with a little BBQ sauce. Cook that 4-6 hours and shred with a bit more sauce. You now have meat for more bowls during the week, or just freeze the cooked meat in individual portions for another day. I like that this recipe uses lots of broccoli slaw. Eat that up, it will fill your belly. 

Tuesday: Slow cooker posole(pork and hominy stew). I’m going to riff off of this Skinnytaste recipe, using the leftover pork from Sunday, though her instructions help you use fresh pork too. I don’t own a pressure cooker (wah!) so I’ll use the slow cooker instead. I’ll serve this with a fresh salad of citrus, avocado, and greens. 

Still have soup leftover? This will freeze just fine to live another day. 

Wednesday: Winter citrus butter salmon. Serving with a wild rice blend and steamer bag broccoli. This recipe sounds incredibly good. I’ll likely go light on the butter and need to sub regular oranges for the blood oranges unless they appear in the market soon. 

Thursday: Leftovers if we’ve got them: or soup from the freezer. 

Friday: Taco Friday is not #tacotuesday. But if I make a giant batch of seasoned taco meat, I can eat a taco on Tuesday and feel cool. Freeze some extra meat for tacos any time. I have tons of ground turkey in my freezer, so I’ll use that plus some low sodium taco seasoning. Or make your own. I usually opt for small corn tortillas – they’re low in calories. Lower carb tortillas work well too. And I’m perfectly happy to make a taco salad out of taco meat, tons of veggies, and a little guacamole. 

Saturday: Beef bourgignon (stew with red wine). A lazy kind of winter day meal to fill your kitchen with good smells. If you make a big batch, this freezes really well too. I’ll serve it with just a little crusty bread along with the veggies in the stew. 

Have a recipe that rocks your world? Leave a comment and tell me all about it. Have a great week!